Is a wellness cruise for you?

By Lesley Bellew

A river cruise with AmaWaterways is not just about the scenery and destinations – guests leave feeling on top of the world by embracing a wellness program.

Early-morning Meditation in Motion with Martina was much harder to say than turning up for the gentle tai chi class on AmaCerto’s Enchanting Rhine river cruise.

© Lesley Bellew 

Practising the graceful art made for a serene start to each day and, with the suggestion that tai chi can prolong life and lower stress, cruise manager Martina Valachova had guests queuing for her classes.

On warm mornings, we joined Martina on the sun deck to enjoy the fresh air, but when there were low bridges and locks ahead we took cover in the ship’s vast lounge to practise our moves.

Martina, always resplendent in a white silk tai chi suit during classes, suffered serious injuries in a car crash 16 years ago and used the exercise to regain her fitness. She is now a qualified teacher and a personification of the art’s harmony, a strong but calming presence on AmaCerto.

© Lesley Bellew 

River cruise managers have a demanding role; they are omni-present, meeting and greeting, entertaining, sorting tours and problem-solving – and Martina believes meditation and deep breathing, which are intrinsic to tai chi, boost her energy and concentration levels.

Martina, who can speak English, German, Russian, Spanish as well as her native Slovak, told us: “Tai chi is an ancient Chinese art which can aid in the treatment of heart disease, arthritis and other illnesses. It also helps muscles relax and release tension to increase flexibility.”

And so, day-by-day, we learned breathing techniques, corrected our posture and opened our minds to this slow, flowing activity.

We mastered movements such as ‘holding the baby’, ‘the white crane’ and ‘the windmill’ to find our actions gradually becoming smoother. Gracefulness was never really there, but Martina was too kind to say.

The classes also created camaraderie; on our first shore tour we already knew several people and at dinner we gave familiar faces a wave and they encouraged us to join them at their table.

© Lesley Bellew 

Across the AmaWaterways fleet, the wellness program also provides a variety of exercise classes, including yoga, core strengthening, circuit training and morning jogs and stretches. Guests also benefit from onboard lectures with a focus on healthy eating and relaxation techniques. The ships are equipped with bicycles, a fitness room, massage services, a whirlpool or swimming pool and a walking track.

The meals use locally sourced ingredients as well as gluten-free, low-sodium and vegetarian options, along with a hydration station that delivers infused detox and gemstone water.

The open dining arrangement meant it was also easy to meet different people. This, in turn, promoted sharing tips for going ashore and we found tours were set up for Gentle Walkers, Active Walkers and Late Starters for those who preferred to sleep in.

During the sailing from Amsterdam to Basel there was such an enticing range of excursions included in the price that it took some homework to make the right choice.

Many first-time guests joined city tours to tick bucket-list destinations while others took advantage of being moored alongside towpaths to use the ship’s bicycles or simply walk into towns and villages.

The overnight mooring in Amsterdam also created the opportunity to independently find the 5.45am bus outside Central Station to Aalsmeer, just south of Amsterdam, and watch the world’s biggest flower auction.

© Lesley Bellew 

In Cologne, AmaCerto moored close to the Dom Cathedral and many guests wandered into the historic city or made a detour to the Chocolate Museum, easily spotted with a giant gold bunny over the entrance and ending the day with a beer stop in one of the taverns.

Back on the ship, while it was quiet, we took advantage of using the outdoor pool, complete with swim-up bar. Another lovely AmaCerto feature.

Next came the scenic cruising with a commentary on the sun deck from Martina as we sailed through the Rhine Gorge, admiring its castles, ruined fortresses and the legendary Lorelei Rock, until we arrived at the winemaking town of Rüdesheim.

We loved the gondola ride over Rüdesheim’s vineyards to see the Niederwalddenkmal Statue. In the evening a tour took us to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, home to a remarkable collection of old robotic and self-playing musical instruments.

© Lesley Bellew 

Rüdesheim was a hugely enjoyable destination, but a busy tourist spot, so on our next call to Mannheim we decided to explore the lesser-known city independently.

And what a find! It was here Karl Benz drove the first car in 1886 and his legacy continues with a Mercedes-Benz factory that produces low-emission engines. Close-by is the Hockenheim Formula One track, which we could see from the Skylon Tower in Luisenpark.

Luisenpark is Mannheim’s 100-acre public garden, named after the Grand Duchess Luise von Baden, daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm. It was created at the end of the 19th century and many of the original trees survive. The park was full of surprises including a farm, temperate greenhouses, an aquarium, aviaries of exotic birds, a butterfly house and, bizarrely, Europe’s largest Chinese teahouse.

We stopped for an orange blossom tea in the teahouse but we couldn’t let the day go by without trying German fare. So we tucked into curry bratwurst, washed down with a mug of local Riesling, in one of the park’s many cafes.

Eating out did not stop us from accepting an invitation to the Chef’s Table restaurant that evening. In fact, it turned out to be our favourite dining experience on AmaCerto. There’s no extra charge to dine in this gorgeous room with panoramic views from the aft of the ship.

© Lesley Bellew 

We worked our way through a tasting menu, basking in the sun’s golden glow as it went down over the Rhine, impressed by impeccable service and dish after dish of skilfully prepared and presented food, accompanied by well-matched wines.

A quiet day followed, allowing us to appreciate our generous stateroom, complete with Queen-sized bed and crisp, white cotton bedding, attractive décor and a marble bathroom. The best feature, though, was a balcony where we could sit outside on comfortable chairs – an unusual feature on a river cruise ship.

There’s nothing more a guest could want from the 164-passenger AmaCerto in the way of  creature comforts, although Martina was continually checking everyone was happy.

Each morning after tai chi, she would say: “Thank you very much for practising with me and I wish you a lovely day on board the AmaCerto!”

Through Martina and her team, guests left the cruise relaxed and refreshed, many having found a gateway to a new lifestyle.

The spirit of AmaCerto is with me every morning while practising a little of Martina’s gentle art.

What’s included

  • all meals
  • red and white wines, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
  • Chef’s Table dining experience
  • daily excursions and a personal headset
  • high-speed internet and wifi
  • bathrobes and white cotton bedding
  • flatscreen TV with English language stations, movies and music library
  • lectures, cooking demos, exercise classes and music performances
  • bicycles to explore independently or guided bicycle tours
  • well-equipped gym.

Lesley Bellew travelled with AmaWaterways on AmaCerto’s seven-night Enchanting Rhine cruise.

AmaWaterways offers at least 10 similar cruises from Amsterdam to Basel during 2018 with prices from around $2000 including flights and transfers.

Visit Amawaterways.co.uk or call 0800 320 2335 for details.

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