As a regular ocean cruiser, one of the problems you don’t encounter is lack of water.
However, our Romantic Danube cruise with Viking, planned for late last year, suffered from just that issue. So, rather than use two ships to complete the journey we decided to take the first cruise of 2016 which left on Easter Saturday.
Concerned about Bank Holiday traffic we booked meet-and-greet parking at Heathrow through Holiday Extras. At terminal five our car was driven away, we were quickly through security and settled in to our short flight to Munich from where we transferred by coach to Erlangen, just outside Nuremberg, to join our ship.
Freya was our home for the week, one of the Viking longships hosting 190 guests. Our well-equipped balcony cabin had everything we needed with a large double bed and excellent shower with good quality toiletries which, along with towels and bottled water, were replenished without us ever having to ask our excellent cabin steward. The main dining room was supplemented by an outdoor terrace for al fresco eating. The whole of the top deck was available for relaxation and even sported a large chess set and shuffleboard as well as a herb garden that kept the kitchen well supplied.
Viking offers an included tour each day, so we joined our fellow guests to explore Nuremberg. It’s probably best known for links to the Nazi movement and subsequent war crimes trials. However, there is far more to discover than this dark period of German history. It was for many years the toy-making capital of Europe and is also renowned for its gingerbread. Three miles of the medieval city’s wall are still intact and include a number of watch towers and gates. The hilltop Imperial Palace was impregnable until the advent of gunpowder and the city contains many half-timbered houses. At the end of the year the lively square holds one of Germany’s best Christmas Markets.
Arriving in Regensburg next morning, one of the major benefits of river cruises became clear. Ships usually dock in town centres, so hopping off to explore on your own is simple and convenient. Before doing that, however, we joined the tour of this UNESCO World Heritage town. It’s home to many well-preserved patrician houses as well as Germany’s oldest restaurant, the Alte Wurstkuche or Old Sausage Kitchen. Bavaria is big on beer and sausages! The 12th Century stone bridge is a great example of early engineering. However, it was built for horse and cart, not motor traffic, and is currently undergoing sympathetic restoration.
Next stop was Passau on the Germany/Austria border. It was founded by the Celts over two thousand years ago and the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers meet here, earning the name of ‘City of Three Rivers’. As we learned, Germans are not very creative when it comes to naming things. Passau’s many magnificent buildings include the 17th Century St Stephen’s Cathedral which boasts one of the largest organs in Europe with over 17,000 pipes.
The following day we awoke in sleepy Krems in the Wachau Valley. Its vines produce grapes for some of the best Reisling wines. Our morning was spent visiting a nearby hilltop Benedictine monastery, and later we later hopped off to enjoy wandering round the small peaceful town.
The pace hotted up as next morning found us in Vienna, probably best known for its waltzes, coffee houses and the famous Sachertorte chocolate cake. It’s also home to the world-renowned Spanish Riding School, and it’s where Mozart and Strauss composed many of their famous works. There’s much to see, but the city is not large and is manageable on foot.
We left Vienna late afternoon and enjoyed the scenery as Freya sailed across the border into Hungary and the Siamese-twin city of hilly Buda and flat Pest.
We moored right next to the famous chain-link bridge that connects the two halves of the city, a copy of the bridge over the Thames in Marlow. We admired the hilltop view of the city from Fisherman’s Bastion, visited Matthias Church next door, toured many places of historic interest on the Pest side of the river and admired the stunning riverside parliament building, faintly reminiscent of our own, just a few yards from where we were moored. Later we enjoyed the night-time view from Freya as many of the buildings are beautifully lit up. It was a memorable end to our trip.
Our cruise was a very sociable affair and being docked in city centres meant getting more involved in each destination. After a final overnight stay in Budapest we were sorry to say good-bye to Freya and our many new-found friends as we headed out to the airport and our flight back to Heathrow.
Viking River Cruises offers a seven night river cruise, discovering one of Europe’s most romantic rivers, the Danube, from £1,795pp full board including all meals, drinks with meals (wine, beer & soft drinks only) and 6 included guided tours. Price includes flights and is based on 2 people sharing a cabin. For more information visit Viking Cruises website or call 0800 319 6660.
Holiday Extras offers great deals on airport parking, lounges, hotels and more. Visit Holiday Extras website or call 0800 1313 777.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking River Cruises.