There’s only one way to discover the hidden gems that nestle on the banks of the Rhine and that is by river cruise.
I say ‘only one’ because as cruise ships get larger, taking thousands of passengers, river cruising is now seen as a more intimate, sophisticated and luxurious way to travel and experience cultures, cuisines and history from a floating five star hotel.
I joined my Rhine Discovery Viking River Cruise at Basel in Switzerland and it was only a matter of minutes after landing that the pampering, that continued for the next seven days, began. Luggage taken care of, cold drinks dispensed on our air conditioned coach after a short drive we arrived at the The Viking Eir – my river cruise experience had begun.
Once on board we were greeted and indulged in a buffet lunch and before exploring our home for the next seven days. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised by its size, facilities, amazing décor and opulent furnishing.
My stateroom was luxurious, spacious, well planned with large French windows to take in the views and I even had my own personal maid.
Before dinner I joined my fellow guests for the cocktails in the panoramic bar and a briefing, giving us a taste of what was to happen during our cruise.
The daily inclusive excursions and the optional ones are graded according to activity level, type and what they include. But the big plus of river cruising is you dock close to your destination, giving you the freedom to walk into towns or enjoy the riverside bar and café culture.
After the ultimate dining experience in the restaurant , which was replicated at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, we set sail to our first port of call Breisach – the gateway to the most fabled forest in the world – The Black Forest.
Passing timber farmhouses, hills thick with fir trees and dramatic gorges it was easy to imagine how this was the setting for Grimm’s fairy tales as we journeyed deeper into the forest on our great adventure.
After a hectic morning, time to relax on the sun deck in the afternoon before later setting sail for Strasbourg. Home to the European Parliament, its famed cathedral was the highlight of our sightseeing with free time to enjoy coffee in its shadow and watch the world go by before exploring the cobbled streets of Petit France with its half-timbered houses.
That afternoon an optional tour into the wine producing area of Alsace and a visit to a family-run winery, with tastings on my agenda.
Next day we sailed back into Germany and visited the romantic and beautiful town of Heidelberg. A visit to the castle with its breathtaking views was well worth the climb and conjured up the many films and musicals that used this ancient university town as a backdrop.
After lunch we sailed to Rudesheim where an evening adventure got us in the local spirit of things. Taking the land train to the Drossenglasse quarter we had great fun sampling a typical German meal, with local Schnapps, dancing, singing and even ringing cow bells.
Sailing to Koblenz took us on the most picturesque 40-mile stretch of the Rhine with its towns, castles, villages and the amazing Rhine Gorge through which it flows.
On deck we listened to stories that brought alive the ruined castles and their romantic legends.
Arriving in Koblenz the energetic took the shore excursion to Marksburg Castle, whilst I decided to explore the town. Only five minutes walk away with its cobbled squares, cafes, narrow streets and shops it gave me a taste of a typical German town.
The sight of the skyline of Cologne greeted us the next morning. With so many options available to view it, I decided on a little culture exploring the Bruhl UNESCO Palace of Augustusburg and Falkenlust Hunting Lodge with their breathtaking rooms and stucco ceilings renowned as the most outstanding Rococo creations in Germany.
In the evening I took the Cologne Beer Culture Dinner Tour – I couldn’t leave Germany without sampling the beers.
In the early hours we left Cologne and headed for the longest sail of the trip to the Netherlands and Kinderdijk, famous for having the largest collection of windmills and a visit to a Dutch cheese farm to learn how their most famous export is made, before sailing to our disembarkation port of Amsterdam.
Besides the excursions there were talks, demonstrations and performances for local artists and musicians as well as fun times. Who would have guessed that chefs were such good singers or that our hotel manager and programme director looked so good in lederhosen?
Liz Coggins travelled as a guest of Viking Cruises (vikingcruises.co.uk)
The Rhine Discovery Cruise runs from March to December and stays can be extended in Amsterdam, Lake Como, Lucerne or Basel.
Viking River and Ocean Cruises have more than 25 itineraries across countries in Europe, Russia and Asia.