River cruises: Central Europe on the Danube – 23 Nov 2006

The Danube river‘s beauty has inspired great writers and composers to put pen to paper, is a vital link across Europe, and provides water for millions of people.

It could also earn you a hefty amount in commission. Gen up on the Danube and you’ll be in prime position to cash in on the burgeoning river cruising sector.

The 1,787-mile-long river snakes through several countries, from the Black Sea via the borders of Bulgaria and Romania, into Serbia and Montenegro, through Hungary, Slovakia and Austria and ends up in Germany. Since the building of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in 1992, it now links with the Rhine and the rest of western Europe.

Whether it’s taking in a Mozart concert in Vienna, castles from the Ottoman empire at Belogradchik in Bulgaria or bathing in spa waters at Baile Herculane in Romania, a river cruise on the Danube means customers can see some of the best of central Europe without the inconvenience of moving between several different hotels.

There is plenty to see, from trips to Salzburg to visiting the castle said to be the inspiration for Dracula in Transylvania. Read on to find out more about the Danube’s selling points and  what your clients will see en-route.

Croatian flagCroatia

Osijek: this town, on the bank of the River Drava, is home to the Croatian National theatre, which is now restored after being hit by a grenade in 1991. There is an upper and lower town as well as a 2km riverside walkway. Visitors can also see the museum of modern art and the Church of St Peter and Paul, a red brick neo-Gothic church.


Slovakian flagSlovakia

Bratislava: the capital boasts a pretty, old, town with Baroque palaces and squares and 14th-century St Martin’s Cathedral. Go up to the castle and from the ramparts view Hungary and Austria. Visitors shouldn’t miss the Mirror Hall in the pink Primacialny Palace.


Serbian flagSerbia

Belgrade: the Kalemegdan fortress and park is one of the main attractions of the Serbian capital. Legend has it that Attila the Hun is buried here. Also visit the Royal Compound, which in Yugoslave days was taken over by Communist dictator Tito. Works by Canaletto and Rembrandt adorn the walls and you can view the projection room where Tito watched John Wayne films. With a vibrant café culture, tell visitors to take time out for eating and drinking. Other sights include Tito’s Memorial and the National Museum in Republic Square.

Petrovaradin Fortress: one of the best preserved fortresses in Europe, this huge structure dubbed ‘Gibraltar of the Danube’ dates back to 1692 and has more than 10 miles of tunnels.


Austrian flagAustria

Vienna: enjoy concerts in the city where Mozart was born, stroll along the Ringstrasse boulevard, take in Habsburg palaces and the Stephansdom cathedral, and try a  a Viennese coffee.

Melk: a baroque monastery, one of the biggest in Europe, is the draw for visitors to this Austrian town on the Danube.


Bulgarian flag Bulgaria

Belogradchik: not to be missed are the huge red sandstone formations –some claim to have seen Adam and Eve depicted in the weathered stones.


Hungarian flagHungary

Esztergom: the huge dome of the Basilica, which can be seen for miles around, is the draw for visitors here. Although a small town, there are plenty of historic monuments to take in as Esztergom is the centre of the Catholic church in Hungary.

Budapest: the modern Pest side of the city divided by the Danube is great for shopping, restaurants and cafes. Head over one of the bridges to the older Buda, walk around Castle Hill or relax in the traditional spa baths at the Gellert Hotel.


Romanian flagRomania

Bucharest: one of the city’s star attractions is the 6,000-room former House of the People, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. Once known as Little Paris, the city has wide, tree-lined boulevards for leisurely walks to take in its historical architecture.

The Iron Gate: a series of gorges that form the border between Romania and Serbia. The most famous gorge is the Great Kazan, where the river is only 150 metres wide. Visitors will also see the Iron Gate Dam, built in the 1960s to tame the rapid channels.


Sample product

Viking River Cruises has a 15-day, full-board Eastern European Odyssey cruise from Vienna to Budapest, leading in at £2,795 in May. The price includes return flights, excursions and transfers.

Cosmos Tourama has a 10-night Legendary Danube river cruise between Prague (not on the Danube) and Budapest from £1,379


Hotel price check

Less than £600

Room at the Mandarin Oriental PragueOperator: Seasons in Style
Where: Mandarin Oriental Prague
Description: this new hotel is further confirmation of Prague’s status as one of the most fashionable cities in Europe. It is situated in a 14th-century monastery, while the spa is in a Renaissance church.
Price: £585 per person, twin share, valid until March 31 2007.
What’s included: three nights based on two people sharing a double superior room, with breakfast. Flights and transfers included.

Less than £300

Room at Hotel Elite, PragueOperator: Thomas Cook Signature
Where: Hotel Elite in Prague, approximately half a mile from the Old Town Square.
Description: the four-star, 78-room hotel is in a simply but tastefully decorated old building. The building was refitted more than 15 years ago, but has old arches and a 17th-century ceiling fresco in one of its suites. The hotel also has a grill restaurant and cocktail bar.
Price: £246 per person based on two adults sharing in March.
What’s included: flights from Gatwick but not transfers. The accommodation is for three nights, with breakfast. Prices are valid for travel in March. The hotel is in the  Thomas Cook Signature Cities brochure. Weekend and seasonal supplements may apply.

Less than £200

Room at Hotel Arbes, PragueOperator: Fregata Travel
Where: Hotel Arbes, in a central but quiet location, about a 15-minute walk from Charles Bridge.
Description: on the left bank of the Vltava River, this 27-room hotel was  rebuilt in 1992, although from the outside it retains the appearance of an old building. Over four floors, rooms have mini bars, safes, en-suite bathrooms and televisions. The hotel also has a bar.
Price: £179 per person, twin share.
What’s included: three nights’ accommodation on a bed-and-breakfast basis. The package comes with return private car airport transfers and flights from Stansted or Gatwick with EasyJet.

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