HomeTravelEuropeGlass is bewitched by the Danube Amanda Bernstein February 13, 2017 Europe, Feature, Travel Glass enjoys a sublime and luxurious week sailing along the Danube – one of the longest waterways in Europe ARRIVING in the warm welcoming climate of Budapest in the summertime, you are immediately struck by the impressive imposing architecture lining the banks of the Danube River. Joining a river cruise along this picturesque waterway, it is an idyllic way to enjoy some of Europe’s most famed and magical cities, as you sail right into the very heart of each destination. With every twist and turn of the Danube, an ancient medieval castle, an elaborate baroque-style abbey or an enchanting magical town awaits to be explored. River Beatrice, exterior This is an exceptional week for guests on Uniworld’s River Beatrice, as it is one of only five sailings along the Danube this year showcasing the Monarch collection, a unique series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, giving exclusive access to Europe’s most aristocratic heritage. River cruise ships all appear very similar in terms of their exterior appearance, as they have to be both narrow enough to squeeze into every lock they pass and low enough to fit beneath each bridge they encounter. But it’s what is found inside the cruise ship that sets each one apart. River Beatrice, reception area “Welcome on board Uniworld’s River Beatrice”, exclaims Gyongyi, the charismatic and beautifully attired cruise manager. This magnificently luxurious floating boutique hotel will be my home for the next seven days. Gyonghi explains that during our week on board we will be sailing through four countries – commencing in Hungary, followed by Slovakia, then into Austria, and finally ending our journey in Germany. Hanging above the marble-floored, mirror-clad reception area of the main deck, a huge Murano glass chandelier takes centre stage. As Diogo, one of the friendly engaging members of the concierge team, hands over the keys to my suite, I can’t help but notice the magnificent Chagal and Degas painting on the wall behind him. Later I am intrigued when it is confirmed that the many works of art lining the opulent walls of the River Beatrice are originals. I am introduced to my dashing personal Bosnian butler, Bosko, who is fully attired in a morning suit, complimented with a white rose in his lapel and starched white gloves to match. He explains, as he leads me to my perfectly appointed suite, that the ship accommodates 156 guests spread over three floors. The suite interior is lavishly and tastefully appointed with heavy drapes, flocked wallpaper, embellished carpets and a large floor-to-ceiling French balcony, while the compact bathroom showcases marble and mirror with plenty of Hermes bath and body products. Bosko points out the complimentary fully-stocked mini-bar, the tray of alcoholic drinks, the selection of handcrafted cookies and the fresh fruit platter, all of which is replenished daily. Bosco is responsible for ensuring my trip is as seamless as possible, which I discover includes unpacking my suitcase and taking care of my laundry, including placing it all back in my wardrobe. River Beatrice, suite on board On the first evening onboard I leisurely saunter into the opulent dining area and am immediately struck by the enormous picture windows, dressed in ornate fabric to co-ordinate with the fabric swathed walls. Roberto, the omnipresent Portuguese restaurant manager, very quickly becomes my best friend for the week. “If there is something you desire that isn’t on the menu”, Roberto assures me, “it will be available the following morning as the chef visits the local food markets daily to source the freshest selection of ingredients typical from within each region”. Indeed, our accomplished executive chef Daniel did not disappoint. The artistically displayed freshly prepared buffets each breakfast and lunchtime, as well as the consistently high standard a la carte selection every evening, ensured mealtimes were always one of the highlights of the cruise. River Beatrice, restaurant Igor, the hugely knowledgeable and smartly attired Montenegrin sommelier, with a tastevin hanging from his neck, explains that the vast wine list is mostly sourced from local vineyards as we sail along the Danube, with each glass paired accordingly to our meal selection. Every day guests have the option to select between offshore excursions, scenic city tours, or “do-as-the-locals-do” walking tours, which are all part of the all-inclusive Uniworld experience. But one morning I opted to remain on board to enjoy the perfect solitude of the sundeck on a cosy sun lounger, while sipping cocktails and soaking up some rays. Parliament building in Budapest, view from the river An historic tour of Budapest, which includes the opportunity to admire the vista of Budapest from up high in Heroes Square, is our first excursion. I learn that Budapest is a city of two halves – the ancient town of Buda on one side of the Danube, steeped in historic buildings and monuments, and Pest on the other side of the river, with its modern, newly developed commercial sector brimming with hotels, offices and touristy retail outlets. As Budapest is apparently blessed with more thermal spring water than any other city in the world, I take the opportunity of visiting the renowned spa at the Hotel Gellert. Bratislava skyline, Slovakia As we set sail at night, it soon becomes apparent why Budapest is considered one of the most picturesque cities in Europe. Its oldest legislative building, the Hungarian Parliament, is perched high on the bank of the Danube, striking an imposing illuminated sight, set against the black star-studded sky. As we gently glide under each of the city’s grand bridges in the cool summer night air, I manage to spot many of the historic buildings lighting up the sky, each showcasing their impressive silhouettes. Stallions at the Spanish Riding School Arriving the following morning in the quaint 18th century Slovakian capital town of Bratislava, the most popular activity is the walking morning tour exploring the cobbled stoned city. As we cruise towards Vienna in the afternoon, I decide to immerse myself both in the jovial Viennese waltz tuition, followed by the cookery demonstration hosted by our on-board pasty chef, who teaches us how to create the most famous confection in Austria – the rather complex and over-fussy layered, but delicious (we got to taste it) Esterhazy cake. In Vienna, our Uniworld coach transports us to the Palais Eschenbach, where we are entertained by a wondrous private Mozart and Strauss concert in the very city that the music was composed. I am enthralled by the magnificent performance of the nine-piece chamber orchestra, which is brought to life by gracefully executed Viennese waltzes and perfectly pitched opera singing. Wachau Valley, view from the river Our morning city tour of this regal, historic city filled with monuments, museums and manicured gardens, takes us to the Baroque-inspired Winter Palace of Prince Eugene and to a behind-the-scenes visit to the enchanting Royal Lipizzaner Stables, including the 450-year-old Spanish Riding School, where we manage to get up close and personal with the magnificent white stallions. Princess Anita von Hoehnberg, in front of the portrait De Grancy Zugeschnitten The nature highlight of the Uniworld cruise along the Danube arrives soon after departing Vienna, when we sail through the stunningly picturesque UNESCO-protected Wachau Valley. It feels like turning the pages of a picture postcard scrapbook, filled with scenic images of precariously placed castles, soft velvet green valleys, and lush grape-laden vineyards trailing down towards to water. Melk Abbey Arriving in Melk, we are given a private reception with the most gracious Princess Anita von Hohenberg at Castle Artstetten, where she shares with us, among more personal anecdotes, the famous story of her great-grandfather’s assassination that in fact precipitated WW1, and we visit the famous Melk Abbey, built in the 1700s, to explore its breath-taking frescos and its floor-to-ceiling filled library, as portrayed in the 1986 movie The Name of The Rose. Elisabeth von Trapp In Linz we are transported by coach on a scenic road journey to the former city-state of Salzburg, where we are immediately whisked off to the Mirabell Chapel to enjoy a private show of Elisabeth Von Trapp, granddaughter of Baron von Trapp from the Sound of Music. She explains about the filming of the movie, in which her real grandmother featured, and performs some of the most famous songs from the film. As I listen to “The Hills Are Alive”, I gasp with excitement at the authenticity of the moment, before visiting Mirabell Gardens, where some of the scenes from the movie were filmed, including the Do-Rei-Me steps. Mozart’s birthplace Finally, our ship docks in the ancient Bavarian city of Passau, where we enjoy a Go Active excursion, a 20km cycle ride led by professional guides pointing out places of interest alongside the River Inn. As we take a break at the halfway point to enjoy a welcome ice-cold beer, I reflect upon the many unique experiences encountered over the past seven days on board the River Beatrice. In fact, I believe I just might have finally discovered the most manageable way to enjoy a multi-city European holiday experience. And all in perfect style. by Amanda Bernstein Click here for more information on Uniworld’s river cruises.