5 Classic European Monuments that Barely Stood the Test of Time

The Classic European Destinations of Italy and France hold some of the world’s most iconic and historic structures. Yet despite having faced their share of struggles through the years, they have managed to remain intact, helping us to better connect with European history and culture. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite European monuments that have just managed to survive.

Pont du Gard

Travel France, Provence, Pont du Gard

A couple thousand years ago, the Roman Empire was the driving force behind technological innovation and one of their most important claims to fame was the development of the aqueduct. Still, among the sun-drenched, rolling hills of Provence lays a shining example of ancient Roman innovation, and one of our favorite European Monuments, Pont du Gard. It was built in the 1st century and survived the years relatively easily right up to 17th Century when the functioning bridge began to be used as a military passage. Though suitable for hundreds of years’ worth of foot and carriage traffic, apparently the bridge wasn’t quite cut out for the artillery and ammunition of the 1600’s and it quickly fell into disrepair. Luckily, after conflict ceased, Pont du Gard’s Roman roots were enough to draw many admirers, leading the local government to fix things up a bit for the Pont’s pilgrims. Since that time, travelers have continued to flock to the awesome ancient structure and after that one major revamp in the 1800’s, several sporadic restorations have helped Pont du Gard in weathering over two thousand years in the South of France. That certainly gives a little weight to the old adage, “They don’t build ‘em like they used to.” If not for those historic travelers, though, who knows what would have become of the aqueduct?

Cross Pont du Gard when you Travel to Provence with VBT.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower, Travel Paris, Travel France, Tour Eiffel Tower

For many of us, the Eiffel Tower is the ultimate European monument. Completed in 1889, it has graced Paris’ skyline for well over a century. And today, no vacation in the “City of Light” is complete without a trip to the top to look out on the French capital. However, the Eiffel Tower wasn’t always held in such high esteem. In its early years, many of the city’s residents felt that the modern, lattice tower took away from Paris’ natural beauty. In fact, the French government put serious consideration into removing the Eiffel Tower when its initial lease expired in 1909. Fortunately for all of us, France never went ahead with those plans, but the final decision had little to do with aesthetics. Surprisingly, it was the tower’s integral function in telegraph messaging that ultimately solidified its place in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. It seems safe to say, however, that both Parisians and the rest of the world eventually came around to its visual appeal, too.

Visit the Eiffel Tower on one of VBT’s France Vacations.

Château de Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceaux, Travel France, Loire Valley, Chenonceaux Castle

Speaking of the importance of travel, the iconic Château de Chenonceau in France’s Loire Valley owes its very survival to it. Originally built in the 11th century, later burnt and rebuilt, the grand chateau certainly has a turbulent past. It’s also seen quite a few owners in the last thousand years. It was passed from King Henry II to his mistress, then from his mistress back to Henry’s wife and eventually taken over by a different line of nobility in the 18th century. Around that time portions of the castle began being sold off, yet commerce came to a halt at the arrival of the French Revolution. Hardly a saving grace for the manor, most prominent symbols of royalty like Château de Chenonceau saw their end during the revolution. This royal residence would have too, had it not been decided by all parties that Chenonceau’s bridge was far too essential for travel to lose. It was spared so that wayfarers could conveniently make their way across the Cher River for years to come. Ironically, today most travelers make their way across that very bridge simply to take in the splendor of Château de Chenonceau itself.

Explore Château de Chenonceau when you bike through the Loire Valley with VBT.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Tower of Pisa, Travel Italy, Leaning Tower of Pisa

Moving along to Italy, we come upon, perhaps, the most obvious monument that barely made it, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It wasn’t just dumb luck that led this tower to lean, either. In fact, it is thought that “Pisa” actually stems from an ancient Greek word meaning “marshy land”. Given its location between the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea, it seems logical that the land would be softer and that the large tower would have a hard time remaining upright. Shortly after construction began in the 12th century, the tower began to lean. However, the project continued until complete, and until the tower had succumbed to a full tilt. Extensive restoration efforts over the years have kept it from toppling completely. However, a recent major restoration almost undid hundreds of years’ of work. On one night in September of 1995, the tower’s famed lean grew just about as much as it normally does in the span of a couple years. In fact, back in the mid-nineties, the tower came as close to falling as it ever has throughout its 900-year history. Thanks to prompt action and modern technology the lean was reduced drastically and quickly. Though it was at odds with the initial goal to keep the lean at its original angle, the tower had to lean just a bit less in order to stay safely upright. Despite the historical discrepancy, most travelers agree they’d rather visit The Leaning Tower of Pisa and not the Laying Tower of Pisa.

Travel to the Po River Valley with VBT and lean up against the Tower of Pisa.

Fontana Pretoria

Travel Sicily, Travel Italy, Palermo

It wasn’t natural disaster or even public opinion that almost prevented our last European monument from lasting. It was simply a case of bad finances. Built in Florence and intended for the garden of Luigi de Toledo, Fontana Pretoria seemed like a sure cinch as far as Renaissance masterpieces were concerned. However, after the sculptures of Fontana Pretoria were completed, the Toledo family flat-out couldn’t afford to pay. But the work was done, and done quite well at that. So the Fontana was put up for auction to pay off the debt and, more importantly, keep the statues from being sold off one by one. Thankfully, the Toledo family found a bidder. The bad news was that it would be leaving mainland Italy, and making its way to Sicily. The Palermo Senate purchased Fontana Pretoria, moved it all the way to Sicily and even commissioned a few locally inspired structures to add to the mix.

Enjoy VBT’s Sicily Vacation and take in the Renaissance Art of Fontana Pretoria.

Make the journey to Europe to stand at the foot of these iconic monuments on one of VBT’s Classic European Vacations.

Snow Reports and Ski Vacations with VBT

We’re three weeks into December and the snow is falling all over the world. The mountains and valleys of the Austrian and Slovenian Alps got a nice covering over the weekend, but no place in the Cross-Country Skiing world got more coverage this past weekend than the Alberta World Cup at Canmore where Kikkan Randall received the 20th medal in her World Cup Career, grabbing the silver behind Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla. Men’s action was exciting, too, as Emil Joensson took back-to-back first-place victories, two weeks ago in Quebec City and then this past weekend in Alberta.

Ski Banff, Ski Vacation

Here at VBT, we’re all geared up for the ski season. We’re excited for our Canada Ski Vacation, where we’ll have a chance to cruise along the same trails that Randall, Falla and Joensson competed on last weekend. Don’t worry, there won’t be a stop watch in sight and we’ll be cruising along the flat trails in the valley. We’ll take our time enjoying the snow and the sights in one of North America’s greatest skiing locales. To check in on the trails, take a look at these webcams from the locations VBT will lead Skiing Vacations this coming winter.

Canadian Rockies

Even after the festivities surrounding the World Cup have cleared out, you’re still sure to find plenty of action at Canmore Nordic Centre. Canmore hosted an early season race in October on real snow; not man-made snow or fresh October snow, but snow that they had saved from last winter under a blanket of hay.

If Canada isn’t your cup of tea, then check out these webcams from some of our Ski Vacations in Europe.


Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, is home to Planica—one of the world’s largest ski flying hills. They also host a stop on the Men’s Alpine World Cup circuit. Located at the corner of Slovenia, Italy, and Austria, you can ski across the border from Slovenia into Austria from downtown Kranjska Gora.

Ski Austria, Ski Vacation

Ramsau, Austria

The winter paradise of Ramsau, Austria, is best known for the Dachstein Glacier and early season skiing.  However, the flat, 5km glacier loop in October is nothing in comparison to the 150km of groomed ski trails available by December. In a town where it is faster to travel from Point A to Point B by skis than by car, Ramsau is always ready for winter.

Obertilliach, Austria

Obertilliach is an annual stop on the Biathlon World Cup circuit and second home of Norwegian biathlon legend Ole Einer Bjorndalen. Obertilliach is also the host of the Austrian “Dolomitenlauf” Worldloppet ski race. While you’re skiing, stop by one of the many huts along the trail for a warm drink and hot food.  Be sure to check out the European web cams in the morning from the US, otherwise it may look a little dark!

Passo Lavaze, Italy

Passo Lavaze is the back-up site for the 2013 Nordic Ski World Championships. It is also one of the most idyllic cross country ski resorts in the world, surrounded by the towering, limestone peaks of the Dolomites.

We’ve still got space available on several of our ski vacation departures this winter, including our Canadian vacations in February. If you’re interested in joining us, check out www.vbt.com/skiing to learn more. Even if you can’t join us, you’ll be able to see us on any one of the web cams above during the coming winter. For now, enjoy the fresh snow wherever you are and see you on the trail!