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A Travel Experience 95 Years in the Making

Chloe Davidson discovers the highlights of a Concerto river ship, a journey through the European rivers to see beautiful landmarks like Namedy Castle, the Grand Empress Steam Train and Liechtenstein City Palace.

If you’re anything like me, you spent more than a few of those long lockdown hours during the pandemic dreaming about travel. Long stays, short stays, weekends away. Places I had been and ones I longed to visit. I read about restaurants I wanted to try, wrote lists, pictured myself in cities, on mountains and just about anywhere but home. There were times I longed for somewhere wild and remote; others when I would’ve given anything to be in the middle of a sea of people, feeling the buzz big cities bring.  

When travel returned, I decided on a journey through central Europe, thinking the region’s glorious mix of history, art, culture, food and beauty might satiate a few longings at once. A river cruise was recommended to me as one of the most relaxing ways to take in multiple countries and cities – unpack once and wake in a new destination each day.

Not having travelled much at all over the last few years, I wanted to make sure that I was in safe hands on my trip from Budapest to Amsterdam. I chose to travel with APT because of its outstanding reputation. Founded 95 years ago by a young Australian entrepreneur with a passion for travel, it’s a reputation long in the making.

The ms Ama Reina sailing on the Danube River past Schonbuhel Castle

Carrying me on my two-week adventure was one of APT’s luxurious Concerto River Ships, the AmaReina. Spacious and stylish throughout, this floating hotel stretches 135 metres in length and accommodates a maximum of 162 guests – just enough to create a convivial atmosphere on board without the ship feeling crowded.

The Danube, Main and Rhine rivers connect Budapest in Hungary to Amsterdam in the Netherlands and make up one of the most popular stretches of water for river cruising in Europe. It was easy to see why. Stunning scenery slipped by as we glided through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands.

Grand Empress Steam Train

Before leaving Budapest, we were swept aboard the historic Grand Empress Steam Train for the splendid 50-kilometre journey to Esztergom, which served as Hungary’s capital from the late 10th to the mid-13th centuries. Attentive, white-gloved waiting staff served guests a delicious lunch on board as we made our way alongside the Danube River, creating a scene reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film.  

We were met on arrival in Esztergom by a local guide who escorted us through the city, regaling us with stories of the first Hungarian king, St. Stephen, as we explored the breathtakingly ornate halls of the Basilica.

View of Schonbrunn Palace and Fountain in evening, Austria

A real benefit of travelling with APT is its Freedom of Choice excursions – a carefully curated mix of different activities to choose from throughout the journey. In Vienna, I left my travelling companions to explore Schonbrunn Palace after I decided to burn off the previous night’s welcome dinner indulgences with a cycling tour of the city.

APT journeys also include Signature Experiences, which are stand-out events, often exclusive to APT guests, designed to deepen your travel experience. One such event was the highlight of my trip: a cocktail party followed by a special night of music inside the lavish Liechtenstein City Palace in the heart of Vienna. There, with the whole place to ourselves, we were treated to a private performance by some members of the Mozart Boys’ Choir as we sipped on elegant cocktails. The palais itself is a marvel. Badly damaged in WWII, the princely family of Liechtenstein lovingly restored the building to its former glory, down to the finest detail.

At Wurzburg, our next destination, my companions and I chose to visit a local, family-owned farm and meet its owners, taking a tour of the 18th-century Wurzburg Residence. Designed by Balthasar Neumann and completed in 1744, this Bavarian palace combines French chateaux, Viennese baroque and Northern Italian architectural styles. Its frescos, sculptures and woodwork are stunning, and the interiors considered to be a masterwork of Baroque and Rococo architecture and art, inspiring "Wurzburg rococo", the exuberant German style.

View of Andernach Burg Namedy Castle, Germany

In Andernach, the gates of Namedy Castle were thrown open to our group, as we enjoyed morning tea before taking up an invitation to explore the stunning property. Dating to the 14th century, the dramatic, medieval castle is truly the stuff of fairy tales and even comes complete with a moat.

Throughout the river cruise, every dining experience on board was sensational with the cuisine reflective of our sailing position and matched with local wines. I joined a small group of my fellow guests for a six-course degustation-style meal, which is offered in AmaReina’s intimate Chef’s Table restaurant. Each course was prepared right in front of us by our humorous chef who kept us entertained as he sliced and diced. This experience complemented the ship’s other fine dining and casual restaurants perfectly, with dining aboard never feeling repetitive. Thanks to this variety, my taste buds were every bit as pampered as I felt, and with all my meals and drinks included, APT’s all-inclusive offering is unquestionably excellent value.

View of performer on AmaReina

The onboard entertainment was of equal quality. Nights spent cruising to our next destinations were filled with activities that brought everyone together. There were cooking demonstrations and quizzes, and we spent nights dancing and watching live music including a Bavarian band, Hungarian gypsy violinists and an Oompah band. Seduced by all things Bavarian, I made a mental note to add a dirndl to my Christmas list.

Like the new friends I made on board, my European adventure was hard to say goodbye to.

Images courtesy of AmaReina, Suzie Blake, Grand Empress, Princess Heidi Burg Namedy/ Stefan Schaal