Act now to catch best deals
The gardens of Villandry Chateau in the Loire Valley. Picture: Niall McIlroy/The West Australian

All of the major touring companies have released their packages for the next European summer and now it's time for earlybird travellers to catch them.

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For a limited time, many of these packages are bundled with attractive airfares, extra days or discounts and it is in this period before the end of the year that travellers can snare the best deals.

All the classic European packages are here - grand 23-day coach tours allowing you to enjoy a host of countries within three weeks, unpack-once river cruises along the Danube and the Rhine that visit a different medieval city every day and rail packages on the continent's ultra-efficient, easy to use system that gives a behind-the- scenes look at the countryside.

And the trend towards exploring further east continues with many companies introducing itineraries which allow you to experience the delights of Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, the Ukraine and Russia as well as the Baltics.

With major airlines offering more links between Perth and Europe via the Middle East, there's never been more choice in where you begin.

The Hungarian Parliament building Danube River Budapest Hungray panoramic view from Buda Castle Fishermen's Bastion. Supplied picture

It doesn't have to be Paris, London or Rome. Venice, Zagreb, Barcelona, St Petersburg, Helsinki and Oslo are all one stop away.

There are many packages available but don't forget they are only for a limited period. So time is of the essence:


GLOBUS

Globus has been packaging holidays for 85 years and has more than 70 itineraries across Europe, from the wilds of the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean and east to the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

There are four-day Best of Southern England tours and epic journeys of more than a month.

The onus on all is first-class, escorted travel. And until December 27, those who book a 2013 European holiday with Globus can fly with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong to Rome from $1475, to Paris from $1510 and to London from $1645. Additionally, pay for the tour in full 12 months before departure to save 10 per cent of the land portion of the itinerary.

For those who want a comprehensive package through much of the continent, Globus has a 29-day Europe in Depth itinerary which takes in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France and Spain. It costs from $6019. Among the new packages in 2013 is an 11-day Warsaw, the Baltics and St Petersburg journey which covers Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia before ending in St Petersburg.

Globus' 29-day package visits Venice. Picture: Globus

This package is designed to give travellers a true taste of the country, be it dinner at a Russian delicatessan or a tour of the KGB Museum in Vilnius. Priced from $2319 per person, there are optional extensions to Moscow and the Ukraine. And for those who like to stay in touch with the rest of the world, free wi-fi is available on 75 per cent of the Globus coach fleet.

·Travel agents, globus.com.au and 1300 230 234


COSMOS

Cosmos is part of the Globus group but specialises in escorted packages for the price conscious. In 2013, the company will offer more than 60 different European itineraries - the longest are the multi-country Panoramas of up to 27 days.

And the same earlybird deal of Cathay Pacific airfares to Europe from $1475 applies to Cosmos packages such as the 13-day Mediterranean Flavours itinerary, one of four new Regional Discoveries tours. The trip, from $1956, begins in Madrid and visits Valencia, Barcelona, Marseilles, Cinque Terre, Venice and Rome. Also new is A Taste of Ireland, a six-day tour from Dublin to Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, Killarney and Blarney which costs from $977.

·Travel agents, 1300 230 234 and cosmostours.com.au


INSIGHT VACATIONS

In 2013, coach touring experts Insight Vacations will travel through 42 European countries to places as diverse as Iceland, the Middle East, Portugal, Russia and Albania. Insight complements comfortable escorted travel by road, rail and coach with stays in quality, centrally located hotels. There are three Earlybird dates on selected tours - those paid in full by December 27 are discounted by up to 10 per cent or as much as $888 per person. Tours paid for by February 28 are reduced by 7.5 per cent while packages bought by April 30 are up to 5 per cent cheaper.

Insight's longest package, the 33-day European Heritage itinerary, evokes the Grand Tour of Europe fashionable among young nobles in the 18th century. The round-trip from London travels through 13 countries in western and central Europe and the Balkans visiting cities such as Vienna, Split, Athens, Pisa, Lucerne and Paris. Travel is by luxury 40-seat coach with cruises through the Rhine Valley and the Greek islands. Pre-discount, the package costs from $8650.

Insight Vacations' Gold Tours offer accommodation at premium hotels with free internet (where available) and often include banquets and other special events. They include a new eight-day Celtic Legends tour of Scotland which takes in Glasgow, Inverness and the Highlands and Edinburgh with a cruise on Loch Ness and a traditional dinner with bagpipes and dancing. Before discounts, the package is from $3565.

·Travel agents, 1300 237 886 and insightvacations.com/au


TRAFALGAR TOURS

One of the world's largest tour companies, Trafalgar has the same three-date Earlybird special as sister group Insight, as well as a host of airfare specials. Until November 30, travellers who book a Trafalgar Europe & Britain 2013 guided holiday worth at least $665 can fly return from Perth to London on Singapore Airlines from $1619.

Packages worth at least $1225 are eligible for return airfares from Perth with Emirates to Rome from $1835, to Paris from $1879 and to London from $2019.

Until December 31, packages worth $1225 qualify for return airfares from Perth with Cathay Pacific to London from $1739, to Rome from $1549 and to Paris from $1599.

There are also earlybird specials on premium economy flights with Cathay Pacific and business class airfares with China Southern Airlines.

Trafalgar's eight-day The Treasures of France package, a roundtrip from Paris, is an example of a tour that would qualify for the earlybird discount and airfare special if booked by November 30. The package is from $1899 and visits Paris, Normandy and the Loire Valley with departures between April 13 and October 19.

·Travel agents, trafalgar.com and 1300 663 043


CONTIKI

With packages angled towards 18-35 year olds, Contiki tours include places with a vibrant nightlife and good restaurant culture. Until December 27, those who pay for a Contiki tour of at least seven days qualify for return airfares to Europe from $759. Contiki's 33-day European Explorer visits Paris, Barcelona, the French Riviera, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens, Mykonos, Dubrovnik, Vienna, Munich and Amsterdam and includes most meals and the services of a tour manager. It costs from $6784, including a 10 per cent early payment discount.

·Travel agents, 1300 266 845 and contiki.com


CREATIVE HOLIDAYS

Creative Holidays has discounted airfares which include $200 land credit per person to spend on the company's comprehensive range of accommodation, sightseeing and transport. Until November 30, return flights from Perth to Rome on Singapore Airlines start at $1969. Four nights at the Tempio Di Pallade in Rome with breakfast costs from $329 while four nights at the Ibis Earls Court Hotel in London with breakfast is from $369.

·Travel agents, 1300 747 400 and creativeholidays.com


UTRACKS

The walking and cycling tour specialists have 10 per cent off all European tours booked before November 16. UTracks' 2013 Active Europe brochure has more than 300 self-guided or small group itineraries to destinations such as the vineyards of Provence and the Croatian coast and there are new tours to Serbia, Malta, Finland, Norway and Cyprus. An eight-day Belgrade to Budapest cycling and walking tour traces the Danube and includes most meals and three-star hotel and guesthouse accommodation and costs from $1550.

·utracks.com and 1300 303 368


FRENCH CONNECTION

French Connection specialises in packages to the land of the Eiffel Tower and the Can Can. Book and pay a deposit on the 17-day tour by December 22 to save $300 per person. The fully inclusive package visits Normandy, the Loire Valley, Lyon and the Champagne region and includes 16 nights accommodation with breakfasts, 11 dinners and tours. With the discount, the tour costs from $6489 and departures are in May, June, July, August and September.

· www.frenchtravel.com.au and 1300 858 304


VIVA! HOLIDAYS

Viva! Holidays has combined tours, $100 rail vouchers and earlybird airfares to Europe from Perth with Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates.

Until December 31, a six-night holiday in Rome with accommodation, one night pre and post-tour stay in Hong Kong, a rail voucher and Cathay Pacific airfares is from $2450 for travel from May 1-31 and September 1- October 31.

·Travel agents, 1800 848 246 and vivaholidays.com.au


DESTINATION INTERNATIONAL

A nine-day tour of Ireland is $1900 and $950 for the second person if paid for by December 31. The tour departs from London on May 10, June 7 and September 6 and 20 and includes return airfares between London and Dublin with Aer Lingus, 8 nights of hotel stays, many meals, coach transport and tours to Belfast, Dublin, Kilkenny, the Ring of Kerry, Galway, Donegal, the Giant's Causeway and Derry.

A 13-day tour of Italy, including return flights from Perth, costs from $3999 per person with six free nights (making a 19-day package) in London if paid for by November 30. The package departs Australia on May 25 and September 14 and includes accommodation and many meals. Places visited include northern France, Lake Garda, Rome, Sorrento, Florence and Pisa.

·ditravel.com.au and 1800 813 391


ESCAPE TRAVEL

A four-night stay in Athens at the three-star King Jason Hotel with breakfast is $129 until November 15. The offer is valid for travel until December 20 and from January 5 to March 28.

·escapetravel.com.au and 1300 556 855


PEREGRINE ADVENTURES

Seven new tours have been added to Peregrine's range which now numbers more than 60.

It's quite a rise for Peregrine whose traditional focus was on South America and Nepal rather than on Europe but managing director Glenyce Johnson says the company's bookings to the continent have more than doubled over the past five years.

Nearly a third of Peregrine's selections are self-guided tours and all new bookings made before October 31 on itineraries in the Europe 2013 program will receive discounts of up to 20 per cent.

Peregrine's Italian tours are its most popular. and new in 2013 is an eight-day guided walking tour, Jewels of the Bay of Naples, which covers the islands of Procida, Capri and Ischia. The tour features daily walks to villages and Roman and Greek historical sites and into the mountains and includes seven nights accommodation, all transport and many meals. There are seven departures between April and October 2013 excluding July with earlybird prices from $2421 down from $2690.

·peregrineadventures.com and 1300 791 485


ALBATROSS TOURS

There's a straight saving of $300 per person off any of Albatross Tours' six European itineraries for deposits paid by December 22. The fully-escorted La Francaise tour is a round trip from Paris and loops through France over 17 days. There is a relaxed pace with three-night stays in the Loire Valley and in the Bordeaux, Burgundy and Normandy regions and two nights in the Dordogne. The discounted price is $6189 with departures from May to September.

·Travel agents, 1300 135 015 and albatrosstours.com.au


TEMPO HOLIDAYS

Book the 10-day Mykonos and Santorini by February 28 to save 10 per cent.

The tour is Tempo's most popular and includes two nights in Athens, three nights in Mykonos and four nights in Santorini with breakfasts, transfers and fast ferry tickets. After discount, the package costs $842.

·Travel agents, 1300 558 987 and tempoholidays.com


BUNNIK TOURS

There's up to $500 per person off the price of Bunnik's 2013/14 tours of Europe for bookings made by December 21.

One example is the 22-day Moscow to Prague itinerary which visits St Petersburg, Tallinn, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow and Cesky Krumlov, including accommodation and return airfares.

The tour costs from $6959, after discount, with departures from May 17-October 4.

·Travel agents, 1300 664 170 and bunniktours.com.au


RAILBOOKERS

Bespoke packages combining train journeys and accommodation across the European continent are a specialty for Railbookers which can put together seamless itineraries.

The options are almost endless as travellers can take advantage of the efficient rail system to see the countryside and vary the length of their stays in different cities.

Travellers who book and pay for any Railbookers holiday departing in 2013 by the end of October get 15 per cent off their fare, while those who pay a deposit save 10 per cent.

This includes a six-night Venice and Rome package which features three nights in four-star hotels with breakfast in both cities and train transfers between the two destinations.

With the earlybird discount, the price starts at $665 per person, a saving of $235 per couple.

Or explore Central Europe and the Balkans on the 10-night London to Bosnia and the Croatian Coast package which stops in Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Mostar and Dubrovnik with nine nights accommodation and breakfast from around $1130.

·railbookers.com.au and 1300 938 534


FLIGHT CENTRE

There ae a range of earlybird airfares to Europe available until November 30 with Flight Centre.

Return flights from Perth to Paris with Air Mauritius are from $1426 for travel between February 10 and July 31. Fly return to Amsterdam with Malaysia Airlines from $1525 for departures from March 1 to May 31 or to London with Qatar Airways from $1541 between February 1 and March 15 and from April 21 to May 31. All fares include taxes.

·flightcentre.com.au/ promotions/europe and 1300 939 414

All flights quoted in this article are per person and tour and cruise prices are per person, twin-share. Conditions apply and deals are subject to change without notice. Prices are subject to change and availability.

The West Australian

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