Photos: A European tour

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  1. Venice, Italy

    Gondolas line the bank near Venice's grand canal with the San Giorgio Maggiore church in the background. (Peter Deilmann Cruises via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rome, Italy

    The Colosseum is one of the best-known attractions in all of Italy, and is the largest elliptical amphitheater built in the Roman empire. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. London, England

    The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben clock tower, located along the River Thames, are seen at dusk from Westminster Bridge. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Berlin, Germany

    Tourists take pictures of themselves at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The memorial, designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman and inaugurated in May 2005, is made up of more than 2,700 concrete steles that form a curved landscape in the heart of Germany's capital. (Barbara Sax / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Granada, Spain

    The Alhambra palace in Granada, although one of 21 finalists, missed out on being named one of the new seven wonders of the world. (Jose Luis Roca / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paris, France

    This bird's-eye view of Paris at dusk, with the Eiffel Tower and L'Hotel des Invalides prominent, show why the capital's nickname is the "City of Light." (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lindos, Greece

    The ancient town of Lindos is famous for its Acropolis, which stands on a 380-foot-high hill overlooking Lindos and the Aegean Sea and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Eyeswideopen / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Dublin, Ireland

    People walk past The Temple Bar, which should not be confused with its neighborhood, also called Temple Bar, in central Dublin. Ireland's capital has been voted one of the top 25 cities of the world to live in. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lisbon, Portugal

    Belém Tower was built in the early 16th century as a ceremonial gateway to the city, and to serve as a defense at the mouth of the Tagus River. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Sebastiano Scattolin / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Barcelona, Spain

    Columns and arches of the Sagrada Familia rise high in this Roman Catholic church, which has been under construction since 1882 and remains incomplete. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Florence, Italy

    A woman looks over Florence from the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction on the city's cathedral church began in 1296 and finished in 1462. (Guido Cozzi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. County Mayo, Ireland

    Ashford Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and sits on 350 acres of manicured gardens and land, now ranks among the finest hotels in Ireland. About a two-hour drive from Dublin, the castle has played host to myriad high-profile events, including actor Pierce Brosnan's wedding. (Tourism Ireland via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaag, Netherlands

    A cyclist pedals along rows of tulips near the village of Kaag, outside of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch often use cycling to get around, and Amsterdam is considered one of the most bike-friendly large cities in the world. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Amsterdam, Netherlands

    A tourist smokes at a coffeeshop "de Dampkring," or "Atmosphere," where a part of the "Ocean's Twelve" movie was filmed, in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The city is famous for its nightlife, cultural activities and red-light district. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Stockholm, Sweden

    Boats line up on the shoreline in Stockholm, the capital and largest city in Sweden. The city is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Krakow, Poland

    The Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Krakow, Poland, is one of the most well-known tourist spots in the city and noted for its gothic, medieval architecture. However, most people come to Krakow because of its proximity to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi's concentration camps, which is now a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. (Jon Hicks / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Nice, France

    Hundreds of people enjoy sunbathing on the beach in Nice on the French Riviera. (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Brussels, Belgium

    The Grand Place in the heart of Old Town in Brussels, Belguim, is marked by many 17th-century buildings and flower markets. (Jean-Pierre Lescourret / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Greek islands

    Oia, on the island of Santorini, Greece, is on a clifftop village filled with white structures and gorgeous sunsets. Santorini offers seaside tavernas, cliffside paths, black volcanic rocks and of course, sunshine and the Aegean Sea. (Saundra Virtanen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pamplona, Spain

    Revelers hold up their red scarves during the start of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. The annual festival is best known for its daily running of the bulls. (Susana Vera / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Prague, Czech Republic

    The buildings in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, are constructed in many architectural styles from Romanesque to gothic to art nouveau and modern. (Michal Cizek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Reykjavik, Iceland

    Tourists stand in the Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik, Iceland. The Blue Lagoon's waters come from natural hot water springs flowing through rocks of lava. Many also believe the mineral-rich waters may have health benefits. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. St. Petersburg, Russia

    The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is seen on the bank of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Lovetsky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 9/10/2008 12:49:11 PM ET 2008-09-10T16:49:11

Fabulous European car, or fabulous European vacation?

If these be the horns of your dilemma, well ... you're doing better than most these days. And you might even save money on each if you decide to choose both.

Through a well-established but little-known program casually known in the industry as overseas delivery, buyers of a BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche, Volvo or Saab can pick up their new car at the plant where it was made, drop it off at a port city for shipping — and enjoy some serious road trip R&R along the way.

Autobahn, anyone?

The cost savings come in a variety of ways. With the exception of Porsche, these manufacturers offer roughly between 5 percent and 10 percent off the U.S. sticker price — Volvo's 7.5 percent discount would be $3,375 off a $45,000 car — because the dealer network, with its overhead, sales incentives and kickbacks, is largely bypassed.

(This is also why your local dealer, who still sets up the sale and processes the check, probably isn't going to great lengths to get the word out.)

Most programs include temporary registration and insurance setups, meaning customers are essentially obligated only to dust off their passports, fly to Europe, show up at the factory and drive away. And some carmakers throw in airline tickets for free (Volvo) or at a discount (BMW), as well as lodging and other accommodations — not to mention a long list of VIP concierge services.

"We pick you up at the airport," said Anders Robertson, manager of Volvo's overseas delivery program, "and the following day we'll come take you to the factory delivery center, right by the plant. Our people go through your car's features and benefits; you'll go on a tour of the factory; and our people are also very helpful with how to make the best of your sightseeing tour."

For Volvo, that tour begins in Gothenburg, Sweden, and can terminate at a long list of European destinations offered by the continent's automakers: from Scandinavia to Spain, the United Kingdom to Italy, and just about all points between. For those seeking an extended stay, the insurance and registration programs are easily extended, too.

The downside is that once you drop the car off, delivery to the U.S.-based dealer can take a few months.

"At the end, I had to say goodbye to the nice new car," laughed Peter Deutsch, vice president of tool and design for a marine parts company. The Novata, Calif., resident picked up his BMW 328i in August at the plant in Munich, Germany, and was still waiting for it to arrive.

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But the experience, he said, made the wait worthwhile.

"It's a first-class facility, let me tell you," Deutsch said of BMW's factory "storefront," which starts customers off in a dining room for breakfast, then offers plant tours, museum access and other activities before sending them to the simulator. There, a technician loads the awaiting car's specs and puts the driver through his or her paces — including a demonstration of the difference between going hard through a turn with and without traction control.

"Turn it off," Deutsch said, "and you go slamming into the guardrail."

But there's nothing quite like the thing that Deutsch calls "the moment." As you're led down a staircase, your guide stops, and a bank of spotlights illuminates a dazzling new vehicle — yours — gleaming and glinting as it rotates on a giant turntable below.

"A girl comes over, and she's taking pictures of you and the car," Deutsch said. "You get in, she explains everything. They don't rush you — they're very polite."

Deutsch and his wife dropped the car off near Frankfurt, a "well-organized" process that he said took about 10 minutes. Total cost savings: about $2,500, not including BMW's two-for-one airline tickets on Lufthansa and other perks.

"And to this," he said, "you can add what a rental car would have cost me, which in this case would've been about $1,000."

(With Porsche, there are no price concessions — but who needs a discount when you're buying a six-figure sports car? Still, Ron Coxsum, a salesman at Ruznick Porsche in Pasadena, Calif., says the experience is a big deal. "It's a really big ceremony at the plant," he said. "It's red-carpet.")

There are other benefits: Anders said at Volvo, there's no haggling — the cost of overseas delivery (which in almost all cases includes all shipping costs and arrangements) is fixed. And because you're buying directly from the factory, you can custom-order the car from the ground up.

"We offer every color, every interior, every wheel-type that the factory builds," Robertson said.

The sagging U.S. economy has taken a heavy toll on both auto sales and European travel — and the overseas delivery programs have not been immune. Swedish automaker Saab has temporarily suspended its program while waiting for the dollar to firm up against the Euro.

"We hope to reinstate it later this year," said Jan-Willen Vester, spokesman for Saab USA, who estimates that in a normal climate about 100 cars per month are direct-delivered to American buyers.

And Saab, like the others, has good reason to lure buyers to its plant, Vester said: A customer who comes all the way to Trollhattan, Sweden, to pick up her car is — by virtue of the experience — probably going to be a customer for life.

"Typically people who do that, they remember," he said.

And the trip isn't necessarily limited to Sweden. Some might pilot their new Saab over to Germany for a little, shall we say — extra velocity?

"Swedes really like to observe their speed limits," he said, "but you can go full bore on the Autobahn, maybe drop it off in Paris, or Amsterdam."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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