Budapest is regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful cities. It has many World Heritage sites, including the banks of the Danube. Visitors leave with beautiful memories of buildings, streets and sights and all the magical qualities Budapest offers. It is bustling but peaceful, a friendly metropolis and a place where old treasures blend with the modern. Long gone is its communist shadow. Budapest is embracing its role as an important 21st-century city.
The Danube River, the second longest in Europe after the Volga, rises in the Black Forest in south-western Germany and flows easterly to 40km north of Budapest. There the Borzsony Hills force it to bend sharply southwards through Budapest and the rest of Hungary for more than 400km. It then resumes its easterly flow before reaching Romania and emptying into the Black Sea.
The Danube Bend is the S-shaped curve that begins just below Esztergom and twists for 20km past Visegrad where it splits into two, forming the long and narrow Szentendre Island.
The name has come to describe the entire region of peaks, resorts and river towns on the north and north-west of the capital. The Bend is the most beautiful stretch of the Danube along its entire course of almost 3000km and should not be missed.
Clusters of charming towns on the Bend particularly Esztergom, Visegrad and Szentendre, have an amazing collection of history, culture and architecture. Green valleys and forested hills rise from the river, and commanding fortresses and market squares beckon to be visited.
Esztergom is one of Hungary's most historic and sacred cities. King Stephen was born there and after converting to Christianity, was raised to the throne with a crown sent to him by Pope Sylvester II in the year AD 1000.
Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from the 10th century until the mid-13th century when it was moved to the more defensible Buda after Mongol invasion. It remains the seat of Catholicism 75 percent of Hungarians follow the faith in Hungary and the city's archbishop reigns as Hungary's primate.
The major attraction in the modest town is the enormous neoclassical Esztergom Basilica dominating a crest above the Danube. Its red marble Bakocz chapel, once part of a medieval church which fortunately survived Turkish occupation, rich ecclesiastical collection in the basilica treasury and crypt are well worth a look.
The next town, Visegrad, was once of great significance. Solomon's Tower, a high citadel and an ornate 350-room Italianate Gothic palace formed a royal compound for almost 200 years. Part of its fascinating history is that Transylvanian prince Vlad Tepes (also know as Vlad the Impaler and the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula) was held there under duress.
The riverside palace was destroyed during Turkish occupation and later dismantled by locals for building material. It is being rebuilt and is open to the public.
The final stop is the Baroque town of Szentendre, one of Hungary's most charming. The character of its old centre was formed by influxes of Serbian Orthodox Christian refugees who fled there, firstly in advance of Turkish invasions and later from continuing battles in the Balkans. While few Serbian families remain, the old centre is filled with graceful Orthodox churches, cobbled squares and pastel-hued houses line the winding, narrow streets.
In the 1920s, Szentendre became the home and inspiration of well-known Hungarian artists, and today every second building seems to be a gallery, craft shop or museum. There is some beautiful shopping to be done, particularly embroidery, china and spices. The Kovac family has been working with indigo since 1878, and their shop sells only things blue. Two unusual attractions worth seeing are an oil lamp collection and the marzipan museum.
The Danube Bend in Hungary from Esztergom to Szentendre, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Vienna.
Emirates has flights to Vienna.
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Prices correct at November 20, 2008.
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