Last summer I was asked to escort a group on a Rhine River cruise aboard Uniworld's River Countess. I knew the region we would be cruising through rather well, having escorted many Rhine River tour groups to this area throughout the 1990's. Having lived in Western Austria previously, I never pass up an opportunity to enjoy this lovely part of Europe.
Switzerland and southern Germany are full of charm and character. The food, customs and people are generally familiar to North Americans, yet different enough to delight visitors again and again. Of all the parts of Europe I've traveled to on my own or while leading groups, I've found Bavaria, Rhineland, Palatinate, as well as Alsace, Tyrol, Alpine Germany, the Black Forest and adjoining regions and provinces so lovely and enjoyable, that they are always worth a repeat visit. Because I knew most of the cities in this region, I felt I had explored it well, so did very little advance reading or planning for this trip. Other than visiting Strasbourg, which I hadn't been to, I really thought the rest of the journey would be repetitive for me.
But Boy, was I wrong!
I found the entire week simply enchanting, and now know that a Rhine Cruise is a wonderful way to experience the southern Rhine! I have always thought Uniworld among the best European river cruises, and that the River Countess, while a bit older than some ships, was still a well ranked river cruise ship. Now I know why.
The combination of lovely countryside along the scenic yet small Main River juxtaposes so wonderfully with the towns visited, as well as elegant smaller cities like Heidelberg, Bamburg and Wuertzburg. These were very wealthy territories in Europe's history and benefited from excellent farm land, access to trade along these rivers, and protection from papal and royal benefactors. Uniworld generally refurbishes their ships completely every 3 years. I could see no need for it on the River Countess. The decor was warm and welcoming, you feel pampered by the design and warmed by the interior elegance. Uniworld's ships can hold their own against other top rated cruise lines, and always do very well in river cruise reviews.
I have planned many trips using their various ships for clients over the years. I felt like a week on the river, and maybe another week to 10 days traveling by land was a nice combination. That way you have that week to keep traveling without packing and unpacking, enjoying the pace of a river cruise, and then can get off and keep going.
But Boy, was I wrong, again!
The River Countess traverses many of Europe's rivers, and unlike some other river cruise ships that ply back and forth, she does at least 14 nights before repeating the voyage, sometimes longer! My trip was the scenic and 'cutesy' section with lots of trees and meadows and riverside campgrounds along the Main, and more than 40 locks to go thru. Our days on the Rhine were at the point on the river where it is quite narrow- nothing like the huge river it becomes farther north. Traveling down the very historic Main-Danube Canal (amazed to think this engineering feat was started by Charlemagne!) and arriving in Nuremburg on the Danube; how I envied those on board who had been smart enough to sign on for two weeks, and would be continuing down the Danube to Vienna for a second week.
So if you come talk to me about taking a European river cruise on this section of the Rhine and the Main, I give you fair warning, I am going to tell you 7 nights is not enough, and hope to persuade you to continue your explorations on to the Danube. And if you use my expertise to help you plan a driving or train trip around this region, be prepared for some strong recommendations to explore at least part of the time from a river cruise ship.
If you don't listen, Boy, would you be wrong!