Cruise International’s deputy editor, Jessica Tooze, is on her first cruise. She is sailing down the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam with Uniworld

On the sun deck of Uniworld’s latest vessel, the SS Antoinette, people are basking in the 16-degree warmth, sipping iced tea and enjoying the view.

Remarkably, it’s early November and we’re docked at Kehl in Germany, so the unseasonably warm weather is a pleasant surprise. As a first-time cruiser, I’ve found that the whole experience so far has been a series of pleasant surprises – the elegant boat, the quality of the excursions and the beauty of the scenery have all surpassed my expectations.

The Castles along the Rhine itinerary will take us through some of Europe’s most picturesque medieval towns including Speyer and Cologne, as well as through the wonderful landscapes of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

Our first excursion, yesterday, took us to the French town of Colmar followed by the charming little village of Riquewihr. Local guides were on hand to explain the fascinating history of these ancient places.

Colmar, for example, has changed nationality four times as France and Germany each struggled for control of the area. And in the Second World War it was the last town in France to be freed from the Nazis.

Riquewihr is said to be one of the most beautiful villages in France and its perfectly preserved half-timbered buildings, huddled on a vine-covered hillside, are quite remarkable.

It’s heavily tourist-focused, packed with quirky cafes serving crepes and little restaurants offering the traditional tarte flambé (a kind of thin pizza base that is cooked in a wood-fire oven, pictured below) and Choucroute (cabbage slowly cooked with pork and potatoes) which are specialties of the Alsace region. And of course this is wine country so the local Reisling is the perfect accompaniment.

Traditional tarte flambe

After a long day of exploring we returned to the boat via the scenic Alsatian Wine Road that meanders through the lush vineyards on the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.

The Antoinette already feels like home and, with almost one member of staff to every two guests, everyone has been made to feel extremely well looked after.

So far it’s the food that’s been the biggest highlight (which is not that surprising as the line won for best cuisine from readers of Cruise International in our recent Awards), with a surprising amount of choice and exquisite presentation.

In fact, it might be time for me to grab one of the on-board bicycles and cycle along the river to burn off some of last night’s eight-course Captain’s Welcome Dinner, and work up an appetite for this evening of course…