Middle Ages through the 1800s
Artistic ambition shapes Europe as
a new nation grows in the west
By Vacations Staff
American Queen Steamboat Co.
Vestiges of the medieval era, defined as the period between the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the cultural growth of the Renaissance during the 15th century, are scattered throughout Europe in the forms of castles, cathedrals and fortified cities.
With a name like "Medieval Treasures" AmaWaterways' itinerary is sure to satisfy any history buff. This 14-day journey begins with an extended stay in Zurich, where sightseeing excursions include sweeping views from the stately Grossmunster, a church built in the 13th century (atop the gravesites of the city's patron saints, Felix and Regula, according to legend). Guests then board a cruise of the Rhine and Main rivers, sailing to Germany to take in quaint gabled houses, mighty fortresses and the town of Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a preserved medieval layout and centuries-old buildings. One of these is the Bamberg Cathedral, home to the only papal tomb in Germany; Clement II was buried here in the 11th century.
This trip, which ends with a three-night stay in trendy Prague, has nine departures from May to November. Prices start at $4,839.
Portugal ought not to be overlooked by the medieval enthusiast. In Guimaraes, the country's first capital, a castle was built in the 10th century to defend the territory against invading enemies, and today the restored fortress remains a popular landmark. To the south, the city of Tomar is famous for the Convent of Christ, a 12th-century stronghold for the Knights Templar. One of several walled cities in Portugal, Obidos sits about an hour north of Lisbon and boasts a trove of medieval churches, castles and cottages in a postcard-perfect setting. These sites and more fill the itinerary of the "Best of Portugal" escorted tour from Trafalgar. Prices begin at $2,104 for this 11-day experience, with many departures scheduled from March through October.
"French Heritage" with Insight Vacations visits sites from a variety of eras during a 23-day sojourn, but France's penchant for preservation means that a good number of relics from the Middle Ages make an appearance on this trip. One of the most impressive is Carcassonne, a formidable fortified city that looks like it jumped off the pages of a history book. This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes a medieval keep and ramparts as well as a cathedral.
Another unique encounter awaits in Bayeux, where the town's namesake 225-foot-long tapestry was embroidered in the 11th century to depict the Norman conquest of England, though the meaning of some of its images remains a mystery to this day. Free time and optional excursions throughout this escorted tour invite travelers to take daytrips to even more historic locales. Prices begin at $6,345, with numerous departures available from April to October. -- L.S.
THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE
Carved from a single block of marble, Michelangelo's David sculpture captures its biblical hero just before his showdown with Goliath. A deep concentration is evident in his expression, while his giant-slaying slingshot rests at the ready over his shoulder.
When you stand before the 17-foot-tall statue, it's this level of detail that stands out, which not only is emblematic of its creator's genius but of the brilliance of the era in which it was created. From the darkness of the Middle Ages rose the Italian Renaissance, the epoch between about 1400 and 1600 that marked a reassertion of culture, literature and the arts.
Where better to explore this period than Florence, where the rebirth began? Tauck spends three nights here during an eight-day escorted vacation, "A Week in Venice, Florence & Rome." Enjoy a private talk from an art historian before visiting the Galleria dell'Accademia, home to the aforementioned David. Another lecture the next morning prepares you for your guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery. This museum showcases the works of Michelangelo and other Renaissance titans, including Raphael's "Madonna of the Goldfinch" and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus."
Departures run from March to December and feature an after-hours visit to the Vatican Museum and a gondola ride in Venice. Pricing starts at $3,990.
For a less structured experience, opt for Monograms' "Florence Getaway" a six-day independent adventure. Following an expert-led city tour on your first morning, your time is spent at your discretion, though a local host is on hand to recommend activities and can't-miss restaurants. Bask in the grandiosity of the Duomo cathedral, with its magnificent bell tower, or take in the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo, a town square overlooking the Arno River and Florentine skyline.
From March to October, daily departures are available as low as $804.
The Tudors ruled England and Ireland from 1485 to 1603, producing two of the world's most memorable monarchs. Though Henry VIII is recognized more for his revolving-door approach to marriage than effective leadership, the 44-year reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I, was considered a golden age of culture and, in the New World, discovery. It's said that Virginia was named for this Virgin Queen, who never wed. ("I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England," she once told disgruntled members of Parliament.)
London, the launching point for most tours of the British Isles, is home to an infamous Tower. It's where Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded in 1536, charged with crimes that spared King Henry from the embarrassment of yet another royal divorce. Elizabeth became a resident of this prison herself in 1554 when a family squabble escalated to accusations of treason.
Another London icon, Westminster Abbey, was the stage for 25-year-old Elizabeth's coronation in 1559. It's also her final resting place -- she's entombed in the same room as her elder sister and predecessor to the throne, Mary I, as well as her cousin-turned-rival, Mary Stuart, or the Queen of Scots.
William Shakespeare flourished during Elizabeth's rule. The original venue was lost in a 1613 fire, sparked by a cannon that went awry during a performance of "Henry VIII," but patrons of London's reconstructed Globe Theatre enjoy the Bard much like 16th-century audiences did: The "cheap seats" aren't seats at all, but a standing-room-only space for avid fans. Recent productions include "The Merry Wives of Windsor," published in 1602 and performed before the queen.
On "British Royale" a 10-day tour with Luxury Gold by Insight, guests are joined by an expert on local attractions while sightseeing in London. Additional stops include Windsor (where Henry VIII is buried), Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's hometown) and castles frequented by centuries of English monarchs. Prices start at $4,417 and itineraries are offered from May to September. -- J.D.
British colonies sprouted along the eastern coast of North America in the 1600s and 1700s. Pilgrims, like those who hopped the pond aboard the Mayflower in 1620, came over to escape religious persecution, while others made the journey in search of economic advancement.
From the 1607 settlement of Jamestown, VA, through the 1732 establishment of Georgia (the last of the 13 original colonies), New England settlers farmed, searched for gold and lived their lives without too much interference from Britain. As the crown began to tighten the reins on its overseas subjects, colonists pushed back, sparking the American Revolutionary War in April
of 1775 and eventually leading to the creation of the United States.
Explore U.S. history with the nine-day, family-friendly " Pilgrims and Patriots." Trafalgar guests will sightsee in Boston, where the city's namesake tea party took place in 1773, with Boston Duck Tours. Board an amphibious landing vehicle bound for highlights like Boston Common, America's first public park, and skyline views from the Charles River. During afternoon leisure time, history buffs can walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail and see its 16 historic sites, like the 1680 Paul Revere House and Faneuil Hall, a meeting spot called the Cradle of Liberty.
Among other stops, travelers will visit Philadelphia, where you can explore
the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution (ratified in 1787) before ending the tour with two nights in Washington, DC. Five departures are available this summer, from $2,659.
Or, vacation at your own pace during a stay at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District. It offers easy access to the cobblestone streets of the Old City and locales like Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Other nearby attractions include Franklin Square, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and America's first zoo, which opened in 1874. A seasonal rooftop pool and classic Philly cheesesteaks served up at Coin's Restaurant and Pub are perks of this 364-room hotel. -- R.M.O.
From 1804 to 1806, Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark led a military excursion to explore a new American acquisition: the Louisiana Purchase. They headed into uncharted territory, naming rivers, new fortifications and vegetation along the way. After encountering their first prairie dog, they shipped one back to President Thomas Jefferson for study; after several meetings with grizzly bears, Lewis remarked that "the hand of providence has been most wonderfully in our favor," as no member of the company was eaten on their journey.
More than four dozen people and a Newfoundland dog named Seaman joined the Corps of Discovery, which traveled nearly 8,000 miles on the Missouri, Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers. They extensively mapped the area, enhanced the fur trade and befriended Native American tribes, famously hiring the Shoshone interpreter Sacajawea (and, less well-known, her French Canadian husband).
Embark on your own adventure with the nine-day " Columbia and Snake Rivers." Traveling between Vancouver, WA, and Clarkston, WA, this American Queen Steamboat Co. river cruise retraces a portion of Lewis and Clark's journey, even visiting a replica of Fort Clatsop, a Pacific Coast shelter constructed for a bitter winter. In Richland, WA, the Reach Museum's exhibitions dive into local culture and history, including the area's role in World War II's nuclear Manhattan Project. The 284-acre Sacajawea State Park offers an interpretive center with interactive exhibits highlighting her contributions to the Corps of Discovery.
Departures run April through November and prices start at $2,399. Themed jaunts that seek out fall foliage also are available.
On Oct. 28, 1886, a legendary landmark was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland. Presiding over New York Harbor, the 151-foot Statue of Liberty was designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi as a symbol of friendship.
Today, visitors can climb 377 steps into Lady Liberty's crown for bird's-eye views. Or, salute the statue from the starboard decks of a Norwegian Cruise Line ship as it makes its way from Manhattan's 12th Avenue cruise terminal toward the Atlantic Ocean. Weeklong sailings to Bermuda, the Bahamas and eastern Canada and New England are offered.
"Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!" This Seattle newspaper headline was published on July 17, 1897, during the height of the Klondike gold rush. Fortune seekers flocked to Canada's northwestern Yukon Territory in droves in the late 1890s. The rush often was disastrous for unprepared miners, who succumbed to hypothermia, malnutrition and avalanches. The craze ended around 1899, with prospectors moving on to new hopes in Alaska.
Holland America Line offers the 14-night "Seattle Gold Rush" itinerary, combining a three-night Alaskan cruise with an extensive land tour exploring Denali National Park and Preserve, the Yukon and more. Traveling round trip from Seattle, guests search for wildlife, pan for gold and, between Skagway, AK, and Fraser, British Columbia, explore the past with a train ride through former mining country.
More than a dozen departures featuring a cruise aboard the Volendam are scheduled from May to August. Prices start at $2,169. -- K.E.W.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Winter 2018. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 510-4002 for current rates and details.