Liz Coggins experiences the ultimate way to travel the world.
Today ocean going cruise ships have lost much of their glamour, sophistication and prestige that they had in the past and now resemble small towns catering for over 5,000 passengers.
So it was no surprise to me, after experiencing a seven day Viking River Cruise down the Rhine, to discover that river cruising is now the favourite of the seasoned traveller and looked upon as a luxurious and elegant way to tra
There’s no doubt about it its the ideal way to sample rich cultures, wines and cuisines aboard comfortable and intimate ships bestowing five star service on their passengers.
Award winning Viking River Cruises have more than 25 itinerates across countries in Europe, Russia and Asia. It’s no secret that they really put a lot of thought into their itineraries , in fact into everything from the design of the ship, the menus, the excursions to their high standard of customer service.
Having travelled the world over the last few decades, this was my first river cruise and I had no idea of just what to expect.
I flew out from Manchester to Basel in Switzerland to join the newest ship of the Viking Fleet – Viking Eir. Myself and my fellow travellers had only minutes to wait in Basel airport before the pampering began and we were escorted iOnce on board we indulged ourselves in a tasty leisurely buffet lunch as our luggage was taken to our staterooms. My first Viking experience had begun.
Because of flight arrival times there was not enough time to explore Basel so I took pride in exploring the ship and was more than pleasantly surprised by its size, facilities and amazing décor and furnishings. This was luxury unsurpassed.
My stateroom was so well planned and spacious and it was like having my own personal maid, who serviced my room twice a day and even tidied away things I had left rather untidily around.
Later after the cocktail hour we were given a very informal briefing about the weeks happening, information about the ship and what we could look forward to.
But my biggest surprise was to come as I sat down to what could only be described as a five star dining experience which was replicated every day at lunch and dinner.
Later that evening we set sail for Breisach and our first day of exploration on The Rhine.
As well as free excursions there are optional ones of varying types and lengths and all are graded with an activity level, type and what they include.
Our guides were some of the best I have experienced and so helpful. On most of the excursions there was the opportunity to stay a little longer and return by a shuttle bus, walk back or return in the coach, And the big plus about river cruising is you are close to your destination sometimes only a short walk away on the river bank from the centre of the town.
Breisach is home to Europe’s largest wine cellars and boasts a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral with two imposing towers and its also the gateway to the most fabled forest in the world – The Black Forest the first of our excursions. Passing timber farmhouses, hills thick with fir trees and dramatic gorges it’s easy to image how this dense forest was the setting for Grimm’s fairy tales. I was brave enough to take a forest stroll with our guide, watched rural craft making and visited the Cuckoo Clock workshops.
The afternoon saw optional excursions to the old medieval village of Colmar or the W.W.II museum there but after a hectic morning it was me time with a relaxing afternoon spent in the sun on deck.
Late that night we left Breisach for Strasbourg. The bus and walking tour included seeing the European Parliament and the city’s famed Cathedral. There was plenty of free time to enjoy a coffee in the square in the shadow of the Cathedral and watch the world go by before exploring the cobbled streets of Petit France with its half timbered houses.
An optional trip into Alsace for a wine tasting tour took up my afternoon visiting a small family run winery and learning how this French wine is produced and of course tasting it was fascinating.
Next day we were back in Germany visiting the romantic castle at Heidelberg with its breath taking views of the city before setting sail to Rudesheim.
In Rudesheim some of us got into the local spirit of wine and song with an optional excursion. We took the land train to the old Drossenglasse quarter, sampled typical German fayre and local Schnapps, danced and I even rang bells in a fun evening.
Sailing to Koblenz was the most picturesque 40 mile section of the Rhine. It was all up on deck to listen to the we had a wonderful commentary about all the ruined castles and their romantic legends. This part of the river is truly beautiful with its towns, villages, castles and the amazing Rhine Gorge itself through which the river flows.
Arriving in Koblenz the more energetic took the shore excursion to Marksburg Castle, whilst it was just wonderful to explore Koblenz on foot with its squares, narrow streets and wonderful shops and what’s more it was only a five minute walk into the centre from the ship.
Cologne was next with so many amazing options for the walking tour but I decided on a little culture exploring the Bruhl UNESCO Palaces Augustusburg Palace and Falkenlust Hunting Lodge with their breathtaking rooms and stucco ceilings they are described as the most outstanding Rococo creations in Germany.
By the end of my palace visit I had just enough energy for the Cologne Beer Culture Dinner tour – after all you can’t visit Germany without sampling the beers!
In the early hours we left Cologne for the Netherlands and Kinderdijk and a visit to the largest collection of windmills in the Netherlands. I took the optional tour – not to be missed to visit a Dutch cheese farm and learnt how their most famous export is made.
Soon time for our farewell dinner as we sailed for our disembarkation port of Amsterdam. Besides the optional and included excursions most days there were talks, demonstrations, performances by local artists and musicians and some surprises plus wonderful piano playing by Gigi the resident pianist in the lounge
There were also fun times! Who ever guessed that our executive chef Ro and his team were such good singers! Or that our hotel manager Luciano and Programme Director Daniel looked so good in lederhosen at the German Evening.
So many places, so much to do – yet such a relaxing feeling river cruising is hard to describe even for a travel writer such as myself. All I can say is you have to try it for yourself.
Liz Coggins travelled as a guest of Viking Cruises
The Rhine Discovery Cruise runs from March to December.
You can extend your stay in Amsterdam, Lake Como, Lucerne or Basel.
For more details about Viking River or Ocean Cruises
Visit: www.vikingrivercruises.co.uk or call 0800 640 9380