There is a traditional German folk song which, loosely translated is entitled, “If the water of the Rhine was wine, oh how I would like to be a fish’. The song goes on to explain the beauty and history of one of Europe’s most well-known attractions the River Rhine. The center of western European romance, culture and tradition all originates with this spectacular waterway.
Although I have never taken a river cruise down this majestic river, I have had the pleasure of driving along it numerous times. Having been born in the south of Holland, less than an hour away from the Rhine, I have fond memories of childhood excursions and in recent years wonderful visits to the many picturesque villages, fine wineries and medieval castles along its path.
One of the most popular river cruises starts in Rotterdam and ends in Basel, Switzerland, with many stops along the way. If you choose to drive the route, like I have, I would recommend flying into Munich, driving through Füssen and connect with the Rhine in Basil, Switzerland. Take the next week and drive leisurely to Rotterdam and then onto Amsterdam, staying at boutique hotels and guesthouses along the way.
The reason I suggest Munich is because the town of Füssen, about 2 hours away, is home to Europe’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein, built by King Ludwig II in 1869. The castle is actually in the town of Hohenschwangau, but Füssen offers more hotels and you can still walk to the fortress.
From Neuschwanstein, drive to the Rhine at Basel (about 3 hours), unless you stop at breathtaking Lake Constance (Bodensee), located at the northern border of the Alps and a photographer’s paradise.
The city of Basel is the third largest in Switzerland and is at the point where Germany, France and Switzerland meet. Although the city is somewhat industrial, it does boast many theatres and museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, home to the world’s oldest art collection accessible to the public.
The next main stop is the French city of Strasbourg, the capital of the famous Alsace Region. Classified as a World Heritage site, the city centre is comprised of historic buildings, which date back to the 1400’s. The buildings resemble something out of a fairy-tale book, complete with a stone bridge, which spans the Rhine. The city is quite cosmopolitan and features the oldest Christmas market in France, along with one of the country’s most spectacular cathedrals.
We continue our trek up river to stop at Mannheim and visit its Romanesque water tower, the city’s landmark. I would recommend skipping most of the city, instead venturing on to Heidelberg, Germany’s warmest city with fig and almond trees. Heidelberg Castle sits high above the city and after a tour, which takes you back into medieval days; you can relax while taking in picturesque vistas of the city.
Heidelberg’s main street is a pedestrian mall and stretches the entire length of the old city. Like all cities on the Rhine Heidelberg also boasts beautiful stone bridges, the oldest dating back to the 1700’s. Many people are not aware that US Army General, George Patton had an automobile accident in Mannheim, and later died in the Heidelberg hospital.
Our next stop along the golden Rhine is the Lorelei, located just south of the town of Koblenz, where I would suggest staying overnight. The Lorelei is a massive rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine, which soars 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river and is the start of the famous Rhine gorge, a 65 km stretch which runs from Bingen to Koblenz. The area is prone to boating accidents because of its extremely strong current. The name Lorelei is also the name of a feminine water spirit, similar to mermaids or Rhine maidens, associated with this rock in popular folklore and literature.
One of the most scenic cities along the Rhine is Cologne, where the famed perfume was first introduced. The city began as a Roman outpost in the first century CE and is most famous for its spectacular cathedral, which was started in 1248 and finished 632 years later, in 1880. Aside from being a magnificent cathedral it is also the home of relics allegedly belonging to the three Magi.
From Cologne we travel into the Netherlands, ending up in the country’s second largest city of Rotterdam. The city is best known as having the world’s busiest port, but industries like finance and diamonds have also made their mark. After visiting Rotterdam drive to the Dutch capital of Amsterdam for your flight home, but be sure to take a canal tour, because you can never get tired of European rivers.
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