Cruising to Europe

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Elite cruisers continuously call on Western Europe for its infinite historical sites, cosmopolitan city centers with unparalleled gastronomy and wine selections, and its world-class shopping and hotels. Here, we take a trip through three of the region’s most captivating destinations. 

Amsterdam in The Netherlands is an enchanting city of tree-lined canals, gabled homes, museums filled with the works of Dutch Masters and must-see historical attractions like the Anne Frank House (www.annefrank.org). For out-of-the-ordinary activities like a private sailing and picnic aboard an antique wooden ship on the Vecht River, private museum viewings and cocktails in a canal-house garden, contact Rene Buyink (rene.buyink@itbholland.com; 31 20 305 13 60), director, ITBholland (www.itbholland.com). Or, for a peek inside the enormous Bentinck canal house, contact Charlotte Bentinck (www.charlotte-bentinck.nl;charlottebentinck@hotmail.com), who will happily orchestrate a formal dinner for up to 30 guests at her family’s 300-year-old residence (Bentinck has hosted heads of states and corporate VIPs). 

For overnights in Amsterdam, we like Seven One Seven (www.717hotel.nl), a stunning collection of eight suites. Nightly rates are inclusive of everything from the mini-bar and breakfast to afternoon tea set in front of the Library’s fireplace and selections from the hotel’s extensive wine list. Best to book: the larger, canal-view Schubert and Tolkien Suites. Contact Manager Brita Röehl (info@717hotel.nl; 31 204 27 07 17).

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A popular pick among international business travelers, Hotel Okura (www.okura.nl) will unveil its new 5,390-square-foot “Suite” this summer. A suitable option for leisure travelers, the two-bedroom duplex will sport panoramic views, a large sitting room with a dining area, fitness room, screening room for 14 guests, butler and limousine service at guests’ disposal and in-suite repasts from the hotel’s Michelin-star chefs. We think the chromotherapy tub will be an especially big hit.

In France, you don’t have to be an oenophile to love Bordeaux; the food here is more than extraordinary and the scenery is some of the continent’s most breathtakingly romantic.

The narrow flèche (spire) atop St. Michel’s is open to tourists who wish to climb its 228 steps to enjoy the momentous views, but Bordeaux-Tourisme (www.bordeaux-tourisme.com) can obtain special permission for even more exclusive excursions, including private tours of many museums and historical buildings in Bordeaux; contact Caroline Guerin (c.guerin@bordeaux-tourisme.com; 33 556 006 612) or Daniel Beaufrère (d.beaufrere@mairie-bordeaux.fr; 33 556 102 517), who can arrange private viewings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts to see works by Perugina, Rubens, Delacroix, Picasso and Matisse.

If your VIPs want to take a private tour to top châteauxs, make sauces side-by-side with master chefs, or visit an artist’s workshop, check out Saint-Emilion Excellence (www.see.travel.com)and contact Managing Director Madeleine Marchand (mmarch
and@see-travel.com
; 33 557 744 017). Arrange private wine classes, be it two hours or a full day,  through the Bordeaux Wine School (http://ecole.vins-bordeaux.fr). Contact Julia Saint Martin (ecole@vins-bordeaux.fr; 33 556 002 285). Arrange a private car for clients who wish to drive the Route des Châteaux to see centuries-old châteauxs like Margaux and quaint villages like Pauillac. Steer your clients along the right bank of the Garoone River—where they’ll find Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site—for a chance to stroll the ancient cobbled streets steeped in history and flanked by architectural masterpieces. For clients who prefer to stay close to the ship, recommend the city’s most beloved wine shop, Cousin & Cie on Place du Parlement (www.cousin.fr), which hosts tasting events every Sunday.

In Ireland, Belfast (known as the “new Dublin” to in-the-know locals) is now a thriving metropolis of crowd-drawing restaurants, fashionable bars and celebrity sightings. The city’s run-down downtown buildings are a thing of the past, long replaced by showy condos and famous retail shops. We loved the River Lagan’s waterfront, which features a new promenade and three art trails. These days, the Botanic Gardens’ walkways are packed with visitors heading for its wondrous 1829 iron-and-glass Palm House.

The historic Cathedral Quarter (think Dublin’s “Temple Bar”) is teeming with bars, galleries and fusion-focused restaurants, and home to the rather new Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (www.cqaf.com), where, for 10 days, clients can see anything from art exhibits to street performances and films.

For the best views of the city, we suggest a trek up the 1,200-foot peak in Cave Hill Country Park off Antrim Road (weather permitting, Scotland can be glimpsed on the horizon), with a visit to Belfast Castle, one of the city’s most significant structures, along the way.

Must-sees: Great Victoria Street, home to the 1894 Grand Opera House (www.goh.co.uk)—and its newer version next door—for musicals and operas, and the historic and legendary Crown Liquor Saloon for a pint of Guinness. The illustrious 20-foot-high peace wall that stretches for miles between Shankill and Springfield Roads (built to separate Catholics and Protestants) and the murals along Falls and Shankill Roads (Note: Most of the murals are on Shankill) depicting three decades of Belfast’s troubled past are more sites your clients won’t want to miss.
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For exclusive events such as a private five-course dinner inside Belfast Castle or private tea with the Lord Mayor of Belfast at City Hall, contact Laura Maltman (laura.maltman@ovation-ni.com; 44 2890 45 6451) at Ovation Group (www.ovation.ie). Upon request, Gassan Diamonds (www.gassandiamonds.com) will send a limousine to collect clients for a private sit-down with the very famous Rodrigo Otazu (superstars like Nicole Kidman and Madonna are fans of his designs). Contact Joao Goncalves (j.goncalves@gassandiamonds.nl; 31 20 530 9234). Or, schedule a private appointment with Douwes Fine Art on Stadhouderskade for clients who wish to purchase works by Dutch Old Masters; contact Evert Douwes (info@douwesfineart.com; 31 20 664 6362).

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In Belfast, our pick for the perfect overnight is the Culloden Estate Hotel (www.hastingshotels.com). Not far from the city’s center, this celebrity magnet has welcomed guests such as David Beckham, Michael Douglas and Tony Blair. Best to book: the one-bedroom Palace Suite for its postcard-pretty views of Belfast Lough and the estate's Lady Jane Garden  (bookable via GDS). Butler service is available in all accommodations for an additional charge. Contact Marketing Director Julie Maguire (julie@hastingshotels.com; 44 2890 75 1066).

In the hotel, award-winning Mitre’s signature dishes include a peppercorn steak topped with pate and a cognac cream sauce. Tip: Guest chefs such as Gordon Ramsay occasionally join Chef Paul McNight in the kitchen, and guests can enjoy private dinners with them upon advance request (depending on availability). Contact Head Concierge Craig Stewart (guest@cull.hastingshotels.com; 44 2890 42 1066), who can also arrange private helicopter transfers to Scotland for a round of golf. 

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At the Culloden’s spa, the Aromatherapy Body Massage is a must (be sure to request Emma-Marie McGivern); we also loved the Millionaire Makeover. Guests also enjoy a pool and fitness center. Contact Director Margaret McCallum (thespa@cull.hastings
hotels.com
; 44 2890 42 1135).  

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