Title disclaimer: we have no knowledge of any actual Hungarian gems hidden along the Danube River, and use this phrase in reference only to the beauty of some of the country’s lesser-known towns featured on Crystal Mozart’s 2017 itineraries. Although, given this beauty and the innate charm and rich history of these locales, gemstones sparkling up from the shoreline would not be entirely surprising.
Crystal Mozart embarked on her second season of sailing along the mighty Danube this week, continuing her reign as the “Queen of Europe’s Rivers” and the standard bearer for luxury river cruising. Sailing from Vienna, her itineraries are packed with European treats for the senses, from the strains of masters’ concertos echoing in the cathedrals of Austria, to the scent of blintzes and streusels emanating from the German and Slovakian bakeries.
On several 11-day itineraries, the elegant river yacht deviates from her predominant route through Austria’s Wachau Valley, Linz and Melk to explore the treasures of Eastern Europe, charting a course that calls in Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia and five destinations within Hungary. As we explore these “hidden gems,” relativity is key. Budapest certainly is not a “hidden” anything, with its massive Chain Bridge and imposing Parliament Building that strike awe in all who pass.
However, the baroque architecture and profound history of Hungary reaches far past the famed structures of its capital. Here are some of the sweet spots that may present new discoveries for even the most seasoned travelers:
This town’s significance is largely dominated by battle (namely, the Battles of Mohács in 1526 and 1687), and it boasts the pride of a kingdom lost and found in the process. The battles bookended Ottoman rule over Hungary (beginning and ending, respectively), and museums and monuments throughout the city tell that fascinating tales of this struggle. Beyond the battle though lies a friendly quirkiness to Mohács, which is illustrated by the many costumed festivals held throughout the year and the city’s other longstanding heritage: horsemanship and the tradition of taming and training wild horses.
Once you gaze upon the Esztergom Basilica, you may easily get lost in the grandeur of this monumental masterpiece. It seemingly rises out of nowhere along the city’s landscape, towering above the Danube. But don’t lose sight of Esztergom’s other profound significance to Hungarian heritage: it was the original seat of power, being the country’s capital from the time of its first king, St. Stephen, in 975; and is also considered the birthplace of Hungarian Christianity and Roman Catholicism.
Szentendre Island (Bodor Major)
This small town on the West Bank of the Danube Bend is picturesque in myriad senses of the word. The cobbled town squares and surrounding landscapes exude thousand-year-old charm, but Szentendre is also known as an artists’ haven. As you meander through the many pedestrian-friendly streets, you’ll notice countless galleries and museums that display the enduring influence and contributions the town has made to the arts over the centuries.
A baroque provincial town in the Great Plain on the Left Bank, Kalocsa boasted more political and global influence historically than it does at present, particularly for the Catholic Church. The Archiepiscopal Palace and the ensconced Archbishop’s Library is a point of fascination, housing 150,000 tomes, including the Vizsolyi Bible, the oldest Hungarian bible in existence, dating to 1540. Kalocsa is also a great destination for keepsakes, with the Kalocsa Porcelain Manufacturer continuing the longstanding tradition of Hungary’s celebrated porcelain treasures.
Complimentary excursions in each of these gems afford captivating views into their histories and present-day beauties. Book your Crystal Mozart voyage today to explore for yourself.