Top River Cruise Ports in Europe

Heurige wine tavern in Vienna

Heurige wine tavern in Vienna

by Marilyn Green, TravelAge West

River cruise line executives arguably know the port cities included in their itineraries better than most travelers. We asked them for a few insider tips on what they like to do in their favorite ports.

Wine Taverns in Vienna and Old Town in Basel
Vienna is the favorite port for Kristin Karst, vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. It’s also the birthplace of her husband, Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of the line.

Karst recommends a visit to the heurige, or wine taverns, where guests can join the Viennese in sampling young wines from the current vintage. Another favorite is Cafe Landtmann, a 19th century coffee house that still has a local rather than tourist-centric feel. “We have twice encountered the president of Austria there,” she noted.

Schreiner’s own choice is Basel, one of Switzerland’s oldest cities and the cruise line’s home base. He treasures the city’s international flavor and particularly recommends the restaurants in the Old Town. Among his favorites is Schifferhaus in the port area, housed in a historic building with a charming backyard.

www.amawaterways.com

Cheese, Chocolates and Shopping in Lyon
Katharine Bonner, vice president of river and small ship cruising for Tauck, picked Lyon as her port of choice. “It’s a foodie’s paradise that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity chef,” she noted.

When Bonner is in Lyon, she might visit Les Halles for cheese and chocolate treats, or enjoy a salad Lyonnaise for lunch with frisee lettuce, lardons and a poached egg on top. Afterward, it’s time for a little shopping.

“I love silk scarves,” Bonner said. “There’s a special store with an incredible selection that’s located — appropriately — just opposite of the city’s textile museum.”

www.tauck.com

Encoutering History and Sampling Wines in Berkastel
The Moselle River is home to the favorite ports of Patrick Clark, Avalon Waterways’ managing director. He especially likes Berkastel, where you can view the half-timbered houses built centuries ago while strolling narrow cobblestone streets.

For a meal off the ship, he recommends the regional specialties at local restaurant Graacher Tor. “A visit to the Vinothek in the Weinkuturellen Zentrum is also a treat,” Clark said. “There you can sample the wines of the region, underground, in the historic vaults of St. Nikolas Hospital.”

www.avalonwaterways.com

Outdoor Cafes in Venice
Venice is the best-loved port for Uniworld president Guy Young.

“Traveling on a small river cruise ship has the great advantage of often being in a prime docking location where you can simply walk off the ship and begin exploring a magnificent city,” Young said. “In Venice, sitting in one of the outdoor cafes on St. Mark’s Square is a fantastic experience, and one that I have enjoyed with my family. A drink or a cup of coffee is not inexpensive, but the experience is priceless.”

www.uniworld.com

Strolling Through Uglich
Karine Hagen, vice president of product development for Viking River Cruises, said her favorite port is the Golden Ring town of Uglich on the Volga River in Russia. The dock’s location is picturesque, sitting next to the onion-domed Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood.

“Everything in the town is within walking distance, and it is the sweetest, safest place, should you be so lucky as to get lost there,” Hagen said.

Guests receive a warm welcome on the pier by Babushkas selling their garden flowers. “If you have the chance to visit, look for Babushka Nadya, my local granny, who has been selling home-picked flowers on that very pier for the past half century,” Hagen said.

www.vikingcruises.com

Villages, Bays and Beer in Southwestern France
Joe Maloney, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for Scenic Cruises, said Bordeaux is a favorite port. He also especially likes Arcachon Bay, nestled between the Cote d’Argent and the Cote des Landes on Europe’s longest coastal beach.

“It has charming villages all around the bay,” Maloney said. “And it is an important location for more than 250 migratory and sedentary birds.”

He also likes riding a bike from Blaye to Etauliers and back again, as there are historic ruins all along the trail. “It is easy to stop for a beer or glass of wine in any of the small villages,” he added.

www.scenictours.com

I agree with Kristin Karst, Vienna is my favorite pick, closely followed by Lyon, the culinary capital of France. Insider tip: gourmet lunch in world-renowned Paul Bocuse ‘s restaurant in Lyon is included on the Rhône river cruise with A-Rosa.

What is your favorite river cruise port city? Contact me here to take you there!

Combining Upscale Travel with Culinary Technique

cooking-class

There’s no better way to discover a region than by tasting its food especially if you’re participating in the preparation. Learn how to select and buy the best produce, discover new culinary techniques and wine pairings, and share your passion for food with celebrated chefs.

Here are just a few picks … to whet your appetite. I can customize a culinary vacation for two people, or twenty, in the country of your choice.

1. South Australia’s Barossa Valley:

Casa Carboni Enoteca and Cooking School: Matteo Carboni’s philosophy is to teach traditional Italian recipes based on the best of seasonal Barossa produce, showing different techniques that can easily be replicated at home with the same results. Class size is limited to 6 people.

Stay at: The Louise, atop a gentle hill in the Barossa Valley, one of the world’s top culinary destinations. The hotel is an easy one hour drive from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.

2. A Day with Two-Star Michelin Chef Ramón Freixa in Madrid:

Visit the historical and monumental San Miguel market accompanied by Chef Ramón Freixa, followed by a private class in his two-star Michelin restaurant to prepare exquisite creations with the ingredients from the market, and finish the day with an amazing dinner.

Stay at: Hotel Único, housed in a 19th-century palace, on Madrid’s “Golden Mile.”

3. Bean to Bar Chocolate Making Class in Belize:

Learn how to transform high quality organic cacao into chocolate starting with a visit to the cacao nursery. Grind dried cacao beans, roast cacao, and finally temper and mold your own chocolate bar to take home. Make a batch of triple chocolate truffles rolled in nibs, and as it cools, enjoy a luncheon of farm fresh ingredients. Finish the day by learning to make Belcampo Belize’s signature Mayan chocolate pudding.

Stay at: Belcampo Belize Lodge in Punta Gorda

4. Master Authentic Chinese Food in a Traditional Qing Dynasty Courtyard:

Four-hour classes in the open-air courtyard of the HutongCuisine Cooking School located in the historic Dongcheng district of Beijing. Explore a “wet” market before your class and choose from dim sum, wok, Peking Duck, dumplings, noodles, or Canton, Sichuan, or Beijing cuisine. Starting in April, the school will offer a 10-day intensive program.

Stay at: Regent Hotel

So there it is, a quick world tour of cuisines for you to discover. Ask me about equally delicious programs in Italy, France, Peru, Vietnam, and just about anywhere you would like to explore. Call me at 818-885-8623 to discuss your plans. Bring your toque, your apron and your appetite!

About Viviane Tondeur, MBA, CTC, DS: travel advisor affiliated with Departure Lounge, a member of the Virtuoso network. I focus on snow sports, river cruising, and culinary experiences. As an expert FIT and group planner, I specialize in personalizing clients’ travel experiences, and regularly lead tours to favorite destinations.

About Departure Lounge in Austin, TX: sleek, elegant, one-of-a-kind coffee and wine bar with a cool travel discovery zone. Departure Lounge clients enjoy Virtuoso insider access plus complimentary upgrades and amenities. Departure Lounge travel advisors are part counselor, part global concierge and part magician. We follow a specific process in collaborating with you and have some very cool tools to lead you on the right path.

About Virtuoso: travel industry’s leading luxury network with 1,300 of the world’s premier travel providers, as well as exclusive services, experiences, and products.

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Dining: Turin, Italy’s Chocolate Capital

International Bellhop Travel Magazine

Dark chocolate shavings The City of Turin, Italy has been noted for many of its most famous local items. Firstly, the Shroud of Turin — the mysterious cloth that some say was covering Jesus Christ in his tomb, and still bears the mark of his face until this day. Another noteworthy accomplishment of the City of Turin is its booming auto industry. Being the home to Fiat Motors — an Italian automaker — Turin is often referred to as the “Detroit of Italy.”

Another locally made product that has been giving worldwide recognition to Turin, is the local chocolates and sweets made by local chocolate artisans. While Turin has long been known for its chocolates, it has only more-recently gained world fame and respect from chocolate peers, and has now been named “Turin: Italy’s Chocolate Capital.”

City of Turin and the Alps City of Turin and the Alps

It is no surprise that Turin is the Capital of Italian…

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Paris Foodie Experiences

Paris-gastronomie

Visit open-air markets of Paris and tucked-away bakeries; stop into chocolate and cheese shops; enjoy a foie gras and wine tasting with an expert and take a cooking class in a private apartment. Make your own bread, cookies and chocolates with the masters during your exclusive epicurean tour of Paris with Chocolatine.

Call 818-268-6552 today and save 20% on your gastronomical getaway!

Destination: Paris

Departure: available through April 14, 2014

About Viviane Tondeur, MBA, CTC, DS: travel advisor affiliated with Departure Lounge, a member of the Virtuoso network. I focus on snow sports, river cruising, and delicious culinary experiences. As an expert FIT and group planner – I specialize in personalizing clients’ travel experiences, and regularly lead tours to favorite destinations.

About Departure Lounge in Austin, TX: sleek, elegant, one-of-a-kind coffee and wine bar with a cool travel discovery zone. Departure Lounge clients enjoy Virtuoso insider access plus complimentary upgrades and amenities. Departure Lounge travel advisors are part counselor, part global concierge and part magician. We follow a specific process in collaborating with you and have some very cool tools to lead you on the right path.

About Virtuoso: travel industry’s leading luxury network with 1,300 of the world’s premier travel providers, as well as exclusive services, experiences, and products.

Virtuoso-logo

Mesmerizing Mexico

Mesmerizing Mexico

Join us at Departure Lounge on July 12 for Mesmerizing Mexico: Its Iconic & Secret Sites Revealed, a complimentary wine reception and showcase of Mexico’s most amazing travel destinations and experiences. Meet our honored guest, Mrs. Rosalba Ojeda, Consul General of Mexico in Austin. Learn about outstanding travel offers Continue reading

Tulips, Windmills, Cheese, Chocolates and Waffles? Yes, Please

tulip time cruise

There are a few unsold staterooms on the tulip time cruises and the cruise lines are offering serious incentives to get you on board and into world  famous Keukenhof garden with its stunning display of more than 7 million tulips. This unforgettable cruise with its breathtaking scenery also includes delightful treats from local artisans: cheese, chocolates, and waffles!

A-Rosa: 9-day roundtrip cruise Cologne from $2,462

Destinations: Germany, Belgium, Holland

Departure: April 17

Viking: 10 days roundtrip cruise Amsterdam from $2,599 including free air from east coast

Destinations: Holland, Belgium

Departures: April 2, 4, 6, 7

Avalon Waterways: 7 days roundtrip cruise Amsterdam

Destinations: Holland, Belgium

Departures: in March and April

AmaWaterways: 7 days roundtrip cruise Amsterdam

Destinations: Holland, Belgium

Departures: in March and April

Call Viviane at 818-268-6552 for today’s availability.

About Viviane Tondeur, MBA, CTC, DS: travel advisor affiliated with Departure Lounge, a member of the Virtuoso network. I focus on snow sports, river cruising, and delicious culinary experiences. As an expert FIT and group planner – I specialize in personalizing clients’ travel experiences, and regularly lead tours to favorite destinations.

About Departure Lounge in Austin, TX: sleek, elegant, one-of-a-kind coffee and wine bar with a cool travel discovery zone. Departure Lounge clients enjoy Virtuoso insider access plus complimentary upgrades and amenities. Departure Lounge travel advisors are part counselor, part global concierge and part magician. We follow a specific process in collaborating with you and have some very cool tools to lead you on the right path.

About Virtuoso: travel industry’s leading luxury network with 1,300 of the world’s premier travel providers, as well as exclusive services, experiences, and products.

Virtuoso-logo