Enjoy the Sound of Music with the Enchanting Danube cruise from Uniworld
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start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Set against the backdrop of the early afternoon
sun shining on the twin towers of Passau’s St Stephan’s Cathedral, waiter Mihai
hands out sparkling blue cocktails as the River Beatrice glides out into the
half an hour we are sailing through the German countryside, past wooded
hillsides dotted with pretty villages and castles. Our final destination,
Budapest, is a long way over the horizon and as the evening sets in we gather
in the lounge to begin warming to our theme - The Sound of Music.
The film that immortalised the
musical family’s flight from Austria in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Joining us on board one of the special commemorative sailings is Elisabeth Von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria and Baron Von
Trapp. Some die-hard fans have come prepared with bags made from recycled
curtains - a nod to the scene where Maria runs up makeshift new clothes for the
children - and another passenger is wearing a traditional dirndl dress bought in
Passau. Others are simply there to go with the flow, and dip in and out of the
musical additions to the special edition of Uniworld’s regular Enchanting
operates a fleet of 13 boutique river vessels in Europe and unlike most lines,
where all ships look alike, these ships have stunning individually designed
interiors. The 156-passenger River Beatrice has a bright two-storey lobby
topped by a glittering chandelier, sun deck filled with super squashy loungers
and chairs, panoramic lounge, elegant dining room bedecked with crisp
tablecloths and cosy, drawing room and library filled with navigational
artefacts. There’s even a gym and spa. The gorgeous cabins boast antiques,
artwork, lavish interior furnishings and silk walls that wouldn’t be out of
place in the best country house hotels. For passengers that really want to push
the boat out, the 15 suites come with Downton Abbey-style butlers - and Viorel
and Boris are the real deal from the tip of their immaculate tailcoats, topped
off with a rose, to their waistcoats with gleaming watch chains, pin-striped
trousers and, of course, spotless white gloves.
morning we arrive in UNESCO-listed Salzburg and follow our guide to the
beautifully manicured Mirabell Gardens. First stop is the private chapel, where
Elisabeth shares anecdotes about her famous family before an accomplished
guitar and song recital, which goes way beyond the familiar tunes from the
film. Then it’s over to us for another rehearsal of Do-Re-Mi (which we’d run
through rather discordantly the previous night). Although practice doesn’t make
some of us entirely pitch perfect, we head out onto the steps where the
namesake scene was filmed. Elisabeth counts us in and to bemused looks from
other visitors we burst into song. We are living the Sound of Music moment and
afterwards I can’t resist having a skip around the fountain that also featured
in the film.
of the allure of river cruises is you arrive somewhere new each day, and
there’s always plenty to see along the banks as you float to each destination
at a leisurely pace. One of the week’s scenic highlights is the UNESCO-listed
Wachau Valley lined with vineyards. While I lazed on the sun deck, energetic
passengers joined one of the optional guided bike excursions. The afternoon’s
walking tour took us to the vast 18th century Benedictine abbey
perched high on rocky outcrop at Melk. It resembles a palace with an imperial
corridor covered with portraits of Austrian rulers, a library containing 90,000
books and huge frescoes.
The following day we reach Vienna, with the choice of a city coach
excursion or ‘do as the locals do’ walking tour, travelling to the centre of
the Austrian capital by subway. Another big plus with this type of holiday is
that ships moor in the heart of towns and cities, so independent travellers can
easily go it alone with the help of maps and sightseeing tips available from
reception. Having done a Vienna city tour before, I decided to go to the Spanish
Riding School that’s celebrating its 450th anniversary this year.
Although it’s tricky to time visits to coincide with one of the gala
performances of the magnificent Lipizzaner stallions, the morning exercise
sessions in the ornate Winter Riding School are open to the public, costing
€14, and there are also guided stable tours.
on board, days are interspersed with lavish meals. All drinks are included,
starting with champagne at breakfast, and the charming crew members have an
impressive knack of learning your favourite tipple, and suggesting cocktails
you might like, virtually from day one. Akin to a floating gourmet restaurant,
the food featured regional specialities such as local onion tart with Limburger
cheese, Tyrolean air-dried cured ham, and slow-roasted Austrian beef, along
with delicious contemporary dishes including wild mushroom cappuccino and
lobster risotto. Desserts resembled art on a plate and looked (fleetingly)
almost too good to eat. And whilst it was hard to resist so much temptation,
there were plenty of healthy and vegetarian options too.
eye for small details made a big difference to many aspects of the cruise; an
easy check in and check out system to avoid log-jam queues at the reception
desk during excursions, refined touches such as linen drink coasters instead of
flimsy paper ones and a cup of herbal tea and foot bath before my blissful spa
treatment, providing the chance to get to know the lovely therapist Elena and
making the whole experience much more special and personal.
From the compact and walkable Slovakian capital Bratislava, we sailed on to Budapest to explore the city divided into two distinct halves by the Danube. After dinner we were treated to a mini-cruise along the river to admire a spectacular night-time view of the bridges, castle and parliament building.
was yet another unexpected bonus, which continued when I returned to the cabin to
find a copy of Elisabeth’s CD, Something Good, and a farewell photo of all the
staff wishing us a happy journey. From
sing-a-long tunes to spectacular scenery and sumptuous food, it had certainly
been a week filled with some of my favourite things.
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