London - We were never short of wine, cheese or chocolates on our gastronomic flavours of the Rhine, Moselle and Saar cruise.
Sailing from Amsterdam to Luxembourg, extra seasoning on the trip was provided by the insights of cook and food writer Frances Bissell, a member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.
Our first course, in a low landscape of big skies, was one of Holland’s few remaining windmills at Volendam, then it was on to the prosperous, crowd-free town of Edam where the shops are packed with the eponymous red-coated, round yellow cheeses.
While Holland may have a poor reputation for food, not least among the Dutch themselves, they brought valuable spices such as nutmeg to the world’s table through the Dutch East India Company. Now the Edam cheese that stays at home is flavoured with cumin, pesto and wasabi.
Next up was Cologne, on the banks of the Rhine in Germany and dominated by the Dom, a massive Gothic cathedral. The city is full of restaurants, serving vast amounts of smoked or cured meats, sweet herring, and pancakes with apple sauce. You can wash them all down with a refreshing glass of chilled Kolsch beer.
Cologne is also the chocolate capital of Germany and home to the Chocolate Museum, where you can find out how it is made, sample waffles dipped in molten brown gold and stock up on indecent quantities to take home, if you don’t eat it first.
As you travel down the Rhine into the sinuous Moselle, the landscape changes markedly. Distinctive half-timbered houses and steep, herring-boned vineyards cling to the slopes. Tiered horizontally and vertically, every vine is tended by hand. The slate-rich soil soaks up the sun and produces the best rieslings, the most famous Moselle wine of all.
The priciest comes from Bernkastel-Kues, where the celebrated Bernkasteler Doctor wine is said to have cured an ailing king of his ills. “It is a true doctor!” he’s supposed to have said. The glasses I sampled in this pretty town straddling the river were certainly restorative.
Further on, Trier is a pleasing and surprising city – the oldest in Germany. Founded by the Emperor Augustus, there are nine Unesco World Heritage sites in the city’s romanesque/rococo mix. The Porta Nigra, the main entry point to the old city, is one of the finest roman buildings in Northern Europe.
Philosopher Karl Marx was born in Trier and his birthplace is now a department store.
Our ship, the 80-passenger MS Royal Crown, made her stately way from the Moselle to the River Saar, seasoned by appetising talks from Frances on Dutch and German food, all served with fine on-board cuisine including a very yummy king prawn and saffron risotto.
It was a gimmick-free, quality cruise that finished in Saarburg, near the Luxembourg border and famous village of Schengen. A natural waterfall cascades 60ft over rocks in the pretty town centre.
In the lower Saar valley, once a political football kicked between France and Germany, peace has broken out. So, “Mahlzeit!” as the Germans might say. Or “Bon appétit!” for the French. And us cosy Brits – “Tuck in!”
* Hebridean River Cruises (hebridean.co.uk, 01756 704704)
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