Serenely cruising through the Austrian countryside is a sublime way to holiday in Europe and this is readily served up on any river cruise through this part of the world. But for all the highlights you can see while onboard, often it is the shore excursions which really make the memories associated with a trip. One such excursion is that from the Majestic Imperator.
If you’re cruising on Europe’s rivers with APT between Amsterdam and Budapest on the brand’s Magnificent Europe itinerary, the short transit between the towns of Passau, Germany and Linz, Austria – which incorporates the border crossing between the two countries – is taken onboard this magnificent train journey, sure to blaze in your memory for many years. The day itself is spent in the major Austrian town of Salzburg – but more on that later.
Depending on the direction your APT ship is travelling, you will disembark early in the morning in either of the two towns and be bused to the train station. Like all other shore tours, you’re assigned a coloured tag which will help you identify your tour leader and group. Each group travels together in one carriage for the duration of the day.
The Majestic Imperator itself is a moving example of old-world European royalty and a carefully built replica of the original built in Prague for Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Sisi to satisfy the Emperor’s personal interest in extravagant toys. At the end of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist in favour of the republic Austria became and with it, the Majestic Imperator went with it until being lovingly restored carriage by carriage by an Austrian railways enthusiast.
Like the original, the train enjoyed today by APT river cruise guests reflects the rich lifestyle enjoyed by the Emperor, with rich inlaid mahogany, wood, silks and velvets throughout. Each carriage reflects its own unique character, while sharing a similarly regal aura.
Through the three-hour journey between Passau and Salzburg and two-hour return trip Salzburg to Linz (or vice versa), the train uses the same tracks as regular commuter services but because it is not a scheduled train, it moves out of the way of these faster trains to allow them to pass when needed during the trip.
That’s not to say the Majestic Imperator isn’t fast. In fact, one thing very different from the original are the upgrades to allow it to move at 100kph across the European countryside, undoubtedly a highlight of the day. The train also features wi-fi connectivity, however it is not for the use of passengers – but why would you want to stare into your smartphone or tablet with the picturesque countryside passing by outside your window?
In the time spent onboard, your individual guide will share a vast amount of information not just about the train itself, but about the day you’ll spend in Salzburg and the region overall. During the morning journey, there are opportunities to buy merchandise ranging from USB drives, clothing and books to the usual nik-naks such as fridge magnets and shot glasses.
Service is one of the highlights of the day and would be pretty close to what the Emperor and his wife would have received themselves. Nothing is too much trouble for the crew onboard, who will keep you well hydrated with juices, soft drinks, wine and beer by the glass in both directions of your journey.
On the way to Salzburg, your travel group will also be treated to a small plate of round funnel cakes, which according to your guide was a personal favourite of the Emperor himself. A number of flavours will be on offer and is a lovely touch for morning tea.
As you’ll find during your day in Salzburg, two of the city’s most well-known exports were the music of prodigious child composer Wolfgang Amadeuz Mozart – who was born in the city – and 1960’s musical movie The Sound of Music. During the return journey back to your ship, you’ll be entertained by a trio of local performers who wander carriage to carriage dressed in period costume, performing some of the classics from the iconic film.
The Majestic Imperator is far more than a way of travelling between Passau and Linz, via Salzburg but more of a literal snapshot of 19th century European royalty.
Once you reach Salzburg, more coaches will be waiting to take you on a tour of some of the city’s memorable sights including the exteriors of many buildings featured in The Sound of Music. Guides are well versed in lots of different anecdotes not just from the movie itself, but from the lives of the real Von Trapp Family, with many myths from the film clarified, some of which will surprise you. For example, did you know Maria really did marry Captain Von Trapp? In fact, the pair ended up having three children together.
Your tour will continue with a walking element into the town centre, after which you have several hours of free time to partake in some lunch and a wander around the shops. Meeting your guide again around 2:30pm, your walk resumes with a trip to Mirabelle Gardens – which will be instantly recognisable from the movie even if you’re not a devotee of the soundtrack.
You’ll be hard tested not to be impressed with the entire excursion, and the only negative will be how fast the day actually goes, which won’t hit home until you’re walking back up the gangway and into your stateroom to continue your cruise.