Castles, churches, vineyards and medieval towns, Germany has them all but how best to see them, simply by cruising the countries magnificent rivers.
My journey begins in Dusseldorf on boarding MS Brabant, a river cruise ship operated by Fred. Olsen River Cruises. Boarding is extremely easy and within minutes I am in cabin 306, a 161 sq. ft. Juliette balcony cabin on Mozart deck. Large double bed, 2 wardrobe areas and enough drawers for a 2-week cruise. Tea/coffee making facilities, flat screen tv, hairdryer and safe come as standard and bottles of water are supplied each day. The bathroom has a large shower cubicle with glass sliding doors so no more ‘dancing with the curtain’, toiletries come in small bottles of shampoo, body wash, conditioner and body lotion, towels are large, soft and thick. Electrical sockets are the continental 2-pin variety so don’t forget your adapters.
Unpacked, its time to explore.
Starting at the top, Deck 4, Sun Deck is adorned with reclining deck chairs, tables, chairs, awnings, swimming pool and bar for use when the sun Is shining, fancy a game of chess, there is a large deck sized board and pieces and the wheel house at the forward end.
Deck 3 apart from the Juliette balcony cabins and 2 suite cabins, the Amadeus Club Lounge at the stern, comfortable chairs to relax in, 24-hour coffee/tea making facilities, a small library, large tv screen to watch films and windows on 3 sides affording excellent views. There is also a small open area that can be used in warm weather, but this is also the smoking area used by both passengers and crew. The front of this deck is devoted to the large Panorama Lounge and bar with windows on 3 sides, comfortable seating plus an exit to the open deck. It’s here that port talks, lectures and entertainment from the resident duo take place, also light lunches and afternoon tea, or just sit at the bar and sip a cocktail.
Deck 2, Strauss Deck, again, Juliette balcony cabins whilst the centre is a small shop and reception from where you can hire bicycles for the more energetic or binoculars for those who wish to just observe in close up. Forward of this, the large, bright and airy Panorama Restaurant operating tables of 4 and 6. Breakfast is buffet style offering a varied choice, couldn’t resist the porridge with honey most days. Lunch usually at 1pm is waiter service and has a salad bar as an extra course. Unlimited red or white wine, beer or soft drinks are available to those who are on the £19 per person per day drinks upgrade otherwise it is pay as you go. Dinner, again waiter service, is served at 7pm and all meals are operated on a sit where you want basis, again for those on the drinks upgrade package the wines etc are free flowing and the wine it has to be said was always of good quality added to which the food during my cruise was excellent as was the service.
Deck 1, Haydn Deck is where you find the 11 standard cabins that only have windows high up but still offer the same amenities as the higher grades. This deck is also home to the hairdressers, fitness room and massage room. A central staircase connects decks 1, 2 and 3 with a lift for the less agile.
Time for dinner and first chance to sample what turns out to be excellent cuisine in quality, presentation and choice served by a happy team of serving staff. After an early start, time to try out that large bed. It must have been comfortable as the next thing I remember was waking as we berthed in Cologne next morning.
Following a healthy breakfast, it’s time to go ashore. Booked on a walking tour of the city time to collect the Quietvox and meet the guide. Quietvox is a multi-channel radio receiver with attachable earpiece so that even if you are following the guide at a distance you can still hear their commentary.
Many associate Cologne with its famous cathedral but it is equally well known for the twelve Romanesque churches in and around the Old Town all built between the 4th and 11th centuries. Following the river esplanades, it is noticeable how busy the river is, large barges carrying freight pass every few minutes. Leaving the river and ascending a side street the awesome splendour of Cologne Cathedral comes into view, spires 515ft high making it the third tallest twin spired church in the world. Originally work began in 1248 and continued for over 200 years but then stopped until money could be raised to continue in 1842 and finally completed in 1880. During WW2 the cathedral suffered from aerial bombing. When war ended, work began on restoring the cathedral to its former glory and in some places is still ongoing. Entering the cathedral by the main doors you can’t help but stand in amazement at the beauty, stained glass windows, wall murals, paintings, side chapels, a ceiling that reaches for the sky, mesmerising main alter and so much more. It was here I said farewell to the guide as I wanted to spend more time taking in this wonderful cathedral, no wonder it boasts being Germany’s number one attraction with up to 20,000 visitors a day. Making my way back to the boat the sky turns dark and rumbles of thunder can be heard, I make it just in time as heavy rain has tourists running for cover.
Tonight, is Gala Night and unlike ocean ships smart casual dress is the order as the Cruise Director introduces the Captain and crew whilst passengers enjoy sparkling white wine and canapés. Time for dinner and what a delight, for me it had to be salmon trio to start followed by cream of Hokaido pumpkin soup, Chateaubriand and red wine gravy with vegetables, bittersweet chocolate pot de crème, cheese, biscuits and coffee.
Next morning sees us in Cochem and it’s still raining as we board the coach to Reichsburg Castle situated high above the town where had it been a sunny day would have afforded spectacular views across the town and countryside. Originally built in about 1130 it was named an Imperial Castle in 1151 but in 1688 was overrun by French troops and destroyed staying as ruins until purchased in 1868 for 300 ‘Goldmark’ and restored. Visit the dining room, imagine the enjoyment of a banquet, admire the exquisitely painted ceilings, views through the leaded light windows, trophy room, courtyard and much more. Finally, a wine tasting before returning to the old town with an opportunity to wander the narrow streets past half-timbered houses that have stood for centuries, on to the Market Square where the water fountain takes centre place surrounded by cafes, restaurants and more beautiful half-timbered houses, the medieval church of St Martin dating back to 1593 but restored after being bombed in WW2. Finally, it’s across the bridge under which the Moselle flows and back to the ship to dry off.
We sail at 2pm and begin our cruise along the Moselle passing vineyards, small towns, villages and camp sites by the water’s edge as we head for our next destination, Koblenz.
On arrival next morning the sky is overcast and rain is on the way. However, this does not deter from a trip in the cable car up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress that has stood guard over Koblenz since being completed in 1828. From the fortresses viewing area 387 ft above the river the views stretch out across the town to the hills beyond. Coming back down in the cable car affords great opportunities to photograph the town and the large statue of William l of Germany mounted on a 14-metre-high horse standing at the point where the Moselle meets the Rhine. Back to the ship as we have an early sailing time, 1pm when we say farewell to the Moselle and hello to the Rhine as we sail to Freudenberg/Miltenberg.
Cruising the Rhine, it’s noticeable the number of camp sites still full of tourists with their camper vans and awnings despite it being October. We glide past villages and towns, their churches prominent against the landscape, vineyards that adorn the hill sides, castles perched on hill tops and being the start of autumn, the changing colours of the leaves from green through various shades of brown. Our cruise director gives a commentary of the castles as we cruise quietly by, even swans and wild fowl ignore us as did a pair of white stork wading in the shallows. The following morning, we continue on to Freudenberg where a shuttle bus is offered to take some of the passengers to Miltenberg. Unfortunately, it is still raining so many decide to remain on board and enjoy an excellent lunch in the Panorama Restaurant followed by tea at 4pm. Teatime was always well attended due mainly to the excellent scones, cream and something a little different, Marmalade which personally I found gave a wonderfully crisp taste rather than the more usual jam. What is the correct pronunciation and what goes on first, cream or jam!!
Next day we enter the River Main to one of my favourite destinations, Würzburg. As you negotiate a final twist in the river the town unfolds before you, pass under the famous pedestrian only Alte Mainbrücke bridge finished in 1573, adorned with 12 sculptures of saints that were added in the 1700s. Once through the lock you berth on the town side of the river affording clear views of the Marienberg Fortress sitting high above the river whilst on a hill overlooking the fortress is the small Baroque chapel Käppele.
Not to be missed is the UNESCO world heritage site ‘Residence’, a large site constructed between 1720 and 1744 having been commissioned by two prince-bishops consisting of the palace, chapel and gardens. Enter the palace into what was once the courtyard where horse drawn carried delivered visitors, ascend the wide carpeted staircase to the fist level and admire the largest fresco in the world, ascend to the top and enter rooms that become more beautiful as you progress from one to the next. Gold leaf in abundance, chandeliers, paintings, furniture from a bygone age until you finally reach the room of mirrors that defy description. The palace exudes wealth and beauty, unfortunately photography is not allowed. The gardens are immaculately kept in keeping with the building.
Back on board it’s the Captain’s Farewell Cocktails followed by the final Gala Dinner. Tonight, we share a table with Woolf the Hotel Manager who emanates from Austria. An interesting and jovial man, a brilliant table host who kept us entertained with stories from his life including his father who spoke 8 languages but never went outside Austria for his holidays. A wonderful evening.
Next day, Bamberg but as it is still raining, I choose to stay onboard and get the packing done as tomorrow after an 801-kilometre journey along 3 of Germany’s major rivers we arrive in Nuremburg and from there Munich Airport and home.
Regular Fred Olsen cruisers will instantly recognise the warm welcome as you arrive, good food and service that the company is renowned for. We visited some interesting areas and towns. Some say they wouldn’t do a river cruise but to them I say, what is better than sitting back, relaxing, gently gliding along beautiful rivers dotted with swans, ducks and various bird species, past vine covered hillsides some topped with medieval castles and fortresses, small towns and villages where churches stand tall amongst half timbered houses of different colours, it doesn’t come much better.
Alan was a guest of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.