Fantastic four: Rhine, Danube, Rhône and Douro river cruises

The rise in demand for river cruise is leaving some agents in the backwaters when it comes to knowing the product and who to sell it to. Jane Archer offers a quick guide to four of the most popular waterways with UK customers



Typical itineraries: A one-week sailing between Basel and Amsterdam (or vice versa) that follows the route of the Rhine as it flows from Switzerland into France, Germany and Holland is the best introduction for newcomers to river cruise.

However, there are plenty of variations, including cruises that start and end in Cologne, or combine the Rhine with the Moselle or Main Rivers (its two key tributaries).

There are also two-week sailings from Amsterdam to Budapest, seven-night tulip-themed cruises in Holland and Belgium in spring and Christmas markets cruises in November and December.

Why go? The draw for many is the Rhine Gorge, a scenic stretch of river that passes beneath more than 40 medieval castles and fortresses. Cruise directors point out key sights during the sailing, and also reveal the legend of the Lorelei, a beautiful maiden said to have thrown herself to her death in the gorge over a faithless lover.

Rhine itineraries usually include a night in Amsterdam, where a canal cruise and the Rijksmuseum are top attractions. There’s also Cologne, with its magnificent cathedral, chocolate museum and a beer called Kölsch.

Clients will cruise past steep vineyards; see a 450-year-old bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg, the father of printing; ride a cable car in Rüdesheim and explore Strasbourg – a beautiful city with canals, half-timbered houses and a grand cathedral with a magnificent astronomical clock.

Highlights for those pairing the Rhine with the Moselle include Reichsburg Castle in Cochem, the imposing Porta Nigra (Black Gate) in Trier and the house where Karl Marx was born 200 years ago.

Tulip cruises visit Keukenhof Gardens, where more than seven million flower bulbs bloom each spring.

Cruise lines: Amadeus River Cruises, AmaWaterways, APT, A-Rosa, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Crystal River Cruises, Emerald Waterways, Fred River Cruises, Riviera Travel, Saga, Scenic, Shearings, The River Cruise Line, Tauck, Titan Travel, TravelMarvel by APT, U by Uniworld, Uniworld River Cruises, Viking*

Sell to: First-time river cruisers, city-break clients, wine lovers, keen gardeners, history enthusiasts, art connoisseurs



Typical itineraries: The Danube flows from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania, passing through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania along the way.

Cruises are invariably one-week sailings between Budapest in Hungary and Passau or Vilshofen in Germany. There are also cruises between Budapest and Nuremberg, also in Germany, and round-trips
from Passau or Budapest.

Cruises on the Lower Danube between Budapest and Romania take passengers on a fascinating journey through Eastern Europe.

Why go? While not as blue as Johann Strauss would have us believe, the Danube is one of the most attractive rivers in Europe, flowing past five capital cities and through the beautiful Wachau Valley in Austria and the Iron Gate Gorge separating Serbia and Romania.

Vienna is the jewel in the crown, with monumental architecture and grandiose palaces – the Hofburg in the centre of the city, from where the Habsburgs ruled Austria for 700 years, and Schönbrunn, their summer residence, as well as many ornate private residences. Most river cruise lines stay in the city late so passengers can attend Mozart and Strauss concerts.

Budapest is memorable for its waterfront, beautiful by day but spectacular after dark; Bravtislava, the capital of Slovakia, has quirky statues and a pretty old town; in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, highlights include Sveti Sava, the world’s biggest Orthodox church. Tours in Bucharest visit the Palace of the Parliament, a vast building that was built by former Romanian dictator Nicholas Ceausescu.

Away from the capitals, clients can see where Mozart was born on trips to Salzburg, hear the largest cathedral organ in world in Passau and climb to the rock fortress of Belogradchik in Bulgaria.

Cruise lines:  Amadeus River Cruises, AmaWaterways, APT, A-Rosa, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Crystal River Cruises, Emerald Waterways, Fred River Cruises, Riviera Travel, Saga, Scenic, Shearings, The River Cruise Line, Tauck, Titan Travel, TravelMarvel by APT, U by Uniworld, Uniworld River Cruises, Viking*

Sell to: First-time river cruisers, city-break clients, history enthusiasts, music lovers, foodies



Typical itineraries:  The Saône rises in France, meets the Rhône at Lyon and together they flow south, emptying into the Mediterranean near Arles. Most cruise lines offer one-week sailings between Lyon and either Avignon or Arles. A few include a couple of nights on the Saône as well.

Why go? Known as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon is a delightful city where foodies can tuck into Michelin-starred meals or try local dishes in a bouchon restaurant while sightseers tick off the white Basilica of Notre Dame that sits high above town and a Roman theatre next door, and explore the narrow streets and alleys in the old town.

In fact, Lyon would be the highlight of the cruise if there weren’t so many others, including the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, where seven pontiffs lived in the 1300s, France’s smallest working cathedral in sleepy Viviers and the remains of what was once the largest church in the world in medieval Cluny. There are Roman amphitheatres and temples in Vienne and Arles, while 30 minutes outside Avignon clients can visit the stunning Pont du Gard aqueduct – three tiers of arches 49m high and all built in the first century AD.

There’s wine-tasting in Chateauneuf du Pape and Tain L’Hermitage, delectable chocolates at Valrhona chocolate shop in Tournon and reminders of Van Gogh throughout Arles as storyboards highlight scenes from his famous paintings, including The Café Terrace and The Yellow House.

Cruise lines: Amadeus River Cruises, AmaWaterways, APT, A-Rosa, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Riviera Travel, Scenic, Tauck, TravelMarvel by APT, Uniworld River Cruises, Viking*

Sell to: Experienced river cruisers, wine lovers, Van Gogh enthusiasts, foodies, history buffs, Francophiles



Typical itineraries: The Douro flows through northern Portugal, emptying into the Atlantic at Porto. Vessels can only follow one route, sailing from Porto to Vega de Terrón on the border with Spain and back, a distance of 210km. Most river cruise lines do it in a week, some take a few days more by adding extra nights in Porto. A couple offer one-way cruises and pair the river cruise with
a few nights in Madrid.

Why go? The scenery is the star on the Douro, with craggy cliffs, picturesque valleys and acres and acres of vineyards that produce the grapes used to make port wine. Summer months promise gloriously sunny days and blue skies.

Porto at one end and the Spanish city of Salamanca at the other (the city is reached on an excursion from Vega de Terrón) are spectacular, with beautiful churches, imposing architecture and grand squares. Tours in Porto make a bee-line for Gaia, across the river from the city, for tastings in one of the port wine lodges. In Salamanca, clients can peek inside the ‘old’ 12th-century Romanesque cathedral and ‘new’ Gothic-style basilica, which dates back 500 years.

Outside the big cities, life on the Douro slows down, visiting sleepy towns and medieval villages. There’s Guimarães, where Portugal was ‘born’ in 1128 when Afonso I became the country’s first king, and Regua, which has an excellent wine museum. In Lamego, tours visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies pilgrimage church built atop a baroque staircase with 680 steps.

Tours visit Mateus Palace, the manor house depicted on the label of bottles of Mateus rosé wine, but anyone expecting a tasting will be a tad disappointed as the wine isn’t actually made there.

Cruise lines: AmaWaterways, APT, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Riviera Travel, Saga, Scenic, Titan Travel, TravelMarvel by APT, Uniworld River Cruises, Viking*

Sell to: Older couples, port wine lovers, sun worshippers, city-break clients

* The list includes companies that sell through the trade in the UK and own river cruise vessels as well as key operators that take whole-ship charters. Other operators might take allocations on the vessels listed

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