by Sue Bryant
Most of us have a ‘bucket list’ – that collection in your mind of places you absolutely have to visit. Luckily, many of the world’s most iconic sights can be visited on a river cruise. Do any of these feature in your personal top ten?
See the sunset at Angkor Wat
The 12th century Angkor temple complex just outside Siem Reap, in Cambodia, is simply breathtaking, all the more so as many of the temples remain shrouded in dense rainforest. All of them are stunning, and each one is different, from Bayon, with giant stone Buddha heads facing in every direction to Ta Prohm, almost absorbed into the forest by the roots of giant fig and banyan trees. The star attraction, though is Angkor Wat itself, the largest religious structure ever built. On Riviera Travel’s A Journey on the Mekong River holiday, which ends in Siem Reap, your temple tour will end at Angkor Wat in time to see the ancient stone glowing golden in the sunset.
Explore the Valley of the Kings
A trip to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings is a real thrill. The valley itself is hot, barren and rock-strewn – but incredible riches have been discovered underground and archaeologists believe there’s still more to find. The elaborately painted tombs, depicting scenes from each pharaoh’s life and his journey to the afterlife, are opened in rotation, so you can visit three on any one day. Riviera Travel’s 15-day Wonders of the Nile – from Cairo to Aswan tour checks off even more bucket list items; you’ll also see the magnificent Karnak temple, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
Watch dancing white horses in Vienna
The intricate dressage moves of the graceful white Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School are a sight to behold. But seeing these equine stars isn’t as difficult as you might think. Several of Riviera Travel’s European river cruises, among them the eight-day The Blue Danube and the 15-day Cruise the Heart of Europe, give you a day in the Austrian capital. You can book a visit through the tour manager (cruise dependant), or independently on the day to watch the morning training session at the Hofburg (apart from late June, July and early August, when the horses are holidaying at their country stud farm) or join a guided tour. There’s even an extra summer programme, daily at 11am in July, where you can book ahead to see the mares and their black foals.
Gaze at the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is one of those iconic sights you’ve seen a thousand times in photographs – but is infinitely more beautiful when you actually set eyes on it. This great monument to love is like a shimmering mirage, all the more beautiful in the pink light of dawn, and when you get up close, the delicate patterns inlaid into the gleaming marble are just breath-taking. Riviera Travel’s comprehensive tour of India, the 13-day A Journey on the Ganges, includes Delhi and Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, as well as a fascinating voyage along India’s holiest river on the RV Bengal Ganga.
Walk on the Great Wall of China
Undulating more than 13,000 miles over forested hillsides and craggy mountain ranges, the Great Wall of China is an engineering triumph. On Riviera Travel’s 16-day A Grand Tour of China, you’ll visit the Mutianyu section of the wall, one of the best-preserved parts, so perfect for photographs. But photo-opportunities and once-in-a-lifetime experiences come thick and fast on this tour; you’ll have the opportunity to stroll along the famous Bund in Shanghai; marvel at the Forbidden City in Beijing; see the Terracotta Army; visit the pandas in Chengdu – and finally, gaze up at the sheer-sided rock faces of the Yangtze gorges from the five-star RV Century Sun on a three-night river voyage.
Be dazzled by the Dutch bulbfields
The endless, flat fields of The Netherlands are ablaze with colour in spring, when the countryside is swathed in great stripes of red, yellow, pink and orange. But nowhere is more stunning than the legendary Keukenhof Gardens, featured on Riviera Travel’s five-day Amsterdam, Kinderdijk and the Dutch Bulbfields cruise. Keukenhof is the world’s largest flower garden, dramatically styled around lakes, trees and pavilions, with nearly 80 acres of dazzling floral design to behold – and plenty of inspiration to take away with you.
Stroll along the Seine in spring
It’s no cliché – Paris really is swooningly romantic in the soft, clear light of springtime. Riviera Travel’s eight-day The Seine, Paris and Normandy cruise starts at the beginning of June, when the city is possibly at its most beautiful, and you’ll have a full day to see the Louvre, the Champs Elysées, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, either as part of the included half-day tour, or at your own pace. The city is eminently walkable – and your floating hotel will be moored close to the city centre.
Visit the Palais des Papes in Avignon
The elegant city of Avignon is defined by two marvels: its 12th century bridge-to-nowhere, the Pont St-Benézét, which inspired the famous nursery rhyme; and the magnificent Palais des Papes, or Popes’ Palace, built in the 14th century when the popes relocated from Rome to Avignon and the city became the centre of the medieval Christian world. The Palais des Papes is the largest gothic palace in the world, beautifully preserved, ringed with turrets and parapets and adorned with valuable frescoes and other treasures inside. Riviera Travel’s eight-day Burgundy, the River Rhône and Provence cruise includes a morning tour of this spectacular place.
See the fairytale castles along the Rhine
The whole of the Rhine Gorge has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and no wonder – it’s steeped in medieval legend, craggy castles and towers guarding every bend as the river snakes its way from Bingen to Koblenz, vineyards clinging to impossibly steep slopes. On Riviera Travel’s eight-day Rhine Cruise to Switzerland itinerary, you’ll spend a whole day in the gorge, so relax on deck and soak up the glorious scenery, not least the sheer-sided Lorelei Rock, where sailors were lured to their deaths in treacherous whirlpools by the song of mythical nymphs. The afternoon is spent in Rüdesheim, one of the prettiest towns in the gorge, all half-timbered houses and narrow alleys packed with wine taverns.
Drink mulled wine in a traditional Christmas market
You can’t beat the authenticity and charm of Vienna, Budapest or Bratislava during the advent season, particularly if there’s snow thick on the ground to add to the dreamy quality of a winter river cruise along the Danube. Riviera Travel’s The Danube’s Imperial Cities and Yuletide Markets cruise, six days round-trip from Budapest, is ample chance to take it all in and shop for hand-made Christmas decorations, scented candles, crafts, cakes and jewellery at traditional markets in each city, with a backdrop of carol singing and the air scented with spicy mulled wine and sizzling sausages.
Sue Bryant is an award-winning journalist specialising in (and addicted to) cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also contributes to magazines and websites worldwide, including Sunday Times Travel Magazine, World of Cruising, Cruise Passenger (Australia), Porthole (USA) and www.cruisecritic.co.uk. Sue lives in London but is often travelling, exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. She has sailed on more than 100 ships over the last 15 years.