Culinary Journeys On River Cruises in Europe
Rhine, Danube and Seine Rivers
Cruising on Europe’s iconic rivers is a great way to discover and enjoy the continent’s culture, history and picturesque landscapes. It is about experiencing life in the slow lane along with a delightful culinary journey. The various cruises wind their way through vibrant cities, emerald green hills, sun drenched terraced vineyards, charming villages, fairy tale castles and tranquil meadows.
Unlike the huge ocean cruise liners, the river cruises are more personalized and intimate, with fewer guests aboard. At each port of call, there are options for excursions depending on interests and activity levels. From cultural discoveries to gastronomic experiences to adventure trails, one can choose from a lot of alternatives.
Photo courtesy: Viking Cruises
With ever changing views right outside the window, a River Cruise is a leisurely and luxurious way of travelling. The ships have spacious suites or cabins, balconies or full length windows, sun decks or lounge seating and tasting menus at the Chef’s table or casual dining. Some even have a pool, spa and a fitness area. The choices are numerous.
Cruise Itineraries for the major Rivers
Flowing through 6 countries, the Rhine is a legendary river. It is one of the major European rivers starting in the Swiss Alps and draining into the North Sea through the Netherlands. Apart from its historical and cultural significance, the river has served as Europe’s leading transport route. A journey on its waters reveals a rich landscape, historic cities and local culinary specialities.
Amsterdam to Basel: 8 days
4 Countries, 6 Ports of Call
Map: AMA Waterways
Depending upon the cruise line, the ports of call are: Cologne, Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Speyer/ Ludwigshafen, Strasbourg and Breisach.
Cologne’s sightseeing attractions are the magnificent Gothic Cathedral and the Lindt Chocolate museum. After visiting them, one can relax with the local, freshly brewed Kölsch Beer at one of the many Brauhaus (pubs). The famous food accompanying the beer is Himmel un’ Aad (potato mash with sweet apple sauce) and Halve Hahn.
Koblenz is located on the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. It is a picturesque small town with easy access to surrounding attractions. The nearest is the mighty Ehrenbreitstein fortress with magnificent views over Koblenz. Alternatively, one can visit the 700 years old Marksburg castle in nearby Braubach.
Rüdesheim is a charming and small river town with a lively pedestrian street called Drosselgasse. It is full of restaurants, wine bars and boutique shops. The area is surrounded by vineyards on terraced hills and a hike or a cable car ride takes you to the top. Some of the best Riesling wines are produced here.
A meal at the famous Rüdesheimer’s Schloss ending with the Rüdesheimer coffee is a great experience. The Schloss owners also own the Georg Breuer wines, and a visit to their shop and wine cellar is a must for wine enthusiasts.
From Speyer or Ludwigshafen, Heidelberg (Germany’s oldest university town) is 40 km away. It is worth visiting for its majestic castle, the medieval old town and the turreted University campus.
Speyer is famous for its wine vinegars and a tasting at a private estate is possible.
Located at the border of France and Germany, Strasbourg exhibits a mix of cultural influences. The day can be spent discovering the architectural marvels and enjoying renowned Alsatian cuisine. Alternatively, you can take an excursion to the famed Alsace region with a winery tour and tasting.
Breisach is the gateway to the Black Forest region. An excursion through its scenic meadows and dense forests is rejuvenating. On the way, you can visit the fabled cuckoo clock making and glass blowing shops and taste the decadent Black Forest cake at a café.
Flowing through 10 countries, the Danube is the second longest river in Europe. It begins in the Black Forest region of Germany and meets the Black Sea through Romania. Its banks are witness to some of the oldest human settlements, mighty empires and later the river was used as a major trade route. Gliding past lush landscapes and timeless cities, a journey along the Danube is an inspiration.
Passau/Vilshofen to Budapest: 6-8 days
4 Countries, 4 Ports of call
Map: AMA Waterways
Depending upon the cruise line, the ports of call are Linz, Krems/ Melk, Vienna and Bratislava.
A former Roman settlement, Linz is a pretty town which can be explored by mini train or on foot. The Old Quarter is worth exploring. Some of the historic monuments are the Concert Hall, the Market and the Linz Castle.
Another option is to take a culinary journey through the Austrian countryside. In the tranquil village of Gutau, learn to bake bread in a local bakery. In St. Oswald, tour a distillery and see how Schnapps is made. A tasting is offered at its museum.
One more alternative is to travel 1 hour and 15 min to the fairy tale town of Česky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site with its picture postcard cobblestone pedestrian streets along the Vltava river. Its breweries and quaint cafés are full of tourists all round the year.
This region is well known for its Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. Both are dry, white wines produced by the many family owned small wineries. Winery tours with tasting and cellar visits are a great way to enjoy these high quality wines.
Each spring, the Wachau valley is transformed into a sea of pink and white due to the blossoming of the Apricot trees. The Wachau apricot is unique for its taste and size. The restaurants feature many items on the menu with apricots. There is an Apricot Festival too in July in Krems. Liqueurs, marmalade etc can be bought throughout the year.
An option is to visit the Benedictine Abbey at Melk (40 min from Krems), a magnificent monastery with ornate interiors. It has a resplendent Baroque library and the views over the valley are breathtaking.
Vienna, Austria’s capital city, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its Imperial Palaces, Museums, Opera and Concert halls epitomize a unique cultural experience.
A whole day can be spent visiting historic monuments such as St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Schönbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace, Hofburg Palace, Vienna State Opera and the Museum of Art History amongst many others. And the grand finale would be a music concert of one of Vienna’s famous past composers like Mozart or Strauss.
Café Demel is an iconic coffee house serving exquisite pastries. Established in 1786, it is one of the oldest cafés in Vienna. Apfelstrudel and Coffee can be enjoyed at one of the many cafés lining the popular streets in Vienna.
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is located along the banks of the Danube and borders Austria and Hungary. It is a small city with a vibrant cultural center and a rich history. Its architecture reflects the influence of its neighbours and the city is also home to many whimsical statues! The pedestrian-only 18th century Old Town is known for its lively bars and cafés.The most popular spot is the reconstructed Bratislava Castle perched atop a hill.
Slovakian dishes are influenced by Eastern European food and revolve around a few key ingredients, potato dumplings and sheep’s milk cheese. Cabbage soup or Goulash to begin with and Poppy seed pastry to end, make a complete meal.
Some of the well known restaurants serving traditional food are: Pulitzer, Klepáč, Slovak pub and more.
The Seine river is France’s second longest river. It rises in Northeastern France, flows through Paris and meets the English Channel at Le Havre. Its banks in Paris are flanked by iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Further ahead, the river meanders through the Normandy region along scenic landscapes and medieval ruins.
Paris to Paris: 8 days 1 Country,
5 Ports of call
Map: AMA Waterways
Depending upon the cruise line, the ports of call are La Roche-Guyon, Rouen, Caudebec, Vernon/ Les Andelys and Poissy/ Le Pecq
This is one of France’s most beautiful villages with its timber panelled houses and the medieval Château de La Roche-Guyon. But the star attraction at this port of call is a visit to Giverny, Claude Monet’s residence from 1883 till the end. His charming stone farmhouse with its picturesque gardens bring to life his art etched in posterity. The water garden with the Japanese bridge, water lilies, weeping willows and azaleas had inspired many of his masterpieces.
Rouen is the capital of Normandy. Its magnificent Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral and the astronomical clock Gros Horloge as well as monuments related to Joan of Arc are exceptional.
The countryside around Rouen is famous for its apple orchards which produce delicious Cider and Calvados (apple brandy). Normandy is also known for its creamy cheeses (Brie and Camembert). A tour to a working farm provides a chance to visit the orchards and taste homemade apple tart, cheese, calvados and pommeau.
Caudebec is the base for visiting the historic landing beaches of Normandy. The monuments, the museums and the cemeteries glorify the heroism of the allied forces who landed here in WWII.
An alternative option is an excursion to the seaside town of Honfleur, renowned for its picturesque harbour which was an inspiration for Impressionist painters. And then further to Le Havre, a major port on the mouth of the Seine river. The city was completely rebuilt after WWII in a modern style with reinforced concrete, earning it a Unesco World Heritage tag.
Vernon/ Les Andelys:
The medieval town of Vernon is known for its half timbered houses fronting cobblestone streets. The Château de Bizy (also known as Normandy’s Versailles) and the Old Watermill are especially interesting.
The picturesque, small town of Les Andelys is known for the ruins of its magnificent Château Guillard, built in 1196. The views of the Seine from its location on a hilltop are spectacular.
Poissy/ Le Pecq:
Poissy and Le Pecq are pretty towns serving as a gateway to Paris. A visit to Château de Malmaison (Napoleon's residence in his final days) and the luxurious Palace of Versailles (Unesco World Heritage site) bring history alive. Poissy has many architectural gems, the most noteworthy amongst them being Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, which is also a Unesco World Heritage site.
The other River Cruise itineraries offered by the Cruise companies are on the rivers Elbe, Rhône, Saône, Main, Moselle and Douro amongst others. They cover other regions of Europe with diverse culinary experiences.
Some of the most popular Cruise Companies are:
Based out of Europe, Viking is one of the World's leading River Cruise Lines. The company offers both river and ocean journeys as well as expedition voyages to The Arctic and Antarctica. Their award winning longships offer dining on board which is destination focused and enhanced with locally sourced ingredients.
Uniworld is known for its all inclusive boutique luxury river cruises. Apart from shore excursions, there are wellness programmes, spa treatments and curated menus by celebrity chefs.
AMA Waterways is a family owned company with a long history in river cruising. They provide their guests innovative and unforgettable travel experiences. The company has earned a lot of prestigious awards and accolades. On certain itineraries, they offer culinary themed excursions such as cooking demonstrations and tastings.
AMA Waterways also offers wine cruises with wine related excursions and a Wine Host on board. Wine pairings with different cuisines are served at meal times.
Avalon Waterways is part of the Globus family of brands providing the best options for a wide variety of travel styles. The company brings more than 90 years of expertise to their guests. On some of the ships, they offer the widest panoramic windows as well as larger living areas than industry standards.
For 30 years, Crystal Cruises has offered award winning journeys on their all-suite, butler-serviced ships. They represent the epitome of luxury cruising with creative Michelin inspired cuisine and immersive itineraries.
Happy River Cruising on any of these amazing journeys!