Clam Castle… Where History Lives On
It’s not every day you can possibly meet up with a living count in his own castle - and yes, when you take a river cruise through Austria, you may have the chance to do just that. Those sailing the mighty Danube have the opportunity to visit Burg Clam (Clam Castle) in medieval Grein in the hills of the Strudengau Valley. What’s more, you can enjoy an exquisite wine tasting within this majestic and historic setting. Here’s everything you need to know about an unforgettable Clam Castle visit.
Count the Counts
There have been counts living in Burg Clam for more than 550 years. The earliest written record of the estate dates back to 1149. The original Counts of Clam presided over the Danube Valley from a twin-towered fortress, defending the castle by private army during the 30 Year War. While much of the structure survived attacks and parts of it were burned down, the entire building was renovated under the rule of Johann Gottfried of Clam, who also built a church, hospital and water pipes for the village. The fortress was also transformed at that time into the livable home you’ll find today.
Meet the Count
When visitors tour Clam Castle today, they may catch a glimpse of Count Carl Philip Clam or his children playing in the halls. Imagine for a moment everyday life within these massive granite walls and an incredible array of antiques, art and armory. Despite the medieval overtones, the castle is quite welcoming - you’ll have the chance to see the courtyards, the kitchen and the Gothic castle (which the Count himself believes to be inhabited by ghosts!). The Count and his family thoroughly enjoy welcoming travelers and appreciate the support of cultural heritage that each visit provides.
A view of the inner courtyard and the main courtyard entrance
Wine Tasting (with the Count?)
The wines of the Danube Valley are spectacular and what better place to indulge than at Clam Castle? Beneath flowering vines and graceful arches, amidst elegant portraiture, you’ll sample a few regional vintages from the village of Krems, known for their freshness, spiciness and complexity. You never know - the Count himself may join your group!
If you’d like to explore the area a bit more, consider a stop at Winzer Krems, where you can tour the wine estate, learn about the wine-making process and sample some of their produce. The grape varieties include Chardonnay, Neuberger, Yellow Muscatel and Pinot Blanc.
If you’d like to see another iconic fortress, head to Aggstein Castle, sitting atop a rocky outcrop over the Danube since the 1200s. Or, visit Schonbuhel Castle below the town of Melk in the Wachau region.
Finally, I love the Gottweig Abbey south of Krems. The impressive Benedictine monastery boasts a colorful Baroque exterior, impressive twin towers, a walled courtyard, an apricot orchard and incredible views of the Wachau Valley from its terraces.
Ready to visit Burg Clam and perhaps meet the Count? Let’s chat.
The Bloemenmarkt is the world's only floating flower market.
What to Do in Amsterdam Before or After Your River Cruise
If you have a Rhine River cruise on your horizon (you should!), I highly advise staying a few extra days in Amsterdam before or after your sailing. I recently cruised from Amsterdam to Basel and those couple extra days were like the cherry on top of my vacation. From a canal cruise to the Rembrandt House, the Red Light District to the Amsterdam Museum, there is so much to love about this historic, yet cosmopolitan city. Here’s what to do with your bonus vacation days in Amsterdam!
The city’s namesake museum provides a fantastic and interactive way to learn about Amsterdam’s history from ancient times to today. The exhibits encompass artwork, artifacts, clothing, videos, graphics and more - and they’re constantly changing, so even if you happen to have been here before, you’ll find something new and illuminating on display.
Imagine life as a royal at the Royal Palace on Dam Square, one of the three palaces still used by the Dutch Royal family. Today, the Royal Palace is used for award ceremonies and important receptions, including royal marriages, and abdication and succession of the throne. Head inside to see the beautiful Empire furniture of former resident Louis Napoleon.
Rembrandtplein is a popular square that houses this impressive statue.
Visit the long-time home of famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn - he lived and painted here from 1639 to 1658. The interior has been fashioned in such a way to look like it would have looked when Rembrandt lived here. A rotating exhibit of Rembrandt’s etchings is on display - and you can even learn the tricks of the etching technique yourself.
Red Light District
Explore the infamous Red Light District (also known as De Wallen or Rosse Buurt), dating back to the 14th century, when sailors would arrive here seeking female companionship. The area is demarcated by short pillars with red lights - within those boundaries, you’ll find cannabis-selling coffee shops, sex shops and various museums. It’s definitely not a family-friendly sightseeing destination, but for those interested in the authentic history of Amsterdam, it’s a great visit.
For a different perspective on the Red Light District, stop by De Oude Kerk, which dates back to the year 1300. It is said to be the oldest building in Amsterdam and was frequented by sailors praying for a safe journey. There are many notable people buried here, including Rembrandt’s wife. The ringing of the church bells is particularly lovely - the bridge by the Oudekerkplein is the best place to listen to them.
This replica of the three masted “Amsterdam” is a canal cruise highlight.
Marvel at tulip bulbs the size of your hand at the world’s only floating flower market. The year-round Bloemenmarkt sits on several houseboats in the Singel canal and is a cacophony of colors and scents. You can also visit the famous Keukenhof for more flower power, open March through May.
Don’t miss the chance to experience Amsterdam from its iconic canals. Take a seat as your boat winds its way along the city’s waterways, giving you a new perspective on its attractions. If you’d like, you can buy a hop-on/hop-off ticket so you can work some more sightseeing into your day.
Don’t miss the chance to really experience Amsterdam before or after your Rhine River cruise. Let’s chat about where to stay and what to do.
My favorite Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam!
Taste the Difference: Belgian Waffles or Dutch Pancakes?
Perfectly golden brown on top and light and fluffy inside, smothered in white and dark chocolate chips and fresh strawberries and served with a dainty cup of freshly whipped cream. They were quite simply the best pancakes I’ve ever had. Where was I? Amsterdam, of course - home to traditional Dutch pancakes. And I ate the whole thing.
If you’re a fan of breakfast fare, you’ll fall for the traditional European foods that, while served mainly in the morning, are great any time of day. My particular favorite: Belgian waffles and those delicious Dutch pancakes. While you’re on your northern Europe river cruise, sample as many as you can, from Brussels to Amsterdam. Here’s all you need to know about these decadent delicacies.
Belgian Waffles, the Backstory
Waffles are Belgium, and Belgium is waffles. While there are plenty of other wonderful tastes for foodies here - the cheeses! the chocolates! the fries! the beer! - it is the waffles that steal my heart. Topped with whatever suits your taste, they can be enjoyed any time of day - and they’re easy to find throughout the country.
The Dutch waffle was first referenced in the 13th century, and yet didn’t make it to the United States until the World’s Fair in the 1960s. These beloved treats have been a mainstay of Belgian diets for centuries, with dozens of variations. An “actual” Belgian waffle is known by its lighter batter, larger squares and deeper waffle pockets made from 1-1/2-inch depth waffle irons. You can find them on the streets - they’re easy to carry around - and dine on them in traditional tea rooms known as gauferies.
Perfect Belgian waffles – delicious!
Dutch Pancakes - or Pannenkoeken
Believe it or not, Dutch pancakes did not originate in the Netherlands, but instead in China and Nepal. The original buckwheat recipe dates back to the 12th century. When buckwheat started being cultivated in Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Belgium, a buckwheat pancake recipe was formulated. Originally, the recipe called for buckwheat, water, milk and melted butter, but the Dutch added flour, milk and eggs. Today’s Dutch pancakes differ from the traditional American pancake in that they are larger and thinner than the thick, fluffy version you’re used to. They can be served with sweet or savory toppings and fillings.
Prefer sweet? Try whipped cream and strawberries, or nutella and bananas. Prefer savory? Try bacon and cheese, salmon or creme fraiche and chives. The best part is that the Dutch truly enjoy their pannenkoeken anytime of day - brinner, anyone?
Hungry? Let’s chat about culinary-focused river cruises in northern Europe and you’ll be able to determine for yourself whether you prefer Belgian waffles or Dutch pancakes!
My favorite picture as we left the city to begin our river cruise
Cruising the Danube? Stay in Budapest an extra few days before or after your sailing - two or three on either end should do the trick. Most of the city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so wherever you wander, you’re guaranteed an incredible introduction to the city’s art, culture, architecture and history. Actually composed of three unified cities (Buda and Obuda on the Danube River’s west bank and Pest on the east bank), Budapest is a heady blend of contemporary and historic styles, with a range of activities for every interest, from thermal spas to world-class museums. To whet your appetite for exploration, here’s the very best of Budapest!
To be fair, the best view you will get of the Hungarian Parliament Building is from the deck of your river-cruising vessel, but if you have time, take the opportunity to get an interior tour, too. Built in the Gothic Revival style and one of Hungary’s largest buildings, the impressive structure contains countless parliamentary offices, some of which you can see on the guided tour (available in different languages).
Gellert Bath and Spa Centre
Budapest is known for its thermal spas (particularly delightful in the colder months). Don’t miss this famous one, an Art Nouveau-style complex originally built between 1912 and 1918. After sustaining World War II damage, the entire spa was carefully renovated to be returned to its former glory. Today, you can visit any day of the week to enjoy the bubbling pools, open-air pool/wave pool, Finnish sauna and plunge pools.
The Seven Chieftans of the Magyars statues are located in Heroes' Square
At the end of Andrassy Avenue, Heroes’ Square represents the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, said to have led the Hungarians from central Asia to the Carpathian Basin. Look closely at the top of the central pillar, where you’ll see the monument of Archangel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown. If you have time, pop into the art galleries that sit on either side of the square.
Stroll along the majestic river you are about to sail (or have just sailed). The Danube promenade stretches from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge. On the Buda side of the river, you’ll glimpse Buda Castle, the Liberty Statue and the Fisherman’s Bastion. Along the promenade side, pop into various restaurants and cafes, visit Szechenyi Istvan Square and take a few Insta-worthy snapshots of the Little Princess sculpture.
St. Stephen's Basilica is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Get a bird’s-eye view of the city from the base of the St. Stephen’s Basilica Dome. Not a fan of heights? Tour the main level of this important religious building, where it is said you can see the right hand of Stephen, the first king of Hungary, in the reliquary. During the summer months, classical music and organ concerts are often held inside and on the square outside.
Hungarian State Opera House
If you’re an opera fan, splurge on a ticket to a show at this impressive, 1,200-seat auditorium. Commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph in Neo-Renaissance style, the 1884 building is considered to be one of the best spaces in the world for operatic performances. No time for a show? Take a short, guided tour during the day. Notice the statues of composers Ferenc Erkel and Franz Liszt outside.
Don’t miss the chance to really experience Budapest before or after your Danube River cruise. Let’s chat about where to stay and what to do.
The Salzburg Cathedral is magnificent and located in Old Town
So your Danube river cruise takes you to Salzburg? Lucky you! Storybook Salzburg is a pure delight. While it’s surely worth more than a day of your vacation, if that’s the time provided as part of your Europe river cruise, there are plenty of options for enjoying the city’s myriad attractions. Your excursion choices may differ depending on which cruise line you sail, but here are some of the most popular.
The Sound of Music Tour
Certainly one of Salzburg’s most recognizable claims to fame, the classic film The Sound of Music was filmed in various spots around town. The hills will indeed come alive as you tour the Salzburg countryside to visit various locations used in the making of the movie. Stops typically include Leopoldskron Palace, the front of which was used as the Trapp family home; the Gazebo at Hellbrunn Palace, where Leiszl experienced her first kiss; Mirabell Garden, where Maria and the children danced and sang “Do-Re-Mi”; Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria was tardy to Mass; St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang; and the wedding church, Mondsee, a 12th-century former Benedictine abbey.
I was fortunate to have a few moments alone in St. Michael's in Mondsee where the
wedding scene from The Sound of Music was filmed.
Classic Salzburg Sights
To get the most out of your day in this picturesque alpine city, take a guided walking tour. Explore the Italianate Old Town, enjoying the Baroque architecture. Take in the view from the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, presiding over town from a rocky cliff. Continue to the Domplatz, where you’ll find the 249-foot, 17th-century Dom and St. Peter’s Abbey, site of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor premiere in 1783. Music aficionados will also want to visit Mozart’s birthplace in the Altstadt. There’s also a museum nearby, Wohnhaus in Makartplatz, that was once his adult home and today unveils everything you’ve always wanted to know about this famous composer. Later, stop by the Salzburg Cathedral, also in the Old Town - it was founded on Roman ruins in 744, rebuilt in the 12th century, then rebuilt again in its current Baroque style in the 17th century.
Hagenauer Haus, Mozart’s birthplace, is one of the most frequented museums in the world
Before or after venturing to Salzburg from your river-cruise ship, explore the old city center of Linz and the Mozart House, or take a bike ride along the city’s famed Cultural Mile and the Danube. Also closeby: the charming Czech mountain town of Český Krumlov, definitely worth a visit if time allows. Consider a bike ride along the Salzach River to the Hellbrunn palace or a bus tour into the surrounding lake district or Bavarian mountains. Finally, ask about a Salzburg salt mines tour, where you can visit the mines and take a boat ride on a subterranean lake.
Is your heart singing for Salzburg? Let’s chat.