AmaWaterways on the Danube: first-class floating hospitality
We have likely all heard of the Blue Danube, a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. But this majestic river isn’t actually blue, although it is beautiful and worthy of a nice tune. AmaWaterways offers a trip that will cover all the famous sights along the Danube between Budapest in Hungary and Passau in Germany.
A representative met us at Budapest airport and conveyed us by relaxing coach ride to join the glistening boat, the Amaviola. We were escorted to our cosy cabin and then it was teatime. A nice cuppa and a slice or two of cake was most welcome. (Learn more about my culinary experiences on board here.)
The romance of the whole vacation started in earnest after dinner. We took a trip through Budapest on the river. It was night and we had the best views of the illuminated state buildings along the banks, as well as beautifully lit bridges with their carved stone piers which would be difficult to appreciate for their splendour from the road above. We moored for the night.
Refined and cultured
The next day could be as full or relaxing as one might want. It would be a crime to miss this wonderful city, however, so choose an excursion which suits your preferred pace. Most ports of call offer a regular walking tour, a gentle version, and then there are the options of hikes and bikes for those with an unseemly desire for exercise. Perhaps we should all have chosen the latter exertions, as the food with AmaWaterways is really first class and tempting!
Budapest is one of the classic cities of Europe. It is refined and cultured with many opportunities to enjoy its celebrated café-and-cake culture. The walk will take you along shopping streets, past architectural charms, but there is one place which will be a magnet for any food lover: Central Market Hall!
This market is vast with a street level, an upper level, as well as a basement. There are aisles of sausages, drinks, spice, fish, meat and vegetables. This is the place for a foodie souvenir such as strings of dried red peppers and garlic, the celebrated Hungarian salamis, and other meat products. A bag of ground paprika would be a relatively inexpensive gift. Don’t spend all your money here, as there are more countries to follow.
More marvellous architecture, cafés and shops
Day 3 is Bratislava and it’s well worth taking time to visit. The walking tour took us through tree-lined parks, booths selling local souvenirs and decorations. There is more marvellous architecture, cafés and shops selling local wines. Bratislava also has a taste for sculpture. One can find Hans Christian Andersen, a brass sewer worker, a Napoleonic soldier and many more metallic personages. Street furniture at its characterful finest.
Day 4 found us in Vienna and it’s a day not to be missed. The boat moored a little way from the city centre so shuttle buses were on hand to ferry passengers who wanted to return to the river once their excursion was over, but also to allow others to spend a little independent time in spectacular Vienna.
The sightseeing started before we even arrived at the drop-off point. We passed the Opera House, government buildings, churches and parks, and all with a running commentary. The walking tour showed us historic backstreets, architectural curiosities and shopping boulevards. The Viennese have good taste so designer labels abound. This is the reason you saved that aforementioned cash. Reserve enough time for a little people-watching, a cup of coffee and a slice of Esterhazy cake. A sweet souvenir would be Manner Wafers. The company started in 1890; originally the wafers were paper-wrapped and sold in tins. In the 1960s, the distinctive foil packaging was introduced, although the tins are still available and make a great keepsake – they are iconically Viennese.
Watching the world go by at an unhurried pace
Day 5 offered tours of Weissenkirchen or Dürnstein – an excursion with wine tasting, or a Dürnstein Fortress hike, or an Apricots and Sweets tasting, or a historic Melk Benedictine Abbey tour. Or one was able to take free time to appreciate floating along the scenic Danube. This might be the day to enjoy some leisure on this splendid boat. There can be few better unwinding opportunities than watching the world go by at an unhurried pace, mug of coffee in one hand and a good book in the other – and perhaps a slice of gateau at one’s elbow. This is your holiday so do it your way. I did, and the batteries were fully recharged.
Day 6 found us in Linz for a fascinating walking tour, although some passengers chose a coach excursion to Salzburg, where I hear the hills were alive with the sound of music. Other travellers visited Cesky Krumlov or the Austrian Lake District.
We stayed in Linz and it didn’t disappoint. We moored just a short walk from the old town. It has a striking main square and religious buildings aplenty, but the guide will show you some secluded alleys which one would be unlikely to find alone. They show the style of homes that wealthy townsfolk would have enjoyed a couple of hundred years ago. This is a city of hidden treasures.
Our own private beer festival
We cruised into the German town of Passau on day 7. This is stunning, with the best views being from the Danube where one can take in the historic skyline of terracotta house roofs and church spires, and all in magnificent rich tones of reds, yellows, amber and pink.
Passau is accessible for gentle-walking visitors or for hikers and bikers who might want to take a look at the imposing Passau Castle. This is a town in which to linger. There is stunning architecture, churches with unique metal-encrusted doors, boutiques and bars. I confess I had never heard of Passau but this is a must-visit on this trip.
Our vacation ended in the little town of Vilshofen on the Danube. We were not here for castles, café culture or cathedrals but we had a fun engagement. We were treated to our own private beer festival with the locals. The band played traditional music wearing traditional costume, everyone danced traditional dances, and local beer and pretzels were consumed.
This was the first AmaWaterways cruise for me but I am impressed. The crew
were friendly and efficient, the boat, The AmaViola, was smart and comfortable. The food was outstanding in every regard, and the included excursions were conducted by locals with inside knowledge. I can highly recommend AmaWaterways, and the next cruise is already booked.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018