Cruisin the Danube river

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Cruising through Central Europe

As you may have noticed if you’ve ever looked at a map of Europe is the enormous number of rivers that crisscross its lands. One of the biggest (and most spectacular, for that matter) is the Danube.

It’s for long been dubbed the second longest river in Europe (after the Volga that only flows through the territory of the Russian Federation), running for almost 3000 km from Western to Eastern Europe and creating a source of living for peoples on its banks, as it has done for millenia. The Danube traverses 10 European countries: it’s source is in Germany, in the Black Forest mountain range, continuing its way through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before gently slipping into the Black Sea through its magnificent delta.

courtesy of travel-liguria.com

courtesy of travel-liguria.com

Cruises are frequently organized by tourism operators, the general starting points being Vienna or Budapest, ending in Sulina or Sf. Gheorghe, in the Danube Delta, in Romania. Conditions on these ships range from 3 stars to luxurious 5-start hotel boats, accommodating even the most pretentious type of guests.

courtesy http://www.dontibbits.com/

courtesy http://www.dontibbits.com/%5B/caption%5D

These cruises are the most appropriate way to do a complete tour of Central Europe and the North of the Balkans. Boats generally stop for 2 days in the main cities along the way. Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade are some examples, with numerous monuments, museums and shops to visit. Moreover, the sights of Budapest with its amazing castles and bridges, or of Belgrade, with its spectacular view over the hills on which the city is built, both seen at night, are astonishing.

But besides the urban treasures, the most important objectives along the Danube are the natural ones.  The Croatian Kopacki Rit, a series of marshlands that have formed on the left bank of the Danube, is an important stop if you’re looking to see unique wildlife roaming free in its natural habitat – in fact, the Rit is actually a mini-Delta of sorts.

[caption id="attachment_3388" align="aligncenter" width="225"]courtesy of cruises.about.com courtesy of cruises.about.com

Your next stop should be the Iron Gates (powerful name, isn’t it?) These are actually a series of gorges formed by the Danube when it meets the Carpathian Mountains. Located between Romania and Serbia, the Gates offer a splendid view of the river digging its way through the rocky labyrinth, but also numerous leisure possibilities: in recent years, a lot of hotels with swimming pools, jetties with speedboats and ski jets to hire, tennis courts and many others have opened in this area.

the-danube-river

Finally, towards the end of your trip, one destination should not be missed: the Danube Delta. It’s probably the most impressive attraction along its course and one of the biggest wildlife areas in Europe. The sense of wilderness and peacefulness that it gives you (helped by, among others, the fact that there are almost no cars or roads in the Delta) is truly unique. Sulina or Sf. Gheorghe, situated at the very end of the Delta, are the places to be: they have enough tourism infrastructure to fit all tastes and they are located near the sea, so you can go to the beach.

And, to end, a few top tips: along your way, don’t try to feed any animals or pluck any plants – many of them are rare and tend to be very well protected by state authorities – so protected, that you might even go to jail; stop in as many places as possible along your way – while we’ve only talked about the main attractions, there is much more to see over the 3000 km of the Danube’s course; and do visit the lighthouse situated on a smudge of sand at the point where the Danube meets the Black Sea – the view is spectacular and you can literally see how new land is formed out of the sediments brought by the river. Enough for now: have a pleasant journey!

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