Fabulous castles, picturesque countryside, rolling vineyards, medieval towns and magnificent cities, an Alsace river cruise is a great way to discover this beautiful region. Waterways framed by mountains and forests, floating along scenic and tranquil waterways, Reza Amirinia takes an all inclusive Alsace river cruise and falls in love with the adventure of new places, new faces and the Alsatian location…
I often prefer to stay in self-catering accommodation when I am travelling in Europe. Sometimes if it is a short visit, I stay in a hotel. I mostly prefer homemade food to eating in restaurants. I always like to explore the area and cannot wait to go out of the hotel and discover places.
The idea of a river cruise in a floating hotel was a new experience for me. I knew it would limit my movements and I would be bound to eat the food cooked by the barge’s chef. Besides, I had to mix with complete strangers to share time and places. I had no idea what to expect when I decided to embark on CroisiEurope’s floating hotel in Alsace.
Alsace River Cruise
My wife and I took a taxi from Strasbourg airport to CroisiEurope’s base in the south of Strasbourg to join the MS Madeline which has a capacity of 24 passengers. We were very early and found the seven crew members in their t-shirts and jeans still preparing for the arrival of guests. Nevertheless, we were warmly welcomed by Florence, the hotel barge manager, a cheerful ex-police woman who had only recently joined the company. We were shown to our cabin, which was very bright and airy with a window just a little above the waterline. It was a compact but sizeable bedroom with a small wardrobe, desk, TV and en-suite shower room. It was all we needed for a comfortable journey on the French waterways.
We had a few hours before the boat officially started to cruise and decided to take the tram to the city centre for a quick visit and to gather information about places of interest. We just had time to visit the amazing Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, a delicate spectacle combining Romanesque and Gothic architecture. We climbed the stairs to the roof of what is the sixth highest cathedral in the world for a magnificent panoramic view of the city.
Back on the boat it was time to join the other guests for a welcome cocktail reception where Florence introduced Camille, the captain and other crew members in their nicely tailored uniforms and gave us an overview of the cruise trip and the excursions.
This was followed by dinner on board whilst the boat floated towards the town centre. There we transferred to a smaller city river boat for a sight-seeing tour of the city, followed by a walking tour of the old town. It was love at first sight for me, getting a brief glimpse of a scenic and charming city full of historic landmarks, and many houses with Romanesque architecture, seeing a capital city hosting European institutions and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Dinner was a friendly affair. We all sat around a large table and it was a good opportunity to get to know everyone while Zultan, the restaurant manager, served the food with a friendly manner.
Romain, the chef came forward with his specialty for the night. He told my wife and me, “I have organized special foods for you from a good selection of vegetables, fish and halal meat”. We were very impressed that the crew was so considerate, mindfully observing our needs. The food was an excellent example of delicious French cuisine and the boat had a homely and comfortable atmosphere.
Our boat moored in Strasbourg overnight. Our one-week adventure on board a floating hotel continued in the morning when the boat started sailing at 7 AM. The sounds of the engine woke me up. I looked through my bedroom window to watch the slow movement of the water ripples. It was pouring with rain outside and the raindrops splashed melodically in front of me. It had a soothing effect that made me want to sleep longer but breakfast beckoned.
The continental buffet breakfast had plenty of options along with fresh local bread. It was very pleasant eating while watching the scenery keep changing along the canal Du Marne in the early morning breeze. We navigated towards Saverne gliding through valleys and going through many locks.
Our boat, MS Madeline was a hotel barge that had been built by CroisiEurope only a few months earlier, launched to serve in the Alsace region from April to November. The interior design of this 24-passenger barge with smooth modern décor is very appealing. One of the cabins is specially designed for disabled people. The boat featured a small bar, restaurant, Jacuzzi, sun deck and several bikes for guests to discover hamlets and villages through accessible and comfortable cycle tracks along the rivers.
I used the bike a few times to discover the countryside and small towns near the canal, getting off in one lock and joining the boat at the next lock which gave me a lot of flexibility and pleasure as well as being able to take in the fabulous scenery.
I asked the other guests about their experience, the food and cycling were firm favourites. For me, the most enjoyable aspect was meeting new people. The guests aged 50 to 85 from UK, USA and New Zealand were great. More importantly perhaps, we had a wonderful crew who created a good atmosphere for everyone and their attention to detail was outstanding.
The cruise was a real pleasure and everything went very smoothly. We truly felt at home. I felt that the crew were serving us from their heart; it was as though we were at a close friend’s party for a week. They all worked together very well providing the highest level of service possible. Although people’s moods may have changed daily, they never stopped smiling.
The excursions were well planned to give us a real taste of the Alsace region and life in France. We visited Waltenheim, Wingersheim, Saverne, Chateau de Hohbarr, Lutzelbourg, Arzviller Inclined Plane, Xouaxange, Lagarde and Sarrebourg. Each visit was a separate chapter with an astonishing story. All proved to be wonderful places to visit.
A canal cruise through the waterways of Alsace really is an excellent way to taste French cuisine and explore the splendour of the countryside and its beautiful villages.
Mohammad Reza Amirinia is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for documentary photography, street photography and photojournalism: www.amrinia.com