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No one tells you about the moments. When you first arrive in Europe you're ready for the history of this amazing continent, you expect the tiny, charming old towns and the cities filled with world-famous buildings and monuments. You know, too, about the culture, about the food, about the wine, about the art and the language.
What you probably aren't ready for, however, are the moments of perfection that await within, the instants when you realise that everything has come together, that you're living life to its fullest, embracing local culture and traditions and experiencing everything this place has to offer in the perfect way. And the best thing about these moments is that they happen again and again when you know where to look for them.
Namedy Castle, Germany
The location: There are few music venues quite as beautiful and memorable as Namedy Castle, the 14th-century mansion set near Germany's Rhine River. Namedy is owned and cared for by Princess Heide von Hohenzollern, who has spent the best part of three decades restoring the castle to its former glory, while also transforming it into a host for recitals of classical music.
The moment: You're wandering the grounds of a gorgeous European castle. You're taking in the beauty of the gardens, the building itself set against a slowly darkening sky, a cocktail party of people in their finest attire in full swing. Then begins a classical piano recital, featuring some of the Europe's best-known pieces, in one of the castle's elegant halls. This APT Signature Experience is what life is all about.
Vienna City Palace, Austria
The location: Few places capture the grandeur of classical Europe like Vienna's City Palace, the first major building of the High Baroque age in the Austrian capital. Since a recent restoration project, the palace, owned by the princely family of Liechtenstein, has never looked better, with its ornate gold ceilings, neo-Rococo interiors, original furnishings, and artworks from Prince von und zu Liechtenstein's collection.
The moment: Picture attending a lavish cocktail party at the City Palace, before sitting down to an orchestral performance of masterpieces composed by Austrian prodigies Mozart and Strauss, as well as music from members of the Mozart Boys' Choir. This APT Signature Experience is the sort of thing you'll remember for a lifetime: beautiful music in a beautiful place.
Grand Empress Steam Train, Hungary
The location: A little different because it moves, this is an attraction on rails; a slice of history that still makes its way between Budapest Station and the village of Gödöllő, home to one of Europe's most memorable palaces. The train itself is a work of art, a steam train with some carriages that date back to the early 1900s, done up in the finery that was expected during the reign of the Habsburgs. It makes for a unique way to travel through an already beautiful place.
The moment: A day trip from Budapest to Gödöllő on the Grand Empress Steam Train is a series of memorable moments, it's a Signature Experience that layers history with luxury, natural beauty with classical culture. It begins with a cocktail reception in the Royal Waiting Room of Budapest's magnificent main train station, you'll enjoy a game lunch fit for royalty during the journey, and then alight in Gödöllő for a tour of the palace – a favourite destination for Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sisi) when she was Queen of Hungary.
Palais Benedictine, France
The location: The story of the striking Benedictine Palace begins in 1510, when a monk in the town of Fecamp, on France's north-west coast, tinkered with a recipe for a secret elixir. That monk's name was Dom Bernado Vincelli, and three centuries later his recipe was discovered and would go on to become the famous liqueur, Benedictine. The Palais Benedictine was built in his honour in 1900.
The moment: The stunning Abbots Hall is perhaps the most impressive room of an already stunning building. To have dinner here is to feel you're living the life of French aristocracy, surrounded by stained-glass windows, imposing statues and hanging tapestries, while seated on the finest furnishings. This step into another world is one you're unlikely to forget.
L'Abbaye de Collonges, France
The location: Just five kilometres north of Lyon, the gastronomic heart of France, lies l'Abbaye de Collonges, one of the country's most impressive dining venues. L'Abbaye de Collonges sits on the banks of the river Saone, and it's a classically designed and opulently decorated building that features lovingly restored pipe and barrel organs, and the finest furnishings.
The moment: There's more to l'Abbaye's charms, however. This beautiful venue was founded by the late Paul Bocuse, Lyon's most famous chef, a man who was awarded the highly coveted three Michelin stars for his neighbouring restaurant l'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, and whose legacy continues at l'Abbaye. To dine here is to enjoy French haute cuisine at its finest, an experience all gastronomes will cherish.
Palacio da Bolsa, Portugal
The location: You can't fail to be bowled over by Portugal's Palacio da Bolsa – also known as the Stock Exchange Palace, reflecting its former function – a 19th-century Neoclassical building in the historical centre of Porto that has attained a World Heritage listing from UNESCO. Inside, the building is just as impressive as its imposing exterior would suggest, with beautifully decorated rooms in a range of styles.
The moment: One of the most impressive of those rooms is the Arabian Hall, a huge space designed in Moorish revival style, inspired by the famous Alhambra in southern Spain. The room was built between 1862 and 1880, and features incredibly detailed wood carvings that cover the ceiling and walls. You could spend an entire day exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful room and never grow bored.
Princess Heide von Hohenzollern
Princess Heide is the owner of Namedy Castle, one of APT's most interesting stops, a private residence on the banks of the Rhine River that has been transformed into a classical music venue in recent years.
"My husband's grandmother was the sister of King Albert of Belgium," says Princess Heide of the castle's history, "and the idea of moving to the south of Germany where the main part of the family lived made her very sad, because she was very homesick. So, Namedy was bought by the Belgium royal court for the young family."
Princess Heide still lives in Namedy, and the castle has played host to some important guests during her time there. "Members of the royal family of Belgium have visited," she says. "Ferdinand, King of Romania as well, and more recently famous German and international actors."
While all of the guests who are welcomed to Namedy are given a tour of the gardens and treated to a musical recital, Princess Heide says her favourite experience is a look through the castle's "Hall of Mirrors". "It is named because of all the mirrors inside," she says. "It was originally built as a ballroom, and it is today the centre of almost every event in the house."
This article has been produced in association with APT.
Make every moment memorable in Europe with APT who take every experience to the next level with their unforgettable luxury journeys. For more information visit www.aptouring.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.