The slow chug of a riverboat along an inland waterway offers an intimate and unique way of discovering a country’s interior. Here, we round up our favourite river destinations and vessels, each with its own incomparable appeal.
A TASTE OF THE MEKONG
Crowded with dazzling royal palaces, gleaming Buddhist temples and busy traditional villages, a river cruise is the best way to gain insight into local life along the Mekong River. APT offer itineraries that go beyond the regular tourist trail on the 124-passenger RV AmaLotus. The elegantly refurbished riverboat is the height of boutique luxury with spacious staterooms, air-conditioned lounges, wellness centre and a personalised butler service for superior decks. In 2016, foodies can delight in the flavours of the Mekong from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap on a culinary adventure with celebrity chef, and APT Ambassador, Luke Nguyen. The two departures offer guests a chance to come and meet the people Luke knows and loves, watch families bond over food and gain an understanding of the way the local community interacts. Guests will also enjoy a cooking class with Luke along with special dinners onboard.
Emerging as one of Asia’s most popular river cruise destinations, Myanmar is a vibrant tapestry of dense jungle-clad riverbanks, grand gorges, endless rice paddies, mystical temples, intriguing rituals and warm people who still adhere to age-old traditions and customs. Scenic Cruise’s newest next generation river cruiser, Scenic Aura, will launch on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River in September 2016 travelling between the cities of Mandalay and Pyay. The luxury 44 guest vessel will provide a five-star all-suite environment, choice of dining venues offering à la carte to casual dining made from the freshest local produce, a vitality pool and bar area, wellness centre, spacious bar and lounge, sun deck with open air cinema, complimentary beverages and a butler service for all guests.
The Ganges in India is one of the world’s most important rivers. The river is sacred to Hindus and plays an extremely important role in the life of Indian people with almost 10 per cent of the world’s population living here or earning their livelihood from the river. An extraordinary destination no culturally curious traveller will want to miss, discover the colour and incredible culture of the remote towns and villages that line the banks of Ganga Ma (Mother River) on APT’s 28-suite RV Ganges Voyager, a luxury river vessel rivalling the finest hotels of India and built specifically to explore this unique waterway. Enjoy guided tours to ornate temples and palaces as well as riverside communities and places virtually untouched by tourism. Indulge in sumptuous dining, treatments at the Voyager Spa, and relax in spacious plush suites that embody the grace and style of India’s British colonial era as the mystery, enchantment, intrigue and beauty of India passes by.
ENGLAND AND DOWNTON ABBEY
Fans of Downton Abbey can enjoy an elegant experience that’s fit for royalty with European Waterways, Europe’s largest luxury hotel barge cruising company. Their seven-day cruise on The Magna Carta takes guests along the Royal Thames with the highlight of the itinerary a visit to Highclere Castle, better known as the home of the fictional Crawley family – a one-of-a-kind experience that will thrill fans of the show. The Magna Carta offers intimate luxury for a maximum of eight guests, with four ensuite cabins, gourmet cuisine, fine wines and an on-board hot tub for soaking in style after walking the expansive estate made famous by the television drama.
WINE & CHÂTEAUX
Imagine soaking up views of Bordeaux’s chateaux and vineyards from the luxury of a river ship. Uniworld’s 130-passenger River Royale sails the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Girond on a luxurious journey with enticing excursions and exquisite food and wine along the way. Savour the unique heritage and tastes of the Médoc wine route and delve into the region’s exalted wines in Bordeaux. Soak up the views of rural France from the top deck of your luxurious riverboat or the deck of your stateroom. Be treated to a grand display of culinary magic with sumptuous dining or kick back in one of the bars, lounges and spas on board to enjoy even more of the douceur de vivre (sweet life).
RAISE A GLASS TO THE DANUBE
Who doesn’t love a tipple on their holidays? Take it to the next level with a beer-themed cruise of the Danube through some of Europe’s most beautiful capitals – Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest – as well as many small towns that dot the landscape along the way. Avalon’s deluxe seven-night river cruise on the Panorama includes an exploration of the local beers with on board tastings, brewery visits and lectures on European beer-brewing techniques. Wine lovers might prefer to reward their palate with a wine appreciation cruise on board the Passion or Vista as it traverses the main Danube Canal between Budapest and Nuremberg.
Nowhere does Christmas quite like Europe and nearly every major river cruise line offers sailings that traverse Europe’s rivers during the festive season. One of the best cruises to delight in the sights, smells, and tastes of local Christmas markets is aboard Avalon Waterways Tranquility II. The festive 12-night river cruise from Frankfurt to Budapest offers guided sightseeing in Würzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Munich, Vienna and Budapest and the opportunity to explore the many Christmas markets along the way. When you’ve finished your Christmas shopping, drop your haul in one of the ship’s 52 spacious suites then kick back in the club and main lounges, à la carte restaurant, bar or, if its not too chilly, head out on to the Sun Deck where you’ll find a whirlpool and al fresco bistro.
Experience Russia’s unique and extraordinarily rich culture on a luxurious Russia River Cruise. Boutique luxury vessel Scenic Tsar travels along the wide sandy banks of the Volga River from the grandeur of Moscow to magnificent St. Petersburg. Scenic’s experienced hosts will escort passengers to all the major landmarks as well as hidden gems not accessible to other travellers. When you’re not absorbing the beauty and splendour of the Volga and its iconic cities, you’ll be ensconced in the luxury of your 112-passenger luxe floating hotel, enjoying world-class dining and facilities befitting a Tsar.
THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI
Could any river hold more enchantment than the mighty Mississippi? From the sidewalk cafés and jazz of New Orleans’ French Quarter to the soulful blues of Memphis, what better way to explore the romance of the lower Mississippi than in the gracious and elegant splendour of the 436 passenger American Queen, the largest river steamboat ever built. The six-deck recreation of a classic Mississippi riverboat boasts modern conveniences with all the opulence of the American Victorian era. Relax with a book from the collection in the Mark Twain Gallery, the boat’s library, tap your toes along to the tunes of a lavish show in the two-deck-tall Grand Saloon, celebrate timeless southern traditions and river history, all while enjoying the acclaimed cuisine of famed Southern chef Regina Charboneau.
IN THE WAKE OF LEWIS AND CLARK
Adventurous spirits may prefer to undertake a river cruise under the guidance of a Lindblad expedition leader, historian and naturalists. National Geographic Sea Bird or Sea Lions seven-day journey along the Snake and Columbia Rivers in America’s Pacific Northwest retraces a portion of Lewis and Clark’s epic 19th-century explorations through what are today the states of Washington and Oregon. The expedition ship transits a series of eight locks that lift the ship 700 feet, 10 times the elevation of the Panama Canals and cruises through the towering canyons of the Columbia River Gorge coastline as well as the historical lands of the Nez Perce and other Native American tribes. As pioneers in exploration, Lindblad and National Geographic offer plenty of active adventure along the way with guided hiking and biking, kayak and jetboat tours.
Aqua Expeditions 12-suite Aqua Amazon is an architecturally designed, custom-built vessel offering travellers the comfort and sophistication of a five-star hotel, along with gourmet cuisine and privately guided shore excursions. Departing from Iquitos, Peru, Aqua Amazon takes guests sailing into the depths of the lush Peruvian Amazon rainforest, home to thousands of species of exotic animals, birds and the enchanting pink dolphin. For those seeking something more, why not enjoy a taste of Peru? A series of limited-edition, chef hosted three-, four- or seven-night departures with innovative Peruvian chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino will include customised market tours and cooking master classes as you explore the legendary Amazon. •
Photography by various establishments
European Waterways: gobarging.com
Aqua Expeditions: aquaexpeditions.com
Scenic Luxury Cruises: scenic.com.au
Lindblad Expeditions: au.expeditions.com
Avalon Waterways: avalonwaterways.com
American Queen: americanqueensteamboatcompany.com
Outdoor Travel: outdoortravel.com.au