6 reasons to fall in love with Vienna

I’m not really sure why I hadn’t visited Vienna before. Perhaps I’d heard it was expensive and imagined it to be a little stuffy, full of gilt-chaired cafés with tourists eating Sacher Torte. Of course that is one side of Vienna, but on my Danube Cruise with Avalon Waterways I also found a city that is vibrant and youthful, with a sense of fun and style. Suffice it to say that I fell in love with Vienna and can’t wait to return and see more – here are some of the reasons why;

6 reasons to fall in love with Vienna

1. Mingle with the locals at the Naschmarkt

Our Avalon Waterways river cruise programme allowed an extra day to explore Vienna before the main cruise started, which is an approach I highly recommend if you have the time. Read more about our Avalon cruise here. There were a range of different tours on offer, with everything from jogging and cycling, to a gentle walk around the main sites. I took Avalon’s early morning walking tour, designed to experience the city waking up, while also including some of the key historic and cultural landmarks.

Our first stop was the Naschmarkt, an outdoor market that’s popular with locals but less known for tourists. We started in the flea market which is only there on Saturday mornings, and since it starts at 6.30am you need to be there early with the dealers to get the best bargains. Half of the stalls are reserved for the general public, with restrictions on how often you can have a stall – so there’s a mix of genuine antiques and the bric a brac from local attics.

Naschmarkt in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Naschmarkt in Vienna

Necklaces were laid alongside floral bone china, vintage clothes and shoes mixed with household ornaments. While some stalls looked as if they were run by seasoned dealers, other vendors didn’t even have a table, only a cloth on the ground spread out with odds and ends for sale.

As we walked further, the flea market turned into a fruit and veg market with a crates of fresh produce; shiny fresh peppers, aubergines and cucumbers as well as cartons of strawberries, figs and exotic fruit. As you’d expect, everything was fresher than fresh since the turnover if fast and competition high for the best quality.

Naschmarkt in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Naschmarkt in Vienna

Soon the open stalls of fresh produce merged into covered kiosks selling deli produce. We found a multicultural mix of flavours, with glistening Mediterranean olives, Turkish stuffed peppers, honey drenched baklava, mounds of hummus and bags of colourful spices. This would be the ideal place to buy your picnic lunch and there are also plenty of bars and restaurants to stop for a coffee or lunchtime dish. The market opens around 6am so it is a great place for earlybirds or those looking for breakfast after a night on the town. Most stalls are closed by around 6pm although some restaurants and food stalls may stay open into the evening. Nearest metro is Karlsplatz or Kettenbrückengasse Station.

2. Dip into Vienna’s wealth of art and culture

Our walking tour meandered through the Museum Quarter, a pedestrianised area that’s packed with different museums and galleries. In the huge open courtyard, colourful modern benches were scattered, just designed to encourage you to hang out with a beer and a few friends. Here there’s something for all kinds of art lovers, from the family museum with a green grass trampoline outside, to the Leopald museum, housing the collection of Viennese Art Nouveau including works by Egon Schiele. You’ll spot the former Imperial stables from the horses above the door, but the large halls are now used for concerts and dance productions.

Museum Quarter in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Museum Quarter in Vienna

We walked on to the plaza where the Kunsthistorisches (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Naturhistorisches (Natural History Museum) face each other like mirror images with a statue of Empress Maria Theresa between them. They were built at the end of the 19th century to house the collections of the Hapsburg rulers, and what a collection it is!

Kunsthistorisches Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

We spent an hour or so looking around the opulent marbled halls and galleries of the  Kunsthistorisches, marvelling at the sheer amount of gold and precious artworks on display. The building itself was designed to impress with walls of coloured marble and ornate stucco ceilings, gilded and ornamented with frescoes. Each golden chalice, silver table ornament or intricately carved ivory figurine was a masterpiece that had a classical reference or story to tell.

vienna art museum kunsthistorisches Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

vienna art museum kunsthistorisches

One of the museum’s best known pieces is the golden saliera or salt cellar by Benvenuto Cellini with the figures of Venus and Neptune, an allegory of the Hapsburg empire spanning vaste areas of land and sea. In 2003 the saliera was stolen from the museum and held to ransom, but in an ending worthy of a Michael Caine movie was discovered a few years later buried in a forest.

Vienna is so packed with museums and galleries that the cultural delights can be a little overwhelming, so I’d suggest you choose just one or two that take your fancy and dip into them, for a taste of the riches of Austria’s past and present.

Kunsthistorisches Museum is on the Ringstrasse – nearest metro – Volkstheater station

3. Enjoy Vienna’s coffee culture

Once you’ve dipped into Vienna’s cultural scene I’m sure you’ll be ready to relax with a cup of coffee in one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses. The obvious choices are those havens of old world elegance such as Café Demel or Café Sacher. At both you can taste the famous chocolate torte, layered with apricot jam, in elegant surroundings. I passed by Café Demel on our walk and popped into the gift shop which is full of delicious chocolate souvenirs, including your own torte to take home.

Cafe Demel in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Demel in Vienna

For a more modern take on the Vienna coffee shop we stopped at Café Dreschsler close to the Naschtmarkt which is a great breakfast stop and traditionally attracted those who were on their way home after a night out clubbing. Now it still has the Viennese style of marble tables and red leather banquettes, but with a pared down contemporary look after its remodelling by Conran & Partners.

Dreschsler Cafe, Linke Wienzeile 22, Girardigasse 1, A-1060 Vienna

Dreschler in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dreschler in Vienna

4. Learn to cook like an Austrian

Of course you’ll have to try to famous Wienerschnitzel while in Vienna, but there’s also a contemporary flavour to be discovered in local restaurants like Wrenkh, who have a cookery school right next to their restaurant. The dynamic young chefs Leo and Karl Wrenkh focus on dishes that have a simplicity, based on the finest ingredients and healthy cuisine with lots of vegetarian options as well as meat and fish.

Cookery Class at Wrenkh Vienna

Cookery Class at Wrenkh Vienna

Under the expert eye of Leo Wrenkh, we prepared plump prawns, marinaded thin slices of raw beef with a herb dressing, tossed pumpkins in the pan and stirred the mushroom risotto tirelessly. Finally (and quite a few glasses of wine later) we sat down to lunch to enjoy the fruits of our labour, sharing the different plates that we’d created. The Wrenkh brothers have been working with Avalon Cruises on their ‘Eat Local’ Programme to create vegetarian dishes that will be served on board as part of the daily menu. Look out for the cookery class as an option on your Avalon cruise excursion or if visiting Vienna you can check it out on the Wrenkh website.

Cookery Class at Wrenkh Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cookery Class at Wrenkh Vienna

I popped next door after our cookery class to see their restaurant and was impressed by the menu, with different size plates, ideal for sharing with friends. Blowing away my preconceptions of Vienna being expensive, the prices were affordable and there are plenty of vegetable based dishes such as Styrian salad with pumpkinseed oil, quinoa and roasted smoked tofu or grated crispy potatoes with roast vegetables and cream-cheese dip. You’ll find them at; Wrenkh, Bauernmarkt 10, 1010 Vienna – 11am to 11pm, closed Sundays

Another taste of more traditional Viennese cuisine was the bread -making class we tried as part of the Avalon cruise. I’ve been to a few cookery classes and this was especially enjoyable because we could really get stuck into the mixing and kneading of the dough – a most therapeutic experience. Our enthusiastic baker Nabiel left us with no time for slacking as we patted, pinched and plaited the dough into authentic Viennese rolls. Rolling the Salz Stangerl (salt stick) was the easy one and by the end we’d also mastered the complex knot of the Mohn Flesserl covered with poppy seeds and the classic windmill folds of the Kaisersemmel.

Bread Making Class in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Bread Making Class in Vienna

Our freshly baked rolls were proudly taken back to the ship for all our fellow guests to admire and eat at dinner. You can book this as an additional excursion on your Avalon cruise or if visiting Vienna check out the Andante website. They have a regular class every Tuesday to learn how to cook the Austrian classic dishes (yes there’s Wienerschnitzel!) as well as one off cookery events.

Breadmaking class in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Breadmaking class in Vienna

5. In Vienna you’re surrounded by music

You won’t be long in Vienna before you become aware that it’s also the musical capital of Austria – so many of the great musical composers lived and worked here. Hayden, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart and of course Strauss are just a few whose lives you can trace and music you can hear played in Vienna. Around Vienna’s tourist landmarks you’ll find young men in frock coats offering you tickets for the numerous concerts being held regularly in the city.

Concert in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Concert in Vienna

The whole experience of the Vienna concert with the greatest classical hits has potential to become a little cheesy, yet the concert we attended at the lovely Eschenbach Palace was a most delightful evening. The standard of musicianship from the Vienna Supreme Orchestra was extremely high and the favourite tunes were punctuated by moments of dramatic and comic opera that had us all laughing, as well as some charming pieces of ballet. The concert was just the right length and we all returned to the ship with a smile on our face, humming Strauss’s Blue Danube Walz.

House of Music in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

House of Music in Vienna

I must admit that before visiting the House of Music I had my doubts at how successful a museum devoted to music could be – it seemed to be a contradiction of the senses. However the experience changed my perception, with interactive elements that would appeal to all ages, and a great choice for families. I ran up the stairs which like the keys of a piano played a scale as well as conducted my own orchestra, which spookily slowed down when I did.

Having watched the film of the Vienna Philharmonic at their New Year’s concert I’m even more determined than ever to secure one of the sought after tickets. There was also plenty of information in each of the rooms devoted to a different composer as well as audio experiences, so you can go away knowing a little more about the men behind the music you hear in Vienna. Haus der Musik,  Seilerstätte 30, A-1010 Vienna

6. Fall in love with the horses at the Spanish Riding school

Those gorgeous white Lippizaner stallions are what everyone comes to the Spanish Riding School for, but if you want to see them in action, it’s wise to book your tickets in advance. The special performances are the most sought after tickets, but you can also see the morning practice sessions or take a guided tour of the Winter Riding School where the performances take place, and afterwards see the horses in the stables. For all of these tours there is a rule of NO photos of the horses, which is a bit disappointing as they are so gorgeous, but on the other hand I could imagine they would end up feeling like film stars being hounded by the paparazzi.

Spanish Riding School in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Spanish Riding School in Vienna

In our behind the scenes tour, we learned that each horse works for only one rider, although each rider may train 6-8 horses at a time. There are only 24 riders in the school at present and it’s an arduous process of apprenticeship which starts around the age of 16 and can take up to 14 years to become a fully trained rider. The Lippizanner stallions are mainly white, since the breeding has strengthened this charactaristic but they are born dark and then turn white after around 10 years. However, there is the odd horse that stays dark and they are considered as lucky charms for the riding school.

Spanish Riding School in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Spanish Riding School in Vienna

When we looked around the tack room I realised how specially these horses are treated, with performance saddles costing €15,000 that are made-to-measure for each horse. The stallions also have the right to 7 weeks holiday a year and when they retire at around the age of 24 they are looked after by the riding school and never sold. When we walked through the stables, it was very special to see all the horses close up although were not allowed to touch or photograph them – they really are gorgeous creatures. Like top athletes or models these are horses in their prime who like to show off and be the centre of attention – after all they are selected for their lively temperament so that performing comes naturally to them.

Spanish riding school

Photo: Spanish riding school

Spanish Riding School – check out the options for tours and performances well before your visit to Vienna to ensure you can see the performance that you want.

After a couple of days exploring Vienna I really felt that I’d just scratched the surface of what there is to see here. But in my short time I managed to get a taste not only of the well-known tourist highlights, but the authentic and modern style of Vienna. Now I’ve established that there’s more to Vienna than Sacher Torte and Wienerschnitzel, I can’t wait to go back and uncover more of what this gorgeous city has to offer.

Read more about our Avalon Cruise

7 reasons to take a river cruise with Avalon Waterways
Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley – on our Avalon cruise

Read more about holidays in Austria

Hiking in Austria – the views from Seefelder Spitze
Mayday at the White Horse Inn on Lake Wolfgang

Where to stay in Vienna

If you need an elegant hotel to stay in Vienna, perhaps for an extra day or two at the beginning or end of your cruise, I recommend the Intercontinental Hotel Vienna.

My bedroom at Intercontinental hotel Vienna

My bedroom at Intercontinental hotel Vienna

My room at Intercontinental Vienna was arranged through Avalon Cruises for the night before our cruise officially started, enabling me to see something of Vienna. If you’re looking for classic elegance that fits the image of old world Vienna, the Intercontinental Vienna will suit you perfectly.

Intercontinental Hotel Vienna

Intercontinental Hotel Vienna

I especially loved the lobby with coffee shop and bar area fringed by sparkling crystal and chandeliers which had a feeling of elegant luxury. Book your stay at Intercontinental Vienna as an add-on to your Avalon river cruise or if you are travelling independently check for the best prices and book through HotelsCombined.

Information to plan your cruise

The Avalon Waterways 9 day ‘Active Discovery on the Danube’ cruise from Linz to Budapest (and reverse itinerary) is priced from £2483 per person to include a selection of activities (based on 16 October 2017 departure). Cruise highlights include Linz, Grein, Durnstein, Krems, Vienna, Bratislava, Visegard and Budapest. Discover more on the Avalon Waterways website.

If you require a hotel in Austria at the start or end of your cruise check out HotelsCombined where you can compare the best prices and book from a range of hotel sites. If you require any airport parking services, I recommend APH Airport Parking and Hotels, a leading UK provider of airport parking, hotels and airport lounges.

For more information to plan a holiday in Austria, visit the Austria Tourism website and for information about Vienna the Vienna Tourism website

Thanks to Avalon Waterways who hosted Heather for a 4 day taste of the Danube cruise from Austria to Linz.

Some of the links above may be affiliate links, enabling me to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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6 reasons to fall in love with Vienna

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley – on our Avalon river cruise

As I cycled past beautifully tended rows of vines and fruit trees heavy with plums in Austria’s Wachau Valley, I was struck by how activities such as hiking, cycling and canoeing can give you a whole new perspective when on a river cruise. These days many guests enjoy staying active on their holiday, not only for health, but perhaps because you can give yourself permission to try all that delicious food and wine from the region! On my recent Avalon Danube cruise I was able to enjoy one of Austria’s prettiest regions while trying out a more active approach to sightseeing.

Getting active in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canoeing in the Wachau Valley

One of our cruise stops was at Durnstein, a town made rich by the tolls of medieval merchants passing through and best known for the castle where Richard the Lionheart was held to ransom for a winter in 1192. Along the river, vineyards clothe the hillside, and the orchards of apricots are used to make the apricot jam, liquer and schnapps that you’ll see on sale in the shops.

From Durnstein I tried one of Avalon’s Active Discovery canoe excursions, with our group being taken up river to a spot where our canoes and guide awaited us. With canoes set two abreast and a board between them, this was canoeing the easy way, since the arrangement made a pretty unsinkable raft. I did notice that a couple of Canadian guests, who were natural born canoeists, took the option of individual kayaks instead, perhaps finding the rafts a little tame.

Instructions for our canoe trip on the Danube Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Instructions for our canoe trip on the Danube

Under the watchful eye of our guide on a paddle board, we paddled our canoes down the Danube. We were passing through the classic romantic landscape, beloved by artists, with castles poised on rocky outcrops overlooking the river and vineyards clothing the hillside in neat rows. Every local we met had told us proudly, “You must try our wine” and on such steep slopes, tended by hand, the wine has to be high quality to justify the work involved.

Canoe trip on the Danube with Avalon Waterways Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canoe trip on the Danube with Avalon Waterways

Since our two canoes took six people, I sat on the middle board and designated myself group photographer, so I’m afraid I didn’t do too much paddling! Even if we hadn’t paddled at all, I feel sure that we would have drifted back to the ship eventually.

Canoeing down to Durnstein with Avalon Waterways Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canoeing down to Durnstein with Avalon Waterways

When the canoeing became too relaxed, we would veer towards the bank and have to paddle frantically to get back on track. The guides seemed to know when a river boat was likely to come up the river and guided us to one side of the river to keep out of their way.

Durnstein on our canoe trip with Avalon Waterways Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Durnstein on our canoe trip with Avalon Waterways

Every so often we would have a friendly bit of competition with the other group, as if we were doing a leisurely Dragon Boat race. Mostly though, we chatted, took lots of photos and watched the scenery drift by.

Canoe trip on the Danube with Avalon Waterways Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canoe trip on the Danube with Avalon Waterways

We stopped for a while on the bank opposite Durnstein to look back at the town and see a ship passing by, then it was time to paddle a little further downstream beyond the ship. Arriving at a shallow inlet at the side of the river, we brought the canoes in and jumped ashore, then walked along the river path to reach the Avalon Visionary again.

Canoe trip on the Danube with Avalon Waterways Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canoe trip on the Danube with Avalon Waterways

Cycling down the Danube

After our morning canoe trip we had the chance to try another active excursion, this time a three hour cycle ride along the river to Melk, with a stop for a picnic lunch. On the quayside by the ship, our bikes awaited us and we set off with a guide at both front and back to ensure that no-one got lost.

Cycling by the Danube on an Avalon Cruise excursion Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling by the Danube on an Avalon Cruise excursion

The road took us along the river, then curved a little higher on the northern bank through pretty villages, where we could admire the houses and wine terraces set on the hillside. I found myself most often at the back, because I wanted to take lots of photos of the scenery. At least that’s what I told myself as I watched guests who were older but a lot fitter than me whizz by!

Cycling by the Danube on an Avalon Cruise excursion Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling by the Danube on an Avalon Cruise excursion

The scenery was impossibly pretty and I could understand why the Wachau Valley has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape. Our guide pointed out the sculpture on the hillside that imitated the so called Venus of Willendorf, a small female figure dating back to prehistoric times, that’s said to be a fertility symbol and is now in the museum in Vienna.

Cycling by the Danube in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling by the Danube in Austria

Further along we cycled along the broad path beside the river, past the ferry stations and could see the river defences, that protect the riverside towns and villages in case of flood. For lunch we stopped at Susi’s Donaustueberl, a cafe overlooking the river, where we ate our packed lunch provided by the ship. While we were there, the Avalon Visionary passed by and we ran down to the shore waving frantically, although I’m not sure that the guests on board knew who those crazy people were on the bank!

Cycling by the Danube on an Avalon Cruise excursion Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling by the Danube on an Avalon Cruise excursion

After lunch the scenery became less picturesque, the path flatter and after an hour Melk Abbey came into sight set high above the river. I was glad to get back on board the Avalon Visionary, somewhat sweaty after the three hour cycle ride, for a quick change before visiting Melk Abbey which was a short walk away from the ship.

Visiting Melk Abbey in Austria

Melk Abbey is one of the treasures of this part of Austria, dating back to the 11th century when the ruling Babenberg Dynasty gave their fortress to the Benedictine order to found a monastery. There is so much to see here that to do it justice you need at least half a day, to enjoy the abbey and the pretty town that sits in its shadow.

Melk Abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Melk Abbey in Austria

By the early 18th century the monastery church was falling into disrepair and plans were made to rebuild it in the ornate baroque style that we see today. The abbot however had even more ambitious plans, proposing the rebuilding of the entire abbey which was done between 1700 and 1740, to create the baroque masterpiece we see today. Our guided tour took us through the main areas of the abbey, starting with the rooms bathed in coloured light that house some of the abbey’s treasures; golden chalices, holy relics and vestments used in the church, to tell the story of the Abbey’s history.

Melk Abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Melk Abbey in Austria

The display rooms led us into the magnificent Marble Hall with a ceiling fresco depicting Hercules and Athena, the gods of strength and wisdom, representing the rulers of Austria. In the centre of the room is a metal grill, which is the best spot to look up at the ceiling and see it in the correct perspective. Although the ceiling looks domed, this is due to the trompe l’oeil effect of the fresco, since it is actually almost flat.

Marble Hall at Melk Abbey, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Marble Hall at Melk Abbey, Austria

From the Marble Hall we walked across the rooftop balcony with views over the town of Melk to the river below, and into the monastery library. Unfortunately photos were not allowed in the library, but the ceilings and gilding were quite magnificent, with an ornate spiral staircase leading up to more of the twelve library rooms, housing books that date back to the 9th century.

Melk Abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Melk Abbey in Austria

The final part of the visit took us through the monastery church that was decorated in similarly ornate baroque style, with more gilding and ceiling frescos to dazzle us. After all this over-the-top magnificence it was a relaxing change to visit the monastery gardens where the tea room was housed in a beautiful classical pavilion. My favourite spot was the peaceful herb garden with medicinal plants and flowers and a view over the abbey buildings and courtyards. More information on the Melk Abbey Website.

Melk Abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Melk Abbey in Austria

It had been a day of contrasts, a peaceful start as we drifted down the river by canoe, a 3 hour cycle ride to get us moving and the cultural highlight of Melk Abbey to stimulate our senses. Perhaps most guests wouldn’t try to pack in quite as much into one day (I haven’t even mentioned the evening wine tasting!) but I love to have a healthy balance of activities for the body and mind when on holiday. If you think the combination of activity and relaxation sounds right up your street, check out the Avalon Active Discovery options on your next river cruise.

Read about more River cruise experiences

7 reasons to take a river cruise with Avalon Waterways
6 Reasons to fall in love with Vienna
Tasting the wines of Burgundy on a Uniworld Cruise

Information to plan your cruise

The Avalon Waterways 9 day ‘Active Discovery on the Danube’ cruise from Linz to Budapest (and reverse itinerary) is priced from £2483 per person to include a selection of activities (based on 16 October 2017 departure). Cruise highlights include Linz, Grein, Durnstein, Krems, Vienna, Bratislava, Visegard and Budapest. Discover more on the Avalon Waterways website.

If you require a hotel in Austria at the start or end of your cruise check out HotelsCombined to compare prices. If you require any airport parking services, I recommend APH Airport Parking and Hotels, a leading UK provider of airport parking, hotels and airport lounges.

For more information to plan a holiday in Austria, visit the Austria Tourism website

If you’d like to try canoeing or paddle boarding in the Wachau Valley as an independent traveller check out Kanu Wachau who provide canoe excursions.

Thanks to Avalon Waterways who hosted Heather for a 4 day taste of the Danube cruise from Austria to Linz.

Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links, enabling me to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Read about getting active in Austria on our Avalon River Cruise

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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7 reasons to take a river cruise with Avalon Waterways

I’d always enjoyed my holidays in Austria, but on my Danube river cruise with Avalon Waterways, I think I fell in love with Vienna most of all. I was seduced by the rich architecture and culture of Austria’s capital, for centuries the heart of the Habsburg empire. I lingered in the elegant Viennese coffee shops and browsed the vibrant markets selling everything from flowers to found-in-the-attic antiques.

7 reasons to river cruise with Avalon

Our river cruise continued on the Danube with stops at the pretty villages of Durnstein and Grein with its 18th century theatre and castle on the hill. At Melk we visited the magnificent baroque abbey, before ending our mini-cruise at Linz, Austria’s former European city of culture. There was plenty to discover in the scenery and places we visited, but the experience of being on board Avalon Visionary was also most enjoyable.

Beautiful architecture in Vienna, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Beautiful architecture in Vienna, Austria

Since many different river cruise companies offer a similar Danube itinerary, here are some of the reasons you might consider booking your Danube Cruise with Avalon Waterways.

1. Spacious staterooms with river views

I enjoyed staying in a comfortable Panorama Suite with floor to ceiling windows which slid right back to create an open air balcony with my own private river view. Sometimes at more popular destinations there would be another boat moored side by side which meant the view was into someone else’s cabin, in which case you needed to remember to shut your curtains before changing for dinner!

Stateroom on board Avalon Visionary Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Stateroom on board Avalon Visionary

I loved the early morning views most, when the boat had been travelling overnight and I would wake to see the sun burning off the river mist and pretty houses passing by, before we arrived and moored up in time for breakfast. The mattress was super comfortable and was arranged so that you could lie in bed looking out of the window, or sit on the small sofa with a drink on the table to watch the world drift by.

View from the bedroom on Avalon Visionary Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View from the bedroom on Avalon Visionary

My stateroom was decorated in a burned orange scheme with dark wood furniture and plenty of mirrors over the desk and inside the wardrobe. The decor was quite masculine and although burned orange is not my favourite colour I thought the overall effect was modern and sophisticated. I loved my bathroom with a mottled brown marble surface and large bottles of all my favourite l’Occitane toiletries. The shower enclosure was spacious, with a powerful shower that was a pleasure to use. There were thoughtful touches such as different coloured towels so that you would not get them mixed up with your partner and everything was kept beautifully clean by the cheerful housekeeping staff.

Bathroom on Avalon Visionary Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Bathroom on Avalon Visionary

2. Eat local on your cruise

One thing that makes my heart sink, is seeing a menu that is so international that you wouldn’t know which country you are in. Not so on an Avalon cruise where they take a lot of care to design menus that reflect the local cuisine, although of course there are a choice of dishes to suit all tastes. Being in Austria we could have a Weiner Schnitzel and Spätzle at lunch and I tried a desert of Kaiserschmarrn which was made of sweet pancakes with a compote of local plums. In the wine choices at dinner there were also local wines and I chose a delicious white Grüner Veltliner Domäne Wachau, from the Wachau Valley that we were passing through.

Austrian pancakes with plums on Avalon cruise Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Austrian pancakes with plums on Avalon cruise

Avalon are taking the concept of ‘Eat Local’ a step further, as they introduce their Avalon Fresh concept with an emphasis on healthy cuisine that both reflects and gives back to the local communities. The company sources from local food suppliers where possible, to ensure the freshest of ingredients. To develop the healthy options on the menu, Avalon have been working with Austrian chefs Leo and Karl Wrenkh, whose cookery school we visited, to develop a choice of vegetarian dishes.

Wrenkh Cookery school in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Wrenkh Cookery school in Vienna

At the cookery school we had great fun cooking a range of simple but delicious dishes with head chef Leo Wrenkh including fish and meat dishes, although the Wenkh brothers are known for their inventive vegetarian cuisine. We chopped the veggies, sizzled the steak, pan fried the fish and lemon slices, sprinkled the herbs, stirred the risotto tirelessly and were finally rewarded as we sat down to lunch with all the different dishes to share. The food was so tasty and we were all happy to take the credit for our our efforts, albeit with Leo’s expert guiding hand.

Wrenkh cookery class in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Wrenkh cookery class in Vienna

3. Getting Active, Feeling healthy

These days many travellers are looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle balance while on holiday, rather than ending their cruise feeling like a stuffed turkey. On my Danube cruise I was able to try some of the new Active Discovery excursions such as canoeing and cycling which were great fun and a good way to bond with other guests. Cycling in a group, we took the path by the river which curved through pretty villages and vineyards, until the impressive monastery at Melk came into view. After cycling the 30km from Durnstein to Melk I was really looking forward to my dinner that evening and felt I deserved every mouthful!

Cycling by the Danube with Avalon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling by the Danube with Avalon

I also tried a canoe excursion from Durnstein where we were taken up river and then could canoe back to the ship, taking in the beautiful river views of the castle on the cliff and the picturesque village. Any fears of getting wet in an unstable canoe were dispelled as the two canoes were put together with boards, to create a stable arrangement that could take six people, so we could all chat and have fun together.

Canoeing on the Danube with Avalon Waterways Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canoeing on the Danube with Avalon Waterways

Our canoe guide accompanied us on a paddleboard and took us to a viewpoint opposite Durnstein to enjoy the views from the opposite bank. There is a small gym on board the ship but personally I prefer to incorporate my exercise into the trip through activities such as walking and cycling, that allow me to see more of the place I’m visiting. Read more about getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley.

The Danube at Durnstein in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Danube at Durnstein in Austria

4. Experiences that give a sense of place

One of the joys of river cruising is that you get so much opportunity to see new places and discover their stories. Unlike sea cruises where there is plenty of entertainment to keep you busy on board, on a river cruise the entertainment is found in the places you visit.

Bread making class in Vienna with Avalon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Bread making class in Vienna with Avalon

Travel experiences that allow you to meet the locals and uncover their customs and traditions are very popular and Avalon is increasingly offering excursions that go beyond the typical walking tour. One of my favourites was a bread making class in which we became bakers for the morning, mixing the dough, allowing it to rest (time for a cup of coffee!), then plaiting and pinching into the traditional Viennese rolls sprinkled with poppy and pumpkin seeds.

Bread rolls that we made in Vienna Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Bread rolls that we made in Vienna

The rolls were baked and we proudly bore them back to the ship where they were served to fellow guests for lunch. Other guests on my cruise came back having tried their hand at conducting an orchestra (move over Vienna Philharmonic) and even learned to waltz in the lovely Eschenbach Palace in Vienna where we later enjoyed a concert with opera, ballet and the music of Strauss and Mozart.

Concert in Vienna with Avalon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Concert in Vienna with Avalon

5. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere on board

There was a lovely atmosphere on board which started with the helpful and good humoured attitude of the staff. Among the guests there was also a happy holiday mood with plenty of opportunity to make new friends and chat to other guests about the day’s activities. As on other river cruises, the dress code is relaxed and although most guests dressed up a little for dinner, there’s no need to pack your evening gown or tuxedo.

Lounge on Board Avalon Visionary

Lounge on Board Avalon Visionary

In the dining room there was a free seating arrangement which meant that you could sit at a table with whoever you wished at each meal. At different meals you might sit with your own friends or with other guests who soon became your new best friends. The excursions were also a good way of meeting people as we bonded over the dough kneading in a bread making class or shared a canoe to paddle down the Danube.

6. More is included in the price

When booking any cruise, one thing you need to check is what’s included in the price you pay, since the extras can really add up. That’s fine if you know in advance and have budgeted for it, but not so great when you find yourself stung for unexpected costs.

Guided tour in Vienna with Avalon Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Guided tour in Vienna with Avalon Cruises

With Avalon you get a lot included in the price and could probably get away with paying hardly anything above the holiday price if you wanted to. Here’s what’s included;

  • Some excursions, such as a guided tour of the places you visit which will be tailored to your activity level with an active group and a gentle walker’s group. Some more active excursions may also be included.
  • Excellent quality wines, beers and soft drinks at dinner and soft drinks at lunch. I was pleased to find that from 2017 wine and beer will also be complimentary at lunch as I think for many guests a glass of wine with their lunch is part of the enjoyment of being on holiday.
  • Return flights and airport transfers to take you to and from the ship
  • A privately chauffeured transfer service to take you to and from the airport within a 100 mile radius.
  • Wifi, which as a blogger was most welcome and I found was pretty fast. Even if you’re not travelling with a laptop like me, many travellers these days use tablets and mobiles to browse the internet and keep in touch with loved ones when they travel.
  • On board gratuities. I personally prefer this approach as we British can get a bit anxious about when and how much to tip and find it more relaxing knowing that it’s been taken care of and is included in the price.
Cycling excursion with Avalon

Cycling excursion with Avalon

So what extras will you need to budget for?

  • Some specialist excursions, for instance a cookery class or cycling excursion.
  • Drinks from the bar before or after dinner.
  • Laundry services if required as there are no self-service laundry or ironing facilities on board.
  • There was a hairdresser on board where you can also have a manicure.

That’s not a huge amount of extras and depending on how you like to spend your cruise, you could get away without spending much above the holiday price. The item that would probably add most to your bill are the special excursions and to give you an idea of the cost, on my cruise these ranged from around €50-60 per person for a half day or around €70 for a full day excursion.

Avalon Visionary at Grein Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Avalon Visionary at Grein

7. A door to door service

As part of the Avalon Service you get picked up from home (within a 100 mile radius) and transported to and from the airport, which really means the holiday starts when you step out of your front door. As my return flight from Salzburg arrived in the evening it was a real treat to know that I would be met at the airport and taken back to Bristol, so that I could get back the same evening, rather than worrying about public transport or staying somewhere overnight. For me this meant I could also be at my desk the following day as normal and not lose a working day. The service is individual to you, so you won’t have to share with other passengers or be delayed while they are dropped off.

Avalon Visionary at Melk Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Avalon Visionary at Melk

So as you see there are plenty of things to recommend an Avalon river cruise and the Danube cruise is a great choice if you are new to river cruising, since there are so many beautiful places to visit along the river. Most of the guests on board my Danube cruise were couples and groups of friends aged 50+ with quite a few around their 70s and the cruise caters well for the active mature traveller. An Avalon river cruise will appeal to those who want to travel in comfort and luxury, enjoying a rich cultural experience with plenty of opportunities to stay active on their holiday.

Geraniums at Grein in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Geraniums at Grein in Austria

Read about more River cruise experiences

6 Reasons to fall in love with Vienna
Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley
All aboard the Amadeus Princess – what to expect on your river cruise

Information to plan your cruise

The Avalon Waterways 9 day ‘Active Discovery on the Danube’ cruise from Linz to Budapest (and reverse itinerary) is priced from £2483 per person to include a selection of activities (based on 16 October 2017 departure). Cruise highlights include Linz, Grein, Durnstein, Krems, Vienna, Bratislava, Visegard and Budapest. Discover more on the Avalon Waterways website.

If you require a hotel in Austria at the start or end of your cruise check out my Hotel Booking Page powered by Hotels Combined. If you require any airport parking services, I recommend APH Airport Parking and Hotels, a leading UK provider of airport parking, hotels and airport lounges.

For more information to plan a holiday in Austria, visit the Austria Tourism website

Thanks to Avalon Waterways who hosted Heather for a 4 day taste of the Danube cruise from Austria to Linz.

Note: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, enabling me to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you – thanks for your support!

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Read 7 reasons to take a river cruise with Avalon Waterways

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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