Photograph by Tobias Gerber, laif/Redux

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Cyclists start in Regensburg, Germany, and cycle along the Danube in this cultural tour with ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours.

Photograph by Tobias Gerber, laif/Redux

Best Tours in Europe

From Traveler Magazine's 2011 Tours of a Lifetime

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Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia: Cycle the Danube

Wending through the heartland of Eastern Europe past medieval towns, Roman ruins, historic bridges, and sweeping alpine vistas, the nearly 2,000-mile-long Danube River has long held an allure for cyclists. Unlike most supported rides, this one extends the well-trod Passau to Vienna route; you’ll go from Regensburg, the northernmost bend in the river, to Budapest. Cyclists pedal at their own pace, regrouping at points of interest and in the evenings to share their experiences. Past guest Linda Myers likes the local focus. “We ate at neighborhood restaurants and interacted with residents.” ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours: “Bicycling the Danube,” 13 days; $4,600.

Italy: Hike, Make Pasta, Eat

New this year

Feast your way through northern Italy’s Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto regions—think tangy goat cheeses, creamy risottos, Barolo and Barbaresco wines—priming your appetite with day hikes and visits with vintners and cheesemakers along the way. The best part? Two nights at Verona’s luxe Villa del Quar, where the chef shares his pastamaking prowess in a cooking lesson before dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Ristorante Arquade. Wilderness Travel: “Great Hikes and Chefs of Northern Italy’s Gourmet Trail,” 8 days; $5,295.

United Kingdom: Paddling the Wild West

New this year; good value

With its rugged nooks and crannies, Scotland’s sparsely populated western coast is prime paddling country. This guided trip shows off the highlights of the 300-mile Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, from Loch Linnhe to the beach-fringed islands of the Sound of Arisaig, teeming with seals, otters, dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks. Stay at inns right off the trail. Wilderness Scotland: “The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail,” 6 days; $1,250.

Spain, Morocco: Moorish Delights

From Granada’s 14th-century Alhambra palace and Arabic tearooms to the vibrant Djemaa el Fna town square and Dar Si Said Museum in Marrakech, this private tour threads together Spain and Morocco’s shared Moorish heritage. Lodgings are luxe, with stays at the elegant Alma Palacio de Villapanés in Seville and Kasbah Tamadot, Virgin founder Richard Branson’s retreat in the Atlas Mountains. Artisans of Leisure: “Southern Spain & Morocco,” 14 days; $13,295.

Bulgaria: Mountain Romp

Good value; family-friendly

Carved by deep river gorges and riddled with vast networks of caves, southern Bulgaria’s Rhodopes mountain range is a wonderland for hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and spelunking. Do it all on this multisport family adventure, including a trek into the forested Chairite Reserve, where you’ll set up camp for the night and sleep under the stars. KE Adventure: “High Jinks in Bulgaria,” 8 days; $1,475 for adults; $815 children, ages 6-11.

Croatia: Retro Med

Good value

Vintage coastal trading boats once delivered supplies to the islands off Croatia’s 1,100-mile coastline. Repurposed to accommodate guests, these 20- to 40-passenger vessels now ply the Adriatic at a more leisurely pace. Stop at medieval walled towns, orange-roofed fishing villages, vineyards, and pebbly white beaches or savor the classic Med scenery at anchor. Maris Freighter & Specialty Cruises: “Croatia’s Coastal Voyages,” 7 days; $515-$1,140.

France, Italy: Bike the Isles

Trace the coastlines of northern Sardinia and western Corsica on a bike, discovering their dazzling land- and seascapes and distinct cultures. Warm up in Sardi­nia, often compared to northern California without the cars, where you’ll coast down rolling hills and explore Bronze Age towers called nuraghi. Corsica brings more challenging terrain as you zigzag up cork tree-lined lanes to granite overlooks with sweeping views. Ciclismo Classico: “Mediterranean Island Hopping,” 11 days; $4,995.

Russia: Russia, Off the Radar

Good value

Inspired by the Romanovs’ forays into rural Russia aboard their imperial river yacht in the late 19th century, this cruise on the 115-passenger Volga Dream plies the same waterways to explore parts of the country rarely visited by foreigners. Not up on your Tsarist history? Russia scholar Rosamund Bartlett lectures daily on subjects ranging from serfdom to Shostakovich’s seventh symphony. Exeter International: “Moscow to Astrakhan, Lower Volga Cruise,” 13 days; $3,200.

Switzerland: Swiss Ride

Led by a couple of American expats who’ve spent the last ten years mapping out the best descents and trails in Switzerland’s Valais region, this mountain biking adventure promises peak thrills with breaks to soak up the local flavors. Learn the basics of winemaking in private tastings; visit fromagers; and forage for mushrooms. EpicQuest: “Rhone Valley Fall Harvest Mountain Biking Adventure,” 8 days; $5,500.

Greenland, Iceland, Norway: Arctic Triple Play

Explore three different regions of the Arctic aboard a 107-passenger research vessel: Tour Heimaey in Iceland’s Westman Islands, known for its occupation by Barbary pirates in the 17th century; ply the rugged coast of eastern Greenland in Zodiacs to see the largest fjord complex in the world; marvel at the Monaco Glacier and keep an eye out for polar bears and walrus in Spitsbergen. Quark Expeditions: “Three Arctic Islands: Triple the Adventure,” 15 days; $4,790-$8,990.

Georgia, Turkey: Cultural Caucasus

New this year

With 25 years of guiding experience in the Caucasus region, the operator delivers a fresh cultural itinerary from the Anatolian Plateau of eastern Turkey to the Black Sea coast of Georgia. Visit the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Sumela, built into a steep cliff in the Pontic Mountains. Hear the polyphonic choral music of Adjara. Lunch at the home of a family in Kazbegi at the foot of one of the highest peaks of the Caucasus. MIR Corporation: “Eastern Turkey and Georgia: Legacy of Empire,” 15 days; $5,895.

These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2011 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.