This seven-day journey introduces you to three European capitals, gives you a feel for the extraordinary history of the region, opens your eyes to spectacular art and architecture, allows you to be carried away by the music, and feeds you with local delicacies along the way.
In our opinion this itinerary along the mighty Danube is the perfect river cruise itinerary - combine that with one of the best river cruise vessels in Europe, Crystal Mahler, and you have the epitome of European river cruising at your fingertips.
Saturday 14th May 2022 - Vienna, Austria
Fly from London to Vienna and join the beautiful Crystal Mahler for your seven-day cruise along the Danube. For a first taste of the Crystal river cruise experience, take a look at these short videos.
The extraordinary city of Vienna is rich in art and architecture - the film Museum Hours gives you an excellent overview. Or, for a darker perspective, the classic thriller The Third Man is an atmospheric gem. Vienna is the birthplace of Freudian psychoanalysis. William Boyd's novel Waiting for Sunrise gives a great insight into the city prior to the Great War, whilst Edmund de Waal's Hare with the Amber Eyes, an investigation of his family history, brings to life Vienna between the wars.
Sunday 15th May 2022 - Esztergom, Hungary
Today in the regal former capital of Hungary, Esztergom, you can explore historic buildings and parks, getting a taste for the birthplace of Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary. Perhaps you will explore further afield to the Danube Bend, where the majestic river traces a scenic path south through Hungary, stretching to Visegrád and Szentendre.
For a taste of the whole region, read Patrick Leigh Fermor's unforgettable account of his long walk to Constantinople: A Time of Gifts finishes in Esztergom and the sequel Between the Woods and the Water resumes there. Joseph Roth's 1932 novel Radetzky March chronicles the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire via the story of the Trotta family.
Monday 16th May 2022 - Budapest, Hungary
The enchanting city of Budapest commands both sides of the Danube, with the Chain Bridge connecting hilly Buda to flat Pest. Magnificent architecture of domes and spires, 18th-century homes, bridges and lampposts, and the UNESCO-listed Castle Hill, ensure a busy day of exploration.
It is telling that a disproportionate number of spy movies have been shot in Budapest's darkly evocative streets, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Red Sparrow, I Spy and more. To learn more about the city's tragic history, Katalin Street by Magda Szabo is evocative. For your virtual Budapest visit, the Magyars are driven by food, so a goulash is essential - our favourite is the Hairy Bikers' version.
Tuesday 17th May 2022 - Bratislava, Slovakia
Slovakia's buzzing capital city is a maze of cobblestone streets winding around 18th-century buildings, with a pulsating modern art scene. Explore the museums, cathedrals and palaces, with the medieval castle looming high above the city. Bratislava often plays the part of other locations: nearby Devin Castle is Dragonstone in Game of Thrones, and St Martin Cathedral was New York cathedral in The Peacemaker. Read The Woman from Bratislava by Leif Davidsen, or bring a taste of Slovakia into your own home by making the national dish, Bryndzové halušky.
Wednesday 18th May 2022 - Krems / Melk, Austria
Today you explore the beautiful and historic Wachau Valley between Krems and Melk. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has so much of interest, not least that it was the place where the Venus of Willendorf was discovered, a tiny figurine estimated to date back to 30,000 BCE - take a look in the Natural History Museum of Vienna and learn more with the Khan Academy. Richard the Lionheart was supposedly imprisoned in Durnstein Castle - why not listen to Schumann's Blondels Lied to hear how his faithful servant Blondel found him, whilst enjoying a glass of Gruner Veltliner, one of the most delicious wines of the region.
Thursday 19th May 2022 - Linz, Austria
Named the European Capital of Culture in 2009, Linz's layout reflects its history, with an ancient medieval centre encircled by neoclassical, neo-baroque and neo-Renaissance neighbourhoods. Adolf Hitler spent his early youth here and attended the Realschule. Most visitors, though, will journey from here to magical Salzburg, home to The Sound of Music; the journey is astoundingly beautiful, and the city itself is something very special. Read The Salzburg Connection by Helen McInnes for a World War II spy thriller, evocative of the region.
Friday 20th - Saturday 21st May 2022 - Vienna, Austria
Arriving back in Vienna, you will have the opportunity to explore the city's other great passion, music. Mozart's story, and that of his jealous rival Salieri, is told in the film Amadeus (although it was in fact largely filmed in Prague). The music composed in Vienna comes alive in the film, in particular the extraordinary Magic Flute - listen whilst enjoying a slice of Vienna's best known cake, the Sacher Torte (check out Mary Berry's recipe).
Other Viennese composers include Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Mahler, Schubert, Strauss and Bruckner. Fans of the Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School can visit or see performances whilst in Vienna - enjoy a quick preview on YouTube.
Pricing from £4,739 per person cruise only, based on two people sharing a Petite Suite with Panoramic Balcony-Window including all meals, all drinks, excursions, gratuities and taxes.