By Jeannine Williamson – March 2020 – 6 minute read
Special interest river cruises span a wide variety of pastimes and are perfect for both new-to-cruise clients and seasoned river travellers.
Art, music, gardening, cycling, history, wellness and wine appreciation can all be enjoyed via themed itineraries on European river cruises and are now being introduced on long-haul sailings.
Providing clients with the opportunity to indulge in a hobby or interest, these special itineraries have the added bonus of being set against an ever-changing panorama of sights, cities and scenery.
“Themed river cruises have grown considerably in popularity over recent years, with nearly every line offering one of some description,” says Andy Harmer, Director CLIA UK & Ireland. “These cruises are great for clients looking to indulge in a special interest, as guests can explore multiple destinations whilst enjoying a hobby or interest with like-minded people.
“Each river has its own unique selling point. For example, the Douro can be the perfect river for wine connoisseurs, as wine-themed cruises take guests through miles of picturesque vineyards, and for those looking for mindfulness and tranquillity, wellness cruises on the Ganges offer the chance to do yoga at sunrise and embrace the essence of Indian culture.”
Elaine Gillard, UK Marketing Director, Crystal Cruises, says: “Crystal River Cruises is the perfect choice for those with special interests as our curated destination programme features over 200 shore excursions and offers more intimate, immersive experiences based on travellers’ individual interests.
“The programme comprises five categories of experiences including Tantalizing Gastronomy, designed to showcase signature culinary styles and specialties of the destination; Cultural Discoveries with expertly guided tours to historical landmarks, museums, iconic sites and architectural points of interest; and Exhilarating Adventures, designed for active passengers. The Rhine is perfect for wine lovers - more than 60% of Germany’s wine is produced along it.”
Best for art & music lovers
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the world’s most famous composers. Born in Bonn, he went on to spend the rest of his life in Vienna and his legacy can be explored on Rhine and Danube cruises. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, beside the Danube, and this city also featured in the classic film The Sound of Music. The ‘Blue Danube’ is forever associated with the world-famous waltz by Johann Strass and in Vienna passengers can go to concerts and dance classes.
For art lovers, sailings on the Seine provides the opportunity to visit The Louvre to see the enigmatic Mona Lisa, and cruises on the Dutch waterways take passengers to Amsterdam where the 8,000-plus exhibits at the Rijksmuseum include works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh - there is also a dedicated museum devoted to Van Gogh. Further afield, a Russian river cruise will include time in St Petersburg with a guided tour of the breath-taking Hermitage, one of the world’s largest museums.
Best for history lovers
History can be found everywhere on the banks of European rivers, and the most popular waterways are the castle-lined Rhine and the Danube, which runs through capital cities Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, filled with palaces, churches and museums.
A less-explored river is the Elbe, where cruises are book-ended by the culture-rich cities of Prague and Berlin - and Dresden, where the restored cathedral is a poignant symbol of Second World War bombing.
More wartime history can be discovered on a Seine itinerary from Paris to Normandy, with excursions to the British D Day landing beaches and commemorative monuments.
The Nile is now firmly back on the river cruising radar and vessels transport passengers between Luxor and Aswan with excursions including the Valley of the Kings where pharaohs including Tutankhamun were buried. Some itineraries are twinned with a stay in Cairo to see the pyramids. Long-haul options include the Mekong where Cambodia’s Angkor temples make up the world’s largest religious complex.
Book it with... Andante Travels
Andante Travels’ seven-night Cruising the Danube: Romans, Amber & Habsburg Splendour cruise is from £2,499pp, departing October 18. andantetravels.com
Best for food & wine lovers
France is a number one choice for gourmands. The Rhone joins the Saone at the French foodie capital of Lyon and cruises feature excursions to the vineyards of Burgundy. For a really intimate experience suggest a barge cruise, where passengers have a personal chef and meals showcase regional food and classic wines. The inland waterways run through famous wine-growing regions including Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and the Loire.
Flowing from the Atlantic city of Porto to the Spanish border, the Douro provides a fascinating insight into Portugal’s fortified wine. Sailings include tours and tastings at vineyards hugging the rugged banks and a visit to one of the port cellars in Porto. Spain’s little-known Guadalquivir offers an insight into the country’s sherry industry and the chance to sample tapas in the colourful city of Seville. Another option is the River Po and Italian waterways, where some lines offer pasta or pizza-making workshops.
Book it with... Fred Olsen
Fred Olsen’s Valleys & Vineyards of the Rhine & Moselle travels from Cologne to Basel through wine regions like Ayr and Rhine Rhessen. fredolsencruises.com
Best for nature & scenery
The lesser-known and quieter Lower Danube flows east beyond Budapest to the mouth of the river and the Black Sea in Romania. It takes in the dramatic sight of the narrow Iron Gates gorge and culminates in the natural wilderness of the UNESCO-listed Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, which is explored on a thrilling safari boat excursion. The area is home to the largest flock of white pelicans in Europe, wild horses and more than 325 species of birds, including eagles.
In the South of France, the dazzling lavender fields of Provence bloom from June to August and other natural highlights include the Camargue Regional Nature Park which is part of western Europe’s largest river delta. It’s famous for its semi-wild white horses, which share the plains with pink flamingos and black bulls. Some lines let passengers enjoy the surroundings by walking or biking before re-joining the ship further down the river.
Book it with... CroisiEurope
CroisiEurope has a six-day cruise and hike itinerary round-trip from Lyon through the Rhone Valley from £1,170pp. It includes hiking in the Nature Reserve of the Ardèche Gorges. croisieurope.co.uk
Best for special events
Annual events are an excellent way to attract repeaters and often feature shorter itineraries ideal for new-to-cruise clients.
The Rhine comes into its own during the Christmas market season in cities such as Cologne, Koblenz and Strasbourg.
In springtime the attention turns to the Dutch waterways where passengers can marvel at the riot of colour created by the tulip bulb fields and an excursion to Keukenhof, the world’s largest garden.
Other spectacles include Rhine in Flames, held over five weekends in the summer when the river, churches and historic buildings are lit up by pyrotechnics.
This year provides the chance to see the Oberammergau Passion Play, staged in the namesake Bavarian town once a decade.
Book it with... Viking River Cruise
Viking River Cruise’s nine-night Oberammergau, The Passion Play cruise is from £3,895pp, departing July 30. vikingrivercruises.co.uk