Ask Lonely Planet: Join the dots for independent river tour

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Budapest's magical Danube skyline makes for an entrancing sight. Photo / Thinkstock
Budapest's magical Danube skyline makes for an entrancing sight. Photo / Thinkstock

My husband and I want to travel the Rhine and Danube but are put off by the cost of cruises. Admittedly they are five-star with a lot on offer, but we want the flexibility to stay a day or two in riverside towns that take our fancy. Are there cheaper local ferries that we could hop on and hop off to suit? Would Frankfurt be the best airport to fly into, and would it be best to use buses or trains for further travel? We plan to travel in spring or autumn.
- Glen

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Unfortunately, long stretches of the Rhine and Danube Rivers are not serviced by local passenger ferries. There are, however, relatively cheap scheduled services along some of the most scenic sections. Excellent road and rail networks make it easy to join the dots between them, and allow you to check out other cities and towns that lie away from the rivers.

Spring and autumn are good times to visit; summer can be overrun with tourists, while in winter many towns go into hibernation.

Cruising the mighty Rhine is a highlight for many European visitors. The section between Koblenz and Mainz in Germany is magical, with vistas of steep vineyard-covered mountains punctuated by brooding, medieval castles.

Frankfurt is a good place to start your journey as it's only a short train ride from both Koblenz and Mainz where you can board the Koln-Düsseldorfer Line boat service. KD sail regularly up and downstream between the two towns, with 18 stops along the way. Their website has prices and timetables.

On the Danube, Wurm and Kock ferries ply the waters between Regensburg in Bavaria to the Austrian capital of Vienna, with a variety of one-way and round trips available. The riverbanks are dotted with ruined castles and medieval towns and lined with terraced vineyards.

Security prime concern

My uncle was killed in March 1943 and is buried in Sfax, Tunisia. No one from the family has visited his grave and with the 70th anniversary coming up I am thinking of visiting. What is the easiest and cheapest way to get there and how safe is it?
- Jim Stephen

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

It sounds like a trip to Tunisia would prove very rewarding for you. Well set up for tourists, it has been largely safe and trouble-free since the civil unrest early last year, but the political situation remains tense.

The New Zealand travel advisory website says there is some risk of terrorism and advises travellers to be very cautious. And Australia's smarttraveller.gov.au recommends avoiding remote areas, particularly the Algerian and Libyan border regions.

We recommend you check safetravel.govt.nz regularly for updates. As well, register your travel intentions on the site. Ensure you have adequate travel insurance, carry your passport with you at all times, and follow the instructions of police, security, and your tour operator if applicable.

Many airlines fly to Tunisia so your options for getting there are plentiful.

If you want to fly direct, compare flights online with a metasite such as hipmunk.com, or use a travel agent. We find Flight Centre very helpful.

Long to medium-haul flights generally fly into Tunis; from there you can get to Sfax on Tunis Air subsidiary Sevenair, or more cheaply by train or bus, both of which take four hours.

If you're travelling to Europe anyway, another option is to search for a cheap, package holiday deal from somewhere like Spain or Britain.

Sousse is a rather touristy destination but it is conveniently located only two hours from Sfax by bus or train. The prettier island of Djerba is a three-hour louage (long distance shared taxi) ride away.

- NZ Herald

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