Clients can follow in the wake of the great navigators on a cruise with a difference along the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers.
Spain has long been the UK’s most popular short-haul holiday destination, yet it isn’t the first country that springs to mind when you think about river cruising. However, for agents in the know, it offers a one-of-a-kind waterborne experience.
The 408-mile Guadalquivir, which rises in the Cazorla Mountains, is Spain’s second-longest waterway and the country’s only navigable river.
During the golden age of seafaring, this river saw the great mariners Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, set sail for, respectively, the Americas and the first circumnavigation of the world.
Today, CroisiEurope is the one line to offer cruises along the 50-mile downstream stretch of the Guadalquivir from Seville, which is now the only section that can be negotiated by boats due to narrow channels further upstream. Its 176-passenger ship, La Belle de Cadix, is also unusual as the sturdy dual-purpose vessel can sail on both the river and sea.
On a seven-night round-trip itinerary, it enters the Atlantic at Cadiz and sails for 18 miles along the coast before taking in a stretch of Guadiana, the narrow river that separates Spain and Portugal, and then returning to Seville.
John Fair, CroisiEurope’s UK director of sales, said: “Our Guadalquivir and Guadiana cruises visit some of the most renowned sites in southern Spain and offer something very different for those cruisers who have done the more mainstream itineraries.
“Combining river and sea, the cruises travel to the heart of Andalusia, allowing guests to experience the region’s cultural heritage, delicious food and beautiful scenery.
“The itineraries are perfect for travel agents to switch sell to clients who usually take city breaks as they include visits to Seville, Jerez, Cadiz and Grenada.”
Indeed, the itinerary includes three nights moored in Seville, providing ample time for independent passengers to explore individually or opt for one of CroisiEurope’s excursions such as a walking tour taking in highlights including the vast Gothic cathedral and labyrinth of streets in the former Jewish Quarter, or an evening flamenco show in the birthplace of the fiery dance.
From Seville, there are also coach tours to the sun-baked city of Cordoba, dominated by the grand La Mezquita mosque, and Granada to visit the landmark Alhambra Palace.
Once underway, the cruise provides more atmospheric experiences such as a trip to a grand hacienda on one of the rice-growing estates lining the Guadalquivir to watch a dressage display by magnificent Andalusian horses combined with flamenco dancing. In charming El Puerto de Santa Maria, passengers can visit the cathedral-like cellars of the Osborne winery for a sherry tasting.
A natural highlight is Donana National Park, a former royal hunting ground that’s now a safe haven for thousands of migratory and resident birds nesting in the dunes and wetlands, most notably storks that can be seen close up on giant nests of up to 5ft in diameter.
A choice of operators
In addition to booking through CroisiEurope, the cruise is sold through a number of operators, providing agents with the opportunity to offer different packages suited to the client, such as Saga with its home pick-up service and included travel insurance for over-50s.
Other companies include Shearings Holidays, whose product and yield director, Matthew Herbert, said: “Seasoned river cruise customers who have sailed the main rivers such as the Rhine and Danube may be looking for something a little different from their next cruise.
“This region will appeal to those with a love of food, wine and culture. This holiday also includes two full days in Seville at the end, so agents should consider promoting it to their city break customers.
“We also include two excursions on this cruise so customers can enjoy even more while away. These are Isla Minima, with a visit to a genuine Andalusian hacienda followed by an equestrian show and a full day to Granada, including lunch.”
Back on board La Belle de Cadix, passengers enjoy meals showcasing regional specialities such as Serrano ham, paella and local cheeses served with an excellent choice of nine complimentary wines.
Dip into the Douro
It is important to tell clients that the sailing time and distances covered on this culture-rich itinerary are shorter than other European river cruises. Also, La Belle de Cadix can only sail in gentle conditions. If waves reach a certain height, the seagoing itinerary will not take place and the Guadiana section, with a visit to the Portuguese riverside village of Alcoutim, will be missed.
However, all Spanish excursions will continue as usual by coach.
Another way for river cruise customers to get a taste of Spain is to dip into it from the opposite end of the country with a cruise along the Douro.
Although this river is in Portugal, all sailings follow a similar round-trip route from Porto to the north-western Spanish border, with the opportunity to embark on a day excursion to the ‘golden city’ of Salamanca.
All the main lines offer Douro cruises, and AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope and Riviera are debuting new ships for 2019. APT also offers a cruise with an overnight stay in Madrid.
Whichever way you approach it, a Spanish river cruise will offer your clients a wealth of new sights and experiences on a modern-day voyage of discovery.
CroisiEurope offers a five-night Andalusian Christmas round-trip Seville itinerary, departing 22 December 2019, from £700 cruise-only. 0208 328 1281 croisieurope.co.uk
Shearings offers the seven-night Treasures of Andalusia round-trip Seville cruise from £1,549pp on selected dates between May and September 2019, including flights. 0844 824 6359 shearingsagent.com
Saga offers the seven-night round-trip Gems of Andalusia cruise from Seville, departing 13 June 2019, from £1,749 including flights, home pick-up service and travel insurance. 0800 074 8021 travel.saga.co.uk