Rivers of Wine

WINE-FOCUSED SHORE TOURS will take AmaVida guests to vineyards and wine cellars for tastings.
Wine-focused shore tours will take AmaVida guests to vineyards and wine cellars for tastings.

Every year, 960 million bottles of wine are produced in France’s Bordeaux region. It’s mind-boggling but true. To meet consumer demand for wine-themed activities both onboard and ashore, for 2016, AmaWaterways has doubled its wine-themed European offerings — to 34 cruises. Among them is a “Taste of Bordeaux” itinerary along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers; it’s operated by the 148-passenger AmaDolce.

Special wine-focused shore tours (in addition to the traditional shore excursions) will transport cruisers to vineyards and wine cellars for tastings. Guests will enjoy viniculture seminars, and local vintages will be brought onboard and paired by the line’s chefs with regional cuisine. This new 2016 Bordeaux itinerary starts with a two-night stay in Paris and then continues to Bordeaux, where the cruise departs for such wine-focused destinations as Cadillac, Bourg and Libourne.

SCENIC CRUISES’ Table La Rive offers a degustation experience complete with wine pairings.
Scenic Cruises' Table La Rive offers a degustation experience complete with wine pairings.

In Cadillac, an AmaWaterways wine excursion will take guests to the Sauternes area to taste sweet wines, which might have a slight taste and aroma of everything from pineapple to peaches, flowers, pears, apricots, nectarines, orange, vanilla and coconut. We suggest pairing a sweet sauterne with foie gras or a salty cheese. Another AmaWaterways shore excursion visits Pauillac for a Medoc tasting of red Bordeaux wines.

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An added treat? The line will host wine tasting at a cave in Saint-Emilion. The cruise concludes with a three-night Loire Valley stay. We suggest cruisers book a suite with French balcony on the Violin Deck, providing 255 square feet of space. The bathroom has a separate shower and tub.

Most other major luxury river lines are also adding sailings within Europe’s prime wine regions. For example, Scenic Cruises offers a new 12-day “Bordeaux River Cruise” this year between August and October, and also in 2016. The itinerary combines a pre-cruise Paris stay, TGV train ride to Bordeaux, and a Scenic Diamond cruise to such wine-focused spots as Cadillac, Saint-Emilion, Libourne and Cognac, where guests can sample Remy Martin brandy. The Bordeaux trip also features a “Scenic Enrich” experience, which is a private dinner and classical concert at Chateau Giscours in the Medoc countryside.

CHATEAU SIAURAC is in Lalande-de-Pomerol, an appellation of the Bordeaux wine region in France.
Chateau Siaurac is in Lalande-de-Pomerol, an appellation of the Bordeaux wine region in France.

Where to stay on the 169-passenger Scenic Diamond? If booking for 2016, we’d suggest the Category R or RA Royal Suites, which boast 300 to 315 square feet of space, including an outdoor balcony, lounge area and oversized bath. We also like the Royal Panorama Suite, Category RS, which at 325 square feet is the ship’s largest accommodation. Located aft on Diamond Deck, this stellar suite has panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling windows that span two walls. Scenic Diamond and other so-called “Space Ships” also have butler service.

Further east, France’s Rhone/Saone region also has ports reflecting strong wine economies. We particularly like Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s eight-day “Burgundy & Province” itinerary between Avignon and Lyon on the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine, a new vessel christened in 2014. The itinerary gives guests options for exploring Lyon’s gastronomic scene and market; Papal and Roman sites in Avignon and Arles; and the sister cities of Tain L’Hermitage and Tournon. In addition, for guests on this specific itinerary, Uniworld has a new two-night extension option in 2015 — a pampering stay at Hotel Scribe managed by Sofitel in Paris, a luxury property within a 19th-century building.

The historic Hermitage wine district, famed for its Cotes du Rhone wines, was a favorite of France’s King Louis XIV. During port time here, Uniworld offers a choice of a “Village Day” of wine tasting or, alternatively, a Hermitage vineyard walking tour with wine tasting and Lyon “Illuminations” tour. The destination is perfect for both organized tours and independent exploration. Tournon is just across the river from Tain L’Hermitage; it’s an easy stroll for cruisers over a 19th-century, Marc Seguin-designed suspension bridge. The open-air, upper terrace of Tournon castle offers fabulous views of the two cities and vineyards; it’s a great place for a “selfie.”

Those on this itinerary will also spend time in Beaune, the region’s wine capital, and visit the Hospices de Beaune, where monks have been making wine to sell for charity auction since the 15th century.

For the ultimate in pampering on S.S. Catherine, we like No. 401, the lavishly appointed Royal Suite with both a French balcony and full open-air balcony. Uniworld’s guests also will find a handcrafted Savoir of England bed, built-in closets and separate seating and bedroom areas. Plus, the suite’s marble bathroom has a separate rain shower and tub. Royal Suite guests have butler service, a Nespresso coffee machine, refrigerator, iPod dock, daily fruit and cookie plate, and a bottle of wine upon arrival, among many other included perks.

AMAVIDA has balconies in the majority of its staterooms and suites, which range up to 323 square feet.
Amavida has balconies in the majority of its staterooms and suites, which range up to 323 square feet.

Both first-time cruisers and experienced travelers alike often select Rhine and Moselle River sailings for exposure to castles, eco-beauty, vineyards and quaint destinations that “ooze” charm. Wine enthusiasts typically enjoy such German ports as Rudesheim on the Rhine or quaint Cochem on the Moselle. In Rudesheim, cruisers can walk to the Rheingau Wine Museum, housed within the old Bromserburg Castle; don’t miss the antique wine glasses, some dating from medieval and Roman times. In addition, cruisers can stroll the Drosselgasse with brew pubs, eclectic shops and wine bars. Why not pop in and sample the local Rudesheimer Riesling? You might hear live music and see both locals and visitors dancing.

Viking River Cruises offers two new itineraries that navigate the Rhine (one plies the Main and Moselle as well) this spring; both have Rudesheim port calls. The new “Rhine Rhapsody” 10-day Viking cruisetour includes a stay in Paris plus a Rhine, Main and Moselle River sailing. Cruisers can tour Rudesheim independently or join Viking’s concierge for a wine-tasting experience. Other ports on this itinerary include the former Roman city of Trier and Cochem, brimming with wine bars and home to the imposing Reichsburg Castle, atop a hill adjacent to the town.

Viking also has a new eight-day “Legends of the Rhine” voyage between Amsterdam and Frankfurt, which also calls in Rudesheim. The two new itineraries are operated by numerous 190-passenger Viking Longships. Each has slightly different decor touches but a similar interior lay-out and design. For the top digs, we love the spacious Explorer Suites and their 270-degree wraparound veranda, something unusual on a river vessel. These suites also offer separate living and bedroom areas as well as a French balcony.

AVALON WATERWAYS takes cruisers along the Danube through the Wachau wine region to Durnstein, in Austria.
Avalon Waterways takes cruisers along the Danube through the Wachau wine region to Durnstein, in Austria.

Travelers who aren’t sure they’ll enjoy a river cruise might opt for a shorter voyage. This November, A-Rosa Cruises’ 202-passenger Viva sails a series of four-night voyages on the Rhine roundtrip from Cologne, Germany; port calls include Mannheim, Germany; Strasbourg, France (via Kehl in Germany) and Mainz, Germany. Downtown Mainz is both historic and modern; the city also has a bustling fresh market and Gutenberg Museum. When booking a stateroom, the best available digs are third-deck French balcony cabins.

Some itineraries combine the Rhine with the Danube or sail the Danube solely. Departing November 1 and also in 2016 (October 30, November 2 and November 5), Avalon Waterways is offering 13-day wine-themed “Blue Danube Discovery” cruises between Budapest and Prague. Guests spend two days in Hungary’s capital city and then board the ship, which sails to Passau and medieval Regensburg in Germany, as well as Durnstein (with many wine bars and nooks around town), Vienna and Melk in Austria.

Austria’s Wachau valley is renowned for mineral-driven white wines such as Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. This “Wine Appreciation” sailing will include wine lectures and tastings for guests at no additional cost. For a private tour experience or group wine tasting in Durnstein, we suggest checking out the pretty Baroque Cellar Palace of Domane Wachau, just outside town. It was nicely restored a few years back with bright interior frescoes, restored plaster reliefs and murals. Also, it has a fine-art collection of restored copper plates and drawings.

Top suite for this “Blue Danube Discovery” itinerary on the 162-passenger Avalon Panorama is the 300-square-foot Royal Suite, with a six-person sitting area, marble countertops in the bathroom, wall-to-wall panoramic window with open-air balcony, and much more.

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