Karine Hagen of Viking River Cruises in Uglich, Russia // © 2014 Viking River Cruises
Feature image (above): Venice, Italy is one of Uniworld president Guy Young’s favorite ports. // © 2014 Thinkstock
River cruise line executives arguably know the port cities included in their itineraries better than most travelers. We asked them for a few insider tips on what they like to do in their favorite ports.
Wine Taverns in Vienna and Old Town in Basel
Vienna is the favorite port for Kristin Karst, vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. It’s also the birthplace of her husband, Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of the line.
Karst recommends a visit to the heurige, or wine taverns, where guests can join the Viennese in sampling young wines from the current vintage. Another favorite is Cafe Landtmann, a 19th century coffee house that still has a local rather than tourist-centric feel.
“We have twice encountered the president of Austria there,” she noted.
Schreiner’s own choice is Basel, one of Switzerland’s oldest cities and the cruise line’s home base. He treasures the city’s international flavor and particularly recommends the restaurants in the Old Town. Among his favorites is Schifferhaus in the port area, housed in a historic building with a charming backyard.
Cheese, Chocolates and Shopping in Lyon
Katharine Bonner, vice president of river and small ship cruising for Tauck, picked Lyon as her port of choice.
“It’s a foodie’s paradise that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity chef,” she noted.
When Bonner is in Lyon, she might visit Les Halles for cheese and chocolate treats, or enjoy a salad Lyonnaise for lunch with frisee lettuce, lardons and a poached egg on top. Afterward, it’s time for a little shopping.
“I love silk scarves,” Bonner said. “There’s a special store with an incredible selection that’s located — appropriately — just opposite of the city’s textile museum.”
Encoutering History and Sampling Wines in Berkastel
The Moselle River is home to the favorite ports of Patrick Clark, Avalon Waterways’ managing director. He especially likes Berkastel, where you can view the half-timbered houses built centuries ago while strolling narrow cobblestone streets.
For a meal off the ship, he recommends the regional specialties at local restaurant Graacher Tor.
“A visit to the Vinothek in the Weinkuturellen Zentrum is also a treat,” Clark said. “There you can sample the wines of the region, underground, in the historic vaults of St. Nikolas Hospital.”
Outdoor Cafes in Venice
Venice is the best-loved port for Uniworld president Guy Young.
“Traveling on a small river cruise ship has the great advantage of often being in a prime docking location where you can simply walk off the ship and begin exploring a magnificent city,” Young said. “In Venice, sitting in one of the outdoor cafes on St. Mark’s Square is a fantastic experience, and one that I have enjoyed with my family. A drink or a cup of coffee is not inexpensive, but the experience is priceless.”
Strolling Through Uglich
Karine Hagen, vice president of product development for Viking River Cruises, said her favorite port is the Golden Ring town of Uglich on the Volga River in Russia. The dock’s location is picturesque, sitting next to the onion-domed Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood.
“Everything in the town is within walking distance, and it is the sweetest, safest place, should you be so lucky as to get lost there,” Hagen said.
Guests receive a warm welcome on the pier by Babushkas selling their garden flowers. “If you have the chance to visit, look for Babushka Nadya, my local granny, who has been selling home-picked flowers on that very pier for the past half century,” Hagen said.
Villages, Bays and Beer in Southwestern France
Joe Maloney, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for Scenic Cruises, said Bordeaux is a favorite port. He also especially likes Arcachon Bay, nestled between the Cote d’Argent and the Cote des Landes on Europe’s longest coastal beach.
“It has charming villages all around the bay,” Maloney said. “And it is an important location for more than 250 migratory and sedentary birds.”
He also likes riding a bike from Blaye to Etauliers and back again, as there are historic ruins all along the trail.
“It is easy to stop for a beer or glass of wine in any of the small villages,” he added.