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Selected Departures from July to September 2016 and April to October 2017
Unwind on our magical river cruise and enjoy an escorted tour to Budapest, the Pearl of the Danube. On selected departures you may choose to extend your holiday with our three night tour to Budapest, the imperial city, straddling the picturesque Danube.
Stepping aboard you will appreciate the superb surroundings of your floating luxury hotel for the next seven nights with spacious and well-appointed cabins or suites, private bathrooms and meticulously prepared fine cuisine.
From Budapest, we slip our moorings and head on our journey north to Esztergom spending the morning exploring its historic centre, which once was Hungary’s capital, before continuing westwards to the beautiful old town of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Navigating through Lower Austria we then reach the romantic town of Dürnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned, having been shipwrecked on his return from the crusades. After we visit the remarkable monastery in Melk, with its 200m long Emperor’s Gallery, lined with portraits of Austrian emperors.
Soon we arrive in Linz from where we take the short drive to Salzburg. During the guided tour of the old town we will see the imposing fortress Hohensalzburg towering over the city and of course the birthplace and residence of Mozart, Salzburg’s most famous citizen. On our way back eastwards we will reach classical Vienna, home of Strauss and many great composers. This city offers up so much wonderful architecture as well as a host of other things to see including the Spanish riding school.
Finally, cruising into Hungary, we arrive back in imperial Budapest, straddling the picturesque Danube. After a guided tour of this palatial city we spend the evening on board, where the Captain hosts another spectacular dinner, an excellent finale to this most exceptional and relaxing cruise.
Prices are per person, based on two people sharing a twin cabin with a limited number of single cabins available on all decks, at the relevant supplement. The price includes full board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day; if you choose to travel with us on any of the full day excursions by coach, a packed lunch will be provided. Anyone choosing to stay on the ship may of course have lunch in the restaurant; morning/afternoon tea and coffee; all visits and excursions as mentioned in the brochure, airport transfers, coach travel as mentioned, travel to and from port of embarkation and the services of a Riviera Travel Tour Manager.
The price of this extension is per person based on two people sharing in a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at a supplement
of £169 per person. The price includes three nights five-stars accommodation in Budapest with breakfast, all tours as mentioned, two lunches,
transfer to the airport and the services of a Riviera tour manager.
You fly to Budapest from where a coach will take you to the ship. The dedicated crew will welcome you on board, ensuring you settle into your comfortable and extremely well-equipped cabin and familiarise yourself with the ship, your first-class floating hotel. There’s always a sense of expectancy and excitement on the eve of a cruise and after an excellent dinner in the stylish restaurant, conversation is sure to revolve around the delights ahead of you.
Experience one of the great delights of cruising as you awake in a completely different location.
Overnight you have slipped upstream to Esztergom, Hungary’s capital during medieval times and today the seat of the country’s Archbishop. The town is internationally famed for its great Renaissance basilica, Hungary’s largest church, standing sentinel over the Danube and boasting one of the world’s largest altars plus a wealth of gold artefacts. You can explore the castle too, seat of the government until the 16th century Ottoman invasion. Nestling below, there are a myriad of exquisite baroque masterpieces of churches from which resonate the enchanting sound of talented choirs, adding to the unmistakable central- European atmosphere. This is the best of provincial Hungary and little changed since Hapsburg times. As you enjoy your first lunch on board, you gently leave Esztergom in your wake, affording a fascinating opportunity to compare the landscape, towns and villages of Hungary and Slovakia on either bank.
This morning, you explore Slovakia’s fast emerging capital city, Bratislava, on a guided tour.
Until recently swathed in the drab uniformity of communism, the city has shrugged off its greyness, rekindling the splendour of its imperial past, so evident in its beautifully restored baroque old town. Equally impressive is the great 17th century fortress commanding expansive views across the Danube. This afternoon you cruise into Lower Austria, a peaceful, bucolic region and home to some of the country’s best wines. By now, the stresses of everyday life seem very distant as you absorb life on the river, children playing on the banks, young couples strolling arm-in-arm like generations before them, vignerons carefully pruning their vines, cobbled quaysides lined by half-timbered buildings teem with life - with no one giving you a second glance. You will marvel as the captain skilfully navigates the ship with such easy confidence along the serene river and into the fascinating locks as we cruise towards Dürnstein whilst enjoying another superb dinner.
Delightfully picturesque Dürnstein is famous for principally two things. Firstly for the amazing ice- blue baroque tower dominating the river and secondly, having been shipwrecked on his return from the crusades, Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here, before being reluctantly ransomed for a huge sum by his brother, King John. After lunch, you visit the remarkable monastery at Melk.
Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of this extraordinary, honey-coloured building, an enormous abbey standing resplendent above the surrounding countryside. Originally a palace it was gifted to the Benedictine Order in the 11th century and although reconstructed in baroque style it has remained a monastic school and monastery ever since. It is famed for its 200m long Emperor’s Gallery lined with portraits of Austrian emperors, plus many fine rooms and a large library containing a unique medieval collection of manuscripts. Rejoining the ship, dinner is served during the last upstream cruise, through the pretty Nibelungengau, now immortalised in the music of Wagner.
Reaching Linz, you take the drive to Salzburg, once an independent state whose Archbishops turned it into one of the most sophisticated cities north of the Alps. The old town is delightful, displaying wonderful architecture dating from the medieval to 18th century, whilst one of Europe’s largest stone fortresses, the Hohensalzburg dominates the skyline.
Spread below is a maze of tiny streets lined with the exquisite shops that make window-shopping so satisfying. Then there is the wonderful Hellbrunn Palace with its famous trick fountains and the natural beauty of the Mirabell Gardens is a must for the fan of things horticultural. With its genteel atmosphere of bygone times, surrounded by a magnificent Alpine backdrop, Salzburg is a superb spot to relax and explore at your leisure.
Salzburg’s most famous citizen was Mozart, one of the greatest musical geniuses to have ever lived. He played the piano at three; could compose rudimentary music at five and wrote his first opera at fourteen. This morning, you have a guided tour seeing all the principal places of interest then you are free to enjoy the afternoon exploring the city as you wish, before returning to the ship for dinner. By now you will have completely immersed yourself in life aboard ship, the gentility of it all, the peacefulness, the observation of the wildlife constantly surrounding you, the ever-changing shoreline of the variety of countries through which we pass and the stimulating conversation of your like-minded travelling companions – home will seem a very long way away.
Today will probably bring one of the highlights of the cruise – Vienna, whose very name provokes images of elegance, fine music, sumptuous baroque palaces, grand boulevards, noble architecture and a rich tapestry of peoples from all corners of Europe drawn to the city’s magnificent cultural heart. For two hundred years until the First World War, Vienna was the cultural centre of Europe and the huge array of showpiece buildings, galleries, aristocratic palaces and baroque churches you see today were built. Dominated by the striking multi-coloured roofed St Stephen’s cathedral, you have 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.
This morning, your sightseeing tour offers an insight into why this can truly be described as one of Europe’s great capitals, seat of the Hapsburg Emperors and home to some of the world’s finest classical composers at the peak of their influence, including Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and of course a whole family of Strausses. During the afternoon you are free to explore as you wish. Take a stroll in the Stadtpark, with its huge Ferris wheel and the backdrop to many a ‘cold war’ spy thriller. Or for something quite different, visit the Schönbrunn former royal palace and now a world-class range of outstanding museums and galleries. Perhaps though, just take a stroll through the fascinating side streets, enjoy a coffee and a slice of delicious sachertorte in one of the renowned pavement cafés, or admire the skill of the street entertainers and even the occasional opera singer.
This evening, we have arranged truly the ‘icing on the cake’: no visit to Vienna is truly complete without a live musical experience so after dinner, we have arranged for a recital on board. To hear this exquisite music whilst in the city of its creation makes a wonderful finale to the day.
Dawn breaks and a glance along the shore as it slips gently past reveals Hungary’s peaceful pastoral landscape, as you majestically cruise to Budapest. After lunch, you enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city. The twin cities of Buda, built around the hilltop fortress and Pest, were fought over through the centuries until the 17th century ousting of the Ottomans. A lasting legacy of Turkish rule is the plethora of thermal baths utilising the hot springs giving rise to the sobriquet “City of the Spas”. Subsequently becoming an imperial city of the Hapsburg Empire, it attracted great cultural and commercial wealth. Explore Castle Hill, the city in microcosm: three churches, five museums and a theatre amongst streets and squares with their own special atmosphere and a dramatic view over the river, its banks dominated by the impressive neo-gothic Parliament building. Endless galleries, museums, outstanding art nouveau architecture and excellent shopping offer a fittingly elegant end to your Danube cruise. At this evening’s gala dinner you sadly bid farewell to your travelling companions and reflect on all the inspirational places, sights and sounds you have experienced on a truly ‘imperial’ cruise.
For those choosing to extend their holiday with our three night extension we depart the ship and return to the dramatic Danube Bend to further explore some of the region’s hidden gems. Firstly we visit the historic medieval town of Visegrád with its ancient ramparts and fantastically preserved citadel. The royal palace, now beautifully restored was built by King Charles I in the fourteenth century when he decided to move the royal court from Budapest. Following the Ottoman Conquest in the century that followed, the palace lay buried under mud, washed down from the surrounding hills until an archaeologist made a chance discovery in 1934 in a cellar which suggested the palace was there. We have time to enjoy a tasty Hungarian lunch, tour of the palace, gardens and magnificent royal chapel with its stunning gilded wooden ceiling as well as Solomon’s Tower, a hexagonal keep and later prison, now housing a museum with fascinating gothic and renaissance discoveries excavated from the town.
We spend the rest of the day at picturesque Szentendre, with its lovely baroque square lined with brightly painted facades and pretty churches; nestled at the feet of the rolling hills behind, this is the sunniest spot in Hungary and consequently home to an artists’ colony. Described as the ‘Montmartre of the Danube’, the rich rusty reds and warm orange and yellow hues of its handsome town houses dazzle in the rosy light and this is the perfect spot to while away a lazy afternoon, exploring the delightful maze of the old town’s tiny streets.
We return to Budapest where we stay for the next three nights at the excellent five-star Hilton, located in the heart of the city with smart and spacious public areas, stylish bar and restaurant serving both local and international cuisine. The rooms are elegantly furnished in cool, calming tones and are superbly appointed.
Budapest is truly a magnificent city - an alluring collage of palatial buildings, grand baroque churches with archaic spires and grand domes, straddling the vast waters of the Danube. Numerous foreign powers have ruled here and this is reflected in the eclectic mix of architectural styles on view with ruins from Roman times and Turkish baths from the Ottoman Empire but the greatest influence was from the union with Austria which initiated a period of huge growth which continued right up until the First World War resulting in some sensational buildings from the elegant Art Nouveau era such as the famous Gellert Hotel and magnificently appointed thermal baths with their gleaming majolica tiles and colourful mosaics.
We have a tour of the iconic Parliament Building, the world’s third largest. Master of all it surveys, this enormous, palatial building, constructed in the neo Gothic style and arguably grander than our own Houses of Parliament, dominates the river bank with its soaring spires puncturing the sky above and magnificent central dome, the hall under which houses the Hungarian crown jewels. Its cathedral-like interior is quite breath-taking and the decoration staggeringly detailed and ornate; we see the famous sixteen sided Assembly Hall with its magnificent gilded ceiling and intricate carvings, some beautiful stained glass and mosaics as well as fabulous frescoes and the vast sweeping central staircase.
Our next stop is the impressive National Gallery which houses an enormous collection of Hungarian masterpieces spanning the centuries as well as a crypt containing tombs of several of the Habsburgs who ruled here up until the middle of the nineteenth century. We enjoy a visit to this world-famous collection leaving the rest of the day free for you to explore this fantastic city. There are over sixty museums and galleries to choose from and don’t miss the wonderful Matthias Church – where shafts of light from the intricate rose windows pierce the darkness within, illuminating the magnificent alter and statues to great effect. Perhaps return to the Castle District for its panoramic views of the city, its tiny winding passages with gothic arches and classic eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings with beautiful wrought iron grills and balconies cry out to be explored. Take a well-earned break at one of the city’s many cellar cafés or sample some of the local cuisine in a cosy restaurant – as well as the typical goulash and beef stroganoff, you will find other hearty dishes on offer, often flavoured with locally produced paprika, sweeter than other varieties, Hungarian paprika is said to be the most superior variety in the world due to its richness of colour and robust flavour!
We leave the bustling city behind for something different. The landscape gradually begins to change as firstly the thickly forested rolling hills of the uplands to the north come into view. A scattering of isolated sleepy villages and remote ruined castles are all that interrupt enormous swathes of lush vineyards in this world class wine-producing region. Our first port of call is the attractive baroque town of Gödöllö where we have a tour of the impressive Royal Palace, a former summer residence of the Hapsburgs and surrounded by an enormous park and stunning manicured gardens. We see the stately private apartments, lavishly decorated with exquisite furniture and antiques and the queen’s secret staircase. Our scenic drive continues south into the ‘Puszta’, Hungary’s Great Plain which covers half of the entire country. Although prone to flooding, the soil was rich with volcanic silt and during medieval times vast numbers worked the land here.
But in the decades of warfare that followed, villages were deserted and the once thick forests destroyed so entirely that the region became an inhospitable swamp. Today this huge flat expanse stretches endlessly for miles into the horizon; romantically desolate, the wild lonely silence of this deserted landscape is broken only by the sound of sleepy livestock on the occasional isolated whitewashed farm with its rows of drying paprika strung up in the hazy sun.
We visit the famous Equestrian Park, owned by coach driving world-champions, the Lazar brothers. After a welcome drink, we are served a typical fortifying lunch, accompanied by the authentic sounds of Hungarian gipsy music. Later we sit back to watch a spectacular performance by some of the most skilled horsemen in the area and you will have the opportunity to take a scenic carriage ride to experience this unique landscape from a different perspective.
Today we depart the hotel at the appropriate time for our flight home with memories to treasure of this diverse and unique country.
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