I arrived in London at the Royal International Hotel not knowing what to expect. Contiki’s “European Escapade” tour was set to take a group of us to Paris, Beaujolais, Barcelona, Arles, Antibes, Nice, Monaco, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Vatican City, Venice, Vienna, Munich, the Austrian Tyrol, Liechtenstein, Lucerne, Lauterbrunnen, Heidelberg, St. Goar, and Amsterdam over the course of three and a half weeks.
To be honest, it hadn’t been my idea to book a Contiki tour. I’m generally anti tours because I think I can usually have a better experience planning it all on my own, but this trip was selected by my aunt and it was Europe so I thought, why not. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised when it ended up being one of my favorite travel experiences.
Overall, I would recommend Contiki to young (the company only accommodates people ages 18-35), friendly, down-to-earth people who are looking to make friends from around the world and create fun memories in a beautiful and exciting setting.
Here are my top 5 reasons to travel with Contiki.
1. Make friends with great people from all over the world.
Many of my tour mates turned into friends that I will stay in touch with for a lifetime. Actually, writing this blog made me realize just how much I miss them.
While a majority of our group was from Australia we also had awesome people from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, China, and South Africa (as well as our tour manager and bus driver, both from England).
We came from diverse backgrounds, had different interests, and yet, by the end of the tour, we were as close as family. Meeting these incredible individuals was the absolute highlight of my summer.
2. Stay in incredible exclusive-to-Contiki properties.
Our entire group’s favorite place that we stayed during the Contiki tour was a place called Chateau de Cruix. It is a 400+ year old chateau in a wine region of central France known as Beaujolais (which was recently highlighted in the August issue of National Geographic Traveler).
The chateau produces it’s own wine, has a beautiful pool, overlooks miles of vineyards, and has a bar in the underground cellar known as the Cave.
The atmosphere here was one of the best anywhere. The girls would lay out on the lounge chairs by the pool while the guys played rugby on the lawn in the evening. Multiple tour groups are often staying at the Chateau at the same time creating a fun and social environment.
My tips for staying at the Chateau de Cruix:
- There’s no elevator in this property so be prepared to carry your luggage up the stairs to your room. Take advantage of the strong attractive foreign dudes.
- To thank said strong attractive foreign dude that carried your bag up the stairs, buy a round of Ice Tropez. It’s a French peach-colored drink in a glass bottle that the Chateau sells and it’s probably one of the most delicious alcoholic beverages I’ve ever tasted.
- The chateau packs picnic baskets (wine, breads, cheeses, fruit, chocolates, etc.) for groups to take on a hike up to a nearby lookout spot. On your way, if you spot a cemetery, you’ve gone too far. Turn around. You missed one of the landmarks on the map.
Other exclusive properties we stayed at were: a “chalet” in Switzerland surrounded by waterfalls, a “gasthof” in Austria where we helped serve dinner after paragliding from the local mountains, and many more.
3. Travel to multiple destinations without the added stress.
Traveling alone or with just a few people can be wonderful. But it can also be seriously awful. Like the time it took 5 hours to go what should have been 20 minutes on the tube in London with 85 pounds of luggage. It’s 1000x worse than it sounds. Trust me, you don’t want to do that.
Or the time I received unwanted attention from a man in Belgium at 6 in the morning while I was alone on my way to the airport. No one wants to star in their own personal version of Taken 3.
On Contiki, your driver (or the hot Australian dude on tour) puts your bag on the coach for you. You can kick back on an air-conditioned bus and watch the sunflowers fields of southern France or the turquoise lakes of Switzerland outside the window. No back injury, no sore arms, no fatigue, no creepy random men, no anxiety, no worries.
4. Experience your destinations with a knowledgeable guide.
Our tour manager, Lisa, worked day and night to create the best possible European experience for us. She went through intensive training to prepare for her position and it shows. She knew exactly how to handle all situations, was full of interesting and impressive knowledge about every place we visited, and made all of the days entertaining and memorable.
For example, while we staying in the south of France Lisa suggested we go to AntibesLand, an amusement park on the Cote d’Azur.
The bravest of our group rode hundreds of feet in the air and saw the gorgeous Mediterranean coastline all around us before free-falling back to Earth. We went on fast, spinning rides again and again and recovered by stuffing our faces with nutella crepes and warm, cheesy pizza.
5. If you’re a young and inexperienced traveler, being apart of a group will satisfy your parent’s requirement for safety.
To be honest, I never would have thought to join a Contiki tour. I had already traveled extensively and always preferred traveling with 2 or 3 other people, not a group of 40-50. My aunt chose Contiki for the safety that comes with being apart of a group. It’s a convincing factor for anyone who has a worried family.
The downsides to traveling with Contiki (because there are downsides to every type of travel)….
- There is limited time in each location. Only 2 days somewhere isn’t enough to see and do everything. If you want to get a taste of each place to help decide where to come back to and spend more time at someday, then it’s great.
- Traveling by coach means early mornings and long bus rides. If you’re like me and find it difficult to sleep sitting up be prepared to be tired many of the evenings.
- It’s easy to get sick while traveling on a coach with nearly 50 other people. It’s close quarters, it’s little sleep, and it’s a cold waiting to happen. The “Contiki Cough” as we called it was pretty terrible. I remember skipping through the cobble-stoned streets of Florence early one morning with my Aussie friend Dane. We were celebrating finally getting our hands on some antibiotics. My suggestions: bring (and TAKE) daily vitamins, bring over-the-counter cold medication, stay hydrated, sleep whenever you can. Just do whatever it takes to avoid getting sick or to recuperate if you do get sick.
If you have any questions about my experience with Contiki or would like a further review on the European Escapade, comment below and I’ll be happy to talk more about it.