A river cruise with Emerald Waterways from Amsterdam to Nuremberg offers a wealth of cultural adventures, discovers Trish Burgess

Frankfurt's skyline at night
Frankfurt’s skyline at night

In 1745, after working day and night for nine months, renowned sculptor Antonio Bossi eventually completed the intricate stucco work in the White Hall of the Würzburg Residence. The aim had been to finish the decoration of the room before the visit of Empress Maria Theresa. Unfortunately, exhausted from her journey, the Empress took no notice of Bossi’s labour of love and retired to bed as soon as she arrived.

A pretty waterway in Bamberg
A pretty waterway in Bamberg

If only Maria Theresa had been on an Emerald Waterways guided tour she would have hooked up to the individual audio system. The guided tours proved to be a highlight of our cruise from Amsterdam to Nuremberg. I loved the flexibility of joining a group if we fancied it, being able to hear the commentary if we wandered off to take photos and even going off-piste for a short time before tuning ourselves back in if we came across one of our groups later in the day.

Being new to river cruises, my husband Dougie and I were delighted that our ship, Emerald Star, was able to dock in the centre of most of the towns we visited. Having embarked in Amsterdam, we jumped ship after dinner on the first night to explore the city, letting ourselves back in with a security code at the door: this relaxed, informal approach to cruising was a big hit with us.

A full day and night in Amsterdam proved to be one of the pluses of the Rhine-Main Discovery itinerary. There was also the added treat of an early morning city tour on a glass-top canal boat, before visiting the floating flower market and the Begijnhof courtyard.

When we eventually glided away, a dip in the pool was the perfect way to make the most of the sizzling weather. Emerald Star, like all the other ships in this sparkling new fleet, has a heated pool at the aft of the ship where you can swim a few strokes before looking out to see the idyllic riverbank scenery drift past. The roof is retractable so guests can order a cocktail from the bar, relax in the stylish armchairs and soak up the rays.

A unique feature of the pool area is its clever transformation later in the evening to a cinema. This was another high point of our week: kicking off our shoes after dinner, tucking into a bucket of popcorn and watching The Hundred Foot Journey on a huge screen. The sound was excellent, via comfortable padded headphones, but what made it extra special was spotting the bright lights of Frankfurt through the blinds of the ship. When the blinds were lifted, the astonishing sight of ‘Mainhattan’ at night was complemented on screen by Helen Mirren and a Bastille Day firework display. It couldn’t have been timed better.

Old City Hall, Bamberg
Old City Hall, Bamberg
Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne
Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne
Canal bridge, Amsterdam
Canal bridge, Amsterdam

We might not have had the opportunity to see Frankfurt during the day but we did have a fabulous afternoon in Cologne where we cooled off inside the stunning Gothic cathedral whilst others in our group made good use of the free beer voucher, an exclusive offer arranged by Emerald Waterways.

A big draw for guests making the most of the exceptional weather was the sun deck, which had ample space for sunbathers with plenty of seating and shaded canopies. It was definitely the place to be during the hotly anticipated meander through the Middle Rhine Valley. Our cruise director, Brigitta, guided our eyes left and right so we wouldn’t miss the cornucopia of castles on this breathtaking section of the river. Stirred by tales of lost love and revenge, I was caught up with the history and legends of these fantastic old buildings. Sterrenberg and Liebenstein castles came to life as we listened to the story of Henry and Konrad, brothers fighting over their beloved Angela. Rheinstein and Reichenstein castles were no longer just bricks and mortar: they breathed with the love which enveloped Gerda and Helmbrecht.

Love was also in the air later that day in Rüdesheim as Liszt’s Love Dream No.3 could be heard on the self-playing Bechstein-Welte piano, part of a fascinating collection at Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum. The violin orchestra playing Verdi’s La Donna è Mobile thrilled our group and gave us all a spring in our step as we sauntered down the very narrow lane, Drosselgasse, famous as a symbol of German Gemütlichkeit (a state of warmth, friendliness and good cheer).

The stylish Owner's Suite on board Emerald Star
The stylish Owner’s Suite on board Emerald Star

The crew of Emerald Star certainly exhibited all these qualities: they were like a big family and welcomed all guests to their home on the river. Nothing was too much trouble; they were full of fun but always kept up very high standards of service. It was reassuring to note that all tips are included in an Emerald cruise.

As we travelled up the Rhine, the menus in the restaurant, which were generally international in style, often reflected the traditional cuisine from each region. My personal favourites were the Franconian donuts, also known as knieküchla or ‘knee-cakes’ because the dough was traditionally stretched out over the baker’s knee. My husband took a shine to Himmel un Äd, ‘heaven and earth’, a hearty appetiser of fried black pudding, onions and mashed potatoes. Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks for lunch and dinner all contributed to a very happy ship.

Nearing the end of our cruise, the German towns in Bavaria became even more picturesque: winding cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, window boxes full of bright red geraniums. And there were many delightful moments: climbing up to see the view from Miltenberg Castle and rewarding ourselves with a glass of ice-cold local beer; watching a gondolier punting along the river in the ‘Little Venice’ area of beautiful Bamberg; laughing at stories of grape pickers in the steep vineyards having one leg shorter than the other.

What surprised me most about this river cruise was the pleasure to be had from gazing at the changing scenery from the comfort of Emerald Star: sightseeing wasn’t just restricted to port stops.

Emerald Waterways has designed their new boutique ships so the majority of cabins benefit from a revolutionary indoor balcony system where the upper half of the floor-to-ceiling windows can be lowered at the push of a button, allowing a full panoramic view of the surroundings and fresh air to roll in.

Reflections on the Rhine
Reflections on the Rhine

From our balcony we were fascinated to see the Rhine as a working river; to sail past barges carrying freight and wave to families enjoying picnics by the water’s edge. There was beauty to behold in each section of the river. Even the flat landscape of the Netherlands/Germany border had its charm.

Our week’s cruising ended in Nuremberg, although most of the passengers remained on board to continue their journey to Budapest. As we left we made a pact to book the second part of this cruise sometime in the near future.

GETTING THERE: Emerald Waterways offers an 8-day Rhine-Main Discovery cruise from Amsterdam to Nuremberg to visit the Christmas markets from £1,695pp, a saving of £1,000pp. Price includes eight shore excursions, return flights from the UK, all port charges, airport taxes and transfers within Europe. Call 0808 102 0310 or visit emeraldwaterways.co.uk

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