Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by the Rivers of Europe – the arteries that feed some of the most famous and intriguing places and the crucial role they’ve played throughout history. The Danube has always particularly intrigued me. After a short flight from London to Munich and a simple transfer, we joined the Viking Cruises’ Viking Vilhjalm longship in warm and sunny Passau to experience the Danube River in all its glory.
Our adventure would take us from southern Germany through Austria to Bratislava and finish in Budapest, Hungary. If I was going to recommend a river cruise itinerary, it would be this.
Viking includes excursions in every port-of-call. Not only are excursions included, but they are also immersive and enriching. From learning about the arts and music of Vienna, to the culture of Bratislava and history of Budapest – I learnt something new every day. It all provide a truly inspirational experience and you come away feeling richer for it.
In this blog we’ll explore the first three ports-of-call, so let’s get to it.
Also known as the city of three rivers, Passau is situated at the very southern border of Germany and Austria.
Passau really is a postcard German city, with stunning baroque and gothic architecture everywhere you look. I woke up early on the first day of the cruise to take in its beauty at sunrise. I quickly found out is that because on river cruises you spend a lot of time in port, you can just nip out to explore somewhere on your own. It’s really quite liberating compared to a typical ocean cruise.
Later than morning, we took the included tour for Passau, a walking tour which explores the rich history of the city. One thing I quickly noted, and something that stuck with me the entire trip, was the quality of tour guides. In this instance our tour guide Dorothea was not only brimming with facts, but a genuinely interesting, fun and friendly.
Walking around the city we learnt about the constant flooding that has plagued the city for centuries, marked clearly since 1501 on the buildings. The centrepiece of the City is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with its Italian Baroque design and whose pipe organ was long held to be the largest church pipe organ in the world until fairly recently.
Shortly after lunch we set sail from Passau. This was the first time I’d been on a moving river cruise ship and it was really fascinating to watch us navigate the River. Upon leaving Passau the first thing that I was struck by was how much there is to see all of the time. Everywhere you look there was always something outside to peak my curiosity. Of this, going through locks had to be some of the most interesting. Perhaps it’s my geeky side coming out, but there was something about the engineering required to physically move these ships up and down the Danube.
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Well, technically we docked in Linz, Austria, but it’s a short coach journey from here into the Czech Republic.
A highlight for this whole cruise had to be spending the day visiting Český Krumlov (another included tour with Viking). A true fairy-tale destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is famed for its 14th to 17th Century architecture in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles – it’s really something to behold. You must visit the State Castle and Chateau to take in the architecture and the amazing views – oh and make sure you see the bear moat (yes, you read that right!).
Wachau Valley, Austria
Scenic cruising is at the very core of river cruising. Of this, for me, sailing through the Wachau Valley has to be one of the classic scenes I always picture (or maybe that’s just the thought of wine?). As we journeyed through the Valley our Programme Director, Terry, guided us with an informative and entertaining narration so we didn’t miss out on anything. There truly was a constantly changing tapestry of scenery on either side of the ship. From a number of truly stunning Abbeys, such as Dürnstein and Melk, to the ruins of the Burgruine Aggstein Castle and of course the rolling vineyards that characterise the Wachau Valley. It was not disappointed at all.
Wachau is very famous for its wine, such as prized Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners (yum!). This is down to the microclimate created by the valley, a unique mix of cold and warm temperatures that aid in grape ripening. What I didn’t know is that the region is also known for Apricots – with local schnapps and other products to be sampled. A particular highlight was the apricot sparkling wine (which I may subsequently have bought a bottle of).
After our morning of scenic cruising we arrived at our next port, Krems. We took one of the included tours and headed to Göttweig Abbey. This impressive Abbey sits on a hill and dominates the skyline of the UNESCO World Heritage landscape. It’s really quite something to behold.
Arriving at the Benedictine monastery, we were greeted by our guides and treated to apricot sparkling wine and jiuce (I told you apricots were a big thing here). The Abbey was founded in 1083 and rebuilt into its current baroque form in the 18th Century. It’s the spiritual centre in the heart of Lower Austria and is run by a community of about 45 monks. Much like the rest of the cruise, the architecture we were surrounded by was out of this world. From the Abbey Church, to the famed Imperial Staircase and its large ceiling painted with a fresco by Paul Troger.
Leaving Krems, we continued our adventure towards one of the most famous cities in the world, Vienna, Austria. You can read more about this in the next blog.
To head back to the beginning of this journey, click below.