- The River Rhine is western Europe’s second longest river (after the Danube)
- It offers its most spectacular sections where it flows through Germany
- The Rhine Gorge, with the Lorelei rock at its heart, is particularly special
Entering the spectacular Rhine Gorge, which is dotted with fairytale castles (24 overlook the river), I read the tale of Lorelei, a beautiful maiden who drowned for love and became a mermaid.
Folklore says her seductive songs lure boatmen to their deaths. As we sailed past her statue, I heard the strains of a far-off lullaby. Was it Lorelei enticing our love-struck captain, and his 170 passengers, to a watery grave? No — it was a group of middle-aged Australian women singing loudly in the bar below.
On day four, we disembarked at Rudesheim, in the heart of the Rheingau wine-growing region, having sampled its signature Riesling — hence the raucous singing of Waltzing Matilda from below.
I took a chairlift ride high over the vineyards to see the Niederwald Monument, built in the 1870s to mark Germany’s (first) unification. The views were spectacular. Below, Rudesheim’s cobbled streets bustled with tourists, its all-year Christmas shops packed to the rafters.
As freight trains hurtled past us in Rudesheim, I noticed turrets at the mouths of tunnels. They were built to confuse the Allied bombers who’d agreed to avoid destroying heritage sites.
Idyllic: The hilly town of Bamberg has one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval centers
In Cologne, some 90 percent of the center was destroyed, but the magnificent gothic Roman Catholic cathedral escaped virtually intact.
It has a huge shrine to the Three Wise Men, or the Magi, who visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, and is said to contain their bones. Pilgrims visit from all over the world. I’d never considered Germany for a holiday before.
But the castles, countryside, rivers and wine make it astonishingly pleasing. Everyone speaks English, it’s easy to get to and, if you like Lederhosen, it’s paradise.
One of my favorite outings was to the hilly town of Bamberg. It is one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval centers, dominated by Michaelsberg Abbey and Altenburg castle. Aircraft designer Willy Messerschmitt persuaded the Nazis not to turn the town he grew up in into a fortress — to spare it from being bombed.
There are also nine breweries for beer fans. I managed six.
Lunch and dinner can be testing. I think a couple asked to be moved when they saw me heading their way. I’m sure they didn’t like me when they learned I voted for Brexit.
The trip ended in Nuremberg with a tour of the remains of the auditorium where Hitler addressed the party faithful in the Thirties. It was chilling and fascinating in equal measure.
This was my second river cruise. I like the idea of a floating home for a week, waking each day in a new place, but with no suitcases to move.
There are other advantages, too – I’ve learned the words to Waltzing Matilda, courtesy of those noisy Australian ladies.