by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
If you love Christmas and want to celebrate the magic of this special holiday season in Europe, there is no better place than on a river cruise. We have been on 3 river cruises during the Christmas Market season and they are fabulous! There are two main routes in Europe that offer the best experiences to celebrate the season where most of our Christmas traditions originated. The two rivers to visit the most Christmas Markets are the Rhine and the Upper Danube. So, let’s explore these two routes together and learn about Christmas Markets.
What are Christmas Markets?
In Europe, many squares are used for various street markets. At Christmas time, these squares are transformed into a unique blaze of color, seasonal goods and foods that are offered from small vendors in their booths. It is a social gathering of Europeans enjoying hot mulled wine, beer, music, and street food as they browse the various vendors. All seem to get along wonderfully doing their Christmas shopping. Here is a colorful stall at Schonbrunn Palace Vienna Austria:
Christmas markets date back to 1300 or so and started in Germany, Austria and the eastern portion of France along the Rhine River. The Christmas Market season usually starts about November 25 and lasts until 23 or 24 December, roughly following the 4 week Advent season. Even for a person like me who does not really like shopping, this is so much fun that everyone should try this at least once. Unlike American Malls, this is not combat shopping and crowds of hassled folks; this is a gathering of folks socializing with food and drink, music, and buying gifts at a much gentler pace. Seeing the decorations alone is worth the trip but many booths have handmade items that are unique and priceless–the shopping is also great!
Most vendors sell only with cash, so make sure you have enough local currency to get your purchases. And, as we have learned though our own mistakes, if you see something you like, buy it or you will often miss out. Most markets open around 10:00 AM and close around 9:00 PM but it varies a lot. It is not uncommon for booths to close down for short periods to take a break or get something to eat or an owner to take a day off and not open their booth.
As long as you dress warmly, these markets offer a cultural experience second to none—it is an European experience not to be missed!
The Two Rhine River Routes
Although the Rhine flows through four countries (Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany) most of the river is in Germany and Germany has hundreds of Christmas markets. The most popular route is from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. Some of the other towns visited on this cruise include Breisach, Strasbourg (France) Mannheim, Speyer, Rüdesheim, Koblenz, and Cologne.
We have a group going on AmaWaterways’ The Enchanting Rhine Christmas Market cruise from 14-21 December 2016 starting in Basel and ending in Amsterdam and we would love to have you join us!LEARN MORE
Let’s start in Basel and see some of their Christmas Markets
The other route starts in Nuremberg and continues up to Amsterdam. Stops on the Nuremberg to Amsterdam route include Bamberg, Kitzingen, Wurzburg, Wertheim, Rüdesheim, and Cologne.
The Upper Danube Route
This route is the most popular river cruise in all Europe. We have done 3 Christmas Market cruises on this route. It starts in Nuremberg and ends in Budapest, Hungary. Ports of call include Regensburg, Passau, Melk, and Vienna. Many folks start their trip with a stay in Prague in a pre-cruise for a couple of nights, then enjoy the cruise and stay a couple of extra nights in Budapest. Here are some pictures of the Christmas Market on the Danube:
We hope this has helped understand what a great way a river cruise is to explore the Christmas Markets. We also hope this will inspire you to try river cruising–we will be glad to help. Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at email@example.com so we can help you Savor life . . .make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
If you love to look at European Castles, there is no better place than the Rhine River Gorge. The stretch from Mainz to Koblenz is magical—there are at least 25 awesome castles, some on the Rhine River steep slopes, but a couple are right on the river banks or on an island in the Rhine. Even after making the turn on the Mosel, there are more castles. For me, it never gets old, as I am transformed to a time long past. So, let’s learn more about AmaWaterways, the AmaLyra and the Europe’s Rivers & Castles sailing route.
AmaWaterways is a family-owned and operated company that started in 2002. Rudi Schreiner (President) is recognized by the river cruise community as the godfather of river cruising, as he worked for both Viking and Uniworld prior to starting AmaWaterways with Kristen Karst, Jimmy Brandon (former president of Brandon tours, sadly now deceased) and Gary Murphy.
We feel AmaWaterways is the best overall river cruise value for Europe river cruisers. Now you might feel we are a little biased, since we have taken 11 AmaWaterways cruises—perhaps; but we are not alone in this opinion. Berlitz, in its guide River Cruising in Europe, reviewed 280 river cruise vessels based on accommodations, dining, service and other onboard features and Ama ships took the top 11 spots! The author, Douglas Ward, stated “AmaWaterways has help to redefine European river cruising.” When we have discussed river cruising among other travel professionals, most have told us that AmaWaterways has the most repeat river cruisers than other lines among their clients. Our river cruise clients feel the same way–almost all have taken 2 or more AMA cruises
To us, it is the food & wine and crew that stand out–along with well thought-out staterooms and excellent tours.
The AmaLyra is a 360 foot riverboat that was built in 2009. We have sailed on the AmaLyra 3 times (our very first river cruise was on this ship in 2009) and we really like it. It is well designed, has received some excellent upgrades since our first cruise and quickly will make you feel right at home. As with almost all European River Cruise Boats, it has 4 decks: Sun Deck, Violin Deck (top deck), Cello Deck (middle deck), and Piano Deck (river line deck or as we call it, the Swan deck). She is 360 feet long and holds 146 passengers in 74 staterooms. Facilities on board include the main lounge, a reception area, a massage & Hair Salon, the Chef’s Table restaurant, a fitness room and the main restaurant.
The main dining room serves most of the meals you will eat on board this river ship. There is a selection of both buffet and menu items during breakfast and lunch. Most days I select the Eggs Benedict along with complimentary unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juices to start my day. All breads are freshly baked every day and they even make homemade ice cream for dessert at lunch. There is unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks served during lunch and dinner–it is included in your cruise fare. The wines are hand-picked, regional wines and change daily–most are excellent and have really expanded our knowledge of good wine. The dinner meals are multi-course offerings and very high quality. They often are regional dishes that are specialties of the area of Europe you are sailing in. On each cruise, there is a Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner–AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line inducted into the oldest and largest food and wine society in the world. If you want good food and wine on a river cruise, go on AmaWaterways.
Hank ready for some wine on our 2009 sailing
There are 2 other dining options on the AmaLyra. In the main lounge there is light dining option for breakfast and lunch served buffet style. Later in the day, there are tapas and cakes and sandwiches for tea time. The Chef’s Table is a dining experience that is awesome! Included in the cruise fare, this small 28 guest venue, features a chef who will create your special, set menu, multi-course meal right in front of you.
Chef’s Table with Clients Photo Anne Schrader
Chef’s Table Desserts–Awesome!
The Chef’s Table on our 2015 Cruise
Our stateroom was 170 square feet. an adequate size for a river cruise ship. It had a very comfortable bed, a TV/infotainment system (computer & TV screen) and a well thought-out bathroom with a shower with 6 shower heads. Our cabin had a french balcony (sliding glass door). We liked our stateroom very much–you can see it below:
Europe’s Rivers & Castles 7 Night Cruise
All AmaWaterways voyages have included tours. There are usually 2 to 3 different tours, but some optional tours may cost extra. Tours are grouped so each guest can select the pace desired for the tour–gentle, regular and active. They even offer a late-risers tour at some stops–really cool idea. A special feature are the Limited Edition Tours (no extra charge)–a way to experience local culture in a unique way. On the Europe’s Rivers & Castles, there were 2 great Limited Edition Tours–you could hand knot a brezel (German for pretzel) in Wertheim or participate in the bratwurst and beer tasting at a brewery in Nuremberg (I am enjoying the brats & brew below).
Depending on the direction you are sailing, the trip begins in either Trier or Nuremberg. I am describing the cruise starting from Trier. The only difference in sailing from Nuremberg to Trier is that docking times and days are different–you still get to see the same sights.
The trip starts in Trier, the oldest city in Germany. It continues through the meandering Mosel River Valley, its steep hillsides covered with vineyards. The German villages of Bernkastel and Cochem, their castles and the Mosel River make this stretch memorable. Continuing up river, you’ll enter the Rhine River Gorge. Many fortresses and castle ruins are strategically placed on the steep hills. Once these castles served to defend, now they provide beautiful sights—it always makes the best river cruise lists of travel writers. Along the Main River, a tributary of the Rhine, the stops include medieval towns, often with the half-timbered homes that seem to untouched by time and important smaller cities that have unique palaces, churches and even the first printing press. The cruise ends aftersailing through the Main-Danube Canal to historic Nuremberg.
Here are some highlights of this cruise. To start the cruise, there is a guided walking tour of Trier, Germany’s oldest city. Trier was an old Roman outpost. Important sights include the Roman Baths, Trier Cathedral, Basilica of Constantine and the Porta Nigra gate that dates back to 180 A.D.
The cruise continues on to Bernkastel, which is located in the middle of the Mosel wine-producing region. This area has been producing wine for over 500 years. A guided walking tour through the old town center and a winery visit to sample several different regional vintages are scheduled for this portion of your cruise.
On the next day, you will enjoy a guided tour of Cochem that takes you to the spectacular hilltop Reichsburg Castle (also known as Cochem Castle). It has fantastic views of the river valley below. Touring inside the castle is great!
As an alternative, you could take a walking tour of Koblenz and explore its charming town squares, unique monuments and quaint shops.
Later in the day, the cruise will take you along the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine (the Rhine River Gorge),with its castle ruins, fortresses and the legendary Lorelei Rock featured along the twisting river.
Katz (Cat) Castle on Rhine River George
Next up is Rüdesheim in the evening. A possible visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum could be fun or try a special Rüdesheim coffee, which is every bit as good as Irish coffee. This coffee is so good it requires a special cup (yes, we have some!).
Beautiful Mainz is the next stop. There is a guided walking tour which includes a visit to the Gutenberg Museum, where the world’s first printed Bible and centuries-old manuscripts are on display along with the old printing presses. Another highlight of Mainz is famous church with stunning Chagal windows.
Or you could travel by motor coach to Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town. The tour includes a visit to the ruins of the red-walled castle and its Great Vat (a 49,000-gallon 18th-century wine cask). The castle is perched ona hillside and has gorgeous views of the Neckar Valley and city below. It also has a wonderful gated bridge as you can see below:
Next up is Wertheim, a quaint German town. It known for its intricate glassworks (on some cruises, there has been a glass blowing demonstration on the ship) and charming medieval half-timbered architecture. There is a guided tour of the city followed by free time to explore on your own afterwards. Wertheim also offers a Limited Edition tour to make pretzels or a great bike ride escorted tour—both at no additional cost.
A guided tour of Würzburg’s major sights in the morning is your next chance to learn more about the river towns in southern Germany. Or you could chose to visit the Residenz Palace and gardens, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s best examples of Baroque architecture. The Residenz Palace was home to one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Emperors (you can see it below).
The afternoon brings two options. You could take an optional excursion to medieval Rothenburg, one of the best walled cities in all of Europe, for a walking tour and free time to explore on your own.
Or you could choose to remain on board as the ship cruises to Kitzingen. This evening, you will visit Germany’s oldest wine cellar to taste regional wines, escorted by the town’s Historic Court Council and honorary Wine Queen. On our cruise, we docked earlier at Kitzingen and we took the late-risers tour. It turned out to be 4 of us and was like a personal guided tour–we saw everything at a more relaxed pace–it was excellent!
Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is your next stop and you’ll have a guided walking tour of this medieval gem. The town’s cathedral, the Old Town Hall that straddles the river, and the serpentine streets lined with lovely houses and 18th-century mansions are sights you will remember long after the cruise is done. Included in this tour is a chance to sample some of Bamberg’s famous smoked beer.
Your last day is a guided tour of historic Nuremberg. You will see Gothic churches, the hill-topped castle in the old town walled city. Also the tour includes the zeppelin fieldwhere Hitler held his infamous Nazi Party Rallies, and maybe a visit to the Justice Palace courtroom where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946 (it is still being used, so sometimes the courtroom is not available for inside tours). They also offer a great Limited Edition Tour here–we would recommend you participate in the bratwurst and beer tasting at a brewery in Nuremberg.
We led a group on this awesome cruise in late October 2015, but from the Nuremberg to Trier. It sure was fun and all who sailed with us signed up for a future cruise credit–a great way to get reduced cost on their next AMA cruise.
We hope this has helped understand what a great river cruise line AmaWaterways is. We also hope this will inspire you to try river cruising–we will be glad to help. Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you:
Savor life . . .make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
All Photos except one by Anne Schrader
We have been on 12 river cruises in Europe and our 11th was in December 2015 on the Scenic Opal. We sailed from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest Hungary on a 7 day cruise from December 1st to December 7th. Although we have sailed on this part of the Main River, the Main-Danube Canal and the upper portion of the Danube 5 times now, there is always something exciting and new to see and do on perhaps the most popular river cruising route in all Europe. So, let’s learn more about Scenic, the Scenic Opal and the Gems of the Danube sailing route.
Scenic is an Australian tour company (founded in 1986 by Glen Moroney) that started Europe River cruising in 2008. They have 2 brands—Scenic (an all-inclusive luxury line) andEmerald Waterways (their deluxe river cruise line).
The Scenic line features your own butler (services vary by stateroom category); complimentary beverages all day, every day; six dining options; the Tailormade GPS device (more on this feature in the Gems of the Danube section); balcony suites on the 2 upper decks; electronically assisted bikes; complimentary Wi-Fi; laundry and airport transfers. There are no extra charges for tours or gratuities but massages and the hairdresser are extra charges. The long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 167 passengers.
The Emerald Waterways line includes complimentary beverages at lunch and dinner; all on board meals; balcony cabins on the upper 2 decks; bikes (without electronic assisted feature); and complimentary Wi-Fi. As with most river cruise lines, there are included tours in every sailing. They also have an EmeraldPLUS no addition cost tours to enhance the standard offerings. There are also Discover More tour options that cost extra and require a minimum number of passengers. Gratuities are included in the basic cruise fare. The long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 182 passengers.
The Scenic Opal Space Ship
The ship is very sleek and modern. The ship was built in 2015 and is well designed. There are 4 decks: the Jewel Deck (at the river line), the Sapphire Deck, the Diamond Deck and the Sun Deck. Facilities on board include Portobellos Restaurant, the River Café, the lounge & bar, a gift shop, the Crystal Dining Room, Table La Rive (only for Diamond deck guests, limited to 10 guests and serves a 6-course meal paired with fine wines), a massage parlor, a hairdresser salon, and a fitness center. On the Sun Deck (top level) there is a pool and walking track. The lounge & bar area is very large and open for a river cruise ship.
The Crystal Dining room serves most of the meals you will eat on board this river ship. Meals were generally very good. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style (although there are some items you can order off the menu) and most dinners are served at your table at night. The best dining experience in the Crystal Dining room was the seafood buffet—it is the best seafood buffet we have tasted on any cruise ship period! Other dining venues include the River Café (a casual all-day dining place), Portobellos and the Table La Rive. Portobellos Restaurant is for 32 guests at one nightly seating, and reservations are necessary, but each guest is given at least one chance to dine there during a 7 day cruise. We thought the five course Italian meal that was paired with Tuscan wines was excellent and a special feature of the cruise. You can also get room service from your butler, certainly not a standard feature on most river cruise lines. During good weather there sometimes are special meals served on the Sun Deck area.
Sea Food Buffet on the Scenic Opal Lobster Therimdor Station
Scallops & Champagne Station
The Seafood Buffet
There are 85 guest cabins on this riverboat and 73 have balconies. The Jewel Deck, the Sapphire Deck and the Diamond Deck comprise the guest cabins.
Our Stateroom Suite
Our balcony cabin was 205 square feet, a good size for a river cruise ship. It had a comfortable bed, 32 inch flat screen TV, a well-designed bathroom (shower only) a good size closet with a stocked bar (no extra charge!), but the highlight was the Scenic Sun Lounge—at a push of a button, the glass enclosed lounge converts to an open air balcony—it was awesome!. We had a butler, who escorted us to our cabin and explained his duties and made sure we knew how everything in the cabin was and how it worked. We really liked the room but only had 2 minor complaints—the lounge area had a railing that we stubbed our toes on (but we quickly got over that) and our butler forgot to tell us about the do not disturb button that lets the crew know if we wanted maid service or not.
Scenic Sun Lounge
TV Area on the Scenic Opal
Our Stateroom Bed
Gems of the Danube
Our cruise started in Nuremberg and we visited Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Durnstein, Vienna and Budapest. We have sailed this route, in this direction 4 times, so we really know this portion of the Danube. It was an exciting cruise in the heart of Europe that had some unique features included with this itinerary. These unique tour features are called Freechoice, Sundowners and Enrich.
All tours are included—they call them Freechoice. At each port, there are at least 2 choices of escorted tours. Freechoice tours are divided into Active, Moderate and Relaxed, to allow you to choose the pace which best suits the tempo you desire for your vacation.They also have a great hand-held GPS device, Tailormade, which allows you to use it for both self-guided touring in ports and on board highlights of sights while you are sailing. The devices are very good but occasionally ours did not work properly during the sailing sights—the folks from Scenic told me they are working to improve the devices. It worked well on land. The ear piece was especially comfortable and well designed.
The other two unique features when sailing with Scenic are the Sundowners and Enrich. Our Sundowners experience was in a great little wine stubbe in Durnstein. Although we have visited the small village of Durnstein multiple times, we had never been inside this wine stubbe and the wine/beer/food party with a band was really awesome. It truly was a great end to the day!
Sundowner in Durnstein
Our Enrichvisit was an evening concert featuring the music of Strauss and Mozart in Palais Liechtenstein during our visit to Vienna. We started off the evening with a couple of glasses of excellent Austrian Sekt (sparkling wine). The concert hall had great acoustics, was lavish beyond belief and was really a memorable experience.
Carriage on display in Palais Liechtenstien, Vienna on our enrich Scenic tour classical concert
Our Enrich visit to Palais Liechtenstein
You might imagine that having sailed this route as often as we have, we had seen all the major sights. Not so! For me, I got the chance to visit Cesky Krumlov, the medieval Czech town, a place I had wanted to see for quite some time. This place is great—a cool castle and a great charming village—and, for me, the highlight of the entire cruise.
Cesky Krumlov, the medieval Czech town
Budapest Parliament at night–this was our view on the final night of the cruise!
Overall, we really like Scenic. Matched with the right folks, this will really provide a great experience for most river cruisers. These are just a few of the reasons we like river cruising on Scenic so much—they are constantly improving their product. We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (email@example.com) so I can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:
Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, European Destination and River Cruise Expert www.dreamdestinations.com Imagine sailing on the Rhône River through the legendary wine growing regions of Provence, getting the chance to sample Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône! So let’s sail together on the Rhône from Arles to Lyon on the AMADagio—a cruise we have done twice and will sail again this April (2016)—it is that good!
While this description is from Arles to Lyon, you should realize that one week starts in Arles and the next week starts in Lyon and the sights and experiences remain almost identical regards of whether you sail north to Lyon or south to Arles.
Your First Day of the Cruise
Your wonderful cruise starts in Arles. First up is a visit by motor coach to the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence. The town was founded by King Balthazar, one of the 3 wise men of the Bible. The village’s castle has a fascinating exhibit of medieval siege weaponry replicas. These big war machines are cool—it is said to be one of the best collections in the world—you will be surprised how large these weapons are! Les Baux has had a stormy past and because of an unsuccessful Protestant revolt, the castles and its wall were destroyed in 1632, but the ruins and views are magnificent! Great, old village—well worth the trip. Want to see more—we have 32 pictures on our Pinterest site board Les Baux de France.
Later, visit an olive farm, which is family run by a brother and sister, to learn about this age-old Provençal farming tradition. The tour includes tastings of olive oils made at the farm. Anne bought some olive oil here and really like the tour and olive farm. As an alternative, take the “Impressionist Experience” tour to the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum, where Vincent Van Gogh painted such well-known works as The Irises and Starry Night. You will also visit the Carrieres de Lumieres, a stone quarry that projects European artwork on its walls, including many of Van Gogh’s famous paintings.
In the afternoon, there is a walking city tour of Arles. You will see the Romanesque cathedral and the Roman Amphitheater. The Roman Amphitheater is well preserved (it could hold about 25,000) and there are other Roman ruins in the town.
Early in the evening, we cruised to Avignon, arriving late at night. We docked near a famous bridge that spans only half of the Rhone—it is the illuminated Avignon Bridge made famous by the French children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon” (“On the Bridge of Avignon”).
After docking overnight in Avignon, you have 2 great tour options. First, you can tour the Papal Palace, which is part of a city walking tour. The tour starts off by entering the town through the well-preserved medieval walls surrounding the historic center of town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Seven popes once resided in the magnificent Gothic Papal Palace. My favorite room was the huge banquet hall, where at one end is the fireplace used to communicate to the people outside a new Pope had been elected. Again, to see more about this interesting palace, we have 30 photos on the Pinterest site.
Another cool alternative, is a motor coach ride to the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that is a masterpiece of engineering and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking on the aqueduct was an experience I will never forget–it is huge and up close, you will really understand how talented the Romans were at building things—how did they get the water to flow with gravity alone by such minute changes in slope?. Your tour will also visit Uzes, a lovely Provencal town known for its castle (still occupied by the Duke of Uzes and his family), medieval streets and picturesque town square. There is free time for shopping in Uzes before returning to the ship.—I was there on market day and this is always a fun way to see how and what Europeans shop for, especially the food stalls.. I have done both tours and really enjoyed them—this is one of the many highlights of this cruise. Although there are really good tours, Avignon also has some great shopping and Anne took advantage of this to buys some gifts for family back home. One of the great things about a river cruise is the chance to do what you want, since you dock right in the heart of the cities and can go off on your own easily since AMAWaterways provides port maps of each docking location with key sights clearly marked.
After sailing overnight to Viviers, you next adventure is a visit to Grignan, a magnificent hilltop village surrounded by lavender fields. The village’s Renaissance castle provides a commanding view of the area’s beautiful countryside. We enjoyed the free time to explore local shops for confections, home-made lavender soaps and other crafts—Anne bought a snappy beret. You also get to see a truffle dog in action—really cool! That dog really got after those truffles and he was a true favorite of our group.
The ship sails to Tournon and there is a really good chocolate and red wine pairing in Tournon’s castle—we had 3 different chocolate candies paired with 3 different reds. I thought they were all good and went well together. Next morning, there is a visit to Cornas, Tournon’s “twin” town located across the Rhône River and linked by a 19th-century suspension bridge. The fertile soil and ideal climate of the region has made Cornas the premier producer of Côtes du Rhône wines. We stopped at a vineyard, and then the best part was sampling some good local wines. After lunch, the ship sails to Vienne, situated between the wine regions of Burgundy and Beaujolais, arriving early evening. The ship moors overnight in Vienne.
Next morning, I took a guided walking tour of Vienne (it starts with an open-air tourist train ride up a big hill for a good view of the Rhône) and then our group see the 1st-century Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia, the ruins of a Roman theater, and the medieval churches of St. Andre-Le-Bas and Abbey St. Pierre. For me, the best part was the Roman museum—there is a good collection of items used in this former Roman colony. As an alternative, you could choose to visit the Chateau Roussillion and Pottery but I have never been on this tour.
It is then off to Lyon. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. There is a visit by bus to the historic section of town known as Vieux Lyon (“Old Lyon”). Lyon is fun, we really enjoyed the old town area and its narrow streets and colorful bouchons (small bistros) with their trademark red and white checkered table cloths. Sometimes this cruise offers a choice of tours. You can visit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse market place and sample gourmet food & wine in around 70 stalls (highly recommended by us—another great tour we enjoyed very much). On a wine cruise, we also got the chance to have a champagne tasting—it was awesome!
Another option is a sailing on the Saône. The ship departs after noon and cruises to Collonges for an excursion through the Beaujolais wine region, the Pays d’Or (“land of the golden stones,” named for the ochre limestone used to build local homes and castles). It stops at the medieval hilltop village of Oingt and the home of a local vintner, where, of course, you will get to enjoy a wine tasting and vineyard tour, and learn about the history of wine production in the region. Rejoin the ship in Belleville and return to Lyon, arriving late tonight. You will stay overnight in Lyon.
Sadly, the cruise is over the next morning but what a wonderful experience that will make memories of a lifetime. As with all river cruises, the option for pre-cruise or post cruise stays either offered by AMAWaterways or arranged by us is a great way to extend your vacation a few more days. We always extend on our trips—Lyon is a particular favorite and you could visit Nice or other French towns—we are happy to help with suggestions and to make arrangements as necessary.
My Final Thoughts
This is a trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list, in my opinion. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you to start this or any other river cruise trip.
We have a wealth of free information about all Europe river cruises and really useful river cruise tips on our website www.dreamdestinations.com, so check us out—you will be glad you did. Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations . . . Your journey begins here!
We are often ask “What is the best Europe river cruise route?” My short answer is:
I would sail on all of them (we are working on it–8 river cruises so far and we have sent folks to all these rivers except the new Garonne River). While this is a great response, it really does not answer the question since most folks want to know what the best starting rivers would be if they have never taken a European river cruise. So for new river cruisers, by far, the two most popular rivers are the Rhine and the Upper Danube Rivers. Before you just chose one of these routes, let’s explore together what the rivers of Europe offer.
The 820 mile Rhine actually passes through 6 countries, but most folks consider it a German River since so much of its banks are on German soil. The middle Rhine and especially the Rhine River Gorge, has the greatest concentration of scenic banks and castles in all of Europe. It never gets old!
There are three main routes. The first is the Tulip Time route on the lower Rhine and canals in the Netherlands and Belgium in the spring. It is a round trip loop that starts and ends in Amsterdam. Do you love flowers? Then visit the Netherlands in the springtime, when spectacular carpets of colorful tulips are in full bloom on a Tulip Time River Cruise. Throw in lush green countryside adorned with picturesque windmills and add delicious cheeses and already the trip is awesome. Also, this route can include the Belgium towns of Ghent, Arnhem, Antwerp and our personal favorite Brugges. (Click here to Learn More)
The second is usually from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland on the Rhine, (or the reverse from Basel to Amsterdam on alternate weeks), using both the lower Rhine and the upper Rhine (the upper Rhine is defined as from Koblenz Germany to its source in Lake Constance, Switzerland–remember the river flows north to the Baltic Sea). This cruise begins with legendary canals and the colorful surroundings of Amsterdam, past the majestic Cologne Cathedral and on to the Black Forest region of Germany.
The third route is usually from Trier, Germany to Nuremberg, Germany or the reverse route on the Rhine and the Main tributary and part of the Main Canal. It includes the famous Rhine River Gorge dotted with picturesque castles.(Click here to Learn More)
The Upper Danube is the other great route–typically from Nuremberg or Passau to Budapest. You will get to visit 4 countries, 2 or 3 capital cities (Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest), castles, Abbeys, wine-sloped terraces and even quaint villages-it is a great voyage. This route uses the Main-Danube Canal (106 miles long with 16 locks) and the upper Danube (the Danube is 1,170 miles, making it the second longest river in Europe after the Volga River in Russia). This area has rolling hillsides, lush vineyards, and medieval castles, and the cruise allows you to visit four different countries, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. (Click Here to Learn More)
The lower Danube is the gateway to Eastern Europe. This segment begins in Budapest and ends near the Black Sea. It starts with the rolling hills and vine-clad slopes of the Pecs in Hungary; then moves to the boundary waters that separate Serbia and Croatia; then traverses the narrow gorges of the Iron Gates, a stunning passage that divides the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains and either ends in Bucharest, Romania or at the Black Sea. (Click Here to Learn More)
The Rivers of France
There are 3 rivers in France that are used by the river cruise companies. They are the Seine, the Rhone and the Garonne.
The Seine route is a 7 day round trip cruise into Normandy, starting and ending in Paris. The cruise highlights are Monet’s village of Honfleur, Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy, as well as a chance to visit the medieval towns along this scenic route and visit the D-Day Normandy beaches.
The Rhone cruise goes from Lyon to Arles. Starting in Lyon, the gastronomical capital of France, the cruise goes through France’s legendary wine growing regions of Beaujolais and Cote du Rhone, and allows you observe medieval villages in the Provence region of France. Then on to the Papal town of Avignon and finish in Arles, where Vincent Van Gogh spent much of his time. The cruise then changes direction from Arles to Lyon for the next 7 day cruise. (Click here to Learn More)
The newest river cruise is in the Bordeaux region of France on the Garonne River. It is a round trip cruise out of Bordeaux and features wine tastings, chateauxs and abundant vineyards along the Garonne and its tributaries. The Douro
The Douro is a Portugal round trip adventure, usually starting and ending in Porto, Portugal. The Douro is an unspoiled river, decorated with deep gorges, lush vineyards and sleepy fishing villages. This region is famous for Port Wine.
Wine lovers should consider the Rhone or Garonne in France or the Douro (Portugal).
Lesser known routes include the Elbe (Germany) and the Po (Italy). This is a good route to see eastern Germany and parts of the Czech Republic. The Elbe River is shallow in many parts and sometimes the results in more of a bus tour than a real river cruise in low water situations. The Po is in Northern Italy but this route is more a bus tour during the day as only part of the river is used. We would recommend these only for really experienced river cruises or those with a very special interest in these limited river cruises.
These river cruise routes may be very short or may cover larger distances. While there are some variations, many lines cruise the essentially cruise the same route on the most popular European rivers. While I have covered only 7 day cruises, many of these routes can be combined for longer cruises of 14 or 21 days or more.
Every major cruise company also offers pre/post stays along with the river cruise so you can get some extended time in some of the best of Europe’s cities like Paris, Prague, Munich, Baden-Baden and Zurich, to name a few,
With all this variety, doesn’t it make you want to go? It sure does for me–give us a call so we can help you plan a great European river cruise!