River cruises to suit all tastes and timings
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.
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.
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