Keszthely is located on the western shore of Lake Balaton and, with around 21,000 inhabitants, is the largest city on the lake and an important cultural, educational and economic hub. Rich in history and in a splendid natural setting, Keszthely is known as the Capital of Lake Balaton. Modern history of Keszthely dates back over 760 years, though the area has been continuously inhabited since the Roman Empire.
Keszthely’s history is almost inseparable from the Festetics name – a family who were very prominant in town life in the 18 and 19th centuries, both economically and culturally. The impressive Festetics Palace was started by Kristof Festetics in 1745 and its library wing added by György Festetics between 1799 and 1801. Miraculously it avoided destruction during the second World War and now houses 100,000 volumes in its library as well as a number of other permanent and temporary exhibitions.
There are many more sights to see between the Palace and the Main Square including a number of Peasant Baroque style buildings, the eclectic-style Synagogue, the former Town Hall and the Holy Trinity Statue whilst the parish church and monastery house the largest Gothic frescoes in Hungary.
Istanbul, steeped in history, is an exciting, vibrant and colourful city where East meets West. Not to be missed are Topkapi Palace, The Blue Mosque, The Basilica of St Sophie and the Grand Bazaar. A cruise on the Bosphorus provides a different aspect of this beautiful city and a short ferry ride takes you across the river to Asia. Soak up the atmosphere of the city on Taksim Square.
Bratislava is both the capital and the largest city of Slovakia with a population of about 431,000. Bratislava is situated in south western Slovakia on both banks of the Danube River. Bordering Austria and Hungary, it is the only national capital that borders two independent countries. Bratislava and Vienna are two of the closest European national capitals to each other, at less than 60 kilometres (37 miles) apart. The castle, once the seat of Austro-Hungarian kings and queens now houses several museums. Standing high above the city, it affords fabulous views. Explore the Old Town and discover its architecture, whimsical sculptures and cobblestoned streets.
Novi Sad, capital of the northern province of Vojvodina and Serbia’s second largest city lies in the southern Pannonian valley on the left bank of the Danube. The city owes its name to an ancient custom obliging bride and bridegroom to plant a grapevine before their marriage, Novi – new, Sad – plant. A haven of tranquillity and tolerance, Novi Sad is a multi-ethnic city with five official languages. Its cultural variety is evidenced in its architecture and its church towers. Though small, it offers a perfect combination of historical charm and Balkan sophistication and its people are intensely proud of their city.
The quaint old town sprawls along the banks of the Danube and numerous passageways and courtyards conceal restaurants, cafés and boutiques. Part of the popular pedestrian zone, Dunavska (Danube) Street is one of the oldest and best preserved streets and leads to Freedom Square (Trg slobode), known for its cultural and historic monuments and surrounded by some of the oldest buildings. Perched on volcanic rock high above the city on the right bank of the Danube, Novi Sad’s most famous symbol, the Petrovaradin Fortress was originally occupied by the Romans. This ancient fortress site offered a strategic stronghold against invaders and was later re-built by the Austro Hungarians as part of their defences against the Turks. Nicknamed the “Gibraltar on the Danube”, these fortifications and their labyrinthine construction offers alleys, bulwarks, trenches, underground passages and tunnels to explore as well as magnificent views of the city.
Wieliczka Salt Mine, situated about 10 km from the centre of Cracow, was one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines when in 1996 active mining ceased. It had been producing table salt since the Medieval Times. The mine is over 300km long and was excavated to a depth of 327m below ground. Throughout its long history miners established a tradition of carving statues of historic and mythical figures, chambers, chapels and even an underground lake from the rock salt. This astounding mine is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is now open for tourists to visit.
Warsaw is Poland’s largest city and capital, situated roughly half way between the Baltic coast and the Carpathian mountains, on the Vistula river in the heartland of the Masovian plain. The city has been devastated many times in its history, but most recently in World War II, some 85% of its buildings were destroyed. The Old Town has been rebuilt and, with the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004, the city is experiencing the biggest economic boom of its history.
Founded in the 13th Century by the Teutonic Knights, Malbork is noted for its Gothic Castle, one of the most striking in Europe. Under continuous construction for nearly 230 years it is the world’s largest brick castle and, together with its museum, has UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Malbork, originally Marienburg, is situated on the Nogat river, around 100 kilometres from the Baltic coast. The whole region, once known as Prussia, is renowned as a source of amber.
Historically an important seaport since medieval times, the city is famous as the birthplace of the Solidarity movement, which hastened the demise of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. Gdańsk is situated at the mouth of the Motlawa river, with access to the Vistula, whose waterway system connects 60% of the area of Poland. The city prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries and has many fine buildings from the time of the Hanseatic League, including the main pedestrian thoroughfare flanked at both ends by elaborate city gates.
Cracow, in Polish Kraków, situated on the Vistula river at the foot of Wawel Hill, is one of the oldest and largest cities of Poland. The former residence of the Polish kings and national capital until 1596, the city is considered by many to remain the spiritual heart of Poland due to its history of more than a thousand years. In 1978 UNESCO placed Cracow on the list of World Heritage Sites, the same year as Cracow’s archbishop, Karol Wojtyla, was elevated to the papacy as John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
Kecskemét lies in the centre of the Great Hungarian Plain about 50 miles south of Budapest and is the administrative centre for the area. It was settled by goat herders over a thousand years ago and is famous for the production of apricot brandy and processing of fruit. It has an attractive city centre with a magnificent Town Hall and many art nouveau buildings.
Budapest is at the crossroads of Europe and is the perfect start (or finish) for the Danube Express. The mighty Danube bisects the city. On the Buda side are the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion and Gellert Hill, in Pest are the business districts, Cathedral and City Park. Budapest is built on hot water springs and has many spas and hot-water baths.
Prague, the 'City of a Hundred Spires', is sure to captivate. Explore its medieval centre, wander the cobbled streets and soak up the vibrant contemporary culture. See the Old Town and the Town Square with the Town Hall Tower and astronomical clock before crossing the Vltava via the Charles Bridge to visit St Vitus Cathedral and Hradčany Castle. The city also boasts a pristine and varied collection of architecture from Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance to Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau, having suffered considerably less damage during World War II than some other major cities in the region.
Prague had developed by the 10th Century into an important trading centre where merchants from all over Europe gathered. Situated on the River Vltava, the first bridge was built in 1170, to be replaced by the current Charles bridge in 1357.
Situated on four hills this UNESCO World Heritage site overlooks the River Yantra. Veliko Turnovo became capital of Bulgaria in the 12th Century and for 200 years was the most important centre of the area until falling to the Ottoman Empire in 1393. Ottoman rule continued until the 19th Century. Located in the area are a number of Bulgarian Monasteries. Behind their austere façades are magnificent frescos and murals.
Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria is located in the west of the country, at the foot of the Vitosha mountain massif. One of the oldest cities in Europe, pre-historic settlements have been excavated near the Royal Palace in the centre of the present day city and its history can be traced back over 7,000 years. The well-preserved city walls date back to the Thracian city established in the 7th century BC next to an important mineral spring that still functions today. Sofia is a very interesting and modern city too - the hub of Bulgaria’s business, cultural and political life. It’s compact and diverse centre offers an eclectic and unique mix of Western and Central European architecture and highlights include the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Rotunda of St George and the St Sophia Church.
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, situated on the banks of the Maritsa River and on a number of picturesque hills called 'tepe' by the local people that are part of the town's charm and beauty. The Roman amphitheatre is probably the best-known monument in Bulgaria. It was built at the beginning of the second century during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan. It is situated in the natural saddle between two hills and could accommodate up to 7,000 people. The theatre was studied, conserved and restored between 1968 and 1984. Many events are still held in it including the Verdi and the International Folklore festivals.
The Renaissance town of Old Plovdiv was built during the 19th century. Today it has survived as a unique architectural ensemble on the three hills, having been fully restored in the 1970s and 1980s and preserved as a large open museum for future generations. Its houses reveal the remarkable urban culture of Bulgarian builders, as well as their sense of harmony and their creative power. Today Old Plovdiv is an autonomous area within the modern town with a municipality of its own and with over 150 monuments of culture. Walking around Old Plovdiv, visitors can enjoy the steep, cobbled streets and lanes with bow windows and eaves above them. Facades are coloured in harmonious combinations, with stylish patterns of white and blue. Windows have wooden shutters or iron nets. Lovely gardens lay hidden behind solid walls and heavy gates. Wells are now only an exotic adornment. The babble of water running from little old fountains and taps breaks the silence.
Situated in the centre of Bulgaria, surrounded by the southern edge of the Balkan Mountains and the northern slopes of Sredna Gora in the fertile valley of the Tundzha River, Kazanlak is the capital of the Valley of the Roses. A centre for rose oil production for more than 300 years, today some 70% of the world’s attar or rose extract originates here. A small yet picturesque town with many colourful gardens, surrounded by fields flecked with fragrant roses and lavender, Kazanlak is also famous as a cultural centre, combining the atmosphere of centuries with old traditions and modern architecture. There are many galleries and museums to explore. Settlement of the region dates back 8000 years to Neolithic times and later, the area was home to the Thracian Kings whose settlement left many mysterious burial mounds and tombs scattered through the valley. The vaulted beehive brickwork Kazanlak Tomb, dating from the late 4th century BC is perhaps the most famous, it’s domed burial chamber containing unique paintings that have led to it being named as a UNESCO world heritage site. Artefacts found within the tombs provide unique information about the lives and beliefs of these ancient ancestors.
Vienna has one of the finest cultural, architectural and artistic heritages in Europe. There are many popular sites associated with composers who lived in Vienna including Beethoven's various residences and grave. Mozart too has a memorial grave at the Hapsburg gardens and at the St Marx cemetery, where his grave was lost. Stroll the Ringstrasse, passing such architectural gems as the State Opera, the Hofburg, Parliament, City Hall, National Theatre and Votive Church. Take a trip to Schönbrunn Palace or visit one of the many museums or galleries or the world's oldest zoo.
Situated in the very east of Austria, Vienna is its capital city as well as the country's cultural, economic and political centre. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The days of the Hapsburgs are recalled by the Imperial Palaces of the Hofburg and Schönbrunn and Vienna's many churches also draw large crowds. The most famous is perhaps St Stephen's Cathedral with its trademark colourful tiled roof.
One of the main attractions in the Braşov area is Bran Castle Castle which dates from the 14th century. Legend has it that it was once the home of Prince Vlad Tepes and it is often referred to as Dracula’s Castle. It is situated amongst stunning mountain scenery and played an important part in protecting the Hungarian king from the Ottomans' and Tartars' when they invaded, coming through the Rucar Pass from Wallachia. This explains why the citizens of Braşov built and paid for the Castle themselves.
Situated in the centre of Romania and surrounded by the Carpathian mountains, Braşov is Romania's second city. At the heart of the the medieval city lies Council Square which is lined with red-roofed merchant houses. At one corner you will find perhaps the town's most famous landmark, the Black Church which is the largesst Gothic Church between Vienna and Istanbul.
Sighişoara is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. For several centuries Sighişoara was a military and political stronghold and German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. One of its most famous attractions is the Clock Tower (Council Tower), built in the 14th Century. This was the control tower of the main gate of the 2,500 foot long defensive wall. The tower has seven foot thick walls and was used to store ammunition, food reserves, archives and the city's treasures.
|The Central European|
|Istanbul to Prague|
|The Transylvanian - East or West|
|Extension - Budapest to Prague|
|Extension - Budapest to Vienna|
A 10-day journey combining the Transylvanian West from Istanbul and the Central European with nights hotel accommodation in Budapest.
A 4-day holiday journeying from the banks of the Danube to the shores of the Bosphorus encountering the stunning scenery and ancient architecture of Transylvania and rural Bulgaria along the way.
A 4-day journey to Europe's Imperial cities and palaces. See the Festetics Palace, one of Hungary's largest palaces, plus Schönbruun in Vienna, Bratislava Castle and Wavel Castle in Cracow.
A 4-day holiday journeying from the shores of the Bosphorus to the banks of the Danube encountering the stunning scenery and ancient architecture of rural Bulgaria and Transylvania along the way.