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A panoramic view of Wurzburg

Jane Archer: Journey through the heart of Europe

Join Jane as she sails through the heart of Europe with Scenic River Cruises

Published on 09 Feb 2024

It must be wonderful to have loads of money or, at least, to be able to spend other people’s dosh, whether they like it or not. In the early 1700s, the then Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, Johann Phillipp Franz von Schönborn, decided the Marienburg Fortress he lived in was too draughty. And, anyway, being a rather important person, he wanted a palace to rival Versailles in France. 

Cue extra taxes to build his new residence, which does indeed rival Versailles. There are 360 rooms (don’t worry; tours only visit a tiny part), an entrance big enough for a carriage and six horses to enter, what’s said to be the largest ceiling fresco in the world and a room of mirrors, added because Versailles had one! Underneath, the wine cellar is longer than a football pitch. 

Würzburg, a city on the Main River, is a bit of an unsung hero in the sightseeing stakes. Alongside the palace, there’s a 900-year-old bridge with looks that rival the Charles Bridge in Prague and the aforementioned fortress, which might be draughty but has wonderful views over the city. No wonder all river cruise lines sailing the Main River stop here. 

We’ve arrived with Scenic River Cruises, on day six of its Jewels of Europe cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest - a magnificent two-week journey that takes us through five countries (Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary), along three rivers (the Rhine RiverMain River and Danube River) and on a canal linking the Main River and Danube River that uses 16 locks to take the river ship we’re on, Scenic Opalover the Franconian Alps, some 175 metres higher than the Main River. 

On the way, we’re diving into everything from Roman and medieval history and the Second World War to palaces, music and spas. We’ve already had an overnight in Amsterdam, where we skipped the canal cruise and went on a tasting tour (loved the pancakes, but pickled herring? Just no!) and an afternoon in Cologne, where we toured inside the cathedral (all tours with Scenic River Cruises are included in the price, as is everything from flights and transfers to drinks, tips, the lot). 

We spotted castles as we sailed through the Rhine Gorge, took a cable car over vineyards in Rüdesheim to a monumental statue that commemorates the unification of Germany in 1871 and refuelled in Miltenberg’s Zum Reisen Hotel, said to be the country’s oldest hostelry. 

From Würzburg, we head to Bamberg, a city with 40 churches, 14 breweries and 50 types of beer including a smoked brew that tastes like liquid ham. “After the third glass, you don’t care,” our guide assures us. I confess I gave up after the first two mouthfuls. 

Nuremberg, our next stop, is forever synonymous with the Nazis - the Nazi rally grounds are here and the war crimes trials after the Second World War were held in the city - but step away from that and you discover a pretty Old Town. We walk from the castle at one end to the shops at the other, passing half-timbered houses, a Gothic church with a glockenspiel clock, a grand fountain and more.

Phew! Who said river cruising is restful? We’re only halfway and still to come are full-day tours to Czesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic of Salzburg, where Mozart was born and The Sound of Music was filmed. Melk houses a grand Benedictine Abbey filled with gold and marble; Dürnstein has a ruined castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned (all to do with a spat over money). In Vienna, we discover the Naschmarkt, a lively spot with bars, restaurants and stalls piled high with colourful spices and end the day at an exclusive Mozart and Strauss concert at the opulent Palais Liechtenstein. 

In Budapest, we do as the Hungarians and head to the Gellert Baths, dip into the hot and steamy baths, saunas and ice buckets, then reward ourselves with a naughty-but-nice chimney (think spirals of dough cooked over coals and rolled in sugar). Why the nickname? The real name is kürtöskalács and I reckon even the Hungarians have trouble saying that!

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