2024-02-22T17:35:00Z By Keeley Rodgers
Jeannine Williamson joins a picturesque new river cruise with CroisiEurope to see what awaits groups along the Czech Republic’s uncharted waters.
As our ship eases around the curve in the river, the morning sunshine dappling the verdant landscape lining each bank, it’s hard to believe we’re only 25 miles from the hustle and bustle of Prague. Then, we catch our first glimpse of Slapy Dam.
Rising more than 200ft high, and with a perfect mirror image of the immense barrier flanked by trees reflected in the glass-like water, it’s an awe-inspiring sight.
Our cruise director explains this beautiful stretch of the Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic and a tributary of the Elbe, was once a wild and turbulent waterway. It was finally tamed by the dam, an enormous feat of post-war engineering built between 1945 and 1955. It’s part of the Vltava Cascade water management system, and we passed through a series of locks to reach it after leaving Prague.
What makes the sight even more special is we’re the only the only travellers to see the dam from this perspective from our vantage point on the sun deck on MS Elbe Princesse II. While the area is a popular spot for land-based locals that enjoy being surrounded by nature, and there are twice-weekly day trips on pleasure boats from the Czech capital, CroisiEurope is the only river cruise line that sails here. We’re the first UK group on the all-new six-night Castles of Bohemia itinerary that runs between May and September.
CroisiEurope is something of a pioneer when it comes to sailing waterways less travelled, and it’s a great line to choose if you want to take your group on a river cruise with a difference. It’s the only company sailing on the French Loire and Spain’s little-known Guadalquivir, and was the first to venture onto the Elbe which connects to the Vltava.
Sampling CroisiEurope’s Castles of Bohemia itinerary
As the name implies, this itinerary includes plenty of castles; all of them very different. The first we visited was Konopiste, built in the 13th century and renovated in the 18th. It was home to Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austro-Hungarian throne whose assassination triggered World War One.
An obsessive hunter, the hundreds of trophies lining the walls give the castle a macabre air. However, I was engrossed to hear the stories behind other curiosities, such as a pair of matching chairs but one markedly lower than the other. Our guide tells us that the important people of the time always had to converse at the same eye level and had specially made and measured chairs so nobody looked down, or up, at anyone else.
What makes the sight even more special is we’re the only the only travellers to see the dam from this perspective from our vantage point on the sun deck on MS Elbe Princesse II.
Even the ship is a talking point. MS Elbe Princesse II is one of three modern-day paddlewheelers unique to CroisiEurope and specially designed with an ultra-low draft and light-weight construction to navigate the shallow waters of the Elbe and Loire.
One day we went to the back of the ship to watch the wheels in motion while a crew member talked about how they worked. I’m not the most technically minded person, but found it fascinating. When we were sailing it was lovely just to sit out on the sun deck and hear the gentle, rhythmic splashing as we made our way to the next destination.
Highlights of Prague, the golden city of 100 spires
Our cruise was a round-trip from Prague, first exploring the Vltava as far as the dam, and then doubling back to continue along a section of the Elbe. Stops include Dresden, known as the ‘Florence of the Elbe’ where the bombed cathedral, rebuilt over many decades, is a poignant wartime symbol.
Another first with CroisiEurope is that it’s the only line to moor right in the centre of Prague. With two overnight stops in ‘the golden city of 100 spires’ (although in reality it’s reckoned there are up to 1,000) there’s plenty of time to explore and the cruise director has lots of tips and suggestions for groups that want to go around independently.
One afternoon we embarked on an exclusive group tour with the lovely, enthusiastic guide Tereza from Prague City Adventures. Prague Castle, which dominates the city skyline, is the world’s largest castle complex and can be overwhelming if you attempt a self-guided tour.
What makes the sight even more special is we’re the only the only travellers to see the Slapy Dam from this perspective from our vantage point on the sun deck on MS Elbe Princesse II.
Tereza combined the highlights with all manner of tales from bogus chimney sweeps climbing onto the presidential palace roof to stage a protest with the help of red underpants to gossip about a drunken president. It was informative and fun and afterwards we chatted with her over a drink and cake included in the tour.
Back on board the 81-passenger ship, groups are allocated the same dinner table for the duration of the cruise and we enjoyed plenty of delicious meals together. Afterwards we’d sit in the lounge to relax, listen to music and take part in quizzes and competitions.
With CroisiEurope all drinks are included in the fare so there was no excuse not to order another glass of the county’s famous beer, or tipple of choice, and toast the end of a river cruise that provided a unique take on the Czech Republic. Na zdravi!