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Rhine river, Germany

Starting in the Alps and winding 900 miles through four countries to the North Sea, the Rhine is Europe's most popular river for cruising. No other river abounds in more myths and legends than the ‘Father Rhine'. The rugged cliffs, forested hills and green valleys that hug its banks have long inspired artists, poets and musicians, and, in the 19th century, it became a symbol of romanticism. If time is limited the Middle Rhine Valley is an enduring favourite. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the route meanders through one of the most famous of Germany's 13 wine-growing regions and the stretch between Cologne and Mainz is particularly breathtaking. Many itineraries will include visits to Heidelberg, home to Germany's oldest university and the red sandstone ruins of an imposing castle overlooking the Neckar River. Perched high on a promontory, 700-year-old Marksburg Castle is also notable as the only castle on the Middle Rhine to have survived intact. All in all, there are 40 castles along a 37-mile stretch of river.Is it for you? Couples of all ages will enjoy this romantic cruise route. When to go Although it's a year-round destination, Spring and Autumn are the best times to cruise as it can get very busy in summer.Must-see shore excursion Picture postcard Rüdesheim, with its cobbled streets lined with restaurants and wood-framed houses, is one of Germany's top tourist attractions.What to take A guide book telling you the history of the castles and plenty of spare camera batteries, film or memory cards - the Rhine is a non-stop photo opportunity.What to try Drink in the local atmosphere by stopping at a riverside tavern to sample wines from the Middle Rhine wine region, stretching between Bingen and Bonn and particularly noted for its aromatic, fruity Riesling wines. What to buy Beer steins, wood carvings, jewellery and, of course, wine

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