Jane Archer brushes up on art along the Danube on a river cruise with Titan Travel featuring baroque churches, ornate palaces and rebellious artists.

Belvedere palace in Vienna%2C Austria on a sunny day

I know, I know. Saying you are not a fan of Gustav Klimt when you are standing in front of The Kiss, one of his greatest paintings, is not the done thing, especially when you’re in Vienna as it marks 100 years since his death.

Like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, The Kiss is what everyone visiting the city’s Belvedere Palace makes a beeline for. Me too, except now I have found it I am moving on, leaving others to pose for their selfies or discuss its meaning, merit and position in the history of art.

Visiting Vienna

I’m in Vienna on day three of a cruise along the Danube on Serenade 1, a river ship chartered exclusively by Titan Travel. It’s not my first visit to the city, but previously I got to know Vienna, the city of music. This time, I was giving Mozart, Strauss and the opera a miss and instead devoting my day to learning about Vienna, the city of art.

It might not have the world-famous Louvre or Hermitage but its museums and palaces are a treasure trove for art lovers, while its architecture covers every style you can think of, from arched Gothic and showy Baroque to austere modernism and the whimsy of Hundertwasser. If you’ve never heard of him, think of an Austrian equivalent to Gaudi (quirky architecture, bright colours and no straight lines) and you won’t be far wrong.

Colorful Hundertwasserhaus architecture of Vienna

My art quest could not have been more timely. 2018 not only marks 100 years since the death of Klimt, but also of three other protagonists in the Viennese Secession movement co-founded by Klimt in 1897 that rebelled against the prevailing trend for building in historical styles, and the city was not letting that pass unnoticed.

All this year it is hosting special exhibitions celebrating the works of architect Otto Wagner, expressionist painter and Klimt’s protégé Egon Schiele, painter and graphic artist Koloman Moser, and of course Klimt himself. In the city’s art museum, the grand staircase is adorned with 13 Klimt paintings, which can be viewed from a ‘bridge’ positioned across the stairs.

A tour through the Hofburg

I joined guide Ilse on a tour through the Hofburg, the former imperial palace of the Habsburg monarchs, where Baroque and neo-Classical styles sit side by side, and into the MuseumsQuartier, a large complex containing the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Leopold Museum, which houses numerous works by Schiele.

Given Vienna is also the city of coffee houses, naturally we also had to stop for coffee and cake, and where better than the Café Museum, where Klimt and his fellow artists used to hang out.

Mine wasn’t sold as an art-themed cruise, but it was very easy to turn it into one and organisers can do the same on two Titan itineraries next year that visit the same towns and cities as I did.

Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna

Art highlights

Vienna was the highlight of my DIY art-themed cruise, but was not the only spot where I could catch up with masterpieces of art and architecture.

Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Austria, was Baroque heaven, with its perfect cupolas, gold decoration, acres of marble, grand frescoes and a library that contains an astonishing 100,000 books. Even more astonishingly, some of them date back to the 15th century.

In Linz, the Lentos art museum houses works by Klimt, Schiele and other modernist and expressionist painters. In all it contains some 1,500 paintings and sculptures, and handily is right by where the river ships dock,

Last stop was Regensburg, from where I joined a tour to Weltenburg Abbey. About 45 minutes outside the city, it sits at the confluence of the Danube and Main-Danube Canal and houses the oldest monastic brewery in the world (nothing to do with art but we stopped for a beer and pretzel as it’s the done thing in Bavaria) and a spectacular 18th-century Baroque church.

Titan Travel’s Danube cruises

Titan Travel’s Beauty of the Danube and Highlights of the Danube river cruises are eight and ten days long respectively, and both include Vienna in their itineraries. Vienna won’t be hosting the centenary exhibitions after this year, of course, but the art collections in the Belvedere Palace and MuseumsQuartier will always be there.

Titan also has a ready-made art-themed cruise on the Rhine in August 2019. In the Footsteps of Turner is a seven-night voyage from Cologne that visits many of the places the artist painted during numerous visits to the area. Art historian Gerald Deslandes will be accompanying the cruise and giving talks on everything from Turner’s work to the influence of printing on the Reformation.

For more information visit www.titantravel.co.uk/