The heart of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, medieval, baroque and fin de siècle showpieces blend with the precision of the Spanish Riding School and the romance of the great composers.
Selected departures May to October 2017
You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Prague. We then continue staying two nights with dinner at the smart four-star Hotel Clarion located on the edge of Ceske Budejovice ’s beautiful old town, in the heart of scenic Bohemia.
After breakfast we take a short drive through some lovely countryside; dense, boar infested forests bisected by a series of mirror-like lakes are alive with flocks of wildfowl and rolling meadows carpeted with colourful flowers completely surround you. Next we have a guided tour of the castle in historic Cesky Krumlov, probably the most exquisite of Czech towns with vanilla and rose-coloured houses clinging to steep lanes, winding to the foaming blue river, meandering in the gorge below. Afterwards there is some free time to explore the compelling beauty here with much to see: the Rococo theatre complete with its original scenery; the arsenal; medieval fortifications; renaissance and gothic houses; tiny marketplaces and traditional shops with artisans busy at work. Most people are unaware of Cesky Krumlov and long may it be so, but it is astounding, with its haunting atmospheric old town, tangled tiny streets and undiscovered magical ambience.
Returning to 13th century Ceske Budejovice, or in German, Budweis is famous for its 700 year old brewing heritage and home to the original Budweiser. This is definitely not to be confused with the US brand of the same name (the subject of extensive legal conflict!) and you yourself can judge which is superior, as we sample the original, straight from the barrel during our fascinating visit to this historic brewery!
This evening we enjoy a meal out in a local restaurant to soak up the atmosphere and sample some great typical cuisine.
This morning we head south through picturesque, wooded countryside into Austria, soon descending to the legendary Danube, for a visit to Melk’s stunning monastery towering high above the valley. Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of this extraordinary and enormous building standing resplendent above the surrounding countryside. Originally a palace it was gifted to the Benedictine Order in the 11th century, reconstructed in Baroque style during the 18th, it has remained a monastic school and monastery to this day. It is famed for its astonishing gilded 200m long Emperor’s Gallery, its historic portraits of Austrian emperors, many fine rooms and a stupendous library of 100,000 priceless 17th century volumes, intricate medieval manuscripts, plus fragments of the famed Nibelungenlied manuscript immortalised by Wagner.
Just downstream we follow the Danube’s most beautiful stretch, the fabled Wachau; at its narrowest point, where the river funnels through steep, wooded and vine-clad cliffs, nestles tiny, enchantingly historic Durnstein. Stunningly beautiful and, superbly photogenic, its gorgeous sky blue basilica dominates the medieval centre, with the ruined castle above where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned whilst returning from the Crusades. Wander where your feet take you and perhaps enjoy a local speciality in a charming wine tavern before continuing through the Wienerwald hills to Vienna and two nights at the either the four-star Hotel Lindner or the four star Hotel Regina, both hotels are within easy reach of Vienna’s renowned Museum quarter.
Ruling much of Central Europe for centuries until its demise at the end of the First World War was the vast, multinational Hapsburg Empire with its capital, Vienna. This morning we have a guided tour of this superbly civilised city which entered its golden age during the 17th century, and over the next two hundred years today’s showpiece of wonderful buildings, galleries, churches and palaces was built. First of all there is the Hofburg, the former royal court now a collection of museums, home to the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Spanish Riding School, the crown jewels and the world’s fourth largest art collection. Then there are the Emperor’s apartments and outstanding medieval craftsmanship in the relics of the Holy Roman Empire including, allegedly, the crown of Charlemagne himself!
The Ringstrasse, a collection of imposing imperial buildings, including the parliament and old law courts, remains seemingly unchanged by the passing decades. St Stephen’s Cathedral, with its striking multi-coloured roof has dominated the skyline since the 12th century and outside is the ideal spot to watch street entertainment: from fire-eaters to mime artists and even opera singers – not forgetting the designer shopping on the Graben and countless quieter areas too!
This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish. Explore this wonderful city’s cultural diversity, always at the crossroads of European history, take in one if its world class museums and galleries or perhaps just visit one of the city’s renowned coffee houses sampling those famous Viennese pastries. During the evening, and for a real sense of the atmosphere of centuries past, you could visit one of the numerous classical concerts held in one of the city’s beautiful churches. Here you can listen to the sounds of the great composers such as Handel, Bach or Strauss, the memories of which will stay with you for many years.
This morning we have a guided tour of the magnificent 18th century Schönbrunn, the Hapsburg’s summer residence and everything a palace should be: grandiose, fabulously decorated, crammed with priceless works of art, Chinese and Meissen porcelain, furniture, tapestries, lacquer-work, chandeliers and glassware. Look above and below, the intricate detail of the floors and ceilings is truly outstanding. The palace became the permanent home of Emperor Franz Josef, boasting an amazing 1441 rooms, including the parlour where a six-yearold Mozart played for Empress Maria Theresa!
Outside, as you would expect, within the estate’s 435 acre plot are the equally impressive manicure gardens, with a blend of regimented flowerbeds, fountains and sculptures.
This afternoon we take the pleasantly scenic journey through rolling hills, crossing the former Iron Curtain and you can just define where the border once was. We soon arrive in that other great Imperial city – Prague, staying three nights at the centrally located, four-star Jury’s Inn. The hotel is ideally located, just one mile from the medieval centre, opposite a tram and metro station allowing easy exploration.
Often described as Europe’s most beautiful city, Prague’s unique ambience is rooted in a historic past and a vibrant present- an apparently effortless and heady combination unrivalled anywhere. Centuries of royal patronage have created this masterpiece and this morning is dedicated to an in depth guided tour of Prague’s wonderful medieval old town. Its plethora of architectural splendours includes the classic Charles Bridge with its fascinating turrets, Tyn Church, the Powder Tower, the old Jewish Quarter, Wenceslas Square and the magnificent 11th century Staromestske Namesti – literally one of the world’s most beautiful squares with its legendary 15th century astronomical clock and stunning buildings. This afternoon perhaps wander slowly back to your favourite spot to explore further or perhaps take a scenic cruise along the River Vltava for a different perspective on the city.
This morning we have a guided visit of Hradcany, Prague’s spectacular Castle and Cathedral complex and the centre of political power for a thousand years. Perched on a cliff towering over the city you’ll learn about the great history of royal rulers, medieval warfare and differing religions and politics resulting in an intriguing mix of palaces, churches and fortifications covering seven hectares. Amongst the many fascinating buildings are the Spanish Hall, with its amazing art featuring Brueghel, Dürer, Holbein, Da Vinci and Titian; Golden Lane, a delightful collection of tiny craftsmen’s houses and the Romanesque St George’s Basilica and the stupendous Cathedral with its brilliant stained glass. The view from here is simply breathtaking – the stunning panorama of historic rooftops spread out before you is quite literally, the City of a Hundred Spires. This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish; stroll down to the medieval city or relax over a well-earned refreshing drink, before continuing to enjoy its many delights as you wish for the rest of the day. This evening we dine at a charming local restaurant, where you can reflect on the wonders of this diverse and culturally rich corner of Europe.
Today you will be transferred to the airport at the appropriate time for your return flight.
This wonderfully varied tour visits two of Europe’s most alluring capitals, follows the most romantic stretch of the serene River Danube - Austria’s enchanting Wachau, explores Melk’s incredible baroque monastery and steps back in time seeing Bohemia’s bucolic scenery, crowned by the medieval gem of Cesky Krumlov - one of central Europe’s most utterly beautiful and unspoilt towns. At the heart of central Europe since the earliest civilisations and steeped in tales of powerful emperors, this, plus some of the world’s most exquisite architecture and momentous cultural collections all await you.
Bohemia’s rolling hills and extensive forests were once hunting grounds for medieval lords and its historic centres of Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov wonderfully retain their medieval atmosphere, stunning beauty and complete authenticity. Continuing onwards you will be enchanted by the sheer majesty of the gorgeous River Danube, as it twists its way through countless charming villages, their rose-coloured buildings adorned with the colourful murals so typical of central Europe. With its rugged valley sides covered with vines and forests almost impossibly springing from every nook and cranny, and punctured by ruin-encrusted rocky pinnacles, this is some of Europe’s most stunning river scenery. In contrast, dominating the valley is Melk’s palatial mustard-yellow Benedictine monastery, Austria’s most richly decorated building.
Imperial Vienna, a truly elegant city, one of the real gems of Central Europe conjures an image of culture, ornate architecture, elegant cafés, aristocratic palaces, imposing cathedrals and everywhere the romantic music of the great composers: Beethoven, Mahler and, of course Strauss. Reality is no different and as capital of the Hapsburg Empire, holding sway over much of Central and Eastern Europe for centuries, there is a wealth of things to see. In the city’s heart is the lovely St Stephen’s cathedral and the centre of Viennese life. Then the Hofburg, formerly the Court Palace, now home to the crown jewels and relics of the Holy Roman Empire, the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the famous Spanish Riding School. Similarly impressive, the Kunsthistorisches houses the world’s fourth largest art collection, together with antiquities from throughout the ancient world.
Then to Prague – often described as ‘The Magical City’, ‘The Golden City’ or ‘City of a Hundred Spires’ – this stunningly beautiful capital has been a melting pot for innumerable civilisations: Slav, Jewish and German, all leaving unique legacies. Architecturally it is a marvel, and in terms of its sights, a revelation, with some six centuries of stunning buildings, ranging from medieval, through to baroque and art nouveau. Subsequently, some forty years of self-imposed isolation prevented haphazard development, followed by a further twenty of superb renovation and it is not an exaggeration to state few of the planet’s cities look this good! Of course it has its palaces, cathedrals and beautiful churches, but its real charm is to be found in the city’s unique atmosphere, especially during the evening; take a wander through the old town, where quite literally, around every corner you will find a picture postcard view. You will love this superb tour!
The price of this holiday is per person based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement date dependent. The price includes: return scheduled flights; all airport transfers and taxes; seven nights four-star accommodation as mentioned with breakfast and three dinners; guided tours of Cesky Crumlov Castle and Vienna; two sightseeing tours of Prague; guided visit of Melk Abbey; entrance to Durnstein Basilica; entrance and tour of Budvar Brewery; guided tour and visit of Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace; all transport as mentioned; services of Riviera tour manager.