5 Star River Cruise Ship
Budapest • Esztergom • Bratislava • Dürnstein & Melk • Salzburg or Linz • Vienna • Budapest
Soak up all that Europe’s most cultured river has to offer, with its wealth of grand baroque architecture, medieval cities, picture perfect towns and the sights that inspired Strauss and Mozart. 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.
You fly to Budapest, where a coach takes you to your cruise ship. The dedicated crew are there to welcome you on board, ensuring you settle in and familiarise yourself with this 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.
Overnight you 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. Esztergom is famous for its enormous 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 artefacts. 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.
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 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 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 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 you cruise towards Dürnstein during dinner.
Dürnstein is known principally for two things: first, for the ice-blue tower of its abbey, which dominates the view, and second, for the castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192 after being shipwrecked on his return from the crusades. 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.
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-coloured 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, you 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.
You return to the ship for another splendid dinner.
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-coloured 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 sabre of Charlemagne himself. The Kunsthistorisches Museum, which contains the world’s fourth largest collection of paintings, is just across the road.
This morning you 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 the ship has arranged truly the ‘icing on the cake’: no visit to Vienna is complete without a live musical experience, so after dinner there is a classical recital on board. To hear this exquisite music played in the city of its creation makes a wonderful finale to the day.
Enjoy a leisurely morning as you cruise majestically through Hungary’s peaceful pastoral landscape towards Budapest. After lunch 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 travelling companions and reflect on all the inspirational places, sights and sounds you have experienced on a truly ‘imperial’ cruise.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK.
After years of painstaking research to create the most perfect vessels afloat, a new era in river cruising dawns as we introduce the brand new, state of the art, ‘all suite’ ships. Swiss operated and truly world-class, we are absolutely delighted to present the five-star MS Emily Brontë.
It is extremely difficult to convey just how extraordinary this outstanding ship really is and exactly what distinguishes it from similar vessels. It would be very easy to just say ‘luxurious’ but it’s much more than that; we have deliberately avoided the current trend for a minimalist style where you could be anywhere in the world, creating instead a unique yet exquisite blend of understated taste, style and elegance at the highest level. Immediately striking is just how exceptionally spacious this new vessel is as you enter a gleaming, richly coloured marble-floored lobby flooded with natural light from a stunning atrium above. Moving inside, exceptional creativity from Europe’s finest design studio has produced a superbly balanced masterpiece of onboard style, utilising sustainable rich hardwoods, gleaming brass and polished copper, sparkling glass and intricate wrought iron. The ship is beautifully illuminated throughout – including the exterior and imaginatively furnished with harmonious colour schemes, all designed to create the serene atmosphere reflective of the golden age of cruising which time after time you tell us you adore.
The restaurant rivals the finest on shore establishments taking fine dining to another level complemented by delicate European porcelain, gleaming glassware and the intuitive service in which the Swiss excel. This superb vessel carries 44 in-house trained crew members serving just 169 guests (similar size vessels may carry well over 190 passengers) giving the ratio which our experience proves is concurrent with our first class service levels.
Furthermore your suite will easily exceed your expectations for not only will you enjoy the most discerning décor, so too the ship’s dimensions afford the ultimate in space and comfort - a minimum 17 square metres (183 square feet), with upgrades available to ‘Superior’ and ‘Deluxe’ accommodation.
As you are welcomed aboard the five-star pedigree is striking, with a remarkable feeling of spaciousness and harmonious design at every glance. The three fully air-conditioned accommodation decks including notably the lower deck – are all accessed by an attractive glass lift for your convenience or the wide elegant wrought-iron staircase.
Above these is the magnificent Sun Deck - uniquely and illustrating yet again our considered depth of design, a second staircase amidships affords convenient Sun Deck access. Head on up to this truly spectacular deck and what could be better than watching life ashore slip by from the comfort of a sun lounger, perhaps under shade if the weather gets too hot! There’s always the refreshing splash pool too or why not try your hand on the putting green. Then take a refreshingly long drink and that book you’ve been meaning to read for ages on to the lovely terrace area at the fore of the ship, located right in front of the wheelhouse where you can view the Captain and his team skilfully navigating the twisting river and enjoy truly ‘driving seat’ views. Take a deep breath and relax into the pace of river cruise life – now you’re really on holiday!
The Diamond Deck is where you will find the very heart of the ship - the superb panoramic observation lounge and bar; a lounge in every sense of the word, complete with plenty of comfortable leather armchairs and sumptuous sofas where you can sink into warmly colourful cushions in beautiful quality fabrics with a freshly made cup of tea. A thick wool carpet feels lovely underfoot and the tasteful contemporary lighting above creates a welcoming and refined ambience, further complemented by the discreet and intuitive service resplendent of the finest five-star hotels. So just sit back with your favourite cocktail and take in the truly mesmerising view. After a superb dinner in the restaurant perhaps it’s time for a digestif accompanied by the soothing tones of the ship’s pianist. At the Bistro with its open kitchen, large panoramic windows and al fresco seating, enjoy a more intimate dining experience whilst taking in the fantastic views. Here in the evenings the chef presents his personal signature dishes to a small number of diners with menus varying according to the seasons; this intimate dining experience can be reserved on board at no extra charge. When the weather allows the panoramic windows may be fully opened on to the terrace to allow a delightful al fresco dining experience.
The ship’s restaurant is located on the Ruby (middle) Deck and here you will experience not only exceptional first class cuisine, but also the most attentive yet discreet service from the ship’s highly professional crew. So just sit back with a well-deserved glass of wine from the carefully selected wine list and delight in the wonderful elegance of your surroundings; beautifully laid tables of just 4 or 6 guests, crisp linen, deep wool carpets and warm wood panelling abound to offer a delectable dining experience of the highest order.
On the Emerald (lower) Deck is the fitness centre, perfect for working off all those delicious meals or for something less strenuous treat yourself to a relaxing massage. So you will always look your best there is a hairdresser’s too which also offers manicure and pedicure treatments. Simply put, these world-class ships, elegant and refined in the truest sense, take the idea of river cruising to another level – it really doesn’t get better than this!