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Boutique cruise vacations: explore exotic rivers from the Amazon to the Nile in luxury

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When you’re done with the Danube and the Seine no longer shines, it’s time to look beyond. The great rivers of the world shimmer and gleam – and the attraction is clear.

A cruise along legendary rivers such as the Amazon, the Nile, the Ganges or the Mekong provides insights that would be impossible from land. Many also offer a level of luxury that few country hotels can match. Here are eight of the most intriguing.

HOLY INDIA

Opulent: the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. Enjoy views of the city on a ‘peaceful’ journey aboard the Ganges Voyager II

One bedroom in the extremely comfortable Ganges Voyager II

One bedroom in the extremely comfortable Ganges Voyager II

If India’s rickety roads and crowded trains are overloading you, head to India’s holy Ganges.

This journey is serene but does not evade the complexities of India – you will visit rural villages and Mother Teresa’s home for orphans in Kolkata, in addition to temples, museums and colonial mansions. You’ll also get to see bustling New Delhi, Agra (in front of the Taj Mahal at sunset), and beautiful Jaipur.

Ganges Voyager II is a bit old fashioned but extremely comfortable and daily yoga is included.

Book It: Twelve nights with Uniworld from £5,399 pp (uniworld.com).

ENCHANTING NILE

Nour el Nil's fleet of six dahabiyas exudes idiosyncratic luxury.  Pictured is the fleet's 'Malouka' boat

Nour el Nil’s fleet of six dahabiyas exudes idiosyncratic luxury. Pictured is the fleet’s ‘Malouka’ boat

Nile cruise ships tend to bring the bling, but Nour el Nil’s fleet of six dahabiyas (two-masted sailboats) exudes quirky luxury.

Curl up in a hammock or stretch out on floor cushions as the Egyptian river life meanders by. The only sound is the wind in the sails and the clinking of ice in your glass.

This journey takes in places that larger ships cannot reach, such as the temple of Nekhbet in El Kab and Horemheb in Gebel el-Silsila (alongside the more famous but still magical Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo).

Back on board, the suites have a touch of French country chic, while the food is authentically Egyptian, from freshly caught Nile perch to the ultimate falafel.

Curl up in a hammock or stretch out on floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by during Nour el Nil's journey down the Nile

Curl up in a hammock or stretch out on floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by during Nour el Nil’s journey down the Nile

Pictured is one of the bedrooms aboard the 'Adelaide'.  The suites have a touch of French country chic

Pictured is one of the bedrooms aboard the ‘Adelaide’. The suites have a touch of French country chic

Pictured is the bathroom aboard the 'El Nil' boat.  Five nights with Nour el Nil costs from £1,070 per person

Pictured is the bathroom aboard the ‘El Nil’ boat. Five nights with Nour el Nil costs from £1,070 per person

A Nile cruise is always special, but this one is in a different class.

Book It: Five nights with Nour el Nil from £1,070 pp. Dahabiyas are also available for charter (nourelnil.com).

WEST AFRICAN WONDERS

Cruise through four wildlife sanctuaries (including the Sine Saloum Delta, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) along the waterways of Senegal and Gambia.

Harmony G is a streamlined yacht with space for only 44 people. The inevitable downside of a yacht over a custom cruiser is that the cabins are snug – but who cares when you’ll be spending most of your time on the sundeck?

You’ll board pirogues (long canoes) with a naturalist guide to spot everything from baboons to bush babies, warthogs to swamp mongooses. And suffice it to say that bird watchers will tremble with ecstasy.

Book It: Seven nights with Variety Cruises from £1,133 pp (varietycruises.com).

ROYAL RUSSIA

Moscow and Saint Petersburg – two cities connected by rivers, several canals and two huge lakes that glitter through Western Russia.

Join the dots with this cruise, which showcases life beyond the tourist hotspots of the cultural megaliths.

Sometimes you pass dense forest; every now and then a church tower sticks out of the water.

In addition to the city tours, explore Yaroslavl (the ‘Florence of Russia’ known for its art), the reconstructed village of Mandrogi and historic Uglich – a beautiful city with a bloody past. MS Rublev is an older ship, a tad dated, but it is comfortable and spacious.

Book It: Nine nights with Titan from £1,899 pp (titantravel.co.uk).

SAFARI SHOW

Sit back and relax on a nine-night cruise on The Zambezi Queen (pictured), a luxurious eco-friendly houseboat

Sit back and relax on a nine-night cruise on The Zambezi Queen (pictured), a luxurious eco-friendly houseboat

Passengers can watch the ultimate wildlife show from The Zambezi Queen, who travels through Botswana (pictured), South Africa and Zimbabwe

Passengers can watch the ultimate wildlife show from The Zambezi Queen, who travels through Botswana (pictured), South Africa and Zimbabwe

Lions hanging in the sun; leopards lounging in trees, elephants and water buffaloes drinking on the water’s edge – you don’t even have to get out of bed to see this ultimate wildlife show through Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Zambezi Queen is a luxurious, eco-friendly houseboat with 14 suites. The indoor dining room, lounge and bar are air-conditioned (but still have floor-to-ceiling windows so you don’t miss a single hippo or osprey). Or dive into the plunge pool on the open-air sundeck.

Book It: Nine nights with Ama Waterways from £9,457 pp (amawaterways.co.uk).

PARROTS IN PERU

All Aqua Expeditions ships are retro-chic, drop-dead gorgeous, but the new Aqua Nera ups the ante.

Twenty suites exude laid-back luxury, while one of Peru’s finest chefs, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, creates delicious meals from Amazonian produce – anyone for yucca gnocchi? There is a one-to-one relationship between guests and staff on board, and naturalist guides take you into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon every day.

Get up close and personal with monkeys and macaws, parrots and piranhas (OK, not too close) in the lush rainforest. Take a rest in the spa or catch a movie in the private cinema room.

Book It: Three night cruise from around £3,475 pp (aquaexpeditions.com).

VIEW CHINA

Suites on the journey of Sanctuary Retreats along the Yangtze are cool, calm and extremely comfortable

Suites on the journey of Sanctuary Retreats along the Yangtze are cool, calm and extremely comfortable

Guests eat a la carte (Chinese or continental) in the dining room of the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer, pictured

Guests eat a la carte (Chinese or continental) in the dining room of the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer, pictured

The Yangtze is a lush, winding river known for its breathtaking gorges. This cruise combines ancient and modern – often in surprising ways.

The river is home to a high-tech underwater museum to view ancient petroglyphs, while the Three Gorges Dam is an amalgamation of wild elemental power with impeccable human technology.

Learn about ancient Chinese medicine on board and practice tai’chi on deck (or sit back for an acupressure massage).

Suites are cool, calm and extremely comfortable; you eat a la carte (Chinese or continental) and learn to cook dumplings and other local delicacies.

Book It: Four nights with Sanctuary Retreats from around £960 pp (sanctuaryretreats.com).

MEKONG MEANDER

With its 34 suites and butler service, Scenic Spirit (pictured above) has the feel of a floating hotel

With its 34 suites and butler service, Scenic Spirit (pictured above) has the feel of a floating hotel

Most travelers only plunge into Angkor Wat, but it’s worth meandering along the mighty Mekong River as it meanders from Ho Chi Minh City through Cambodia and Vietnam to Siem Reap.

This cruise will help you understand the culture, folklore, history and wildlife of this beautiful part of the world. Not to mention the food – you’ll visit markets in Phnom Penh and learn to cook Khmer dishes.

Scenic Spirit really has the feel of a floating boutique hotel, with 34 suites (all with butler service). The sundeck is super-swish with a palm-fringed pool, open-air cinema and steam room.

Book It: Nine nights with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours from £4,650 pp (scenic.co.uk).

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