Kelly Ranson delves into the treasures of one of Europe’s finest rivers on new AmaWaterways ship AmaMagna.
“To the left, to the left, to the right, to the right, and now with the arms…”
I never thought I’d find myself shimmying along to the sounds of Despacito in a dance class under the beating sun on the Danube River, somewhere between Austria and Slovakia. But this was just another regular day on board AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna.
The newly launched, double-width ship is sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest during its maiden season. Interestingly, this journey would take little more than five hours by car, but AmaMagna meanders its way through four countries in a leisurely seven nights.
But it’s not just facilities and activities AmaWaterways has focused on here – it offers a variety of excursions to match. So even if you’ve got clients who have cruised this route before, they’ll experience something different.
Arriving in the port of Vilshofen following a two-hour transfer from Munich, it was time to kick off the cruise Bavarian-style, with guests being treated to their very own ‘Oktoberfest’. This is Germany, of course, and the town knows how to turn on the local charm, with live music and beer aplenty (Josef Groll, who invented Pilsner, was born here). AmaMagna’s cruise manager Monika Feher told me that for some guests, this is their favourite part: “They just love it. The beer festival is exclusive to us and it’s such a great start or finish.”
There was no need to fret about missing the 6.45am spinning class, with ample opportunity to stretch our legs in Passau – the historic city known for its Baroque buildings, winding lanes and Bavarian shops. It was here the ‘active’ element of AmaWaterways’ wellness ethos really kicked in, with an exerting hike up to Castle Hill, where we were rewarded with panoramic views over the three rivers that meet in Passau – the Danube, Inn and Ilz.
Gliding into Austria, the choices of discovery opened up; first-timers could opt to join a full-day tour to Salzburg – birthplace of Austria’s most famous export, composer Wolfgang Mozart. Clients who’d already ticked that box had the chance to inhale some fresh mountain air on a tour of the eye-wateringly scenic Austrian Lake District. Both tours stopped in the town of Mondsee, famed as the site of the wedding scene in The Sound of Music.
On our way to Krems, we sailed through the Unesco-listed Wachau Valley – one of Austria’s most famous, and beautiful, regions thanks to its smattering of cute villages and vineyards. I opted for the Apricots and Sweets tour to nearby Dürnstein, which featured a vineyard visit followed by a chance to sample the finest apricot delicacies, from jams and chocolates to indulgently sweet liqueur.
Known for its imperial palaces, famed composers, opera houses and opulent coffee houses, Vienna does elegance with a capital ‘E’ – and there’s no finer place to attend a classical concert. If there’s one available (many lines dock overnight in Vienna), advise clients to do it. AmaMagna offered a Mozart and Strauss concert, which made for the perfect farewell before leaving Austrian waters.
After a morning of wellness (yoga and line-dancing on deck – check), we docked in the heart of the city, just a short distance from the grand Slovak National Theatre and the Old Town.
Opting for a walking tour followed by a well-deserved drink in a beer house, I wandered around cobbled streets lined with charming buildings (which have largely been restored after the fall of the communist regime), taking in art nouveau houses one moment, and palatial baroque architecture the next.
Set atop a hill visible from the river is Bratislava Castle; reaching it involved a bit of a hike, but it was worth it, with idyllic views across the city and beyond.
Waking up and glancing out of the cabin window as we arrived into Budapest was something special; the sight of the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building will stay in my mind for a long time. I made the most of our centre-of-town location and took my own DIY tour. Stepping off the ship on to the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, I stood soaking up the cityscape of ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest’. Three hours later, I had taken the funicular up Castle Hill, crossed back over into Pest, explored the hip eateries and bars in the Jewish Quarter, and made a final stop for souvenirs in the Central Market Hall. Before disembarking, there was only one thing left to do – a final shimmy and a stretch on the sun deck, of course.
AmaMagna will be sailing on the Danube from Budapest to Vilshofen throughout 2019 and 2020. Next year, it will also sail from Budapest to Giurgiu in Romania. A seven-night cruise leads in at £1,951, including flights and transfers.
Ask the expert
“The itinerary was excellent, with the ship docking at what are arguably the most beautiful places on the Danube. The Wachau Valley took my breath away. AmaWaterways has moved the river cruise industry a significant step forward with the introduction of AmaMagna – not only with the well-considered itineraries, varied excursions and focus on quality, but in terms of onboard facilities, dining options, space and comfort.”
Ryan Johnston, sales and operations director, Cruise118
On your bike
AmaWaterways has bicycles on all of its ships. Here are some of the standout bike tours on the Danube:
- Passau: A 15-mile cycle follows the Inn River to Wernstein, before crossing into Passau’s Old Town.
- Linz: This seven-mile tour meanders along the Cultural Mile of Linz, which hosts the annual Linz Arts Festival.
- Wachau Valley (from Krems): Cycling is the best way to soak up this landscape – and a 20-mile ride takes you to the heart of it.
- Vienna: Pedalling through Vienna on a three-hour tour reveals some of the city’s most famous sites, including the opera house and St Stephen’s Cathedral.