River of Dreams: A cruise holiday with a difference on the Danube
A Danube river cruise is small but perfectly formed, says Bairbre Power.
Set the Mood
A glass of Tokaji - Hungarian dessert wine - in hand, I stretch out on the sundeck of the S.S. Maria Theresa, admiring the unfolding Slovakian landscape while listening to Austrian composer Mozart and the Hungarian Liszt.
What a show-off, you might say... but that's the appeal of a holiday serving up four countries in three days. It sounds like a whirlwind, but in reality this seven-night river cruise from Hungary to Germany provides plenty of immersion. It pushes me to appreciate Liszt and Mozart over my beloved Chopin, introduces me to cooking with paprika and reveals the secret to making Sachertorte chocolate cake (the quality of the apricot jam).
At heart, I'm a DIY traveller, but I liked the small groups and Quietvox audio headsets on our walking tours, too. It's Europe, from the decks of a floating boutique hotel.
Vintage, antiques, bric-à-brac - call it what you will, but you'll be in heaven if you like shopping for treasures from yesteryear. You'll spy many head- swivelling small stores on a walking tour through Budapest city centre, especially the ones selling costume jewellery. While big stores accept cards, if you want to bargain in the markets and smaller shops, carry the local currency. There are roughly three Hungarian forint to one euro and you can top up at ATMs.
When in Bratislava, I thoroughly recommend a coffee/early cocktail in the very cool Antique American Bar (above) on Rybárska brána in the heart of the city centre.
Foodies, you are in for a total treat, both aboard the ship, where chefs will prepare dishes for you, and also on land. We hit Budapest on foot and got to grips with the local culinary scene by riding their very impressive metro system around Hungary's capital, bisected by the River Danube into Buda and Pest. Our senses came alive in the Buda district's Central Food Market, where you should definitely buy some paprika and delicious local salami. A short metro ride away in Pest, watch locals shop for ingredients for their goulash and sample lángos, a traditional deep-fried flatbread.
Start your reading well in advance and it will totally enhance the experience as you navigate different cultures and histories over the week. I brought my iPad to do some related research each night. There's Wi-Fi on board too.
Culture aside, there's lots of luxurious pampering on this Uniworld cruise. Expect that 'concierge' feeling with a one-to-three ratio of staff to passengers. If you're an exercise bunny, there's a heated pool and a gym, but I preferred lolling around on my Egyptian cotton sheets. Your marble bathroom will be filled with L'Occitane products and the upper deck is a good spot to chill with a book.
On land, pickpockets are everywhere. We have them at home but it was still rather shocking to find a cheeky one - exceedingly well-dressed, I might add - dipping as we prepared to board our bus in Bratislava. Stay vigilant!
Get me there
Fly with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) or Ryanair (ryanair.com) to Budapest to join Uniworld Boutique River Cruises' seven-night 'Enchanting Danube' itinerary, visiting Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. Prices start from €2,429pp sharing based on an October 22 departure.
A riverview stateroom, unlimited beverages and all meals aboard are included. Welcome and farewell gala dinners, six days of excursions, all transfers on arrival and departure days, and all gratuities both on-board and ashore are included too.
More information from 1800 98 98 98 or uniworld.com.