Active Discovery river cruising with Avalon Waterways

On the run in Vienna (plus conducting, cooking, cycling and cruising)

So much to see, but not enough time – it’s always a challenge when you’re in a beautiful place for a short period. Having previously crept through a small part of Vienna at a snail’s pace on a frustratingly slow group tour, this time around I was on the run – not, I hasten to add from the long arm of the law, but alongside the legs of Florian Tischler.

Avalon Waterways Active Discovery - canoeing on the Danube Florian helps visitors go the extra mile in the Austrian capital by combining his love of sport with running, in every sense of the word, novel sightseeing tours. In the time it takes to board a tour bus, sort out the pecking order for seats, take off your coat, be introduced to the driver and listen to the guide’s preamble Florian will already be pointing out sights on the city’s famous circular Ringstrasse boulevard.

River cruise line Avalon Waterways has teamed up with Florian and Vienna Sight Running as part of its new Active Discovery programme. Shore excursions offered by river cruise companies are usually involve gentle walking and bus tours. Nothing wrong with that of course, but Avalon has tapped into the fact that there are plenty of energetic cruisers who also want to try new experiences (and try and offset the delicious and tempting fare that’s also a trademark of river cruising).

Avalon Waterways Active Discovery I was lucky enough to road test the exciting and exhilarating innovations in the offing on a preview cruise on the Danube. During the run on and around the Ringstrasse, which follows the circle of Vienna’s ancient city walls, we saw one of Beethoven’s unassuming houses, the grand stables and a glimpse of the beautiful equine inhabitants of the Spanish Riding School, the Greek Revival style Austrian Parliament Building, the imposing twin buildings of the art and natural history museums and the cafe where psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud sipped coffee – and got back in plenty of time for a morning brew on our riverboat. Guests set the pace, and there’s a run for everyone, from occasional joggers to full-on marathon types.

Avalon Waterways Active Discovery Having ticked off so many of the sights during the 6km run, the rest of the day was left to enjoy a totally new take on Vienna’s renowned musical heritage. The afternoon brought a waltz lesson in the elegant surroundings of the Palais Eschenbach. Instead of a CD player we were amazed to find a string quartet waiting to accompany our faltering steps. We were even more astonished to discover our teacher, Thomas Kraml, is a pro from Austria’s version of Strictly.

“Left forward for the men, right back for the ladies”, instructed Thomas as he and his wife Bianca made it look effortless as they spun round to the familiar strains of the Blue Danube. But his patience paid off, and within 20 minutes we’d more or less mastered the box step that forms the basic foundation of Vienna’s renowned dance.

The limits of my musical abilities are confined to distant memories of playing the recorder at school; yet I couldn’t resist signing up for the ‘Conduct Your Own Orchestra’ session, another of Avalon’s forthcoming optional activities. Also held in Palais Eschenbach, it proved to be another unforgettable highlight as conductor Michael Zehetner let us loose on the equally forgiving members of the ten-strong Vienna Supreme Concert Orchestra.Avalon Waterways Active Discovery - conduct your own orchestra Teaching us the basic rhythm of the waltz and polka we took to the stage one by one and raised the baton. It was an extraordinary feeling as the players struck up the opening bars of the Jockey Polka, by Josef Strauss, but then things started to go off course as I lost the beat and they slowed down accordingly. Although this opportunity would be a music expert’s dream, anyone can have a go and the whole emphasis is on fun, for all concerned. Later we returned for the orchestra’s note perfect evening concert and saw how it should really be done.

Avalon Waterways Active Discovery - cookery lessons As well as the new activities, Avalon is overhauling the vegetarian options on its menus with the help of Viennese culinary brothers Karl and Leo Wrenkh. Avalon Fresh will be rolled out across the fleet, and we had a taste of what’s to come in the cookery classroom next to the siblings’ restaurant. With the emphasis on less is more, uncomplicated seasonal ingredients combined with herbs and spices, and not getting hot and bothered with intricate preparation techniques, Leo showed us how we could replicate delicious dishes at home.

Our voyage of discovery took us further down the Danube, with stops including the charming town of Grein with its tiny playhouse that’s Austria’s oldest working theatre and was once linked to the jail enabling prisoners to watch performances.

In the UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley, arguably the prettiest stretch of the Danube, we paddled and peddled; firstly embarking on a downstream canoe expedition followed by a three-hour cycle ride along trails through vineyards and delightful riverside villages. Our amiable foghorn-voiced leader even managed to attract the attention of our Avalon vessel as it sailed past to meet us in Melk, and fellow passengers waved from the sun deck.  

Avalon Waterways Active Discovery - 'sound of music' style hiking Another day we joined a Sound of Music-style hike through woodland and meadows bordering the Danube.

Having been given the run around by Florian – in the nicest possible way – put fancy footwork to the test with Thomas, exercised our arms and minds with Michael and thrown ourselves into all the other activities, we felt fully justified to relax back on the vessel and enjoy a restorative glass or two of Gruner Veltliner, and other regional wines that are complimentary with lunch and dinner, and a couple of slices of cake at the daily afternoon tea. 

This is the only river cruise where I’ve returned home with a souvenir conductor’s baton and host of unique new memories, as opposed to the usual couple of belt-loosening notches around my waist.

Avalon Waterways More information

Avalon Waterways features a range of European river cruises from 7-24 nights. In 2018 there will be nine Active Discovery cruises on the Danube, from Budapest to Linz or in reverse, with prices from £2,299 based on two people sharing a cabin, including a private home pick up service (within 100 miles of UK airport) all on board meals, wine with lunch and dinner, daily excursions, tips, flights and transfers. To book or for more information call 0800 440 2798.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Avalon Waterways

244 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Jeannine Williamson

Award-winning travel writer

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

From a restored mansion in the Scottish Highlands to a stylish villa in Southern Spain, becoming an HPB Bondholder allows…

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.