In the heart of Buda a rock outcrop rises abruptly beside the Danube. This was an impregnable citadel around which the city on the right bank developed. Adorning the site is the Royal Palace, now housing a number of museums, the Gothic Matthias Church, the key Hungarian national shrine, and an enclave of picturesque little streets.
Across the river lies Pest, extending with Parisian elegance over less encumbered terrain, a rival and independent city until 1872 when it was formally united with Buda. Now Budapest is the principal metropolis of East-Central Europe, its vitality and splendour emerging again after the post-war period of Soviet domination.
The fortunes of Hungary have been very mixed since the establishment of the country in the tenth century by the Magyars. At the end of the Middle Ages Hungary was one of the most powerful and prosperous kingdoms in Europe, and the most precocious in importing the new Renaissance style of art and architecture. But these achievements were wrecked by a devastating two-hundred-year occupation by the Turks; little survives from before this period.
Much of what was built and created during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stems from the desire to rival Vienna or to express Hungarian cultural difference and yearnings for independence.
Emulation of western models on the one hand, and cultivation of distinctiveness and originality on the other, are in large part responsible for the allure of Budapest.
Fly at c. 8.45am from London Heathrow to Budapest (British Airways). After a light lunch cross the Danube on the 19th century Chain Bridge (built by Scotsman Adam Clark) to the hill-top Castle District of Buda. Within the 18th- & 19th-century Royal Palace are the remains of its mediaeval and Renaissance predecessors. The National Gallery housed here has a marvellous collection of Hungarian art from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Begin at parliament where the Crown Jewels are displayed. Walk to Vörösmarty Square, heart of the inner city of Pest; thence by underground railway (the first on the continent) to Heroes Square and the Millennary Monument (celebrating the founding of the Hungarian state AD 896). In the afternoon visit the Hungarian National Museum, a major Neo-Classical structure with an interesting permanent collection on the history of Hungary from the earliest times to 1990.
Morning walk to see architecture and decoration from the turn of the 19th century and from the Bauhaus. In the afternoon a guided tour of the magnificent 1880s State Opera House.
All-day excursion. Travel by coach along the course of the Danube to Esztergom. Visit Hungary’s first cathedral, the Bakócz chapel and the Christian Museum, one of the finest in the country.
The Museum of Applied Arts (1893–6) is one of Ödön Lechner’s most radical and memorable buildings, elaborated with forms from Hungarian folk art and Asia with symbolic references to Attila the Hun in a determined attempt to create a national style. Fly from Budapest to Heathrow, arriving c. 20.35pm.
£1,670. This includes: air travel (economy class) on scheduled British Airways flights (Airbus A320); coach travel for transfers and excursions and by Metro on some occasions; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 1 lunch, 3 dinners with wine; admission charges; all tips for restaurant staff, drivers and guides; all airport and state taxes; the services of the lecturer and Hungarian local guide. Single supplement £260 (double for single occupancy). Price without flights £1,400.
Should you choose to combine this tour with ‘The Danube Festival of Song’, the latter will be charged at the no-flights price.
Intercontinental Hotel, Budapest: a modern, international 5-star hotel excellently situated beside the Danube in Pest and close to the Chain Bridge.
There is quite a lot of walking on the excursions, some on uneven or cobbled ground. Average distance by coach per day: 10 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Combine this tour with The Danube Festival of Song, 5–12 July 2016.