Romancing The Rhine With Travelmarvel

6 May 2015

I’m gliding through the pancake-flat countryside of the Netherlands, where piebald cows munch by riverbanks and villagers cycle across bridges. Amsterdam is just behind me, and a great adventure is beginning.

Ahead stretches the Rhine, one of Europe’s most important rivers. For 2,000 years it has been a vital link for trade between central Europe and the sea. Its banks are lined by villages and tidy vineyards, and guarded by a series of majestic hilltop fortresses. Germany’s modern cities pass by too: our first stop ashore in Germany is at Bonn.

I’m excited not just to be cruising down this famous travel artery, but because the Rhine is also central to German culture. Its place in poetry, song and legend adds an extra dimension to the journey. Wagner was inspired to write operas about the Nibelungen race that once inhabited the riverbanks, and Romantic writers loved the Rhine for its brooding atmosphere.

 The vineyard village of Assmannshausen (image: German National Tourist Office)

Life Aboard The Diamond

I’m sailing on Travelmarvel Diamond, which carries 170 passengers. It’s a tidy, cosy ship of warm wood panelling and comfy chairs. I sit in the main lounge and chat to fellow guests as scenery slides beyond large windows.

At other times, I’m on the sun deck, feeling the river breezes and ambling from one railing to another to catch passing points of interest. It’s a pleasant ship, and I like its all-inclusive policy. With transfers, tipping, meals, tours, on-board WiFi, and mealtime drinks all covered, it’s a good way to manage the holiday budget.

Our itinerary takes us from Amsterdam to Budapest on a 15-day ‘European Gems’ trip, but for me and many passengers, Day 4 is the highlight as we reach the fabled Rhine Gorges, a 70-kilometres stretch of river that condenses all the Rhine’s appeal into one magnificent passing show.

 The meeting of the Rhine and Mosel rivers at Koblenz (image: German National Tourist Office)

It starts as we sail past Koblenz, where the Rhine and the Moselle rivers meet. It’s a dramatic setting, with fast-flowing water and cliffs where crumbling fortresses brood. Then the river starts to snake through steep, wooded hills, each bend guarded by more fortifications clinging to rocky outcrops.

I sit on deck and see that many castles have crumbled into ruin but, even so, they’re spectacular. Burg Schonburg, wrecked by an invading French army in 1689, has rearing walls two metres thick. Burg Rheinstein, reinvented in pseudo-medieval style, looks like an illustration from a fairy tale. The villages below are impressive too: Oberwesel has fortified walls and 16 medieval towers, fluttering with flags.

 Rheinstein Castle (image: German National Tourist Office)

Broaden your river cruising horizons. Eastern Promises Upheld On A Viking River Cruise

Venture to southern Europe. Taking The River South With Scenic


The Home Of Legends

History is grand here, and so are legends. At the Rhine Gorges’ narrowest point before the island-fortress of Pflaz, the river’s hazardous currents and eddies once wrecked so many boats that lore said sailors where distracted by a beautiful singing maiden known as the Lorelei.

The legend was immortalised in Die Lorelei, a poem by Heinrich Heine. Later set to music, it’s an unofficial theme tune for the region. One of Travelmarvel Diamond’s pleasures is its evening musical concerts in the lounge, which feature the classical and folk music for which Germany is renowned.

 Travelmarvel Diamond’s sister ship Travelmarvel Jewel in the Rhine Gorges (image: Travelmarvel)

I pass the day striding the ship’s sunlit deck, beer in hand, scenery on all sides, stories all around. (There are great outlooks too from my cabin on the middle deck, which has a French balcony with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, but the Rhine Gorges must be viewed in all directions). We pass Mouse Tower on a midstream rock, built in the 13th Century by a bishop keen to levy taxes on passing riverboats. The greedy prelate became so hated he had to lock himself into his tower, where legend has it he died alone, nibbled on by mice.

In the afternoon I’m lounging on a deck chair as we arrive in Rudesheim, which marks the end of the Rhine Gorges. Thanks to its cruise popularity and proximity to Frankfurt, this village can get crowded, but there’s no doubting the appeal of its half-timbered medieval houses, cobbled lanes and wine taverns.

The region’s notable sparkling wines flow from barrels and toe-tapping oompah bands play in the taverns. We tour Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet, which features everything from musical boxes to giant barrel organs and mechanical, fiddle-playing figures.

 Carved shutters on a Rudesheim tavern (image: Brian Johnston)

Later I walk up into the vineyards above town before returning to the ship, where I know another leisurely four-course meal awaits. Mealtime conversation is alive with chatter at the glorious day, and plenty more adventures await as we sail on through the heart of Europe.

That’s the romance of the Rhine and of river cruising, a hassle-free holiday without any of travel’s worries or decisions to be made. Well, perhaps just one: what to have for a nightcap at the bar, as lights shimmer on the water outside.
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Brian Johnston

Born in Nigeria of Irish parents, Brian Johnston has lived in Switzerland,the UK and China, and now calls Sydney home. The widely-published freelance writer and author is a two-time Australian Travel Writer of the Year.