Jewels of Central Europe

Yes, it’s already more than 25 years since the Berlin Wall was torn down. But did you ever wonder what happened to those fairy-tale cities “behind” the wall? Were they still fairy-tale or ruined by almost 50 years of communism? This trip takes you behind the now proverbial wall to some of those jewels: Budapest, Vienna (okay, was always in front of the Wall), Prague, Dresden, and Berlin (partly behind it).

jewel-goldsculptureBudapest whose ancient castle hovers over the Danube, graced by the Chain Bridge, is a city of spas. Its wide boulevards are lined with ‘Belle Époque’ totally restored buildings and others not so beautiful, waiting for a renewed life. Neo-baroque architecture from the early 20th century also predominates: especially in the National Museum, Heroes Square and the magnificent Széchenyi Thermal Baths in City Park, the largest medicinal baths in all of Europe.

The Aria Hotel is just steps from St. Stephen’s Basilica where you may attend an organ concert. A dinner cruise on the Danube lets you see the castle in all its nighttime splendor. You have a cooking class at their farmer’s market designed by Gustave Eiffel, yes, that same architect of Paris’ most famous tower; and there’s a day trip to the 14th century Gödöllö Palace, home to Hungarian royalty and Austrian Empress Sisi. One night it’s a wine tasting dinner and another a dinner at the incredibly restored Gresham Palace just at the foot of the Chain Bridge.

Then it’s on to Vienna, a city whose imperial past is omnipresent with recent additions of 21st century modernity. To touch the past, there’s dinner at the Hotel Sacher and a concert at the Musikverein. A private tour and dinner at the Hapsburg Palace; now a museum with Cellini’s exquisitely beautiful 1543 Salt Cellar among other rare artworks. A tour of the Spanish Riding School stables and to top off the stay, a cooking class. The day trip is up the Danube to Melk and Durnstein. All the four nights are at the boutique hotel, Altstadt.

aria-budapestpianoNext is Prague, a jewel totally unspoiled by 20th century wars and home to Václav Havel’s Velvet Revolution. It’s also home to its castle of kings, the historic Charles Bridge, beer, crystal, the Jewish Quarter, Museum of Communism, and Frank Gehry’s Fred and Ginger. All call to us. You stay at the Hotel Aria with an 18th century baroque garden (UNESCO World Heritage site) on one side and views of Hradcany Castle and the baroque St. Nicolas Church on the other. There are tours of a brewery and glass blowing factory and a side trip to Melknik and its Renaissance château where 23 Czech queens and princesses lived.

Before Berlin it’s an overnight in Dresden, the baroque jewel flattened in WWII for no strategic reason. Fortunately, it was now rebuilt, and its signature 18th century Frauenkirche, where Bach performed in 1736, was rebuilt with its original stones, some of which lay for 50 years as a memorial besides its ruined walls while others safely cataloged. The hotel, just across the Elbe River, is the Palais Bülow.
Berlin is the epitome of Germany, rejuvenated, youth-filled, ever-exciting. So much to see, to do. Start with a Spree River cruise to get a feel for the city. You can spend days just on their Museum Island, with four museums it’s truly the cultural heart of the city. Near Alexander Platz are the art galleries of those youths and their hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving fabulous food. There’s Potsdamer Platz, the city’s beacon of modern architecture. That’s where the Hotel Mandala is, and one night it’s dinner at their two star Michelin restaurant. The hotel is within walking distance of Norman Foster’s newly domed Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic, Museum Island, and Berlin’s answer to Central Park, the Tiergarten. Yes, so much to see, so much to do. Four nights, just so little time.

PRACTICAL TRIP INFO

  • Length: 17 Overnights (4 in each city except Dresden) best anytime April to late September/early October
  • Included transportation: Private transfer throughout
  • Hotels: Four-star superior & five-star superiors  
  • Also Includes: Daily breakfast, 8 lunches, 2 wine tastings, 12 dinners & 2 culinary adventures; 3 concerts; 7 guided tours; 4 excursions; & 2 river cruises
  • Estimated land package price based on double  occupancy & at $1.15/€: $7,025.00/person based on 8 travelers