Small Ports, Big Im­pres­sions

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - FEATURES -

If you think you won’t have enough to do on a river cruise, think again. The size of the ship assures that you can stop in quite a few cities, some­times even two in one day. The towns we vis­ited are what movie sets are made of. I fell in love with the canals and bike cul­ture of Am­s­ter­dam, the wind­ing streets of Cochem, and the wine vil­lage of Bernkas­tel. Also on our itin­er­ary were the Ger­man towns of Cologne, Rüdesheim, and Zell as well as Lux­em­bourg City and neigh­bor­ing Remich.

De­spite my ex­cite­ment to set sail for all of th­ese charm­ing towns, an overnight stay on the ship in Am­s­ter­dam — com­plete with a fes­tive em­barka­tion din­ner and mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment in the lounge — of­fered the per­fect breather to set­tle in and un­pack with­out feel­ing as if I was miss­ing any­thing.

Right af­ter break­fast the next morn­ing, still docked just a few yards from town, I par­took in the re­lax­ing (and in­cluded) canal cruise — a guided jaunt through the city’s charm­ing wa­ter­ways — fol­lowed by a guided walk­ing tour back to the ship. The crisp air was typ­i­cal of spring in Europe and of­fered the per­fect weather for ex­plor­ing.

We left Am­s­ter­dam that evening and sailed through the night, reach­ing Cologne the next af­ter­noon. Here, I opted for a bike tour of this bustling city that in­cluded a stop at the must-see Cologne Cathe­dral, a mar­vel of gothic architecture and UNESCO World Her­itage Site. I was equally im­pressed the next morn­ing when we spent three hours nav­i­gat­ing the Rhine Gorge, a stun­ning river scenery jaunt boast­ing dozens of cas­tles and vine­yards, which was won­der­fully nar­rated by the ship’s cruise di­rec­tor, Jerome.

By lunch, we had ar­rived in Rüdesheim, one of Ger­many’s best-known wine towns, and I hopped on an in­vig­o­rat­ing ca­ble car ride up to a won­der­ful look­out spot to spy the ter­raced vine­yards that make this such a pop­u­lar stop for wine lovers. Af­ter some time to ex­plore on my own, I went back to the ship and read­ied for din­ner as we set sail for our sec­ond port of the day, Engers.

Even though we ar­rived af­ter dark, we were treated to an un­for­get­table pri­vate cham­ber mu­sic con­cert (in­cluded) in the town’s cas­tle. Since we were spend­ing the night in port and were docked within easy walk­ing dis­tance, I me­an­dered af­ter­ward and found a few of my ship­mates at a lo­cal wa­ter­ing hole where I mo­men­tar­ily set aside my new­found love of the re­gion’s Ries­ling and en­joyed a lo­cal beer.

Leav­ing the Rhine River and en­ter­ing the Moselle the next morn­ing, we were treated to more cas­tles and quaint wine vil­lages dot­ting the river­bank. Our first stop was Cochem, which boasts mar­kets and a fairy­tale-like cas­tle atop the hill. I vis­ited the Re­ichs­burg Cas­tle and its ro­man­tic in­te­ri­ors and grounds and then jumped in and out of an (in­cluded) walk­ing tour, ram­bling around for a bit of shop­ping and soak­ing in the mix of medieval and mod­ern in the land­scape and architecture.

While we slept, the ship made its way to the neigh­bor­ing towns of Zell and Bernkas­tel, one more charm­ing than the next, which al­lowed me to feed my pho­tog­ra­phy habit. In Bernkas­tel, the Wein­mu­seum ( Wine Mu­seum) was the ob­vi­ous choice to sam­ple and en­joy the fruits of the steep wine slopes we had passed on our jour­ney. It was the per­fect happy hour be­fore pas­sen­gers gath­ered for the sec­ond-to-last night on the ship and the tra­di­tional Gala Farewell Din­ner.

Early the next day, we ar­rived in Greven­macher, Lux­em­bourg, the point of de­par­ture to ex­plore an­cient Trier, just over the bor­der back in Ger­many. There, a guided walk­ing tour through the town — one of the old­est in Europe — vis­ited mon­u­ments and the ru­ins of ma­jes­tic Ro­man baths. In the mean­time, the ship had sailed from Greven­macher to Remich with some choos­ing to stay on board. I trav­eled back to my float­ing home via luxe coach, tak­ing in even more of the pleas­ing vis­tas of Europe’s rich­est coun­try. Be­fore set­tling in, I in­dulged in some sightseeing in Lux­em­bourg City with some new friends and en­joyed a hot cof­fee, which tasted as rich as the coun­try is her­alded to be.

Our last night on Avalon Vi­sion­ary in­cluded a farewell cock­tail party with the cap­tain and a great din­ner with the 120-plus other pas­sen­gers, who were now as fa­mil­iar as friends. Trans­ferred to the train sta­tion the next morn­ing, the cruise ended dream­ily with a high-speed train ride and two overnights in Paris. Find­ing things to do in port was not dif­fi­cult, as there are plenty of in­cluded ex­cur­sions plus quite a bit of time to ex­plore on your own.

In fact, I was lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence Avalon’s new Ac­tive Dis­cov­ery pro­gram, a unique mix of out­ings de­signed to im­merse in the cul­ture of a par­tic­u­lar town. The pro­gram was al­ready part of the com­pany’s Danube sail­ings, but I was happy to play guinea pig to some trial runs on my trip, in­clud­ing a Van Gogh–in­spired paint­ing class in Am­s­ter­dam. When the pro­gram rolls out com­pletely, other Ac­tive Dis­cov­ery of­fer­ings will in­clude cook­ing classes, bike tours, hik­ing, ca­noe­ing, and even con­duct­ing an orches­tra. Host­ing only 128 pas­sen­gers, cruis­ing on Avalon

Vi­sion­ary felt more like sailing on a pri­vate yacht. The itin­er­ary was full, but not too busy; the ac­com­mo­da­tions were com­fort­able, but not over­done; the food was var­ied and tasty, but not pre­ten­tious. And the en­tire trip lived up to Avalon’s “Re­laxed Lux­ury” phi­los­o­phy. So, if you’re con­tem­plat­ing a river cruise, I say, Do it! Af­ter all, when was the last time you did some­thing for the very first time?

The towns we vis­ited are what movie sets are made of.

From cruis­ing the canals of Am­s­ter­dam (be­low) to sailing and hik­ing through pic­turesque towns to ex­plor­ing ar­chi­tec­tural won­ders like the Re­ichs­burg Cas­tle (be­low right), this river cruise of­fered some­thing for ev­ery type of trav­eler.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from International

© PressReader. All rights reserved.