Tours visit Greek islands, French chefs

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NEW YORK -- Want to impress your clients with your knowledge of special-interest tours? Here is a look at some of the most popular European special-interest destinations -- France, Greece and Turkey -- for 1999.

Greece

Greek islands cruises continue to be the centerpiece of operator programs.

Enjoying the Port of ParosAt the same time, travel companies continue to expand client choices for stay-a-while-in-the-islands vacations. This year there are more packages available to many of the less-trafficked island destinations. "The more independent traveler has learned that to appreciate and enjoy an island destination, you need four days, not the four hours that a port-of-call stay allows," said Nick Athans, president of Tourlite.

Tourlite offers vacation packages on 16 Greek islands, from the Cyclades and the Dodecanese group to the Northern Sporades, the eastern Aegean, the Ionian and the Saronics. Three-night packages, quoted per person, double, are offered on some of the lesser-visited islands.

On Chios, 27 nautical miles south of Lesbos in the eastern Aegean and a direct flight from Athens, clients can stay at the four-star Chandris hotel on the harbor for $129 to $189 or at the four-star Golden Sand Hotel on the beach of Karfas for $139 to $219. Packages include transfers to and from the hotel; three nights' accommodations with daily breakfasts; service charges, and taxes.

On the Saronic island of Spetses, reached by hydrofoil from Athens, the three-night package features the four-star Spetses Hotel on the beach and is priced between $139 and $209.

On Paros in the Cyclades, packages feature accommodations with American breakfasts at the five-star Astir of Paros Hotel; the price range is $269 to $369 for three nights; access is by air.

Zeus Cruises will sail to infrequently explored islands on seven-night itineraries aboard its yacht Zeus to the Ionian islands of Corfu, Paxi, Lefkas, Kefalonia, Ithaki, Zakynthos and Parga.

Cruises depart on Thursdays from May 20 to Sept. 16, and the cruise cost -- including three nights in Athens, interisland air from Athens to Corfu and two meals -- ranges from $1,599 to $2,185 per person, double.

Zeus cruises also sail on a Cycladic Jewels itinerary from April 16 through Oct. 15, offering a mix of traditional and unfamiliar ports of call: Naxos, Santorini, Ios, Paros, Delos, Mykonos, Tinos and Kea.

On another routing, the Greco-Turkish Mystique cruise, Zeus cruises sail roundtrip from Rhodes from May 19 through Oct. 6 and call at Marmaris, Turkey, and the Greek islands of Kalymnos, Kos, Lipsi, Leros and Simi.

Hellenic Adventures of Minneapolis introduces travelers to the Culinary Delights of Greece on an eight-night tour that includes cooking classes during a five-night stay in Santorini. During four half-day cooking sessions, participants will learn the history of Greek cuisine and the adaptation of Greek foods to modern times and U.S. standards. Courses will highlight wine (with visits to wineries) as well as olive oil makers and spice markets.

The tour will include sightseeing on Santorini and, during a three-night stay in Athens, a daylong visit to the tour leader's village near Corinth. Georgia Sander, a Minneapolis caterer specializing in nouvelle Greek cuisine, and Eleni Petroutsou, a food specialist in Athens, will accompany the departures that start in Athens on April 23 and Oct. 1. Per person, double, land costs range from $3,250 to $3,650, depending on the number of tour members and accommodations, and include most meals and all other arrangements.

Classic Adventures visits ancient Crete by bicycle from Heraklion to Chania on a 12-night itinerary. The ride is suited to intermediate-level cyclists.

The guide is the company's Dale Hart, who takes groups out on May 1 and Sept. 25.

The tour cost is $2,389, including accommodations, breakfasts, dinners and roundtrip transportation between Athens and Crete. Bike rentals are an additional $190.

Turkey

This country sits in the path of the century's last total solar eclipse, expected on Aug. 11, and many tour operators with programs to Turkey are putting travelers on various points along its path. The two following itineraries will feature eclipse escorts.

Ya'lla Tours scheduled a 12-night tour, departing the U.S. on Aug. 7, escorted by John McKune, a veteran eclipse tour leader. The group goes first to Ankara and continues to the Cappadocia region for a three-night stay to be in position in Silvas for eclipse viewing. The tour continues to Pamukkale, Kusadasi and Canakkale and ends in Istanbul. The per-person, double, cost is $2,995 and includes air from any Lufthansa gateway in the U.S. plus accommodations with breakfast, dinners outside Istanbul, two lunches in Istanbul and 10 touring days.

On the World of Oz solar eclipse program, participants will be in the ancient fortress of Harput, near Elazig in central Turkey. The trip is offered in cooperation with Scientific Expeditions and Sky and Telescope magazine. The tour's study leader will be Richard Chambers of the University of Chicago.

The operator offers a choice of programs, from six to 15 nights, with deluxe or first class arrangements to be combined with the eclipse. Prices, with air, will range from $2,525 to $4,680 per person, double occupancy, and include air from New York or Chicago, internal flights in Turkey, hotels, most sightseeing, guest lecturers, escorts and land transportation.

France

Lavender fields, local vineyards and fragrant produce markets are the venues of a new Air France Holidays' package called Cooking in Provence. The five-night program is based at the Hostellerie Berard, a converted 11th century monastery in the hilltop village of La Cadiere de Azur, where, each day, participants will prepare a traditional dish.

Breads and desserts are the specialty of the hostellerie's chef, Rene Bernard.

The five-night program, which starts on Sundays and ends Fridays, can be added on to a Paris package or can be priced with air. The land-only cost is $1,029 and includes accommodations at the Hostellerie, a five-day car rental with unlimited mileage and local taxes; four days of cooking lessons; a welcome dinner, and breakfast and lunch daily.

Marketing Ahead uses the nearly 50 properties it represents in Brittany for off-the-beaten track cycling and hiking treks. The cycling tour is six days, and the hiking trip is seven. The cycling program travels along the coast, from St. Malo through the forested Valley of La Rance to Mont St. Michel, staying the final night in Cancale, famous for its oysters, before returning to St. Malo.

Cyclists stay at three different three-star hotels and cycle between 25 and 35 miles a day. The per-person, double, rate of $850 for the cycling includes lodging with breakfasts and dinners and transportation of luggage from one stop to the next.

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