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

dreamstime_xl_46975194 ID 46975194 Jan Schneckenhaus Dreamstime small file

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.

Deutschemark dreamstime_xl_45351110 small

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

img_0188  img_0163-2

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.

img_0131   img_0492-2

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.

img_0143  img_0487

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.

img_0619  img_0095-2

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.

img_0200 img_0204

Follow Stephanie Ventures LLC on Facebook for more tour photos.

 

Shopping for food souvenirs with purpose

Dallmayr tin soft edge.jpgI’ve had a lifelong fascination with food so naturally when I travel overseas, eating like a local is a high priority. I love getting lost in street markets, chatting up cheese mongers and butchers, grabbing a quick bite in a museum café. I even find foreign vending machines intriguing. I never go hungry when I travel. I’m a fool for food souvenirs, too. Local delicacies are ideal, especially in decorative packaging. Form meets function, so to speak. Not only do I come home with treats to enjoy or share, I can get creative and repurpose the empty containers. Who needs matching kitchen canisters when you can enlist unique souvenir tins to store stuff in and provide pleasant reminders of your travels?

Some of my most productive food souvenir hauls have been in the grand department stores in Europe. In the early 90’s I worked in The Cellar at Macy’s in Herald Square, near the end of its glorious reign as the showplace of gourmet specialty foods, so I have a place in my heart for department stores. There are many cities in Europe whose flagships are deserving of your sightseeing time. My kitchen counter hosts decorative tins that once held English tea, Scottish shortbread (from Jenner’s in Edinburgh), and more. During my first trip to Germany, I have to confess that I got a little caught up in Christmas market fever and, along with 85 stunning ornaments, I also dragged home a globe-shaped tin filled with Lebkuchen from Nuremberg and a coffee tin from Munich’s Dallmayr, depicting the 300 year old institution that touts itself as the delicatessen of kings. I also framed some beautifully illustrated chocolate bar wrappers I picked up there. They hang next to the beer coasters I “picked up” on a beer crawl in Heidelberg.

Don’t discount food halls if you are in the mood for a memorable meal. I once gathered the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner for two after a quick zip through Harrods in London. If you find yourself in Berlin, go to Ka-De-We and proceed directly to the Gourmet floor. Sit yourself down at one of its many dining counters. You’ll get a bonus cooking lesson as lunch is prepared before your eyes and, you can engage with your fellow diners who will likely be an interesting mix of local working stiffs, little old ladies, and travelers. Chances are pretty good that they will all speak enough English so you won’t have to consult any pesky foreign phrasebooks. I can still see and smell the Gruyere bubbling on the Black Forest Ham that was so skillfully draped over my Rösti plate…mmm.

globe tinJust one final word of advice, perishable food is a no-go with US Customs so, enjoy all the fresh meats, cheese, and produce you can at their sources, but make sure your food souvenirs are vacuum packed and labelled for export. I wouldn’t want you to have to surrender your goodies to an agent whose canine just sniffed you out at the baggage carousel.

Bike & Barge Vacations – the cool way to see Europe without breaking the bank

Bike & Barge holidays are all the rage in Europe these days, and with good reason. Today’s “floating hotel” barges, which can sleep between 6 and 36 passengers, offer convenience and comfort for today’s active traveler: cozy accommodations, tasty meals,  camaraderie, comfortable touring bikes (with cushy saddles), and bike ride options that average between 15-30 miles per day. Another plus: if you wake up and decide you don’t feel like riding a bike, you can stay onboard and enjoy an intimate view of life along the centuries-old canals of Europe from the comfort of a deck chair. You’ll arrive in the next town feeling refreshed and ready to sight-see on foot. Because the barge-able corners of Europe are fairly flat, and the traffic-free bike path network is extensive, a trip like this is not only perfect for novice cyclists, first-time bike tourists, or those who want to immerse themselves in a new culture, it’s also ideal for a couple traveling together who may not share the same level of fitness (or enthusiasm) for cycling. ­

Along with my bilingual Belgian guide and onboard crew, I am excited to be hosting a bike & barge tour in Belgium this summer from July 16-23, 2016. The itinerary for Belgian Treasures & Treats includes Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Brussels. You’ll experience all the charms of Belgium: art, architecture, ale, chocolate, waffles and frites and you’ll visit some fascinating sites not widely known to American travelers. The end of the trip coincides with the final stage of the Tour de France so if you decide to extend your trip, you can hop on a high-speed train in Brussels and you’ll be in Paris in time to welcome the yellow jersey and the rest of the field when they arrive on the Champs Elysees.

If you are a fan of craft beer, the Belgians brew what many argue is the best in the world. You will have opportunities to learn about the different styles of Belgian ales and taste several fine examples during our unique interactive tastings on and off the barge.  We will make a pilgrimage through Flanders where we may have the opportunity to drink the elusive Westvleteren 12, the Trappist ale made by the monks of St. Sixtus Abbey. Later, we’ll pay our respects to those who gave their lives during WWI during our informative visits to the monuments, cemeteries, and battlegrounds of Flanders Fields.

Other highlights on this tour include a scenic bike ride out to the North Sea, a visit to view the stunning Ghent Altarpiece at St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, a tour of the Antwerp home and gallery of Peter Paul Rubens, and a walking tour of Bruges, whose entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Harper’s Bazaar recently named Bruges #1 among its “Top 10 Most Underrated European Cities To Book Your Next Vacation To.”  You will only need to taste the city’s world famous chocolate pralines (there are shops on nearly every block) and you’ll know why!

Check out my brochure for more about the extras we include that make this tour so unique. I’m very proud to offer you such amazing value for your travel dollar.

Contact me to reserve your cabin today!