BEAUTIFUL BRATISLAVA MAKES FOR THE PERFECT WEEKEND GETAWAY

Oubliez Prague, Bratislava est la nouvelle destination pour un week-end parfait en Europe. Forget Prague, Bratislava is the new destination for a perfect weekend in Europe.

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Sandwiched between Budapest and Vienna, and just a stone’s throw from Prague, it is very easy to overlook Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.

Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 which saw the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it seems like the former has received the lion’s share of world attention and tourism. But the Slovakian capital of Bratislava definitely possesses both an old-fashioned charm and an interesting history that makes it the perfect destination for a weekend getaway.

Spanning both banks of the Danube, the city which was once known as Pressburg, boasts a long and complex past, marked by the likes of the Hapsburgs, Napoléon, the Nazis, and the Communists.

One of the best examples of this is probably Bratislava Castle, a massive monument sitting atop a hill, overlooking the entire city (see lead image). Built in the 9th century, it became the formal seat of the kings of Royal Hungary in the mid 16th century. Restored many times over its 1,000+ years of existence, it has four corner towers that make it look like an upturned table. And according to legend, the internal stairs are very wide and shallow as Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa was too heavy to climb them herself, and insisted instead on riding her horse up and down. The castle is now home to the Slovak National museum and its beautiful grounds provide for some great photo opportunities.

A walk through the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town is like stepping back in time. The buildings date from various architectural periods, and the main square, Hlavné Námestie, full of cafés and kiosks selling handcrafts, bustles with life.

From the terraces of both Michael’s Gate, the only preserved gate of Bratislava’s fortifications, and the Old Town Hall’s Yellow Tower, one can enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of the surroundings. The three-nave Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral with its gilded replica of the coronation crown atop is a reminder of the city’s glorious past, while the many whimsical statutes that are dotted around the Old Town are a nod to a quirkier side, like Schöne Náci, the jovial chap in tails with cane, who doffs his top hat to the curious Čumil popping out of a manhole (pictured below).

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Just outside the walls of the Old Town, St. Elizabeth’s church, built in the Art Nouveau style at the beginning of the 20th century, is a not-to-be-missed attraction with it blue-coloured façade and dome. A little further outside the city, the ruins of Devin Castle, a fortress built on a high rock towering above the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers, offer enchanting natural scenery.

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There is no direct flight from Nice to Bratislava, but the city is easily accessible by train or bus from both Vienna and Budapest.

THE WINTER WONDERLAND THAT IS VIENNA

Souvenirs de mon week-end à Vienne pour Riviera Buzz. Souvenirs from my weekend in Vienna for Riviera Buzz.

With its baroque architecture and fairytale castles, its rich cultural life and world-class museums, Vienna is a wonderful place to visit…all season long.

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The Austrian capital is a great place to visit any time of year, but come the holiday season, as the air becomes crispy and the blue Danube turns grayish-brown, Vienna literally transforms itself into a wonderland, thanks in part to the many Christmas markets that pop up all over the metropolis. The streets are gorgeously decked out with sparkling lights, bows and other tasteful decorations, while many wooden huts sell handmade toys, painted ceramics, ornaments, local delicacies as well as mugs of Glühwein, the famous spicy mulled red wine.

Once you get into the holiday spirit, it is the perfect time to wander around and explore all the marvellous sights the city has to offer. One of the major tourist attractions remains the Schönbrunn Palace, comparable in grandeur to Versailles, which will take you on a romantic whirl in the footsteps of Empress Elisabeth, aka “Sissi”. Even without the gardens in their summer splendor, the rococo-style former residence of the imperial family tells the story of a glorious era that started with Maria Theresa, Marie-Antoinette’s mother and the only female Habsburg ruler, and ended at the end of World War I, with the death of Sissi’s husband, Emperor Franz Joseph.

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The elegance and pomp of the famed Austrian dynasty is also reflected in the architecture of the Hofburg, the imperial palace (pictured in lead image), comprising many different architectural styles, from Gothic and Baroque to Renaissance and classical. In many ways, a “city-within-a-city”, the spectacular monument, with its many squares and gardens, occupies an area of some 59 acres and hosts, among many other attractions, the Imperial Apartments, the Sissi Museum, the Austrian National Library, and the famed Spanish Riding School with its Lipizzan horses.

But the castle is not the only landmark that defines the city centre. The nearby St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was built in 1147 AD has indeed been the heart of Vienna for centuries. With its two impressive features, the gigantic roof and the imposing tower, it was the tallest building in Europe for a long period, measuring almost 137m. It houses many art treasures like the Altarpiece of Wiener Neustadt, the pulpit by Anton Pilgram (1514-15), the sepulchre of Emperor Frederik III by Niclas Gerhaert (1467-1513), and the Gothic winged altar.

A few steps away, Prince Eugene of Savoy’s 18th-century summer palace, the Belvedere, is home to a stunning art museum that includes the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection and what is probably the artist’s most famous work, The Kiss, a gold-brushed, mosaic-like painting portray of a couple locked in a tender embrace on a bed of flowers.

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For the sweet-toothed among you, a visit to one (or more) of Vienna’s numerous cafes is a must. Take this opportunity to try some of the country’s most famous pastries, like the Linzertorte, a rich, buttery tart layered with fruit preserves, and which is widely thought to be the world’s oldest-known cake, or the Sachertorte, a delicious chocolate confection filled with apricot jam that fits perfectly in the grandiose décor of the 19th-century Café Sacher.

Of course, no stay in Vienna would be complete without an evening at the famous Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), shaped like a horseshoe. Music is indeed the city’s legacy to the world, and winter is the season for ballgowns and waltzes. However, if you cannot score tickets for the New Year’s concert by the Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra, fear not — the music of Mozart and Strauss can be found in many of the concert halls throughout town on a nightly basis.

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Both Austrian Airlines and Niki offer daily direct flights.