The Smart Travels — Europe series features host Rudy Maxa’s picks of the best independent travel destinations in Europe. Thirteen half-hour episodes show viewers how to travel in style for less and how to take charge of their own trips. These are real trips with precise you-are-there details. Every week, Rudy highlights a manageable itinerary of famous spots and off-the-beaten-path surprises. Rudy’s philosophy is clear: savvy travelers find Europe on their own, at their own pace. He’s just eager to get them started. Rudy offers tips on travel philosophy, reservations, car rentals, cruising the Rhine, jumping the language barrier, train travel, antique, gold, glass and wine shopping and meeting the people who make travel unforgettable. Rudy cozies up to new and old Europe, adding a touch of luxury to the day-to-day delight of discovery.
Rudy Maxa’s travel articles have appeared in dozens of prominent magazines and newspapers. He is a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine where his articles have earned two Lowell Thomas awards for excellence in travel writing.
Episode #102 · Rudy is in the city where all roads lead - Roma. We begin in ancient Rome - the Forum, Palatine Hill, Colosseum, and Baths of Caracalla. Then we explore modern Roman life on the streets and in cafes, pizzerias and gelaterias. We detour to another country, Vatican City, then shop along the Corso and relax at the Piazza di Spagna. Rudy's pick for best city walks are a tour of the historic center and a stroll in shady Trastevere. Tips on getting around and places for tasty snacks.
Episode #103 · Join Rudy as he surrenders himself to the charms of magical Venice. We tour the famous sites - Piazza San Marco, the fairy tale Basilica of San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. Rudy also shows us how to escape the crowds by visiting the neighborhoods of Dorsoduro, Cannaregio and San Polo. Along the way, he takes us for a rousing drink at the city' s oldest wine bar, on a dreamy gondola ride and to a traditional Venetian mask shop. In search of hand blown glass, lace and the birthplace of Venice, we journey to the lagoon islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. Tips on how to navigate your way around this watery city.
Genoa and the Italian Riviera
Episode #104 · We're off to the Italian Riviera seeking la dolce vita in one of the world's most romantic places. With death-defying cliffs and beaches that shimmer like jewels, the Riviera is as stunning a coastline as anywhere in Europe. In the port town of Genoa, we tour palaces for a taste of old-world elegance and dine on world-class pesto. Then we head south to the famous resort of Portofino and the sea cliff towns of the Cinqueterre. Finally, we battle vertigo at Pisa's leaning tower. Tips on using train passes and finding addresses.
Episode #105 · In this glorious city, rich in art, Rudy brings the Renaissance to life. We visit the great museums - the Uffizi, Bargello, and Accademia, as well as the landmarks of the Renaissance - the Duomo, Bapistery and Giotto's Tower. Rudy's tip for beating the crowds is peaceful Oltr'arno on the other side of the river. An excursion outside of town leads to a Medici villa, a sleepy Tuscan town and a museum with inventions by Leonardo da Vinci. Tips on shopping and how to buy quality leather products.
Hill Towns of Tuscany and Umbria
Episode #106 · Castles, vineyards, walled cities and a fierce medieval rivalry that lingers today - we're out for an adventure in the Italian hill towns. Our base is dramatic Siena, home of the intensely competitive Palio horse race. From Siena we explore the multi-towered town of San Gimignano, watch grapes being harvested at a winery and drop in on the cheese festival in Pienza. Then south to Rudy's secret pick -the haunting hill towns of Pitigliano and Sovana. In Umbria we discover Etruscan tombs, visit the home of St. Francis of Assisi and pick up some pottery in quaint Gubbio. Tips on driving through the maze-like streets of a hill town and finding a place to stay.
Episode #107 · Sun, olive trees and cicadas - we're in the heart of France. With our base in the sleepy town of St. Remy, we make forays into the villages, countryside and cities of Provence. Driving tours of the Alpilles and Luberon regions take us to the red rock village of Rousillion, the lavender ensconced Abbey of Senanque, and the picture perfect village of Eygalieres. We also take in the delights of Provence's cities, Arles, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. We end our adventures with a dip in the Mediterranean at the seaside village of Cassis. Tips on how to rent a vacation home in France and enjoying the many summer festivals.
Episode #108 · Rudy escorts us through Paris, the city of style, art and pastries. We experience extraordinary art - the Impressionist collection at the Musee D'Orsay and the garden sculpture at the Rodin Museum. Then we hit the sites from Notre Dame to the Pompidou Center to the Eiffel Tower. We stroll through the parks, markets and cafes in this city where everyday life is art. Rudy leads us to intimate neighborhoods such as the Marais and its lovely Place des Vosges, the bohemian Latin Quarter and artistic Montmartre. Tips on riding the Metro and shopping for the essentials - bread, cheese, ham and pastries.
Episode #109 · London is a city that has come close to ruling the world. With a legacy that includes Shakespeare and the Beatles, London seems to have an endless capacity to reinvent itself. Here, we sip tea and savor traditional sights such as Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard. We pop in to see where Charles Dickens penned Oliver Twist, and get a bird's-eye view of contemporary London from the new London Eye observation wheel. Finally, we check out cutting edge artwork at the newly opened Tate Modern Art Museum. Tips on using cell phones and cash machines.
Out of London
Episode #110 · The countryside outside of London echoes with storybook images. Around every hedgerow are mythic castles, ruined abbeys and prehistoric monuments. This time, we leave London and stop at Hampton Court, where Henry VIII wooed Anne Boleyn. We gaze on Oxford's dreamy spires and browse in the real Alice in Wonderland's candy store. Next, we pay a visit to Jane Austen's house, puzzle over the mysterious megaliths of Stonehenge, and pursue tales of Camelot in the royal city of Winchester. Tips on driving in England and visiting country pubs.
Episode #111 · For centuries, Belgium has been a sophisticated hub for gourmets and connoisseurs. In true Belgian style, we treat ourselves to superb chocolate and sample first-rate beer. We indulge our senses with folk music and Bruegel paintings, and investigate the people's passion for comic strips. Then we drive to breathtaking Bruges, a medieval city suspended in time. There, we cruise the canals, admire intricate handmade lace and pay homage to a Michelangelo masterpiece. Tips on hearty Belgian cuisine and lace making.
Amsterdam and the Netherlands
Episode #112 · The country of the Netherlands inspired the Dutch masters and became a powerhouse that conquered the sea. We bicycle to Amsterdam's great art museums to see the works of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Then we climb to the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis. Later, we prowl windmills and check out Amsterdam's infamous red-light district. Next stop is the Hague, home to the International Court of Justice. Finally, we peek at the delightful city of Delft where we learn techniques for making world-renowned china. Tips on riding trolleys and buying Delftware.
Copenhagen and Denmark
Episode #113 · Join Rudy in the wondrous kingdom of legend and fairytale - Denmark. Here Vikings plundered and Hans Christian Anderson spun children's stories. In cozy Copenhagen, we splurge on pastries, visit the Little Mermaid and dance till dawn at Tivoli Gardens. On a day trip to Roskilde, we check out three incredibly well preserved Viking ships. We ride horseback through the Danish countryside, stroll through writer Karen Blixen's gardens, and storm the moat at "Prince Hamlet's" Castle. Tips on canal rides and museum passes.
Athens and Delphi
Episode #201 · While Athens sprawls, its historic core survives. After climbing the majestic Acropolis, prowling the Plaka, and cheering Greece's best folk dancers, we take some easy trips outside the city. We make a pilgrimage to the famed oracle of Delphi and tour a beautiful medieval monastery. Then it's off to the Peloponnesian Peninsula, where we scope out Nafplion's charming port and visit the epic ruins of King Agamemnon in the ancient capital of Mycenae. Along the way, we investigate local superstitions and sample tangy specialty treats. Tip: Finding great Greek food, traditional and contemporary.
Episode #202 · On the Greek Islands we get familiar with the ferries as we island-hop the Aegean. Sun-drenched, upscale and exotic, Santorini sits on the rim of an ancient, but still active, volcano. At one end of the island, the archeological site at Akrotiri uncovers a city frozen in time by the volcano's eruption 3,600 years ago. The island of Naxos offers serenity, a low-keyed pace and bargain accommodations. Its massive marble quarries and kouros sculptures were the toast of ancient Greece. We catch some R&R on trendy Mykonos, and then head to sacred Delos-an uninhabited island covered entirely with ancient ruins, and the place where the great god Apollo was born. Tips: Discovering little off-the-beaten-path surprises.
Episode #203 · From Nice to St. Tropez, we drop in on the hot spots along the Mediterranean's famous Cote d'Azur. Based in lively Nice, we visit the local beaches and superb modern art museums featuring works by Matisse, Picasso and Signac. A short hop up along the winding Grande Corniche leads to wealthy Monaco. Then it's on to glamorous Cannes and the lively beaches at Juan le Pins. In stylish St. Tropez, we visit the prettiest beaches and tour the colorful town. Inland, we make our own perfume in Grasse and explore a medieval hill town. Tips include renting a car, and accommodations.
France's Burgundy and Loire Regions
Episode #204 · The Burgundy region boasts top French wines, romantic canals, Romanesque churches and some of France's most renowned cuisine. We base in the small town of Beaune and learn about its history of winemaking. From the vineyards of the Cote d'Or to the culinary delights - we discover the exquisite taste of Burgundy. The city of Dijon and the cathedral at Vezelay add artistic treasures to the Burgundy experience. For the second half of our trip, we head for the Loire Valley and chateaux country. From our home base in Amboise, we visit the famous chateaux, including magnificent Chenoneau, and Franois I's overwhelming Chambord. Tips include touring wine country, discovering smaller chateaux and ballooning over the Loire.
Episode #205 · With world-class cultural sites, dynamic new architecture and unstoppable energy, Berlin is a city on the move. We visit the museums - the ancient treasures of the Pergamon and the Egyptian museum, German Expressionism at the Neue Nationalgalerie and the newly designed Jewish Museum. From dynamic Potzdamer Platz to the stark reminders at Checkpoint Charlie, we feel the past and see the future in Berlin. Our base is the luxurious and historical Hotel Adlon. Even shopping in Berlin brings history with it-we shop and snack at the fabulous KaDeWe department store. An outing to Potsdam takes in the Prussian past. Tips on touring this historic city, and best beers.
Munich and Bavaria
Episode #206 · Munich's lively Marienplatz pulses with outdoor cafes, shoppers, street musicians and happy tourists. At the famous Hofbrauhaus, we sample Bavarian beer and kick up our heels with Schuhplattler dancers clad in lederhosen. Next stop is the Residenz, the family palace built by the Wittlesbachs, who ruled Bavaria for more than 700 years. Just outside of town, a sobering visit to Dachau concentration camp reminds us of the dark side of Germany's past. Then, we move on to lighter vistas-a trip into the mountains takes us to "Mad" King Ludwig's fairytale castle Neuschwanstein and on an exhilarating luge ride. Tip: Finding Bavaria's best beer gardens.
Salzburg and the Lakes District
Episode #207 · In musical Salzburg, we focus on Austria's easy approach to life. We visit the city's grand cathedral, take a funicular up to Europe's greatest medieval fortress, and shop along fine Baroque streets reminiscent of Mozart's time. We visit the house where the young Amadeus was born and where he composed his first masterpiece. Investigating the sumptuous palaces of Salzburg's prince-archbishops, we discover some "secret" passions. Then we relax in Austria's woodsy "Sound of Music" land, the Salzkammergut Lakes District. We soar high into the mountains to tour magical ice caves and then stroll little spa towns where Europe's crowned heads once "took to the baths". Tip: Best bargain for seeing lots of sights in a short amount of time.
Vienna and the Danube
Episode #208 · Habsburg palaces, coffee houses, Strauss waltzes...all are symbolic of Vienna. Visiting elegant Schoenbrunn Palace, riding in carriages, sampling luscious apple strudel and listening to Mozart concerts, we see that Austria's capital still lives its elegant, proud past. We get a behind-the-scenes peek at how exquisite china is made at Augarten, Europe's second oldest porcelain manufacturer. For a change from urban to countryside, we cruise down the Danube past vineyards and castles, stop at the dazzling Melk Abbey, and sample " new" wines-unique young varieties special to this part of the world. Tip: Where to experience Vienna's hot new art scene.
Milan and Lake Como
Episode #209 · Milan symbolizes the powerhouse Italy of the 21st century-a European center for finance and fashion. We explore Italy's most extravagantly decorated Gothic cathedral, look at Leonardo da Vinci's famous Last Supper and shop, shop, shop. A visit to the Milan Design Museum shows how, for the Milanese, everyday life is art. We take a train north to serene Lake Como, where we ferry-hop among lakeside villages, explore elegant villas and stop over at the historic Villa D'Este Hotel. A side trip to the ancient city of Bergamo and an alpine festival in the Valtellina complete our journey. Tips include train travel and boat itineraries.
Episode #210 · We wend our way across this largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Once the hub of the ancient world, Sicily offers up a vibrant, sun-soaked brew of history, tradition and intense cultural pride. At Palermo, a city bursting with its atmospheric past, we visit the lively market, and marvel at Monreale Cathedral, which shows off remnants of its Arab, Norman and Byzantine past. The finest classical Greek temples outside of Greece stand near Segesta and Agrigento, while the Villa Romana del Casale houses the most extensive and unspoiled Roman mosaics surviving from the ancient world. Then it's on to ancient Syracuse, once the rival of Athens for wealth and power. Finally, we climb to the top of Mount Etna, for steaming craters and unearthly views. Tips include getting around the island and when to visit.
Classical Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome
Episode #211 · Here's where we pull together some of Europe's most rewarding sites from the classical world. Ancient Greek and Roman remnants are more than cold stone. They hold centuries of stories. So we revisit some favorite classical sites around the Mediterranean, pick up some new stories and see what kinds of connections we can make. It's the Greeks in Athens, Delphi, Delos, Paestum and Syracuse-and the Romans in Pompeii, Rome and Provence, with a little history of wine and olives thrown in for good measure.
Episode #212 · Travelers adore Italy, and Italy adores the Renaissance. In this half-hour, we follow Western Europe's transition from medieval to modern times by exploring the arts and ambiance of that vibrant period. In Florence, Milan and Venice, we find works by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Titian. Side-tripping to France's lush Loire Valley, we visit Renaissance castles and abbeys, including the timeless haunts of Amboise, Chenonceau, and a few less-traveled chateaux along the way. And we drop into the Northern Renaissance with a visit to Hampton Court and Henry VIII.
Episode #213 · A key attraction of travel in Europe is that 30 minutes outside of any city there lurks a getaway, a quiet spot to catch one's breath. In this program, we explore a few such magic places. We begin in peaceful Holland with visits to the windmills and canals of Zaanse Schans and Delft. Then, in the Bavarian Alps, we breathe in pristine Mittenwald and check out the handiwork of a local violinmaker. In Austria, a cruise on the Danube takes us to a spectacular Baroque abbey. Finally, in Tuscany, we go underground to ancient Etruscan tombs beneath the town of Orvieto and sample great wine at Castello Banfi. Tips on how to find one's own hideaway, how to meet locals and how to avoid much tourist hassle.
Ireland's West Coast
Episode #301H · We're blessed with a bit of Irish luck as we take on Ireland's ruggedly beautiful west coast. We start in Galway, Europe's fastest growing city, shopping for Irish crystal and Celtic jewelry. Then it'sa salt-sprayed boat trip to the fabled Aran Islands where we reach breathless heights at a Stone Age fort and ferret out traditional hand-knit sweaters. Heading south, we pass through the eerie landscape of the Burren, sample the best of Irish folk music, and binge on a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle. In the lush forests of Killarney, we visit the country manor of Muckross, before touring the stunning Dingle Peninsula. Tips on renting bicycles.
Ireland's West Coast
Episode #301 · Maxa takes on Ireland's ruggedly beautiful west coast. Through Galway, Europe's fastest growing city, we shop for Irish crystal and Celtic jewelry. Then it's a salt-sprayed boat trip to the fabled Aran Islands. Heading south, we pass through the eerie landscape of the Burren, sample the best of Irish folk music and binge on a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle. We visit the country manor of Muckross in Killarney before touring the stunning Dingle Peninsula. Tips: Renting bicycles.
Dublin and Beyond
Episode #302H · Irish eyes are smiling when we explore Dublin, Ireland's urban core. There's history around every corner, and Dublin delights with Trinity College, the Book of Kells, the famous Guinness Brewery, and the infamous Kilmainham jail where Irish rebels spent their last days. We liberally sample pub life while tapping our toes to traditional music, and follow in the footsteps of famous Irish writers on a literary pub-crawl. Beyond Dublin, we find inspiration in the hillsides of Glendalough, site of Ireland's revered monastery, and the Hill of Tara, home of the ancient Irish kings. A side trip to Northern Ireland's best folk park brings the Eire of yesteryear to life. Tips on visiting Dublin's literary sites.
Dublin and Beyond
Episode #302 · Dublin delights with Trinity College, the Book of Kells, the famous Guinness Brewery and the infamous Kilmainham jail where Irish rebels spent their last days. We liberally sample pub life while tapping our toes to traditional music, and follow in the footsteps of famous Irish writers on a literary pub-crawl. Beyond Dublin, we find inspiration in the hillsides of Glendalough and the Hill of Tara. A side trip to Northern Ireland's best folk park brings the Eire of yesteryear to life. Tips: Visiting Dublin's literary sites.
Germany's Romantic Road
Episode #303H · The Romantic Road winds through some of Germany's most picturesque countryside complete with medieval villages and Baroque Palaces. We start our journey in Wurzburg where we visit the spectacular Baroque Bishop's Palace or Residenz and taste wine at one of Wurzburg's many wine festivals. Next we visit the castle of the Teutonic Knights in Bad Mergentheim and a short distance away the Deutsches Auto Museum in the Renaissance Castle of Prince Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Every July the medieval town of Dinkelsbuhl celebrates the day the children saved the town during the Thirty Years War. We get a front row seat complete with dancing, music and an historic reenactment. We finish our trip in Rothenburg, the best preserved medieval walled city in Germany. Tip: Travel options along the Romantic Road.