Your perfect Christmas gift! A merry Advent cruise on the Rhine aboard a luxury river boat
Wrapped in scarves dusted with snow, we climbed into our coaches – but not before we’d each been given a €10 note by cruise director Jeremy.
Our mission in the German city of Aachen, he told us, was to find a decoration that we loved to hang on the Christmas tree and take home.
Hunting for the perfect bauble in the stalls around the cathedral gave a lovely focus to the first of many Christmas markets we would explore on a merry Advent cruise on the Rhine aboard luxury river boat MS Grace.
Festive treats: The magnificent Cologne Cathedral illuminated at night
The restaurants, atrium and lounge were adorned with tasteful green fir and red ribbons. In contrast, jolly Jeremy’s accessory of choice was a string of Christmas lights round his neck.
I returned from Aachen with Printen biscuits and a coloured glass bird. I put it on a table with the other guests’ finds for all to admire until it was time to trim the tree after dinner.
Our yuletide cruise to Basel started in Cologne, where we popped into the frost-covered cathedral to warm up on our first morning. We were travelling with Tauck, an escorted tours company that likes to add all sorts of treats.
So rather than just being let loose in Rudesheim’s many Christmas stalls, we had a tour of Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, and took over a restaurant for a Christmas cookie-making demonstration, followed by mugs of Rudesheim coffee made with local Asbach brandy and lashings of whipped cream.
Some Printen biscuits on display in Aachen
In Heidelberg, where Prussian students still wear duelling scars on their cheeks with pride, our guide took us to see the castle whose hillside position inspired J. M. W. Turner, who painted it many times. From this lofty spot we took the funicular down to the Old Town for a slap-up lunch in Vetter’s micro-brewery before browsing the markets spread over five squares.
Elegant Baden-Baden was my favourite excursion. Our guide took us through the gardens on the banks of the river Oos to the remains of the Roman baths, past the statue of Bismarck and to the lavishly decorated 19th Century casino.
Back on board after busy days out, we had all sorts of Christmassy activities and entertainments to brighten the long evenings. One night, Santa Jazz, a quartet of grey-bearded musicians in red dressing gowns, came aboard to entertain us on banjo, clarinet, trumpet and double bass. We loved their foot-stomping take on Silent Night and other Christmas tunes.
Sailing in December meant we didn’t see much of the riverscape, but as soon as I’d switched into leisurely escorted tour mode I was a happy traveller. Even so, apart from one frosty morning, when a handful of us huddled under blankets on deck to see the many castles built on crags by robber barons as we navigated the Rhine Gorge, we were always sailing in the dark.
Our trip was like staying in a floating, all-inclusive hotel that brought a different destination, packed with goodies and good cheer, to us every day.
Tauck (tauck.co.uk, 0800 810 8020) offers one-week Christmas Markets On The Rhine cruises from £2,590pp.
The price includes full board, unlimited drinks, excursions and gratuities.
Departures are on November 25, December 2 and 9, 2018, and December 1, 8 and 15, 2019.
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