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March 20, 2017

Magnificent Imperial Cities of Central Europe

Bratislava

Dotted with fairytale castles and palaces, a central Europe tour never fails to enchant travellers. And on Collette's 10-day Imperial Cities tour, you can experience the very best of the region, with an itinerary that includes stays in Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Not only will you lap up the diverse charms of these regal capital cities, you'll enjoy some fabulously alluring escapes on their bucolic doorsteps. Tour highlights abound, but these are sure to stay long in the memory.

Hradcany Castle

prague hradcany castle

Crowning a hill above the Vltava River, Prague's mighty castle is rather bewitching from afar (especially when you're staring up at it from the statue-lined Charles Bridge). But it's when you delve inside that it really casts its spell. The Guinness Book of World Records says it's the largest ancient castle on the planet and this won't come as a surprise as you navigate its labyrinthine courtyards and jewel-studded buildings that fuse various architectural styles, from Gothic to Bohemian Baroque. You'll feel like the king - or queen - of the castle when you're in its cathedral tower, savouring panoramic views over the Czech Republic capital's UNESCO World Heritage listed historic core.

Cesky Krumlov

CeskyKrumlov

Central Europe is flush with towns and villages that could have been plucked from a children's storybook. But Cesky Krumlov - which hugs a meandering bend of the Vltava River, about a two-hour coach ride from Prague - might be the prettiest of the lot. A treat to wander, camera in hand, its twisted, cobbled lanes are straight out of the Middle Ages, whilst its spired churches and red-roofed, frescoed buildings are flavoured with Renaissance and Baroque ingredients. Lording over the town is a romantic castle that, like its Prague counterpart, boasts a slew of eye-catching sights, not least a moat that has been guarded by European brown bears for hundreds of years.

Schoenbrunn Palace

SchoenbrunnPalace

Framed by the Ringstrasse - a grand boulevard that buzzes with trams - Vienna's elegant centre is chockablock with splendid buildings which mushroomed during the reign of the Habsburgs, the dynasty that ruled much of central Europe between the 13th and early 20th centuries. It's on the Austrian capital's leafy fringes, however, that nestles the most majestic relic of imperial times. The Hapburgs' summer residence, Schoenbrunn Palace boasts a staggering 1441 rooms, and you'll explore a cluster on a guided tour (the apartments of the former Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi are particularly opulent). Blessed with flowers and fountains, the palace's gardens make for a delightful stroll.

Bratislava

BratislavaSquare

Just an hour east of Vienna by road, Slovakia's capital has long lived in the shadow of its Austrian neighbour. But it usually makes a fine impression on visitors, who enjoy ambling through its pretty, maze-like Old Town, which flaunts everything from medieval churches and pastel-shaded mansions to contemporary street art and sculptures (look out for 'The Watcher', a bronze figure that peeks out from a manhole). Rivalling the stark white hilltop castle as Bratislava's most photographed landmark, Novy Most is a Communist-era bridge spanning the River Danube. Thanks to its flying saucer-shaped tower restaurant, it's been dubbed the 'UFO Bridge'.

Danube River Cruise

Danube River Budapest Hungary

You'll spend a fair bit of this tour walking beside (and glancing out of your coach seat window) at the Danube. So you'll probably be glad to know that you'll get to cruise along Europe's second longest river, too. Embarking on a boat trip at Durnstein, a gorgeous medieval town west of Vienna, you'll drift past verdant slopes laced with vineyards, cute hamlets and castles dripping in local folklore and in varying states of repair. Before returning to Vienna, you'll also call in at Melk, whose huge abbey, perched atop a wooded outcrop overlooking the Danube, has been a working Benedictine monastery since AD 1089.

Budapest

budapest parliament

Straddling both banks of the Danube, Hungary's vibrant capital is a beguiling blend of old and new, with medieval draws like the Matthias Church (a place of coronation for ancient Hungarian kings) contrasting neatly with the stylish shops and al fresco cafes of Andrassy Avenue (Budapest's equivalent of Paris' Champs-Elysées). A local expert will guide you around a city that's world-famous for its enticing spas and bathing spots (Budapest sits on thermal springs). As well as taking in iconic sites - including the neo-Gothic riverside parliament (the third largest parliament building in the world) - you'll also glean a fascinating insight into daily Hungarian life with a visit to a local school.

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