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Western Europe is a region of erstwhile empires and enlightened minds, of sweeping landscapes and storybook castles. It is a place that birthed visionary explorers, new philosophies, and grand monuments. Some of the greatest achievements in world history sprung from this collection of countries on the western edge of the continent and, on this expansive exploration, you’ll experience the beauty, captivating history, and distinctive cultures of coastal England, France, Portugal, and Spain.
This comprehensive journey offers a startling variety of experiences, including visits to 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites — which is why the 2018 itinerary almost sold out in just a few weeks. Don’t miss your chance to travel on this one-departure-only 2019 journey of a lifetime!
Explore ornate Moorish palaces and towering medieval fortresses aboard the four-star my Variety Voyager. See where the Age of Discovery began and where the legendary pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela ends. Discover grand cathedrals and the world’s most famous abbey. Admire the changing landscapes as you venture from Britain’s craggy coast to France’s seaside jewels, and from Portugal’s Algarve to Spain’s Costa del Sol. Plus, enhanced for 2019, we’ve added on an additional enriching day on our London pre-trip extension.
Depart home for London, England
Board an overnight flight to London, England.
Land in the U.K.’s capital
Land this morning in London. If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to your centrally located hotel. Enjoy a short walk near your hotel, then enjoy a Welcome Dinner and briefing.
Stonehenge, a pub lunch, and jumping into Poole
From the bustling heart of London we’ll head southwest to the open Salisbury Plain and the great circle of standing stones known as Stonehenge. The ancient ritual site, part of vast complex of prehistoric burial mounds, earthworks, and avenues, attracts modern-day druids for summer and winter solstice celebrations. Cultural Connection: Embracing British history and culture, we’ll enjoy lunch at a pub in Salisbury, before continuing our journey to the port of Poole on the sweeping Dorset coast. Many of the troopships involved in the D-Day landings launched from Poole for their rendezvous with history. After embarking the my Variety Voyager, join the Captain and crew for an onboard Welcome Briefing, followed by your first dinner aboard ship.
Step back in time in Saint-Malo
You’ll be transported back to medieval times when you arrive in Saint-Malo, France, our first stop. This walled city has a long seafaring history and is the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, the first European man to discover Canada. Inside its walls, Saint-Malo’s streets overflow with cafés and restaurants — the modern mixing with the medieval.
While you’re here, you’ll get a chance to see a true gem of France: Mont Saint-Michel. This Benedictine abbey, dramatically situated on a hulking granite island surrounded by granite walls, is so iconic that UNESCO deemed it a World Heritage Site. We’ll learn about the history of this legendary place while wandering the tangle of lanes within. Afterward, enjoy lunch on your own — perhaps seeking out a classic French meal at a nearby brasserie.
Experience the best of Brest
Once destroyed by Allied air attacks in World War II, today’s rebuilt Brest is a major French hub, and the site of our explorations for the day. This morning, we’ll depart on a city tour via coach and walking, including a visit to the Château de Brest, a strategic military outpost and the oldest functioning castle in the world. After a lunch aboard ship, enjoy an afternoon at leisure in this town, perhaps touring its Musée des Beaux-Arts or the stunning Brest National Botanical Garden, which features one of the largest collections of endangered plant species in the world.
Scenic sailing: Cruising to Belle Ile tonight, you’ll dock beneath the towering Citadelle Vauban.
Discover what’s in a name in Belle Ile
Sandy and secluded, today, you’ll see just for yourself why this French gem is called the “beautiful island.” During an included morning walk, discover the stunning pastel-hued harbor, azure waters lapping the sun-drenched seaside, the star-shaped citadel in capital Le Palais, and villages where time seems to have stood still. The island commune of Sauzon was the muse for Monet, who spent several months here during the epoch of his career. You’ll admire the landscapes and legends here before stopping for lunch at your leisure, with provided local currency to taste just what you prefer. Then enjoy the rest of the afternoon in Le Palais, and stroll its postcard-perfect winding streets.
Wandering romantic La Rochelle
Continuing southward on the my Variety Voyager, we’ll begin our day in La Rochelle. This important coastal city is a hub for trade, but regional gastronomy also flourishes. Known as the “White City” for the gleaming facades of its buildings, this picturesque town has a fascinating history — from its time as a base for the Knights Templar to its place as a hub for German U-boats in World War II. You’ll set off on a walking tour, taking in all the impressive sights from Vieux Port (Old Harbor) and hearing what life was like during these separate eras in history.
Discover magical San Sebastián, Spain
Discover San Sebastián today, one of Spain’s most alluring resort towns renowned for its beaches and its food. Our morning city tour includes the Parte Vieja (Old Town), the twin-towered Santa Maria Church, and Good Shepherd Cathedral, but merely strolling the streets of this coastal gem — or watching the waves break over La Concha beach — is a pleasure all its own. Active Feature: Enhance your walking tour discoveries when you give biking a try and cover more ground. Your Cruise Director can help you reserve two wheels and suggest a few enlightening paths.
Diving into Basque country and Bilbao
Enjoy this morning's cruising along the Basque coastline. This afternoon, we arrive in the region’s buzzing hub: Bilbao. A city tour will introduce you to Bilbao’s historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, the Plaza Nueva, and the UNESCO-listed Vizcaya Bridge. You’ll feel the electric energy of this city’s artistic goings-on — and in the afternoon, you’ll experience them up-close with a visit to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum. The crowning achievement of architect Frank Gehry’s illustrious career, the Guggenheim is a work of art in and of itself. Outside, you’ll marvel at the building’s improbably fluid lines, and inside you’ll get a guided tour of its wonderful collection of art. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon at leisure.
Gifts of Gijón and Oviedo
Next, travel to Gijón, a city of beautiful beaches and a rich history situated on the shimmering Bay of Biscay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll continue discovering this part of Spain by visiting Oviedo, the cosmopolitan capital of the region and home to some impressive churches including Cathedral de San Salvador, which is where the original Way of St. James began. In the ninth century, the saying went: “Who goes to Santiago but not to Salvador, visits the servant but not the Lord.” You’ll have the afternoon at leisure to soak in the old-world beauty of the town and its collectively-listed UNESCO monuments before returning to the ship for dinner.
All routes lead to Santiago de Compostela
We’ll wake up in Ferrol before traveling inland to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most sacred places in the world for Christian pilgrims: Santiago de Compostela. It’s believed that Saint James was buried here in the first century, but the location was forgotten over the years. Then, a ninth-century hermit saw a shining light over a spot in a wooded field, and an investigation of the spot revealed what was believed to be the lost tomb of Saint James. A church was constructed, and it quickly became one of the most famous pilgrimage destinations of medieval times. It remains so today, with more than 200,000 people walking the nearly 500-mile path (called the Way of Saint James). You’ll get a chance to see both the church and the route that millions have taken to get there.
Inside Oporto, the Unvanquished City
Today, you’ll transfer to Oporto, known as the “Unvanquished City” because the Romans or Moors never overtook it. According to 15th-century legend, the people of Oporto donated all their meat to a military fleet departing for battle — leaving themselves with nothing but offal (tripas). Considering the sacrifice an ancestral badge of honor, the people of Oporto still proudly call themselves tripeiros.
On a panoramic drive through Portugal’s second largest city, which includes its UNESCO-listed city center and a visit to a local market, you’ll get a feel for local culture and enjoy lunch. Cultural Connection: One can’t visit Oporto without enjoying its eponymous wine, of course, so you’ll also stop by a picturesque port wine cellar for a taste of the city’s signature beverage. You’ll also visit one of the top bookstores in the world, Livraria Lello (which inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter library), where you can peruse the shelves and admire the décor of this one-of-a-kind gem. Your afternoon is at leisure to delve deeper into Oporto’s charms.
Getting a taste of lively Lisbon
Enjoy a leisurely coastal cruise this morning as we sail into our next exciting port of call: Lisbon. This cultural capital is one of Europe’s most popular hot spots, and you’ll see why on an afternoon sightseeing tour that offers you just a glimpse of what this city has to offer. Don’t worry, though — we’ll spend the night here and embark on a comprehensive itinerary of this city tomorrow. You’ll have the afternoon at leisure to explore, perhaps venturing to the towering Castelo de São Jorge, which offers dramatic views over the river and this hillside city. Tonight, enjoy some pre-dinner entertainment aboard ship.
Launching your own Age of Discovery in Lisbon
The Age of Discoveries launched in Lisbon, so it’s fitting that you begin the morning with a spate of discoveries. On an included panoramic tour of the Portuguese capital, you’ll drive past the city’s famed monuments, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Belém Tower and Monastery of Jerónimos, which we'll peruse and walk through. The latter is inextricably tied to the country’s explorers, and it is said that Vasco da Gama spent his last night here before sailing for the Far East (his tomb is in the monastery). You’ll enjoy an included entrance to this famed site as part of your tour, which culminates in a stop at the towering Monument to the Discoveries: a massive white-stone tribute to some of the world’s most intrepid sailors and explorers. Cultural Connection: While on your tour, sample Pastéis de Belém custard pastries, Portugal’s favorite treat.
Scenic Sailing: Tonight, enjoy scenic sailing along Portugal’s Algarve region, featuring impressive rock formations, cliffs, and some of Europe’s largest caves.
Venturing into the Algarve
Portugal’s sun-drenched Algarve is renowned for its seafaring history and coastline beloved by vacationers, and you’ll get a glimpse of what life was like here over the centuries on a morning excursion to Silves and Monchique.
You’ll visit Silves Castle for one of the best examples of a prevailing Moorish architecture. Once damaged in a 1755 earthquake, the castle is still regarded as one of the best-preserved fortifications in Portugal. You’ll also browse the exhibits at the town’s Museu Arqueológico before arriving in Monchique. The city retains its 16th-century charm and on a walk of its cobbled streets, you’ll notice the white-walled homes outfitted with small doorways that house various artisans. You’ll also explore the Nossa Senhora do Desterro, a 17th-century Franciscan monastery looming over the town, as well as a 16th-century church bedecked with Portugal’s famous hand-painted blue tiles.
We’ll return to the ship for a late lunch and embark on a walking tour of Portimão. Discover the town’s charming squares, as well as its impressive Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição (which was one of the few buildings to survive the 1755 earthquake), as you get to know this fishing town. This evening, you’ll attend the festive Captain’s Cocktail Party & Dinner aboard ship.
Exploring flamboyant Andalusia through Cádiz and Seville
Savor breakfast on the ship before arriving in Cádiz, considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. You’ll disembark and continue on to Andalusia’s capital and one of its true gems: Seville.
A passionate city with a style all its own, Seville’s ebullient personality is evident everywhere from its vibrant, café-dotted cobblestone streets to the towering Seville Cathedral, one of the largest churches in the world. On an included tour, you’ll get a sense for the history, spirit, and grandeur of this town, including a visit to the Archiva de Indias — home to the archives of the Spanish Empire — and the fabled Alcázar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and striking example of Moorish architecture. Cultural Connection: Lunch will further introduce you to the culture, as you enjoy regional fare as well as a riveting flamenco performance.
Your journey continues tonight as we sail the Spanish coastline. This stretch is renowned for its beaches, but it’s also rife with history — empires ranging from the Greeks and Romans to the Vandals and the Visigoths once occupied the region.
The changing face of Málaga
After traveling along the glittering Costa del Sol, you’ll disembark in our final destination — Málaga. Though famous as the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, Málaga’s treasures go far behind the ones found in the museum named for the painter (which you can visit on the post-trip extension). You’ll enjoy a tour of the city, taking in the history and architecture that ranges from a Roman theater to a Moorish fortress. A Farewell Dinner at the hotel gives us an opportunity to share stories with fellow travelers over an excellent meal.
This morning you’ll be transferred to the airport for your return flight home if you purchased your airfare through Vantage. Or, if you elected our extension to Málaga, your journey continues here now.
Important Notice: The above day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Vantage Cruise Director or regional expert.
Please Note: Port-of-call orientation walking tours are subject to change based on port time and weather conditions