Christmas on the Danube
|Resort:||Christmas on the Danube|
Celebrate Christmas and experience all the pleasures of this joyous time of the year amidst the grand imperial cities of the magnificent Danube. Immerse yourself in majestic surroundings and enjoy a superb gala dinner on Christmas Day.
Day 1: Arrival in Budapest
Arrive at the airport for your flight to Budapest from where you will be taken to your cruise ship, now glimmering in festive glory. The dedicated crew are there to welcome you onboard, ensuring you settle in and familiarise yourself with this first-class floating hotel.
Your eyes will be wide with wonder as you take in the fabulous dcor, with garlands adorning the staircases, lights as far as the eye can see and of course, the majestic Christmas tree taking centre stage. Theres always a sense of expectancy and excitement on the eve of a cruise, especially at Christmas time and, after an excellent dinner in the stylish restaurant, conversation is sure to revolve around the seasonal delights ahead.
Day 2: Esztergom
Overnight we have cruised upstream to Esztergom, one of Hungarys oldest towns, a royal capital during medieval times and today the seat of the countrys 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 worlds 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 sounds of choir, particularly enchanting at this special time of the year; this is the best of provincial Hungary and is little changed since Habsburg times.
There will also be time to browse the stalls at the Esztergom Christmas market, where Szchenyi Square has now been transformed into a winter spectacular, and for years has featured an ice rink and live music. Seek out those last minute gifts from the rustic wooden stalls, enjoy the friendly festive atmosphere and perhaps indulge in a slice of traditional chimney cake. 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. Wrap up in your winter best and take to the deck to enjoy the wonderful kaleidoscope of Christmas card scenery drifting by in the frosty air, then return to the warmth of the ships inviting lounge.
Day 3: Bratislava
After a delicious breakfast, this morning we explore Slovakias 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. Christmas in Bratislava is an enchanting experience, with Hviezdoslav Square now dressed up for the special season, complete with a lit-up tram with cosy interior and joyous carols.
Youll also have plenty of free time to explore the cobble-stoned streets of this captivating city so whats it to be? Why not head to the regal Primatial Palace? Built in the late 1700s in a classical style, the once home to the archbishop of Esztergom now holds a rare collection of tapestry works from the 17th-century. Take the opportunity to view the traditional Christmas cribs in some of the churches or maybe wander the maze of streets, admiring the Christmas decorations, until you reach the main square. For a seasonal treat try the medovnky, these delicious honey and ginger biscuits are traditionally eaten at Christmas time in Slovakia.
This afternoon we cruise into Lower Austria, a peaceful, bucolic region and home to some of the countrys best wines. Head to the convivial atmosphere of the ships well stocked bar for your favourite aperitif before another excellent dinner is served.
Day 4: Melk on Christmas Eve
We awake on Christmas Eve amidst the enchanting surroundings of the Wachau Valley where the landscape is blanketed with vineyards and dotted with ornamental villages. After breakfast 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 and perhaps even more atmospheric at Christmas time.
Originally built as a castle, 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. The Abbey is renowned for its 214-yard-long Emperors Gallery lined with portraits, many fine rooms and an ornate library. Later we re-join the ship for lunch and the final part of our cruise upstream through the pretty Nibelugengau, an inspiration to poets and also immortalised in the music of Wagner. This evening adjourn to the inviting bar and reflect on a fascinating day of discovery before another sumptuous dinner.
Day 5: Salzburg or Linz on Christmas Day
Reaching Linz, you will have the choice of two included Christmas Day excursions. You can stay in the city and take a guided walking tour, exploring the charming, decorated streets of the Baroque old town. At its heart youll 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. Theres 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. Now embellished in seasonal splendour, take in the festive ambience with the glow of lights and the magnificent Christmas tree in the Hauptplatz. Although the Christkindlmarkt wont be open on Christmas Day, the peaceful atmosphere give you a chance to appreciate the impressive architecture with a sense of calm.
Alternatively, join our included tour to Salzburg, surely the perfect city for a Christmas day visit. Dominating the skyline of Salzburg is one of Europes largest stone fortresses, the Hohensalzburg, while beneath its walls, church domes and spires rise from the delightful Altstadt. Then theres the wonderful Hellbrunn Palace and the splendid formal gardens of the Mirabell Palace.
This morning discover some of the citys main sights in the company of an expert local guide, then youre free to explore as you wish. Everywhere there are sights associated with the citys most famous resident, Mozart, who wrote his first opera when he was 11! Celebrate the day by the magnificent Christmas tree in Cathedral Square and perhaps reflect on the hauntingly beautiful lyrics of Silent Night. This carol was written by Joseph Mohr who was also born in Salzburg. Please note lunch is not included on this full day excursion to Salzburg; however, the ship will offer a packed lunch.
This evening enjoy tonights superb Gala Christmas Day dinner, expertly served by your attentive crew before further celebrations with newly made friends in the convivial bar.
Day 6: Vienna
During the early hours, our ship has stealthily crept into port and you awake to find yourself in twinkling Vienna. There are few places that can so delightfully evoke the spirit of Christmas than here where the elegant imperial facades, their decorations glittering in the glow from a thousand Christmas lights, the sound of classical carols floating on the crisp air and the irresistible smell of candyfloss and roasted chestnuts is truly reminiscent of Christmas from a bygone age. There has been a Christmas market here since the Middle Ages and today the markets held over the festive period sell a huge range of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats.
After breakfast you enjoy a guided tour seeing the main sights such as St Stephens Cathedral and the impressive Hofburg complex, former royal court, now home to a collection of museums, the Vienna Boys Choir and the world-famous Spanish Riding School. There will also be time to explore the Christmas markets, or if you prefer you can retreat to the refined, yet cosy elegance of a traditional Viennese caf for an indulgent Sachertorte.
After lunch on board, we visit the magnificent Schnbrunn Palace. Once the summer residence of the Habsburgs, this former royal residence now houses a range of world-class museums and galleries. The palace also hosts a superb Christmas market, specialising in traditional handicrafts and nostalgic toys. After tonights excellent dinner on board, retire to the lounge for a nightcap and enjoy a classical Christmas recital a fitting musical finale to our day as the ship glides away from this captivating city.
Day 7: Budapest
We have sailed overnight and on waking, draw back the curtains to see the early morning mist rising over this gentle pastoral landscape, draped in a blanket of glistening frost. After breakfast, seek out a good vantage spot in the lounge, sink into a comfy chair and watch this lovely slideshow of winter wonderland scenery effortlessly gliding by what could be more relaxing! For the more energetic, perhaps a visit to the ships fitness centre to work off some of those delicious meals or head up to the sun deck to enjoy the bracing river breeze as the Captain skilfully navigates our return course to the Hungarian capital. Our final lunch is served during which Budapests majestic skyline comes into view.
Budapest is always an atmospheric and fascinating city, but at this time of the year, the muted colours of its magnificent archaic spires and grand domes are especially captivating on the wintry skyline. The historic and palatial buildings, the superb Roman ruins and exquisite Art Nouveau architecture provide a truly impressive backdrop for the citys acclaimed Christmas markets.
This afternoon we enjoy a guided tour seeing the main sights such as the iconic Parliament Building and the ancient Castle District with its winding streets and panoramic views. Theres free time to explore under your own steam and wander the markets. Soak up the traditional atmosphere as classical music fills the air along with the delicious smells of spicy gingerbread and peppery goulash and dont forget the mulled wine to stave off the winter chill!
This evening the magnificent Captains Dinner closes with a Hungarian Christmas 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 this very magical festive cruise.
Day 8: Return Home
Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK.