Lorna Neale, assistant manager at our Thorpe Travel store took a Uniworld river cruise along the Rhine. Here are a few highlights from a trip that included plenty of stunning castles...
Destination: Basel, Colmar, Riquewihr, Strasbourg, Speyer, Rüdesheim, Koblenz, Cologne, Amsterdam
(Hotel names/Ship name): SS Antoinette
Airline: British Airways
Duration: 7 nights
My journey along the river Rhine started not by boat, but by plane, as we flew with British Airways from Heathrow to Basel in Switzerland. Basel airport serves two countries, France and Switzerland, but for this river cruise, we used the Swiss exit. These are clearly signed, in English as well as French, so there is little chance that you will get confused when deciding between the two.
Upon exiting the airport we met with our transfer that would take us to our floating home for the next two weeks. The transfer was only about twenty minutes in total and so we didn't have to wait too long before we were at the first port. We left our luggage at the pier and the staff kindly took the suitcases our cabins. On arrival day, the main restaurant is closed. However the L’Orangerie is open for a buffet style lunch; consisting of a lasagne, sandwiches, salad, olives, biscuits and cheeses and then a choice of desserts. Coffee and soft drinks were available.
At 2pm we were able to check-in to our cabin for the first time, and the helpful staff were more than happy to show us inside, where the luggage had already made its way onto our beds. It’s worth pointing out that Basel port is a very industrial area and so there may not be much for travellers to do if you arrive too early. However, the rest of the city is a beautiful place and so you may want to fly in a couple of days prior to the start of your cruise and explore.
Our Gracious Host, Antoinette
The SS Antoinette was launched in 2011 and is the premiere ship on the Rhine. She is the biggest vessel in Uniworld’s fleet of nineteen and so can only sail the Rhine because of this. Her size means she also has some of the largest cabins of any vessel in Europe. There are a wide range of facilities on board this boutique ship, including:
The staterooms are lavishly appointed and all have great river views. The beds are handcrafted English Savoir and are draped in fine linens. The Suites on La Princesse Deck (highest passenger deck) have small balconies, but this does compromise some of the space that’s available in the room itself. The balcony can be completely enclosed to make a conservatory with a touch of a button and staterooms on La Duchesse deck even have a French balcony that offers floor to ceiling windows which can be electronically lowered. Finally, staterooms on La Countesse deck have picture windows only, which are quite high up on the wall.
Amenities within the accommodation include:
Breakfast is served from a buffet but you can order your eggs however you like them and they will be cooked there and then. This buffet consisted of bacon, sausages, choice of a potato (e.g. Hash browns, wedges, potato croquettes), beans, mushrooms, eggs (cooked to your liking), cereals of all kinds, salmon, toast, bread, yoghurt, fresh fruits and pancakes. There are also fruit juices, water, teas and coffees to help get you started in morning.
Lunch is also served buffet style and includes a choice of salads, soups, carved meats, cheeses, pasta, sandwiches and desserts. The drinks are complimentary and range from soft drinks, beer and wine to a variety of different hot drinks. Dinner is set in an open-seating restaurant with an a la carte menu that features soups, meat, fish and vegetarian options. Most evenings there are between four and seven courses, depending on the evening experience such as Captains welcome/farewell dinners. All soft drinks, wine and beer are complimentary with the meal. There is also an option to make a reservation in L'Orangerie if you prefer.
Breisach for Colmar & Riquewihr:
On our first morning aboard we visited the French town of Colmar. This is a very pretty, medieval town with cobbled streets and plenty of small shops selling souvenirs and coffee. We then drove along the Alsatian wine road from Colmar to Riquewihr; marvelling at the beautiful scenery of charming villages and lush vineyards. Riquewihr is a small town and mainly consists of one street with lots of side streets that are filled with shops, restaurants and cafes, coming off it. A lot of the shops were closed due to the time of year and so we really struggled to fill the time that was given to us. However, during the times when they are open, I can imagine spending a couple of hours leisurely walking around. Lunch wasn't provided on our trip, but at Riquewihr there are plenty of restaurants to dine in if you preferred.
Back onboard in the evening, we had the Captains Welcome Dinner to enjoy. This was where they offer complimentary sparkling wine in the Salon du Grand Trianon with nibbles as well. Each night, the Cruise Manager would give a port talk about the following day’s sightseeing and the Captain gave us interesting tidbits of info about the Rhine.
Kehl for Strasbourg:
The following morning we started off with a canal cruise. This is the best way to view Strasbourg as we got to see the covered bridges, medieval watchtowers and the modern building that houses the European Parliament. We also got to see ‘Petite France’, which is the picturesque district that seems to be lifted straight from the pages of a fairytale. We also got to experience going through a few locks on the canal tour.
After the tour, we were given the choice to visit the cathedral or do some shopping in the many shops Strasbourg has to offer. There were some very nice coffee shops offering freshly made cakes and sweets and the others ranged from high-end chains such as Superdry and Zara to the little souvenir and local produce shops. It was the ideal place to get some of the holiday shopping done.
Germersheim for Speyer
Due to the weather, and the Rhine not having much water for us to cruise along, we only managed to get to Germersheim port for the afternoon and so we were given some free time in the German town of Speyer. This medieval town had lots of grand heritage and a compact historical centre. The streets were lined with shops; I loved this town as it seemed so laid back and pleasant. We visited a brewery which was also a restaurant and tried the local beer that was produced in-house. The staff were dressed traditionally too.
The next day, our fifth aboard the SS Antoinette, we visited an amazing castle just outside of Rudesheim. The tour took us through each room with a detailed story about and interesting information about how they would have lived all those years ago. The beds were tiny because people used to sit upright in them as they believed lying down would possibly kill them.
The narrow passages and low ceilings made it feel very cosy and we were taken to the armoury room and shown the items of protection they had over the years. Once we left that room, the final room to be shown was the death room. This had all the pieces of equipment they used to kill the enemy. All in all, it was a pretty impressive castle with very stunning views over the Rhine.
In the afternoon we were taken to Rudesheim for lunch in a large restaurant with a talented piano player. The meal was a set four-course lunch that included pork with vegetables for main course and a delicious apple cake with ice cream for dessert. Each person was also given half a bottle of wine of their choice to have during the meal.
After the meal, we visited the Siegfried Mechanical Music Museum. This is the first museum collection of automated musical instruments in Germany and holds an impressive collection. Three hundred and fifty exhibits of mechanical instruments, which can be dated between the 18th and the 20th century, include everything from delicate musical boxes to gigantic pianos. There are not just instruments on display, though, as the museum also includes tools and machines used in the manufacturing of barrel organs as well as cardboard music, piano rolls and musical box plates. The visit meant we had the opportunity to listen and watch some of these amazing pieces in action.
After the museum, we made our way to a wine tasting event. We arrived at the picture-perfect Castle Vollrads which is surrounded by vineyards that produce the famous Rheingau Rieslings. We entered this lovely castle where we tasted three different Rieslings; each one quaffed in a different room of the castle. The rooms were spectacularly furnished with lavish chandeliers and leather wall tiles. The wine we tasted was lovely and could be purchased from the shop within the grounds. It wasn’t that expensive, either.
Following our day of music and wine, we enjoyed a morning walking tour around Koblenz; one of the best places for Christmas markets, if you are visiting at that time of year. The town itself had lots of architectural buildings and a lovely church which we visited. The narrow streets and historical squares were lined with shops and cafes.
On our final full day aboard, we took part in a walking tour of cologne with the option of a visit to the town’s cathedral. We strolled through the narrow streets; passing the little churches. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was really beautiful and interesting to look around. The area around it was very busy with street performers, shops and cafes and so this was a really lively area to take a look around. The ship had docked very close by to the centre which meant that we didn’t have to walk far at all to see the best sights.
We arrived into Amsterdam earlier than expected and so this meant that we got to take a look around this iconic city. We had the option of a canal tour, which I took, and it was very interesting to listen to the guide telling us the history of Amsterdam. Some of the buildings that were pointed out were the ones that are leaning to one side due to the ground below. We were also told about the floating houses that are on the canals and how much they would cost, as well as the floating Chinese restaurant and the bike compound for all the bikes that the locals use for commuting to and from work. I found it so nice and getting to visit Amsterdam was a really lovely bonus.
I must say that I loved my trip onboard SS Antoinette and was given the 5* service of a 5* ship. The boat was stunning, the food was fantastic and the staff were friendly and attentive to all our needs. Our glasses were never empty at meal times and the choice of sightseeing and relaxation was perfect for anyone, no matter what you want to get out of your holiday. My opinion of River Cruising before I sailed was that it was going to be posh and snobby. However, I have been proven completely wrong and my opinion was far from what I got to experience.
This trip has made me want to discuss and sell lots more river cruises for what they really are. The fact that the cost is usually more than an ocean cruise is mainly due to the extra inclusions you get with river cruising. For example, all of our excursions were included, as well as the complimentary drink that we enjoyed throughout the holiday. In most circumstances, you would pay extra for these when travelling on an ocean cruise.
I would like to thank Louise, Steve, Paul and Titan Travel for giving me this amazing opportunity to experience what was a fantastic week and a beautiful ship. I have learnt a lot about river cruising after only experiencing a small amount of what it is all about.
Must see? The intricate canals of Strasbourg
Must do? Add a day or so in Amsterdam to the end of your cruise
Must try? Some of the regions famous Rieslings
If you would like to plan a Rhine river cruise similar to the one that Lorna enjoyed, drop into one of our travel stores today. We have travel agents in Colchester, Felixstowe, Ipswich and many other locations across East Anglia.