by Sue Bryant
We all like to bring the occasional souvenir back from holiday and there’s no doubt that the world’s rivers are lined with retail opportunities. But how do you sift between the good stuff, things that will provide a lasting memory of your river cruise, and the tourist tat? Here’s our guide to authentic holiday shopping.
1. Tastes of the Douro
Along the Douro on Riviera Travel’s Douro, Porto and Salamanca cruise, there will be ample chances to sample port, but if you don’t care for the sweet stuff, check out the pink port. Served with ice and tonic, it’s a refreshing summer drink and is one of those holiday booze purchases that hopefully won’t languish at the back of the drinks cabinet, gathering dust. The punchy Douro reds are gaining a reputation, too. A day trip to Salamanca, included on every cruise, is a good opportunity to buy vacuum-packed pata negra, arguably the ultimate in cured ham. As a fun gift for grandchildren, buy some chocolate sardines in an ‘authentic’ tin, which look for all the world like the real thing; you can get them in Porto. Click here to view river cruises along the Douro.
2. Fragrances of the Rhône
Wine and lavender are two recurring themes along the fragrant Rhône valley. On the Burgundy, the River Rhône and Provence cruise, you’ll find anything and everything scented with lavender, from hand cream to miniature embroidered pillows. Lavender aside, packs of herbes de Provence are a good present for keen cooks. Look out for Savon de Marseille, too, deliciously scented soaps made in Marseille, but real ones, not the synthetic imitations. If you want to buy wine as a gift, most connoisseurs are pretty thrilled to receive a classy red from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or a decent Burgundy. Click here to view river cruises along the Rhône.
3. Sophisticated souvenirs of the Seine
On The Seine, Paris and Normandy cruise, resist the temptation to buy miniature Eiffel Towers, made in China, and instead take back an authentic bottle of Calvados apple liqueur, wonderful flambéed on pancakes. Normandy cider is delicious, too, as is the butter, which should keep in the cool of your cabin. In Paris, fashion is an obvious buy but for something different, take home some handmade stationery; some of the best comes from L’Ecritoire, near Les Halles. You can’t go wrong with gift-wrapped macarons in pretty pastel colours either.
4. Delights of the Danube
With three capital cities along the way, as well as the possibility of a day in beautiful Salzburg, the Blue Danube River Cruise is rich with opportunity. If you’re feeling daring, Vienna is the place to shop for a tracht, or dirndl costume; whether you’d wear it back home is questionable but one thing’s for sure, the Austrian national dress is extremely flattering. There are basic models for everyday wear – or you could go designer with one of Lena Hoschek’s gorgeous handmade silk creations. Otherwise, boxed Sachertorte, a glossy chocolate cake from the legendary Hotel Sacher, will always impress, and if you choose the day trip to Salzburg, it has to be Mozartkügeln – dark chocolate balls filled with marzipan. In Budapest, you can buy locally grown paprika and saffron, as well as pretty hand-painted wooden boxes and porcelain. Bratislava, the Slovak capital, is the place to snap up Slivovica, flavoured plum liqueur, or intricately embroidered blouses and tea towels. Click here to view river cruises along the Danube.
5. Variety along the Rhine
The Rhine is less obvious as a shopping paradise but there are nonetheless some great gifts to look out for. If you’ve opted for the Rhine Cruise to Switzerland, here’s a tip: instead of buying vastly expensive chocolate in Switzerland, the Chocolate Museum on the riverbank in Cologne has some fantastic pieces, from intricate moulded chocolate figures to truffles and pralines, and, if you’re shopping for friends who are more into taste than packaging, big bags of “seconds”. As you sail along the Rhine, you could invest in a bottle of Asbach brandy from Rüdesheim; this is where the distillery is located, and you can drink it in coffee with cream piled on top. Around the Black Forest is a good place to buy a cuckoo clock but an authentic one will cost you upwards of €200.
If you’ve chosen the Rhine and Moselle voyage, look out for Moselle wines from Cochem or Bernkastel, as well as mustards from Cochem’s ancient mill, garlic, cayenne, curry and Riesling among them. For something completely off the wall, how about a set of Karl Marx biscuit cutters from Trier, where the philosopher and revolutionary was born? Click here to view river cruises along the Rhine.
6. Tasteful treasures along the Dutch and Belgium waterways
Flavoured Dutch cheese and tulip bulbs are obvious souvenirs to pick up on the Bruges, Medieval Flanders, Amsterdam and the Dutch Bulbfields cruise. There are plenty more items along the way, all of which are tasty or tasteful. Buy pralines in Bruges, or delicate lace. The local speciality in Ghent is chocolate and vanilla “snowballs”. Arty Antwerp is packed with cool, independent shops selling everything from homeware to stationery – or you could just snap up a diamond. In Amsterdam, you could buy liquorice (an acquired taste, as it’s salty), or jenever gin, Delft pottery or a pack of stroopwafel – thin biscuits sandwiched around syrupy caramel. Think twice, though, before lugging a pair of wooden clogs all the way home. Click here to view river cruises along the Dutch Waterways.
7. Markets of the Nile
Egypt can be a treasure trove of good taste or an avalanche of tat; this is one place where it really pays to invest in quality. The Spectacular Nile and Abu Simbel voyage takes you to both Luxor and Aswan, both heaving with market stalls and souvenir shops, all of which invite buyers to haggle. Buy beautiful, translucent alabaster from one of the workshops on Luxor’s Left Bank – otherwise you could end up with a cheap imitation. Glass perfume bottles, inlaid boxes, authentic cotton and decorated papyrus all make interesting souvenirs – but if it’s dirt cheap, it probably isn’t real, or Egyptian. As for miniature pyramids, sparkly nylon belly dancing outfits and bottles full of coloured sand with camel designs – well, it’s all a matter of taste. Click here to view river cruises along the Nile.
We hope that this has inspired you to try a river cruise and pick up some lovely souvenirs along the way. We have a full collection of river cruises for you to browse at your leisure. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Sue Bryant is an award-winning journalist specialising in (and addicted to) cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also contributes to magazines and websites worldwide, including Sunday Times Travel Magazine, World of Cruising, Cruise Passenger (Australia), Porthole (USA) and www.cruisecritic.co.uk. Sue lives in London but is often travelling, exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. She has sailed on more than 100 ships over the last 15 years.