Water worlds

River cruises to suit all tastes and tim­ings

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - TERESA MACHAN

The Bri­tish knew they were on to a good thing when they be­gan cruis­ing down that most fa­bled of wa­ter­ways, the Nile, in the late 1800s. Armed with lit­tle more than a sense of ad­ven­ture, they sailed in flotil­las of da­habiyas, or sail­boats, which re­lied on a favourable wind to pro­pel them up­river. Those first ea­ger sight­seers would pave the way for the ear­li­est pack­age hol­i­days. By the end of the 19th cen­tury Thomas Cook, who had made his first foray into Egypt in 1868, had built a small em­pire or­gan­is­ing hol­i­days on steam­boats along the river. Now, pas­sen­gers can take their pick of the world’s rivers and cruises, from a gourmet voy­age on the Ama­zon to a sa­fari ex­pe­di­tion on the Zam­bezi. On board to­day’s ships, there are but­lers on call and spas in which to re­ju­ve­nate. En­gine noise is barely dis­cernible and pas­sen­gers can savour some of the best cruise cui­sine and cel­lars avail­able.

Ashore, op­er­a­tors have un­locked the doors to pri­vate palaces and her­itage build­ings and se­cured tick­ets for pre­mieres and nights at the opera. There are tasting tours to Trap­pist brew­eries and e-bikes for tow­path cy­cles or more en­er­getic rides. You can learn from a mas­ter of wine or a golf­ing pro. Much has changed over the cen­turies, but the rea­sons river cruis­ing is find­ing favour with more and more trav­ellers haven’t al­tered that much. An un­hur­ried, of­ten peace­ful tra­verse through the heart of a coun­try is a ge­nius way to ex­plore. On a river cruise, where you can al­ways see the shore, sto­ries are told on ri­par­ian beaches where lo­cals pound wash­ing at the water’s edge and chil­dren play in the shal­lows; in the cities, where jog­gers spring be­neath Gothic spires and ducks potter on the muddy fore­shore; and in river deltas where wild horses roam. His­tory un­folds, not just in the perched cas­tles and choco­late-box vil­lages of the Rhine, but in its ghostly Bauhaus fac­to­ries and in the ur­ban sprawl of the Yangtze and the coun­try­side of Viet­nam.

DAL­LIANCE ON THE DANUBE

If you’re a fan of lux­ury ho­tels and not sure if a river cruise is for you, a week on board Crys­tal Mahler should con­vince you. The brand-new all-bal­cony, all-suite ship of­fers pri­vate but­ler ser­vice to all and en­suite bath­rooms roomy enough for dou­ble sinks. In the north­ern spring, Mahler will sail on three seven-night cruises be­tween Bu­dapest and Vi­enna, vis­it­ing Krems, Spitz, Linz, Melk (all Aus­tria) and Bratislava, the cap­i­tal of Slovakia. Din­ing is re­laxed, with farm-to-ta­ble style menus served in sev­eral open-seat­ing eater­ies. More: crys­tal­cruises.com.

LO­CAL HERO

Keen to know your pho from your bun cha? Viet­name­seAus­tralian chef Luke Nguyen will lead an­other of his street food tours of old Saigon next year, ex­plor­ing the city’s best mar­kets and spe­cialty stalls. The walk­ing tour is in­cluded on spe­cial de­par­tures of APT’s 16-day Viet­nam and Mekong River Cruise, a new “sig­na­ture ex­pe­ri­ence” on board the lux­ury ship, AmaLo­tus. The hol­i­day be­gins in Ho Chi Minh City, lin­ger­ing in the fer­tile Mekong Delta and con­cludes with three nights in Siem Reap, Cam­bo­dia, gate­way to Angkor Wat. More: ap­tour­ing.com.au.

PARIS LOOKS NICE

Uni­world has ramped up the glam fac­tor on board its new ship Joie de Vivre with sump­tu­ous fab­rics, hi-spec mar­ble bath­rooms, a sup­per club, an im­pres­sive food-and-wine pair­ing cel­lar and shore tours fo­cused on cui­sine, cul­ture and cou­ture. Fash­ion­istas will love the de­signer shop­ping tour of Paris’s Av­enue Mon­taigne. There is a be­hind-thescenes look at the Opera Garnier (how are those cos­tumes made?) and of The Ritz, where you’ll be taken into the Wind­sor Suite (keep an eye out for the pug-em­bossed cush­ions) once oc­cu­pied by the Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor. The tour con­cludes with a mar­tini at the leg­endary Hem­ing­way Bar. More: uni­world.com.

WILD ABOUT BOTSWANA

Not a lot of river ships cruise on the African con­ti­nent. The new­est, African Dream, has been trans­ported across the sa­van­nah to its new home port in Botswana ahead of its in­au­gu­ral sail­ing on the Chobe and Zam­bezi rivers in De­cem­ber. A seven-day cruise-sa­fari will pair four nights at the five-star Cas­cades Lodge with wildlife ex­cur­sions by land and water. The in­ti­mate ship has eight suites, all with gen­er­ous river views, and will fea­ture a panoramic restau­rant, lounge bar and rooftop ter­race. Pack binoc­u­lars for those ele­phant and wilde­beest sight­ings. More: croisieu­rope.co.uk.

THE BLACK FOR­EST BY BIKE

With its mir­rored lakes and rolling hills, dense wood­land and hik­ing trails, the Black For­est is one of Ger­many’s undis­puted trea­sures. On Tauck’s new Rhine En­chant­ment itin­er­ary be­tween Mi­lan and Am­s­ter­dam, pas­sen­gers can join a guided cycle ride through the for­est’s ev­er­green canopies, from the port of Breisach. This is one of sev­eral fully es­corted cy­cling ex­cur­sions and hikes be­ing rolled out across Tauck’s lux­ury river cruise port­fo­lio and each ship now car­ries a fleet of bi­cy­cles for in­de­pen­dent ex­plo­ration ashore. Yoga-in­spired stretch­ing classes and “healthy-choice” menu op­tions are al­ready avail­able on board. More: tauck.com.au.

GLIDE AND RIDE

The Danube river me­an­ders for 1895km from its ori­gins in Ger­many’s Black For­est be­fore emp­ty­ing into the Black Sea in Ro­ma­nia at a point known as “Zero kilome­tre”, a UN­ESCO-pro­tected wet­lands area in­hab­ited by wild horses and home to hundreds of species of birds. Fred Olsen, which has just launched a river cruise pro­gram on its ship, Bra­bant, of­fers a boat-tour ex­cur­sion of the marshes, tree-lined lakes and net­works of canals and la­goons of the Danube Delta from the pretty town of St Ghe­o­rghe. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of rare species such as the pygmy cor­morant or hear the call of an egret. The cruise also vis­its Bu­dapest and Kalocsa in Hun­gary and the Ser­bian cap­i­tal, Bel­grade. More: fredolsen­cruises.com.

RUS­SIAN AROUND

Next year sees more op­tions for cruis­ing the rivers, canals and lakes that con­nect Moscow and St Peters­burg. APT is re­turn­ing to lux­ury river cruis­ing in Rus­sia with two de­par­tures in Au­gust on the five-star Ex­cel­lence Katha­rina, while Scenic has cruises on the Volga be­tween Moscow

Cruise the Mekong River with chef Luke Nguyen aboard AmaLo­tus, top; glam state­room on Joie de Vivre, above; hippo sight­ing in Botswana, above right; Scenic Di­a­mond, be­low

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