The European coach tour conjures up thoughts of older travellers being bussed from one city to another, sightseeing through the window as a tour guide points out the highlights.
It’s enough to make an independent traveller run and hide, but there are alternatives for those who want to do Europe on their own.
One is an InterRail pass, valid for Europe’s train network; less known is coach operator Eurolines’ pass, which allows clients to hop on and off its vehicles as they ply their way around the Continent.
Passes are valid for 15 or 30 days and allow holders to go where they want, when they want, choosing from 45 cities. The operator also has a Mini Pass, which is valid for 90 days in a maximum three countries, for instance London to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris and back to London.
Eurolines managing director John Gilbert said the passes appeal to young people who want a cheap, flexible way to travel in Europe.
He said: ‘They just buy a ticket and go where they want. On busy routes such as Paris-Amsterdam they can turn up and wait for a seat – there are several services a day – but generally we recommend booking a day ahead, especially in high season.
‘There is no limit to the number of cities they visit on the 15 or 30-day pass, but most people visit 10 to 15.’ The company has suggested routes of what’s feasible in the time available.
Gilbert added that there has been a big increase in business on the London-Paris route since last summer as people try to escape the tightened airport security.
He said: ‘Passengers can leave London in the evening, travel overnight and wake up in the heart of Paris at 6am. There are no luggage restrictions. It’s all very easy.’
For those that want to see Europe independently but don’t want to rough it, coaching is still an option. New-generation tours do offer guides, but there’s not the same degree of hand holding there once was.
Insight’s 18-day European Panorama includes two-night stays in every major city and leisure time after every city tour so clients can see the sights on their own. Thomas Cook Tours’ 15-day Grand Tour of Italy and Sicily has two nights each in Rome, Venice, Florence and Sorrento.
Thomas Cook Tours head Kathy Farahat said: ‘We try to make sure we spend a couple of nights in each place, with free time for passengers to look around.’
As well as slowing down their tours, several coach holiday operators base clients in one resort, sometimes two, and take them on included or optional excursions from there.
Insight has new Easy Pace tours, while Cosmos Tourama offers itineraries such as the seven-night Leisurely Crete tour, which stops in two resorts and has daily tours to favourite sightseeing spots.
Leger Holidays’ Gems of Austria has one night in Belgium on the way to and from Austria, but then includes six nights in Saalbach, where there is a selection of optional and included excursions.
Cosmos Tourama senior product manager David Binns said: ‘The days of covering five countries in 14 days are disappearing. People want to take more time in places.’
He added: ‘People take excursions, but fewer than in the past. Younger people prefer less guiding, but clients these days are more independent and don’t want so much hand holding. They like to dip in and out of the bits that interest them.’
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