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Europe, the museum of western civilization and the cradle of western culture, is not content to rest on its many, many laurels. From the ancient glories of rowdy Rome to the bike-lined canals of Amsterdam; from the sexy and stuffy grandeur of London to the passion and paella of Spain; from sultry Paris to exciting Berlin, Europe is everything you ever thought it was and a whole lot more.
If you're looking to consolidate the well-worn impressions of the European experience you certainly won't be disappointed, but stay on your toes because Europe is changing faster than anyone can imagine - not a bad time to come along for the ride.
EUROPE TOURS & TRAVEL:
ENGLAND Tours, Travel and Activities
Until recently England was generally thought of as a gentle, fabled land freeze-framed sometime in the 1930s, home of the post office, country pub and vicarage. It's now better known for vibrant cities with great nightlife and attractions, contrasted with green and pleasant countryside.
From Stonehenge and Tower Bridge to Eton and Oxford, England is loaded with cherished icons of a past era. But it also does modernity with a confidence and panache left over from its days in the never-setting sun. Fashion, fine dining, clubbing, shopping - England's rates with the world's best.
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IRELAND Tours, Travel and Activities
It's said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney rings true. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, the country's history is almost tangible, and its people seem put on earth expressly to restore faith in humanity.
The weather may sometimes give you the impression that you're swimming through an airborne ocean, but the truly luminous greens and afternoons spent holed up in riotous pubs will more than console you for the webbed feet you'll need to grow.
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SCOTLAND Tours, Travel and Activities
Honed by long competition with its English neighbors, buoyant Scotland has survived encroachment, brass-monkey weather and invasion by stand-up comedians. Its people are feisty, opinionated and fiercely loyal. The countryside is a beautiful tumble of raw mountain peaks and deep glassy lakes.
Like a fine single malt, Scotland is a connoisseur's delight - an intoxicating blend of stunning scenery and sophisticated cities, of salt-tanged sea air and dark, peaty waters, of wry humor and generous hospitality.
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CROATIA Tours, Travel and Activities
Only 10 years ago Croatias principal visitors were peacekeepers and aid workers. Now it's become Europe's latest "gotta go" destination. Yachts glide up the coast, movie stars discreetly arrange to buy an island or two and no Mediterranean cruise is complete without a stop in Dubrovnik.
Despite the hype, Croatia's pleasures are more timeless than trendy. Crystalline water laps gently at a 1778km-long coast and no less than 1185 islands. Away from the coast, eight national parks protect pristine forests, karstic mountains, lakes and waterfalls in a landscape of primeval beauty.
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CYPRUS Tours, Travel and Activities
Floating on the waters of the European Mediterranean, but pointing longingly towards the shores of Syria, Turkey and Lebanon, Cyprus is an odd mixture. It is a kaleidoscopic blend: its cultural influences are dominated by Western Europe, but its geographic proximity to Asia and Africa gives it more than just a hint of the East.
Crusader castles rub shoulders with ancient vineyards, frescoed monasteries overlook citrus orchards, and sandy, sun-soaked feet tread Roman mosaic floors.
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GREECE Tours, Travel and Activities
Having exported chaos, drama, tragedy and democracy before most nations were staying up late enough to want souvlaki, Greece boasts an unrivalled legacy. But don't expect a visit there to be a sober study of the ancient world - the Greek propensity for partying dates back to Dionysus.
From smoggy Athens to blindingly bright islands, ancient fragments abound - the belly button of the cosmos at Delphi, fallen columns galore on the sacred island of Delos, frescoed Minoan palaces on Crete and even, quite possibly, the remnants of Atlantis at Santorini.
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ITALY Tours, Travel and Activities
Italy has it all: popes, painters, polenta, paramours, poets, political puerility and potentates. Its dreamy light and sumptuous landscapes seem made for romance, and its three millennia of history, culture and cuisine seduces just about everyone.
You can visit Roman ruins, gawk at Renaissance art, stay in tiny medieval hill towns, go skiing in the Alps, explore the canals of Venice and gaze at beautiful churches.
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MALTA Tours, Travel and Activities
Megaliths, medieval dungeons and Calypso's Cave - Malta is positively mythic. The narrow cobblestone streets of its towns are crowded with Renaissance cathedrals and baroque palaces. The countryside is littered with the oldest known human structures in the world.
In recent history Malta has been regarded as an inexpensive destination for a packaged beach holiday - and why not, when the weather is sunny and hot for most of the year and the sea is clear and warm; accommodation is good value (especially in the low season); there's an abundance of high-quality, reasonably priced restaurants and decent nightlife in resort areas.
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PORTUGAL Tours, Travel and Activities
Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe's most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable.
Savoring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble - traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.
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SPAIN Tours, Travel and Activities
Once away from the holiday costas, you could only be in Spain. In the cities, narrow twisting old streets suddenly open out to views of daring modern architecture, while spit-and-sawdust bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos.
Travel is easy, accommodation plentiful, the climate benign, the people relaxed, the beaches long and sandy, the food and drink easy to come by and full of regional variety. More than 50 million foreigners a year visit Spain.
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TURKEY Tours, Travel and Activities
Check your Midnight Express stereotypes at the door - Turkey is a rapidly modernizing country with one foot in Europe and one in the Middle East. It's not all oriental splendor, mystery, intrigue and whirling dervishes but it is a spicy maelstrom of history knocking up against a fast-paced present.
The Turkish people have an unrivalled reputation for hospitality, the cuisine is to die for, the coastline is a dream, and many Turkish cities are dotted with spectacular mosques and castles. And while costs are rising, Turkey remains one of the Mediterranean's bargain-basement destinations.
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