Threading together deep forests, ancient cities and majestic mountains, Europe’s rivers form such a spectacular tapestry of sights that it’s little wonder they top many a bucket list. Venture by sleek ship down scenic waterways, and you will be cast back to the days of Roman settlement, medieval conquest and Renaissance art. Whether a musician partial to Baroque, a foodie partial to good wine or a culture vulture partial to a castle tour, you’ll easily appreciate why this peaceful and formidable river has been immortalised in folklore and song. The latest voyage offered by Perry Morecombe and his Travel Team, the ‘Regal Rhine,’ unlocks the Rhine’s French, German and Swiss treasures.
Start in the quaint canals of Dutch capital, Amsterdam, and you will depart enamoured with the sloping houses, bike-ridden paths and abundant art museums. Amsterdam began in the late 12th century as a humble fishing village and was transformed into a major global port and trade centre during the Dutch Golden Age. Nowadays, a tram will take you from the grassy shade of Vondelpark to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh gallery, Anne Frank House and marketplaces. With the Travel Team founder’s tour and other similar itineraries, a day trip in the outskirts will involve tasting cheese and watching clogs being made – you’ll warm quickly to the locals and their friendly, carefree manner.
One of the largest cities in Rhineland-Palatinate, Koblenz is another breathtaking pit-stop first built in 8BC as a Roman military post. Its Latin name translates to “at the confluence,” after its position at the meeting of the Rhine and Moselle, a site fortified by the Teutonic knights. The cosy wine bars, Roman-Gothic basilica, Lahneck Castle and four stately Baroque houses on the main street of the Old Town seem straight out of a book.
Violently contested by France and Germany over many years, Alsatian Strasbourg is one of the Rhine’s biggest ports. Despite the regional history of Roman-Frank, Franco-German and Protestant-Catholic conflict, a spirit of resilience, peacefulness and multiculturalism prevails in the de facto capital of the EU. Under the watchful eye of the Vosges and Black Forest mountains, in warmer weather you’ll find café tables spilling onto the streets – in your gastronomic explorations, be sure to try flammekueche, a doughy bread covered in cheese, onion and bacon. Alongside the veritable joie de vivre, there is a palpable industrious air fuelling Strasbourg’s famous engineering and manufacture sectors. The city’s other self-proclaimed accolade is that of Europe’s Capital of Christmas. It is worth timing your visit to coincide with the oldest Christmas market in Europe, complete with the tallest natural decorated tree on the continent.
The next major destination is the meeting of the Swiss, French and German borders in Basel. Art lovers will go mad at the density of galleries and museums, including the first public art space in Europe and the biggest in Switzerland. History buffs will relish the beauty of the old town, and the nearby ruins of Augusta Raurica. The famous Basel honey cake goes down a treat in the sunny, almost Mediterranean summer climate and is best enjoyed in the huge market square. For bursts of colour, costume and frivolity, stop by when Basel is in the throes of the three-day celebrations of its Fasnacht (carnival).
Small, river port town of Bresiach, cloaked in vineyards and cobblestones, is your gateway to the Black Forest. Meticulously reconstructed after widespread WWII destruction, Breisach has not lost any of its fairy tale charm. Here, in the Black Forest, the Brothers Grimm conjured up Hansel and Gretel. With Travel Team’s trip, the trademark Black Forest cuckoo clocks will be brought to life in a demonstration illuminating the intricacy and precision of the craft.
You may be tempted to bring a cuckoo souvenir with you past Mainz, Boppard and your other stops en route to Cologne. Your first sight in this major centre will be the twin spires of the Gothic cathedral. Having survived the occupation of German tribes, Romans, the French and the British, metropolitan Cologne is loved for great coffee and chocolate and a series of excellent museums boasting world-class Picasso collections and Roman artefacts.
A tour that is, as its name suggests, made regal by the glorious culture and proud peoples you will encounter, calls for luxurious and unique accommodation. Travel Team’s Regal Rhine is conducted aboard the 5-star MS William Shakespeare, the whole ship chartered for the tour. 110 metres long, the ship is furnished in wood and marble and has three decks, including a sun deck perfect for reclining at dusk. The Midsummer Bar with its outdoor seating and wide windows is also an ideal vantage point for watching the scenery float by. Speciality dinners are crafted by brilliant chefs, and can be followed by a long, lovely massage. Although there are elevators on board, to partake in the tour, you must be confident in your fitness and able to manage luggage and walking.