You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Prague. We then continue staying two nights at the smart four-star Hotel Clarion located on the edge of Ceske Budejovice ’s beautiful old town, in the heart of scenic Bohemia.
After breakfast we take a short drive through some lovely countryside; dense, boar infested forests bisected by a series of mirror-like lakes are alive with flocks of wildfowl and rolling meadows carpeted with colourful flowers completely surround you. Next we have a guided tour of the castle in historic Cesky Krumlov, probably the most exquisite of Czech towns with vanilla and rose-coloured houses clinging to steep lanes, winding to the foaming blue river, meandering in the gorge below. Afterwards there is some free time to explore the compelling beauty here with much to see: the Rococo theatre complete with its original scenery; the arsenal; medieval fortifications; renaissance and gothic houses; tiny marketplaces and traditional shops with artisans busy at work. Most people are unaware of Cesky Krumlov and long may it be so, but it is astounding, with its haunting atmospheric old town, tangled tiny streets and undiscovered magical ambience. Returning to 13th century Ceske Budejovice, or in German, Budweis is famous for its 700 year old brewing heritage and home to the original Budweiser. This is definitely not to be confused with the US brand of the same name (the subject of extensive legal conflict!) and you yourself can judge which is superior, as we sample the original, straight from the barrel during our fascinating visit to this historic brewery! This evening we enjoy a meal out in a local restaurant to soak up the atmosphere and sample some great typical cuisine.
This morning we head south through picturesque, wooded countryside into Austria, soon descending to the legendary Danube, for a visit to Melk’s stunning monastery towering high above the valley. Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of this extraordinary and enormous building standing resplendent above the surrounding countryside. Originally a palace it was gifted to the Benedictine Order in the 11th century, reconstructed in Baroque style during the 18th, it has remained a monastic school and monastery to this day. It is famed for its astonishing gilded 200m long Emperor’s Gallery, its historic portraits of Austrian emperors, many fine rooms and a stupendous library of 100,000 priceless 17th century volumes, intricate medieval manuscripts, plus fragments of the famed Nibelungenlied manuscript immortalised by Wagner. Just downstream we follow the Danube’s most beautiful stretch, the fabled Wachau; at its narrowest point, where the river funnels through steep, wooded and vine-clad cliffs, nestles tiny, enchantingly historic Durnstein. Stunningly beautiful and, superbly photogenic, its gorgeous sky blue basilica dominates the medieval centre, with the ruined castle above where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned whilst returning from the Crusades. Wander where your feet take you and perhaps enjoy a local speciality in a charming wine tavern before continuing through the Wienerwald hills to Vienna and two nights at the either the four-star Hotel Lindner or the four star Hotel Regina, both hotels are within easy reach of Vienna’s renowned Museum quarter.
Ruling much of Central Europe for centuries until its demise at the end of the First World War was the vast, multinational Hapsburg Empire with its capital, Vienna. This morning we have a guided tour of this superbly civilised city which entered its golden age during the 17th century, and over the next two hundred years today’s showpiece of wonderful buildings, galleries, churches and palaces was built. First of all there is the Hofburg, the former royal court now a collection of museums, home to the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Spanish Riding School, the crown jewels and the world’s fourth largest art collection. Then there are the Emperor’s apartments and outstanding medieval craftsmanship in the relics of the Holy Roman Empire including, allegedly, the crown of Charlemagne himself! The Ringstrasse, a collection of imposing imperial buildings, including the parliament and old law courts, remains seemingly unchanged by the passing decades. St Stephen’s Cathedral, with its striking multi-coloured roof has dominated the skyline since the 12th century and outside is the ideal spot to watch street entertainment: from fire-eaters to mime artists and even opera singers – not forgetting the designer shopping on the Graben and countless quieter areas too! This afternoon, you can choose to visit the Spanish Riding School, where the renowned Lipizzaner horses have been trained for over 450 years in the art of classical dressage. Enjoy a guided tour of the schools, the world’s largest oval horse walker, and the stables in the Stallburg, one of Vienna’s most prominent Renaissance buildings, whilst discovering the school’s history and traditions, and learning about the horses themselves.
This morning we have a guided tour of the magnificent 18th century Schönbrunn, the Habsburg’s summer residence and everything a palace should be: grandiose, fabulously decorated, crammed with priceless works of art, Chinese and Meissen porcelain, furniture, tapestries, lacquer-work, chandeliers and glassware. Look above and below, the intricate detail of the floors and ceilings is truly outstanding. The palace became the permanent home of Emperor Franz Josef, boasting an amazing 1441 rooms, including the parlour where a six-yearold Mozart played for Empress Maria Theresa! Outside, as you would expect, within the estate’s 435 acre plot are the equally impressive manicure gardens, with a blend of regimented flowerbeds, fountains and sculptures. This afternoon we take the pleasantly scenic journey through rolling hills, crossing the former Iron Curtain and you can just define where the border once was. We soon arrive in that other great Imperial city – Prague, staying three nights at the centrally located, four-star Jury’s Inn. The hotel is ideally located, just one mile from the medieval centre, opposite a tram and metro station allowing easy exploration. Dinner is included at your hotel this evening.
Often described as Europe’s most beautiful city, Prague’s unique ambience is rooted in a historic past and a vibrant present- an apparently effortless and heady combination unrivalled anywhere. Centuries of royal patronage have created this masterpiece and this morning is dedicated to an in depth guided tour of Prague’s wonderful medieval old town. Its plethora of architectural splendours includes the classic Charles Bridge with its fascinating turrets, Tyn Church, the Powder Tower, the old Jewish Quarter, Wenceslas Square and the magnificent 11th century Staromestske Namesti – literally one of the world’s most beautiful squares with its legendary 15th century astronomical clock and stunning buildings. This afternoon perhaps wander slowly back to your favourite spot to explore further or perhaps take a scenic cruise along the River Vltava for a different perspective on the city.
This morning we have a guided visit of Hradcany, Prague’s spectacular Castle and Cathedral complex and the centre of political power for a thousand years. Perched on a cliff towering over the city you’ll learn about the great history of royal rulers, medieval warfare and differing religions and politics resulting in an intriguing mix of palaces, churches and fortifications covering seven hectares. Amongst the many fascinating buildings are the Spanish Hall, with its amazing art featuring Brueghel, Dürer, Holbein, Da Vinci and Titian; Golden Lane, a delightful collection of tiny craftsmen’s houses and the Romanesque St George’s Basilica and the stupendous Cathedral with its brilliant stained glass. The view from here is simply breathtaking – the stunning panorama of historic rooftops spread out before you is quite literally, the City of a Hundred Spires. This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish; stroll down to the medieval city or relax over a well-earned refreshing drink, before continuing to enjoy its many delights as you wish for the rest of the day. This evening we dine at a charming local restaurant, where you can reflect on the wonders of this diverse and culturally rich corner of Europe.
Today you will be transferred to the airport at the appropriate time for your return flight.