Five Countries, Four Rivers, Two Cruises – One Live Voyage Report
Aaron Saunders, River Cruise Advisor
This Saturday, I will embark Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti in Bordeaux, France for a look at one of the line’s newest itineraries: the weeklong Chateaux, Rivers & Wine. Over the course of the week, we’ll sail on three separate rivers (the Garonne, Gironde and Dordogne), visit five different ports of call, and tour three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not to mention, of course, partaking in the region’s famous wines and cognacs.
This is, however, no ordinary Live Voyage Report: once Viking Forseti returns to Bordeaux and concludes our weeklong journey, we’re hopping a plane to Budapest, Hungary where we’ll stay overnight at the gorgeous Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. This boutique hotel is just steps away from the city’s Christmas Market, and that’s a good thing: the following day, we’ll be joining Viking Baldur for a weeklong Danube Waltz through the Christmas Markets of Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany.
The full itinerary, both here and onboard:
|November 22, 2014||Bordeaux, France||Arrival in Bordeaux; Embark Viking Forseti , free time.|
|November 23||Gironde River / Pauillac, France||Scenic Cruising / Medoc and Margaux wine country visit; wine tasting & evening at leisure|
|November 24||Blaye, France||Tour of Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon free time or optional excursion to Cognac|
|November 25||Libourne, France||Tour of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site & Pomerol wine region; afternoon at leisure or optional excursion to Bergerac|
|November 26||Garonne River / Cadillac, France||Scenic Cruising / Excursion to Sauternes wine region & wine tasting|
|November 27||Cadillac, France / Bordeaux, France||Morning city tour / evening at leisure in Bordeaux|
|November 28||Bordeaux, France||Tour of city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon at leisure|
|November 29||Bordeaux, France / Budapest, Hungary||Disembark Viking Forseti; flight to Budapest, Hungary for the start of our next Live Voyage Report. Overnight at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus.|
|November 30||Budapest, Hungary||Embark Viking Baldur; free time to visit the Christmas Market. Traditional Hungarian dinner onboard.|
|December 1, 2014||Budapest, Hungary||City tour of Buda and Pest, including Castle District - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.|
|December 2||Bratislava, Slovakia||City tour through Slovakia's capital|
|December 3||Vienna, Austria||Ringstrasse tour or free time; optional excursion to the Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace; optional evening concert.|
|December 4||Durnstein & Melk, Austria||Free time or optional walking tour in Durnstein; tour of Melk Abbey.|
|December 5||Linz, Austria||Full day excursion to Salzburg, Austria; free time. Return to ship late at night.|
|December 6||Passau, Germany||Walking tour & free time|
|December 7, 2014||Passau, Germany||Disembark Viking Baldur; transfer to Munich, Germany for onward journey home.|
Another interesting aspect of my France river cruise: this will be my first-ever Thanksgiving-themed cruise. As a Canadian, my Thanksgiving took place over a month ago, in October. But American Thanksgiving is a massive tradition in the United States, and I look forward to seeing exactly what Viking prepares for guests on my departure.
This is the first year that Viking has offered this Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary. I had a small sampling of what it would be like back in March, during a brief visit to Bordeaux and Cognac, but I am looking forward to experiencing the voyage in its entirety. From what I hear, this could be the real “sleeper” river cruise itinerary of the year.
Of course, following our Bordeaux adventures, we’re off to Budapest for a Christmas Markets-themed sailing down the historic Danube River.
For me, Europe’s Christmas Markets are very special. My first-ever river cruise took place at about this time three years ago, and I discovered that, despite being far from the target demographic most river cruise lines cater to, that I loved the experience. I loved sailing from one port to the next, passing small towns and villages that had smoke billowing from their chimneys. I loved waking up and watching the frosted landscape of Austria’s Wachau Valley pass by, with castles and cathedrals and cars coming in and out of the mist. I even spent my first night onboard by sleeplessly watching as we passed through the multitude of locks along the Main-Danube Canal. I couldn’t help myself; the whole thing fascinated and enchanted me.
Three years later, I’m still adamant that late fall is the best time of year to take a river cruise. Sure, I could have booked my Bordeaux trip for the summer months (Viking offers it between March and December), but by taking this departure date, I get to experience the beauty of Bordeaux during the winter months and – selfishly – take part in Bordeaux’s own Christmas Market, which, based on my terrible high-school-level French assessment of their website, opens up on November 26.
Of course, taking these itineraries with Viking is special in and of itself. I have very fond memories of sailing along the Danube and the Rhine on winters past aboard their beautiful Viking Longships. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows at every turn, you can’t fail to appreciate the beauty of the regions that you’re sailing in. Is it raining outside? Snowing? No problem: settle into the lounge with a nice hot drink and one of Viking’s fabulous guidebooks and let the world go by. During the Christmas Market sailings, they also come around with homemade Gluhwein. I’d highly recommend it; their recipe has become a Christmas staple in my house on Christmas Eve when I am back on land.
So come along with us over the next 15 days as we sail through France, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany on two separate voyages with Viking River Cruises!