Dotted with medieval castles and precipitous wineries, the Rhine River is exactly as picturesque as the brochures make it out to be. Steeped in history at the confluence of four countries — namely France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands — the mighty river truly lies at the centre of Western European civilisation from its source in the Swiss Alps to its delta in the North Sea.
And from my private balcony on the AmaKristina, a glass of wine in my left hand and a camera in my right, I thought to myself that surely the most elegant way to explore the arcs and bends of this region was a Rhine river cruise.
The cruise debuted in Basel, Switzerland’s third city and best known for its thriving art scene. But really it’s the delightfully colourful old town that completely steals the show.
Jetlag is ever so unforgiving, though; a compact-sized city like Basel is the ideal place to get leisurely acquainted with this yet unfamiliar time zone.
Our captain Jan smoothly takes us to Alsace early in the morning as I get ready for the excursion to Riquewihr.
The storybook village is regularly named one of the prettiest in France and it isn’t hard to see why; time seems to have stopped about 400 years ago here, judging by the plentiful ochre-coloured timber houses that miraculously survived both world wars.
Not one to miss out on a wine opportunity, I venture into an inviting little shop large enough for just two or three customers at a time and purchase local specialties. Namely, a crisp, mineral Riesling and a bubbly Crémant d’Alsace. I also find myself inexplicably pulled towards all things edible even though lunch is merely an hour away; fortunately for my taste buds, I know better than to avoid baked goods while visiting France.
Nearby Strasbourg does not disappoint either; it’s bigger in size and much livelier than other quaint villages of Alsace. The city centre as well as the historic Petite France area are quite pleasant and the reddish, almost blush-hued cathedral is simply too stunning for words to describe accurately.
It’s easy to get lost in the details of the ever-changing governing authority in Alsace. Indeed, the strategic region at the foot of the Vosges mountain range was consistently disputed between France and Alsace until World War II. But the abundance of layers only make the visit all the more captivating!
The Rhine is progressively getting narrower and infinitely more dramatic as we ride further into the Wachau valley. The vertiginous banks are dotted with more castles than any other river valley in the world.
Our cruise director, Dragan Reljic, live commented the whole afternoon journey. Tales of princesses and kings and knights and star-crossed lovers… undoubtedly the most entertaining portion of the cruise.
We docking in picture-perfect Rüdesheim the next morning, part of Germany’s enticing Romantic Rhine. Onwards to the sunny southern slopes and numerous terraced vineyards during a leisurely gondola ride atop Rittersaal where a viewpoint of the Rhine River awaits. And it does not disappoint — from here, the entire winemaking village (famous for its acclaimed Riesling and Pinot noir) is visible. As is the Niederwalddenkmal, a soaring and intricately carved monument inaugurated in 1883 to represent the union of all German states.
And while you’re there, make sure to experience Rüdesheimer coffee especially on a chilly spring evenings. It’s basically Germany’s answer to Irish coffee! The potent digestif consists of a healthy dose of coffee and an even healthier dose of locally distilled brandy, topped with chocolate flakes and whipped cream for good measure.
Lastly on the Germany itinerary of the Rhine river cruise is striking Cologne.
Conversely, Cologne doesn’t boast a lengthy list of museums and attractions aside from its Old Town. Coupled with its most notable sight is the 13th century Gothic Cathedral, Germany’s most visited landmark and the world’s tallest twin-spired church at 157 metres tall. However, Cologne is the perfect place to pamper oneself with retail therapy thanks to inviting pedestrian shopping streets. I opted for a cheeky ice cream halt by the colourful Fischmarkt.
Alas, the cruise draws to a close as our captain Jan docked in beautiful Amsterdam for our ultimate stopover. I welcome this final stop with equal parts enthusiasm and melancholy. Although I’m excited to revisit the attractive canals, I’m saddened to bid farewell to my newfound friends.
Getting purposefully lost in Amsterdam is a treat I did not dare interrupt until my feet could no longer carry me. Possibilities are endless in Amsterdam:
The Keukenhof gardens!
The Anne Frank House!
The Van Gogh Museum!
Why book a Rhine river cruise?
Over the course of eight wonderful days, the AmaKristina travelled 1,233 kilometres upstream the mighty Rhine River. Passed through 12 locks. Docked in 4 different countries. Cruised by not just one but 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, encompassing 2000 years of history.