European rail holidays on the Danube Express (photo: Thinkstock)
Tuesday, 11, Jan 2011 10:13
For hassle-free sightseeing through the heart of Central Europe's most beautiful cities and cultural centres, it's hard to beat a European rail holiday.
The Danube Express visits both famous historic cities and little-known gems, and this charming hotel-on-wheels offers a relaxed and unhurried passage to the highlights of Central Europe.
Engaging guides brimming with expert knowledge will help guests discover the wonders of the region and ensure they make the most of each destination.
Five fascinating journeys are offered in 2011, each available as either a fully escorted holiday or an independent journey, but all with sightseeing included.
Limited to only 42 passengers for added comfort, everything is taken care of onboard and off, allowing guests to relax and enjoy the sites.
Here are the top stops on the Danube Express:
Wieliczka Salt Mine - one of the world's oldest salt mines, Wieliczka has been operational and producing table salt from medieval times until 1996, when active mining ceased. Now a World Heritage site, the mine in southern Poland is an astonishing 300kms long and 327m deep. The miners established a tradition of carving statues of historic and mythical figures, chambers, chapels and even an underground lake from the rock salt, and visitors can discover these on a 3.5km trail through the mine.
Malbork - founded in the 13th Century by the Teutonic Knights, Malbork is home to one of the most striking Gothic Castles in Europe. Danube Express guests enjoy a tour of the medieval Malbork Castle which was under continuous construction for nearly 230 years, and is the world's largest brick castle.
Malbork Castle (photo: Thinkstock)
Kazanlak - a centre for rose oil production for more than 300 years, with 70 per cent of the world's rose extract originating here, Kazanlak is the capital of the Valley of Roses. This small yet picturesque town in Bulgaria is surrounded by fields flecked with fragrant roses and lavender, but it is also famous for its tombs. Settlement of the region dates back 8,000 years to Neolithic times and later, the area was home to the Thracian Kings who left behind many mysterious burial mounds and tombs. The Danube Express tour includes a visit to a Thracian tomb, with vaulted brickwork and splendid murals dating back to the 4th Century BC.
Brasov - in the heart of Transylvania, land of Dracula. Among the sightseeing highlights here is Bran Castle, dating from the 15th century, which is commonly known as 'Dracula's Castle'. With its narrow corridors and mysterious labyrinths, it conjures up the perfect Gothic fairy-tale image. Other sites visited include the Council Square, lined with beautiful red-roofed merchant houses and the Black Church.
Veliko Turnovo - the medieval capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Turnovo is often referred to as the 'City of the Tsars'. One of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria, the city is situated on three hills overlooking the River Yantra and houses a number of palaces, churches and monasteries. Visit the ruins of the superbly preserved medieval Tsarevets Hill and Castle where the first traces of human presence date back to the 2nd Millennium BC.
View from Veliko Turnovo (photo: Thinkstock)
Lajosmizse - experience the beauty of Hungary's southern Great Plains on a trip to the town of Lajosmizse. Here large horse ranches are spread across the area and passengers are treated to a thrilling Putszta show where the famous Magyar cowboys demonstrate their equestrian skills.
Novi Sad - Located on the banks of the river Danube, Novi Sad is Serbia's second largest city. Its focal point is the Petrovaradin Fortress, built on the Rock of Petrovaradin. Constructed between 1692 and 1790, the fortress covers an area of 112 hectares and has 16kms of underground corridors, some leading under the Danube. The fortress offers beautiful views of the city and today houses artists' studios, a museum and a hotel. The city is also home to some of Serbia's most impressive and beautiful religious buildings including St George's orthodox cathedral.
A four-day Transylvanian Return Journey between Istanbul and Budapest (via Kazanlak, Veliko Turnovo, Brasov and Sighisoara) costs £2,790 per person based on two sharing a Deluxe twin en suite compartment and includes three nights' full board on the Danube Express with wine, beer and soft drinks, and all scheduled sightseeing.
This trip is also available as a nine-day Fully Escorted holiday from £3,690 per person additionally including British Airways flights from/to the UK, two nights in Istanbul and three nights in Budapest - both half-board in four-star hotels - and full sightseeing programme.
For more information telephone 01462 441400 or visit the Danube Express website.
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