Day 1 Embark in Cologne
Board the cruise ship moored in the heart of picturesque Cologne. The dedicated English-speaking crew will welcome you aboard your first-class floating hotel, ensuring you settle into your luxurious, well-equipped cabin and familiarise yourself with the ship.
Day 2 Koblenz
As you wake and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast, the delights of this river cruise begin to emerge as we drift past the first rolling hills of the Rhine Valley. The forested Siebengebirge – Seven Mountains – a cluster of ancient volcanic hills that inspired many of the Brothers Grimm’s legends, including ‘Snow White’, act as the overture for even more dramatic scenery upstream. We cruise past the famous ruined bridge at Remagen, which was captured intact by the Allies towards the end of the Second World War, allowing thousands of troops to cross into Germany’s heartland. Pretty waterfront towns and carefully tended vineyards come into view as we glide gently into our mooring to visit delightful Koblenz.
Founded by the Romans, this historic city is beautifully located at the confluence of the Rhine and its sister river the Moselle. Your afternoon is free to explore Koblenz’s maze of medieval buildings in the Altstadt – Old Town – which is studded with a fine array of traditional shops and classic Rhineland cafés. As you wander, historic buildings appear seemingly at every turn; see a former mint, the Four Towers – 17th-century houses with striking turrets set at a crossroads – and many fascinating squares and churches, including the 9th-century Basilica of Saint Kastor.
Wherever you wander you’re never far from a riverbank, and it’s worth crossing the 14th-century stone Balduin Bridge across the Moselle for fine views back across the spires of the Altstadt. If you can resist the many tempting cakes on offer from beckoning pavement cafés you’ll be ready for your meticulously prepared dinner on board, and afterwards perhaps a quiet stroll along the riverside promenade to the Deutsches Eck – ‘German Corner’ – where the great rivers Rhine and Moselle meet.
Day 3 Rhine Gorge & Rudesheim
Slipping our mooring at Koblenz we proceed upstream on the Rhine and soon encounter the impressive Marksburg Castle, a fortress dating back to the 13th century. We then weave through the huge looping bend – one of the most impressive on the river – at Boppard, a wonderfully picturesque town known as the ‘Pearl of the Rhine’.
Journeying further, you explore the most famous of all the river’s reaches and a real highlight of the cruise, the dramatic Rhine Gorge: steep vineyards give way to almost vertical rocky outcrops towering more than 600 feet above the sweeping valley sides. Sailing past Saint Goar and the many ruined castles, there’s a real sense of the myths surrounding this historic river coming alive around you. No legend is more famous than that of the Lorelei – or ‘murmuring rock’ – where beautiful nymphs distracted sailors and lured them to their deaths in the treacherous waters.
After lunch we moor in Rüdesheim, a classic Rhine wine village with crooked houses sloping down from wooded hillsides and terraced vineyards. The afternoon is free to relax in its bustling cafés, find a traditional Weinstube to enjoy a glass of excellent local wine, take a quiet stroll through the vineyards or maybe a gondola ride to the striking statue of Germania overlooking the river’s exit from the Gorge. After dinner this evening, another sumptuous affair prepared by your chef, maybe sample a small Asbach – the famous brandy distilled in Rüdesheim – while watching the last of the ferries crossing the river in the moonlight glow.
Day 4 Speyer
Still sailing upstream, the landscape becomes much wider and flatter, with gently rolling hills and vineyards that are home to the Liebfraumilch wines. Occasionally the excited chatter of birdlife breaks out as we pass oxbow lakes, long deserted by the river flow, which are now havens for over a hundred bird species.
Today we berth in historic Speyer, founded by the Celts and one of Germany’s oldest cities, celebrated for its illustrious past. The breathtaking Imperial Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is among the largest Romanesque churches in the world; it’s also one of the finest. Its beautiful four-roomed crypt is the resting place of many Holy Roman emperors and German kings. Another landmark is the magnificent neo-Gothic Gedächtniskirche, built at the turn of the 20th century to commemorate the 1529 ‘Protestation at Speyer’, a significant event when a group of Martin Luther’s followers protested against his imperial ban – henceforth Luther’s religious followers were known as ‘Protestants’. There’s free time to explore here before stepping back on board for another splendid dinner.
Day 5 Strasbourg
This morning we cruise gently upstream, passing through two spectacular locks, whose elaborate engineering never ceases to fascinate. Why not find a comfortable chair and catch up on some reading, play chess or watch the rolling kaleidoscope of scenery from the Sun Deck?
We soon arrive in France and moor in Strasbourg, capital of the Alsace region. This afternoon we have a walking tour of its picturesque Old Town, bisected by canals and made up of a maze of narrow streets lined with timber-framed houses and sculptured portals. Unforgettable sites include the stupendous Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral, multi-towered Ponts Couverts – covered bridges – and the pretty Petite France quarter of pastel-coloured former artisans’ houses lining the canals. Don’t be surprised if you’re tempted to linger a while in a typical Alsatian café to sample some of the region’s world-famous wines – a crisp Riesling or that particular speciality of Alsace, spicy Gewürztraminer. Back on board this evening there’s a truly memorable occasion – the ‘Captain’s Dinner’, featuring delicious specialities of the countries and regions we visit during our cruise.
Day 6 Breisach & Black Forest
Your final day cruising is spent gliding through the dramatic scenery of the rift valley separating the Vosges and Black Forest mountains. We arrive at the ancient town of Breisach, whose historic heart is surrounded by stone ramparts and dominated by the impressive Saint Stephan’s Cathedral.
This afternoon you drive through some of Central Europe’s most stunning scenery – the Black Forest Mountains. This is a fabled landscape of rugged valleys, white-water rivers, cascading waterfalls and rolling hillsides covered with huge, densely packed pine trees – exactly as you expect it to be. Our destination is the idyllic village of Titisee, nestling on the shores of its crystal-clear lake.
Rejoining the ship, we resume our stately passage upriver. As the sun sets and the riverside lights begin to twinkle there are wonderful views over the imposing Vosges massif. You enjoy this evening’s dinner en route to Switzerland and our next mooring at Basel.
Day 7 Lucerne & Bernese Oberland
For many today will be the highlight of the cruise. You first take the short drive to Lucerne, often considered Switzerland’s most beautiful city, spectacularly situated among stunning mountain views. It has been attracting well-heeled visitors for two centuries, including our very own Queen Victoria. Highly recommended is an invigorating stroll along the Chapel Bridge, a unique covered wooden walkway crossing the lake, supported by stilts and lined with colourful flower-filled window boxes. Not only is it the city’s most iconic structure, it’s a superb way to absorb Lucerne’s regal atmosphere.
As you enter the Bernese Oberland the views become ever more breathtaking. This is the grand alpine heart of Europe with some of the finest mountain scenery on earth, described by the composer Mendelssohn as ‘the most wonderful of all in this unbelievably beautiful country’. On viewing the legendary snow-capped peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau you’ll be quite simply awestruck. We then ascend by mountain railway for more extraordinary vistas, with the crystal-clear lakes reflecting the grassy meadows and lush forests below. This truly magical landscape is sure to enchant you. Please note, temperatures will be significantly lower at altitude, even during the summer months, so it’s advisable to pack suitable clothing. Lunch is not included on this full day excursion; however the ship will offer a packed lunch.
Day 8 Chur
We leave our cruise ship and take the train to historic Chur at the heart of Graubünden, the largest canton in Switzerland. As we leave behind Basel’s city skyline the scenery becomes ever more picturesque – a wild landscape of deep isolated valleys, sheer rocky summits and thick pine forests. Glittering sunlight pours from the blue skies above on to sparkling glaciers oozing from the lofty summits; this is truly some of the most awe-inspiring mountain scenery in the world.
We arrive in Switzerland’s oldest city, nestled in a forested valley with the Alps rising like an amphitheatre around it. Chur has been inhabited for over 5,000 years; the Celts, Romans, Ostrogoths and Franks have all ruled here due to its strategic position as a gateway to high alpine passes and important trade routes. Its characterful Old Town is a maze of winding cobbled alleys, handsome townhouses, refreshing fountains and quiet courtyards. Set high above the streets, its rising spires puncturing the sky, is the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Mary’s Ascension, a fascinating mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles with a fantastically ornate interior.
Officially trilingual, Chur has a distinctly cosmopolitan, almost Mediterranean ambience. It’s a centre for outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing, but also a spot to indulge in the more leisurely pastimes of eating and window-shopping – its streets are lined with restaurants, boutiques and traditional shops. If you’re feeling hungry, look out for the regional speciality of Bündnerfleisch – prime beef traditionally air-dried in the eaves of a barn or open attic, then carved into wafer-thin slices. It’s usually enjoyed with other cold meats and washed down with a cooling glass of the purest local mineral water. For something stronger, enjoy a refreshing drink in your choice of the city’s many atmospheric bars and cafés.
There’s free time to explore the city at your leisure. We stay one night at the historic Hotel Stern Chur, with breakfast.
Day 9 Glacier Express
After breakfast we embark on an unforgettably scenic and spectacular rail journey – the legendary Glacier Express. Our starting point at Chur is the lowest point of the route to Zermatt and the iconic Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most famous mountain and a ‘must-see’ highlight for many. The train first winds its way through the ‘Swiss Grand Canyon’, a dramatic section of the Upper Rhine where the river has carved deep into an eerie landscape of white rocks, climbing ever higher along the Oberalp Pass to a height of 6,673 feet.
At this altitude the mountain landscape becomes ever more eye-catching – lush wild flower meadows are studded with tiny shepherds’ shelters, dense forests sweep up scree-covered mountainsides and snow-capped mountains glisten in the sunshine. You could be lucky and catch a glimpse of an elusive ibex or chamois negotiating a rocky ledge, or even a golden eagle soaring high above.
It’s impossible not to marvel at the engineering achievements as the track traverses jaw-dropping precipices and snakes into tunnels hewn through mountain walls into the Upper Rhône Valley, with dramatic views at every turn. We pass countless torrential mountain streams and tumbling waterfalls before arriving at the legendary village of Zermatt, nestling at the foot of the instantly recognisable Matterhorn.
Zermatt itself is iconically Swiss. It’s a car-free jumble of chalets and wooden farm huts strewn across the valley floor, surrounded by lush pastures alive with the sound of cowbells, while dramatic cable cars and soaring footpaths weave ever upwards to a majestic amphitheatre of lofty summits. Overseeing it all is the ultimate attraction in this alpine wonderland – the mighty, mythical Matterhorn. Seeing this pyramid-shaped symbol of Switzerland in its unrivalled glory is truly one of life’s ‘wow’ moments and it doesn’t disappoint!
We stay two nights at chalet-style Hotel Simi, with breakfast.
Day 10 Zermatt
Today you may wish to explore Zermatt further under your own steam, or you can take Europe’s highest open-air cog railway to the Gornergrat for more stupendous vistas. This extraordinary train service departs from Zermatt and climbs through a glorious landscape of mountains, valleys, lakes, streams and grassy meadows; you won’t be surprised that some of the country’s best hiking trails are here. The train stops at the summit of the Gornergrat, an altitude of just over 10,000 feet, where you’re surrounded by 29 snow-capped peaks – including the Matterhorn – and numerous glaciers, together creating an absolutely jaw-dropping mountain panorama. Sit back and admire a view of some of the mightiest peaks in the world – their magnitude and beauty will simply astound you.
Maybe enjoy a leisurely lunch against this most dazzling of backdrops before descending to Zermatt. Perhaps take a cable car ride for more dramatic views or visit the Alpine Museum with its intriguing collection of mountaineering memorabilia. Or you can simply relax over afternoon tea in a cosy café and soak up the magical alpine ambience.
Day 11 Zermatt
After breakfast this morning, the crew bids you farewell before you disembark the ship.