‘Scenic Gems of the German Landscape’ sailing from Dusseldorf to Basel
A Rhine cruise conjures up images of meandering along waterways betwixt vineyard clad hills topped with fairytale turreted castles and mooring up beside quaint mediaeval towns of cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. Our cruise with Fred Olsen on the Brabant delivered all of this in spades. Their 8-day trip ‘Scenic Gems of Germany’ is, however, slightly misleading as it actually slips into France to explore scenic Strasbourg and concludes in Basel, Switzerland.
The Brabant sees Fred Olsen’s first venture into river cruises. They are more known for their ocean cruises and many of our fellow guests were loyal FO regulars keen to experience the company’s excellent customer service and fine dining aboard the river boat. With just 79 cabins and suites on 3 decks, a friendly English-speaking crew and low-key evening entertainment, this small river boat is also ideal for people who wish to try out river cruising for the first time.
Düsseldorf, Cologne and Königswinter
We boarded the Brabant in a fairly unprepossessing area of Düsseldorf and this city soon proved to be a pleasant surprise. Our early arrival meant I had a free afternoon to explore and discover the outdoor sculptures dotted across the Altstadt. I also whiled away a couple of hours in the newly renovated and virtually empty K20 Art Gallery, gazing at works by Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Klee to name but a few.
That evening we enjoyed welcome cocktails, an excellent 5-course meal and free-flowing wine/beer. We had opted for the drinks package and Avi, our wine waiter was extremely attentive in refilling our glasses. In the morning we found we had sailed to Cologne and were moored up next to the Chocolate Museum. Feeling slightly hungover (and vowing to keep a closer eye on my wine glass) I set off to explore the city on foot. The beauty of this river cruise is that excursions are available for those who prefer a more organized approach, but the mooring points are generally close enough to the attractions for people like me who prefer to jump ship and do their own thing.
Cologne’s highlights include the stunning cathedral and an art gallery packed full of modern pieces. I’d have liked longer in this city but we had an afternoon date with Königswinter and an accessible cog railway trip to the Drachenburg castle. This dramatic gothic structure high above the Rhine valley seems a bit of a folly. Built as a private residence, it has variously been used as a Nazi training camp, boarding school, US army base and wedding venue!
A detour up the Moselle to the pretty town of Cochem gave us an opportunity for wine tasting. Our visit happily coincided with the Red Peach Wine festival and I just had time for a quick explore of the local market where some jolly shoppers were performing the conga to a cheery oompah band. After a quick wander around the cobbled streets taking in pastel coloured, half-timbered mediaeval buildings I was sprinting back to the boat in time for the journey to Koblenz. I’d have liked more time to explore Cochem.
Koblenz and the Romantic Rhine
On day 4, I was up early to catch the Koblenz cable car to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. The cars didn’t start operating until 9.30 so I explored the river bank and basked in the early morning sun. At 9.30 we learnt that the cable car system was kaput and with no indication as to when it might be fixed, I set off on the 4 km walk up the bank across the bridge and up to the fortress, not realizing that a foot ferry just behind me would have halved my journey! The view of the Deutsches Eck (confluence of the Rhine and Moselle) was worth the trek and I was somewhat relieved to find the cable car was fixed for my return trip.
Although I’d have liked longer to explore Koblenz, it was by now in the high 20s/early30s so it was lovely sit on deck with a cool beer, dipping in and out of the plunge pool as we cruised the Romantic Rhine. We passed the Lorelei rock and the statue of the legendary maiden who lured sailors to their doom. This is the most dangerous section of the Rhine where it narrows to just 25 metres. The most recent accident took place in 2011, closing the river for more than 2 weeks until the capsized tanker could be removed. We passed pretty riverside towns and fairytale castles before mooring at Speyer, one of Germany’s oldest cities. Some guests set off by coach to visit Heidelberg whilst the rest of us made the short walk to visit Speyer’s ancient Romanesque cathedral and the Technik Museum crammed full of vintage cars, planes and boats and trains. I felt we didn’t need a full day here, but other guests enjoyed the time spent shopping and relaxing.
The following day we would be sailing on to Strasbourg. You can read about the rest of my river cruise in Part 2.
Carole and John took the 8-day ‘Scenic Gems of the German Landscape’ with Fred. Olsen in September 2018. See all Fred. Olsen’s river tours.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.