The chance to get off the ship and explore the latest port of call is always a highlight on any river cruise, but often it’s the time on the ship that can provide the most memorable moments and picture-worthy scenes of your holiday. Europe’s waterways are blessed with fantastically bucolic stretches of water that will have you firmly fixed to your balcony chair in the hope of not missing a second as you sail by.
Whilst the majority of journeys are beautiful from start to finish, there are certain sections that turn the natural aesthetics up a notch. Here are some perfect examples.
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Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Wachau Valley is situated between the Austrian towns of Melk and Krems and is one of the key attractions of a Danube River cruise. As well as these two towns, you will also glide past places such as Dürnstein and Spitz, both charming locations steeped in history (the former is where Richard the Lionheart was held captive after disrespecting the Austrian flag).
The riverbanks feature ruined monasteries, distant mountains and, something for which this region has been famous since Roman times, wine. Vineyards roll back as far as the eye can see and each port boasts its own vintage which locals claim is the best around.
Providing the scenery on Rhine River cruises is another UNESCO-listed stretch of water – the Rhine Gorge. Also known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, it is found between Koblenz and Bingen in Germany. Twisting and turning its way through the landscape, it will take you to beautiful towns such as Boppard, Oberwesel and Bacharach – the latter being specifically noted for its medieval atmosphere and timber-framed buildings.
This part of the Rhine is perhaps most famous for its historic castles, one of the true highlights of river cruising in this part of the world. Stolzenfels, Marksburg, Rheinfels and Pfalzgrafenstein are just a few of the dramatic castles that loom over your ship as you sail past.
Many cruisers have been aware of the sheer beauty that a Douro River cruise offers for many years, but it has only recently started to get the attention it deserves. The entire length of this waterway is picture-perfect but we have chosen the section from Regua to Pinhao as the most pleasing on the eye. Once you exit the built-up areas of Porto, your view changes to include rolling vineyards that are punctuated with white stucco buildings and Quintas (Portuguese for wineries).
The names of the ports may not be familiar but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to offer. Some provide the perfect chance to taste the legendary port wine in these parts, whilst others act as a docking point to aid exploration further afield. It’s not just port that’s on the menu here, though, as this largely tourist-free region also produces some delicious whites and reds that aren’t fortified.
Mainstream river cruise lines only started offering Loire River cruises in 2015 and so this region is still rather unexposed to tourists. The serene nature of the waterway definitely adds to its charm but even without this, it would be a very beautiful section of river. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the stretch from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes will stand out as the most alluring part of your journey.
Here, the French Renaissance is still in full swing, thanks to breathtaking buildings lining the riverbanks and the atmosphere in towns such as Amboise, where none other than Leonardo da Vinci once lived. Where the Rhine has castles, the Loire has Chateaux dominating its landscapes. These magnificent creations were built during a period when the nobility attempted to out-do one another at every opportunity, resulting in elaborate structures accompanied by sweeping gardens that are perfectly manicured. The most popular former residences include the Château Royal d'Amboise and Château de Chambord, just outside of Blois.
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