The four-country river cruise like a ‘floating hotel’ with fairytale towns and the world’s largest wine barrel
MENTION the words “river cruise” to anyone and they will conjure up images of OAPs sipping tea, playing backgammon and hobbling around villages with walking sticks.
But these holidays are also packed full of charming destinations, delicious food and bucketloads of booze — so why should all the fun be reserved for those over 50?
To prove my point, I spent eight days aboard the Amadeus Imperial — a four-deck, 443ft-long, 168-passenger capacity vessel — travelling down the Rhine.
Starting in the Netherlands, I headed south through Germany, into France and ended in Switzerland.
My highlight, by far, was Strasbourg.
The vibrant French city is a powerful political centre (home to the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights) yet it still has a quaint countryside village feel.
With half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and a 1,000-year-old cathedral stood alongside lively bars, modern museums and shimmering glass consulates, it’s a seamless mix of mediaeval and futuristic.
Strolling the narrow streets, I marvel at colourful toytown cottages that look like they’re straight out of a Grimm’s fairytale next to sprawling French chateaux.
Then it was back on board and to the next destination.
Billed as “almost all-inclusive”, the cruise price from £1,750pp includes breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and all drinks (boozy and soft) with your evening meal.
And you certainly get your money’s worth when it comes to the food.
The menu always consists of four courses, often featuring a speciality from that day’s destination.
In Germany, I munched on bratwurst and apple strudel, then in France it was coq au vin and crêpes Suzette.
The cost also covers at least one daily excursion, use of the gym, free bike hire, the Eurostar and all entertainment — think quizzes, games, shuffleboard competitions, ice cream parties, cooking demonstrations and live music.
It was a great way to unwind between sightseeing — of which I did plenty.
In Amsterdam, I wandered round the canals, breathing in the sickly sweet smell of Dutch pancakes and waffles.
Then it was over to Cologne where, I’m told, my trip wouldn’t be complete without sampling Kolsch — the local beer served in tiny 200ml glasses called stangen.
I visited the traditional brewhouse Früh, where waiters carry 12 stangen in a circular tray with deep holes known as a Kranz.
My beer-loving boyfriend was a big fan, describing Kolsch as an ale-lager hybrid, similar to Camden Hells.
But I was more excited to head downstream to the wine-making town of Rüdesheim, famed for its riesling.
A cable car (costing 10 Euros return) took me over hectares of pristine hillside vineyards, providing the perfect view of where tonight’s glass of light-bodied, citrusy vino originated.
Novelty of ‘floating hotel’
I then join throngs of tourists exploring Drosselgasse — the town’s most famous street which is lined with taverns, cafes and cutesy souvenir shops, before hopping back on board.
After 50 miles of smooth sailing (at a maximum speed of 15.5mph), we make it to Heidelberg, home to the world’s biggest wine barrel, which can hold almost 50,000 gallons (about 220,000 litres) of the stuff.
Sadly, it’s empty, but it’s a good photo opportunity.
You can also sample the local plonk at just about every bar in town, and on the Amadeus Imperial.
You get plenty of photo opportunities on board, too.
I was treated to spectacular views of the forested valleys, one-street towns and historic castles that line the banks of the Rhine.
My favourite place to watch the world go by was from the sun deck, but my cabin, the restaurant, “quiet room”, bar and even the fitness suite were all great vantage points.
So am I a river cruise convert? Quite possibly.
If you’ve got the money and time to spare (it’s a pricier, slower-paced mode of travel for sure), it’s certainly a novelty staying in a “floating hotel” and waking up in a new city each morning.
It’s also full of surprises. All the tables seat four or six people, so you’re encouraged to dine in groups — which was slightly terrifying at first, but ended up being one of the highlights of the holiday.
It meant one night I had dinner with an ex-Royal Navy engineer, another I chatted to an ex-forensic chemist, and an old Army medic told me how he had saved lives on the battlefield.
Yes, they were almost all 70+ (the oldest guest was 86), but it really didn’t matter.
We were all there for the same thing: A jolly good time.
GO: MAJESTIC RHINE RAIL AND CRUISE
GETTING/STAYING THERE: The Majestic Rhine Rail and Cruise package costs from £1,995pp for eight days.
Price includes tour manager, all rail and coach travel throughout your tour, return rail from London St Pancras, a seven-night full-board cruise onboard MS Amadeus Star or Imperial and excursions.
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