For Travel Expert Jessica Difazio from Flight Centre Marrickville Central, her dreams of exploring the lesser-known parts of Europe were brought to life on a journey along one of the world’s most legendary rivers: the Rhine.
“The seven-night Avalon Waterways Basel to Amsterdam Romantic Rhine cruise was filled with picture-book little towns, festive markets and enchanted castles that popped up regularly along this beautiful river running through the heart of Europe.
“Nods to fairytales were found everywhere. On an excursion to the Black Forest, where we visited a woodcarver’s workshop, I thought Pinocchio was going to peek out from behind a corner at any moment. We also explored La Petite France district in the beautiful city of Strasbourg. With its gothic cathedral, it was like stepping into a Disney movie.
“My absolute highlight, however, was our stop in Heidelberg. To me, the town epitomised what I had always imagined Europe to look like. This beautiful little town is tucked away high in the mountains, with Tudor-style little shops overlooking winding cobblestone laneways. It’s just so pretty.
“Other highlights included the wine tasting in Rudesheim, and the visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, where the exhibition featured various items such as delicate music boxes and the gigantic piano orchestrion. Rudesheim has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the most beautiful regions along the Rhine, and even in late November with frosty temperatures, it was amazingly green and lush.
“At the heart of Rudesheim’s old town is the charming Drosselgasse, a cobbled street filled with historic buildings, restaurants, bars and shops. The 144-metre-long street is lined with some of the city’s best entertainment venues, where you can try some of the local dishes and wines while listening to a range of live music from local artists.
“Avalon Waterways put a lot of effort into their onboard and onshore experiences; I was so impressed with the local guides’ knowledge and ability to keep us entertained on every excursion. Time was balanced well, too. We were able to take advantage of the organised tours at different stops, and received enough information to do some exploring of our own.
“It was on these leisurely journeys that I was able to sample and pick up beautiful local wines and delicious cheeses that I would share with some of the other guests before dinner. I loved wandering through quaint little towns, pretending to be a local picking up delicacies for dinner.
“On the subject of food, while we were spoilt with great food on shore (and apart from the frites and mayo, and poffertjes I devoured on the street), my favourite dining experiences were on board, where the food – especially the soups – was absolutely delicious. And unlike ocean cruising, there was lots of flexibility on dining as part of a smaller or larger group, depending on how you felt on that particular day.
“A river cruise on a boutique vessel is conducive to accessing smaller, less visited and quieter towns for a more authentic European experience. Another benefit of this type of cruise is that the itinerary and locations made it easy to be as busy or relaxed as you wanted to be.
“There was always the opportunity to do any of the great tours, do your own bit of exploring or just relax in your luxurious cabin and gaze out onto spectacular scenery. This style of cruising and the broad range of ages, nationalities, and of course, the gorgeous setting, all contributed to an unforgettable journey.”