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RHINE CRUISE


“I


t’s a bit disproportionate,” says our instructor. “But you’re getting there.” I’m in an art studio in Amsterdam, staring at my easel and working out how to turn the «oÌ ov ÃÕnyoÜiÀÃ in vÀonÌ ov mi inÌo > 6>n Gogh-esque masterpiece. Conclusion: I’m not ÃÕÀi ÃÕnyoÜiÀÃ >Ài mÞ Ìhin}° Roll on two hours, though, and I’m


strolling out brandishing my yellow-doused canvas with a proud, look-at-me-now grin, feeling uncharacteristically accomplished for 11am on a Friday and sidling back onto the ship I’ve come to call home with a new-found sense of smugness. It’s not exactly your average cruise


activity, but then nothing on this itinerary is. I’m sailing on the Rhine on one of Avalon Waterways’ Active & Discovery itineraries, which have offbeat, immersive excursions as their raison d’etre, with different options (labelled Active, Discovery and Classic) to choose from in each stop. And from drinking my way around Dusseldorf’s breweries to discovering medieval castles, cycling through the Dutch countryside to hiking in national parks, I certainly make the most of it.


Surprise, surprise


I’d joined the trip in the quaint, cobbled streets of Rüdesheim, the historic winemaking town in Germany’s Rhine Valley. There, it’s all about the quintessential charm, with wood- beamed shops, pubs and restaurants framing higgledy-piggledy lanes, and traditional specialities such as Rüdesheimer Kaffee ­>n in`Õl}inÌ Llin` ov y>mLji` LÀ>n`Þ]


coffee and whipped cream) served to the accompaniment of local bands, which quickly get punters belting out hearty tunes. Our stay here ended with a rather unusual


trip that’s one of several extras Avalon doesn’t highlight on its itineraries but instead springs on its guests as a surprise. I won’t give >Ü>Þ Ìhi ÃiVÀiÌ] LÕÌ ÃÕvwVi Ìo Ã>Þ iÌ Ü>Ã > memorable way to kick off the trip. Ì «ÀoÛi` Ìo Li Ìhi wÀÃÌ ov «linÌÞ moÀi


unforgettable experiences. The next day we sailed through the iconic, Unesco-listed Rhine Gorge, passing centuries-old castles, Ãlii«Þ Ûill>}ià wlli` ÜiÌh limon-hÕi` hoÕÃià and vast, rolling vineyards coloured bright emerald-green, before docking at our next stop – the historic, postcard-pretty Koblenz. Formerly a Roman military post, the city Ìo`>Þ ÀiÌ>inà iÌà >}i-ol` inyÕinVið Ancient forts and citadels lie scattered


across the region, with the commanding Ehrenbreitstein Fortress at its heart. Accessible by cable car, this cluster of labyrinthine, 19th-century stone walls is a regular go-to on cruising itineraries, with its imposing hilltop position luring visitors after panoramic views. I opted for one of Avalon’s alternative excursions, though, to Marksburg Castle, set in the nearby town of Braubach. Dating back to at least the 13th century, this cream- walled, grey-roofed fortress, perched atop a hill overlooking the river, is the only castle in the Rhine Valley never to have been destroyed or attacked (even Napoleon didn’t get it), meaning it remains impressively


ª


OPPOSITE, FROM LEFT: FIRST ROW: The Rhine; a Panorama Suite on Avalon Panorama; SECOND ROW: In-suite breakfast; Laura French on a painting excursion; Rüdesheim; THIRD ROW: Marksburg Castle; FOURTH ROW: Avalon canoeing excursion; Koblenz PREVIOUS PAGE: Avalon ship on the Rhine Credits: Avalon Waterways; Lighthouse Productions/Dirk Verwoerd; Amatucci Photography; Shutterstock


74 ASPIRE NOVEMBER 2019 aspiretravelclub.co.uk


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