4 minute read
Wine and Dine Along the Rhine
By Renée S. Suen
Those with a taste of adventure find plenty to nibble and sip on with a week-long river cruise
Made infamous by Hansel and Gretel, the Black Forest is unlike the ominous woodlands that haunted my impressionable young mind when I first heard the Brothers Grimm fairytale. Between the well-trodden path and the sun’s warm rays peeking through a canopy of evergreens above, I feel certain there isn’t a gingerbread house or a questionable fate ahead for me. Instead, my hiking party encounters babbling brooks lined with moss-covered rocks and serene waterfalls on the ascent toward our goal – sampling Black Forest cake from Haus Ketterer.
It’s my first visit to the Black Forest, the site where hiking as an outdoor activity supposedly started and the eponymous German chocolate cake with a cherry filling and whipped cream is rumoured to originate. The version served by the 89-year-old Frau Ketterer might not be the first, but it’s the beacon my fellow river-cruising travellers follow.
Breaking the stigma that cruise holidays cater solely to retirees, there’s plenty to do on a river cruise for active Xennials like me. As a light-adventure traveller, I prefer immersing myself in the sights and sounds of a place through urban hikes, sampling regional delicacies and interacting with its denizens. River cruising accommodates this and more.
During our seven-day cruise along the legendary Rhine River with AmaWaterways, I was introduced to Amsterdam’s colourful canals, centuries-old castles flanking Germany and France’s scenic UNESCO-designated Rhine Gorge, before disembarking in Basel, Switzerland. Along the way, I basked in the moment, happily adopting local traditions like cozying up with a flame-licked mug of Rüdesheimer coffee after a day hiking through beautiful terraced vineyards to the ruins of Ehrenfels Castle.
Like a floating boutique hotel, the vessel travels to the next destination while I sleep, freeing me from having to deal with travel logistics, repacking and traffic. The luxury craft caters to a smaller number of guests than traditional ships, meaning there’s plenty of space to relax undisturbed in the lounge to watch picturesque towns and villages roll by through its panoramic windows, to stretch my legs on a post-dinner walk around the sundeck, or to hit the treadmill while cruising to the next port.
Onboard, AmaPrima’s friendly and attentive crew – led by hotel manager, Robert Komesz – didn’t just greet me by name. They were quick to learn my preferences, namely, my love for food – from the tea I take every morning to letting me know when the Indonesian-led kitchen was serving nasi goreng (a fried rice dish with meat and vegetables). They even set aside a brimming platter of roast pork, potatoes and sauerkraut for me when my tour group returned late from a shore excursion.
I found it easy to make new acquaintances – kind faces I’d nod good morning to from across the ample breakfast buffet or the Ontarians who I befriended during the cruise’s Welcome Cocktail party. There were the one-time tablemates at the captain’s gala dinner and an animated group of river cruise veterans who decided to adopt my travel companion and me. This merry bunch set new benchmarks in fun.
Thanks to AmaWaterways, I can finally check off sailing directly under the stars and tippling on bottles of fine wines from my bucket list. Travelling through an acclaimed wine region on a wine-centric cruise is any oenophile’s dream. Besides serving hand-selected wines with their fresh, regionally inspired cuisine, the programs include visiting historic vineyards. Some cruises offer an enhanced experience with complimentary expert-led lectures and guided wine tastings. On my cruise, they were headed up by two Sonoma County vintners, Tony Lombardi of Lombardi Wines and Ben Larks from Coursey Graves.
Gourmands onboard appreciate the daily changing menu served by AmaWaterways, a member of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the prestigious, invite-only international gastronomic society. And they should reserve a multi-course tasting experience at The Chef’s Table, where the last course is perfectly timed with sunset – aka the golden hour, observable through the glass-enclosed dining room.
Ashore, an extensive lineup of tours with varying levels of intensities awaits travellers of all interests. Attracted by the promise of reibekuchen (potato pancakes) and Kölsch beer on the Cologne walking tour led by Oliver Hermann, we visit the stunning Cologne Cathedral, where relics of the Magi – who paid homage to the infant Jesus – rest. Unlike the concrete jungle I’ve left behind in Toronto, the city’s historical architecture leaves me in awe.
In Strasbourg, I search for flammekueche, an Alsatian tart, in the fairytale-like Petite-France district before a tasting of local wine arranged at Le Gruber.
Back on the boat, while some passengers attend a yoga class with the ship’s fitness trainer, take a dip in the whirlpool or enjoy a massage at the spa, I unwind with a cocktail on the ship’s al fresco terrace. Although I welcome the company of my fellow passengers and nightly live entertainment, when I need some alone time, I simply withdraw to my stateroom for an on-demand movie or to be lulled to sleep by the calming waters heard through my open balcony window.
My tasting of German regional highlights concludes with a ride to Ravenna Gorge. Though I might have missed other excursions like biking through Breisach’s winegrowing region and visiting Riquewihr, the 16th-century village that inspired Belle’s hometown in Beauty and the Beast, it’s okay with me. I found my happily ever after with a heavenly slice of Black Forest cake.