I have been lucky to be on several river cruises in the past. Each time, I come away feeling that their popularity truly has revolutionized traveling. You can certainly fly to any city in the world and find your way around (with research and acquired knowledge).
You fly into a city, get transportation to your hotel, find some great places to eat and explore and enjoy. On a river cruise, you are picked up at your airport and brought to your ship; you select which excursions you want to explore from a pretty inclusive list, then transported in luxury to each location on your must-see list. You are served world class food by talented chefs and, oh, did I mention that your hotel travels with you, and your clothes are unpacked and in your traveling closet? No suitcase shuffle games.
The world is a different place for travelers now with heightened security and when I say that river cruising has revolutionized travel some may think that is too strong a description but stats will prove me right on this one. More and more ships built. More and more locations around the world scouted for river cruising or a hybrid trip of cruising/road excursions. Honestly, there are parking jams at the ports now with different companies and even some of the same companies and their ships docking more than one ship full of passengers. A popular route like the Danube or even the Rhone (where we sailed) is just bursting with demand. Frankly, the desire to cut down on the often tiresome issues that plague travel outside our country are skillfully minimized or eliminated. In a nut shell, it is the travel 101 for those who want to leave the country and have all the arrangements made for them.
Provence to Lyon on the Viking Buri
The Rhone River, like many throughout Europe, runs through the picturesque towns that you daydream about that dot the map of Provence. The 505-mile long expanse flows from a glacier in the Swiss Alps at about 6,000 feet, then progresses through the French Alpilles, through Lake Geneva, and south to Lyon while cutting through the Rhone Valley.
Our embarkation began in Avignon, one of the most beautiful cities in France and all of Europe in my mind. This is a wonderfully walkable city whose medieval walls soar in magnificence. The “City of Popes” has much more than just excellent historic sites to visit. Strolling the markets or squares delivers a feeling of peace. This is the way life should be—modern and very livable yet in medieval splendor with the emphasis on living life slowly with great food and ease. Docked, The Buri was within walking distance to it all. Whether taking part in side excursions around or in Avignon from the ship or not, there was time to walk off the ship and be in middle of the city’s life.
Also on our itinerary was Arles in southern France. Often called the city of Rome—yes, Rome, the ancient Roman ruins there are as intact as many in Italy. In addition, there are some remarkable connections to art, including the artist Van Gogh.
The city of Viviers is another one of the charming small towns in the region. This beautiful, laid back and scenic mountain town will frankly take your breath away. It dates from the 1500s and 1600s and completely intact, with no stores allowed here—only restaurants and one bakery that I could see. About 2,000 people still live here in complete and pure history.
Pérouges is yet another incredible medieval walled town, on a small hill overlooking the Ain River valley. We took a short side excursion through the Friday Lyon traffic to explore it. Its’ winding cobblestone streets leading up and down the village, it was the perfect idyllic French spot to walk and gawk. Flowers drape every dwelling, and the clean, fresh swept look must be the setting for all childhood fairy tales.
Our last stop was Lyon, my favorite big city. It is now the culinary capital of France, bumping aside Paris since Paul Bocuse, the legendary French chef, set the reputation in motion some years ago. Lyon is spectacular, from the secret passageways (not so secret now) of Vieux Lyon in the historic Croix-Rousse district, to Les Halles de Lyon, a covered market offering food products of France and all over the world. We spent our last dinner in Brassiere Georges 1836. Anyone who loves French food needs to visit this Lyonnais institution at least once in a lifetime. To try it, we even gave up the wonderful Viking food that is always all included. Our ship’s concierge told us that reservations were not accepted, but if we were to go before seven (which is very early to French diners), we would likely be able to get a table. We did, and we did!
The Viking dining experience
Ocean cruises have been known for large endless portions and options for food; it is often mediocre, however. On board Viking River Cruises, well qualified and proven chefs are in charge of the food. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are amazing. Options are plentiful and designed using only the freshest ingredients of the regions you are sailing in. Jozsef Palinkas from a small village near Budapest was our chef. Attending culinary school in the wine territory of Hungary, he has been a chef since 1989. Earlier in his career, he tired of cooking Hungarian food and wanted to explore and cook other world cuisines with the knowledge and experience of actually traveling to the innovative homes of the cuisine he was mastering.
His goal is to create a five-star type of a dining experience each day while representing the ingredients close to the port where the ship docks as well as creating and maintaining a family-like environment for and with his staff. The ship’s kitchen and wait staff need to work so closely and so keenly proficient night after night for months at sea; Chef Palinkas knows that this is the secret to success. While he is at the helm of the food story we tell after leaving our excursions, he credits his staff profusely with his obvious triumph.
Chef Palinkas shared a Chocolate Fondant (Lava Cake) recipe in an on-board demonstration while we were sailing from port to port. Please see the recipe for this amazing and easy molten style cake.
The bar scene on board is always active, and I cannot imagine anything that you could desire that the bar did not have on hand. Because we were in France, the French wines were well researched, plentiful and awesome both with dinner and lunch as well as in the salon in the evenings when enjoying briefings, jokes, and entertainment.
Experience river cruising
For all the reasons that I have written about, the popularity of river cruising is growing by leaps. Relaxing while traveling the world is rare, but on a river in the world, it can be yours. Your stateroom or balcony becomes a window to beauty. Life passes by at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to grab your calendar or travel journal to document the sites. Each evening, you can meet new friends (some may be your friends forever forward) and exchanging stories that you never heard before is a rich way to dine. Don’t worry about navigating back to your hotel as you are steps from your stateroom and having an extra glass or two of an adult beverage is a pleasure and not a dread.
I am certainly grateful for the river cruising experience and wish this for all our traveling readers.
Chocolate Fondant (Lava Cake)
Also known as “molten chocolate cake,” this decadent dessert of chocolate cake with a melted chocolate center has been a favorite in the U.S. since 1987. It is typically served with raspberries and dusted with powdered sugar.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes
Serving suggestion: Serve with sweetened whipped cream and raspberries.
230gr (8oz) bittersweet chocolate 72%
150gr (5oz) butter
200gr (7oz) sugar
2 Tbls. flour
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
• Make the butter in round form (10.25 inches in diameter).
• Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it with butter over hot water.
• Beat the eggs with sugar and mix with flour. • Slowly fold in the melted butter and chocolate.
• Bake at 350 degrees for only 10 minutes; the outer part should be cooked and the inner part liquid.