Ian Cooper, international business author, speaker and travel writer discovers some of the Palaces and Castles, whilst cruising from Prague to Berlin with Viking River Cruises.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live in a royal palace in a castle complex? Well we’ve just found out. My wife and I recently sampled a ‘special recipe latte’ in the café in the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague Castle, which provides panoramic views over the city. This was the first stop on our 9 nights, 2 countries, ‘Elegant Elbe’, Viking river cruise from Prague to Berlin.
Our adventure began with a two-night stay in Prague, with included tours which enabled us to experience the main sites such as the Old Town; the crowd pulling an astronomical clock; Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge. Additionally, guests had the opportunity of a guided tour of the famous Jewish Quarter. This is a particularly poignant area, when you understand that during World War 2, Hitler planned to preserve Prague’s Jewish Quarter as a ‘Museum of an Extinct Race’.
Leaving Prague, we had a seamless transfer to the Viking Beyla, our luxury floating hotel for the next five nights, where we were quite literally greeted with a red carpet welcome from crew members as we stepped aboard. With just 95 guests there was an almost intimate and family atmosphere, massively helped by the very entertaining and professional Programme Director. Our cabin on the top passenger deck was spacious, with a huge comfortable bed; excellent bathroom with luxury toiletries; a safe big enough for a laptop computer; a fridge and a full private verandah. This was a fantastic facility for watching the countryside slide by as we headed for Dresden.
Our first close encounter of the Elbe landscape and history was the breathtakingly impressive Bastai. This is a huge towering rock formation along a 10-mile section of the Elbe known as Saxon Switzerland. It soars above the Elbe like jagged teeth and offers sweeping vistas from the famous Bastai Bridge. The bridge begins a ‘white-knuckle’ walk across a sequence of high and narrow footbridges, giving an impressive view of the nearby ruins of the medieval castle fortress.
Having survived the Bastai Bridge walk, we arrived in Dresden, a city that had seen huge destruction during the last war. Here we walked through the grounds of the Zwinger Palace. This had been used as a pleasure palace for the royals. The enormous and lavish courtyard is filled with fountains and dozens of baroque sculptures and Meissen porcelain bells can be heard ringing out every fifteen minutes.
Our next stop was the 1000-year-old city of Meissen itself and home to the world-famous highly collectable, beautifully designed porcelain of the same name. Yet again there is a castle connection, as the story of Meissen porcelain began in Albrechtsburg Castle that towers above the city and the Elbe river. This was Germany’s oldest truly residential castle, and it was here that Europe’s first white hard-paste porcelain was created. As a result Meissen has become the home for arguably some of the finest porcelain in the world. We were fortunate enough to get a tour of the factory and of course have ‘free time’ in the obligatory gift shop. Here, there was nothing ‘free’… and Meissen is very expensive. If you were so inclined, you could buy a tea set that cost more than the holiday. I resisted the temptation and bought a fridge magnet instead!
As if we hadn’t had enough castle excitement for one day, after an afternoon’s scenic cruising, we had a surprise short evening walking tour of the tiny almost mysteriously deserted town of Torgau. What an interesting and hidden gem this was. Torgau was the place that the US and Russian troops met up and shook hands in April 1945. Its Hartenfels Castle, had been opened up especially for us and the highlight here was one of the most unique spiral staircases I had ever experienced.
One of the things I really enjoy about river cruising is the social informality and low-key entertainment onboard and how easy it is to get to know your fellow passengers. On a Viking river cruise there are no ‘black tie’ formal evenings. All meals are served together with open seating. You can sit anywhere and with whomever you want for any meal.
Though our final cruising destination of Wittenburg was castles and palaces free, it was nevertheless historically of great interest. Think back to your school history lessons, and you may recall this as the central place of the Protestant Reformation, where Martin Luther hung his ‘95 Theses’ in 1517 against indulgences of the papacy.
So after five nights aboard the Viking Beyla, our cruising time on the Elbe was up and as part of our Viking trip, we were on our way by coach to Berlin for a two nights stay. However, not to miss an opportunity for a palace or two, on our way we stopped off at Potsdam for a tour of Cecilienhof. Designed to look Tudor style, by Kaiser Wilhelm 11, Queen Victoria’s eldest grandchild, this palace was the meeting place of Stalin, Truman and Churchill for the very significant Potsdam conference in July 1945. This political summit was to decide how to administer Germany after it had surrendered just a few weeks earlier.
Believe it or not, there are 22 palaces in the Potsdam area alone, and if that wasn’t enough just a short ride away was the glorious Sanssouci Palace … the summer residence of Frederick the Great. A short tour of the inside was well worth it, and it was hard to believe that this beautiful rococo style palace was built in just two years.
With our castle and palace visits behind us, it was time to experience Berlin, a city that for obvious reasons provokes very mixed emotions for many. With reminders of its dark past everywhere, we were given an excellent and comprehensive Viking included panoramic coach tour of Berlin’s main tourist attractions. These included the Brandenburg Gate; Unter den Linden; Checkpoint Charlie, and the East Side gallery … a large section of the Berlin Wall with commissioned graffiti art.
For anyone who loves travelling in real comfort and style, who is interested in some of the history that has shaped our current world, this trip is definitely worth adding to your travel hit list.
Viking River Cruises – Elegant Elbe
10 Days | 7 Guided Tours | 2 Countries
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking River Cruises.
More about Ian
Ian Cooper (Retired Professor) is an international business success author and speaker. He is the author of the ‘best-selling’ Financial Times Guide To Business Development. In total, he has written17 books sold in 57 countries. In his additional work as a travel writer for national, regional and specialist press he has specialised in river cruising and luxury travel. Ian has also been a strategic advisor and trainer to holiday companies on the subject of guest service excellence.