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Getting active while sailing down the Danube on a discovery cruise

Biking, hiking and jogging are all on the menu on an Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery sailing.

TRFBLI
Danube river seen from the Wachau region
Danube river seen from the Wachau region

I’ve always regarded river cruising as a I genteel pleasure of lazy days floating past beautiful scenery with relaxed walking tours thrown in at regular stops.


But this Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery Danube sailing delivers the chance to cruise into a more energetic world.

 

Hiking, canoeing, biking and jogging – the activities don’t stop, and neither do I.

 

Nor do my fellow passengers, who are mainly American and Canadian, with a few Brits and Aussies too.

 

They seem younger than the usual river cruise crowd, and are definitely fitter.

 

On tackling my first-ever hiking trip into the forested hills on either side of the Danube, I’m surprised at the speedy pace the group sets as they march up the steep slopes.

 

But they are an experienced bunch, something that becomes obvious on a 12-mile cycle through the picturesque Wachau Valley, when around 20 of us set off at a tidy lick, with several accomplished speed merchants at the head of the pack.

 

For clients who want to take it a bit slower, there is lots of scope to hang back at a more measured pace.


Pedalling on empty roads through vast vineyards and coasting along the cycle path that runs along the Danube’s banks is so blissful, I feel quite disappointed when our journey comes to an end.


It’s given me a fresh take on this section of the Danube, which I’ve cruised a few times before.


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A cabin onboard Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery's sailing
A cabin onboard Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery's sailing

Hidden treasures

On spotting a pre-breakfast jogging tour of Vienna, I’m curious enough to give it a go. I’ve never jogged anywhere in my life, but I hope my low-level fitness will help me to muddle through.


We’re soon trotting past the imposing St Stephen’s Cathedral and along Graben shopping street towards the Hofburg Palace and Spanish Riding School and, despite my lungs feeling fit to burst, I can’t help noticing how much Vienna lends itself to exploration on foot.


After 90 minutes and three-and-a-half miles, I feel euphoric as our guide calls it a day.

 

I’ve survived – though my shell-shocked legs ache for the next 48 hours. In a strangely masochistic way, I’ve enjoyed exploring the city this way – though I would recommend being fitter to truly relish it.


An early-morning walking tour the following day is more to my liking as we dive into a maze of deserted streets, tucked-away squares and tiny passageways, stopping for a delicious breakfast in a traditional Viennese coffee house.


One of the plus-points of my exertions is that wining and dining becomes a guilt-free pleasure as I feel I’ve earned such treats, with appetising buffet breakfasts and lunches (though more choice would be welcome); and good four-course dinners accompanied by free-flowing drinks that are complimentary with meals.

Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery's ship
Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery's ship

Slower pace

There are numerous other excursions that don’t involve breaking into a sweat.

 

Each day brings a choice designated as either Classic; Discovery, for wine-tasting and behind-the-scenes “insider” tours, with most included in the price; and Active, which covers hiking, biking and canoeing.


Our first morning is spent at a medieval knights tournament, and the old-world feel continues one evening when coaches take us into the hills to Clam Castle where, over glasses of local wine, Count Carl Philip Clam regales us with tales from his family’s colourful history.


Another trip, which is emotionally rather than physically demanding, is to Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz where our guide recounts the horrors of Austria’s only concentration camp.

 

It’s hard to believe something so evil could co-exist with the beautiful surroundings that are such a standout feature of this sailing.

Writer Sara gets stuck into the activities
Writer Sara gets stuck into the activities

Mix and match

Avalon’s UK chief executive Giles Hawke says the line’s Active & Discovery sailings tend to attract guests who are, on average, three years younger than their normal demographic.


“That said, these cruises aren’t necessarily aimed at younger people, but those wanting a more active style of holiday,” he explains.


“People can choose an active shore excursion or one about discovery, such as a painting class. It’s not just about hikes, bikes and kayaks.”


He adds: “The key approach for selling is to be clear on the options and understand the concept of Classic, Discovery and Active shore experiences and focus on the immersive aspect.


“Customers aren’t forced to be active. They can mix and match excursions and experiences, so they aren’t committed to being active every day.”


I can vouch for that as I relish lazy days recovering from my energetic diversions, sprawled on my bed which faces the vast windows of my Panorama Suite – and the best thing is, I don’t even need to move my aching muscles to admire the views.

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Vessel: Avalon Impression is one of the line’s 166-passenger “Suite Ships”, featuring Panorama Suites with beds facing the full-length windows.


Drinks: Soft drinks, beers and wine (including sparkling) are included with meals, and there’s a daily half-price happy hour.

 

Gratuities: Included.


Excursions: Some included, plus additional optional tours that cost extra.


Wi-Fi: Free of charge, with consistent signal.

Book it

Avalon offers eight-night Active & Discovery Danube sailings between Budapest and Linz, with regular departures between April and October.

 

A 22 July departure from Budapest costs from £2,272pp including flights, excursions, gratuities and wine/beer with meals.


avalonwaterways.co.uk

TRFBLI
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