Photograph by Jialiang Gao, Getty Images

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Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic is part of a tour offered by the Wayfarers.

Photograph by Jialiang Gao, Getty Images

Best Tours in Europe 2013

From Traveler Magazine's 2013 Tours of a Lifetime

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Iceland: Horse Course

Brought by Viking settlers some 1,000 years ago, Icelandic horses are coveted for their flowing manes, good temperaments, and graceful gaits. Walk, trot, gallop, and tölt (a natural gait unique to the breed) astride one of these beauties through the meadows, lava fields, and sandy beaches of Snæfellsnes Peninsula—all in the shadow of Snæfellsjökull, the glacier-capped cone volcano that inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Refuel at simple country guesthouses, where hosts regale you with Viking sagas. Women only. Adventure Women: “Horseback Riding in Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice,” 9 days; $3,995;

Malta, Italy: Ancient Sicily

The 65-passenger Sea Cloud II sets sail from Malta for an in-depth exploration of Sicily’s ancient treasures, including the archaeological zone in Syracuse and the Greek temple and theater in Segesta. Adding context are onboard lectures from Temple University art history professor Frank Dabell and National Trust for Historic Preservation horticulturalist Patrick Bowe. In Syracuse, the group will visit the baroque palazzo of Baron Beneventano for a tour and refreshments. Academic Arrangements Abroad: “Sicily by Sea: Art Treasures and Ancient Temples,” 9 days; $5,995;

Italy: Tour de Tuscany

Cycle past the rolling vineyards of Chianti and up the crete—clay hills—on the approach to Siena on this luxurious biking tour through Tuscany’s legendary landscape. Picnic at private estates and stay at five-star digs (Siena’s 17th-century Grand Hotel Continental, for example). Opt for an electric bike ($400 extra) to save face on those climbs and focus on the countryside vistas rather than the burning in your quads. Butterfield and Robinson: “Tuscany Biking,” 6 days; $5,295;

Ireland: Green Isle Road Trip

This coastal ramble has your small group cruising the southwestern countryside in custom 4x4s, with stops at quintessential Irish towns like Dingle (population: 2,500; pubs: 50) and a night at a castle in Connemara. The country’s trademark breakfast (rashers and sausage) is included, but unlike most of the trips featured here, lunch and dinner are not. Want to track down your Irish kin? Ask about private ancestral tours pegged to Ireland’s 2013 diaspora celebration, called the Gathering. Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland: “Wild Irish Rover,” 8 days; $1,804;

Austria, Czech Republic: Art Walk

An art historian provides the narrative during daily hiking jaunts. There are long nature walks, such as the one through the Palava hills reserve, samplings of Czech beer and Moravian wine, and tours of Prague and the beautifully preserved city of Český Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its baroque and Gothic architecture. The Wayfarers: “Vienna to Prague,” 8 days; $4,195;

Sweden: Scandinavian Respite

What better way to reconnect with your family than to build and pilot a timber raft down a river together, like the loggers of yore? In the wilds of Sweden, no less. Ditch your devices and float down the Klarälven River, a historic logging route, for five days. Your kids will thank you now and later. Greenloons: “Swedish Timber Raft Adventure,” 5 days; $1,805, $1,440 kids;

Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro: Balkan Friendship Hike

Created by linking timeworn shepherd paths, the newly established Peaks of the Balkans trail system has opened to hikers the rugged Prokletije range at the nexus of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. Here’s a chance to experience this remote, unspoiled region with its unique Ottoman-influenced culture. Nights are spent at guesthouses, whose owners serve up local fare and stories. ROW Adventures: “Peaks of the Balkans: Peace Park Hike,” 10 days; $2,490;

Ukraine: The Cream of Crimea

Once the fashionable haunt of the Russian tsars, the Crimean Peninsula is being rediscovered by travelers. This itinerary hits all the high notes: a private tour of the Anton Chekhov Museum and dacha, cooking and sharing a meal with descendants of the Tatars, and a VIP tasting at the storied Massandra vineyards. Exeter International: “Treasures of the Crimea, Ukraine,” 6 days; $5,325;

Turkey: Youngsters’ Delight

This family-focused journey is crammed with classic Turkish experiences—e.g., bargaining at Istanbul’s spice market, visiting a rug-weaving co-op, and sailing on a gulet—plus hands-on fun like traditional paper-marbling, an art form that dates from the 15th century, and a pottery workshop in Cappadocia. Nice touch: Prior to the trip, kids are connected with pen pals they’ll meet once they arrive. Thomson Family Adventures: “Wonders of Turkey: A Smithsonian Family Adventure,” 15 days; $7,090; $6,940 for children under 12;

France: Unsung Europe

Rambling countryside, medieval stone villages, engaging locals, and castles galore—the southwest of France is arguably one of the least spoiled corners of western Europe, and an unparalleled backdrop for cycling. Pedal some 40 miles a day on the back roads of Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées, and Languedoc-Roussillon, stopping for wine tastings, a canoe paddle down the Dordogne, and cassoulet, sans guilt. Ciclismo Classico: “Bike Across France,” 10 days; $5,395;

Contributing editor Margaret Loftus has reported and written “Tours of a Lifetime” for the past eight years.