The explosive growth of China-based airlines over the past decade has been nothing less than phenomenal, and none more so than China Eastern Airlines. With services to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, China Eastern is opening up new cities and new experiences in Asia for Australian travellers – and now, an ever-increasing number of European cities.
China Eastern currently offers a one-stop service between Australia's east coast capitals and London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Prague, Madrid, Amsterdam, St Petersburg and Moscow via Shanghai (*144 hours transit visa free policy applies). For football fans planning to attend this year's FIFA World Cup, China Eastern is a great way to access these two Russian cities, both of which will see plenty of action during the event.
From 16 June, China Eastern Airlines will add Stockholm to the list. To celebrate this new service, China Eastern is offering travellers who depart Australia for Stockholm before 30 June an economy class return fare from just $950, an incredible bargain, freeing up more of your savings to make your European journey even bigger and better.
Underlining its commitment to Europe's trophy cities, China Eastern is organising a series of 11-day tours that take in the wonders of some of Europe's great cities beginning in Prague, one of the glories of Continental Europe with its treasury of Baroque and Gothic architecture. The first evening of the tour is spent in the city's Old Town Square, a great cobbled amphitheatre ringed with churches, palaces and burghers' houses which are even older than their Baroque facades suggest. Since almost the Middle Ages this has been the living room of Prague, a combination of bazaar, open-air theatre, political forum and outdoor cafe.
The next day the tour explores Prague Castle, followed by a relaxing river cruise with free time to explore in the afternoon, and don't miss the classic view of the city from the Charles Bridge, a view that has scarcely changed since Mozart trod these same cobblestones.
The next stage of the tour travels west to Lauf an der Pegnitz, a classic Bavarian riverside town with timbered facades and a market square that comes straight out of Hansel and Gretel. Lunch is at Wurzburg, another splendid Baroque city known as the 'Pearl of the Romantic Road', the glorious driving route which stretches south from here to the foothills of the Alps. Steal some time to wander around, and don't miss the 18th-century palace known as the Residenz. The vine-clad hills around Wurzburg are the source of Franken wine, possibly the best white wine you've never heard of, sold in a distinctive bowl-shaped bottle. The day ends at the thriving commercial powerhouse of Frankfurt.
Day four of the tour begins with a Rhine River cruise between the villages of Rudesheim and St Goar. This is one of the loveliest sections of the Rhine, threading between steep hills covered with forests and vineyards, and rising to castles on the hilltops. Its outstanding beauty and cultural significance have won this part of the Middle Rhine a place on UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage list. One of the highlights is Lorelei Rock, associated with the legend of a beautiful maiden who threw herself into the river over a love gone wrong, and was transformed into a siren who lured fishermen to their destruction in revenge.
Next stop is Cologne, famous for its vast and impressive Gothic cathedral, the largest in Germany. Finally, we reach Amsterdam. Highlights of the following day include a visit to the lakeside village of Volendam, celebrated for the colourful timber houses clustered around its harbour, as well as its windmills and old fishing boats. After a boat ride to the island of Marken and its picture book village the tour heads back to Amsterdam to take in the sights of northern Europe's famous city of canals.
The tour departs for Brussels next morning with a city tour to take in the opulent Grand Palace, surrounded by majestic guildhalls in the city's central square, followed by a trip to the fairy-tale city of Bruges, a dreamscape with its cobbled streets, Gothic churches and colourful facades casting their mirror images across the city's canals. Make sure your camera battery is fully charged. At the end of the day the tour arrives in Paris.
The next two days are supercharged with wonders as you explore this most dazzling of European capitals, subtitled the 'City of Light'. You'll take a trip to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and a boat ride along the Seine for a view of Notre Dame and the noble buildings, former palaces, and museums that line this storied waterway. There's time to wander freely in the afternoon and be dazzled by this most romantic of cities. In the evening you'll take in the Latin Quarter, home to some of the most prestigious universities, colleges and high schools in France, and one of the oldest parts of the city. The quarter's rue Mouffetard is what everyone thinks of as backstreet Paris, a narrow pedestrian laneway and a favourite with literary-minded travellers paying homage to the greats who once lived nearby, including Hemingway and George Orwell.
In the evening of the following day the tour departs Paris for Rouen, capital of Normandy and famous for its half-timbered buildings, Rouen Cathedral, and the stunning medieval quarter. Normandy is the home of Calvados apple brandy, and some of France's most celebrated cheeses; Camembert, Pont l'Eveque, Livarot and creamy Brie. Don't miss the chance to sample them here where they are made.
Next day the tour takes a ferry across the English Channel to visit Canterbury and one of Europe's finest cathedrals before heading for London, the final stop of the tour. After an evening out in the lively streets of Camden, the last full day of the tour features a city tour that includes the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the spectacular British Museum, a very traditional afternoon tea – save your appetite – and an evening stroll through Soho, the city's legendary nightlife district.
The following day the tour heads back to Australia, or you can book a later departure aboard China Eastern Airlines and experience more of the wonders of Europe.
The tour includes return flights from Australia, ground transport, guides, and accommodation in four-star hotels in all cities except Frankfurt and London, where accommodation is in three-star hotels. The price is amazing, from just $2999 per person on a twin-share basis.
China Eastern Airlines' European Tours depart from Australia (Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane) on 9 June, 11 August and 10 November.