Carole decided to experience all that the festive season has to offer by travelling on not one but three Albatross Tours! Read about the differences between travelling for the Christmas Markets, Christmas Day and New Year in Europe.
My sister and I travelled together for the Christmas Markets tour and then for the other tours, I travelled with friends.
Have you travelled with us previously? If so, please list the tours you have travelled on.
No, these were my first tours with Albatross Tours.
Why did you select these tours?
14 years ago, I picked up a brochure and saw the Christmas tours that you had at that time. The tour that included Zermatt looked amazing and I thought, one day I would like to go there. Our background is German, my sister and I were always interested in the Christmas markets and how they celebrate it in Europe, so we decided to go on the Bohemian Markets tour together. My sister wanted to be home to her family for Christmas Day, however I decided to continue travelling and experience the festive and New Year period in Europe.
What was your favourite place on your Albatross Tour?
There were so many experiences on my tours. Each tour had its own special places. During the first tour, we had more free time so that we could experience the different Christmas Markets in each town and village. When we arrived, we would have an orientation tour, so you felt comfortable and safe to explore each market. The atmosphere at the markets was so joyful, the locals are out with you and enjoying the music, the food and the market stalls. We loved walking around the markets with our unique mugs and drinking mulled wine or hot chocolate. At the markets in Berlin and Nuremberg, they had elevated stands where they played music to the crowd. In Leipzig, the musicians were on a balcony playing Christmas songs and dressed in costume. Then in Dresden the markets were different again! There was a medieval market where by the stall holders were dressed in costume and they sold traditional tools and crafts. There was also a more modern market right near our hotel, again a different experience.
We enjoyed going in the day time and looking at the stalls because we found once it got later at night it would become more crowded but that was still fun and part of the experience. Seeing the Christmas lights in the villages and the markets was a dream come true for my sister and me! The Swiss Christmas in Zermatt tour did have some Christmas markets, but this tour was more about the countryside and the activities. We stayed at a couple of family hotels in small towns, so peaceful and comfortable. Four nights in Zermatt to soak up the winter atmosphere and take the cog railway to the Gornergrat, passing skiers and incredible mountain scenery on the way, but that could not top the view of the Matterhorn and surrounding mountain peaks... spectacular! The hotel in Luzern was so gorgeous and located by the lake. The final dinner in the ballroom was lovely. During our Christmas tour, there was a family on tour and it is so special to see the joy and delight on a child’s face when they see snow.
During the New Year tour, we spent five nights at the ‘Schloss’ (Schloss Leopoldskron). It was so nice to have our stay in one location and to have the full use of the ‘Schloss’. It is in such a beautiful location as well on the lake. Magnificent day trips out to surrounding areas and when we got back to the Schloss, a hot drink in front of the roaring fire in the Great Hall to warm us up.
What was the most amazing thing you saw or did on your Albatross Tour?
The 1000-year-old library in the Abbey of St Gall was astounding. The four nights in Zermatt was fantastic for Christmas because of the snow and the activities and the Cog Railway up to the Gornergrat.
Tell us about your most memorable moment on tour.
My most memorable moment was the sleigh ride on our New Year tour in Filzmoos, nothing can beat it! We rode through the forest and then stopped up at the Oberhofalm alpine hut where we had a break. Up at the top, we enjoyed the view and drank hot chocolate. So magical. Prior to my holiday, I had found out that some of my German ancestors were gardeners at Sans-Sousi, Potsdam. A trip to Potsdam was included in our tour and I got to visit the gardens and during free time managed to visit a street where they used to live.
What was your favourite meal on tour?
The private meal in the Venetian Room at Schloss Leopoldskron made me feel so special. The meal at the Keller was good to try if you like sauerkraut and dumplings and it was good to experience a traditional German fare. The hotel breakfast in Berlin was amazing! The German sausages reminded me of the ones I ate as child. There were some other meals such as the carrot and ginger soup in the Schloss was unusual for me but I enjoyed it and I loved the sashimi style trout entrée as well.
What did you think of your Tour Managers while on tour?
The Tour Managers were each so different and each so very good. They were all approachable and they all had their own uniqueness that you could not help but fall in love with each of them. For me what makes a good Tour Manager is that they are aware of their traveller’s needs, they are organised and balanced in the information that they deliver to us and that they keep us informed. The guide was very clear about meeting times, especially when we had the free time. The audio sets helped us to hear any instructions that our Tour Manager or local guides gave us.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in travelling on this tour?
If you are a bit unsteady on your feet, then bring a walking/hiking stick to help you manoeuvre in any icy areas. Getting used to walking around in ice and snow is very different to what we are used to!
When it was really cold I used toe warmers in my shoes and my feet were always warm.
Would you recommend this tour to family and friends? If so, why?
First class meals, first class wine and great company! Loved that we didn’t have to worry about tipping, the pace was excellent, and I didn’t feel rushed. I was worried that because I was on three tours that I would see the same places and do the same activities over and over again, but each tour was different and I saw a different aspect of a town or village, even if I had been there previously. When one tour ended, I found myself looking forward to the next one. I loved the mix of having organised days and ‘My Time’ as well. We had the evenings to relax and we had time in each place, and we were not packing all the time. It was not tiring days.