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Enjoy a unique variation on the popular Christmas Markets River Cruise.


By freeing ourselves of the geographic constraints of Europe's rivers, and the 15mph top speed of a river cruiser (even slower when allowing for lock transits), and by swapping a cramped cabin for a spacious hotel room, we've create a touring experience in which you'll see more and do more, and at a better value.

 
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Detailed Day by Day Itinerary for the 2018
Christmas Markets Land Cruise
 

Click the map to open a larger complete version in a separate window showing all the major towns and cities we visit during our 'land cruise'.
 

Our tour, based in Lille, combines visits to a carefully selected assortment of major towns and cities as well as smaller villages, interspersed with beautiful countryside.

The ovals on the map (click map on left for a larger complete version) are shown in different colors for each day of touring.  The colors and days are : 

Day 1 - Arrival

Day 2 - St-Omer, Calais, Dunkirk - Yellow ovals

Day 3 - Reims, St-Quentin - Orange ovals

Day 4 - Free Day

Day 5 - Ypres, Bruges, Ghent - Green ovals

Day 6 - Lens, Bthune - Purple ovals

Day 7 - Amiens, Arras - Blue ovals

Day 8 - Tour ends or optional extension

Click for the main details of this Christmas Tour and the booking form
to confirm your interest
.

Detailed Daily Itinerary

Saturday 8 December - or sooner :  Leave the US

Take an overnight flight from the US to Europe today (or earlier).

The day your journey starts will of course depend on if you wish to join the tour on its official start day of Sunday 9 December, or maybe arrive a day or two early.  Arriving early gives you some 'just in case' time, should something come up during your travels (and the travels of your bags too!).  This also gives you a chance to decompress and un-jetlag after the journey.

Most flights from the US to Europe are overnight, meaning you arrive into the Europe the day after you leave the US.  So to arrive on the official tour start day, you'd want to leave the US on Saturday 8 December.

Note - If you're considering an optional pre-tour extension, please read the blue bordered option section immediately below.  Otherwise, if you'll arrive on Sunday, skip on down to the green bordered section starting on Day 1, Sunday 9 December.

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Optional Pre-tour Extension Ideas

Both Paris and London rank near the very top of the world's most popular tourist destinations.  You could conveniently visit either (or even both) prior to joining our tour in Lille.

(a)  London and Britain in General

 Carnaby Street puts on an impressive display every Christmas.
 The Christmas Market at London's Southbank Centre.

These days the Eurostar train makes it very easy to get between London and Lille - it is a quick and comfortable 90 minute journey, so flying to London not only gives you a huge range of airlines to choose from, but also allows you a chance to enjoy a bit of England prior to heading over to France.

If you're going to spend time in England, we'd suggest spending at least two nights and ideally three or more nights there.

A two night stay would see you fly from home on Thursday 6 December.  This gives you most of Friday - the day you arrive (your flight will likely land in the morning); and all of Saturday, before then traveling on to Lille on Sunday.

There are lots of Christmas things to see in London, with notable displays in areas such as Carnaby St, Oxford St, Regent St, Covent Garden, Picadilly, Bond St, and on the Shard.

London also has great Christmas markets, including excellent examples in Hyde Park, Southbank Centre, Leicester Square, and Greenwich, or slightly further out at Kingston upon Thames.

We'd probably recommend staying in London for short two or three night stays, but if staying longer, it becomes more practical to consider multiple destinations within Britain.

Let us know if you'd like suggestions or assistance in planning a few days in Britain before the tour.

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(b)  Paris and/or Europe in General

 As you might expect, the Eiffel Tower puts on wonderful Christmas Lights shows.
  The Christmas decorations inside Paris' famous department store, Galeries Lafayette.

Another possibility would be to fly to Paris and spend two or more nights in this glorious city, then take a quick train up to Lille on Sunday.  It is a mere 70 minutes on a fast train between Paris and Lille.

The charms of Paris are probably well known to you.  It is sometimes referred to as 'the city of light(s)' (and others call it the 'city of love'), and it certainly does look beautiful with its Christmas finery on display, and with many different Christmas markets to choose from.

If you'd like to consider other places in France, then possibilities would include Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, and even further away Marseille on the Mediterranean coast.

There's no need to consider only French destinations as a possible pre-tour extension.  Many other glorious European cities are also close to Lille.

Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt would also be possibilities.

Let us know if we can help you plan your pre-tour any which way.  That's what we are here for.

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Main Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Sunday 9 December)  :  Arrive Lille


Charming Lille, full of amazing architecture and our base for the week of explorations ahead.

The exterior of our historic hotel and former convent, the Hotel Couvent des Minimes in central Lille.

Welcome to the start of the tour!

Most people will join us in Lille today (or the days previously).

Today is simply the arrival day.  Check in to our hotel 'ship' this afternoon, and enjoy the day getting to know Lille, our base for the next week.

Because people will be arriving at various times during the day, and some will perhaps be fresh off an international flight, unlike river cruises, we won't subject you to an interminable welcome dinner this evening.  Many people prefer an early night on their first night.

But we will have a social 'hour' in the early evening where we can meet over a glass of something convivial in the spectacular hotel lobby.

 

Included Meals - Early Evening Cocktails

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Day 2 (Monday 10 December) :  Saint Omer, Calais and Dunkirk


The ruins of the Benedictine abbey in St Omer date back to the town's founding in the 600s.

The famous Rodin statue 'The Burghers of Calais' outside the town hall.

Every square inch of every possible boat and ship was utilized in an extraordinary effort that saw 338,228 soldiers rescued at Dunkirk in May/June 1940.

After breakfast this morning, we board our lovely coach and go to visit three towns, each with a different story to tell.

We first travel to Saint-Omer, a fortified town dating back to the 600s, and the site of many battles over the centuries.  With half an eye to our 'cruise' theme, the town is also significant for being the start of the Aa river canal that leads out to the sea.

We then go to Calais, on the French side of the Straits of Dover (known as 'La Manche' in France), and with the White Dover cliffs clearly visible on the other side.

Perhaps because of its proximity to England, for over 200 years, Calais was part of England, being seized at the onset of the 100 years war with France,  It was described as 'the brightest jewel in the English crown' until being won back by France in 1555.

The English designed and built church of Notre-Dame looks slightly out of place in France, but is obviously acceptable because it was where ultra-nationalistic French leader Charles de Gaulle was married.

Once a busy port with ferries criss-crossing over to England, the Channel Tunnel has replaced a lot of the ferry traffic.

Talking about traveling to England, our third stop of the day is Dunkirk (spelled Dunkerque in French), the famous location where Britain's Expeditionary Force retreated back to England in the early days of World War 2 and recently featured in a movie of the same name.

Dunkirk is the northernmost Francophone city in the world.  It was also very briefly owned by England before being sold back to France in 1662 (for 320,000).

Both Calais and Dover are listed as World Heritage Sites.

We return back to Lille mid/late afternoon, and this evening will enjoy our formal Group Welcome Dinner.

Included Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

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Day 3 (Tuesday 11 December) :  Reims and Saint-Quentin


Of God and Grape - this beautiful countryside scene just out of Reims hints at the region's world renown - this is where Champagne comes from. 

Vast labyrinths of underground cave cellars below Reims, carved from chalk, house gently maturing bottles of Champagne. 
Art Deco in Saint Quentin.

A great day today, whether you are a lover of Champagne or not.

We travel through beautiful countryside and past many vineyards into the Champagne region and to its capital, Reims.

Reims is one of France's most significant cities, having been where the French kings were crowned between 1179 - 1825, in its glorious cathedral, which now towers over one of the Christmas market locations (see the large image at the top of the main tour page).

The history of Reims dates back to pre-Roman times when it was founded by the Gauls.  Their close alliance with the Romans saw Reims grow to prominence, becoming a seat of learning in the Middle Ages.  The English took Reims briefly before being ousted by Joan of Arc.  Reims was where the Germans surrendered to the Allies at the end of WW2.

We visit one of the Champagne centers in Reims and treat ourselves to a tasting of their fine Champagnes.

In the afternoon we return to Lille, making a stop en route at Saint Quentin, known for its Art Deco style buildings erected during reconstruction after the destruction suffered in World War 1.

We spend time at the Christmas Market, and if you'd like to try a local dish, be sure to get a bowl of soupe au caillou.

This is a traditional 'peasant' style soup, comprised mainly of vegetables, which is simmered for about three hours.  It is notable for having a stone added to the pot to help in the cooking - it acts as a heat moderator and as it moves around, also gently crushes the ingredients and distributes the flavors.

Included Meals: Breakfast, Champagne tasting

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Day 4 (Wednesday 12 December) :  Free Day

Maybe treat yourself to a fast comfortable train journey to another town or country for the day.
Stately Antwerp is just over two hours train journey from Lille.
 Or perhaps simply stay in Lille, and enjoy a stroll through its Bois de Boulogne park and Vauban fortress, five minutes or less walk from our hotel.

Today is an open day for you to spend any way you wish.

Maybe you'll simply stroll around Lille, a lovely city and although our home base for the week, a place we spend little other time in.

The lovely Bois de Boulogne park is just over the road from the hotel, and includes the Lille Citadel, one of the best preserved of the famous Vauban forts and dating to the 1660s.

Or maybe you'll take advantage of Lille's wonderful rail connections and treat yourself to a high speed train ride somewhere for the day.

Depending on where you have already spent time before the tour, you might choose to go to Paris (70 minutes south), Brussels (40 minute north) or even London (90 minutes west).

There are plenty of other choices too.  Ask us if you're unable to choose from all the different possibilities.

Included Meals: Breakfast

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Day 5 (Thursday 13 December) :  Ypres, Bruges and Ghent

The horrors of 'The Great War' are now gone but not forgotten in and around Ypres in Belgium.
The Cloth Hall in Ypres.
Beautiful Bruges.
Evening falls in Ghent.

Today we head north of the largely invisible border and tour around Belgium.

If Dunkirk represents one of the seminal events and locations of the WW2 story, Ypres surely represents a similar pivotal part of World War 1.  But whereas Dunkirk saw tragedy turned to triumph, Ypres was nothing but repeating tragedy after tragedy.

Little remains of the devastation and destruction now, 100 years later.  Just silent cemeteries and the occasional monument.  Ypres itself has been lovingly restored, including its wonderful Cloth Hall.

After our Ypres visit, we continue further into Belgium, heading to lovely Bruges, with its medieval buildings, canals, and cobble-stoned streets.  Its town hall dates back to the 14th century and a nearby belfry is even older (13th century).

For reasons we don't really understand, nearby Ghent is not nearly as well known as Bruges, even though it has a similar charm and character.  We'll head to Ghent this afternoon, and let you decide for yourself on the respective merits of Bruges and Ghent.

Ghent, a city dating back to when it was the center of the wheat trade in the fifth century, also has plenty of medieval buildings, including the 12th century Gravensteen Castle and the ancient harbor area with its similar period buildings alongside the Leie river - the Graslei on one side and the Korenlei on the other.

Included Meals: Breakfast

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Day 6 (Friday 14 December) :  Lens and Bthune

Five modern buildings form the new (opened in 2012) Louvre Museum in Lens.

The Christmas Market in Bthune.

Today we go to two small towns south of Lille - first Lens and then Bthune.

You can get a cultural fix at the Louvre Museum's Lens extension (of its famous Paris main location).

The Louvre Museum was deliberately sited in Lens to help the region, which had fallen on hard times due to having formerly been dependent on coal mining.  The last coal mine closed in 1986.

Bthune is another generally but inexplicably overlooked town that we've found for you.

Its town square is gorgeous, with a mix of Flemish gables and Art Deco buildings (built - like in many similar towns that were on the front lines of WW1 - as a result of necessary reconstruction after this conflict) and a historical belfry that dates back to 1346.

Although a 45 minute drive SW of Lille, it is possible to see the Belgian border from the top of the 154 ft tall belfry.  The bells play tunes every fifteen minutes.

Included Meals: Breakfast

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Day 7 (Saturday 15 December) :  Amiens and Arras

A sense of the enormous size of Amiens Cathedral can be seen when one looks at the multi-storey buildings in the foreground of this picture.
The Somme river, its tributaries and canals, are an important part of the ambience of Amiens.
A section of the buildings lining the Grand Place in Arras.
A similar view with the Christmas Market situated in the Grand Place during December.

The first of our two featured 'ports of call' today is Amiens, a city built on both banks of the Somme river, which snakes its way through the city's center.

Amiens traces its history back to pre-Roman Gaul, and these days it is known for the Gothic Amiens Cathedral and nearby medieval belfry.  The 13th century cathedral is both the tallest and the largest of its kind in France.

Quaint shops and cafes line the Quartier St.-Leu’s narrow streets, while floating market gardens (“hortillonnages”) dot the city’s canals.

The Muse de Picardie shows art and antiquities spanning centuries.  Nearby, the Maison de Jules Verne is a museum where the science fiction author once lived.  Verne was a resident of Amiens for 34 years and a city councillor for 15 of them.

The city's Christmas market - the largest in northern France - is renowned for the quality and variety of its local produce.

In the afternoon we head back towards Lille, stopping on the way at smaller Arras, dating back to an Iron Age Gaul settlement.

Although we see many fine town squares ('Grand Place' in French), and many examples of Flemish Baroque architecture during our travels, many experts judge Arras to have the finest town square of all with the best buildings.

The Arras market is more international in nature than the Amiens one.

After visiting these two lovely places, we return back to Lille, ending the last full day of our Christmas 'cruise' with a traditional "Captain's Farewell Dinner".

Okay, so we don't have a captain, but we will have a dinner, nonetheless.

Included Meals: Breakfast

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Day 8 (Sunday 16 December) :  Main Cruise/Tour Ends, see below for option

Lille's ornate stock exchange, built in 1652, and belfry in the background.

The main 'cruise' tour ends after breakfast this morning.

You are free to then extend your time in Europe any way you might wish, or to simply return home with still nine days to wrap all the new presents you'll have bought over the last week, and to prepare for Christmas.

If you can spare a few more days and would enjoy a chance to travel a bit further afield, including time in Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, and possibly even Lichtenstein too, please continue reading about our optional post-tour extension, below, in the blue bordered box.

Included Meals: Breakfast

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Optional Post-Tour Extension

 Click the map to open up a larger map of where we go for our post-tour optional extension in a separate window.

If you'd like to extend your experience by a few more days (and who wishes to return home any earlier than they must!) then we've a wonderful add-on to the main tour that gives you many more Christmas experiences.

As detailed below, the tour will travel to Luxembourg and then overnight in Metz on Sunday 16th (green ovals on the big map), on Monday we travel on to Freiburg in Germany and then to Zurich in Switzerland (purple ovals).

Tuesday is your choice - either enjoy Zurich or do a day tour to Lichtenstein (blue oval).

Most of us will probably then fly home on Wednesday 19 December, giving us still six days for last minute shopping and Christmas preparations.

 

Day 1 (Sunday 16 December) :  To Luxembourg then Metz

 Looking up to Luxembourg City from the river below.
 The Christmas market in Luxembourg City's main square.
 Definitely distinctive (some might say ugly!) the Pompidou-Metz Arts Center.

After saying farewell to anyone not continuing on, we head east this morning to Luxembourg.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - the world's only remaining grand duchy, and while tiny in size (about the same as Rhode Island, the smallest US state) is one of the three 'capitals of Europe' (along with Brussels and Strasbourg).  It is very prosperous, and its capital, Luxembourg City, has an interesting mix of French and German flavors and feelings.

After spending time in Luxembourg, we cross back over the (largely invisible) border and return to France, continuing on to Metz, our destination for the evening.

Metz claims to have the second most popular Christmas market in all of France.  It also has a cathedral with an extraordinary number of stained glass windows, and a regional branch of the Paris based Pompidou Arts Center, featuring modern art.

Metz claims to be 'the capital of lights' - see if you agree, this evening.

Included Meals: Breakfast


Day 2 (Monday 17 December) -
To Freiburg then Zurich


The Schwabentor Gate - one of two remaining along Freiburg's medieval defensive city wall.

One of Zurich's many Christmas markets.

After breakfast this morning we leave France for the final time when we cross the Rhine river and travel into Germany, then proceed to Freiburg im Breisgau (more commonly abbreviated to simply Freiburg).

Freiburg is a lovely town set in the middle of a wine growing region and also considered the entrance to Germany's Black Forest.  Among its other distinctive features are its gutters, in which fresh water is always flowing (diverted from the river Freiburg is situated on).  Be careful - legend says if you step into or fall into one of these gutters, that means you're destined to marry a Freiburger.

After enjoying the town and its lovely Christmas market, we'll then travel on to Switzerland.  Depending on the weather, we might drive through the heart of the Black Forest, or alongside the Rhine river for much of the way.

Our destination is Zurich, Switzerland's largest city (but not its capital, which is Bern).  It is Switzerland's main transportation hub, and is primarily German rather than French speaking (albeit in a Swiss type dialect).  Zurich scores highly in terms of the quality of life enjoyed by its residents, and in terms of per capita income, and of course, is renowned for its banks.

Zurich also has not just one or two but nine different Christmas markets to enjoy, including Europe's largest indoor Christmas market (at the main train station).

Be sure to see the 50 ft Christmas tree decorated with thousands of sparkling Swarovski crystal pieces.

Included Meals: Breakfast


Day 3 (Tuesday 18 December) -
Zurich (possibly to Lichtenstein)


Vaduz Castle, home of Lichtenstein's ruling Prince, overlooks the town of Vaduz in Lichtenstein.

Another view of Zurich.

On Sunday we visited the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.  Today there's a chance to go to the Principality of Lichtenstein; and if Luxembourg was small, how to describe Lichtenstein, other than as tiny.  It is a mere 52 sq miles in size (16 times smaller than Luxembourg, five times smaller than Singapore) and with a population of 38,000 people, it is the sixth smallest country in the world.

So it is small, but also very wealthy, and has a mere 1.5% unemployment rate.

This is an optional tour.  You might well prefer to spend the day in Zurich, seeing some more of its nine Christmas markets and the city in general, with many museums, shops, and beautiful sights, including a clock on the St Peter Church which has the world's largest clock face.

Or perhaps do a day tour somewhere else, or even venture out onto the lake.

Included Meals: Breakfast


Day 4 (Wednesday 19 December) -
Extension ends


Merry Christmas!
(The Swarovski Christmas Tree in Zurich).

Our tour extension ends this morning.

You are of course welcome to extend your stay in Switzerland and Europe in general.

Alternatively, if you return home today your flight home will probably arrive some time the same day, in the afternoon, giving you five remaining days to plan and prepare for your US Christmas. 

Included Meals: Breakfast

 

Note - this itinerary may slightly change between now and the tour.

Click here for the main details of the Christmas Markets Land Cruise and the booking form to confirm your interest.

 

Originally published 14 Mar 2018, last update 13 Mar 2018

 
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