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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sailing the Legendary Rhine

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Board a luxury riverboat and let Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection transport you to the fairytale land of the Rhine River, studded with castles, draped in vineyards and steeped in history. 

Poet Lord Byron got it right in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” when he described the Rhine as a winding river “whose breast of waters broadly swells Between the banks which bear the vine, And hills all rich with blossom'd trees, And fields which promise corn and wine, And scatter'd cities crowning these…” A generation later, the same European artery inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Beneath me flows the Rhine, and, like the stream of Time, it flows amid the ruins of the Past.”

Indeed, the Rhine has a long, storied past. It has been a part of civilization and recorded history for more than 2,000 years. Julius Caesar bridged it twice; empires and countries fought over claims to it; sailors sought passage to the North Sea through it; and settlements sprang up along its banks. Today, the north-flowing river is one of Europe’s busiest shipping channels, connecting six countries: Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands. Eighty percent of its navigable water, however, passes through Germany. Here, fairytale-inspiring castles rise above 
its banks, tidy vineyards cling to its hillsides and medieval cities spread from its shores. 

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, known for its gracious service and lavish touches, sails inside this magical realm, bringing the legendary waterway’s history to life while simultaneously revealing its contemporary side. Specially curated shore excursions go beyond the iconic sights to delve into each port of call, ensuring that each all-inclusive luxury voyage delivers on its promise of a full sensory experience. You don’t just see the charming villages and large cities between Basel, Switzerland and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, you experience them through each stop’s people, tastes, sounds and culture.


The typically German appearance of this quaint village near the Black Forest — think centuries-old cathedral overlooking neat rows of buildings adorned with flower baskets and steep roofs — belies the destruction it faced during War World II. Bombing leveled nearly 85 percent of the town, but its citizens reconstructed it into the picturesque gateway to the Alsatian wine road it is today. Uniworld’s choice of adventures takes you farther along this road, part of the Alsace region, which was German but is now French, to visit idyllic wine towns Kaysersberg and Riquewihr or Colmar. Pinot gris, riesling and gewurztraminer dominate the palate in this region. If you prefer to stretch your legs, explore the vineyards near Breisach on foot or bicycle.


Although technically part of France, Strasbourg is firmly rooted in both French and German culture. It bears the stamp of both countries’ cuisine and architecture, and like so many other towns and cities in the Rhine Valley, cathedral spires dominate its skyline. Observe its Gothic style and unique astronomical clock on a Uniworld “Do as the Locals Do” walking tour, which shows off the city’s cobblestone streets, half-timbered homes and irresistible pastries. 


While the same could be said for many of the Rhine’s settlements, history makes Speyer especially noteworthy. This German enclave celebrates 2,017 years this year. Ancient Romans recognized the area’s wine-making value. Today, exhibits at the Wien Museum (housed within the Palatinate Historical Museum) showcases the oldest bottle of wine in the world and other unique artifacts. The town’s star, however, rises above all other buildings. Choose the walking discovery tour to step inside the imperial Speyer Cathedral, the world’s largest surviving Romanesque church and a UNESCO World Heritage site. 


On the approach to this medieval village, located in what’s known as the Middle Rhine, or the Rhine Valley, your floating boutique hotel passes legendary, 433-foot-tall Loreley Rock, where mythical Loreley combed her blonde hair and lured many a sailor to their deaths. Bacharach itself looks torn from the pages of a storybook, complete with a 12th-century castle on a hill and red geraniums spilling from window boxes. Choose to stay in town for a riesling wine tasting, or join a Uniworld “Go Active” hike that climbs past the old town walls to the castle and stunning views of the Rhine Valley. 

Boppard & Rüdesheim

Close enough to experience in one day, these two villages comprise part of the 40-mile stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO-designated Cultural Landscape. Medieval castles stand sentry from the green hills, as cottages straight out of the Grimm brothers’ works line the cobbled lanes. Enjoy a stroll through Boppard, where you can view fourth-century Roman walls and towers. Vineyards surround Rüdesheim, planted with grapes for riesling and sekt, a sparkling wine. Check out the town’s unique Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum.


Disembark at Braubach, not so much to visit the port as to visit nearby Marksburg Castle. Uniworld presents an exclusive “Go Active” mountain hike to one of the only castles on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. Maintained to retain its original look, the bold, white marvel, complete with a curtain wall, turret and battlements, can be seen for several miles before you reach it. 


Hit hard during World War II, this city of more than 110,000 residents doesn’t retain the look and feel of other Rhineland villages and towns, but it still gets a lot of vacation love for its location and views. It sits at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, a scenic melding that can be seen up-close at the German Corner, or Deutsches Eck, the actual tip of land where the rivers meet. While pretty, this union, which made Koblenz a transportation hub, is also one of the reasons the city became a key target during the war. Discover additional insights into Koblenz on Uniworld’s walking tour, or, burn some energy and learn about castle life on the cruise line’s exclusive guided hike. Meet the keeper of Thurant Castle and then hike back to the village of Alken through terraced vineyards. 


Use your time in this modern metropolis to indulge your interests: art, beer, architecture, Roman artifacts, chocolate, fragrance, Jewish heritage, and, of course, the UNESCO-designated Gothic cathedral. After all, a visit to Cologne is not complete without touring this masterpiece. Construction of the Dom, as it’s known, began in the 13th century and was completed in 1880. Tour it with a local expert to hear its secrets and insider tidbits. If time permits, climb the 509 steps of the church’s south tower, a spire dripping in lacy ornamentation, for a picture-perfect city panorama. Afterward, Uniworld presents opportunities to taste the city’s local brew, Kölsch, a crisp, flavorful, lager-like ale that some American craft brewers try to emulate. But as Champagne is to Champagne, France, true Kölsch is to Cologne. 

In addition to the millennia-old Roman influences around town, the city also boasts some of the country’s most significant Jewish heritage, which you can explore on a Uniworld-led visit to Cologne’s Jewish Quarter. Similarly, Uniworld leads art enthusiasts to Museum Ludwig, dedicated to 20th-century and contemporary art. Architecturally, the modern brick building capped with metal roofs that look like rolling waves juxtaposes beautifully with its next-door-neighbor, the cathedral. Inside, works by Picasso, German expressionist Max Beckmann and others line the walls.

Although Uniworld makes these excursions available as part of its all-inclusive program, you aren’t locked into attending any of them. Exercise your desire to wander on your own in Cologne. After all, this is the city that gave the world eau de Cologne in the 1700s, so you might want to shop the fragrance boutiques to find a scent suited to you. Or, indulge your sweet tooth with a visit to the Chocolate Museum, a gastronomic treasure trove for the hows, whens, whats and “ok, why nots” of chocolate (and sampling). They, too, contribute to the spirit of the fabled Rhine, a remarkable waterway that has threaded its way through history, inspiring empires, artisans, winemakers, poets and — you.  

Your fairytale vacation is just a phone call away! Call 800-750-5386 and let your AAA Travel Agent help you plan your dream European getaway.

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