Rise of the river cruise
17th April 2018
River boats start (or finish) in Basle in Switzerland and sail more than 800 miles through Germany and the Netherlands, all the way to Amsterdam and the North Sea, passing historic towns like Strasbourg and Koblenz and modern cities like Cologne and Dusseldorf.
The Middle Rhine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is reputed to be the most picturesque, and stretches between Mainz and Cologne. Here, the many hillside castles surrounded by lush vineyards, pastures and gentle mountains offer some of the most spellbinding scenery as you sail gently by.
The Moselle, the longest tributary of the Rhine, is often considered to be the most beautiful � the most romantic even � of the navigable European rivers. It joins the Rhine near Koblenz so many cruises combine the Middle Rhine from Cologne and Dusseldorf southwards.
It is characterised by the steep terraced vineyards which rise from the meandering river. The Riesling grape in particular thrives here and so this provides a great opportunity to taste some of the wines for which the Moselle is so renowned.
The Main, another an important tributary of the Rhine, together with the 106-mile Main-Danube Canal (which only opened in 1992), forms a link between the Rhine and the Danube connecting the North Sea with the Black Sea. Cruising this waterway will take you through the beautiful Bavarian countryside, past cities like W�rzburg, Bamberg and Nuremburg. So peaceful and pretty are the region's gently rolling hills and lush-green vineyards as you sail by Germany's beautiful Ha�berge Mountains, you might be surprised to learn that their name roughly translates to 'Hate Mountains' in English!
The Danube, which joins the Main Canal at Kelheim, is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga. Flowing through nine countries, it originates in the Black Forest mountains of western Germany and flows all the way down to the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve and the Black Sea.
From the romantic Wachau Valley to the narrow Iron Gate Gorges where, flanked by National Parks, the river narrows to just 150m wide, the scenic cruising here is just as rewarding as the opportunity to explore historic cities like Belgrade, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Bucharest.�
The season runs from March through the end of December, beginning with spring departures to see the tulips in Holland and ending with Christmas markets in Austria, Germany and Hungary. The best times to go are probably April/May and September/October when it is less crowded and airfares may be more reasonable than during peak summer periods and Christmas.
The last few years have seen a significant growth in popularity of river cruising. According to the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA), passenger numbers rose by 11% between 2015 and 2016, and numbers continue to increase. The most popular areas are still the Rhine/Moselle region and the Danube, but other rivers such as the Douro, which flows through Spain and Portugal, and even further afield to the Mekong, have also seen a rise in demand. It is undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore inland Europe; you can visit iconic cities such as Cologne, Strasbourg, Vienna, and Budapest to name but a few and you only have to unpack once!
Like ocean cruising, river cruising provides great value, with all your meals (including afternoon tea) and evening entertainment from the resident musician or sometimes, local performers included. Some also offer tours and drinks with meals included in the fare.
River cruise vessels are much smaller than ocean cruise ships, generally between 100-200 passengers, providing a more intimate atmosphere on board; consequently, it can also feel less intimidating for solo travellers.
You can board the cruise ship from the UK (various ports available depending on the date/time you choose), most itineraries are seven nights, although you can do anything from a short five-night taster cruise, to twenty-five nights by doing more than one 'back to back'. With a balance of scenic cruising and usually one stop a day (but sometimes two or even three stops occasionally), there is plenty to keep you busy. But, if you do feel you still have time on your hands, most boats have a fitness room and/or treatment rooms to help while away the time. Personally though, we favour a sunbed on the top deck and a glass of local wine as we watch the world go by!
For more details and #HolidayInspirations, ask about Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines at Baldwins Travel Group.�www.baldwinstravel.co.uk�