by Robin Tierney
Eis eis baby!
I’m not talking about that old song by rapper Vanilla Ice, but the berry, chocolate, apple, vanilla and other vegan ice cream flavors at Zanoni & Zanoni, a popular gelato shop in downtown Vienna.
I chose apple, made from fruit from the region’s orchards. My bicycle buddies, curious about the vegan options, confirmed the other flavors were just as delicious.
Finding vegan dishes in central Europe proved easy in port cities, surrounding towns and on-board during my week-long river cruise on the beautiful AmaSonata. When signing up for the cruise, I’d listed “vegan” on my papers. Every time I entered the ship’s elegant dining room, the chef and staff were ready to not just accommodate, but to make my meals as creative and enjoyable as the standard fare. And on the AmaSonata, standard fare meets very high standards.
Many modern river cruises have advantages over ocean liners, such as diverse shore excursions covered in their all-inclusive rates and more time for local immersion in culturally rich villages, towns and cities. Those prone to sea-sickness generally avoid that malady on rivers.
A river cruise with access to central European castles, forests and centuries-old towns sounded like the perfect getaway. This one offered a bonus: the teaming of top-rated cruise and bicycle tour operators. So I found myself sailing aboard AmaWaterways’ luxurious new AmaSonata and biking with Backroads on the Danube Cycling Sensation River Cruise.
Backroads, a global active travel company launched in 1979, designs adventures that combine wanderlust with expert guides who keep you on track, informed and supplied with everything you need. Backroads trips accommodate nearly all fitness levels, ages and interests. Packages include guided rides, lodging, gourmet meals, high-quality bikes and logistics. Even vegan-friendly power snacks at stops along the way!
I opted for Backroads’ standard bike — crafted of aerospace-grade titanium in Holland (where everyone bikes everywhere), boasting finely crafted components, triple chainring, ergonomic saddle and adjustable handlebars. Maps, printed directions and GPS devices are provided to allow riders to range further on their own. Backroads also supplies electric-assist bikes at no extra charge.
Designed for a maximum of 164 guests, the AmaSonata could make its staterooms spacious and create an intimate feel in its restaurants and lounge. Cool features include guestroom decks — offering views from landmarks to free-swimming swans — and fancy bathrooms in each stateroom.
The AmaSonata, which has won awards from international cruise experts, also has snazzy sun deck, pool with swim-up bar, free wifi, in-room entertainment on demand; and bicycles carried onboard for exploring towns.
Vegan-friendly temptations include farm-to-table feasts, old-world breads, spiced black bean tapas, mini lentil casseroles, eggplant cakes, fresh-made veggie vitamin shots and cassis sorbet all made on board. Meticulously planned meals are served by cheerful staff in a sleek dining room and at a Chef’s Table, paired with reds and whites from European wine regions.
Fine local pilsner is served at welcoming parties where community members perform traditional songs and dances. I generally chose water over alcohol, but it’s good to know that purity laws in this part of the world help ensure that animal-derived products aren’t used in making beer and wine. Dietary concerns are creatively accommodated.
By the way, the region’s potato salad is terrific — it’s made with a light splash of vinegar instead of mayo!
The River Route
AmaWaterways offers a choice of shore excursions in each port of call, all included in the fare. Those who opt for Backroads bicycling tours have daily customized experiences guided by experts.
The week-long Danube cruise floated through Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The course along the Danube River is also terrific for bicycling. Here are just a few highlights:
* After bicycling along the Danube past fog-shrouded hills in the area of Passau, Germany, a walking tour of this 2,000-year-old city covers its Gothic and Italian Baroque architecture, cobblestone streets and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a must-see with one of the world’s largest pipe organs.
* Linz, Austria, pairs old and modern, with pastel-hued 17th-century houses and the Ars Electronica Center, a futuristic science and art super-lab.
* Also in Austria, cruise guests get to tour Melk Abbey, with roots in the 11th century.. Amazing views include its Marble Hall ceiling frescoes and vast Wachau Valley vistas. It is still used by Benedictine monks, who financed its 1980s restoration by selling a Gutenberg Bible to Yale University.
* One AmaWaterways excursions buses guests to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. This central European medieval town hugs tight curves of the Vltava River. The centerpiece: a huge 13th-century castle studded with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. The town was restored after long neglect under Communist rule. A concurrent Ama tour to historic Salzburg, Austria, was also a hit.
The cruise and bike tours truly merit the “Danube Sensation” moniker. Spectacles from the ship’s feasts to storybook villages to the sparkling lights of cosmopolitan cities are standard — and nonstop.
About the author: Robin Tierney, an award-winning writer who explores on foot and bike fueled by vegan fare, is at email@example.com