More and more people are discovering river cruising, whether it’s a dreamy voyage through Indochina on the Mekong or a waltz along the Danube. Personally, I love the fact that there’s always something to see.
Although you’re ashore a lot of the time, you can’t beat a lazy day on deck, gazing up at the craggy castles of the Rhine gorge, or the golden temples dotted along the banks of the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. There’s more choice of river cruises now than ever before – and there’s no question that Europe’s rivers are getting busier thanks to the river cruising boom. Here are my top picks for 2018…
The best European river cruises for 2018
A few years ago, there were four riverboats sailing Portugal’s beautiful Douro Valley. Now, there are 22. Yet there’s still a wonderful sense of stillness on this narrow river, surrounded by steep hills and vineyards. Try Emerald Waterways’ brand new Emerald Radiance.
Or how about a quieter stretch of the Danube? The voyage from Budapest to the Black Sea passes craggy gorges and sleepy country towns straight out of a fairy tale, and only a few cruise lines sail here, among them AmaWaterways, Fred Olsen, which starts its first ever river cruises in 2018, and Viking. A 10-night cruise from Budapest to Bucharest with Viking costs from £2,445, departing 28 March 2018.
There’s a certain cachet in exploring a really remote river. Asia specialist Pandaw has a new itinerary in the Irrawaddy Delta, opening up a little-known area of mysterious Burma; amid the vast wetlands, you’ll visit farming villages, temples and markets.
French-owned CroisiEurope has a new 16-passenger boat on the Chobe River, a tributary of the Zambezi; you’ll see hippos, elephants, crocs and sometimes, big cats from the deck.
My favourite, though, is India, where I recently followed in the footsteps of Prunella Scales and Timothy West on a thrilling voyage through Assam on the vast Brahmaputra, visiting temples, tea plantations and a tiger reserve. Fred River Cruises offers the trip from £2,499pp, including flights to Kolkata, for a week, departing 25 January 2018.
Avalon also offers an impressive range of “Discovery” excursions including guided running in Amsterdam and cycling in the Rhine Gorge. A week’s cruise on Avalon Felicity from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, departing July 15 2018, costs from £1,896pp, including flights.
There’s no shortage of gleaming, new five-star ships on Europe’s rivers. Dame Joan Collins has just christened Uniworld’s elegant new ship, Joie de Vivre, which sails the Seine, complete with indoor pool, nightclub and a French bistro.
Crystal Bach’s swimming pool
Meanwhile, Crystal Cruises has launched two very smart riverboats, Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, with butlers, private balconies, all-inclusive drinks and excursions.
A week’s cruise from Vienna to Budapest on Crystal Mahler, all-inclusive, costs from £3,210pp, departing 3 April 2018.