Medieval fortress town of Golubac on the banks of the Danube.

NEW DANUBE FRONTIERS

Cruising the Danube has taken on a new dimension, extending beyond Hungary’s Budapest into Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. JOY DODDS reports.


AUSTRALIANS have fallen hook, line and sinker for the splendours of Europe’s waterways, in particular the Rhine-Main-Danube routes. The culture, castles, cuisine and camaraderie on offer never fail to please.

Recently, certain companies including Evergreen Tours have extended the pleasure beyond Budapest, the standard disembarkation point so that certain cruises take in the landscapes of Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. The Danube flows through these countries en route to the Black Sea and while the delta area is not navigable for cruising ships, fascinating sights along the banks such as the ruins of the Roman bridge at Drobeta are now on view.

From Budapest, the wide stretch of the Danube flows through picturesque river lands, stopping at the charming town of Kalocsa, a paprika production centre, before entering Serbia at its confluence with the Sava River near Bezdon. The capital Belgrade is not far, its interesting sights including Tito’s Memorial and the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox Church, St Sava Cathedral. The cobbled streets of the Bohemian precinct are a happy contrast to its many Stalin-era buildings.

The narrow Danube gorge between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, known as the Iron Gates (Portile de Fier), forms a natural border between Serbia and Romania, near the ancient town of Vidin with its fortress overlooking the river. Not far from here is Trajan’s Bridge, known as the Bridge of Apollodorus, built over the Danube in arched form in 105AD.

The journey is interspersed with quaint towns and villages, including the former Roman town of Svishtov, from which it is easy to explore the historic cliff-top town of Veliko Tarnovo, the former capital of the Bulgarian empire known once as the ‘City of the Tsars’. In fact, archaeological excavations prove its history dates back more than 5000 years.

Veliko Tarnovo is considered to be Bulgaria’s cultural and intellectual centre. Sitting on a peak is the medieval fortress of Tsarevets where ongoing archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of a palace, water reservoirs and battle towers, complete with Patriarch’s residence and church. Besides its historical hills, the town is also famous for its multiple orthodox temples including the medieval temple of Forty Holy Martyrs monuments from the 8th century as well as tombs of some Bulgarian tsars. Architecturally, the Old Town is fascinating with houses in Gurko Street and Samovodskata Charshia (the crafts streets) built more than 200 years ago and numerous museums relating to archaeology and history. The archaeological reservation Nikopolis Ad Istrum, a Roman and Early Byzantine town, founded in 106 AD is 20km from Veliko Tarnovo.

The architectural treasure of Arbanasi is perched amphitheatrically along the river banks, high on a plateau overlooking the Yantra Valley. This ancient village preserves architectural monuments of the Age of the Bulgarian National Revival, including magnificent old churches and houses.

Returning to the Danube, the port city of Silistra is a former Roman fort on its southern bank at the border with Romania. Many historical landmarks span its entire history including a Roman tomb, remains of an amazing medieval fort and an Ottoman fortress.

This is where passengers disembark the Evergreen Tours river cruise and travel by road to Romania’s capital, Bucharest, with its broad boulevards and historic buildings such as the Cathedral of Peter and Paul and the Great Mosque, not to mention the monstrous Palace of the Parliament, former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s folly.

And why not visit Snagov Monastry on a remote island where Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula is buried – but make sure you eat plenty of pungent garlic in the Romany street stalls beforehand – just in case!

Nuremberg to Bucharest River Cruise

Cruise enthusiasts can explore this region, ranging from eight days (Budapest to Bucharest), 17 days (Nuremberg to Bucharest) or to the 24-day Amsterdam to Bucharest. Visit www.evergreentours.com or call 1300 383 747

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