From the castles along the Rhine to the temples of the Mekong, these are the must-try river cruise itineraries to put on your wish list

Heidelberg and its castle © Getty
Heidelberg and its castle © Getty
THE RHINE

From the North Sea to the mountains of Switzerland, the Rhine passes through not only a rich variety of countries but also a wealth of river scenes. Sail from the canals of Amsterdam to Basel, crossing Germany and France.

One of cruising’s great experience is the Rhine Gorge, lined with castles and fortress ruins, and home to the Lorelei, a huge rock protruding as the river almost doubles back on itself. The delights include Heidelberg, where you visit the red-walled castle with its Great Vat (a 49,000-gallon wine cask) and Cologne with its Gothic cathedral.

AmaWaterways has a seven-night Enchanting Rhine cruise sailing regularly until Christmas then from late March 2017, from £1,666pp, based on two sharing, including wine with dinner, excursions and flights (0808 223 5009; amawaterways.co.uk).

THE IRRAWADDY

Myanmar – formerly known as Burma – is a mystical country for too long a secret to outsiders. To cruise the Irrawaddy (one of various spellings of the river that’s been a commercial route since the 6th century) is to drift back in time. Temples rise from neatly tended fields and in places jut, like an ornate pattern, from swathes of forest that disappears into the distance.

The river is known as ‘The Road to Mandalay’, after Rudyard Kipling’s poem, and has curious colonial touches, not least the simplicity of the Twante Canal, build in 1883. The stretch between the cities of Yangon and Bagan, the latter near Mandalay, is favoured for cruises where the only noise to disturb you is the rumble of a passing ox-cart. Sights include Danuphyu, an important town during the Anglo-Burmese War, and the 10-storey Buddha in Sri Ksetra.

Belmond has a nine-day Jewels of the Ayeyarwady cruise on 22 November, from $5,500pp, based on two sharing, including excursions, wine with dinner but not flights (0845 077 2222; belmond.com).

THE ELBE

A placid journey through central Europe across the eastern regions of Germany and through the Czech Republic. In the former, cruises usually start in Wittenberg (an easy drive from Berlin, which is usually included in any holiday) and in the latter finish in the medieval city of Prague, docking in the heart of things.

The journey, much of it through pleasing farmland and rolling hills, passes through Dresden with its many ornate buildings. There are also the towering rock formations of the Saxon Switzerland region, with a visit to the spa town of Bad Schandau. From the Bastei (bastion), a rock tower formed by water a million years ago, there are stunning views back down the river.

Viking has a 10-day Elegant Elbe cruise departing regularly until 19 November, from £2,595pp, based on two sharing including all meals, wine and beer, excursions and return flights (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk).

THE SEINE

Sail through the world of Claude Monet, whose works often featured the riverside town of Vernon, as well as his gardens at Giverny. This is an elegant river that will take you from Paris to within a brushstroke of the North Sea and back again.

Cycle to Giverny, walk up to Château Gaillard, the 12th-century stronghold of Richard the Lionheart. Dock in the city of Rouen, where the Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral was another Monet subject. From here the river curves between hilltop châteaux, farms, pretty villages and rocky bluffs. Near the sea, there’s the chance to see the Normandy beaches and the medieval port of Honfleur.

Uniworld through Titan Travel has an eight-day Paris & Normandy cruise departing 5 November, then regularly from 2 April 2017, from £2,199pp, based on two sharing, all-inclusive including excursions, flights and home pick-up service (0808 149 1400; titantravel.co.uk).

THE MEKONG

The Mekong is one of the world’s great rivers, flowing 2,500 miles from China, passing through Laos, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia to the sea in Vietnam. Although occasional cruises reach China, it’s the last two countries that are the mainstay of classic Mekong cruises.

The stretch between Saigon in Vietnam up to Cambodia’s Siem Reap takes you from the bustle of the Mekong Delta, where water-borne markets in the canals and backwaters of Cai Be are the norm and where the sizzle of freshly fried street food fills the air. On the way, there’s Phnom Penh with a visit to the Killing Fields and a Khmer Rouge detention centre.

Among the hazy, steamy mountain backdrop there are catfish farms and rich wetlands, the hilltop temple of Wat Hanchey and the twin holy mountains of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srey. Some shallow-bottomed boats sail all the way to Siem Reap; some don’t. Either way you’ll get to witness Angkor, with its vast collection of ornate stone buildings including the temple of Angkor Wat.

Pandaw has a seven-night Classic Mekong cruise on 6, 13 and 20 January 2017, from £3,200pp, based on two sharing, including excursions, wine with dinner and flights (020 8326 5620; pandaw.com).

Click here for part one of the ultimate river cruise itineraries.

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