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 ~ Down the Danube to Dracula! Budapest to Transylvania River Cruise with Avalon Waterways ~     


  Golubac Fortress Serbia      

I adore the Danube River!

     I have sailed it several times and never grow tired of the cobblestone lined streets and quaint villages.  
Gliding past the illuminated Parliament in Budapest is nothing short of jaw dropping! 
When I saw that Avalon had a cruise, "Balkan Discovery", sailing towards the Black Sea with a Transylvania extension I knew I had to try it!

     How often do you get a chance to visit the castle linked to the Dracula books?

     I have visited some of the Balkan states before, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was excited to add Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria to my portfolio. 
My husband and I flew in a few days early so we could spend some time in Budapest.  
I love this city; the history is fascinating and the food amazing.  
We started our first day with massages at the Gellert Baths and then testing out the various pools. 
It is quite easy to make reservations online for massages, a changing room and passes.
If you are going to Budapest, you really need to try this at least once! 

    After three nights of self-exploration the day to board our ship arrived.

     I favor Avalon Waterways when it comes to river cruising.
You just can't beat the setup of their panorama suites, there is nothing like lying in bed watching the world go by. 
The bed faces a full wall of windows that opens up turning the entire room into an open-air balcony.
You can sit on a nice comfortable chair or a sofa instead of cramped sideways on a tiny balcony and if it is raining out you still can enjoy the view and feeling of being on a balcony.

     Our journey started out in Pecs Hungary with interesting explorations of the underground tombs, the next day we crossed into the former Yugoslavia arriving in Belgrade Serbia. 
This was a city of stark contrasts; I saw communist block buildings next to ornate Byzantine buildings.
Reminders of the war were still present with several bombed out structures left in ruin; apartments like dollhouses with an exterior wall missing allowing you to see inside.
Opposed to the dilapidated remnants of conflict we found massive Saint Sava, one of the world’s largest Orthodox churches with its stunning golden walls and ceilings.
This monumental house of worship is so large that it can accommodate 10,000 people at a time, the dome weighs 4000 tons and can be seen from many points in the city.
I could tell what a ray of hope this building was for the inhabitants, a shining light.

     The next foggy morning we boarded a smaller vessel and sailed past an old fortress that could be the setting for any number of movies. 
It was very mysterious and not like any excursion I had experienced before! 
The terrain is much different than other parts of the Danube with steep mountains and narrow passages that suddenly open to huge reservoirs. 
You never knew what would be waiting around the next corner! 
When we came to the Iron Gates gorge and saw the massive statue of Decebalus it was a humbling moment.

     Those moments continued; I was completely blown away when we visited the Belogradchik Fortress which felt like we had stepped right into a Game of Thrones episode. 
The rock formations in the area reminded me of Sedona, brilliant red sandstone shaped by the wind and erosion, one could imagine different figures in the rocks.
I clearly saw an elephant, a man's face and a turtle.
Wild horses roam freely in the canyon, this was not your average Danube cruise, it was nothing like Vienna that is for certain!

     Bucharest had an air of Paris in some neighborhoods, there is even an Arc de Triomphe, in other areas you could feel the strong vibe of when the Communists ruled.

     Disembarking the ship, I started on to my extension visiting Transylvania and Brasov. 
Into the woods we journeyed to a restored castle for lunch that was surrounded by mountains, on one a hero's cross could just be made out. 
I remember wondering how they got that huge cross up to the top of the mountain as no roads were visible.
After lunch stepped directly into a fairytale while visiting Peles Castle, which now tops my list as the most beautiful palace I have visited. 
(Sorry Neuschwanstein you have been replaced.)
This "hunting lodge" was commissioned by King Carol I as a getaway for the royal family and a place for him to stay when he wanted to go hunting.
The detailing inside and out is just breathtaking! 
Something important to note, if you want to take photos inside of Peles Castle make sure you have some local currency with you as you need a photo permit.
They do not take credit cards and they won't take Euros!

     After exploring Brasov which is an adorable Romanian town the moment of truth arrived, the trip to Bran Castle!
The setting could not have been scripted better in Hollywood. 
It was misty and drizzling as we walked up the stone pathway, it felt almost foreboding. 
The Castle looks quite imposing, I can see how an author might conjure up that Dracula could be lurking around a corner. 
There was dramatically carved furniture, suits of armor, a poetic courtyard with a wishing well and even a hidden escape tunnel to the roof!

     I did not see any vampires though-except for one in costume.

     I like to look for out of the ordinary trips and this certainly fit the bill. 
It was exciting with great scenery, and much different than my other river cruises. 
When I booked it, I had no idea how absolutely gorgeous Romania and Bulgaria would be, I liked it so much I am thinking I may do the trip once again.
Avalon now has another route that departs from Zagreb Croatia that is similar but not identical.
If you have been to Budapest before the Zagreb departure is ideal, there are several easy day trips one can do from Zagreb- Ljubljana Slovenia for example.
I would have to say that this was my favorite (so far) of any European river cruise I have done, the scenery and excursions were so different.

River cruising is one of my favorite ways to travel, with excursions, Wi-Fi, beer and wine with meals all included there are not many things one needs to budget for once the trip is booked.
I like the intimate size of the ships, to me "smaller is bigger" and having my hotel travel along with me.

Feel free to give me a call at 413-552-8941 with any questions or to get a quote.


Balkan Cruise ~Video


Bran Castle ~Video 


Belogradchik  Fortress ~Video


Saint Sava Church Belgrade ~Video

(250 Reviews)
99% Recommended

Ann Castagna Morin

Southampton, MA
Luxury River Cruise & European travel specialist

I have had a sense of wanderlust since I was a child, always yearning to go off and explore the world.

I will take my own personal passion for travel and use it to craft an extraordinary luxury experience for you.

Europe is my specia...
Learn more about me.

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