Reconnecting on the Rhine
On a mother-daughter getaway, Katie Hammel discovers how wine and river cruising create the ideal setting for a meaningful European vacation.
When I travel, I rarely subscribe to the old adage that the journey is as important as the destination. But as I relaxed on the top deck of AmaSerena with my mother, both of us wrapped in blankets in a brisk November breeze, my perspective began to change. We sipped Alsatian pinot noir as our ship slowly glided past a dozen castles — some beautifully preserved and others with crumbling walls and towers — perched like fairytale fortresses atop green hills on either side of the sparkling Rhine. By the time the crew brought out steaming mugs of Rüdesheimer coffee, a local specialty spiked with brandy and topped with a cloud of whipped cream, I was convinced. Aboard an elegant river cruise vessel, the voyage is an essential and enticing part of the European experience.
This was a meaningful trip as it marked my mother’s first visit to Europe. AmaWaterways’ Rhine river cruise highlighted regions of France and Germany, two countries she was eager to explore. The fact that it was a wine-themed voyage elevated the experience even more. We share a love of fine wine, and the lure of tastings and expert pairings — both on board and in port — would ensure a relaxing and stress-free voyage.
As I quickly discovered, our inclusive cruise was carefree from every perspective. Everyone we met seemed like an adventurous traveler at heart and, with only 164 passengers on board, it was easy to find like-minded friends. We quickly formed a crew and every day we selected from two or three complimentary shore excursions: we explored the sprawling hilltop ruins of an 11th-century castle set high over Heidelberg and marveled at the Gothic façade of the Cologne Cathedral and its 500-foot-tall spires. We discovered the charms of silky Alsatian wines in Riquewihr and crisp, dry riesling in the Rhine village of Rüdesheim. At every stop, there was a guided tour balanced with free time, which provided a great compromise for us: the tours gave Mom time to get comfortable in a foreign destination, and I enjoyed the freedom to explore. In Strasbourg, we joined a group to visit the city’s famous cathedral and learned how the intricate stained-glass windows were preserved during World War II.
In one week, my mother and I visited four countries, traversing some of the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine. It was the ideal mother-daughter trip and a perfect way to introduce her to the allure of leisurely European travel. She’s already planning her next wine cruise and I’m hoping she’ll let me tag along.
Katie Hammel is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared on BBC Travel and in Condé Nast Traveler and the San Francisco Chronicle.