Rose quartz crystals lay at the base of the glass jug on the breakfast buffet. Water with healing properties – good for shingles, headaches, radiation, blood purification – the label read, the list went on. But a bottle of sparkling wine stood temptingly in a cool box next to it. A glass of healthy water or sparkling wine – tricky decision, one of many.
Afternoon tea or yoga flow, Salzburg or the Austrian Lake District, a slow-paced stroll or an 18-mile bike ride. These were the choices I faced on my first wellness river cruise through Germany and Austria on the AmaSonata, one of 19 ships belonging to river cruise company, AmaWaterways.
Wellness is the new wave in river cruising and floated into creative itineraries with a dedicated wellness host at the helm. The preconception of a sedate meander along the river has long passed by. Today, this mode of holidaying involves daily visits to interesting places interspersed with optional wellness activities onboard and indulging in fine wines and gourmet cuisine.
These holidays can be as relaxed as you wish but believe me, river cruising is crammed with culture, a recipe attracting singles and adults, couples and multi-generational families alike.
I travelled with AmaWaterways, a company that has recognised the importance of blending an active component to what has historically been a sedate experience. They are rolling out a wellness programme to most of their 19-strong fleet. I was sailing on one of them, the AmaSonata, a contemporary-styled ship, with around 160 fellow sailors and a crew who could have been handpicked for their lively personalities and their eagerness to serve.
From early morning stretch, posture workout, to laps around the jogging track, activities have been designed for all age groups and fitness levels with a considerate crew to motivate, help and accompany. There’s a gym, compact as it may be and Nordic sticks for hiking trails ashore, a spa offering a handful of massage treatments and lectures on lifestyle wellness. Fast paced or a slow stroll, steep inclines, steps or wheelchair access, the walking tours are categorised to suit to all needs and preferences. But it was cycling that won the popular vote on this cruise with escorted rides along the Danube’s river paths or over cobbled streets and through narrow lanes on guided city excursions.
Ashore, it was culture in abundance. History echoed through stone passageways, etched on walls, recalled in painful truths and humbling stories, crafted in statues, exposed in Baroque and Gothic architecture, shrouded in monasteries and celebrated in jaw-dropping cathedrals. Our route along the Danube cruised from Nuremberg to Vienna, each port of call having a narrative to tell. The Nuremberg trials and Courtroom, the countless listed buildings and commemorative stumbling stones in Regensburg, the world’s largest pipe organ in Passau’s St Stephens Cathedral and Richard The Lionheart’s imprisonment in Durnstein. We visited Mondsee, famous for its appearance in The Sound of Music, Linz, the UNESCO city of media arts, the awe-inspiring Benedictine Abbey in Melk ending in Vienna, the capital, personified by the Blue Danube waltz, gilded palaces and gold statue of Strauss, its state opera, rich chocolate Sachertorte, the Spanish Riding School and St. Stephens Cathedral cradled in its centre.
Quietening the mind is an easy pastime on a ship which glides along calm waters bordered by lush green river banks – silent, still and serene. Relaxing on the sundeck, roads track us from the side, trains play hide and seek as they hiss between trees and hills, speed boats whizz pass and barges lug past dragging their heavy cargo. Pressures of everyday life drift downstream.
The scenery from a river cruise is just as one imagines and vibrant in sunlight. Paths zig-zagging across the mountainside, boats moored onto private jetties, villages centred by steepled churches and families waving as they share picnics and homemade lemonade. The commentary along the Danube adds a historical date or two, dotted with colourful myths and fables. We see castles still standing, reminding us of Rapunzel-like fairy tales while others lie in ruins. Terraced grooves folded into the landscape define the Wachau Valley wine region complemented with a climate ripe for harvesting apricots. The secluded inlets carved into the riverbank provide sanctuary for wildlife from river traffic while the locks and low bridges offer a different dimension to our voyage.
Dining is another attractive pursuit offering a good variety of fine dining menus for lunch and dinner with a guide to healthier options. Local and regional dishes are integrated into daily choices with some themed events to add a little theatre to the experience. The Chef’s Table boutique restaurant offers a taster menu, all complemented with wine recommendations. The waiters, as with most of the crew are eager to serve, some with distinguishable personalities, all with an appetite for high standards. And for those travelling alone, their friendship awaits. Post dinner, the entertainment takes to the floor with renditions from a West End singer, melodies on the piano and costumed, offering music for all palettes.
On board, the atmosphere is convivial and with 160 passengers it’s easy to forge friendships in a short time. Conversation centres around cultural experiences ashore while wellness activities draw individuals together, motivating and sharing achievements. The staterooms are elegantly appointed, most with balconies and easily accessible from the central glass atrium. The AmaSonata is tastefully decorated, contemporary in style with comfortable and spacious areas dotted with miniature orange trees and table orchids, perfect for relaxing and just being.
With news of the launch next year of the AmaMagna, a double-width river ship and even more wellness activities, I’m preparing for my next wellness cruise with a farewell glass of healing gemstone water or perhaps that glass of sparkling wine? Tricky!
For more information about AmaWaterways or to book go to www.amawaterways.co.uk, call 0800 320 2337 or visit your local travel agent.