The problem with cruises is that it’s too easy to embark as a passenger and disembark as freight. However, leading river cruise company AmaWaterways has added a hosted wellness programme to its already comprehensive set of activities, and I was keen to see how it worked.
I chose a Rhine cruise on AmaSonata and after the usual efficient valet parking at Heathrow I was soon on my way to Basel to join the ship. According to travel publishers Berlitz, AmaWaterways has the best river cruise fleet in Europe, and I could see why. My cabin had two balconies, one ‘french’ balcony, the other with a table and two chairs. The spacious cabin came with an excellent shower and a large screen Apple computer which also served as a TV. Wi-fi and fast internet access were free as were pre-dinner drinks and canapés as well as drinks with lunch and dinner. Bubbly was available for breakfast for those who fancied a Bucks Fizz to set them up for the day, and the pool had a swim-up bar. Well, it is a holiday!
After all the guests were on board, AmaSonata set sail for Germany and, early next morning, docked at Breisach. A choice of excursions is included at each port and I chose Freiburg. Groups are small and excursions graded by the effort they require, from gentle strolls to energetic hikes, so guests can choose the level that best suits them. AmaSonata also has bicycles on board for those preferring a two wheeled adventure.The new Wellness programme has added more options with daily strengthening, stretch, resistance and yoga classes held either on the sundeck or lounge, so there’s plenty of exercise on offer.
I enjoyed Freiburg, its cathedral and bustling market square, then returned to the ship for dinner and a good night’s sleep. Next morning found me in Strasbourg where I strolled along some of its many waterways and explored Petite France, a lovely, peaceful area full of medieval half-timbered houses. The magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame has beautiful stained glass windows.
One thing I like about river cruises is the use of Quiet Vox. Each cabin has two devices sitting in a charging cradle. On excursions you hang one round your neck and plug in the earpiece. As you walk along, perhaps some distance from the guide, you can still hear everything they say.
The following morning AmaSonata arrived in Ludwigshaven and I joined an excursion to nearby Heidelberg and its castle. It’s home to the Great Vat, capable of holding nearly fifty thousand gallons of wine. It’s so big there’s a dance floor on top.
Later that day we sailed to lovely Rudesheim and I visited Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, for me one of the most memorable of the trip. This amazing collection of mechanically operated musical instruments, lovingly restored and in great working order, drew much admiration from the many visitors.
Still in Rudesheim the following morning I took a gondola ride to visit the striking Niederwalddenkmal, a monument overlooking the Rhine built to celebrate the 1870s unification of Germany. On my return I joined others in the Bassenheiner Hof vineyard to sample the local Riesling. The highlight of the visit was the hilarious commentary provided by Adolf Storgl. If you closed your eyes you would be convinced you were listening to Ronnie Barker – and they say the Germans don’t have a sense of humour!
We left Rudesheim after lunch and sailed through the Rhine Gorge, lined with dramatic castles, to arrive late afternoon in Lahnstein. An after-dinner excursion took me to nearby Lahneck Castle, purchased and renovated by a Scotsman before his successors sold it to a local family. It’s still a work in progress.
Early next morning AmaSonata set off again and by lunchtime we were in Cologne. Moored a few minutes’ walk from the city centre and Cathedral, I chose a city walking tour. Most people are familiar with Eau de Cologne, used in days gone by to mask unpleasant smells. Our guide told us that the original product is still made to a secret formula by Farina and is available in just a few shops around the world. The well-known 4711 brand is not the original but is widely available. Our tour finished at Cologne’s famous thirteenth century cathedral and its square, packed with visitors on a sunny day.
AmaSonata left Cologne that evening as we were sitting down for dinner, en route for Amsterdam, our final destination. The following morning I woke to yet another warm day so sat on the sundeck and watched the yoga class until our lunchtime arrival in Holland’s capital city. I opted for a two-hour walking tour from the choice of excursions. It ended at a large bar where I enjoyed traditional “bitterbal” snacks with a welcome glass of lager before the short walk back to AmaSonata and my final night aboard. The next day I manage to enjoy an early lunch in the comfortable lounge before heading out to Schiphol airport and the fifty-minute flight back to Heathrow.
AmaWaterways offers Enchanting Rhine cruises from £1,540 per person cruise only or from £1,799 including flights and transfers. Call 0800 320 2335 or visit www.amawaterways.co.uk
Holiday Extras offers trusted Meet and Greet and other services at all major UK airports. To book, call 0800 1313 777 or visit HolidayExtras.co.uk