There is an indescribable peace that comes with being in close proximity to water, particularly when you can hear the melodious cadence of waves or tranquil ripples serenade your senses. I cannot get much closer as I prepare myself to embark on a scenic cruise on Prague’s rivers on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess II. We will be gliding along the enchanting Vltava River, combined with an opportunity to absorb the splendour of the fairytale castles of Bohemia.
Since 1976, CroisiEurope has been a renowned European leader in intimate-sized river cruises, providing people with the opportunity to explore some of the most enchanting destinations around the world. The company has a wide range of itineraries, from European rivers like the Seine, Rhine, and Danube to exotic destinations like the Nile and Mekong. There is a cruise for every wanderlust-filled heart. CroisiEurope prides itself on providing a luxurious and comfortable experience for its guests, ensuring that they have a truly immersive and enjoyable holiday.
What sets CroisiEurope apart is their commitment to sustainable and responsible travel. The company believes in preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the places they visit. With this ethos in mind, they strive to minimise their environmental impact by implementing eco-friendly practices on their cruises. From reducing waste and promoting recycling to supporting local communities and businesses, CroisiEurope aims to create a positive and sustainable travel experience for both passengers and the destinations they explore. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking relaxation, CroisiEurope offers a perfect blend of comfort, adventure, and responsible travel, making your cruise experience unique and unforgettable.
MS Elbe Princess II
After a short flight from London, I land in the culturally rich and vibrant city of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. A swift transfer by car brings me to the CroisiCruise, MS Elbe Princess II, where I am immediately struck by its imposing, gleaming white appearance. The cruise boat, built in 2018, is stylish with a sleek and contemporary design. The ship’s size is impressive, yet it maintains a sense of intimacy and cosiness, providing a welcoming atmosphere.
When I arrive, temperatures are already soaring, as an atypical heatwave sweeps through… the unavoidable reality of climate change. So, I am relieved as I step on board, away from the searing midday sun, into a cool crisp lobby, where I am greeted by a welcoming crew. I am impressed by the ship’s high-quality materials and modern interior.
The public areas of the MS Elbe Princess II are designed to provide both comfort and entertainment. The main lounge features luxurious seating arrangements, a well-stocked bar, and large panoramic windows that offer breathtaking views of the passing landscapes. This is the perfect place to relax, socialise, and enjoy the company of fellow travellers. It is also a good spot to work remotely if, like me, you still check work emails whilst away.
The dining area is equally smart, with carefully arranged tables and a relaxed ambiance. The large windows, allowing for natural light to illuminate the space, create an uplifting setting to savour the daily onboard cuisine.
As I make my way to the cabin, I am pleasantly surprised by its spacious and well-furnished interior. Bathed in serene forest green hues, with tasteful pops of vibrant chartreuse, it exudes a soothing atmosphere. Inside, I find a standard cabin that has been thoughtfully designed with contemporary amenities, including a small bathroom adorned with a shower. However, what truly steals the show is the snuggly bed, strategically positioned to face the Juliet balcony.
As I sink into the inviting plushness of the bed, I am greeted by panoramic views of the river, with its enchanting surroundings unfolding before me. These views paint a picture of natural beauty and calmness that instantly captivates me. Sliding open the balcony doors, I am met with the gentle purr of the boat’s engine, propelling us forward on our journey. The paddle wheels create a distinct splashing and churning duet, as they rotate and push water, providing a rhythmic heartbeat to the boat’s journey.
Together with singsong tweets from the birds and the soothing lapping of water against the hull, I inhale the clean, fresh air, and a sense of relaxation washes over me. At that moment I think to myself ‘Yes, I can definitely get used to this.’
After spending the first night in the pretty city centre of Prague, we set sail on the picturesque voyage along the Vltava River, with our journey revealing perfect views, together with exciting lock experiences. We first sail towards Slapy Dam, where I witness the impressive lock system in action. As the gates open, our vessel smoothly enters the chamber, rising with the water levels before continuing our voyage towards Stechovice where we stay overnight. The charming town of Stechovice welcomes us with its quaint streets and riverside charm, as we embark on our return journey to Prague. The locks along the way showcase the seamless coordination between the lock-keepers and our ship’s crew, ensuring a smooth transition as we pass through.
The next destination is the historic wine-producing town of Melnik, near the capital of Prague and the confluence of the Vltava and Elbe rivers, before returning to Prague. Throughout this unforgettable voyage, the locks served as both practical necessities and fascinating attractions, showcasing the ingenuity of human engineering, adding, an extra layer of excitement and appreciation to our journey along the Vltava River.
The Vltava River
The Vltava is the longest river in the Czech Republic which stretches across Bohemia and through the heart of Prague before merging with the mighty Elbe River. The river weaves its way through the city, offering more breathtaking views and a plethora of activities, enticing visitors to leisurely stroll along its banks or embark on a tranquil boat ride. The river creates a sense of community for its residents by simply inviting them to enjoy its charm together. I watch, enchanted from the balcony in the bedroom, as a small group on rafts enjoy the river, and occasional cyclists zip along the riverbank, with families cheerfully waving as we sail by.
The picturesque bridges that span its width, such as the iconic Charles Bridge, add a touch of architectural wow factor and make for stunning photo opportunities. Exploring the Vltava River is like stepping into a fairytale. The riverbanks are adorned with beguiling historical buildings, colourful baroque facades, and hidden gems waiting to be discovered. There is an abundance of landmarks that tell the story of Prague’s rich history and culture. As the sun sets, the Vltava River transforms into a magical setting. The city’s illuminated skyline reflects on the still waters, creating a scene-stealing experience. Interestingly, the name ‘Vlatava’ suggests a connection to the Old Germanic word meaning ‘Wild River,’ which contradicts its calming presence.
Where we dine
On our inaugural day, we head to Coda Restaurant, nestled within the opulent confines of the Aria Hotel. Here we indulge in a pleasing assortment of refreshments atop the scenic roof terrace, savouring the delectable offerings. The sun-kissed setting perfectly complements the culinary creations crafted by the talented Executive Chef, Jan Kaplan.
I snacked on perfectly roasted vegetables nestled between freshly baked bread, before indulging myself with a panna cotta and luscious cherry compote. The smooth and creamy texture of the panna cotta beautifully complemented the tangy sweetness of the cherry compote. Afterward, I enjoyed a refreshing mixed berry fruit salad to cleanse the palate. Paired with a glass of chilled champagne, the vibrant flavours of the berries danced on my tongue, leaving me feeling refreshed and ready to explore Prague.
During the remainder of our stay on the Princess Elbe II, we mostly dine onboard and eat from a set menu. As CrosiEurope is a French company, the meals are primarily showcasing French cuisine with a seasonal twist.
Breakfast is a continental buffet that features an array of tempting options, from freshly baked bread and flaky croissants to an assortment of cereals, fruits, cold meats, and cheeses. There is something to appease every palate. If you have a sweet tooth then the pastries are a particular highlight, with their buttery goodness and delicate sweetness. A selection of yoghurts, juices, and hot items such as eggs are cooked to your preference, ensuring a satisfying start to the day.
Lunch and dinner are equally enjoyable, each with a single sitting that allows us to savour the culinary delights at a leisurely pace. The inclusion of unlimited French house wines such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Crémant adds to the overall experience.
There are some standout dishes such as the fillet of sea bream in a Beurre Blanc sauce with gnocchi and creamed spinach. The fish was cooked to perfection and the accompanying sauce elevated the flavours, also enjoyable was a succulent Duck breast with Port sauce which kept my attention. If you have a sweet tooth like me then the chilled cream-filled chocolate profiteroles are devilishly tempting, and I could have easily filled my pockets with them to take back home. Then what’s more French than the final classic Crepes Suzette, which was satisfyingly moreish.
The dining experience is a chance to meet other guests and enjoy the river views with well-cooked food, whilst offering everyone a taste of French cuisine and alluring seasonal influences. Overall, I found the set menu enjoyable, and it takes the stress out of deciding what to order each day. Should you find yourself with a free evening, I would also recommend trying the local restaurants for a truly immersive and diverse gastronomic adventure in Prague.
As I set off to explore Prague’s Old Town, I am immediately mesmerised by the stunning architecture that surrounds me. The vibrant pastel pinks, warm ambers, and fiery oranges create a kaleidoscope of colours that bring the city’s history to life. Wandering through the cobbled streets of the Square, I find myself in awe of the oldest still-operating astronomical clock in the world, its intricate design and symbolism revealing Prague’s deep-rooted history and culture. Taking the time to explore the Jewish quarter, Josefov offers a sobering yet fascinating glimpse into Prague’s Jewish heritage.
I break for refreshments at the beautiful Aria Hotel, then take a stroll through the Vrtba Garden. Guests staying at the hotel have the opportunity to enter a private entrance which brings them to the delightful, terraced garden. The Vrtba Garden is listed on UNESCO World Heritage and is the oldest Baroque garden. Then, to complete my day, I walk across the iconic Charles Bridge, where I am treated to spectacular views of the city’s skyline.
One sight that truly captivates me is Konopiste Castle. Its Gothic origins and opulent Baroque renovations make for an incredible sight to behold. Despite the unsettling collection of hunting trophies, the castle’s rich history and architectural fusion leave me in awe, appreciating its beauty and the stories held within its walls. Once the luxurious residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the castle holds a significant place in history as the site of his assassination, which sparked World War I.
Prague’s iconic Prague Castle complex is another must-visit destination. St. Vitus Cathedral, with its Gothic spires reaching toward the sky, is an absolute marvel. Inside, the intricate stained-glass windows, including the renowned design by Alphonse Mucha, leave me speechless. Exploring the Old Royal Palace allows me to step back in time and admire the opulent Vladislav Hall and the lavishly decorated rooms once inhabited by Bohemian kings. Let’s not forget the whimsical Golden Lane, offering a charming glimpse into the daily lives of castle residents throughout history.
If you venture outside the city, the stunning Nelahozeves Castle awaits you. Located on the banks of the Vltava River, this Renaissance masterpiece boasts beautifully landscaped gardens and houses a remarkable art collection. Walking through its opulent halls, marvelling at works of art, such as a celebrated painting by Peter Paul Rubens, and taking in the tranquil surroundings, I am filled with a sense of appreciation for Prague’s rich heritage.
In a Nutshell
The MS Elbe Princess II leaves a charming first impression, with its stylish design, attention to detail, and comfortable amenities. This mid-priced cruise offers an excellent experience for all guests and the river cruise along the Vltava River in Prague is nothing short of magical.
Every aspect of the journey, from the stylish MS Elbe Princess II to the tasty onboard dining and the dramatic sights of Prague, is designed to captivate and delight. Exploring the historic city, with its stunning architecture, rich history, and cultural heritage, immerses you in an unforgettable experience. Whether strolling along the riverbanks, admiring the picturesque bridges, or visiting iconic landmarks, the beauty and charm of Prague will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.
CroisiEurope’s seven-day Castles of Bohemia cruise operates between May and September with 2024 prices from £1,829 per person for the cruise with all meals and drinks.
To discover more visit: croisieurope.co.uk
For further information about Prague and the Czech Republic visit visitczechrepublic.com
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All imagery courtesy of CroisiEurope and Visit Czech Republic.