Wrapped in blankets on a chilly day in mid-August, cruise passengers waited on the sundeck for the breathtaking vistas ahead. This is what they came to see — castles on the Rhine. One after another, 23 turreted castles and fortresses overlook the river from their hilltop posts in a seven-mile stretch.
Viking River Cruises’ Rhine Getaway itinerary begins in Basel, Switzerland, and follows the mighty river to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, meandering along fairy-tale towns and villages that line this romantic waterway. Beautiful cities including Cologne, Strasbourg and Heidelberg are on the route.
The river flows through one of Germany’s most scenic regions. It passes vineyard-blanketed hills whose steep slopes require vintners to pick grapes by hand, keeping a centuries-old tradition alive. Along its banks, hundreds of splendid castles have stories to share.
Viking offers an excursion in every port, included in the overall cruise price. Optional tours cost extra. Tours for active travelers and those who want a slower pace cover the same sights. Because the ship docks along the river’s edge, passengers can get on and off via a short ramp.
To drive through Germany’s fabled Black Forest is to time-travel through a mythical land of cuckoo clocks, fairy tales and wine-producing villages. Visitors can take guided walks below wooded slopes and watch a cooking demo of the famous Black Forest cake.
Strasbourg’s towering Gothic cathedral and the Petit France historic district are the high points in this cross-cultural center of France’s Alsace region at the border of France and Germany.
Heidelberg is noted for its 30,000 students and immense university spread around the city. Viking’s tour includes a walk through the historic district and a visit to Heidelberg Castle, one of the most beautiful palaces of the Renaissance. Its exquisite facades are decorated with statues of Germany’s prince electors and frame the courtyard where tourists congregate.
A night on the town in Rudesheim begins with a mini train ride to the 15th century Drosselgasse, winding its way past cozy wine bars and lively taverns. A festive dinner is accompanied by tunes of the traditional oom-pah band, group singing and dancing.
The treasured heritage of Cologne is crowned by its magnificent Gothic cathedral. Begun in 1248, the edifice took seven centuries to complete. Soaring spires and stunning stained glass windows are the epitome of classic church art. The old town is not really old, as everything had to be rebuilt after the WWII bombing that ravaged the city but, thankfully, spared the cathedral.
Small and sophisticated
For travelers thinking about seeing these destinations on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, a river cruise is the way to go. Expertly curated and narrated excursions by engaging guides give passengers a peek into the local culture along the way.
A small ship is an ideal way to see this part of the world in comfort and convenience. Elegance and refinement are hallmarks of the Viking brand. There is a sense of protection on the ship, of seeing new places in a guarded way. Safety and security are important when selecting a cruise line. Many passengers were over 65. They have worked all their lives. This is their time. Said one: “I just want to be catered to and have every detail attended to.”
Viking’s staterooms are modern, spacious and airy with flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.
A coffee bar is available 24/7 on the main deck. The food is excellent. Wine is included with lunch and dinner. One night is devoted to local German specialties with costumed staff, music and dancing. The entire dining room is transformed into a Hofbrauhaus.
Viking’s Rhine journeys operate from March to December. Contact vikingcruises.com or 855-338-