Cruise ships take the scenic route on the Rhine
Travellers on a Rhine cruise sample the history, culture and beauty of the countries on both sides of the river that continues to be an artery of life to central Europe, writes
Visiting Germany these days is somewhat like the experience of visiting the home of a rich relative: the Germans are kind and tolerant, but somewhat superior when they learn you are from one of the poorer parts of the European Union.
That did not, however, detract from the enjoyment of a three-day cruise on the magnificent river Rhine. Short three- and four-day cruises are to be offered on the Irish market later this year, and will have themes such as Tulip Time, the Romantic Rhine, and Christmas markets.
We began our tour in Switzerland and, from the airport in Zurich, it was a two-hour bus ride to join our luxury vessel, the MS Amacello, docked near Basel, where we stayed overnight after being welcomed on board despite being after midnight. Most of the other passengers had settled down in the 148 luxurious rooms on board the vessel, basically a floating luxury hotel with well-appointed rooms, wi-fi, restaurants, lounges and around the clock service.
What a magnificent river the Rhine is, running from Switzerland to the North Sea at the Netherlands. It was for centuries, and still is, a highway of commerce, a boundary between countries, a source of power as it cuts its way through the central plain of Europe, passing medieval castles, beautiful villages and towns with red tiled roofs. Despite the strong current, our ship was steady even when other giant ships sped past, throwing out big wakes.These did not even shake the marbled bedrooms, or put a tilt on the whirlpool or walking track on the upper deck.
The morning after departure found us docked in Breisach, on the German side of the Rhine, across from the Alsace region of France. We were given the choice of a visit to Colmar in France or a jaunt to the Black Forest and Lake Titisee in Germany.
Our guide pointed out second World War bunkers on the edge of the river and some of the damage caused when Allied guns destroyed 85 per cent of the town as they crossed the river into Germany.
Our group opted for a Black Forest tour, taking us up the Hollental valley which is very beautiful and has a spectacular railway line that runs up the valley. Under its viaduct we found the village of Hofgut Sternen, which boasts the largest cuckoo clock in the world, featuring life-size figures of couples dancing a waltz.
We stumbled across a Christmas market there, with exquisite wood carvings, very drinkable mulled wine, and despite the snow and ice, it was a most pleasant experience. There, too, was the inn where Marie Antoinette spent a night on her way to Paris from Vienna to marry the King of France.