A full day to explore the wealth of attractions Prague has to offer, with some guided sightseeing in the morning and some free time. We will explore the Old Town, with the famous Wenceslas Square, and Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world. Clients will pay their own entrance fees.
After breakfast we visit the town of Holasovice which has been inlcuded on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its traditional Baroque folk architectural style, evident in the striking houses and elegant gates. We then carry on to the historic town of Cesky Krumlov, with its small squares, narrow cobbled streets and beautfiul chateau that overlooks the town. The early evening and morning are particularly good times to see this town, as the light reflects of the red roofs and the surrounding hills.
Telc is a great example of renaissance architecture and has changed little over the past century. The town square, flanked by traditional houses and buildings, many of which proudly display coats of arms will immerse you in a bygone era. The next stop is Znojmo, a town with a number of fascinating places to visit. The castle perched on a rocky cliff offers wonderful views of the surrounding countryside, and of particular interest is the Znojemska Rotunda Chapel; the real gem here though is the 27km of underground tunnels, the longest in Europe. We end our day in the wine-growing town of Mikulov, where we stay for the night.
We tour the mediaeval old town; Mikulov has a varied history, influenced much by its location on the border with Austria, including 300 years under the Liechtenstein family. The town has also been influenced by the large Jewish community that began following their expulsion from Lower Austria in 1421. Today it is at the centre of the wine-growing production in Moravia. Leaving Mikulov we transfer to Lednice to visit the castle, a true highlight of the region including the beautifully landscaped garden and park. At the end of the day we cross the border into Slovakia to the royal town of Skalica. Here there is the option of a memorable dinner in mediaeval restaurant in the Skalica Ledovna (ice cellars). This is a complex of tunnels that were carved out of the hills that were used for ice storage in past times.
Skalica has a great deal to offer; of special interest is our visit to the Franciscan monastery to see how the traditional Trdelnik cake is made, including of course the chance to try some! We then transfer to Straznice, an outdoor museum, where we can have lunch before being taken through this unique village that showcases the way of life in the mountains from centuries ago. Our last stop today is at the Plze wine cellars where we sample some local wines in the company of a local producer, accompanied by some lively folk music. We then transfer to Bratislava.
Bratislava may be one of the youngest of Europe's capitals but it has a long and rich history. It has been the coronation town of the Hapsburgs, and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. There are two castles here, Devin Castle, destroyed by Napoleon's troops in 1809 and Bratislava Castle with its distinctive four towers and wonderful views over the Danube. After lunch we visit the old town, the picturesque streets and baroque buildings, including the Grassalkovichov Palace, the presidential residence. In the evening we transfer to Vienna.
Full day's sightseeing in the wonderful city of Vienna, including guided sightseeing and free time to visit impressive sites like the grand Schonbrunn Palace and St. Stephens Cathedral and an optional visit to the Mozart Museum (entrances payable locally). There will also be an optional visit to an evening concert (this will need to be pre-booked and so will be explained by your leader on Day 1).
Today we drive to the town of Sopron in Hungary where Franz List had his residence and which has the second largest concentration of romantic style buildings in the country, where we take a walk in the historic part. After lunch we transfer to Komarno, a town divided into two parts by the Danube River, one belonging to Slovakia and one to Hungary. Here we visit the European Square, with 40 buildings each representing a part of Europe, including the Vatican, Wales and even Greenland. The benches by the Millennium Fountain provide a nice spot for a rest. We end the day with a drive to Budapest.
The mighty Danube literally splits this great city into two halves, Buda, dominated by the Castle Hill Palace complex, high above the river, and Pest, the bustling and more cosmopolitan centre of trade. The morning is spent visiting the Castle Hill area, perched above the Danube and inner city area. In the afternoon we visit the charming riverside town of Szentendre, a short drive north of Budapest following the 'Danube Bend'. Szentendre, traditionally an artists' colony, is full of pretty houses painted in pastel shades and many small galleries. In the evening there is an optional boat cruise on the Danube, offering close-up views of the spectacular Neo-Gothic Parliament building on the waterfront.
Leaving Hungary behind we journey to the imperious Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, stopping en route in Banska Stiavnica. This town is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list and has a rich history thanks to its once prolific mines. Banska Stiavnica is a mediaeval town spread across a steep valley, that in the Middle Ages was the main supplier of gold and silver to the Kingdom of Hungary. It boasts a number of beautifully preserved buildings such as the 14th century Chateau and the Church of St Catherine, and the numerous small picturesque squares. We then proceed to Vlkolinec in the Maly Fatra Mountains. Vlkolinec is something akin to a 'living museum' with 45 wooden vernacular buildings dating back to 1372, set in a remarkable natural environment. The village has permanent residents, however remains untouched and is today a Folk Architecture Monument Reserve. We continue to the highest settlement in the Tatras, Strbske Pleso lake (1346m) a popular spot for summer and winter sports enthusiasts and a great place to sample high-mountain atmosphere. In the evening we transfer to our nearby accommodation in Stary Smokovec.
The High Tatras National Park is among the best in Europe, with glacial valleys, mountain lakes and waterfalls and populated by brown bears, chamois, marmots and wolves. There are many activities and attractions to choose from on your free day here; the leader will be on hand to advise. In the evening we transfer to the Polish capital, Krakow.
We take a short tour on foot of the main sights of the old city, in company of a local guide, including the Mariacki church, Old Market Square, the Jewish quarter and Wawel Hill. Wawel Castle is renowned as the best example of a renaissance style castle on the north side of Alps. The afternoon is free to explore, or an optional visit to the impressive and labyrinth like Wieliczka Salt Mine. This vast network of tunnels and rooms now covers 9 levels to a depth of 327m and was described by an eighteenth-century visitor as being 'as remarkable as the Pyramids and more useful'. This huge mediaeval underground salt mine contains chambers, chapels and even concert halls all excavated from salt by hand.