The Danube steadily flows towards the sun until ultimately ending in the Ukraine and the Black Sea. Everywhere it flows, it fills its environment with life, which is not only reflected by the fascinating nature of the Danube Delta, but also by its pulsating cities. Vienna is filled with the sound of the waltz, because even today the city is permeated by the charm of the Imperial and Royal monarchy. During your tour of the city, you simply have to make a stop at one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses, because it is only there that you will get a true feeling for being Viennese. But Budapest has some cosy little places too, although it’s more renowned for its wild and romantic charm. The highlight of the metropolis rises up on the city centre’s Castle Hill: the marble Fisherman’s Bastion. This offers an outstanding view of the Danube. In the UNESCO World Heritage Site Wachau, you can inhale the spirit of centuries past as you wander through the corridors of the ancient Benedictine abbey Stift Melk. In spring, you can also admire the glorious splendour of the apricots blossoming with the little vineyards rising up in the distance. The dreamy town of Krems with its stone gate is also worth a visit. And when the river passes the Iron Gates at the Romanian-Serbian border, it takes you with it to a Europe with a history that is as spectacular as the rocky cliffs of this unique gorge valley. You will notice one thing for sure: the Danube is and remains Europe’s vital line of transportation.
The Trappist monks in Engelszell have taken a strict vow of silence, yet they produce beer that’s worth talking about, and that’s exported as far afield as the US. But there’s more to enjoy in this tiny village than a cold “Benno”, “Gregorius” or “Nivard” beer. Visitors to the “Mini-Danube” water experience can entertainingly learn about the Danube, while in the newly renovated walk-through aquarium, they’ll encounter amazing fish such as sturgeon measuring up to 2 m long. History buffs won’t be disappointed by Engelhartszell either. The settlement is mentioned in a Roman street directory dating back to the second century A.D., at the time it was called “Stanacum”. Engelhartszell has been through a lot since then. The Romans, the brutal Middle Ages and the bombastic Baroque and Rococo ages have all left their marks, inviting the visitor to take a journey back in time. And while you yourself conquer the abbey grounds, the abbey church and the market square, you can let your thoughts roam freely as you enjoy the wonderful sense of peace and quiet. There’s something to be said for taking a vow of silence.
It’s as if the Danube wanted to embellish the beauty of the mountain ridge at Schlögen by adding a spectacular bow. The river makes a 180° about-turn here as if its short southwards journey had been a mistake. Many of our guests have been left speechless by this stretch of the river – and it’s easy to see why! The Schlögener Loop is quite simply breathtaking. After this short detour, the sparkling blue ribbon continues on its way towards the south-east through the tranquil fairytale countryside.
The name “Linz” conjures up elaborate Baroque architecture and Linzer Torte. These connotations make the Lentos – a modern glass art museum on the city’s riverbank that enjoys an outstanding reputation in the international art scene – even more impressive. Meaning “situated at the bend in the river”, the word “Lentos” has Celtic roots, and is the origin of the name “Linz”. To really get a sense of Linz – an urban artwork that combines modernism with Baroque and culture with industry – the “Höhenrausch” tour of the city’s rooftops and a climb up to the viewing platform of the Oberösterreich Tower are essential.
Many mythical and historical tales are told about the Wachau valley, from stories of marauding knights to the captivity of Richard the Lionheart. Above all else, however, it is the narrow 36-km-long valley that captures the imagination. Apricot orchards and vineyards line the slopes, while the rugged cliffs accentuate the charm of the area. On the steep hills of this UNESCO World Heritage Site grow world-famous grape varieties which were being eagerly enjoyed as far as back as the Middle Ages by the residents of the castles and palaces. The remains of these edifices can be seen all along the banks of the river; while some have been very well preserved, others survive as picturesque ruins.
The approximately 1,000-year-old city of Krems is an important part of the Wachau’s cultural landscape. The city’s most famous landmark is the Steiner Tor, a perfectly preserved city gate. If you stroll through it, you’ll find yourself surrounded by medieval houses and historical buildings. A covered stairway leads from the Pfarrkirche St. Veit church, which is well worth seeing, to the late Gothic Piarist Church, known as “the little sister of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral”. The opposite side of the Danube offers an imposing view of Göttweig Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that sits alone on the crest of the hill. In the Cartoon Museum, the permanent exhibition featuring the work of the artists Manfred Deix and Gustav Peichl is sure to put you in a good mood.
“Wien is a schöne Stadt, des weiß alle Welt,” is the opening line of one of the most famous songs written by the Viennese cabarettist Georg Kreisler. Roughly translated, this means “Vienna is a beautiful city, and the whole world knows it”. Yet beauty is just one of the many facets of a city whose inhabitants are renowned for a snide sense of humour known as “Schmäh”. To really experience Vienna, you need to soak up the genteel atmosphere over an “Einspänner” (a strong black coffee served with whipped cream) in one of the city’s coffee houses. Or visit a “Heurige” (a Viennese wine tavern). Or order an “Eitrige” (a cheese-filled sausage) at a sausage stand. Palatschinke (pancake), Knödel (dumplings), strudel, Sachertorte and Wiener Schnitzel. To distract yourself from all these delicious calories, just delve into the city’s history. The opulence of the Habsburg dynasty can be found everywhere. The Spanish Riding School, the amusement park in the Prater public park, the exhibitions in the MuseumsQuartier art and culture complex … there are so many unmissable attractions. And after all this, the best way to relax is by listening to Viennese classical music. From Mozart and Beethoven to Haydn and Johann Strauss: Vienna is where the greatest classical masterpieces were born – music is in the city’s blood.
The Slovakian city is the only national capital to border two neighbouring countries: Austria and Hungary. It’s no surprise that Bratislava is a wonderful melting pot of various ethnic groups. Magnificent aristocratic palaces, Soviet high-rise blocks and a UFO over the Danube: these are just some of the many attractions that make this self-confident city of contrasts worth getting to know.
Celts settled on this mountain as long ago as 150 B.C. The strategically valuable location on the Danube also prompted the Romans to build a settlement here. After that, the city became part of the Ottoman Empire. All of these peoples have left their mark on this pretty city. This birthplace of the Hungarian nation has a unique flair that captivates visitors. The massive basilica towers above the Danube. This site has seen a thing or two: the erection of its first church around the year 1000 followed by its destruction; the building of a new church, which was destroyed in 1543 in the Turkish wars; and the rebuilding of the cathedral in 1820. Franz Liszt composed his Missa solemnis “Graner Messe” for the consecration in 1856.
Budapest gives you a glimpse into the Hungarian soul. This fast-paced, passionate city with its strange violin music was born in 1873 when three villages came together: Óbuda, Buda and Pest. Buda and Pest was connected by a chain suspension bridge watched over by two stone lions in 1849. The castle is located on the hilly side of the city, while the impressive parliament building can be found on the other, flatter side. This was built in just 22 years to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary in 1896. The building, which is 96 m high, 268 m long and 118 m wide, and has a total of 691 rooms, is an incredible architectural achievement. Buda Castle, the city’s landmark, sits atop Castle Hill on the other side of the river. The Castle District offers a wealth of interesting sights, including the Fisherman’s Bastion and the system of caves that were used at times of war. Both the Habsburgs and the Ottomans have left magnificent stamps on the city. When combined with the remains of Soviet socialism, the result is a culturally colourful and vibrant mix that thrills every visitor.
“Iron Gates” is probably the most awe-inspiring gorge in Europe. In the past, this stretch of the Danube spelled disaster for many a ship. However, the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in 1971 resulted in a rise in the water level. This means that today we can enjoy the view of the huge canyon leading directly to “Romania’s answer to Norway”. The steep, green-covered cliffs of the Carpathian Mountains rise up to the left and right; the deep blue water flows below; and beyond every bend in the river there is another reason to take out your camera.
The meeting point of Central Europe and the Middle East is situated where the Sava flows into the Danube. This gateway to the Balkans is open, cosmopolitan and full of fun. Simply by strolling through the city you can travel back through the history of Belgrade, admire its architecture and encounter European modernism. And while you discover culinary specialities on every corner, your eye will be drawn to the magnificent influences of the Ottoman Empire, which on the next corner has to give way to Socialist classicism. Every visitor ends up sooner or later in Belgrade’s medieval fortress, which features moats and a beautiful park. Time for a little break.
Ruse is one of the prettiest cities in Bulgaria. In the past, travelling merchants would stop here on their way to Constantinople. The city has maintained its multicultural openness. The best way to experience this is by taking a tour of discovery to Pridunavski Boulevard and Freedom Square with its grand buildings and opulent theatre.
This city of 2 million residents comprises a mixture of monumental Socialist architecture and old city quarters with historical buildings dating back to all eras of the past few centuries. Needless to say, the most striking of these is the Palace of the Parliament. 20,000 people worked in three shifts to build the 300 halls in Europe’s largest building. The excessive use of stucco, chandeliers and marble is a pompous display of power dating back to the Ceaușescu era. North Bucharest is dominated by elegant villas, while the other side of the city amazes visitors with its wild mixture of architectural styles. Cultural delights can be found by listening to the Romanian State Philharmonic Orchestra in the palatial Atheneum or by visiting the National Museum of Art in the splendid royal palace.
Before the Danube enters the Black Sea, it can’t resist shaping another unique region of natural beauty. The river has passed through ten countries, fascinating cities, fairy-tale landscapes and colossal mountain ranges by the time it reaches the Danube Delta biosphere reserve. This is the nesting place of Europe’s largest pelican colony. Geese and cormorants cross the sky, which turns a foggy shade of pink in the early morning. An eagle circles above the treetops. The creative power of nature, which has produced around 5,200 plant and animal species here, can be seen everywhere. And these are only the plants and animals that human beings have discovered to date. The tranquil, wild world of the river exerts an irresistible magical pull that allows visitors to lose all sense of time and space.