Tulip Trails of Holland tour launches our 2022 Bike & Barge season!

On April 2, our enthusiastic tour guests departed from Amsterdam’s small ship harbor, Oosterdok. I’m not sure who was more excited to get the cruise underway, our tour guests or the crew of the Zwaantje, our beautifully appointed floating hotel, fully equipped with all we needed for our 8 day voyage through the cities, countryside and canals of North and South Holland in search of tulips! On the bike, we enjoyed scenic landscapes, off the bike, excursions and evening walks with our bike guide Hans.

The lovely Zwaantje sailing out of Alkmaar on her way back to Amsterdam

Our captain Martijn welcomed us aboard, introduced the crew, and conducted a briefing before heading to the wheelhouse to point us in the direction of Haarlem where we would spend the first night. On the way, we docked briefly at Spaarndam so the cyclists could disembark for a bike fitting and short test ride so Hans could dial in everyone’s fit. We meandered through the polders, past cow pastures and windmills. The ship continued on to the mooring on Haarlem’s Donkere Spaarne, just steps away from the city’s historic center. While all that was in motion, our lovely hostess Karin prepared the dining room for dinner while chef Frank got busy preparing a feast for the eyes and the belly in the ship’s kitchen.

Later that evening, we enjoyed the first of many fine meals. Once I provide the culinary crew with any dietary needs of my guests, they design menus that all of our guests can enjoy. Our meals were, as the Dutch say, “lekker”, a tasty variety of cuisines including Dutch (bitterballen!), Indonesian (a nod to the country’s spice trading history and my vote for favorite meal of the week), French (coq au vin – oh wow) and Italian (veggie pasta and a trio of bruschetta spreads). Check out our meal diary video below!

Our talented chef prepared delicious meals of generous portions with our guests dietary needs in mind.

Our guests began each day of the tour with a hearty buffet breakfast at 8 AM. On most mornings we also prepared our own boxed lunch for later. Sometimes we disembarked at 9 to start the daily bike ride, on other days we stayed onboard to enjoy a cruise and light lunch on the way to whatever town we’d start the ride. We experienced the full range of “typical” Dutch weather during the tour: sunshine, headwinds and tailwinds, rain, and yes, a brief sprinkling of sleet, but our adventurous guests took it all in stride. When the weather didn’t promise a safe ride, there were other ways to pass the time and enjoy the scenery from the cozy lounge on board. Some joined the captain in the wheelhouse, others read a book, and a few guests toiled over an impossible jigsaw puzzle featuring too many tiny tulips and too much sky!

Guests enjoying a quick ferry ride across a river to continue cycling on the other side.

Our tour itinerary included several fun excursions like the flower gardens at Keukenhof, where seven million flower bulbs are planted annually and bloom throughout the spring. We turned our guests loose to explore on their own the sprawling acres of tulips, hyacinths, orchids and more.

Keukenhof Gardens – tulips for days! And a few orchids and hyacinths thrown in for good measure.

A few days later, it was totally worth waking up before the birds to witness all the early morning action at Aalsmeer, the largest flower auction in the world. After we jumped back on the Zwaantje for a late breakfast, we were treated to a lovely sail through Amsterdam on the way to Zaandam. Once our crew secured the “rock star mooring” amidst a stiff breeze, we set out to discover just what one of those working windmills were whipping up at Zaanse Schans. As it turns out – paint! “De Kat” as it’s known, is a mill that grinds stones to make pigments. The mill’s arms were feverishly spinning so we were able to see all the action inside. After our visit, we strolled through a village of historic homes, a cheese “winkel” with plenty of free samples, and the Klompenmakerij which conducts live wooden shoemaking demonstrations. If you’re not in the market for your own pair of wooden shoes, you might want to consider picking up a pair of kitschy klompen-shaped bedroom slippers. I did!

Venture inside this working windmill with us!

We like to do things a little different on a Stephanie Ventures tour so I arranged a special visit to meet a herd of friendly cows at de Witte Gravin, a dairy farm in my new hometown of Alphen aan den Rijn. My farmer friend Sari showed us around and answered questions from our curious guests about what it’s like to raise dairy cows in Holland’s Green Heart. Dairy is the queen of the food groups in these parts so we got our fill in many forms! De Witte Gravin sells milk on tap in a cute roadside shed. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! During the week we also enjoyed local cheese, warm siroopwafels and stroopwafels, cheese, artisan chocolate, cheese and more cheese. Exploring the Cheese Experience in Gouda was a fun alternative to spending a rainy afternoon on a bike.

Thanks for visiting the blog! Have I sparked a little wanderlust? I do hope you’ll consider traveling with me on one of our other 2022 tours which are featured at the top of the home page or you can view them here:

Panoramas in Provence (June 4-11)

Panoramas in Provence (June 11-18)

Beautiful Burgundy (Aug 23-30)

I may have had a little too much caffeine before we left the ship to visit Alsmeer…

Greetings from the Netherlands!

Tour Director Stephanie here, sending you this greeting from the Netherlands where I landed on Monday. Yes, I am a little early for our Tulip Trails of Holland Bike (or Walk) and Barge Tour but I’m here to call the Netherlands home for a while. We will be ready to sail in just a few weeks but there’s still time to book yourself a cabin and join me on April 2!

I want to share my recent travel experience with you as I’m sure you’re wondering what it’s like to fly to Europe these days. I ran a safe tour in the Netherlands in September and couldn’t wait to return for my Tulip Trails of Holland tour in April. The entry requirements vary by country but I am happy to report that many of the Covid-19 restrictions in the Netherlands have been lifted. The museums, cultural sites, and restaurants are all open. Masks are still required in certain places (public transportation and indoor shops) but I think that’s a minor inconvenience for the opportunity to experience all the wonders this country has to offer – especially during TULIP SEASON!

Some important details about my journey… I flew with United Airlines and was truly impressed with their Travel Ready Center. It’s a portal that allows you to link your travel documents (passport scan, vaccination record, and Netherlands entry forms) to your itinerary so you don’t have to waste energy wondering if you have every document you need to travel hassle-free. I received reminders of what to provide as my departure day approached. I was able to schedule my Covid-19 test locally with a participating test site. On test day, my results were sent to me and to United so when I arrived at the airport the next day to check in, all I did was drop off my bags and head to security where I only had to show my boarding pass and passport because everything else was “on file.” The arrival in Amsterdam was equally easy, I showed my passport and my CDC vaccination card, grabbed my luggage and was on my way!

If you are fully vaxxed and boosted, and you can’t wait to start traveling again, don’t wait any longer! 

We only have a few cabins available at these special prices below! We have a beautiful itinerary for cyclists and for the first time, we are welcoming walking guests aboard with a special escorted experience for them, too!  

The Netherlands is open and ready to welcome you, AND I AM TOO! 

FANTASTIC FLASH SALE
NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT for SOLO guests: $2695
DOUBLE OCCUPANCY GUESTS: $2495 per person

View our complete itinerary at this link: TULIP TRAILS OF HOLLAND – Itinerary

Ready to bike and barge your way around Europe? Check out our new itineraries for 2022!

We’re excited to announce three new tours for 2022! We are proud of our loyal following and want our guests to keep coming back to explore more of the bike paths, waterways, and hidden gems of Europe. If this is your first tour with us or your fifth, we are sure it will be memorable!

Visit our Youtube channel for a glimpse of the Stephanie Ventures bike & barge experience and follow us on Facebook @ Stephanie Ventures LLC

Contact us at StephanieVentures@Gmail.com for pricing, to schedule an introductory phone/Zoom call, or to book your European bike & barge getaway! Have a group you’d like to travel with? Inquire about special group rates and a private online or in-person presentation to your group.

~~~~~ 2022 BIKE & BARGE TOURS ~~~~~

Tulip Trails of Holland ~ April 2-9, 2022, roundtrip from Amsterdam

Click here to view: Tulip Trails of Holland ITINERARY

Panoramas in Provence ~ June 4-11, 2022, Avignon – Aigues-Mortes, France

Panoramas in Provence ~ June 11-18, 2022, Aigues-Mortes – Avignon, France

Click here to view Panoramas in Provence ITINERARY

Beautiful Burgundy ~ August 23-30, 2022, Moret-sur-Loing – Auxerre, France

Click here to view Beautiful Burgundy ITINERARY

Magical Mosel Valley ~ Bike & Barge Tour ITINERARY SPOTLIGHT: Cochem

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We can’t think of a more charming town to begin our 2019 Meander Through the Magical Mosel Valley bike & barge adventure than in Cochem! We encourage guests to arrive in town the day before the barge tour begins to allow for some extra exploring time on your own. Here’s the scoop on our first stop on the tour that begins on August 17, 2019.

Cochem is nestled beneath the splendid Reichsburg Castle. Built in the 12th century, trashed in the 14th century, and rebuilt in the romantic neo-Gothic style in the 19th century; the castle is open daily for tours of its impressive collections of period furniture and art. It’s situated on a 300 ft high crag above the Mosel River, and a 15 min walk up a cobblestone path will also reward you with a panoramic view of hillside vineyards and the town below. Consider a splurge for the Knight’s Dinner, a traditional medieval dining experience, on Friday evening.

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During the Cold War, the Federal Republic of Germany set up secret currency reserves around the country to guard against inflation that would have resulted if war broke out between NATO and the Warsaw Pact States.

One such hiding place was the Bundesbank Bunker, a subterranean vault in Cochem. For over two decades, the citizens of Cochem had no idea there were 15 billion Deutschmarks “in their own backyard!” Of course, as a bunker, it needed to be cleverly disguised, but, fear not, we know where it is, and can tell you exactly how to find it if you’d like to explore it on your own. 

Mustard Mill

In a country where pretzels are practically a national treasure, mustard is a most revered condiment. You’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about it at the Historische Senfmühle, Cochem’s mustard mill, where they’ve been churning out Cochem’s favorites since 1810. Free tastings are available daily, mustards of every kind await your discriminating palate. Time your visit right and, for 2.50 Euros, you can join a guided tour and watch the miller in action as he prepares mustard according to a 200 year old family recipe.

If you arrive prior to August 17 by train, you can easily hop into a taxi for a short ride to your hotel. If you arrive on Saturday, August 17, of course you may go directly to the barge. Check-in time is 3 PM but you’re welcome to drop off your luggage before you head out to wander the medieval alleyways of the old town. Don’t worry, when you sign up for your tour, we’ll tell you exactly how to find the Quo Vadis, from Frankfurt airport, to the train, and to the dock. We can even assist with train tickets if you’d like.

Click here for a peek at our full itinerary: 2019 Meander Thru the Magical Mosel Valley

Contact us at StephanieVentures@gmail.com to inquire about a booking before this tour sells out.

Tour Diary: Belgian Treasures & Treats from Bruges to Brussels

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In July, guests joined us in Bruges for our Belgian Treasures & Treats Tour, an 8 day holiday by bike and barge that included stops in Ghent, Dendermonde, Antwerp, Mechelen and Brussels. The group also took part in a field trip by bus and bike to the World War I sites in Flanders Fields. The weather was spectacular, unseasonably warm, with brilliantly sunny blue skies, a gift from this small country with a reputation for gray skies, clouds and drizzling rain. The terrain we traveled on varied from bike lanes on city streets to dedicated bike paths and field trails that took us through meadows, forests and pastures. We were treated to a few character-building cobblestones thrown in for good measure. We were in Belgium after all, and they love their cobbles there! All of our travelers were on their first bike & barge tour and from what he heard throughout the trip, they want to travel with us again.

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From Bruges we traveled by bike each day, stopping along the way for sightseeing, picnic lunches, and, since it was a little warm for coffee, we opted for an afternoon ice cream or beer instead! While we rode our comfy hybrid touring bikes, our captain Harrie and his able crew sailed our “floating hotel” to a new city so that at the end of each day’s ride of 20-35 miles, we were greeted by the ship’s friendly staff. They loaded our bikes onto the ship, and offered us cold drinks and tasty snacks while we caught the end of the live daily broadcast of the Tour de France on the large flat screen in the barge’s air-conditioned lounge. After a hot shower (each cabin had its own private bath), we regrouped in the dining room for some lively conversation over a delicious three-course meal prepared by our talented chef Coen. After dinner, guests had the option of joining our knowledgeable and enthusiastic bike guide Ilse for a walking tour of the town.

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Several evenings included unique on-board tasting events featuring Belgium’s best: Bruges Chocolates and Local Ales, and Regional Cheeses paired with Belgian Ales. One night, we even got to experience a Belgian Ale Essence Tasting. Tour Director Stephanie set up glasses filled with the aromas that the beer geeks say we should detect when we smell the particular beer she selected to pair with our dinner of Indonesian Rijstafel. This popular Dutch meal dates back to the days of the spice trade and our version included six traditional dishes served family style. To complement the rich flavors of the barbecued beef, Balinese eggs, green beans with crispy onions, cucumber salad, coconut rice, and homemade Cassava chips, we enjoyed a celebrated saison, also known as farmhouse ale. The beer geeks report notes of fresh-cut grass, elderflower, peach, and black pepper. After a short history lesson on saison Stephanie invited  guests to smell the filled glasses, then smell the beer to see if they could detect the essences on the “nose” of the beer.

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Our first ride outside of Bruges took us along a tree-lined bike path to quaint Damme. From there we continued on to Blankenberge, a delightful seaside resort where a few of us got our feet wet in the cool waters of the North Sea while others strolled along the boardwalk and enjoyed some ice cream and people watching.

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