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Jane Archer: Cruising through the history books

Join Jane as she explores the rivers of Germany on a European river cruise with Emerald Cruises

River Cruises

Posted on

05 Mar 2020

I’m getting a lesson in architectural styles in Bamberg’s Cathedral Square. It’s the perfect classroom because up ahead of me is the cathedral itself, which took so long to build that it was started in the Romanesque period and finished with Gothic touches. To the right, there’s the Renaissance-style Old Court, while behind is the Baroque Prince Bishops’ residence. That’s 750 years of architecture in chronological order just by turning 180 degrees.

Bamberg is one of umpteen towns in Germany that few have ever heard of but which is just gorgeous. There are pretty half-timbered houses, a maze of streets to explore and what surely has to be the biggest number of breweries in any one place. Sixty, according to my guide, Vera.

We’d arrived there that morning on day two of a river cruise from Nuremberg to Bernkastel-Kues with Emerald Cruises that was taking in four waterways - in order, the Main-Danube Canal and Main, Rhine and Moselle Rivers - and promised everything from architectural learnings to local wine tastings.

It’s my fourth time on an Emerald river cruise, which I guess makes me something of an Emerald groupie. With good reason. Their itineraries are great and their river ships are beautifully designed with modern décor, spacious cabins and a fabulous indoor pool area with glass on three sides and a roof that opens to let the sunshine in. If I’m not ashore or eating, that’s where you’ll find me.

So, imagine how excited I was to see the company is building its first oceangoing yacht, Emerald Azzurra. Launching in summer 2021, she will hold just 100 passengers, have lots of cabins with balconies and is cruising the yachting hotspots of the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Fancy the Croatian coast? The Greek Isles? The French and Italian Rivieras? They are all among the itineraries now on sale. Be warned, trying to pick just one is going to be tough.

Back in Bamberg, we all indulged in a glass of the town’s smoked beer, courtesy of Emerald Cruises - the company includes daily tours as well as flights, transfers, wine and beer with meals and tips in the cruise price - before transferring back to our river ship, Emerald Star, and setting sail for Würzburg.

While everyone else headed off for a tour of the grand baroque-style palace in the centre of town that the ruling Princes-Bishops built for themselves in the early 1700s, my husband and I decided to scout out the Marienberg Fortress that looms over the town and rejoin the group later for a wine tasting. It’s a steep climb up to the fortress, which was where the Princes-Bishops lived before they decided it was not grand enough and built the ‘new’ palace but well worth the effort to see the towering stone walls up close and for the views over the town. And, after all the wining and dining we’d been doing on Emerald Star, we needed the exercise.

The hike set a bit of an active-come-castle theme for the rest of the cruise. Over the next few days, we climbed up to the castle in Wertheim and trekked up and up through woods above pretty little Miltenberg with our guide Eva on an EmeraldActive tour, stopping only to admire a castle (what else?). In Koblenz, we took the cable car to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress (it’s on the other side of the river) and spent hours exploring the massive fortification.

Ehrenbreitstein is impressive but Koblenz’s main claim to fame is the Deutsches Eck (German Corner), which marks the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. You can’t miss it because a massive equestrian statue of the first German Emperor, Wilhelm I, sits majestically marking the spot. It’s actually a replica because the original, erected to mark his role in the unification of Germany in 1871, was destroyed during the Second World War. The new one was erected in 1993, following German reunification, which has a neat symmetry about it.

We were making a left turn here into the Moselle, river number four. It’s a much prettier stream than the Rhine, narrower, forever twisting and turning, and lined with lush green vineyards that are so steep in places you wonder how anyone can tend them.

The first stop was Cochem, another picture postcard town packed with pretty half-timbered houses, narrow streets, restaurants and a castle standing guard over it all. Like most of the forts in this area, it’s not the original – most were destroyed by invading French troops in the late 1600s and then rebuilt – but it’s spectacular to look at and the views down over the river are superb.

And then we were off again, this time to our final stop, Bernkastel-Kues (actually two towns – Bernkastel on one side of the river, Kues on the other). Of course, there is a castle, but we were more interested in the health-giving properties of the grapes grown here.

Honestly. Back in the 1300s, the seriously ill Prince-Bishop Boemund II of Trier was prescribed Bernkastler wine, cured instantly and gave the vineyard that had grown the wine (all of 3.25 acres) the name ‘Doctor’ in thanks.

OK, so it’s a legend, but the name exists to this day and its wine can sell for thousands of pounds a bottle. “I’m told the Queen drinks Doctor wines and she is 93,” wine expert Gaynor told us during an included tasting, but sadly not of the Doctor wine. That was a bit too costly even for Emerald Waterways!

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