If you have ever considered a golfing vacation in Europe during which you can visit four countries, sail on three of Europe’s most important rivers, and play golf in two different countries, here’s how. Do as my wife and I did. Take a Viking river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on one of Viking’s 190-passenger longships. You will find the entire experience to be outstanding.
Prior to leaving home for our fifteen-day river cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, we made independent arrangements to stay one night in Amsterdam. What we didn’t know is that we would be spending the night in a prison cell. We stayed in a very unique hotel, a barge which had been a floating prison in Rotterdam prior to being brought to Amsterdam to become, not just a good hotel, but the Good Hotel. Our hotel room was a refurbished prison cell but we weren’t worried about being locked in because there were no guards or jailers, just friendly hotel employees
Once you check out of an Amsterdam hotel, arranged through Viking River Cruises or booked independently, or board your ship after a flight or train ride to Amsterdam, you will begin to enjoy relaxing Viking style. For the next fifteen days, a 443-foot state-of-the-art Viking Longship will be your home-away-from-home. As soon as you board the ship you will be able to enjoy lunch in the ship’s dining room, a delightfully casual yet elegant dining area where complimentary beer and wine is served during lunches and dinners. Following lunch, your bags will be ready to be unpacked and you will have time to put away your clothes in the cabin’s more than adequate closet and drawers. Then you will have the option of merely relaxing on board or taking a one and one-half hour all-included Viking walking tour of Amsterdam.
That evening, your first evening on board, you can enjoy cocktails in the lounge and hear a brief but thorough explanation on what is to come on your cruise. Our cruise briefing was given by Caspar, our extremely knowledgeable Program Director, and by Attila, our ship’s very accommodating Hotel Manager.
Following your briefing, it will be time for the first of fifteen delicious and excellently prepared dinners you will enjoy while on your cruise. If you like to listen to music, you can do so after dinner as music is played in the lounge on a keyboard by your ship’s on-board musician. On our cruise, we were very pleased with the service we received in both the dining room and in the lounge from all the staff, especially from two truly fun and upbeat bartender/waiters, Kristiyan from Bulgaria, and Johnny from Serbia. If they happen to be on your cruise, you’ll be in for a real treat.
A nice aspect of river cruising is that most of the cruising is done at night. This will be the case on most of your Amsterdam to Budapest cruise except when sailing through the Middle Rhine, one of Germany’s most scenic regions, and the eighteen mile Wachau Valley in Austria, celebrated as one of the most scenic stretches of the Danube.
Your first night on board you will cruise from Amsterdam to nearby Kinderdijk to visit an historic UNESCO world heritage site with the largest concentration of windmills in The Netherlands. Following Kinderdijk, your cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers will have you visiting, and touring with English speaking guides in eight German cities: Cologne, Koblenz, Miltenberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau, and the Austrian cities of Melk, Krems and Vienna before arriving in Budapest, Hungary. All this while proceeding through sixty-eight locks that rise from the lowlands of outside of Amsterdam, continue through the 106-mile Main-Danube canal in north central Bavaria in Germany, and then descend on the Danube as you head toward Budapest.
When in Regensburg, a “must see” for both museum goers and golf enthusiasts is the Golf Museum Regensburg, For more than fifty years, golf historian Peter Insam has been collecting golf memorabilia. His museum has more than 1200 rare golfing exhibits from all over the world, including the world’s oldest golf club from 1450, and the world’s oldest golf ball from 1525.
Your ship’s first stop after Kinderdijk will be Cologne. Having been there the previous year on a Basel to Amsterdam Viking river cruise, we made plans before leaving home to play golf at the Kolner Golf Club located on the outskirts of Cologne. Designed by Architect/Designer Heinz Fehring, a former German and Austrian national golf trainer, (Bernard Langer was one of his trainees), it is quite a complex. It has two 18-hole courses, the Championship Course, a Par 72 layout constructed in 2012 and the Links Course, a shorter Par 63 course completed in 2013.
Both courses are well laid out on relatively flat terrain with severe and calm greens and well-placed water hazards. In addition to the Championship Course, which is rated the #22 course in Germany, and the Links Course, the Kolner Golf Club has an excellent fully stocked pro shop, a chip and putt short course; a driving range with 65 tees, 60 of which are covered; a practice area with a large putting green; a restaurant overlooking the complex; excellent smooth running electric golf carts with outstanding GPS systems; a newly constructed thirty-four room hotel; and one of the seven premier golf schools in Germany. A unique aspect to the courses is that no pesticides are used. The Kolner Golf Club creates its own micro-organisms to combat and control unwanted weeds and plants.
Before our round on the Championship course, we had the opportunity to speak with Kolner’s General Manager, Guido Tillmanns, who is a Vice-President of the German PGA. He reviewed the history of the courses and explained that, although the courses were open to the public, over 2,000 men and women golfers play on various types of membership status.
If you decide to play the Kolner Golf Club, and we highly recommend it, be sure and schedule your tee time so you will have the opportunity to participate in Viking’s two-hour walking tour of Cologne which includes a visit to Europe’s largest Gothic Cathedral which dates back to the thirteenth century. If you want to enjoy a fun evening, also leave time after golf for the optional three and one-half hour Cologne Beer/Cultural Dinner Tour which includes an authentic German dinner and visits to four Kolsch Brauhauses where you will sample Cologne’s unique style Kolsch beer.
When you arrive in Koblenz the next morning, and after enjoying a hearty breakfast prepared to order by one of your ships cook’s, you can enjoy a tour of Marksburg Castle, a 700 year-old fortress overlooking the Rhine, or take an optional tour by cable car up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, Europe’s largest fortress. The fortress, located some 400 feet above the Rhine overlooks the city of Koblenz and the convergence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. The views from both the Marksburg Castle and the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress are impressive.
When you return from your chosen tour to your “floating hotel”, it will be time to enjoy lunch in either the outdoor Aquavit Terrace or the ship’s indoor restaurant. While dining and relaxing you will observe barges loaded with coal and other freight, vineyards dotting the hillsides, and castles looming over the river. All this while listening to your Program Director point out interesting sites as you sail smoothly through the Middle Rhine region.
In addition to numerous on-board activities, presentations and entertainment, your complimentary off-the-ship tours and excursions will include bus and walking tours of Nuremberg, the grandiose Melk Abbey, the imperial city of Vienna, and both Buda and Pest, two cities which joined together in 1873 to become Budapest. The tours are plentiful, educational, and highly interesting. Among the many optional tours available are a side-trip to Salzburg, the “Sound of Music City”, and a Mozart and Strauss Concert in Vienna.
When you arrive in Budapest, Hungary’s enchanting capital, and one of Europe’s most rewarding cities, you will be treated to a Budapest coach and walking tour of the city. You will overlook the Danube with traditional hillside Buda on one side, and modern-day Pest on the other. There will be free time to walk around Budapest before returning to your ship for dinner and before packing for your next day’s morning disembarkation from the ship.
You will also have time to say your goodbyes to the new friends and crew members. Even though your cruise will be over, you will have wonderful memories of new friends, wonderful cities and towns you have visited, and of days and evenings cruising with Viking, that will last a lifetime. Our cabin steward said it all when he left us with this heartfelt message, “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
If your schedule allows, by all means spend a few days in Budapest. It is a very regal city full of excellent restaurants and outdoor cafes, outstanding hotels and a myriad of things to see and do.
Since we planned a few days in Budapest, upon disembarking our Longship, the Mimir, we took a short cab ride to our hotel, the Kempinski Hotel Corinvus, which was built in 1992 as the first luxury hotel in Budapest. There we were to enjoy luxurious accommodations for two nights before our flight back home.
After checking in, we relaxed for a few hours and then took a forty-five minute taxi ride through the city and countryside to the Pannonia Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Budapest to play Hungary’s #1 course. One of the eight 18-hole golf courses in Hungary developed since the early 1990s, the course is set on rolling hills in a peaceful valley. You will enjoy its wide fairways, and marvel at its bunkers, some in plain sight and some hidden from view. You will be challenged by Pannonia’s numerous elevated greens with challenging pin placements and subtle breaks, and by lakes that come into play on eight holes. Don’t be scared by this description. With six sets of tees the course is a pleasurable course to play for both beginners and advanced players.
Golf, which was brought to Hungary by Count Geza Andrassy in 1902, was at its height in the 1930’s when Bobby Jones played in Budapest, some sixty years after Buda and Pest became one city. After a long hiatus, golf began a come-back in Hungary in the 1980’s following World War II and the breakup of the communist stranglehold on the nation.
Today golf is a growing sport and the Pannonia Golf and Country Club plays a big part in the growth. It has been home to numerous European tournaments including the European Senior Ladies and Men Championships, the Hungarian Amateur and Open Championships and the 27th Junior Hungarian Open Championship.
After a most enjoyable day of golf we returned to our hotel and asked the concierge for a restaurant suggestion. He suggested the Aszu Restaurant, a new dining hot spot near St. Stephen’s Basilica. It was an excellent choice. Following dinner, which included goulash, a Hungarian favorite, we strolled along the Danube and walked across the famous Chain Bridge. While doing so we observed city buildings and churches glowing brilliantly in the night time sky. Day or night, Budapest is a remarkably gorgeous city.
On a Viking river cruise you can enjoy seeing much of Europe while only having to unpack once. You will enjoy a floating hotel which has excellent staterooms, delicious meals and on several evenings, entertainment by local musicians and singers who come aboard to sing and dance for you.
You will delight in the camaraderie with new friends from around the U.S. and around the world. And, you will have the opportunity to play on some of Europe’s finest golf courses. Viking’s on-board concierge can help you make tee times at both the Kolner Golf Club and the Pannonia Golf and Country Club as well as other courses in cities along the route from Amsterdam to Budapest.
Having the opportunity to visit four countries, sail on three rivers and play golf in two different countries while on a Viking river cruise makes for a great golfing vacation.
Story by Chuck “The Traveling Guy” Miller