The River Rhine


A water journey up the Rhine is considered to be one of the most romantic in the world. Snaking through 820 miles of the heartland of Europe, the Rhine starts among snow capped mountains in Switzerland and ends in the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. There are cruise ships that sail the Rhine and also smaller boats that do all or part of the journey. Another alternative is to travel by train, which runs alongside the Rhine, or by car. The Lorelei Burgenstrasse runs on the right and the Rheingoldstrasse is the scenic road on the left of the river. There are many glorious drives along the river bank and equally many spectacular views from the boats. The Rhine is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year and changes with the seasons. There is the wine harvest of autumn and the changing colours of the trees, summer sunshine, and springtime colour, and at Christmas most towns along the Rhine have a Kristlkindlmarkt or Christmas Market.

Basel, with its Munster and Old Town, is a scenic vista from the deck of a boat. The city itself is a delight to explore and the nearby Rheinfall at Schaffhausen a spectacular waterfall to visit as the Rhine crashes onto the rocks. Leaving Switzerland and heading north, the journey flows past Liechtenstein into Southern Germany with vineyards and forests bordering the river. Tiny villages come into view and castles on rocky crags framed against the sky are all part of this spectacular journey. Mainz is one of the first German towns visited on the Rhine. This historic city is best known for the Gutenberg Museum, housing the 42-line Bible printed in 1455 by Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the moveable printing press. This process revolutionised books as all had previously been hand written.

One of the most famous legends of the Rhine is that of the Lorelei Rock. Just before the German town of Koblenz, as the boats enter the picturesque Rhine Gorge, there is a tall and steep rock in the Rhine. Legend has it that there was a mermaid living on the rock who sang to the boatmen. Many were drawn in by the hypnotic singing and crashed into the treacherous rocks before drowning off the Lorelei, lured to their deaths by the hypnotic singing. Now when boats pass the Lorelei Rock it is traditional to play the song of the Lorelei Siren. The Mosel River also flows into the Rhine at Koblenz and is a very different, more sedate river to see and quite unlike the powerful Rhine. Some journeys travel up to Cochem along the Moselle, a beautiful historic town, before returning to the Rhine itself. At each stop along the River Rhine there are many opportunities for walking and cycling to explore the beautiful countryside in this famous region. There are many tiny medieval villages to discover, and vineyards where wine tasting is a popular activity. Rudesheim is a picture book village with timbered houses and cobbled streets that is a popular stop on a Rhine journey. Overlooked by Ehrenfels Castle, this is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon by the river.

Koln is one of the most prominent cities visited on a tour of the Rhine and is framed by the magnificent cathedral and historic old town. The days leading up to Christmas are an excellent time to come to Koln, as it hosts one of the largest Christmas Markets in the world and the place is full of festive stalls and smells of cinnamon and spice. At any time of the year, trying the local Kolsch beer is a great way to experience the city, as is looking for the famous eau de cologne that originated here.

The mighty Rhine also passes through France, and the city of Strasbourg is famed for its picturesque Old Town with medieval timbered buildings and backdrop against the river. Another area famed for wine growing, this is where the distinctive cuisine from Alsace can be found.

Before the Rhine empties into the North Sea, it ends in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. Famed for its canals and art, there is plenty to see and do here, from visiting the Rijksmuseum to the Anne Frank House, or even hiring a bike to explore the city on two wheels. The Rhine is a powerful and majestic river, changing with the seasons, full of history and legend, and showing Europe at its very best.

(Image by Flickr user : spacejulien)

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