moselle river
Viewed from the parapet of Reichsburg Castle, the Moselle River winds through the valley’s rich grape-growing region.

Art, Culture, Cuisine, Active, Relaxing - That's River Cruising

"People want a luxury experience. They’ve had their travel plans stalled for a couple of years and are saying: ‘To heck with it, I’m going to do a nice trip.’" - MICHELLE WHALEN

According to the European River Cruising Association, 1.8 million people took one in 2019. What started out as a small part of the travel trade in the 1990s, says Doug Ellison, founder and chairman of Ellison Travel, has turned into a big part of the business.

little peaked house
Known as the little peaked house, this structure dates back to 1416 and is one of the most photographed buildings along the river.

Ellison has been in the game for 42 years and has taken so many river cruises – both as a traveller and as a guide – that he’s lost count. “I’ve enjoyed every one of them. It’s my favourite holiday,” he says. He says this popularity is due to the variety of experiences offered, whether “you want active or relaxing, enjoy wine, culture and food or history and art.”

reichsburg castle
Reichsburg Castle sits on a hilltop above Cochem.

For travellers who want to explore several European cities and countries, it’s a great way to do so with many of the headaches taken away: accommodations and transferring from hotel to hotel, booking excursions, food and wine. Those are all included in the price.

A tall maypole is the centrepiece of Seligenstadt’s town square.

“Canadians like all-inclusive pricing,” says Michelle Whalen of Uniglobe Enterprise Travel, adding that she’s currently booking as many river cruises as ocean cruises post-pandemic, though they tend to be more expensive.

“People want a luxury experience. They’ve had their travel plans stalled for a couple of years and are saying: ‘To heck with it, I’m going to do a nice trip.’”

Some may be hesitant to book a river cruise because of low water levels in Europe. On a Scenic Waterways cruise sailing the Danube from Nuremberg to Budapest last summer, Gail Ducharme, of Ellison Travel, experienced this firsthand. “We stayed on the ship as a hotel for the first couple of days and took a bus to do our excursions. They accommodated everyone’s needs and we still saw everything, but they still refunded us each $1,200.”

Popular with an older demographic, many cruise lines offer different levels of excursions. Alice and Daniel Bespolko, 60 and 66 respectively, appreciated being able to see as much as they could without “lifting luggage,” she explains. They loved being on a smaller, uncrowded boat, while exploring the culture and beauty of Europe during “gentle walking tours.”

wine festival
Cochem is ready to host the annual wine festival in August.

“We loved seeing the cathedrals in Austria, the wineries in France and the millions of bikes in Amsterdam” adds Alice.

A Trip of a Lifetime

Sitting in the whirlpool, sipping wine while watching the ruins of castles along the Rhine, vineyards crawling up the hills of the Moselle and villages that each look like the setting of a fairy tale passing by is just one of the pleasures of European River Cruising.

fountain of justice
Protected by a wrought iron fence, the Fountain of Justice holds court over the square in Frankfurt’s old town

Avalon’s Imagery II makes the sevenday journey through Germany, from Remich to Frankfurt, along the Moselle River through some of the richest grape-growing regions in the world.

Entitled an Active and Discovery cruise, bike tours along the river and through Frankfurt are among the excursions offered, as are hiking amid the vertical vineyards and walks through the steeply cobblestoned village streets that Louis IV’s army traversed while trying to conquer this area adjacent to France.

A perfectly preserved three-storey Roman building sits next to the grand Electoral Palace in Trier, Germany’s oldest city. Cochem is the setting for the beautifully restored Reichsburg Castle.

Known for its Riesling wines, thousands of acres of vineyard cover the steep banks of the Moselle River.

Bernkastel-Kues features charming 31half-timbered houses that were rebuilt after being bombed during the Second World War. In Koblenz, a thrilling gondola ride takes you up to Ehrenbre-itstein Fortress. Don’t miss Rudesheim’s famous coffee, made with locally produced Asbach Uralt brandy.

On-board entertainment is locally sourced, as is the food and wine, with classical and contemporary musical acts. But river cruising isn’t for those looking for a party. After walking, hiking and biking for hours each day, most turn in early to be up bright and early for the excellent and varietal breakfast buffet.

castle ruins
Piloting through the Rhine Gorge and viewing castle ruins is a highlight of many river cruises.

Frankfurt is a fitting end to the experience, with its skyscrapers framing the charming old town. The Gray Line hop-on-hop-off bus provides a whirlwind tour in two hours, giving a taste of what you’ll want to stop and explore on the next loop. And, a ride-all-day ticket gets you around town on the city’s efficient transit system.

A side trip to Seligenstadt, lets you ride on the famous autobahn for a few minutes, and reveals ‘stumbling blocks’ on the sidewalks. These are small metal memorials inscribed with the names of Jewish citizens who lived there before perishing in concentration camps.

Back in the city, enjoying a Pilsner in one of the open-air cafés is the perfect exclamation point to the trip of a lifetime.