Days 1-3 Amsterdam, Netherlands - Embark
Everyone has an image of Amsterdam. For some, it’s small boats gliding on the canals and locals two-wheeling on bikes to and from work and, as frequently, to meet friends for drinks. For others, it’s gabled buildings leaning, seemingly precariously, over cobbled streets and cozy taverns illuminated by candles. Still others imagine tulips in bloom and the colors, both muted and vibrant, of the paintings Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. All images are true and even more beguiling when experienced in person. Sit a spell in a convivial cafe, explore world-class museums and feel the significance of a unique history—one of a city reclaimed from the sea, rising in prestige and influence as merchants built trade and wealth, and forever known for its attics and attitudes that offered refuge from war. Narrow streets and great manses tell the story not only in images but with the aroma of appeltaart, a taste of the avant garde in newly constructed buildings and a feeling of warmth from the amiable locals. Overnight on Days 1-2.
Day 4 Cruising the Rhine River - Cologne, Germany
A scan of Cologne’s skyline offers a short-hand of a long essay of architecture, varying from the space-needle-type Rhine Tower to the avant-garde buildings along the river to the spectacular spires of the cathedral. One look at the magnificent church and you can’t help but draw a breath of amazement—the structure is enormous and intricately glorious, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Germany’s most visited landmark. Peel your eyes away from the famed Kölner Dom, as it is locally called, to discover other architectural notables, including remains of the Roman wall, a modern museum complex, the contemporary philharmonic hall, cozy beerhalls and the span of the Hohenzollern Bridge, reconstructed after the war.
Day 5 Cruising the Rhine River - Koblenz, Germany
Located where the Rhine and Moselle rivers and three low mountain ranges meet, Koblenz has a leg up in the scenery department. Add to that the city’s 2,000-year-old history, hilltop fortress and squares lined by classic Germanic architecture and you have a place ready made for photographs. You might start by aiming your lens at the Deutsches Eck, or German Corner, where the rivers merge around a corner of land marked by a monument to Emperor William I. Ambling along the river promenade and exploring the town’s narrow lanes, you might encounter medieval churches, flower-filled parks, sidewalk cafes and perhaps a weinstube, or wine tavern, an ideal venue for sipping dry Riesling and drinking in the atmosphere. Overnight in Koblenz.
Day 6 Cruising the Rhine River - Rudesheim, Germany
If Rudesheim’s scenic location on the Rhine Gorge doesn’t sweep you off your feet, then the town’s medieval Old Town with its half-timbered buildings and narrow lanes, especially the Drosselgasse overflowing with charming shops and taverns, surely will. Still more that promises to enchant and delight is the region’s renowned Rieslings, produced here for centuries from vineyards dating to Roman times. A glass of white wine or the other local specialty, Asbach brandy, sipped amid historic surroundings can make the heart flutter, not necessarily from the effects of the spirits but from the simple beauty of one of Germany’s, if not the world’s, most romantic locales.
During the holidays, the Rudesheim Christmas Market takes center stager. Try some deliciously made Rudesheim Coffee, locally made with Asbach Uralt Brandy and whipped cream, exclusively offered during the season. With more that 100 kiosks and stalls offering local wares and seasonal gifts, there is much to see at this annual event—from local Rudesheim coffee to global flavors like Finnish specialties and even Mongolian food fare.
Day 7 Speyer, Germany
Spared the destruction that befell much of Germany during World War II, Speyer is a preserved window on time, looking onto a history that reaches not only to the Roman age but farther back, to the time of settlement by the Celts. Cobbled streets wind through the centuries, passing half-timbered buildings, the remains of a medieval synagogue, fine museums and festive taverns, culminating at the town’s Romanesque cathedral, called Kaiserdom. Enormous both in scale and significance, the UNESCO-listed church dates to 1030 and houses the tombs of eight Holy Roman emperors and German kings. Look at it from any perspective—on the approach to its red sandstone walls, inside its vast interior spaces or within the context of time—and the basilica is a marvel, considered a hallmark of 11th- and 12th-century architecture.
Day 8 Kehl, Germany
When you glimpse the steep-peaked, half-timbered buildings, the placid waters of narrow canals, flowers blooming on balconies and bridges, and old towers standing sentry over the scene, you know you have stepped into Strasbourg—either that, or the very pretty pages of a fairytale. Located just across the Rhine from Strasbourg, Kehl is your access point to the capital of the Alsace region, the seat of the European Parliament and, simply, one of the most photogenic old towns in existence. Strasbourg boasts a breathtakingly gorgeous Gothic cathedral (with the tallest cathedral tower in France), twisting alleyways, a sweet collection of the aforementioned half-timbered buildings and a charm that oozes from virtually every cozy corner of Grande Île, or “Large Island,— the first city center to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 9 Breisach, Germany
Situated along the Rhine about halfway between the supremely scenic towns of Freiburg and Colmar, Breisach is the perfect place from which to launch explorations into the surrounding Black Forest. Yet there is much to keep travelers within the embrace of this lively city, including its Romanesque church with late-Gothic altar and cobbled streets lined by pastel-hued buildings. Just a few miles west of Breisach is the remarkable star-shaped fortress town of Neuf-Brisach, or New Breisach, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Days 10 & 11 Basel, Switzerland - Disembark
On the three-border intersection of Switzerland, Germany and France and unfolding in two sections from the banks of the Rhine, Basel has an international flair, a cultural vibrancy and is picturesque besides. A medieval town center invites exploration by foot, while an abundance of museums and galleries suggest an indoor stroll amid works of art and relics of history. The Museum of Fine Arts is home to the world’s oldest art collection accessible to the public. The city itself hosts Switzerland’s oldest university, dating to 1460. Antiquity may be Basel’s strong suit, as it is in much of Europe, but this corner of Switzerland also reveals a more modern countenance: Architects Herzog & de Meuron, best known for the design of the Tate Modern in London and the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, and Frank Gehry of Bilbao Guggenheim Museum fame have contributed their considerable talents to buildings here. Overnight on Day 10 and disembark on Day 11.
From cosmopolitan Amsterdam, let the Rhine River gently ferry you through storybook villages to discover Roman ruins, ancient fortresses, and spectacular Gothic cathedrals; take time to admire traditional cuckoo clocks or sample a riesling from nearby vineyards.
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