London - As our sleek new river cruiser headed away from the Swiss port of Basel, the sun began to set and the bubbly was chilled. There was huge anticipation among the 176 passengers as the 442 ft, 92-cabin River Voyager, a flagship of the Vantage fleet, departed because this was only its second trip.
But the retreating view was unconventional to say the least. There were no snowy Swiss mountains. Instead, we gazed upon a large recycling plant. As the song says, “things can only get better”. And they did.
Making our stately progress up the Rhine, we passed an imposing collection of turreted cliff-top castles. We sailed majestically through the Rhine Gorge, complete with an audio commentary, avoiding the looming Lorelei rock where, according to folklore legend, a siren drew sailors to their deaths. Vineyards were dotted among the hills.
This was a seven-night cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. We stopped in Strasbourg, which plays host to the European Parliament once a month, and I enjoyed the walking tour in Cologne. Another stop was the ancient German city of Mainz.
For more than 1 000 years, the skyline has been dominated by Mainz Cathedral, one of the most important churches in Germany.
The nearby Gutenberg Museum boasts one of the world’s oldest printed bibles.
Or you may prefer, as I did, to indulge in the city’s other great attraction: wine. Mainz is the seat of the German Wine Academy, the German Wine Institute and the German Wine Fund.
A carafe of Riesling in the many traditional hostelries dotted around the town costs €10 (about R150). If I remember correctly.
Back on board, the shore sometimes seemed within touching distance on either side. Germany was to the right, as evidenced by the locals walking past in Leder- hosen. I’m also sure I saw on the French side two men with berets and striped shirts, on bicycles.
Staff outnumber the passengers by a ratio of four to one. Some rooms have balconies and there is a library and wonderful spa.
There are four passenger decks, including the Solaris complete with a jogging and walking track.
As Vantage is an American-owned company, the portions at meal-times are extra generous. Wine and beer are included with dinner. And, unlike the giant cruise liners, the dress code is smart but informal — not a black tie in sight.
We disembarked in Amsterdam where a canal tour was laid on. But if after so long on the water you prefer dry ground, there is plenty to do and see, including Anne Frank’s house.
River cruising is growing in popularity. Like many, I’ve been a little sniffy about the idea. Not any more.
If You Go...
VantageTravel (vantagetravel.com, 01954 232802) offers a seven-night Rhine Getaway cruise between Basel and Amsterdam on the River Voyager from £1 218 pp — £1 535 pp with return flights and transfers. Includes meals, drinks with dinner and daily excursions.