In Autumn 2017, Castles and Concerts takes you on a cruise up the Danube River from Budapest, the glittering Belle Epoch capital of the Hungarian Empire - through the Wachau Valley in Austria (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) - and into Germany and the land of the Bavarian Kings. We chose this time of year to experience the fall colors on the longest stretch of unspoiled riverway in Europe.

We will start to gather on Saturday, October 21, at the iconic Gellert Grand Hotel and Spa. Built by and for royalty in the late 1800s, its huge tiled baths and treatment rooms are, even today, perhaps the grandest remaining example of the Golden Age of European royal spas. We will depart from Budapest on Tuesday, October 24, sailing west up the Danube with stops in Vienna, and the picture postcard-perfect villages of the Wachau Valley.
The Duernstein Castle where Duke Leopold held King Richard from 1192 to 1194
View of Budapest on the Danube from our hotel, The Gellert Grand Hotel and Spa
We'll sail several days through this bucolic landscape dotted with vineyards, castles, and medieval monasteries. This entire stretch of river is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We'll enjoy the local foods, wines, and music along with a great group of our own musicians and entertainers. When we navigate the canal between the Danube and Rhine rivers on our last sailing day, we will travel on one of the world's great engineering feats. Started by Charlemagne in 800 AD, it was finished 1,192 years later in 1992. We end our cruise on Tuesday, October 31, after which you will have an opportunity to visit Mad King Ludwig's fairy tale castle just to the south. Please view the following pages to see details of our plans.

Pre-Trip in Budapest

We have chosen to meet at the grand and iconic Gellert Grand Hotel. When it opened in 1898, it included the most luxurious spa in Europe. Overlooking the Danube, this grand hotel has its suites named for the royalty and celebrities who have stayed here over the years. It is just as likely that you will stay in a room named for some unrecognizable (to you and me) European nobility as you will stay in a room named for Yehudi Menuhin, Andrew Lloyd Webber, or even Richard Nixon.
The Parliament of Budapest, just across the river from the Gellert Grand Hotel
The Liberty Bridge, with the Gellert Grand Hotel in the background
Starting on Saturday, October 21, we have arranged three days and nights of tours and events on the ground in Budapest. As has become customary for our Castles and Concerts adventures, we will divide ourselves into small groups during the days to explore the city with lunch each day in a different venue. Each evening we will gather together for a banquet and a show in a special venue. We will feature both local musicians and our own group of talented performers. We have the good fortune to have met and engaged Nora Mathe as our head guide. She is very well-connected and has helped to open doors to grand castles and historic places. She has also helped us to secure a private palace, which has a wonderful theatre and still employs its own orchestra to entertain guests. After dinner that evening, you might like to join us as we dance to Straus waltzes in the ballroom.
As is also our custom, you may choose to arrive at your convenience. Whenever you choose to arrive, we'll pick you up at the airport and bring you to the Gellert Grand Hotel. If you choose to be on your own until we dis-embark on Tuesday, October 24, please let us know your arrival plans and we'll help get you to the ship on-time.
The Gellert Grand Hotel and Spa at night

Our Trip on the Beautiful Blue Danube


On Tuesday, October 24, we'll depart Budapest at 6 pm, en route to Vienna. At its dock on the Danube, next to the Eiffel Bridge (yes, he of the Eiffel Tower) our ship, the Avalon Panorama, will be clearly visible from the Gellert Grand Hotel. You may choose to let us transfer your luggage to the ship and walk down to the dock.

On Wednesday, October 25, we arrive in Vienna. One could spend weeks exploring the treasures of this storybook city. We've decided to present you with two contrasting sides; the aristocratic and the bucolic. In the afternoon, we'll visit the most beautiful baroque palace ever built in Austria (and perhaps the world), the Belvedere Palace. Today, a small part of it is a museum displaying, among other things, the country's collection of Klimt's paintings.
Belvedere Palace
Klimt's The Kiss
The Turks, A Prince, Vienna and the Belvedere Palace

By 1685, the Turks had conquered Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire and all of the Balkans. Their next target was Vienna. If Vienna fell, the only fortified city that could prevent the Turks from annexing all of Western Europe was Paris. Two things stopped the Turks in 1685; the city walls of Vienna (more on these later) and the young, dashing and fearless Prince Eugene of Savoy. During two successful campaigns he drove the Turks back out of Austria. He became, aside from a few crowned kings, the richest man in Europe. And like his contemporary, Louis XIV, he liked the finer things in life. His Belvedere Palace reflects his wealth and taste.
After we visit the Belvedere, we'll move to the less ostentatious pleasures of the Vienna Woods. Vienna is still a relatively small city and the surrounding hills are dotted with vineyards and villages. We'll travel up the slopes to a charming hillside wine garden for dinner, and a great local band will join us for a relaxed evening of local food, wine, music and fellowship.
Our Wine Garden in the Vienna Woods

Wachau Valley -- Duernstein

Duernstein with Leopold's castle ruins on the hill
Thursday, October 26, will find us in the picture postcard-perfect village of Duernstein. The brooding walls of the medieval castle on the hill contrast sharply with the vibrant colors of the local houses and the lush vineyards festooned with flowers. Not only is this well-preserved town a "must visit" for anyone traveling through the Wachau Valley; but it also played a pivotal role in the history of all of Western Civilization. Prince Leopold, lord of the local castle and contemporary of Richard the Lionhearted could not have known that his actions in the 1100s would have a profound effect on the course of events hundreds of years in the future.
Vienna's city walls built with Richard's ransom
During the Third Crusade, in 1190, Richard the Lion Heart swindled Price Leopold of Duernstein. Together they had captured Acre, an important town in the holy land, but Richard, as King of England, figured he could get away with screwing over a minor Lord from a village on the Danube and refused to give Leopold his rightful share of the booty. As fate would have it, two years later Richard was shipwrecked on his way home and decided to march overland back to England. Richard's route took him near Leopold's land in the Wachau Valley and he was ambushed and captured in a surprise attack. Richard was then held for ransom for two years in the castle here at Duernstein. Leopold demanded the equivalent of about a billion dollars in ransom.
Richard's brother, King John, raised the money from Richard's subjects, provoking the anger of the common people and their hero, Robin Hood, who tried to get the tax money back. The high taxes also offended the English nobles who forced John to sign the Magna Carta and thus established England as a limited monarchy. These events still influence our lives, even 900 years later. And as for Leopold and the Austrians? They used the ransom they got from John to build walls around Vienna. These walls would ultimately repel the Turks five hundred years later. And today, although the Catholic Church assures us that old Prince Leopold is still burning in hell for kidnapping King Richard, the fact is, that without this kidnapping in 1194, we might all be speaking Turkish today.
Richard's statue by Parliament in London

Melk and Passau

On Friday, October 27, and Saturday, October 28, we will take the ship further up the Wachau Valley. We will again break into smaller groups and take daytime visits to the small towns and villages along the banks of the Danube. We hope that the weather will permit us to offer a reasonable bike ride through this beautiful area. For the particularly fit and adventurous, you can bike from Duernstein and meet the ship at our next stop, Melk! In Melk, we will go up the hill to visit the 11th Century Abbey. The library here has over 80,000 printed books and 2,000 manuscripts from before the age of printing.
The Abbey at Melk and its Library
We'll enter Germany at Passau, where three rivers join to form the main navigable channel of the Danube. Passau has a great castle overlooking this important river junction. And the town has lots of cool old stuff, including the world's largest pipe organ (17,000 pipes). We're working on getting a brief concert on this magnificent instrument.
Regensburg with its Roman Bridge, which is still in use today


Another view of Regensburg
On Sunday, October 29, we arrive in Regensburg, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. It was founded by the Celts in about 500BC and still has the city gate that the Romans built in 179AD. It is also the home of the Wurstkuche (Sausage Kitchen) that claims to be the oldest restaurant in Germany. They've been serving sausage and beer here on the banks of the Danube since 1624. There is a true princess in the local palace and she will let us use one of her great rooms for an afternoon concert.
Monday, October 30, will find us just beyond Regensburg in the tiny village of Kelnheim. Upstream is the Danube Gorge (photo below), a narrow canyon with steep walls and fast flowing water that is only navigable by small vessels. Accordingly, we have chartered a smaller boat to take the group up through the gorge to the Weltenburg Abbey. Here, the Danube is more like a large creek than a mighty river. And here, in 620 AD, Benedictine monks from Ireland built an abbey. Once upon a time, there were more than 600 monks here. Today, only seven monks remain to keep alive their grand and noble duties and traditions. After they finish their morning prayers, they turn their attention to the serious business of running the oldest brewery in the world. They've been brewing beer for fourteen hundred years using the same local ingredients. And they are still winning awards today. They have a nice little inn on the riverbank and we'll take lunch here and visit the abbey before returning to Kelnheim that evening.
At dinnertime on Monday, we will enter the canal connecting the Danube and the Rhine, allowing ships to sail all across Europe from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Before our first visit there, we hadn't done a lot of research on this. We knew it was a modern piece of engineering that we would use to get to our final destination of Nuremburg, but it turned out to be a highlight of the trip. The Danube starts in Germany and flows 1,500 miles into the Black Sea at Valna. The Rhine River flows for 800 miles through Germany and empties in the North Sea at Amsterdam. And near the little village of Kelnhiem, the two rivers are just 24 miles apart. If only one could dig a ditch through there, one could sail from Amsterdam to India without ever getting into the open ocean. The concept was simple and intuitive, right? So Charlemagne started his people digging in 800 AD. A thousand years later, Mad King Ludwig finally got a narrow cut finished.
But it was too small to carry anything much bigger than his royal barge. And in WWII, to make sure the canal couldn't help the German war effort, the Allies bombed it and destroyed it. After the war, the Germans set out to do it right. Half a century later, in 1992, they finished it. It's a monumental work of engineering. Ships pass through 24 locks, some of the locks raising or lowering huge ships as much as 150 feet. At one point, our ship will sail in a huge canal that is suspended over a freeway. It's something you must see to believe. And because it was built at a time of strong environmental activism, the project was made to be beautiful. Except when you are in the locks, it feels as though you're passing through a Dutch landscape rather than experiencing one of the most audacious works of 20th century engineering.

Beyond the Blue Danube and Bavaria's Mad Kings

Tuesday morning,October 31, we'll arrive in Nuremburg. We will offer three options. Option 1: A motor coach to the Munich airport. (about 2 hours). Option 2: A motor coach to the Frankfurt Airport (about 3 hours). Please make your flights for afternoon departures. Without special arrangements we cannot guarantee that you will arrive in time for morning departures. Option 3: We will also offer a special post-sailing adventure to mad King Ludwig's fairytale castle in Bavaria.
Liberation Hall
Bavaria's Mad Kings

Bavaria was a kingdom for only a hundred years, between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the start of WWI. The four kings of this dynasty (two of them named Ludwig) are proof positive that: (1) if kings get their power directly from God - then God has a particularly sick sense of humor; and also, (2) marrying your cousin is not a good idea. That aside, these guys could really build things! As we cruise up the Danube, we'll pass two monuments erected by Old King Ludwig (the first one).
Old King Ludwig firmly believed that the souls of dead heroes remained with us, and that they should have an appropriate place to hang out in their shadowy afterlife. So he built two absolutely monumental structures on the Danube as homes for the souls of departed German heroes. We will pass them on our sailing. They are many miles apart. One is a giant domed rotunda, like the Pantheon in Rome. This is to commemorate the Bavarians who fought to defeat Napoleon at the beginning of the 1800s. The other (called Valhalla) is a larger than life-size copy of the Parthenon built on a hillside with a white marble staircase the size of a football field leading from the temple on the hill down to the banks of the Danube. This one is to house the souls of the great political and military geniuses, philosophers, and artists in German history. Both of these monuments are completely over the top and you won't soon forget the sight of them.
Maximilian's Castle at Neuschwanstein
Old King Ludwig gave up his crown rather than accept a constitution that suggested that some of his powers might come from the consent of his subjects. His son, Maximilian, put on the crown, accepted the constitution, ignored it, and went on building. At Neuschwanstein, where he had an old hunting lodge, Maximilian built his grand castle (pictured above), one of the greatest castles of the 1800s. Today, this huge castle is virtually ignored. That's because his son, young King Ludwig II (the really crazy one) developed, among many other neuroses, a serious case of "castle envy."

Post-Trip in Neuschwanstein

When we leave the Panorama on October 31, we will be less than 3 hours from a site that is on many people's bucket lists: the great fantasy castle at Neuschwanstein, built by Bavaria's Mad King Ludwig II (Old King Ludwig's Grandson). On the next hill over from his father's castle (less than a mile away) Ludwig built the most famous castle in the world. We'll give you more unbelievable stories of Ludwig's crazy life and mysterious death before we travel there. And we do note that we will arrive on Halloween night. This should be a great place for a Halloween party.
Now that is what we'd call a serious castle!
From October 31, through November 3, we will stay in the tiny (two street) village of Neuschwanstein. This village blossomed with villas inhabited by the nobles and other hangers-on that wanted to live close to the Kings and their Castles in the hills above. Several of these villas are now transformed into lovely hotels with great views. We have taken over a few of these villas for our three night stay. We will split up into smaller groups during the day to take horse-drawn carriages up to explore the castles and the beautiful high-mountain lake surroundings. We will party for three nights with local performers and our own musicians in the lovely local wine bars, beer gardens and breweries all within walking distance.

On Friday, November 3, we will conclude our adventure. That morning, after breakfast, we will offer motor coaches to the Munich Airport (about two hours away).

Details & Costs

What's Included

We've tried to make this as all-inclusive as possible. The ship serves all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of our group events and concerts off the ship are included. All beer, soft drinks, coffee, standard bar drinks and house wines, all taxes and port charges are included. We have also prepaid a generous gratuity to be shared among the staff. As always, though, the most important inclusion is the pleasure of being with great folks in beautiful surroundings full of music, fellowship and culture.

Arrival in Budapest

We set sail at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, October 24, and it is possible to arrive in Budapest on the 24th and come directly to the Avalon Panorama. For those of you who choose to arrive a few days early, we have organized daytime activities, concerts and dinner parties in some amazing places during the three days before we sail. So you can fly out of the states on Friday the 20th and we'll pick you up at the airport on the 21st. But feel free to arrive whenever you like. And when you've finalized your travel schedule, you can let us know if you'd like to join these pre-sailing events.
Liberation Hall


While not endorsing United Airlines, we do note that they offer daily non-stop flights to SFO from both Munich and Frankfurt. United also has good connections to Budapest. So you can fly into Budapest with only one stop and then return from Munich or Frankfurt on a non-stop flight.

Weather and Dress

We picked these dates in order to experience the autumn colors. But it is a time when weather is changing. We could very well have 80-degree days or it could be cool and crisp. Please come prepared. We will be casual during our daytime events and casually elegant at night.


The cost of the trip is $4,950 per person, double occupancy, in a standard stateroom. The "Panorama Suites" with the big sliding doors to the outside are on the top two decks. The supplement for a middle deck suite is $550 per person with a $750 supplement per person for the top deck suites. If you arrive for the full three days of pre trip activities, the cost will be $1,950/person and we can prorate this depending on when you choose to arrive. If you want to join the three days at Mad King Ludwig's Castle after the sailing, the cost will be $2,175. These prices include all transportation, meals, gratuities, taxes and wine and drinks except what you buy yourself at the bar.

Deposits, Reservations & Cancellations

A $500 deposit will hold your place and allow you to reserve a suite while they are still available. This is fully refundable for any reason until we receive your second deposit sometime next year. All payments are fully transferable to someone else at any time. If you need to cancel, you will receive a full refund if you or Castles & Concerts can find a substitute traveler to take your place.


Please feel free to email or call us with any questions you may have. Thank you.

Pre-Trip in Budapest
October 21, 2017 - October 24, 2017

Cruise on the Danube River through Vienna, the Wachau Valley and Bavaria
October 24, 2017 - October 31, 2017

Post-Trip to Mad King Ludwig's Castle in Neuschwanstein
October 31, 2017 - November 3, 2017

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