|The Rabelo boat is a traditional Portuguese cargo vessel used to transport Port wine from the Douro Valley to the cellars near Porto.|
Iconic destinations like Paris, New Orleans or Budapest may beckon, but it’s the off-the-beaten-path river ports that often surprise and delight. These four are perfect for art and artistry lovers.
The colors, lighting and landscapes of northern France inspired artists Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. Among the many river lines sailing through the region, Avalon Waterways has a “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” itinerary that includes visits to Monet’s gardens at Giverny and Van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise. Viking River Cruises also has a “Paris and the Heart of Normandy” itinerary, which visits Giverny.
At Giverny, take time to admire Monet’s flower and water gardens much the way the Impressionist artist did. View his Japanese bridge, water lilies, wisteria and azaleas. Tour the charming stone farmhouse where he lived and worked. One highlight is Monet’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints.
Auvers-sur-Oise has an artsy heritage. Besides Van Gogh, artists Paul Cezanne, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Otto Freundlich, Camille Pissarro and Henry Rousseau frequented Auvers. Peruse art books or online art sites before touring. Then as the local tour guide points out Auvers street scenes, you’ll recognize the settings instantly. For example, the town hall today looks almost exactly as it does in a Van Gogh painting.
Stop into Auberge Ravoux, the House of Van Gogh. The artist lived and died in attic Room 5, which is open for viewing. Still present are the original nails on which he hung his canvasses. Van Gogh also ate at a downstairs eatery each evening so stay for lunch or dinner in the authentic ground-floor bistro. Order the tasty rabbit terrine with lentil salad and onions marmalade, as well as the beef cheeks with a bourguignonne sauce.
For dessert, select ripened Salers cheese or, alternatively, the Absinthe ice cream? Absinthe is a green, anise-flavored spirit with a high alcoholic content; it was said to be the downfall of many artists including Van Gogh. For 2014, guests on Tauck’s two-week “Cruising the Seine plus Versailles, Paris and London” river cruise itinerary will tour the Absinthe Museum in Auvers-sur-Oise.
Kizhi Island, Russia
|In Giverny, France Monet’s Garden preserves the Impressionist artist’s Japanese bridge, water lilies and wisteria.|
If woodworking is a passion, consider booking a Russian river cruise that calls at Kizhi Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Situated within Karelia’s Lake Onega, the island is an amazing open-air museum of historic Russian wooden architecture.
Visitors will view old churches, chapels, houses, windmills and even threshing barns and racks. Some of the fragile structures are original to the island, others relocated here for their protection. The island’s many wooden buildings are tightly constructed using notched boards rather than nails.
The tiny Resurrection of Lazarus Church is thought to be Russia’s oldest wooden church. But visitors “ooh” and “aah” most at the stunning Church of the Transfiguration with nearly two dozen onion-shaped domes. Smoking is strictly prohibited in many areas to protect the fragile structures from fire.
Most global river lines operate Russian river cruises that include Kizhi. From May through September 2014, Scenic Cruises offers an“Imperial Jewels of Russia” river cruise itinerary that calls at the island.
Near the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, Paducah, KY, oozes art and artistry. On its riverfront floodwall, life-sized, panoramic murals by artist Robert Dafford and his team depict Native American heritage, local events and Civil War history. Stroll to the Lower Town Arts District, brimming with art studios and galleries. It’s fun to meet the artists and browse for everything from pottery to jewelry, and paintings to leather crafts.
Yeiser Art Center, located in the historic Market House, displays works by artists from across the globe. Paducah’s star attraction, though, is the National Quilt Museum, the world’s largest museum devoted to quilt and fiber arts. Dozens of intricate quilts are displayed.
Need a java break? The locals recommend Etcetera, a trendy downtown coffeehouse with many fair trade, organic or “sustainably grown” options; order a tasty bagel and your favorite latte
On September 28, American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi operates a seven-night Nashville, TN, to St. Louis, MO, cruise that calls at Paducah. One shore tour provides a city overview and visits the Quilt Museum; another connects guests with local artists for hands-on workshops. American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen also calls at Paducah. Board the line’s “Steam coaches,” motor coaches painted to resemble the ship. Hop on and off at select stops including one at the Quilt Museum.
Many European river lines operate Douro River voyages in Portugal, yet most people are not familiar with the region. Porto—also known as Oporto in English—is a UNESCO World Heritage site and hub for the region’s port wine culture.
Two new river boats operating on the Douro this year offer three nights in Lisbon plus a week-long roundtrip cruise from Porto. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s new Queen Isabel operates a 10-night “Portugal, Spain and the Douro River Valley” itinerary while AMA Waterways’ new AMA Vida sails an “Enticing Douro” itinerary with wine tastings in Porto, Pinhao and Regua.
Art fans will marvel at Porto’s arcaded buildings, Baroque churches and an iron bridge built by Gustave Eiffel. Modern art fans should check out the irregular shaped, concrete Casa da Musica, a performing arts venue designed by Rem Koolhaas. Some visitors say it resembles a large meteor. The Serralves Museum displays international contemporary art in an edgy minimalist building; the latter’s formal garden houses “Casa de Serralves,” a pink Art Deco building. Porto also has an excellent Museum of Modern Art.
After sightseeing, relax at a Cais de Gaia riverfront café or chow down on a yummy pastry from Confeitaria Tavi, a busy local favorite with a seaside terrace. Or, savor a glass of port wine at one of the wine shops or lodges located behind the riverfront area. Go for a cellar tour and tasting at Sandeman Porto Cellars, or, if you’ve packed good walking shoes, climb further up the hillside to tour and taste at Taylor’s Port Cellars.
The adjacent Barao de Fladgate restaurant serves traditional Portuguese dishes. Fish lovers might select the specialty—bacalhau (fresh unsalted cod). Terrace seating provides stunning city and river views.
|Kizhi Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Karelia’s Lake Onega, is an open-air museum of historic Russian wooden architecture.|
|The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY, exhibits the world’s largest gallery devoted to quilt and fiber arts.|