The grand tour

His­toric high­lights on a Euro­pean me­an­der

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - PA­TRI­CIA MAUN­DER

HUN­GAR­IAN RHAP­SODY: For 15 days, Vik­ing River Cruises’ Grand Euro­pean Tour de­liv­ers one sigh-in­duc­ing scene of Old World cul­ture af­ter an­other, in­clud­ing 10 UNESCO World Her­itage sites. Choose a Bu­dapest-Am­s­ter­dam sail­ing, rather than the re­verse, and your first UNESCO tick is the Hun­gar­ian cap­i­tal’s his­toric heart. As with most of the itin­er­ary’s United Na­tions-ap­proved gems, you can see it on the in­cluded tour then re­turn for a more de­tailed visit dur­ing your free time. Top op­tions are the fairy­tale-spired neogothic par­lia­ment or the Buda Cas­tle quar­ter, es­pe­cially Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion, where the 14th-cen­tury Matthias Church’s colour­ful roof tiles seem im­pres­sive un­til you look across the Danube to the Pest side of the city. And be on deck to see a twin­kling Bu­dapest pass by at night as your ship (in my case, Vik­ing Skadi) be­gins its jour­ney. More: vikingriver­

VIENNESEV CLAS­SICS: Next stop, Vi­enna, where the old city cen­tre, or In­nere Stadt, is a UNESCO site. The me­dieval maze at its core in­cludes St Stephen’s Cathe­dral with its 137m-high tower that still dom­i­nates the sky­line, while be­yond are build­ings, mon­u­ments and gar­dens on a grand scale from Vi­enna’s long reign as the Hab­s­burg em­pire’s cap­i­tal. These in­clude the Belvedere, a baroque palace now home to a gallery renowned for its Gus­tav Klimt paint­ings, in­clud­ing The Kiss, and the en­tire Ringstrasse, a gra­cious boule­vard con­structed around the In­nere Stadt dur­ing the hey­day of The Blue Danube waltz. Then there is Vi­enna’s other UNESCO site to con­sider — the vast im­pe­rial sum­mer res­i­dence, Schon­brunn Palace. With only 24 hours in port, the Sacher torte served at Ho­tel Sacher’s charm­ing cafe may have to wait.

PIC­TURE PER­FECT: The Wachau Val­ley should b be drift­ing by when next you wake, ide­ally d draped in mist or morn­ing sun­light. De­scribed by UNESCO as a “me­dieval land­scape which has evolved or­gan­i­cally and har­mo­niously over time”, it’s dot­ted with quaint towns, vil­lages and lone build­ings peek­ing out from ter­raced vine­yards rolling down to the Danube. This idyl­lic scene is pret­ti­est dur­ing au­tumn, when the vines turn golden. Painted a sim­i­larly eye-pop­ping hue, Melk Abbey is part of the UNESCO list­ing and sig­nif­i­cant enough for the ship to dock along­side. Founded in 1089, it had a baroque makeover in the 18th cen­tury, ev­i­dent in the chapel dec­o­rated ac­cord­ing to the motto that you can never have enough gild­ing or too many cherubs. T TIME TRAVEL: One of Europe’s largest and best­p­re­served me­dieval streetscapes, the UNESCOl listed Old Town of Re­gens­burg, in south­east Ger­many (at the con­flu­ence of the Danube, Naab and Re­gen rivers), seems made for strolling, al­though lo­cal driv­ers in­con­gru­ously zoom­ing around may claim oth­er­wise, so do be­ware. High­lights along the crooked cob­ble­stoned streets in­clude Ro­man-era for­ti­fi­ca­tions, the sky­high gothic cathe­dral, Re­nais­sance Ital­ian-in­flu­enced man­sions, and the Old Town Hall, demon­stra­bly built over sev­eral cen­turies. Just be­fore de­part­ing via the 12th­cen­tury stone bridge, en­joy uber-tra­di­tional bratwurst at His­torische Wurstkuche zu Re­gens­burg, which din­ers have been en­joy­ing since the bridge opened; the present build­ing dates from the 1600s. More:

BAVAR­IAN BEAUTY: An­other day in Ger­many, an­other UNESCO-ap­proved me­dieval town cen­tre, but Bam­berg’s dis­tinct char­ac­ter de­fies tourist en­nui. Most dis­tinc­tive of all is the Old Town Hall, perched on an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land in the mid­dle of the Reg­nitz River. This was an in­spired so­lu­tion when the lo­cal bishop-prince re­fused to pro­vide land for the build­ing — at least ac­cord­ing to legend, which is de­picted in vi­brant trompe l’oeil fres­coes on its ex­te­rior walls. Other high­lights in­clude the 13th-cen­tury cathe­dral and 17th-cen­tury bishop’s palace. Al­low time for an­other en­dur­ing Bam­berg cu­rios­ity — rauch­bier, or smoked beer, made us­ing malt dried over beech­wood fires.

HOLY OF­FICE: The bish­ops who for­merly ruled Bavaria ei­ther didn’t take a vow of poverty, or d didn’t take it se­ri­ously, as their res­i­dences are the very def­i­ni­tion of pala­tial. Wurzburger Res­i­denz, de­scribed by UNESCO as a “work of art [that is] the most ho­mo­ge­neous and ex­tra­or­di­nary of the baroque palaces”, was built dur­ing the 18th cen­tury by lead­ing Euro­pean ar­ti­sans and artists, in­clud­ing Vene­tian pain­ter Tiepolo. His ceil­ing fresco, above the colos­sal white-mar­ble stair­case, is the world’s largest, and de­picts what were then con­sid­ered the four con­ti­nents: Europe, Africa, Asia and the Amer­i­cas (my guide apol­o­gises for Aus­tralia’s ab­sence). The build­ing was badly bombed in 1945, mak­ing this show­case of truly grand de­sign all the more re­mark­able.

W WAGNERIAN VIS­TAS: Lauded by UNESCO for its “long his­tory of hu­man in­volve­ment with a d dra­matic and var­ied nat­u­ral land­scape”, the Up­per Mid­dle Rhine has long been cru­cial to trade be­tween the Mediter­ranean and north­ern Europe. Sixty small towns formed along this pros­per­ous, pic­turesque river val­ley, as well as 40 cas­tles built to ex­act tolls from mer­chant ves­sels; ter­raced vine­yards have flour­ished for a mil­len­nia. Most cas­tles were ru­ins by the 18th cen­tury, but this only en­hanced the land­scape’s ap­peal for artists, po­ets and com­posers, in­clud­ing Richard Wag­ner, whose myth­i­cal Rhine­maid­ens dwelt here. Hours of scenic cruis­ing are capped off with a visit to Marks­burg Cas­tle; among the val­ley’s best pre­served hill­top for­ti­fi­ca­tions, it re­veals what me­dieval life was like in Ger­man cas­tles and the privy is par­tic­u­larly in­trigu­ing.

SACREDS GROUND: When Cologne’s arch­bishop ac­quired the Three Wise Men’s relics in 1164 (a claim yet to be dis­proved), he had them en­cased in a reli­quary cov­ered in gold, sil­ver, jew­els and enamel. It’s a won­der among won­ders at the city’s cathe­dral, which was built as a shrine for these relics from 1248, but not com­pleted un­til 1880. The orig­i­nal de­signs were fol­lowed re­li­giously over the cen­turies, re­sult­ing in a high gothic mas­ter­piece of im­mense pro­por­tions: at 157m, it’s the world’s tallest twin-spired church. Ger­many’s most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion, the UNESCO-listed Cologne Cathe­dral, was among the few build­ings to sur­vive World War II car­pet bomb­ing of the city, be­cause Al­lied pi­lots used it as a nav­i­ga­tional land­mark.

WINDW IN YOUR SAILS: The cruise’s last UNESCO site, and fi­nal stop be­fore ar­riv­ing in Am­s­ter­dam, i is Kin­derdijk. Nine­teen his­toric wind­mills form a pic­turesque tes­ta­ment to Hol­land’s ca­pac­ity, for nearly a mil­len­nia, to con­trol the wa­ter that would oth­er­wise in­un­date this low-ly­ing coun­try. Al­though these wind­mills have been func­tion­ally re­placed by two large elec­tric pump­ing sta­tions, their sails con­tinue to spin qui­etly amid a net­work of dykes, reser­voirs and canals. Learn about the time-hon­oured lan­guage of the sails (which are parked in var­i­ous po­si­tions to an­nounce the wind­mill’s sta­tus, in­clud­ing mal­func­tion or the op­er­a­tor’s ab­sence), feel their power up close, and won­der how a fam­ily could live in­side these 18th-cen­tury struc­tures as they are squeezy enough with­out the mas­sive ver­ti­cal post ro­tat­ing in the mid­dle. MOV­ING VIS­TAS: The cheap­est cab­ins might be a lit­tle squeezy for two pas­sen­gers but ev­ery­thing else about life on board a Vik­ing Long­ship is, well, cruisy. Built to suit Euro­pean wa­ter­ways (and so pre­cisely you might feel a bump in the night as the ship passes through a lock), they are both ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­port so there’s no end­less un­pack­ing and repack­ing. With un­der­stated decor and a max­i­mum of 190 pas­sen­gers, it’s a bless­edly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence to mass-mar­ket ocean cruis­ing. Meals on board are a la carte and in­clude ba­sic bev­er­ages; there are many in­cluded port tours and other op­tional ex­cur­sions. More: vikingriver­

Pa­tri­cia Maun­der was a guest of Vik­ing River Cruises. •

Vik­ing Long­ship on the Danube, Bu­dapest, top; St Peter and Paul Church in Melk Abbey, Aus­tria, top right; Bam­berg, Ger­many, above right; ad­mir­ing Gus­tav Klimt in the Belvedere, Vi­enna, above; Marks­burg Cas­tle on the Rhine, be­low

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