Experience an enlightening river cruise, which will take you along the Rhône, the Guadalquivir & the Guadiana, the Nile, the Po and the Elbe in search of archaeological treasures at each port. We are delighted to have partnered with Croisi Europe in 2022 & 2023 to offer these special tours in Europe, and in Egypt we cruise along the Nile in the MS Tamr Henna. Our cruises are designed to open up the enchanting world of river cruising to keen archaeology and history enthusiasts from all walks of life. What makes them unique is the accompanying package of fully exclusive, private excursions that have been skilfully crafted by our experts to enhance each itinerary.
Each river we travel on will reveal a different story – uncover ancient ruins, discover archaeological splendours and find out how these major rivers functioned both as limits of empire and as conduits of trade.
In antiquity, the Rhône was the most important artery connecting the Mediterranean to Southern and Eastern Gaul, which explains the spread of Hellenisation after the Greek foundation of Massalia (ancient Marseilles), as well as Roman culture after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. So strongly felt was Roman culture in the Rhône Valley, that Pliny the Elder described it as more akin to Italy than a province. The wealth from the production of wheat, olive oil and wine, which flowed down the river, resulted in an incredible development of the cities of the Rhône Valley, starting in Lugdunum – ancient Lyon – continuing on to Vienne and then onto Arles, the epicentre of the trade tours, as well as Nîmes. It’s for this reason that the Rhône Valley is home to the most spectacular Roman monuments in all of France.
Called the Kertis or Rherkes by indigenous peoples and Baetis in the Roman period, the Guadalquivir is the most important river in Spain, not just because it is the country’s only navigable river but because it flows through Andalusia, the heartbeat of Iberian history. The current name of the river derives from the Arabic wadi al kabir, or great river, bestowed on it by the Moors who settled in the area from the 8th century onwards. The river acted as a conduit of trade and culture over millennia of history, allowing great cities to flourish in the magnificent epochs which graced Andalucia. Originating in the mountains of the Jaen province, the Guadalquivir empties itself in the Gulf of Cadiz, through a plethora of cities which forged Spanish history, including those that were the homeland of Roman emperors and others which prospered when the region was known as Al Andalus. It is also from the Guadalquivir that ships first set sail to the New World, as is commemorated by the fact that Christopher Columbus is buried in the Seville’s Cathedral. With the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century, the Guadalquivir became the gateway of trade with the New World, bringing untold wealth to Seville and Cadiz and the rest of the region. According to a contemporary saying gold was that was born in the Americas was spent in Seville.
The 4th largest river in the Iberian Peninsula, the very name of the Guadiana underlines its rich history, named as it is after the Latin word for duck, anas, and the Arabic word for river, wadi. Attracted by the fertility of the river’s banks and by its commercial opportunities, a succession of peoples, from the Phoenicians and Romans to various Muslim peoples, founded or developed cities along the river’s course. The Guadiana runs east to west through one of the most picturesque landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula, starting from a source near Badajoz in the Spanish region of Extremadura to the Algarve, ultimately emptying in the Gul of Cadiz, where it meets the Guadalquivir. The confluence of these two rivers unites two of the most important historical centres of the Iberian Peninsula, namely Andalucia and the Algarve, just as the river serves as the boundary between Spain and Portugal at several points, notably between Huelva and Faro. By both uniting and separating these countries, the Guadiana has acted both as a barrier and a conduit of millennia of history.
The importance of the River Nile can scarcely be overstated. A slim ribbon of blue and green winding its way north through Egypt from its southern border to the Mediterranean, the river is so vital to life in this arid land that 95% of Egypt’s population live in 4% of its land area – along the fertile banks and delta of the Nile. It was always thus – Egypt’s astonishingly rich history is also a gift of the Nile. The great cities of the pharaohs were built besides and even across its waters, the gigantic stones to build the monumental temples and pyramids were transported by river barge, and the flood waters were all too often the difference between feast and famine for the ancients. Without this mighty waterway, the story of civilisation would be told very differently. For the traveller to Egypt, the Nile represents endlessly photogenic views of white-sailed feluccas and tumbling cataracts, sublime tranquillity at the end of a packed day’s exploration, and – in the fine cruise vessels – surely the most enjoyable and relaxing means of transportation between Egypt’s unforgettable sights. The boats may be more numerous these days, but there is still more than a whiff of romance, adventure and Agatha Christie glamour about a classic Nile cruise.
The largest river in Italy, the Po rises from the Monviso, the highest mountain of the Cottian Alps in Piedmont, and extends nearly 600 kilometres to the Po Delta, where the river discharges not far from Venice into the Adriatic. The Po Valley, known as the Pianura Padana, is a rich agricultural area, famously producing various species of rice, such as arborio and carnaroli, which are notable not only for their quality but their quantity, being the largest rice producing area in Europe. The Po Valley is equally known for being the industrial heart of Italy. Perhaps because of its size, the Po, known as the Pados in Greek, has been historically used as a barrier to distinguish southern and central Italy from northern Italy. In the Roman period, the area North of the Po and South of the Alps was known as Cisalpline Gaul, on account of the 4th century BC migration of Gauls in the area. From the latter part of the 20th century, there has been a movement to make this part of Italy again distinct from the rest of the country, with political parties campaigning to make Padania, as the region north of the Po has been termed, independent. The Po Delta, splitting off into smaller tributaries, connects a variety of towns and cities, from Lombardy to the Veneto and Emilia Romagna. Navigation in the Po Delta has been aided by the channels dug by Venice in the beginning of the 17th century in an effort to divert the discharge of the Po, with its sedimentation, away from the Venetian lagoon. This is an exceptional region, both historically and for its outstanding natural beauty.
Rising in the Krkonose mountains in the Czech Republic, the Elbe is one of the most important waterways in Europe, flowing through much of Bohemia, Eastern Germany and emptying into the North Sea more than 1,000 kilometres after its starting point. As it has always been navigable, the Elbe has played a crucial role in the economy of the region, throughout history and continuing into today where the trade flowing out of Europe’s second largest port, Hamburg, amounts to almost 130 million tonnes of goods a year and is all made possible because of the Elbe, which links the city to the North Sea, 110 kilometres away. The Elbe was fundamental to the development of the Hanseatic trade in the 14th century, linking a number of important cities, including Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig and Prague to each other and to North Sea. In addition, the Stecknitz Canal in the 14th century and, more recently, the Elbe-Luebeck canal, have allowed the Elbe to also be connected to the Baltic. The interconnectivity of these cities and their access to the sea was enormously important for fostering a sense of belonging, as well as developing common artistic and architectural styles, most notably the brick gothic seen in so many of the region’s churches. The industrial might of the area has encouraged urbanization. Indeed, the catchment area of the Elbe boasts a population of nearly 25 million people, many of whom inhabit the series of industrial cities located along its bank. The Elbe, for its volume and for its facilitation of trade, has shaped the cities which have sprung up near it, just as it has shaped the history of Europe, considering the importance of the Hanse cities and trade.
A very well organised programme of visits, accompanied by very professional and knowledgeable guides. Excellent information from the company. Feefo reviewer