This is the life. I’m people-watching in the German city of Wurzburg with the help of a something cold after a hike up to the Marienberg Fortress that sits high (very high, as I’ve just discovered!) above the town.
Even the pouring rain, can’t dampen my spirits. For one thing, I’m nice and dry under a canopy of pub umbrellas and blue sky is starting to peep through the clouds. For another, I haven’t heard a word about Covid-19 for several days.
My husband and I were lucky. The short window in which we were allowed out of the UK in 2020 coincided with a cabin becoming available on a seven-night voyage from Nuremberg to Cologne with A-ROSA Cruises, one of the few river companies that sailed successfully last year. We flew to Munich, took the train to Nuremberg and an included coach transfer from the station took us to the ship. Easy.
We’re cruising on A-ROSA Silva, a cheery vessel with bright red lips on her bow and a penchant for colour inside. Yellows, purples, oranges, reds. It makes a lovely change from the minimalist look in vogue these days. She is designated ‘international’ by A-ROSA, a German company, which means everything, from the menus to excursions, is in English and German.
Numbers-wise, she has three decks, holds up to 186 passengers, has 89 cabins and four junior suites with either fixed windows or French balconies, and two suites with walk-out balconies. Features-wise, she’s the perfect package, with a restaurant, spa, sauna and gym, lounge, pool and putting green. The only thing missing is a lift, which could be an issue if you struggle with stairs.
All meals on A-ROSA river ships are usually yummy buffets, but that has been one of the casualties of Covid-19. For the moment, everything is served, which we rather liked, especially in the evening. The crew did a great job; a few told us they had trained as waiters so were delighted to be back doing what they loved.
Dining wasn’t the only tweak A-ROSA had to make because of the pandemic. Our temperatures were taken before embarking in Nuremberg, masks were de rigueur when moving around indoors, you had to fill in a form if you sat with other passengers in the lounge and evening entertainment was limited to recorded music. None of it was any hardship, and don’t be surprised if the same rules are still in place for a while this year as well, but I did I miss not being able to sit at the bar, which is always a good place to meet people, especially as A-Rosa includes drinks in the cruise price.
A-ROSA Silva stayed overnight in Nuremberg so next morning we headed into the city – an easy bus-metro ride from her dock on the Main-Danube Canal. The city will be forever synonymous with the Nazi war crimes trials held here, and on past cruises we’ve visited both the courtroom and excellent Documentation Centre that tells of the rise of Hitler and life under the Nazis, so this time we explored the town – a delightful place that was a major trading centre in medieval times.
Our journey would take us along the Main-Danube Canal (it links the Main and Danube Rivers by taking ships over the Franconian Alps by means of 16 locks) to Bamberg, where we’d join the Main River. Another 34 locks later we’d pop out onto the Rhine. These locks are a mixed blessing. Without them, ships couldn’t navigate the Main and the canal wouldn’t exist; because of them, the sun deck is often closed (locks invariably come with low bridges). On this cruise, a cabin with a French or walk-out balcony is a good investment.
A-ROSA offers excursions at extra cost at each port – mainly city walking tours but with some guided cycle rides as well (bikes can’t be borrowed individually) – but we opted to explore alone each day.
This part of Germany is steeped in centuries of history and culture. There are castles, fortresses, grand cathedrals and palaces, beautiful architecture and wonderfully quirky tales. My favourite was in Bamberg, a town stuffed with half-timbered houses that could have come straight out of Hansel and Gretel, where the burgers built their town hall in the river because the mean prince-bishop who ruled here wouldn’t give them any land.
There is so much to discover. The aforementioned Marienberg Fortress (it’s a bit of a climb up but the views are spectacular) and ornate Versailles-inspired Bishops’ Residenz in Wurzburg; an ancient Jewish cemetery and yet another castle in Wertheim; an immense Romanesque-style cathedral and the brilliant Gutenberg Museum dedicated to the man who invented the printing press in Mainz (we were supposed to be in Frankfurt, but the itinerary changed last minute and Mainz proved a worthy stand-in).
By now we were cruising the Rhine and in the early hours next morning set sail for the Rhine Gorge, the prettiest part of the river, lined with vineyards, cute villages and medieval castles. Our cruise manager told us their history as we sailed through (many were destroyed by marauding French in various 17th-century wars), and also of the legend of the Lorelei, a siren who lured sailors to their deaths with her hypnotic singing.
The French also left their mark in Koblenz, our last stop, capturing the fortress there during the Thirty Years War and blowing it up during the Napoleonic Wars. The ruling Prussians decided to build back better. Unfortunately by the time they had finished, the balance of power had changed, so it never saw action. So much for the vicissitudes of history! It’s definitely worth visiting the fortress; helpfully a cable car goes from near where the ships dock (A-ROSA also offers it as an excursion).
Next day in Cologne the crew were on the quay to bid us all a fond farewell. Or auf wiedersehen – ‘until next time’ – as I like to think of it. After all, I still haven’t had my day in Frankfurt.
Flight-inclusive river cruise packages with A-ROSA River Cruises can be booked through Jules Verne. This eight-day ‘Secret Germany’ cruise onboard A-ROSA Silva is available on 22 May and 28 August 2022. Prices start from £2,125 pp (based on two sharing on 28 August departure) and includes seven nights full board accommodation and drinks, rail travel from London to Nuremberg and returning from Cologne, five excursions with local expert guides plus the services of a UK tour manager throughout. Based on two sharing.
Book before 30 June 2021 to save an additional £120 pp.
020 3553 3722
Jane travelled in October 2020 as a guest of A-ROSA River Cruises.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends A-ROSA River Cruises.
More about Jane
A prolific cruiser, Jane Archer is a whizz at geography – as long as you ask her about places with a port or river close by. Jane has sailed on and off the beaten track, and cruised the great waterways of Europe, Asia and the US, but says there is still plenty of the world to be explored. Jane is a regular contributor to national newspapers and a host of cruise and travel magazines.