European River Cruises in 2016 – Experience the Wonder
Europe has long been the heartland of river cruising, but even people who have cruised the old continent before might be in for a surprise. Although Europe has the world’s busiest rivers for cruising, it’s still producing new cruise itineraries that entice repeat cruisers back for more. Here are eight of the best and latest.
The most travelled part of the Danube runs between Regensburg in Germany to Budapest in Hungary, and flows through Austria and Slovakia. Scenic has launched an eight-day ‘Iconic Danube’ river cruise from Munich to Budapest that takes in the highlights. The ship sails from gorgeous baroque Passau in Germany and takes in the pleasures of the Austrian Danube (rather poetically called ‘the smile on the face of Austria’) such as Melk Abbey, the medieval town of Dürnstein and, of course, Vienna. Passengers enjoy a sundowner drink among the vineyards of the Wachau Valley. There are also optional side trips to Salzburg or the World Heritage town of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic.
The Po River is one of Europe’s least cruised rivers, thanks to its unpredictable water levels. Uniworld, however, has two itineraries there on its luxe ship River Countess that will be extended in 2016 and have a larger focus on the Venice Lagoon rather than the river: the 10-day ‘Gems of Northern Italy’ and 15-day ‘Splendors of Northern Italy’ cruises. Highlights include a visit to the gastronomic city of Bologna for a pasta-making demonstration, wine-tasting in Valpolicella, a visit to Verona (where Romeo is said to have courted Juliet) and a mussel-harvesting experience in the lagoon port of Chioggia. Particularly wonderful is rare after-hours access to St Mark’s Basilica on a shore excursion in Venice.
The Douro has seen many cruise-ship launches over recent years and in 2016, Scenic joins the flotilla with its 96-passenger Scenic Azure. It will sail 11-day round trips from Porto on an ‘Unforgettable Douro’ itinerary upstream to Vega de Terron over the Spanish border, with a side trip to the fabulously beautiful university town of Salamanca. Along the way, you can explore the steeply terraced vineyards that produce port wine, and pass historic towns and villages. There are no overnight sailings, so there are plenty of opportunities to sit on deck and admire the scenery. The cruise can be combined with a land tour between Porto and Madrid, a stay in Lisbon, or other cruises in France.
This mostly Germanic river is crowded with cruise ships, so it’s good to see cruise companies are constantly changing their itineraries. Viking River Cruises launched two new springtime cruises this year, which will be honed to perfection in 2016. A 10-day ‘Rhine Rhapsody’ cruise starts in Paris and takes passengers along the Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers, passing such historical towns as Trier, Rudesheim and Strasbourg before finishing in Basel in Switzerland. Meanwhile, an eight-day ‘Legends of the Rhine’ sails from Amsterdam to Frankfurt and takes in the wonderful Rhine Gorges, but has a focus on WWII history, with tours of the War Resistance Museum at Nijmegen and Remagen, site of Operation Market Garden.
Travelmarvel sets sail between Amsterdam and Nuremburg in southern Germany on a cruise that takes in the regular highlights of the Rhine and Main rivers, such as the former West German capital Bonn, the baroque beauty of Würzburg and the medieval town of Bamberg. But what sets this new 12-day trip apart is a land section that commemorates WWI and the ANZACs with a visit to the battlefields, war memorials and landing sites of northern France. After a couple of days in Paris, you’ll visit Caen, Omaha Beach, Arromanches and the Somme, and also stop at the Australian memorials at Pozières, Le Hamel and Villers-Bretonneux, with its Franco-Australian Museum.
As one of the latest hotspots, this southwest region of France sees cruise ships puttering along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers and Gironde Estuary through some of the world’s most famous vineyards, such as Pauillac, Cognac and Saint-Émilion. APT starts its first cruises in Bordeaux in 2016 on the 74-cabin MS AmaDolce. There are five different itineraries, which might include walking tours in historic Bergerac, a visit to a family-owned cooperage, and wine tasting and dinner at Château Pape Clément. Cruises begin with a three-night stay in Paris and train transfer to Bordeaux, surely one of Europe’s most beautiful river ports, and can be combined with Spanish land journeys or other cruises in France.
Rhône and Saône Rivers
Who wouldn’t want to travel from Paris to Monte Carlo through some of France’s loveliest landscapes, taking in Burgundy and Provence along the way? APT has a new 21-day ‘Charms of Southern France’ itinerary for 2016, offering a more in-depth look than shorter cruises in this sunny corner of Europe, and finishing with a three-night stay on the French Riviera. Highlights include the Burgundy wine town of Beaune, the 10th-century Abbey of Cluny, France’s second-largest city and gastronomic capital Lyon, and the celebrated vineyards of Beaujolais and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You can also wander the streets and haunt the cafés of Arles (recognisable from Van Gogh’s paintings) and visit Avignon, medieval seat of the papacy with its much sung-about bridge.
Not too many ships ply the waterways of Belgium, since their size is restricted by locks and low bridges. However, Avalon Waterways has made a specialty of cruises on the country’s river and canal network, which joins with those of the Netherlands. It has two new cruises in Belgium in 2016 that run between Amsterdam and Brussels, visiting cities such as Ghent and Antwerp, and travelling up the Meuse River as far as Namur. The ‘Enchanting Belgium’ cruise runs for nine days, while the eight-day ‘Essential Holland & Belgium’ also takes in the Netherland’s pottery town of Delft, Kinderdijk’s historic windmills and the displays of flowering bulbs at Keukenhof gardens, one of the world’s best springtime spectacles.