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. See the virtual tour HERE.
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.
*Prices are per person based on double occupancy except where indicated, are in USD and don’t include airfare. Transfers are included where indicated if traveling with the group. Travel Insurance is highly recommended. There is a non-refundable deposit of $400 per person to hold your space with the final payment on January 22nd, 2023.
We reserve the right to make minor changes as situations require.
For more information and reservations, contact Janice Snider.
If you allow yourself the time, explore Budapest, a magnificent imperial city, its iconic Gothic Parliament Building and the superb National Gallery with its impressive collection of Hungarian masterpieces plus medieval Visegrad and the delightful Royal Palace at Godollo, before venturing out into the desolate beauty of Hungary’s Great Plain or joining us.
DAY 1 – EMBARK IN BUDAPEST (Thursday May 4, 2023)
Just for our group:
11:30 A local guide will pick us up from hotel for those who opted to come the day before.
12:00 Lunch (included) at Buda Gourmet Restaurant (full, hot buffet menu)
13:30 Coach will take us to Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in the world (after New York City’s Temple Emmanu-El). It was consecrated September 6, 1859 and can seat 3000 people (+ about 2000 standing). Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism was born next door in 1860, where The Jewish Museum stands today. It was built 1930-31.
17:30 the bus will take us to the MS Thomas Hardy, your five-star floating hotel. The dedicated crew will welcome you on board, ensuring you settle in comfortably and appreciate the superb surroundings for the next seven nights, in your spacious and well-appointed cabin or suite with private bathrooms and meticulously prepared fine cuisine.
There’s always a sense of 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.
DAY 2 – ESZTERGOM (Friday May 5)
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 Esztergom Basilica, the largest church and tallest building, in Hungary, standing 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 churches resonating with the enchanting sounds of their choirs; this is the best of provincial Hungary and has hardly changed since Habsburg times.
As you enjoy your first lunch on board we gently leave Esztergom, affording a fascinating opportunity to compare the different landscapes, towns and villages of Hungary on one river bank, to Slovakia’s, on the other.
DAY 3 –Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia (Saturday, May 6)
This morning we explore Slovakia’s fast-emerging capital city, Bratislava.
Exclusive to our tour is the Noddy Train which will take us to its imposing 17th Century castle at 08:30, for a commanding view, overlooking the Danube. The walking tour will focus on Jewish Bratislava, after which the tram will take us to the Chatam Sofer Memorial. This site is what remains of a centuries old cemetery that was destroyed in 1943. Everyone should dress modestly and men should cover their heads. Return to the ship about 12:30.
Previously, swathed in the drab uniformity of Communism, the capital city of Slovakia has rekindled the splendor of its imperial past, evident in its beautifully restored Old Town. 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 are distant as you absorb the ever-changing scenes we pass: children playing on the river banks, young couples strolling arm in arm, winemakers carefully pruning their vines, and cobbled quaysides lined by half-timbered buildings.
You’ll marvel as the Captain skillfully 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 (Sunday, May 7)
Durnstein is known principally for the ice-blue tower of its abbey, which dominates the view, and Castle Durnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned, on his way home to England, from the Third Crusade, in 1192. His ship was wrecked, so while taking a land route, he was caught and charged with killing the cousin of Austrian Duke, Leopold V. The Pope then excommunicated the Duke and Holy Roman Emperor. A ransom, three times the sum of the annual income for the English Crown, was paid and King Richard was released.
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, while waiting for his family to raise funds to pay his ransom.
No visit to the Wachau Valley would be complete without a visit to the remarkable Melk Abbey. Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of this enormous European Baroque Ensemble, standing resplendent above the surrounding countryside. Originally a castle, it was gifted to the Benedictine Monks who have been living and working here since 1089. The Abbey is renowned for its 644 foot long (196 meters) Emperor’s Corridor of vaulted white stone. Emperor’s Gallery is lined with portraits, many fine rooms and an ornate library with over 100,000 books and medieval texts, including some manuscripts from the early 9th Century.
After we re-join the ship, dinner is served during the final part of our cruise upstream through the pretty Nibelungengau, immortalized in the music of Wagner.
Day 5 SALZBURG OR LINZ (Monday, May 8)
We arrive in Linz and take the short drive to Salzburg.
(Guests may stay in the city and take a guided walking tour, exploring Linz’s 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, from 11:00 – 12:15 we’ll have the standard walking tour of Salzburg, with the rest of the guests, in the company of an expert local guide.
12:30-13:45 we can have lunch (at our own cost at Café Mozart) or bring a box lunch from the boat.
13:45-15:15 Jewish Heritage walking tour and visit of Synagogue.
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!
15:30 Coach departure from Salzburg for all passengers.
(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 (Tuesday, May 9)
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.
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 center 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 guests are free to explore as you wish but Jay’s group has the following):
13:30: Guide will meet us at the ship, following lunch for a Jewish Heritage Walking Tour which will include one hour (approximate) visits to the Jewish Museum and Synagogue at Judenplatz Square where Jews were living in the early 1400s. Today, every building is at least 120 years old. (There are actually two Jewish Museum locations, the main one on Dorotheergasse with the permanent exhibitions, shop and café) and the second on Judenplatz. Underneath the latter are remains of a synagogue destroyed in 1421.
17:30 we transfer back to the ship.
Those not on this tour can take a stroll in the Prater, notable for the huge Ferris wheel that features in several Cold War spy thrillers or visit the Schönbrunn Palace, a former royal residence now housing a range of world-class museums and galleries. Perhaps, a stroll through Vienna’s atmospheric side streets and enjoy a coffee and a slice of delicious Sachertorte or strudel, 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, truly makes a wonderful finale to the day.
DAY 7 – BUDAPEST (Wednesday, May 10th)
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 theater 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.
DAY 8 – OPTIONAL EXTENSION: TREBIC & PRAGUE (Thursday May 11, 2023)
For those continuing with our Prague three-night extension, after breakfast, we leave the ship and the magnificent Budapest skyline behind as we head north-west on a scenic drive along the Danube basin, towards the Slovakian border. Enjoy the stunning countryside views – vast swathes of thick forests, interspersed with verdant pastureland strewn with wildflowers and a scattering of vineyards, the occasional sleepy hamlet and isolated farm dotted here and there.
Heading north we cross the border into the Czech Republic and stop in Trebic, a thousand-year-old town, well preserved Jewish Quarter, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Czech, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Rear Synagogue dates from 1669 and the Seligmann Bauer House is now the Jewish Museum.
This, the eastern region of Moravia, is one of three historic lands together with Bohemia and Czech Silesia that formed this picturesque European nation. An imperial state of the Holy Roman Empire and then forming part of Austria-Hungary, the land takes its name from the Morava river which runs north to south. The rolling landscape is gently undulating, lush and green.
There’s time to seek out a local restaurant for a spot of lunch before we continue our drive north, arriving in Prague and our Hotel Hermitage early evening. Enjoy free time to settle in and dine at leisure. (Breakfast is included daily)
Picture-perfect Prague, undoubtedly one of the world’s most enchanting and beautiful capitals, spanning the lovely Vltava river that idles its way through this charismatic European gem. Spend three days exploring ‘The Magical City’, painstakingly restored and bursting at its seams with magnificent palaces, cathedrals, exquisite churches and elegant bridges, their architectural styles spanning six fascinating centuries of history from medieval to art nouveau. Meander its enchanting cobbled lanes, admiring the cheery pastel facades; stop for a locally brewed beer and absorb the ambiance of yesteryear, whilst a delightful carillon of bells from its showpiece astronomical clock, chimes out over this fairy-tale city of soaring domes and spires.
Day 9 – PRAGUE’S JEWISH QUARTER, JEWISH MUSEUM AND TEREZIN CONCENTRATION CAMP (Friday, May 12)
Motorcoach will pick us up from hotel and take us to visit these three sites, then return us to the hotel at day’s end.
Day 10 – PRAGUE & LODI BREWERY (Saturday, May 13)
As you wake this morning in the ‘city of a hundred spires’, set yourself up for the day with some delicious options from the hotel’s breakfast buffet, before it’s time to set off on our guided tour. Prague’s unique atmosphere is a consequence of its remarkable history and there really are few more enchanting European cities to spend a couple of days absorbing the sights and sounds of a bygone age. Centuries of royal patronage have created this masterpiece – in particular Prague’s wonderful medieval old town with its winding cobbled alleys, fine stone buildings and elegant squares, and there’s a captivating view around every corner. Our expert local guide will provide an in-depth guided tour, with a fascinating insight into the city’s past and present, as well as revealing its abundance of architectural splendors. Hear the echoes of history as you stroll over the classic Charles Bridge, soaking up the exquisite view, with its fascinating turrets and perfectly-preserved 14th-century stone arches, and gaze in wonder at the lofty spires of the Gothic Tyn Church and the immense Powder Tower – one of thirteen of the city’s original gates.
After free time over lunch, this afternoon we enjoy a guided tour to Hradčany, Prague’s spectacular Castle and Cathedral complex and the center of political power for a thousand years. Perched on a cliff towering over the city, Prague Castle, dating from 880, is said to be the largest ancient castle in the world – a staggering 753,000 feet metres in fact! Our guide will relay tales of the great history of royal rulers, medieval warfare and the differing religions and politics that have been responsible for such an intriguing mix of palaces, churches and fortifications contained within this UNESCO-listed site. These include such remarkable buildings as the 16th-century Spanish Hall, with its amazing art, including works by Brueghel, Durer, Holbein, Da Vinci and Titian and Golden Lane, a delightful row of quaint timber-framed cottages, once inhabited by goldsmiths during the 17th century. Admire the striking façade of St George’s Basilica and the majestic spires of the cathedral with its brilliant stained glass. The view from here is simply breathtaking – a panorama of soaring spires and historic rooftops, laid out before you in a dazzling array. This evening is at leisure.
There’s the opportunity for a relaxed breakfast this morning with free time for you to return to the old town and explore under your own steam; perhaps amble back to your favourite spot from the tours or take a scenic cruise along the Vltava river to take in the cityscape from a very different perspective. Linger a while on the Charles Bridge and admire skilful pavement artists at work, capturing a scene unchanged for centuries. bustling Wenceslas Square and the 11th-century Staromestske Namesti – without doubt one of the world’s most beautiful squares, trimmed with fine public buildings and the legendary 15th-century astronomical clock taking center-stage. Perhaps after lunch and a spot of people watching, browse the characterful shops for some last-minute souvenirs.
Later there’s the opportunity to visit the local Lodi Brewery – the only boat brewery in Europe! Czech beer is famed the world over but there are plenty of local brewers in the capital too. Moored in the heart of the city, enjoy learning more about how this historic beverage is produced as we tour the on-board brewery , enjoying a tasting directly from the tanks and sampling some of their different beers. Enjoy some delicious local Czech fare and you’ll receive a souvenir from your visit to take home too. Your evening is at leisure, so perhaps you’ll opt to dine in the hotel’s restaurant or stay in the old town to savor the magical ambience of this exquisite city for the final time.
EXTENSION CHECK-OUT PRAGUE (Sunday, May 14, DAY 11)
Today, after breakfast, we check out of the hotel ending a truly fascinating and memorable tour in one the most unspoiled corners of Europe.