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 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.
If you would like to personalise your holiday onboard and visit the Spanish Riding School while in Vienna, available events and tours vary depending on the day of the week of your visit and season. Details can be found on www.srs.at/en/tickets-events/ and further details will be included with your travel documents.
DAY 1 - EMBARK IN BUDAPEST
Arrive in Budapest, where your five-star floating hotel is moored. The dedicated crew will welcome you on board, ensuring you settle into your comfortable and extremely well-equipped cabin and familiarize yourself with the ship. There is 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.
DAY 2 - ESZTERGOM
Overnight we have cruised upstream to Esztergom, one of Hungary’s oldest towns, a royal capital during medieval times and today the seat of the country’s archbishop. We have a guided tour of the famous neoclassical basilica, standing sentinel over the Danube on the border with Slovakia, and boasting one of the world’s largest altarpieces and a wealth of priceless religious artifacts. The castle is also worth exploring; it was the seat of government until the Ottomans invaded in the 16th century.
Nestling below are myriad atmospheric churches resonating with the enchanting sounds of choir; this is the best of provincial Hungary and is little changed since Habsburg times. As you enjoy your first lunch on board we gently leave Esztergom in our wake, affording a fascinating opportunity to compare the different landscapes, towns, and villages of Hungary on one river bank and of Slovakia on the other.
DAY 3 - BRATISLAVA
This morning we explore Slovakia’s fast-emerging capital city, Bratislava, on a guided tour. Until recently swathed in the drab uniformity of Communism, the city has rekindled the splendour of its imperial past in its beautifully restored Old Town. Equally impressive is the imposing 17th-century castle commanding expansive views across the Danube.
This afternoon we 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 distant as you absorb the ever-changing scenes we pass: children playing on the river banks, young couples strolling arm in arm like generations before them, vignerons carefully pruning their vines, and cobbled quaysides lined by half-timbered buildings.
You’ll marvel as the Captain skilfully navigates the ship along the serene river and through locks whose mechanisms never cease to fascinate, as we cruise towards Dürnstein during dinner.
DAY 4 - DÜRNSTEIN & MELK
Durnstein is known principally for the ice-blue tower of its abbey, which dominates the view, and the castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192 after being shipwrecked on his return from the crusades.
This morning we take a guided walking tour to explore this memorable city further. Set on a rocky outcrop high above the river, the castle is now ruined, but it’s easy to imagine England’s legendary monarch seething with frustration far from home while waiting for his family to raise funds to pay his ransom.
After lunch, you visit the remarkable Melk Abbey. Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of this enormous honey-coloured building, standing resplendent above the surrounding countryside. Originally a castle, it was gifted to the Benedictine Order in the 11th-century and, although reconstructed in Baroque style during the 18th century, it has remained a monastic school and monastery ever since. The Abbey is renowned for its 214-yard-long Emperor’s Gallery lined with portraits, many fine rooms, and an ornate library. After we re-join the ship, dinner is served during the final part of our cruise upstream through the pretty Nibelungengau, immortalised in the music of Wagner.
DAY 5 - SALZBURG OR LINZ
Reaching Linz, you will have the choice to stay in the city and take a guided walking tour, exploring its charming baroque old town. At its heart you’ll see one of the finest squares in Austria, lined by grand pastel-colored facades with an impressive central Trinity Column of white marble, crowned by a gilded sunburst. There’s also the fortress-like castle, built high above the city by Emperor Friedrich III, now a museum housing a fine collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century artworks.
Alternatively, we drive to Salzburg, once an independent state whose archbishops turned it into one of the most sophisticated cities north of the Alps. Dominating the skyline is one of Europe’s largest stone fortresses, the Hohensalzburg, while beneath its walls church domes and spires rise from the delightful Altstadt, or Old Town. Then there’s the wonderful Hellbrunn Palace and the splendid formal gardens of the Mirabell Palace – a must for horticulture fans.
This morning, discover some of the city’s main sights in the company of an expert local guide, then you’re free to explore as you wish. Everywhere there are sights associated with the city’s most famous resident, Mozart, who played the harpsichord aged three, composed rudimentary music at five and wrote his first opera when he was 11!
Please note lunch is not included on this full day excursion to Salzburg; however, the ship will offer a packed lunch. We return to the ship for another splendid dinner.
DAY 6 - VIENNA
For many, today’s visit to Vienna will be one of the highlights of the cruise. The city’s very name provokes images of elegance, fine music, wide boulevards, Baroque architecture and a rich tapestry of peoples who were drawn here from all corners of Europe. For 200 years until the First World War, Vienna was the cultural centre of Europe and many of the showpiece buildings, galleries, aristocratic palaces and magnificent churches you see today were built to reflect its imperial status. The city’s most iconic monument is the breathtaking Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, whose striking multi-colored roof and huge Gothic South Tower dominate the skyline. There’s also the colossal Hofburg, the former royal court that is now home to a collection of museums, the Crown Jewels and the Spanish Riding School, and where the Vienna Boys’ Choir performs. Then there are the lavish Imperial Apartments and an outstanding collection of relics of the Holy Roman Empire, including, allegedly, the saber of Charlemagne himself. The Kunsthistorisches Museum, which contains the world’s fourth largest collection of paintings, is just across the road. This morning we have a tour with a local guide offering insights into why Vienna is one of Europe’s great capitals – the seat of the Habsburg emperors and home to some of the world’s finest classical composers, including Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and, of course, a whole family of Strausses.
During the afternoon you’re free to explore as you wish. Take a stroll in the Prater, notable for the huge Ferris wheel that features in several Cold War spy thrillers. Or, for something quite different, visit the Schönbrunn Palace, a former royal residence now housing a range of world-class museums and galleries. Perhaps, though, just take a stroll through Vienna’s atmospheric side streets, or enjoy a coffee and a slice of delicious Sachertorte in one of the lovely coffee houses.
This evening we’ve arranged truly the ‘icing on the cake’: no visit to Vienna is complete without a live musical experience, so after dinner, we have a classical recital on board. To hear this exquisite music played in the city of its creation makes a wonderful finale to the day.
DAY 7 - BUDAPEST
Enjoy a leisurely morning as we cruise majestically through Hungary’s peaceful pastoral landscape towards Budapest.
After lunch, we enjoy a sightseeing tour of this captivating city, which truly lives up to its reputation as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’. The twin cities of Buda, built around the hilltop fortress, and Pest, with its wide boulevards, were fought over through the centuries. The Ottomans ruled here for 150 years before being ousted in the late 17th century, but their legacy lives on in the many thermal baths fed by hot springs, giving rise to Budapest’s other sobriquet – the ‘City of Spas’. After the end of Ottoman rule, Budapest became an imperial city of the Habsburg Empire, attracting great cultural and commercial wealth. Castle Hill is Budapest in microcosm: two churches, seven museums, and a theatre among streets and squares with their own special atmosphere and a dramatic view across the river to the awe-inspiring neo-Gothic Parliament Building. Budapest’s endless galleries, museums, outstanding Art Nouveau architecture, and excellent shopping offer a fittingly elegant end to your Danube cruise.
This evening’s Gala Dinner closes with a Hungarian folklore show, giving you time to bid farewell to your traveling companions and reflect on all the inspirational places, sights and sounds you have experienced on a truly ‘imperial’ cruise.
DAY 8 - DISEMBARK IN BUDAPEST
After breakfast this morning, the crew bids you farewell before you disembark the ship.