The Côtes du Rhône, or Rhône Valley, is a long wine region following the river and split into north and south sections
Cruising through the Cotes du Rhone region on a Viking River Cruise (Photo: Rebecca Toy)

Experience Europe's Famed Wine Regions With These Delicious River Cruising Routes

The Côtes du Rhône, or Rhône Valley, is a long wine region following the river and split into north and south sections
Cruising through the Cotes du Rhone region on a Viking River Cruise (Photo: Rebecca Toy)
Cruise Critic contributor
Rebecca Toy

Last updated
Feb 23, 2024

Read time
7 min read

Sponsored by Viking

Sailing down the renowned riverways of Europe will open up endless opportunities to pair history, art, delicious food, and inspiring landscapes with world-class wine. All across the continent you'll experience the birthplace of some of the most recognizable and important wines in history and the styles that have driven winemakers around the world. Wine has been such an integral part of our history that it's almost impossible to journey any of these waterways and not see a vineyard.

With Viking you can have it all. Here is your guide to the famous rivers, what makes each special, wines to try, and excursions not to miss. Trouble picking your favorite? Treat it like a wine tasting and sample them all.

Sail to the Birthplace of Syrah on France's Famous Rhône River

A woman holding a glass of red wine in the Beaujolais region on a Viking River cruise
Wine in the Beaujolais region (Image: Viking)

Sailing down the Rhône is a quintessential French wine experience. With Viking's Lyon & Provence itinerary, you'll blend history and Provence's famous food, and all along the way, you'll sample wines that the rest of the world strives to mimic.

What Makes It Special: The Rhône Valley is a pilgrimage for red wine lovers. With Viking's route, you'll have access to the juicy styles from Beaujolais to the north, the birthplace of Syrah along the middle of the Rhone, and the sun-baked vineyards of mouthy Mourvedre in Châteauneuf du Pape.

Famous Wine Varietals: The region is known worldwide for an unbeatable trio: Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. These bold reds play with different strengths: fruit-forward Grenache, velvety Syrah, and the earthy tones of Mourvedre. The world's most renowned red wine blend is named for these three –GSM – and was born in the Rhône valleys with the strict blending guidelines that help keep French wine consistently satisfying.

Truffle hunter on Viking River excursion with truffle hunting dog
Truffle hunter on Viking River excursion (Photo: Rebecca Toy)

Don't Miss Experiences: With many delicious choices from Viking, the easiest to overlook on this route is the Beaujolais and Truffles excursion in Lyon. It's a divine tour of an award-winning wine estate and two working farms that weave in wine throughout. The truffle-featured lunch with course pairings is one of the best meals you'll experience.

In Tournon, take a hike in the birthplace of Syrah, getting a feel for the steep vineyards with gorgeous views of the river below. Your leisurely stroll down ends with a wine and chocolate tasting at Tain-l'Hermitage.

The included excursion to Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a must, with a tasting at a chateau and time to wander the hilltop town steeped in wine bars and hospitality.

Learn More About First Time River Cruising

Enjoy a Grand Tasting of European Wine Styles on the Diverse Danube

Wineries along the Danube are some of the most prestigious — yet under the radar — in Europe

"The River that Connects Europe" explores diverse wine regions and cultures as you sail with Viking through four countries from Austria to Hungary. While other rivers may have more recognizable names in the wine world, this showcases European styles and terroirs.

What Makes It Special: There's something for every wine lover on the Danube, including wines that are harder to find back home. While vineyards are the typical stops for wine travelers, cities along the Danube offer unique experiences. Vienna has heurige, or wine taverns, where you'll want to try a white field blend of assorted grapes called Wiener Gemischter Satz. Search in Budapest for the full-bodied Szekszárdi Bikaver, or the playfully-named Bull's Blood.

Famous Wine Varietals: Austria stacks up the wine regions quickly, focusing on minerally white wine specialties and then tart and fruity choices like Zweigelt. East of Vienna, the regional favorite Blaufränkisch takes center-stage. This deep red grape has tannin-richness with peppery notes. Blaufränkisch continues to star as you sail east into Slovakia and Hungary, where sun-soaked varietals take over, creating complex, lip-smacking, full-bodied reds.

Krems an der Donau, Wachau Valley, Austria (Photo: b-hide the scene/Shutterstock)
The terraced vineyards in Krems, Wachau Valley, Austria (Photo: b-hide the scene/Shutterstock)

Don't Miss Experiences: In Krems, Austria, add the apricot dumpling experience to Viking's Privileged Access excursion to Göttweig Abbey. Exclusive to Viking guests, the tour of this working Benedictine Abbey includes a glass of sparkling apricot wine in the centuries-old cellars before taking in one of the grandest ceiling frescoes in the world as you climb the Imperial Staircase. End in the kitchen with a demonstration on preparing the region's delicate apricot dumplings before savoring your own.

In Linz, Austria, the feast continues with a twist. Local farms will dish out fresh bread, cured meats, bacon, and cheese. Make sure to fill up as this tour also enjoys a schnapps distillery where you can sample the flavors of this distilled treat.

Rejoice in the Rhine's Riesling as You Sail Through the Iconic, Castle-Strewn Valley

Viking Longships sail past Bacharach Stahleck Castle on the Rhine
Viking Longships sail past Bacharach Stahleck Castle on the Rhine (Image: Viking)

The Rhine's name is synonymous with wine, pulling up classic visions of sailing below vineyard terraces topped by fairytale castles. This journey with Viking will deliver it all.

What Makes It Special: The Rhine captures three primary regions: Mosel, the Middle Rhine, and Alsace. Each has its own style but all are rooted in thousands of years of history dating back to the Roman Empire. Charlemagne had his hands in the region, supporting viticulture further east. Vineyards here were born both in the sprawling medieval estates and also for villages tucked in between the cliffs of these waterways that connected empires.

Famous Wine Varietals: Riesling is king along the Rhine, and although each region has different tasting notes, all excel with this grape's range. The blue slate soil of Mosel brings out delicate fruit flavors like white peach, lemon, and green apple. Riesling becomes riper and fuller-bodied as you head south, with notes of honey. Alsatian Riesling takes a turn, and there is a lot of discussion amongst Riesling aficionados about the differences between Alsatian and German styles. Taste for yourself, and you might notice mineral similarities but more floral notes with the drier Alsatian wine.

Castle and vineyards on the Moselle River
Castles and vineyards on the Moselle River (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Don't Miss Experiences: In Koblenz, Germany, Viking's excursion into the Moselle Valley cuts through the cliffs and half-timbered homes to explore 2000 years of winemaking. The tour through the cliffs and villages of this haven for Riesling includes a winery-tasting visit.

Further south in Rüdesheim, you'll delight in a visit to a former Cistercian monastery where the tradition of winemaking has remained even after secularization in 1803. Tour the Romanesque church, taste some of the monks' favorite wines, and tuck into a dinner onsite prepared with the region's freshest ingredients.

Whether it's with Viking's Alsatian food tour or the drive down the Alsatian Wine Route, take advantage of the opportunity to experience the flavors of Alsace. The first will tour you through the specialties in Strasbourg, tasting kougelhopf cake, croissants, freshly made baguettes and pretzels, cheese and more. A sommelier will teach you the art of pairing these treats with local wines. On the Alsatian wine tour, you'll travel through the history of wine-producing Romans before meeting with a local winegrower to sample several vintages.

The Elegant Elbe Hides a Rare Wine Region Outside Historic Cities

Viking Beyla sailing the river Elbe in Germany
Viking's Viking Beyla takes in the luxuriant Elbe in Germany (Photo: Viking)

Viking's Elegant Elbe itinerary on eastern Germany's mostly unaltered waterway showcases a grand history of religious Reformation, war-time restoration, and centuries of dazzling architecture. Yet among the celebrated cities and nature preserves from Berlin to Prague, the Sachsen wine region is an underrated delight.

What Makes It Special: Sachsen, or Saxony, is the smallest wine region in Germany. Vineyards here are small plots, with thousands of local growers taking part in a regional history of winemaking that goes back to medieval estates. These vineyards are a standard part of local life outside Dresden and Meissen. Sachsen's wines are primarily consumed within the region, making these rare finds.

Famous Wine Varietals: The Elbe Valley excels in crisp white wines with balanced acidity. Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Weissburgunder (or Pinot Blanc) are Sachsen's leading wines, along with the regional specialty Goldriesling and Traminer. Yet, like other regions that grow for their tables first, there is something for everyone, from dry whites to sweet reds.

Auslese and Spätlese indicate a sweeter Riesling, with Spätlese the sweetest. Floral notes tend to come through more along the Elbe. Goldriesling, specific to the region, blends Riesling and Muscat for a higher acidity.

Don't Miss Experiences: In Dresden, one of Viking's optional excursions will sample the city's treasures while also getting a literal taste of the countryside. After visiting a waterside Baroque castle in the city, you'll travel to Wackerbarth Castle, surrounded by vineyard-covered hills, providing the opportunity to wander the estate before heading back into Dresden for the Green Vault museum and its treasuries.

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