An absolutely perfect hiking day in the Wachau Valley.
One of the many perks of river cruising in Europe - and reasons I love it so much - is the ability to slip in and out of towns that most tourists never see, or even hear of. Such is the case with the quaint village of Spitz, Austria, where I recently had the pleasure of taking a hike, followed by a delightful wine tasting.
Located in the heart of Austria’s Wachau Valley - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - this wine-country town has been nicknamed “the town of a thousand buckets.” There is a rounded hill at the center of Spitz and it has been said that due to the region’s prolific harvest, one could fill the hole with a thousand buckets’ worth of grapes. Whether or not that myth is true, it’s no matter - I was here to taste the fruits of the harvest, in a wine glass.
The views while hiking are incredible.
But first, a hike. We walked right into town from the ship, which in our case, was docked there alone, providing us with the most spectacular and unobstructed views. We walked through the Old Town and then up into the hillside vineyards (some other guests chose to bike through town and the rolling Wachau Valley). The town appears as if from the pages of a storybook, with everything impeccably cared for and clean.
The AmaMagna is double the width of a standard rivership. When it's docked in Spitz no
other ship can dock at the same time, which made my day/evening extra special.
Finally, it was time for our much-anticipated wine tasting at the Klosterhof Spitz. Greeted by musicians in traditional garb playing the accordion, we learned about the history of winegrowing and winemaking in Spitz. After an event of tasting a range of vintages local to the Wachau Valley, there was time left to tour the cellars on our own, which was a lovely experience.
We visited the wine cellars at our own pace, which meant I could wander completely alone.
The Wachau Valley is known for its Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, both of which we sampled. Among the most notable wineries near Spitz are Hutter-Silberbichlerhof, whose winemaking can be traced back to 1748, and Sighardt Donabaum on Zornberg, one of the oldest parts of Spitz.
Should you have the chance to spend a day in Spitz, I cannot recommend a vineyard hike and wine tasting experience enough. Are you considering a cruise on the Danube? Schedule a consult by clicking the button below and we'll get started.
The American Empress docked in Stevenson, Washington. I took this photo after returning
from visiting Multnomah Falls & the Timberline Lodge where I hiked a bit of the
Pacific Crest Trail and partially up Mt. Hood.
Move over Europe. Await your turn, Alaska. Today, I turn my cruise focus to North America’s mighty rivers, from the Mississippi to the Columbia. Reputable cruise lines that have been around for decades are plying the historic waterways of our continent, revealing culture, cuisine and capitating cities along the way. Here’s a taste of what you can experience.
A Lower Mississippi voyage will sail from New Orleans to Memphis (or reverse)
Hear and feel the stories of the Mississippi, from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans. The farther you sail along the river, the more chapters are revealed. Learn why Chattanooga, Tennessee, was named by The New York Times one of the “Top 45 Places to Go” in the world. Feel the small-town charm of Decatur, Alabama, with its Civil War-era history and fantastic birdwatching. In Paducah, Kentucky, marvel at backstitch in the National Quilt Museum and discover the pivotal role the town played in American history.
In La Crosse, Wisconsin, take a break from the boat and cruise on four wheels instead - the Great River Road National Scenic Byway is considered one of the most scenic drives in America. Memphis appeals to the music lover in all of us with its Beale Street Historic District, Blues Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and more. And, of course, New Orleans, woos us with its cuisine and its character.
The Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island
An immersive, all-inclusive Great Lakes cruise will reveal the lovely towns that line the lakes, as well as some of America’s liveliest cities. As you sail Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior, you’ll step back in time, marvel at geological history and see native wildlife and experience local cuisine. Hike in Thunder Bay, Ontario’s, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and taste cheese freshly made at a nearby dairy farm. Cross the famous Soo Locks between Lakes Superior and Huron or find out why eastern Lake Superior is known as the “Shipwreck Coast.” Ride in a horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac Island, where no cars are allowed and admire the late-Victorian and art deco architecture of Alpena on Lake Huron.
Our jet boat excursion stopped for a short break at Garden Creek Ranch along the Snake River.
I picked apricots in the orchard and checked Idaho off my bucket list!
Columbia and Snake Rivers
For the adventurer in us, cruising the Columbia and Snake Rivers unveils dramatic scenery and showcases the daring exploits of the frontiersmen and women who came before us. Feel the breeze in your hair as you stand on the decks of a mighty paddlewheeler, watching as rocky cliffs and ripped trees pass by. Wander through Astoria, Oregon, a picturesque port city awash with Victorian-style homes and known to be the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies.
Spend a day in The Dalles, known as the end of the Oregon Trail, and a hot spot for vineyards and orchards in the shadow of majestic Mount Hood. Watch kiteboarders take on the swells of the Columbia in Stevenson, Washington, and learn the Native American legends and see petroglyphs that tell the story of the Columbia Gorge.
America is rich in rivers and I invite you to consider these storied waterways when mulling over your next cruise destination. From the Cumberland to the Columbia, there is much to learn, feel, do and taste right here in our big backyard. I look forward to sharing my own experiences later this summer. For now, if your interest is piqued, let’s chat.
My delicious purchase at Confiserie Fürst
As ubiquitous as a Hershey’s Kiss in America, Mozart chocolates in Austria are a beloved confectionary tradition. Mozartkugel (or Mozartkugeln) are small, round, dark chocolate-covered balls filled with pistachio, marzipan and hazelnut nougat. They were first created by a confectioner in Salzburg named Paul Fürst in 1890 and named for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in the city. Fürst chose to name them for Mozart in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death in 1891.
Master confectioner Fürst was awarded a gold medal for his popular chocolates at the 1905 Paris exhibition. Today, you can purchase handmade Mozartkugel (also called Mozart-Bonbons or Mozart Chocolate) at Fürst on Mirabell Square, more than 125 years after the first chocolate ball was formed. Mr. Fürst’s great-great-grandson is the owner of the company and still produces what is called the “Original Salzburg Mozartkugel,” a claim only they are legally allowed to make. The chocolates at Fürst are wrapped in blue and silver tinfoil, setting them apart from the red-and-gold-foil-wrapped treats you’ll find in just about every market throughout Austria. Two additional Fürst shops are located in Old Town on the Getreidegasse and Ritzerbogen.
I purchased my chocolates at this Fürst shop located in Old Town
A second shop, Mirabell, mass produces “Echte Salzburger Mozartkugel,” and claims to follow the original recipe. The name means “real Salzburg Mozart chocolate,” leaving out the word “original.” While it certainly also tastes divine, if your chocolate doesn’t say Fürst, it's not the Original.
So, how is the Original made? The confectioner forms a ball of pistachio and green marzipan surrounded by hazelnut nougat. The ball is put on the end of a stick and dipped in dark chocolate. Once the ball is removed from the chocolate, the remaining hole is hand filled with chocolate, leaving a small dot. Therefore, the original Mozartkugel aren’t perfectly round (a quick way to distinguish them from copycat Mozart chocolates).
If you just can’t get enough Mozart chocolate, consider a visit to Konditorei Schatz, a fantastic family-run cake shop in Salzburg. They, too, started producing Mozart chocolate balls around 100 years ago and still hand make them in their shop on the Getreidegasse. They claim to have been hand-dipping their chocolates since the 19th century, first selling it under the name Mozartkugel around 1900.
Although these chocolates are also delicious, they are not made with the original recipe.
How to enjoy a Mozart chocolate? Complement your chocolate with caffeine! OK, decaf will do, but I strongly suggest good coffee alongside your Mozart chocolates. It’s a chocoholic’s delight. Be sure to pick up plenty of extra Mozartkugeln - they make an excellent souvenir and gift.
Ready to taste the Original Salzburg Mozartkugel? Let’s chat about river cruising in Europe that will deliver you to Salzburg, home of these decadent delicacies.
A guided bike ride tour is a great way to explore Cologne
As an active observer on two wheels, a biking visitor to Cologne will earn a deeper appreciation of this fascinating cathedral city at street level - and travel in an environmentally friendly manner and get a good dose of fresh air. Guided tours can take you on an invigorating biking excursion through Old Town, along the river banks of the Old Town Park and more, an ideal way to sightsee for active adventurists. And there’s no need to worry about equipment, as bikes and helmets are provided.
Here’s what you may see as you spin your way through Germany’s oldest city - depending on your excursion, your particular bike tour may vary in what you will experience. No matter where you cycle, however, you can rest assured you’ll know more about this 2,000-year-old city - from the Roman ages to the Middle Ages to today - than you did when you started out.
The Hohenzollern Bridge
One of the biggest draws in the city, Cologne’s Old Town delivers oodles of charm. Cycle and walk through narrow alleyways past traditional houses, breweries, pubs and restaurants - perhaps stopping in for a Kölsch beer or Halver Hahn sandwich. Pop into the Romano-Germanic Museum, the Wallraf Richartz Museum, the Museum Ludwig or the Farina Fragrance Museum. Take a picture next to the Tünnes and Schäl monuments or Heinzelmännchen (Cologne elves) fountain. Shop like a local along the Alter Markt and Heumarkt.
This delightful site at the Neusser Wall is home to impressive, ancient walls, green lawns, old trees and a gorgeous garden with 70 species of roses. Stroll through the symmetrically arranged gardens or take a break from biking on one of the prettily placed benches or in the pavilion.
Be sure to pause as you cross this bridge over the Rhine for the best views of the Cologne skyline.
This vast park stretches along the Rhine, offering gigantic lawns, a miniature railroad, the Cologne Rhine cable car and the Claudius Therme Thermal Spa, the perfect spot to treat your weary muscles to a well-deserved soak.
A couple of my friends during their ride in Cologne
Famous for its photo op of the Cologne Cathedral, Crane Houses and a smattering of smaller towers, the Hohenzollern Bridge was built from 1907 to 1911. It was the only Cologne bridge not destroyed by bombs during World War II. Check out the colorful love locks hung along the bridge railings.
Take a break from pedaling for a visit to the Ludwig Museum, opened in 1976 with a gift of approximately 350 works of modern art by the Ludwig couple. You’ll also find an extensive collection of Russian Avantgarde painting and several hundreds works by Picasso. The modern art department of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum has been integrated into the Ludwig, including Roy Lichtenstein’s “Maybe” and Andy Warhol’s “Brillo Boxes.”
Talk about burying the lead … the Cologne Cathedral, a building that defies all superlatives, will be a highlight of your bike tour. The cornerstone was laid back in August 1248, the base for this Gothic cathedral that houses the remains of the Three Wise Men. The massive towers have dominated the city skyline since they were completed in 1880. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s shrine of the Three Wise Men and notice the impressive stained-glass windows and important works of art.
Rheinauhafen Harbor District
This reinvigorated waterfront complex is the youngest district in the city, offering an engaging mix of cafes, restaurants and galleries. The centerpiece is the Kranhäuser (crane tower) trio, three buildings shaped like hoisting cranes and defining the skyline along the west bank of the Rhine. If you’re an architecture buff, check out the trapezoid-shaped Art’otel Cologne with its colorful windows and picturesque collages. There’s plenty of history here, too, despite the renovations. The area’s former granary, the Siebengebirge (seven hills) makes a nice complement to the modern angles of the Rheinauhafen.
And more! There is much to see on two wheels throughout Cologne, particularly when you’re cycling with a professional local guide. Let’s chat about your active sightseeing adventure through this glorious German destination.
Travel Advisor Specializing in River Cruising