Italy’s Amalfi Coast
Italy’s Amalfi Coast stretches along the Sorrentine Peninsula, where rainbow-colored buildings climb the rocky cliffs and terraced citrus groves tumble down the rugged hillsides to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea below.
The city of Sorrento overlooks the Bay of Naples and sits in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that famously destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79. Groups can take a bus to the top of Vesuvius and do a short hike to the crater. The summit is “practically on top of Naples, so when you go up, you can see all of Naples and Naples Bay,” said Marzia Bortolin, spokeswoman for the Italian Government Tourist Board.
Sorrento is the coast’s largest town. Visitors can walk down to the marina and enjoy an al fresco dinner at a waterfront restaurant where “you can eat fresh fish just caught by the fisherman,” Bortolin said. And that’s what one usually does when touring the Amalfi Coast: walk through towns, explore nature, take in the architecture and history, and “enjoy the pleasures of life,” she said.
Il Sentiero degli Dei, or The Path of the Gods, is another popular option for active visitors. The trail perches on the side of the mountainous coastline, delivering a panorama of sea, shore, cliffs and canyons. It ends with a country staircase leading to the upscale coastal village of Positano, where visitors can stroll in narrow streets and shop in posh boutiques.
Boat tours and charters are available up and down the coast, and a ferry can take passengers to Capri Island. There, groups of four can board small wooden rowboats to visit the Blue Grotto, a natural sea cave where the water sparkles like transparent lapis lazuli.
South Africa’s Cape Town
Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India Company settled Cape Town in 1652, making it the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. The city is nearly the southernmost point of the African continent but falls short by about 130 miles. Cape Town is famous for its port in Table Bay, on the northern portion of the coastline; the city hooks around False Bay on Cape Peninsula, which protects its waters from the battering of the Atlantic waves.
Flat-topped Table Mountain soars more than 3,500 feet over Cape Town. Although groups have plenty of options to explore Table Mountain National Park — hiking on Lions Head, taking a scenic drive up Signal Hill — the most popular is the aerial tram that lifts passengers to the summit. There, visitors will find panoramic views of the city and Table Bay, as well as a restaurant and a gift shop. From the summit, guests can take a guided walk or hike, or even rappel down a cliff face with Abseil Africa.
No visit to Cape Town would be complete without a tour and a tasting at Groot Constantia, a historic wine estate founded in 1685. The winery is one of South Africa’s most-visited tourist attractions. There, the stately white manor house is an example of Cape Dutch architecture and serves as a museum that displays period furniture, art and housewares. The fully functional farm has two on-site restaurants and also offers cellar tours, wine tastings and food pairings.
City Sightseeing runs three hop-on, hop-off routes on its signature double-decker buses. The Red City Tour loop has 11 stops, including drop-offs at Table Mountain Cableway, Camps Bay and Two Oceans Aquarium. The Blue Mini Peninsula Tour route loops behind Table Mountain, where visitors can take in the scenery of the Constantia vineyards or stop at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and the Yellow Downtown Tour highlights downtown attractions.
Northern Lights in Iceland
You can schedule a northern lights tour, but you can’t schedule the northern lights. Iceland is a favorite place to catch the fickle phenomenon, but as locals know, visitors should go for the destination, not the aurora borealis. There is no guarantee they’ll see it.
The northern lights are most visible from September through April, although the lights sometimes can be seen as early as August. Conditions must be just right to see the ripple of light across the night sky. Most northern lights tour operators decide before 6 p.m. that day whether to go out that night. And if no lights show up during an excursion, most vendors will offer a free second trip.
Groups can try to catch the aurora borealis by bus, boat, Jeep, snowcat, hiking or snowshoeing — basically, by any means of being outdoors. Many tour operators offer extended bus trips and provide hot cocoa and blankets on the coach to keep guests cozy. Boats leave from Reykjavik Harbor and ferry passengers away from the city lights into the darkness of the North Atlantic.
Tour operators offer a huge variety of packages that pair hunting for the northern lights with glacier walks, crab feasts, ice caving and more. Several tours take groups to the Sólheimajökull glacier, where everyone can walk onto the ice field to see ice crevasses and water cauldrons, before stopping at Skógafoss waterfall. Some companies also offer Jeep tours that drive groups south of Reykjavik to Iceland’s black-sand beaches for a lobster dinner and Icelandic schnapps before heading out aurora hunting.