Photo: Boat entering locks
The Lord of the Glens ship enters the locks in Fort Augustus at the west end of Loch Ness in Scotland as part of a National Geographic Expeditions/Lindblad tour.

Photograph by Jim Richardson

By Margaret Loftus

These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2010 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.

Scotland: Scotland by Sea

Join National Geographic experts aboard the 48-passenger M.V. Lord of the Glens as it sails around the islands and through the lochs and inland waterways of the Highlands. Explore Culloden battlefield, where the French-supported Jacobite forces were brutally defeated by the British in 1746, crushing Bonnie Prince Charlie’s bid for the throne. Kayak the murky waters of Loch Ness, alleged lair of the world’s most storied sea monster. And walk among the haunting Cuillin peaks on the Isle of Skye. Expert commentary and local delights await back at the ship each evening, including whisky tastings and live Scottish music. National Geographic Expeditions/Lindblad: “Scotland’s Highlands and Islands,” 9 days, from $5,990.
SMALL-SHIP CRUISE

Italy: Piedmont Pleasures

Bookended by October’s annual truffle market in Alba and the Salone del Gusto in Turin, a biannual fair put on by Slow Food (the global movement founded in nearby Bra to preserve cultural cuisine), this food and wine tour through Italy’s Piedmont showcases the region’s bounty—Barolo and Barbaresco wine, truffles, hazelnuts, and mountain cheeses—and introduces you to the artisans behind it. The tour is led by company co-founder and Piedmont native Claudio Bisio. La Dolce Vita Wine Tours: “Slow Food Festa,” 6 days, $2,995.
CULTURE

Italy: Pompeii Revealed

You don’t have to be an archaeology buff to be fascinated by the stories of Pompeii. In the most popular of this specialty operator’s offerings, archaeologist guides provide access to the ruins away from the crowds and frame them in the context of the year A.D. 79, when Vesuvius erupted and all life in the area came to an abrupt halt. The trip culminates with an ascent of the volcano itself. Andante Travels: “Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Classical Campania,” 8 days, $2,090.
CULTURE • VALUE

Spain: The Whole Camino

Trod by religious pilgrims, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle St. James are said to be buried, now mainly draws the culturally curious. Owned by two sisters who grew up in the bike-touring business, the outfitter is one of the few that covers nearly the entire route—558 miles from Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees of northeastern Spain, to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest. Riders must be in top form to handle up to 70 miles a day in the saddle. Experience Plus!: “Cycling the Camino de Santiago—Roncesvalles to Santiago,” 15 days, $5,350.
ACTIVE

Ireland: Bonny Islands

Isolated from the mainland and ravaged by the harsh Atlantic winters, the windswept islands off Ireland’s west coast are home to a hardy lot—and some say the last vestiges of Irish culture. The geology—barren countryside, rugged cliffs, stark mountains that rise from the sea—is best seen on foot. This amble hits all the high notes from Achill Island to Clare Island—where the castle of Grace O’Malley, the plucky 16th-century “Pirate Queen,” still stands—to the Aran Islands, strewn with miles of stone walls built by early inhabitants. Boundless Journeys: “Walking the Western Islands,” $3,295, 8 days.
CULTURE • FAMILY

Iceland: Ethereal Iceland

As Le Boreal plies Iceland’s coastal waters, you’ll discover the eerie rocks that rise from the ocean at Djúpalónssandur, visit Lake Myvatn with its nearby geothermal fields full of bubbling mud pots, boiling springs and fumaroles; and explore remote Surtsey Island, formed by an underwater eruption in the 1960s. Launched this May, the 264-passenger vessel was built using “cleanship” standards that include an advanced positioning system that keeps it in the same offshore location without having to drop anchor, preventing damage to seabeds. Tauck: “Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice,” 8 days, $5,790.
SMALL-SHIP CRUISE

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