A cruise along the Danube with Scenic gives you the chance to embrace the magnificent architecture and culture of Vienna and Budapest. Luke Till is impressed
A chorus of gasps echo around the Great Gallery of the 18th century Schönbrunn Palace as we soak up the splendour of the opulent gilded hall.
Our included excursion to the palace is already one of the many highlights of our visit to Vienna. An advantage of staying overnight means that we never feel rushed and have plenty of time to explore the Austrian capital.
Outside, the buttermilk-yellow Baroque palace sparkles in the sun. The palace gardens are just as impressive as its interiors and are crowned with the Gloriette, an opulent terrace atop a hill that offers superb views of the city’s rooftops and church spires. The grounds also include a maze and the regal Neptune Fountain.
We make our way across the Ringstrasse – the ring road built to replace the old city walls – and arrive at the Hofburg Palace, another former imperial palace, part of which now houses the official residence and workplace of Austria’s President.
In Burggarten, a smart little park behind the Hofburg Palace, there’s a statue of Mozart that is as polished now as it was when it was unveiled in 1896, as well as a slightly less dazzling one of Franz Josef I, Austria’s longest-reigning emperor. On the other side of the gardens in front of the former palace is the spectacular neo-gothic city hall, or Rathaus.
My fellow guests began their journeys at Nuremburg, taking in the romantic sights of the Danube along the way, including the many imposing castles perched upon its banks.
On board Scenic Crystal, my contemporary balcony suite offers five star all-inclusive luxury throughout; comfortable twin beds, Scenic’s innovative ‘Sun Lounge’ balcony with retractable window, Apple TV and brilliantly reliable (and complimentary) wifi. The bathroom has soft white towels, a spacious power shower and indulgent L’Occitane toiletries.
Klement, my butler, explains that he is on hand to assist should I want to take advantage of Scenic’s included laundry concierge service or have my shoes polished. He also replenishes my complimentary mini bar, turns down my bed every evening and leaves the event programme for the following day.
Meals are served in the Crystal Dining Restaurant, and the food is imaginative and beautifully presented. Each day begins with a hearty breakfast. Attentive service staff ensure teapots and coffee cups are never empty as guests enjoy artisan breads, Canadian bacon and freshly made omelettes.
As with lunch, dinner is also presented as an inviting buffet and offers a huge array of perfectly presented fare; poached sides of salmon, great slabs of succulent roasted pork, potatoes dauphinoise and a variety of salads and seasonal vegetables; while the dessert bar offers the best walnut ice cream I have ever tasted.
The Captain’s farewell dinner, however, is in a league of its own – a feast that offers several choices per course: zucchini roll with honey; crayfish cocktail with grapefruit vinaigrette; lobster bisque; orange sorbet; chateaubriand with a port sauce; and the quintessential Sachertorte, ending with a selection of international cheeses. Music and dancing with gusto followed.
The Panorama Lounge Bar is the perfect place to meet other guests, hear their stories and enjoy a drink. Cocktail lovers can choose a creation from the onboard menu or ask a member of the bar team to make your favourite – my Negroni was a delight.
We cruise peacefully along the Danube overnight to arrive in a misty Budapest. Berthing opposite Hungary’s lavish Parliament building – which is simply breathtaking, despite the fog – my fellow guests and I are eager to explore the new city before us.
Those of us on the guided city tour see landmarks including the striking Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and Heroes’ Square. Up on Castle Hill, walking around the old medieval town feels like stepping back in time. Visitors who venture into Buda Castle itself can find out about its ceremonial rooms.
Elsewhere in the city, others choose to either relax in the Széchenyi Baths, the largest medicinal thermal spa in Europe, or visit the underground Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum, a relic from the Second World War.
After the city tour, some of us form groups and crisscross several of Budapest’s bridges by foot, which enables us to take close-range photos of sights such as the Gellért Hotel along the way. The Margaret Bridge connects Buda and Pest to Margaret Island. Named after a daughter of King Béla IV, Margaret lived in a convent on the island and was made a saint after her death. Elisabeth Bridge, meanwhile, is named after Elisabeth of Bavaria, a popular empress who was assassinated in 1898 and whose statue sits in a garden by the bridge’s Buda side.
As darkness falls we walk over Liberty Bridge. With the Danube flowing below us, I look up at the majestic Buda Castle high on its hill and reflect on the fascinating journey Scenic has taken us on. For anyone who wants to discover European history in superb comfort and style, this river cruise itinerary comes highly recommended.
GETTING THERE: Eight-day all-inclusive Gems of the Danube river cruises from Nuremberg to Budapest depart regularly from May to October and start from £1,795pp. For more information visit scenic.co.uk.
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