Maxine Briggs discovers ancient castles, fairytale villages, beautiful wines and glorious river views on a Uniworld Moselle and Rhine cruise.
To start with, a confession! I’m a cruise virgin. I have never cruised before and, worse still, I had preconditioned ideas of all-you-can-eat buffets and bingo on deck. But how wrong I was. I was travelling with my mother, Linda, a cruising expert, who has spent the past 20 years cruising around the Mediterranean. We wanted to enjoy some mother/daughter time together, and knowing my mum wanted to see the Moselle, we found ourselves in the historic city of Frankfurt, about to board our ship, which would be home for 10 days.
Seeing the ship moored at the riverside, I realised we were in for something quite special. The River Queen is beautiful, modelled on a 1930’s steamer ship, with a sumptuous Art Deco interior complete with crystal chandeliers, plush pile carpets and original artworks. We were shown to our stateroom on the top floor of the ship cabin by our very charming butler, another plus when sailing with Uniworld.
The first thing you notice is the huge windows running the length of the cabin but with one very special feature: one press of a button, and the entire top half of the window slides down, bringing the lovely river even closer. My very knowledgeable mum exclaimed this was even better than a balcony! Like the rest of the ship, the rooms are very sumptuously appointed with Savoir mattresses, decanters of brandy and very large bathrooms. I settled in very quickly.
An all-inclusive package includes excursions, gratuities and even Brut champagne and lobster, so once on board you can completely relax. Dinner is a fun affair, no buffet in sight but a rather refined three-course menu with selected local wines by the onboard sommelier, which were rather good. There are mixed tables as well as tables for two but being a sociable pair, mum and I were soon happily chatting to an ex-NASA scientist and a retired Australian footballer.
Comparing notes and giving tips to other guests is a great way to get more out of the trip. There’s only a maximum of 128 passengers, so the ship is not overcrowded at all and it’s very easy to become nicely acquainted with other guests, but also the ship is large enough that quiet spaces are easily found. There’s early morning yoga every day on deck, another way to make friends and the perfect way to sharpen the appetite before the very generous breakfast, the freshly made omelettes and pancakes a firm fave on our table.
The ship slowly snakes along the Rhine calling at some of the prettiest and most historic villages along the way. We particularly enjoyed wandering through the exceptionally charming Mainz, before venturing to Rüdesheim, famous for its alcoholic coffee which is delicious and a must-try.
From this stopping point, we also explored Eberbach Abbey, rich in history as it dates from around 1116 and, more recently, has been used as a filming location: The Name of the Rose starring Sean Connery was shot here. The abbey has been making wine for centuries with some of the presses still remaining. We enjoyed tasting Rheingau Riesling (thankfully not centuries old) down in the historic cellars lit by candlelight.
The excursions are very well organised and this being Uniworld, they seem to have found the most helpful, knowledgeable and fun guides available. You can join a fast, medium and gentle-paced group according to what your needs are. A particularly pretty stop is Boppard, a picture-perfect village. We spent a leisurely afternoon wandering through the cobbled streets, and shopping at the very famous Christmas shop, selling traditional German wooden decorations.
We also enjoyed a few local Rieslings at the half-timbered taverns, it would be rude not to. But the most memorable part was taking the sesselbahn (chairlift) up the hill to look down at the Rhine Bend and see the river in all its glory. It is simply one of the best views and should be on anyone’s bucket list.
As the ship turns off from the Rhine and on to the Moselle, we are told by our very knowledgeable Cruise Director Rik, that this is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe with 21 medieval, fairytale castles to view from the sundeck. The scenery is just spectacular with terraced vineyards, craggy outcrops of rock and picturesque villages with houses painted in pastel colours gliding past, while the stars of the show sit in all their glory, dominant and proud as they have done for hundreds of years.
One of the most magnificent is Cochem Castle, the largest on the Moselle with its imposing walls and blackened battlements. The medieval castle was restored in neo-gothic style in the 19th century, so there’s plenty to see inside, too, such as the impressive interiors of the Knight’s Hall, the Trophy Room and the Bower. The ship organises transport up to the castle or you can tackle the steep walk, which is about 30 minutes.
This trip takes in so much history, such as Trier, Germany’s oldest town, which dates back to the Roman period and boasts one of the oldest Roman city gates in the world, the Porta Nigra (the black gate). For more contemporary historians, this is also the birthplace of Karl Marx.
The ship has bikes on board, so one morning we cycled around BernKastel-Kues, possibly the prettiest town in the whole of Germany, packed with 600-year-old half-timbered houses, complete with colourful windows boxes and cobbled streets and shops selling traditional sweets and trinkets.
The penultimate night it’s cocktails with the wonderful River Queen team with a special dinner celebrating local produce. It’s such a fun atmosphere on board with local musicians playing traditional German music, which is the perfect introduction to our final destination Cologne, the birthplace of Beethoven.
And the biggest revelation of a cruise? It’s just so flipping relaxing… who knew? You unpack just once, everything is included so you can switch your brain to ‘enjoy’, and there is wine to be drunk, friends to be made and stunning scenery gliding by. I have been converted by Uniworld, to my mother’s sheer delight!
Uniworld’s 10-day Magnificent Moselle and Rhine itinerary costs from £3,299 per person, based on two people sharing, including return flights from London Heathrow and transfers in the destination, nine nights’ accommodation on board the luxurious River Queen, all meals and drinks (including premium wines and spirits), included excursions, tips and gratuities.
For more information or to book, visit uniworld.com.