Central Europe is a popular city-break destination with places such as Vienna, Prague and Budapest attracting more and more visitors every year. But operators are increasingly recognising the tourism potential of places outside the capitals.
Central Europe Countries Travel Association chairman Terry Coates said: “The industry has been trying to get people to stay a bit longer and go beyond the capital cities.
“The breakthrough is beginning. There is an improved tourism infrastructure, the hotel offering is getting better and it is becoming easier to cross borders.”
Check out Travel Weekly’s five of the best ways to see more of Central Europe
Best for… family fun
Why: Budapest may be one of Europe’s hippest city-break destinations, but for clients who want to get away with the family, suggest Lake Balaton. The lake is huge and there’s a world of difference between its northern and southern shores. In the north there are vineyards and volcanic hills. On the southern coastline, the land is flatter and there are big sandy beaches with shallow water, making it a good sell for those with children. There are different towns dotted along the shore, including the spa resort of Balatonfured and the university town of Keszthely. Visitors can also take a dip in the thermal lake at Héviz.
Sample product: Inghams offers seven nights at the three-star Hotel Bacchus in Keszthely, Lake Balaton, from £402 per person twin-share. Prices include flights and transfers.
Best for… music maestros
Why: the 250th anniversary of the birth of composer Mozart is an ideal opportunity to sell the best of Austria. Mozart was born in Salzburg and often played in the city’s cathedral. Suggest clients visit the Schönbrunn Palace where Mozart played against his musical rival Salieri.
In Vienna, visitors should head to St Stephen’s Cathedral where Mozart was married. His funeral was also held here.
Sample product: Collette Worldwide’s 10-day escorted Mozart’s Musical Cities tour leads in at £1,329 per person twin-share. The price includes flights, nine breakfasts and six dinners. This holiday includes four classical concerts, including one in the Orangery of Schönbrunn Palace.
Best for… history lovers
Why: visitors should expect medieval castles and Wolf’s Lair – a forest bunker complex used as Hitler’s headquarters. From the carvings left by miners hundreds of years ago at the Royal Salt Mines in the village of Wieliczka near Cracow, to the effects of the holocaust at Auschwitz, to the burgeoning night scene at Wroclaw, Poland offers visitors the chance to delve back in time. There are plenty of attractions outside the cities. Sell the Tatra Mountains or the UNESCO-protected Bialowieza Forest to see nature at its purest.
Sample product: Cox and Kings has a 10-night Splendours of Poland escorted tour from £1,195 per person twin-share, including flights.
Best for… counts and castles
Where: Czech Republic
Why: the Czech Republic has more castles and chateaux per square mile than anywhere in Europe. Whether your clients check them out with a night tour, as a hotel or as a venue for a concert, these castles boast architecture ranging from 13th-century defence castles built high up and surrounded by moats, to the landscaped gardens of 18th-century chateaux. Favourites include the UNESCO site of Lednice, which dates back to a Gothic settlement. Rebuilt over the years, today it has a façade from 1858 and the grounds include temples and a glasshouse.
Kromeriz is also a UNESCO-listed chateau. It holds an impressive art collection together with a 64-hectare park that includes three lakes, a Chinese pavilion and Pompeian colonnades.
Sample product: Kirker Holidays has a 10 day Prague and the Country Houses of Bohemia and Moravia tour. The price leads in at £1,898 per person twin-share and includes flights and a lecture from an expert.
Best for… beating the crowds
Why: Peltours is starting a charter to Romania’s Black Sea resorts this summer. According to sales and marketing director Darren Panto the country’s appeal lies in the unspoilt beach resorts. Also good for those who want to explore areas such as the Danube Delta and the city of Constanta. Romania’s beach resorts were popular in the 1980s and were featured by operators such as Intersun and Thomson.
Sample product: Peltours offers seven nights at the two-star Hotel Raluca in the resort of Venus, on a bed-and-breakfast basis, from £339 per person, including flights.
Holidaymaker Chris Burn, 42, and her husband Keith, 47 (see left) took children Samantha, 12, and Steven, 14, to Sunny Beach in Bulgaria for 14 nights last August. They stayed in the three-star Hotel Pomorie, booked through Balkan Holidays. They made the booking at Andrew Earle’s World of Travel in Hedon, near Hull. Prices for the holiday lead in at £836 per person twin-share, including flights and transfers
Why did you choose the holiday?My husband and I went to Bulgaria about 20 years ago and always said we would like to go back. We have been to Spain and Greece and they are getting so expensive with the euro.
We had booked a two-star hotel, but about 10 days before departure, I saw a programme on television about holiday disasters; one was at a two-star hotel in Bulgaria. That made me nervous so I rang the agent who was fantastic. She contacted Balkan Holidays for us and managed to get an upgrade to a three-star hotel.
Agent service: 5/5
Value for money: 4/5
Overall rating: 27/30
The agent got back to me within half an hour of my call. She said some of her colleagues had been to the new hotel and warned me it could be noisy because it was opposite a disco.
Did the holiday meet your expectations? Bulgaria went beyond them. It wasn’t expensive and the streets and beach area were clean. The resort had been sympathetically developed – it didn’t have Benidorm-style high-rise hotels. There were lifeguards on the beach and lots of bars and restaurants.
What was the highlight? Going out in the evenings because of the amount of the restaurants and really good quality food. You could make a full evening out of one restaurant; you weren’t rushed.
What was the hotel like? There was a bit of noise from the disco opposite. The first night we didn’t sleep, but after that, we were so exhausted we has no problems nodding off. The hotel was spotless and the food for breakfast was good. Some people would not be happy to pay for sunbeds, but we knew that before we went.
Did you go on any excursions? At the welcome meeting, we didn’t feel pressured into buying excursions and didn’t book any. When we first went 20 years ago – not with Balkan Holidays – we went to a gypsy evening, but would never go back because there was a dancing bear, which we found upsetting.
Any low points? Apart from the noise, no.
What advice would you give to agents selling beach holidays to Bulgaria? If an agent is selling this particular hotel, I would try to make sure their room isn’t at the front of the hotel so they are not disturbed by noise. Also, we booked a family room, but the children had a pull-out double sofa bed, with a thin mattress, which neither of them wanted to sleep on.
Would you go back? Yes, we’ve booked again for next year. This time at a four-star hotel down the road.