Blue yonder: Spend time on the Danube aboard AmaPrima / Thomson

 

A European river cruise is the perfect meld of touring and relaxation. You'll wake up in a new destination every day without the traffic stress of a driving holiday. By late afternoon, instead of looking for your hotel you could be on the sun deck, drink in hand, gazing on the vineyards of France or Portugal, or the castles of Germany and Austria.

To take your pick of itineraries and dates, you'll need to book a year ahead. Your forethought will also be rewarded with savings on the brochure prices. Several new boats have launched this year, yet still supply is not keeping up with demand.

Wendy Atkin-Smith, MD of Viking Cruises UK (vikingcruises.co.uk) says: "Even with 14 ships joining the fleet this year and another 10 next year we will still run out of capacity." It is the same story from David Winterton, marketing manager of Emerald Waterways (emeraldwaterways.co.uk), who says: "Demand has been so high that we only have a few cabins left this year."

River cruising on Anglophone vessels is highly popular with North Americans and Australians. Ships typically carry 164 passengers. Free-flowing wine at lunch and dinner on most vessels (plus open bars all day on some lines) create a sociable atmosphere, while tours included in the fare make for leisurely sightseeing.

For this year, there is still a range of destinations with a scattering of dates available and if you can dash off at short notice, some great deals too.

w Depart on 11 June to sail on the Danube for a week from Vilshoven in Germany to Budapest aboard luxury AmaPrima. The fare of £999pp includes wine with meals and excursions but not flights (0808 223 5009; amawaterways.co.uk).

w Sail through the Rhine Gorge on a week's cruise from Nuremberg to Amsterdam with all-inclusive Scenic Tours (0808 102 0207; scenictours.co.uk). For departures on 23 July and 6 August fares are now from £1,795pp, including a choice of excursions, drinks, tips and flights.

w Spend three nights on the Douro aboard Spirit of Chartwell and four at the Pousada de Amares, a restored monastery in northern Portugal, on a one-week escorted holiday with Titan (0800 988 5823; titantravel.co.uk). It costs from £1,695pp departing on 18 or 21 June, including flights, excursions and VIP Home Departure Service (airport transfers), but not drinks.

w Cruise through the Seine Valley to the Normandy beaches on the MS France with CroisiEurope (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk). Sail for seven nights from Paris on 23 July visiting Vernon, Honfleur and Rouen. The price, from £999pp, includes some excursions (with English-speaking guides) but not travel to France.

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