Adrian Bridge retraces the last journey of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire 100 years later.
I suppose if you are shortly to be assassinated, there are worse ways to spend your final few days than by undertaking a grand journey by rail, road and sea through some of Europe's most dramatic scenery and along what is arguably the continent's most beautiful stretch of coastline.
Of course, when he set off from Vienna to make that fateful visit to Sarajevo exactly 100 years ago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, did not know what lay ahead. He was travelling to Bosnia to remind the world that, at that time, this far outpost of the Balkans was part of a mighty empire stretching as far north as Bohemia, as far east as Lviv (in what is now Ukraine), as far west as Trento (now in Italy) and as far south as ... Sarajevo.
Vienna, Ljubljana, Trieste and Mostar; the Adriatic pearls of Pula, Split, Hvar and Korcula; the mandarin tree-filled Neretva river delta - these were among the last places on Earth upon which the Archduke was to set eyes.
We all know how the journey ended - with the shooting of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, as they travelled in a motorcade through the streets of Sarajevo on the morning of Sunday June 28, 1914; the event that triggered the cataclysm that was World War I.
What is less known is how the journey began, how it proceeded and what exactly it entailed.
This is the story of Franz Ferdinand's last great adventure - and a guide to how a traveller today might go about retracing it.
VIENNA TO TRIESTE
On the evening of Tuesday, June 23, 1914, before boarding the train that was to take him to Trieste, Franz Ferdinand dined with his wife in the place he once described as "our Vienna apartment" - the Belvedere, a magnificent baroque palace that today houses some of the city's most celebrated paintings, including Gustav Klimt's The Kiss.
He was grumpy (he often was) about heading to a territory known to be a hotbed of Serbian opposition to Austro-Hungarian rule. He had tried to get out of the trip, but had been told by his ageing uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, that as inspector general of the armed forces it was his duty to attend the military manoeuvres scheduled to be held that month in Bosnia.
He had a certain foreboding and no doubt brooded on what was to come as the train sped through lusciously green valleys framed by snow-capped peaks on its way to Graz, the place of Franz Ferdinand's birth, and the setting this year for an exhibition dedicated to the history of assassination attempts on members of Europe's royal families. He travelled by night and possibly slumbered as the train came into Ljubljana, the lovely Slovene city within touching distance of the Julian Alps. As dawn broke, he would have been close to Lipica, the stud farm responsible for breeding the elegant white Lipizzaner horses deployed since 1572 at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
There was no time for sightseeing, but the Archduke, on approaching Trieste, may have reflected on previous visits to what was then the most important port in the Austro-Hungarian empire - to the time in 1892 when he set off from here on a year-long voyage around the world involving stops in India, Japan, Australia and the United States (the trip is currently the subject of an exhibition in Vienna). He might have thought back, too, to a more recent visit in March 1914 when he entertained Kaiser Wilhelm II in the Cinderella-like Miramare Castle, built by his uncle Maximilian (assassinated in Mexico in 1867).
What did the German Kaiser and the heir to the Austrian throne discuss in Trieste? We can never be sure, though contrary to popular belief, Franz Ferdinand was not in favour of getting drawn into a conflict with Serbia, which he feared (prophetically as it transpired) would be lost.
These and other reflections must have filled his mind as he boarded the Viribus Unitis (Strength in Unity), the flagship vessel of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, to begin the voyage along the spectacular coastline of what is now Croatia.
TRIESTE TO THE NERETVA RIVER
By 1914, fashionable Viennese society had got into the habit of retreating to the seaside in the summer and nowhere was more fashionable than the Palace Hotel in Portoroz, the "port of roses", a few miles south of Trieste and the glorious red-roofed Venetian-era town of Piran. The hotel was very much the grande dame of a resort that in Franz Ferdinand's time was a key part of the "Austrian Riviera", a term used to describe a number of settlements along the coast built to mirror the Cote d'Azur.
Sailing past Portoroz, how Franz Ferdinand must have wished that he had been spending a few nights at the sumptuous Palace Hotel with Sophie and their three young children, rather than heading south on a potentially perilous voyage to Bosnia.
But by this time the die was cast. Sophie herself was well on the way to Sarajevo - or rather the spa resort of Ilidza, just outside the Bosnian capital, in which the couple planned to stay.
Unlike her husband, Sophie had chosen the direct route - by train from Vienna - and was destined to arrive ahead of him. He had elected to take the longer route for a reason. As inspector general of the armed forces, it made sense for him to experience for himself life on board the Viribus Unitis (built in Pula, the location of one of the greatest Roman amphitheatres in the world).
Another, less savoury, reason lay in the fact that Franz Ferdinand had a fierce antipathy towards Hungarians and wanted to avoid travelling through any part of the empire that was under the control of Budapest.
As he sailed down that dazzling coast, he no doubt reflected on how he would change things when he became emperor; how he would remove the special status enjoyed by the Hungarians and revert to centralised control from Vienna and a federal structure in which the Slavs would be granted a voice.
Although he didn't stop along the way, the Archduke would have admired from afar the wonders he was passing: the islands of Krk, Rab and Pag; the splendours of Split (the city in which the Roman emperor Diocletian built his retirement home, a magnificent palace that still hums with activity); the legends of Korcula (allegedly the birthplace of Marco Polo and an island on which someone who is punctual is still said to be "of the Austrian period").
Along the way, he would have enjoyed brilliant sunshine and refreshing breezes; he would have marvelled at the deep-blue colour of the Adriatic, the green hues of the cypress trees on shore and the jagged beauty of the mountain ranges beyond. The voyage along the Dalmatian coast had been "delightful", he is reported to have remarked; the scenery "very interesting" but the atmosphere "very hot".
NERETVA RIVER TO SARAJEVO
Relief of some sort was to come in the cooler, marshy territory of the Neretva river delta, a dreamy swampland of more than two million mandarin trees, scores of fig plantations and countless indigenous species of bird.
Travellers to this region today can spend happy hours in traditional wooden ladja vessels meandering through the water lily-filled backwaters of the delta, enjoying pristine nature and local delicacies involving eels and frogs.
EXPLORING CROATIA'S NERETVA RIVER DELTA
Franz Ferdinand had no time for such diversions. From Ploce, at the mouth of the Neretva, he sailed on the Dalmat, a smaller vessel better suited than a battleship to river travel, to Metkovic, the town that marked the end of Croatia and the beginning of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And from there he commenced the final leg of his journey - the train ride to Ilidza.
The Archduke would have liked what he saw from the train window: a country of unspoilt mountain wildernesses ideal for hikers and lovers of plants and wild flowers; of deep gorges and spectacular ravines; of rolling hills containing vineyards from which come the excellent white wines of Herzegovina.
He would have noted, too, that in addition to church steeples, Bosnia was the land of the minaret, a region that for centuries had been under Ottoman rule but that now, rightfully in his view, had come under the control of the Habsburgs.
The Archduke received a rousing reception in Mostar, the first major Bosnian town he came to and a place that acquired infamy during the wars following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, when the exquisite 16th-century bridge, the Stari Most, was blown up in the fighting.
Visitors today will see that the bridge has been rebuilt and that there are still young men who for sufficient financial inducement will leap from it. But the scars of that more recent conflict remain much in evidence in this part of the Balkans, testimony to the fact that the tensions at play in 1914 - and the early '90s - are still far from resolved.
As the train neared its final destination early in the afternoon of Thursday, June 25, Franz Ferdinand would have got an initial glimpse of the mountain passes south of Sarajevo in which for two days (June 26 and 27) Austro-Hungarian forces would be conducting full-scale military manoeuvres. (He later reported back to the emperor that they had gone well.)
Before that, though, he wanted to be reunited with his wife and to enjoy the calmer atmosphere of Ilidza, a tree-lined spa town at the source of the Bosna river, and to enjoy a bit of sightseeing and shopping in the bazaar.
On the morning of June 28, 1914, having hosted the night before a gala dinner for the great and the good of Sarajevo, the couple breakfasted before retreating to the private chapel that had been specially created for them in their living quarters in the Hotel Bosna.
They prayed and then, a few minutes before 9.30am, set off for the station and the train that would take them from Ilidza to Sarajevo. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Europe of 2014 is a very different entity from the Europe of 1914, and it would be impossible to recreate exactly the journey made by Franz Ferdinand back then.
He was travelling through what was just one country: the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today the trip involves crossing four international borders (Austria-Slovenia-Italy-Croatia-Bosnia).
As heir to the Austrian throne, Franz Ferdinand had some very special transport (including a battleship) and tailor-made routes. That said, it is possible to travel from Vienna to Sarajevo via Trieste and the Croatian coast today - a journey well worth doing not because he did it, but for the geographical, historical, cultural and scenic splendours along the way.
Vienna to Trieste Rather than going all the way to Trieste, the train today goes from Vienna via Graz to Ljubljana, from where it is possible to make the 90-minute journey to Trieste by bus (autostazionetrieste.it). Alternatively, hire a car.
Trieste to Ploce There are no public services from the Italian port to Croatia, so take a bus from Trieste to Rijeka (about two hours; autostazionetrieste.it). If driving, make stops in Piran, Portoroz and Opatija. From Rijeka there are many ferry and catamaran services along the coast (jadrolinija.hr). The twice-weekly night ferry to Korcula connects with services back to the mainland (Domince-Orebic; Trpanj-Ploce) . If time allows, ferry-hop down the coast, stopping at Split and an island or two.
Ploce to Sarajevo While it would be difficult to travel upriver to Metkovic as Franz Ferdinand did, there are wonderful trips by traditional ladja boats to be had in the Neretva river delta - see hotel-villa-neretva.com for details. They will be able to arrange transport to get you to the river and then on to Metkovic and the border with Bosnia. From Metkovic there are train and bus services to Sarajevo (the latter offering a stop in Ilidza). See rome2rio.com.