Art and Artistry in River Cruises

Amawaterways’ AmaDolce is seen in Passau, a town in lower Bavaria, Germany, which offers numerous workshops, galleries and studios to entice art lovers.
Amawaterways’ AmaDolce is seen in Passau, a town in lower Bavaria, Germany, which offers numerous workshops, galleries and studios to entice art lovers.

Luxury cruisers seeking to view world-class art or spectacular architecture can tap into specialty European river itineraries during 2016. We’ve selected our favorite themed voyages plus several regional itineraries with strong artistic appeal or exclusive tours and events.

For those who wish to gaze at landscapes on a river cruise and then return to the ship to create their own masterpieces, that’s doable on five art-themed AmaWaterways’ “Paris and Normandy” cruises plying the Seine River between April and October. These 10-day roundtrip Paris itineraries include a seven-day cruise operated by the 150-passenger AmaLegro and a two-night stay in the City of Light. A master art instructor leads complimentary onboard painting classes; art supplies and materials are provided. Guests can take their newly created “masterpieces” home. For example, on the October 14 sailing, guests will learn step-by-step painting instruction from Tracie Broughton, a fine art painter and art instructor from Portland, OR.

Art-focused guests will also likely appreciate the included tour of Paris’ Musée d’Orsay, as well as a chance to explore Monet’s home and garden in Giverny and Honfleur, a French harbor town beloved by generations of artists. In Rouen, guests can visit Notre Dame Cathedral, one of Monet’s favorite artistic subjects. Another voyage highlight is Les Andelys with white cliffs, half-timbered houses and the hilltop Château Gaillard ruins.

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We’d definitely suggest art enthusiasts opt for the line’s “Artists Walk” tour in Auvers-sur-Oise, the past hangout of many Impressionist painters. It includes a visit to Auberge Ravoux, Vincent van Gogh’s former home. For the ultimate pampering afloat, cruisers should book AmaLegro’s Junior Suite accommodations. Located on the Violin Deck, the four 255-square-foot suites (No. 301 to 304) have floor-to-ceiling windows leading to a French balcony, a comfortable sitting area, luxurious bedding and a spacious bathroom with separate soaking tub and shower.

Also offering an “Art & Impressionist” special interest cruise on the Seine is Avalon Waterways. Departing July 12, the eight-day “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” cruise sails roundtrip from Paris on the 140-passenger Creativity; a similar themed option is set for August 8, 2017. Cruisers whose flights or land arrangements allow them to arrive early in Paris on departure day can take the line’s included visit to either Musée d’Orsay or the Musée Marmottan Monet. At the Musée d’Orsay, cruisers might check out a special exhibition, “Charles Gleyre (1806-1874): The Reformed Romantic,” running May 10 through September 11; he was a major, mid-19th century figure in academy painting.

At Conflans, Avalon’s cruisers can visit van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise or Napoleon and Joséphine Bonaparte’s Château de Malmaison, a treasure trove of Consular period art. Don’t miss the empress’ red-and-gilt room in the shape of a tent with a Jacob Desmalter-designed bed. Other art-themed activities include a Honfleur excursion, an onboard Impressionist lecture, a visit to Montmartre’s Place du Tertre and a Musée Beaux Art tour. For those with more time, Avalon Waterways has created an appealing combination — the July 12 sailing is combined with a second Rhône/Saône rivers cruise for a 16-day “Grand France” itinerary.

This longer option includes the same weeklong roundtrip Paris sailing on the Seine, plus a TGV train ride to Dijon, a visit to Beaune’s famed Hôtel-Dieu with its colorful, geometric roof tiles, and then boarding of the second cruise in Chalon-sur-Saône. Among the port stops are Macon, the charming twin cities of Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage, Viviers, Avignon, Arles and Lyon. The itinerary concludes with an overnight on the Côte d’Azur. While in Tournon, cruisers can tour the castle. We’d suggest a bistro lunch in the outdoor courtyard at Le Chaudron, perhaps fresh fish and a glass of St.-Joseph red (Rhône region) wine. On an optional tour in Avignon, guests can peruse a tri-level, Roman engineering marvel, Le Pont du Gard.

Top digs on Creativity are either 312 or 314 on the Royal Deck. These 258-square-foot Avalon Suites have much natural light, thanks to large sliding glass doors from a sitting area leading to a verandah and a separate window in the bedroom area. We like that the queen-size bed (convertible to twins) faces the windows so cruisers can just stare out at the scenery naturally, without turning their heads to the side to see the views.

Another specially themed art sailing is Abercrombie & Kent’s 11-day “Art & Architecture along the Rhine” voyage, departing July 31 on the new Amadeus Silver III, launching this year. Sailing from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, cruisers will tour the Vitra Design Museum in Basel; sample wines in the Alsace region of Germany; and view classical, modern, expressionist and American pop art at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the Dutch masters’ paintings at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. In addition, guests can also tour the Kröller-Müller Museum and sculpture garden near Amsterdam and take an Amsterdam architectural tour. Top accommodations are the Mozart Deck’s Amadeus Suites (No. 301 to 312).

Viking’s 13-day “Waterways of the Tsars” voyage will give guests a chance to witness ballet performances in St. Petersburg.
Viking’s 13-day “Waterways of the Tsars” voyage will give guests a chance to witness ballet performances in St. Petersburg.

While other upscale river lines don’t field “theme-specific” cruises for art and artistry, they absolutely do have good options for art lovers within their regular portfolio of voyages. For example, Viking River Cruises offers a 13-day “Waterways of the Tsars” voyage, operated by several different vessels, including Viking Truvor. For fans of Russian art and architecture, this itinerary brims with visits to Russian palaces, monasteries, museums and cathedrals. So cruisers will see iconic sites such as Moscow’s Kremlin and Red Square and St. Petersburg’s Catherine Palace and Hermitage, plus the “Golden Ring” destinations of Yaroslavl and Uglich.

We highly recommend several optional art-focused tours, including Viking’s privileged access excursion — a behind-the-scenes look at the Hermitage’s vast art vaults. Another tour will take cruisers to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which displays everything from early religious works to modern art. Don’t miss the Holy Trinity (Troitsa), the most famous 15th-century work by Andrey Rublev. In Mandrogy (also called Mandrogi), travelers can learn about how Russian “nesting” (matryoshka) dolls are created, while another optional tour visits an art school where young Russians learn how to restore precious art and artifacts.

Certainly, one “must do” experience on this cruise is a stroll through Kizhi State Open-Air Museum of History, Architecture and Ethnography, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with wooden houses, windmills and churches. What’s amazing? The fairytale-like Preobrazhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church was built without the use of a single nail. For the most spacious accommodations on Viking Truvor, we’d check out the Suite (AA Category — Nos. 332 and 333) with 400 square feet of space, panoramic windows, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that lead to a verandah along both the living and sleeping areas, and a large private bathroom with shower and bath.

Uniworld’s 22-day “Ultimate France” itinerary will allow guests to explore culinary and wine spots in Lyon, France.
Uniworld’s 22-day “Ultimate France” itinerary will allow guests to explore culinary and wine spots in Lyon, France.

Certainly, Rhine, Main and Danube river cruises are a big draw for art and architecture fans. We particularly like the five Monarch-designated sailings of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 15-day “European Jewels” cruise on the 150-passenger S.S. Maria Theresa between Budapest and Amsterdam and five eight-day “Enchanting Danube” voyages on River Beatrice between Budapest and Passau, Germany. What’s the draw? On the “European Jewels” itinerary, Monarch Collection special perks include a private concert and dinner at Castle Weikersheim in Würzburg, Germany; a private cocktail reception hosted by an Austrian princess — a direct descendant of the long-reigning royal Habsburgs — at her 13th-century castle home; and a behind-the-scenes tour of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, home to the white Lipizzaner stallions.

On “Enchanting Danube” designed sailings, the Monarch inclusions are both the Habsburg castle evening and Spanish Riding School evening, as well as an exclusive concert at Vienna’s Hofburg Imperial Palace to celebrate classical music by Mozart and Strauss. While in Vienna, we’d suggest the “Vienna, City of Arts” tour to the Gustav Klimt art exhibit at the Belvedere and, in Würzburg, the line offers a tour of the Würzburg Residence to view Baroque art.

For high-end pampering by a private butler and the most spacious quarters, we’d book S.S. Maria Theresa’s 410-square-foot Royal Suite (No. 401), with a French balcony, separate living room, bedroom with handcrafted Savoir of England bed and a master bath with separate rain shower and tub. On River Beatrice, we’d opt for the 300-square-foot Owner’s Suite with a French balcony. Art enthusiasts can also add on a pre- or post-cruise stay, a great way to spend more time exploring museums. Between June 24 and September 25, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum welcomes the visiting “Adriaen van de Velde: Master of the Dutch Landscape” exhibit.

Scenic Cruises’ Danube voyages — among them, an eight-day “Gems of the Danube” cruise between Budapest and Nuremberg — are also appealing for art fans. Special perk? In Vienna, guests will attend an exclusive “Scenic Enrich” private evening with classical musical entertainment at the lavish Palais Liechtenstein, known as the Garden Palace, which is home to a Liechtenstein prince’s private art collection. Or, in Vienna, travelers can tour Schoenbrunn Palace, the former Hapsburg home with 1,400 plus rooms.

The ship provides Tailormade GPS' to guests for self-guided walking tours. The line also carries electronically assisted bicycles for ashore. In Vienna, cruisers who are art fans and want to explore independently can check out 20th- and 21st-century artwork by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Yoko Ono, Gunter Brus and Gerhard Richter at the Museum of Modern Art (mumok).

While the top accommodations on Scenic’s Space Ships for this “Gems of the Danube” itinerary were sold out at press time, other categories, including deluxe balcony suites and standard suites were still available on certain sailings; check with the line. One nice balcony amenity is the line’s exclusive, all-weather Scenic Sun Lounge, which can be nicely enclosed via glass (during cool or rainy weather); it can function as a solarium or an open-air balcony.

For its eclectic diversity of sights and artistic options, we also like Tauck’s 23-day grand “Belle Epoque” sailings on five dates from April through September. What’s special? On this luxury 2016 itinerary, travelers explore medieval towns, fishing ports, World War II beaches, ancient abbeys and haunts of Impressionist painters. While not officially themed, we recommend this 23-day itinerary for its opportunities to visit museums, palaces and art-focused sites, as well as luxury pampering by onboard butlers.

Most “Belle Epoque” time is spent on France’s Seine, Rhône and Saône rivers but, interestingly, the itinerary begins in London with a stay at the Savoy, a Fairmont property, where guests will attend a presentation by Celia Sandys, Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter. Then it’s time for the Seine cruise on Swiss Sapphire and exploration of Paris, before a TGV train ride to Lyon and onto a Rhône/Saône cruise on Swiss Emerald. Highlights that will appeal to fans of art and architecture include dinner at a Rouen château, a stroll through Monet’s Giverny garden and a tour of Van Gogh’s former home in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Guests also taste wine, cheeses and chocolates and explore Roman architecture, including a well-preserved arena in Arles. For 2016, Category 4 staterooms with a floor-to-ceiling French balcony were still available in limited quantity at press time on three sailings. Other categories were sold out but 2017 voyages await.

Rendering of a Deluxe Suite on Crystal Mozart. Crystal’s new 110-passenger Crystal Mahler will operate 16-day Rhine, Main and Danube river voyages starting in August 2017, and will feature top European art options.
Rendering of a Deluxe Suite on Crystal Mozart. Crystal’s new 110-passenger Crystal Mahler will operate 16-day Rhine, Main and Danube river voyages starting in August 2017, and will feature top European art options.

For a two-week river voyage that features top European art options and spends two more days on the river than most lines (for a two-week offering), Crystal River Cruises’ new 110-passenger Crystal Mahler will operate 16-day Rhine, Main and Danube river voyages starting in August 2017. At press time, Crystal had not yet announced any themed cruises nor shore trip specifics, but this is the longest sailing offered by the new Crystal river fleet. In particular, this itinerary may appeal to repeat Rhine/Main/Danube river cruisers who may not have visited the destinations of Bamberg, Deggendorf and Wertheim, Germany, on past voyages.

A plus for those seeking to spend time in major museums are overnight stays in Budapest, Vienna, Passau and Amsterdam. On Crystal Mahler’s Cologne port call, we’d opt to visit the Cologne Cathedral and then head next door to the Römisch-Germanisches Museum to see Roman artifacts, including amazingly well-preserved glassware. The museum is atop an original Roman town villa site and a large Dionysus mosaic on the museum’s basement level is a star attraction.

Luxury cruisers might select one of two 750-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suites (CS — Nos. 225 and 228) on Deck 2. They have a separate living area with a fireplace and large wall-mounted, recessed TV. One nifty amenity is radiant underfloor heating in the living area. After guests have returned from a busy day ashore, the suite’s butler can assist by serving a favorite cocktail as cruisers relax and watch the river scenery float by.

Specialty Cruises

Brews and Pretzels: The Kuchlbauer World of Beer, one of the world’s oldest breweries, in Abensberg, Germany, and the German Hop Museum in Wolnzach are among the beer-themed experiences offered by Avalon Waterways this year. Upcoming beer-themed cruises are “Charms of Holland & Belgium” on April 12 and “Blue Danube Discovery” on November 9.

Ultimate Francophile Voyage: Luxury travelers desiring a robust France experience on three river systems — the Seine, the Dordogne/Gironde Estuary/Garonne and the Rhône/Saône — should check out Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 22-day “Ultimate France” itinerary; it’s offered on multiple days now through October. Guests sail on River Baroness, River Royale and S.S. Catherine. Guests can explore Paris museums, visit Normandy’s World War II sites, taste at culinary and wine spots in Bordeaux and Lyon, see Roman ruins in Arles and visit the papal palace in Avignon. Post-cruise stays are available in Paris or Barcelona.

Wine Lovers’ Cruises: Viniculture reigns on AmaWaterways’ new “Taste of Bordeaux” sailings this year on AmaDolce. Among the line’s 40 plus wine-themed voyages, this itinerary explores France’s Garonne and Dordogne region. Guests will head out to Bordeaux area châteaux and vineyards, taste Médoc wine in Pauillac and visit Château de Montaigne in Libourne.

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The Bow Lounge will provide the closest access to water level via the foredeck and will be a great spot to sight wildlife and take in the views.