I said to my wife: “I would fancy a river cruise holiday.” The response was muted, but three days later she said: “I would like a cruise on Brabant.”
She told me this was a river cruiser which has a very exciting itinerary and shore excursions. She explained that Brabant is Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ smaller-scaled vessel, which visits places larger boats can’t. I didn’t argue, but I thought this was my idea!
We joined Brabant in Dusseldorf and explored our new surroundings.
It was apparent that this was a vessel that portrayed ambience, with a combination of cherry wood interior and contemporary styling. Our cabin was stylish and spacious, with ceiling to floor windows allowing unrestricted views.
The welcome on board by the staff was infectiously friendly.
Cologne was our first port of call, the oldest city in Germany. Our first shore excursion was a city tour capturing its highlights.
After the Second World War, precious artefacts were unearthed, including a perfectly preserved beautiful mosaic Roman dining room floor, dating back some 1,800 years.
Dominating the city is Cologne Cathedral; you are impressed with the external Gothic architecture, but once inside you are astounded by the stained-glass windows and the golden bejewelled shrine of the Three Kings – a sight to behold.
Further down the Rhine is Konigswinter, crowned by the majestic Drachenburg Castle nestling in dense forest atop a high peak.
We accessed the castle by cog railway, which welcomes you into a bygone era with tales of myths and legends.
Overnight sailing brought us to Koblenz. Olsen Cruise Lines offered guests a full day complementary Mosel river excursion.
Our first stop was Cochem, a small city where we visited Reichburg Castle, fairytale in appearance; its rooms were grand but not opulent. We meandered through the labyrinth of quaint cobbled streets including the atmospheric market square. Many of the shops were selling ladies’ clothes and accessories; I used diversion tactics as this could have been costly, and felt my wallet breathe a sigh of relief!
We enjoyed a tasty lunch with local beer which cost just £8 per head.
Next, a short journey into Beilstein, one of the most beautiful villages on the Moselle. I can understand why. Individually-styled houses are adorned with floral displays giving off an abundance of aromas. From here we boarded a river cruiser, sailing down the Moselle River, taking in picturesque landscapes.
The day’s final treat was sampling renowned Moselle wines; we returned in a jolly mood! This was a memorable day – in every way. Thanks to Fred!
Next morning, still in Koblenz, we took a short walk to the cable car, a thrilling ride looking down where the Rhine and Moselle merge – and a magnificent sight, stepping out at the well-preserved Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Returning on the cable car, the nearby beer festival was in full swing – we just had to stop and sample. Well, when in Germany.
An afternoon cruising revealed at every twist and turn spectacular sights, characterised by picture-postcard villages, steep terraced vineyards, lush forests and, of course, peaks dominated by imposing castle after castle, each with its own style. My views were pleasantly interrupted by the ice cream party on deck. We looked forward to evening delights, where we were spoilt for choice with the sumptuous five-course a la carte dinner menu.
After an overnight sail to Speyer, founded by the Romans, one of the highlights of our morning walking tour included the Technik museum housing vintage cars, aircraft and historical locomotives.
In the Pfaiz museum is displayed what is believed to be the oldest bottle of wine, discovered in a roman tomb and estimated to be 1,650 years old. Our afternoon tour took us to the impressive Heidelberg Castle where we explored this red sandstone fortress.
Sailing into France, our penultimate visit was Strasbourg, its centre a Unesco World Heritage site. We boarded a river cruiser for our canal trip; immediately we were captivated going through the first lock in front of La Petite France district where, in a bygone era, millers, fishermen and tanners plied their trades.
Gliding under ornate iron, brick and wooden bridges you see stunning sights, a mixture of French and German architecture spanning over centuries; majestic palaces and tower fortifications rise from the waterway.
In contrast the route took us into the modern area passing by the European Parliament and Court of Human Rights.
Re-entering the Imperial City, we alighted close to the magnificent Strasbourg Cathedral; this was a fitting place to have lunch where delicious tarte frambee, mixed salad and local wine cost only £17 for both of us. Refreshed, we went shopping, where we bought Strasbourg chocolates.
Back on German soil, we sailed into Breisach escorted by swans. Our final tour was the enchanting Black Forest.
As we journeyed we passed beautiful pastel-coloured villages, home to many storks nesting on rooftops, however no baby boom has been recorded! A steep ascent of 2,000 feet brought us to the forest peak where views were breathtaking – nature at its best.
Descending into a tranquil valley we visited the House of Black Forest Clocks, where the Herr family have made cuckoo clocks for seven generations.
Adolf Herr greeted us with cherry liquor; inside we were served with, what else but, Black Forest gateau. It contained local cherries and a hint of their cherry liquor – simply scrumptious.
Our host took us to his workshop where we watched in awe as his skilful hands carved the intricate designs on the clock face. Every clock is individually made and each tells a different story.
Down the valley is the Black Forest Open Air Museum, a farmstead perfectly preserved for over 460 years. Each building contained authentic contents, where we enjoyed this step back in time.
As we left Breisach for Basel, Switzerland, for disembarkation, our friends the swans spread their wings and in unison broke into sound – was this a German swan song?
This Brabant river cruise itinerary exceeded my expectations – its sights and delights, and exciting shore excursions, with high standards of local guides, were terrific value.
The atmosphere on board was intimate and friendly, where guests mingled, enjoying each other’s company. I am pleased it was my wife’s idea!