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 and washed ashore. Today, this trendy mode of holidaying involves daily visits to interesting places and cities interspersed with optional wellness activities onboard and indulging in fine wines and gourmet cuisine.
A glass of healing gemstone water or a flute of sparkling wine, yoga flow or afternoon tea? Tricky decisions. A fast-paced Vienna walking tour or a gentle evening stroll with wine tasting in Krems. 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 AmaWaterways
A Fortress Hike in Durnstein, a bike ride along the Danube, a resistance band or Zumba class. Active or gentle, competitive or a complete beginner, from early morning stretch, posture workout, to laps around the jogging track, activities have been designed for all age groups and fitness levels. If classes don’t appeal, there’s a gym, compact as it may be, Nordic sticks for hiking trails ashore, walking tours at paces to suit, a spa offering a handful of massage treatments and lectures on lifestyle wellness. But it was cycling that won the popular vote. Many of my fellow sailors aboard the AmaSonata chose rides along the Danube’s river paths, the more adventurous cycling the cobbled streets and narrow passageways on guided city tours while the longer rides haloed the fittest amongst us.
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, Spanish Riding School and St. Stephens Cathedral cradled in its centre.
Quietening the mind is an easy pastime on the AmaSonata 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 riverbed 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 with the AmaSonata 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. Post dinner, the entertainment takes to the floor with renditions from a West End singer, melodies on the piano, costumed operatta and jiving into the early hours, offering music for all palettes.
On board, the atmosphere is convivial. 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. Dotted with miniature orange trees and table orchids, the AmaSonata is tastefully decorated and contemporary in style.
Family-owned, AmaWaterways is headquartered in, California with offices in Switzerland and the U.K. It provides river cruise holidays on 19 ships, sailing along the waterways of Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia with more planned.