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THE RHINE


The steep cliffs along this stretch of the river between Bingen and Koblenz are dotted with more than 40 castles, some in mouldering ruin and others that have been splendidly refurbished. A few, like Schonburg and Burg Rheinstein, are now hotels. Perhaps the most impressive is the 11th-century Marksburg Castle – the only castle on this stretch of the Rhine that has never been destroyed. It looked like something from a fairytale as we passed, its pale turrets shining in the sunlight. On the eastern bank of the river near the town


of St Goarshausen the Lorelei rock looms into view. A 435-foot-high mass of slate that vaults out of the river, it marks one of its narrowest sections and is notoriously hard to navigate. The narrow bend is treacherous for passing boats and a well- known myth tells how a dazzling siren’s song from the cliff caused shipmen to crash on the rocks below. There is now a statue of a beautiful woman sitting desolately at the end of a promontory near the rock’s base, which we all crane to spot as Antoinette gracefully sweeps round the bend. Some of Germany’s greatest Riesling wines come


late afternoon sunshine encouraged us to venture down the endless cycle path that hugs the water’s edge. A beautiful pink-orange sunset welcomed us back to the ship for one of my trip highlights. The best thing about this holiday, though, is that the scenery is different every day. Watching from our stateroom balcony, or snuggled under a cosy fleece blanket on the sun deck, the views change dramatically as Antoinette glides upriver. The morning we were all looking forward to most arrived on day six, when we sailed through the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Most passengers were ensconced on deck early ready to take in the spectacular scenery. Luckily the sun was shining and the steep banks of the gorge, covered in beautiful autumn foliage and vertiginous vineyards, provided the perfect backdrop for the pretty towns, churches and castles.


72 | APRIL/MAY 2012


from the Rheingau and Mittelrhein regions along this stretch of the river. We were given the perfect opportunity to try some when we docked at Rüdesheim and headed off wine tasting at Castle Vollrads, one of the world’s top Riesling wine estates. Many people raided the shop afterwards for cases of their favourite to take home. There were plenty of opportunities to shop in the several towns and cities we visited, too. From the smart streets of Cologne to knickknack- heavy Rüdesheim there’s something to suit everyone. And if that doesn’t appeal, the range of cathedrals, churches, parks and historical sites we visited was simply incredible. You can even escape the crowds of Rüdesheim via a cable car to the Niederwald Monument that overlooks the town, which appears tiny nestled in the valley below. I was fascinated by the old German city of


Clockwise from main Speyer Cathedral is on the UNESCO World Heritage list of culturally important sites; a traditional food shop in Riquewihr; cycling in Kehl; Strasbourg Cathedral


Speyer, which is dominated by the cathedral and the Altpörtel (old gate). The red sandstone cathedral building is stunning in its simplicity and immense size but it seemed that everywhere you turned in this city there was another towering spire, historical monument or example of ancient architecture. It is also easy to reach via a pleasant walk from the river through the Domgarten park. While some excursions required short bus journeys, in many places the boat docked within easy walking distance, allowing us to return to the ship when we pleased. The freedom and ease of river cruising is very appealing and as you gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, cathedrals and vineyards from the deck it’s easy to forget that you have all the amenities of a luxury hotel just a flight of stairs below you.


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