It is extraordinarily charming to cruise any of the rivers of Europe, but they call it “The Romantic Rhine” for a reason – at least three reasons! And on my most recent sailing on the Rhine on a Viking river cruise, I was reminded of why the Rhine is one of my – and many seasoned river cruisers’ – favorites.
On 'The Romantic Rhine,' you can see, taste, and listen to a perfect tapestry of Northern European culture. And a river cruise is the very best way to experience it. It’s one of the most popular river cruises for new-to-river-cruise travelers, and also one that many experienced river cruisers return to, time after time, in different seasons, including Christmas market season!
Unpack once and let your Scandinavian-style, floating boutique hotel take you to one gorgeous city, charming village or vineyard-lined landscape after another between Basel, Switzerland, through France, Germany and into the Netherlands.
Included shore excursions introduce you to people, history, culture and places in mediaeval villages in the Black Forest, glorious French towns like Strasbourg, quaint riverside towns in Germany like Koblenz or vibrant cities like Cologne, all the way to one of everyone’s favorite European cities, the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.
But the highlights of the Rhine river will always be these sights, sounds and flavors, and a cruise like our Viking Rhine River cruise the best way to take it all in:
Best Seat in the House for Castle-Gazing
40 castles in 40 miles. There's a castle or fortress, those ultimate symbols of the Middle Ages celebrated in fantasy literature, nearly every mile. That stretch known as the Middle Rhine has a higher density of castles than any other river valley in the world. Since the 19th century, it's been known as 'The Romantic Rhine' and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For two millennia, the Rhine was one of the most important routes connecting Southern with Northern Europe. Castles to control the river commerce and security were built on hilltops facing the river, and now, a river cruise is really the most authentic way to immerse yourself in the Romance of some of the best historic scenery in Europe.
Tip: Travel along the Rhine by car or even train, and you’ll only see the castles on the opposite bank. Our Viking river cruise sailed right up the middle of the river, and if you position yourself in a comfy spot on the ship’s top deck lounge, you’ll have the best view of both sides of the river and won’t miss a single castle.
Wine to Taste on the Ship at your Leisure
Then you add wine. The gorges rising on either side of the Middle Rhine are lined by some of the steepest vineyards in the world. Over a thousand acres of vineyards thrive in a microclimate shaped by the river's topography (in fact, most of the wine regions of Europe are on banks lining its rivers). In other wine regions and wineries, hand-picking grapes is preserved for only elite wines. On the nose-bleed-steep banks of the Middle Rhine, handpicking is the usual – and only practical - practice. And yet the famous white wines – predominantly Rieslings, both dry and sweeter versions - of the Middle Rhine are still very affordable. Tastings are one of the best activities in the picturesque towns that line the narrow river banks.
Tip: Sign up for the wine shore excursions offered by the cruise line, and don’t hesitate to buy your favorite to take back to your Viking river cruise ship to enjoy on your stateroom balcony or on the top deck as you sail past the scenery; unlike many ocean cruise lines (at least the ones that aren’t all-inclusive) that store any wine you purchase ashore until you disembark for your journey home, Viking welcomes guests to bring their own wine back on board from winery tours to personalize your cruise experience.
Listen to a 'Murmuring Rock'
A 433-foot, steep slate rock formation on the very edge of the river bank of the Rhine River Gorge has been the source of legend for centuries. The Lorelai's name is ancient, coming from the old German word 'lureln' for 'murmuring', and the Celtic word 'ley' meaning 'rock. The combination of heavy currents swirling round the bend, a small waterfall (up until the early 19th century) and an echo effect of the rock itself amplifying those sounds made Lorelai an actual audio experience (til development and the sounds of life in modern times drowned it out.)
No wonder the myths began: dwarfs living inside the rock, a murmuring siren luring sailors onto rocks… But the story that stuck came from a poem telling the tragic lover's tale of the beautiful Lorelai being taken away to a nunnery, and, thinking she sees her lover in the Rhine below, throws herself into river to her death, where to this day, the looming rock murmurs an echo of her calls. A statue of the mythical Lorelei has been erected on the riverbank nearby which keen eyes can also spot as you sail past.
Tip: pay homage to the Rhine's 'murmuring rock' by adding the compositions by Schumann, Mendelssohn or Strauss that immortalize Lorelai in music to your playlist to listen to on your magnificent Romantic Rhine river cruise.
Start your European River Cruise Trip!
By: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/ travel expert and journalist, pictured, top.
Images: Lynn Elmhirst
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