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Travel & Holidays in later life


Typical half timbering in the centre of Cochem, a favourite city on the MoselleThe Rhine and Moselle valleys are among the great scenic classics of Europe. For Reg Butler the dream sightseeing package combined coach travel with use of a cruise ship as a floating hotel.

We travelled aboard the MV Virginia, equipped with 55 air-conditioned double cabins on three passenger decks. This Dutch-registered vessel is leased by the WA Shearings coach-tour company throughout the season. Half the crew was Dutch; the rest from Slovakia.

Peter Watson, the well informed tour director, commented on the passing vine-clad hills, castles and wine villages. Passengers did their sightseeing totally relaxed in the panorama lounge bar, or up on the sun deck.

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All meals are included - cooked breakfast, 3-course lunches and dinners - with mid-morning coffee and afternoon tea. Optional excursions cost extra, and are operated by a regional German coach company.

These Rhine-Moselle cruises alternate in 2007 with a Rhine-only variation that gives plentiful time in  Konigswinter to reach the Drachenburg Castle by rack rail. It also  continues further upstream to Mainz, with an optional excursion to Heidelberg.

Ask your travel agent for brochures. Or contact WA Shearings Holidays - Miry Lane, Wigan WN3 4AG. Tel: 01942 824 824. 

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By mid-day or early evening, the vessel tied up at another picturesque port of call, offering the pleasure of a riverside stroll, shop-gazing or sampling the wine taverns. 

Cobbled streets are lined with ancient half-timbered buildings that lean against each other for support. You get the impression that wine-village houses were built before the heavy-drinking Germans invented the set-square or the plumb-line. 

Among the top favourites was Boppard, founded by the Romans who pioneered city walls, hot baths and the conversion of sun-drenched rocky slopes into vineyards.

Students shouldn't choose the Rhine-Moselle region for a wine-harvesting holiday unless they are a cross between a mountain goat and a pack-horse. Hand picking is done by the family owners of small vineyards, while larger operators bring in seasonal help from Eastern Europe or the Balkans.
A day-trip excursion boat pulls away from the Moselle wine village of Zell
The local Germans get their exercise from cycle paths - also used for jogging - that stretch alongside both sides of the two rivers. Especially along the peaceful Moselle, there are numerous small marinas and campsites. 

Our river journey started at Cologne, with time available to go ashore to investigate the nightlife. And the river cruise also finished there, with a Farewell Dinner on board. 

Setting off on the leisured cruise, we passed Bonn and - across the river -  Konigswinter which is overlooked by the Siebengebirge - the Seven Hills. According to the captive poets who write travel brochures, every castle and rock along the legend-haunted Rhine spells Romance. 

Legend, scenery and ruined castles have boosted the valley between Bonn and Rüdersheim into Germany's best-exploited tourist region. Hotels, wine-taverns and restaurants line both banks, coaches jam the parking lots, and gleaming-white river steamers swan up and down to a regular schedule. 

The Rhine legends are a publicity man's dream of a successful campaign. Dim memories are stirred of history and literature, Wagner and The Nibelungen, all fused into a cosy feeling that visiting the Middle Rhine is high culture.

It's the Lorelei rock which has scooped the pool. The yarn is well known. Lorelei, who gives her name to the rock, was a mermaid who also spelt her name Lurlei or Loreley. Knowing that boatmen prefer blondes, she would sit combing her golden hair on top of the 132-metre slate cliff.

She had the usual siren's job of luring to do. As she sat untangling her windswept locks, she sang and put river boatmen off their steering, sending them plunging to destruction amid the rapids and reefs below.

Today, every cruise boat plays the Lorelei song while negotiating the bend. As we approached, Peter Watson related the legend and the music started playing. Everyone stood up to take a picture, as though we were all standing for the Queen. The name of the rock, Lorelei, is painted up in big white letters, so that tourists know they are photographing the right rock.

Cameras click every mile or two for another castle, perched dramatically on the dominating hilltops, while the half- timbered wine-villages below get their photographic share. 
The mid-river Pfalz, overlooked by Kaub Castle
But the most scenic of all is Pfalz Castle, built 14th century in mid-river to extract tolls from passing travellers. Shaped like a battleship, it was never captured during 13 centuries of history. 

The Moselle tributary has fewer castles, but miles of vineyards with plentiful wine-villages for sampling the product. The leading centre for the trade - besides Coblence where the two rivers meet - is Cochem.

This small town became a popular destination for British tourists in the 19th century, mainly due to the artist William Turner who came here and painted numerous scenes of Cochem. That was the birth of tourism from UK to the Moselle.

During a free afternoon, there was delight in exploring the narrow ancient streets, and admiring the painted facades of the buildings. Opposite our landing-stage were wine cellars where we had an after-dinner wine tasting. Next door was a historical mustard factory, that offered entry and sample mustard-tasting free. A dozen different flavours were on offer.

The well-planned itinerary obviously meant doubling back up and down each river. So, for a change of scene, optional excursions by local coaches featured other regional highThe magnificent Roman gateway at Trier on the Mosellelights - especially to Heidelberg, the delightful university town on the River Neckar. 

Further up the Moselle was Trier, founded by the Romans in 16 BC. It served as a military hub to control the Celtic and Germanic tribes, and later became the capital of Gaul. The magnificent gateway of Porta Nigra is rated as the finest reminder of Roman rule in Germany. 

Other German highlights to consider

BERLIN - the sparkling face-lift

GERMAN XMAS MARKETS visit Cologne and Aachen

HAMBURG - Much more than strip shows

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Michelin Green Guide - Germany - A handy pocket guide which will serve you well for multiple visits to the German cities and regions, with informative background to cuisine, history, culture etc.

The Wines of Germany (Mitchell Beazley Classic Wine Library) by Stephen Brook  - Something to read as you cruise the Moselle and Rhine, telling you the rich history of the vineyards, the varieties and which are the top vineyard sites.

The Rough Guide to Germany - Obviously covers the whole of Germany, but is good and detailed for the Rhine and Moselle valleys. Anyway, most visitors return to see other parts of Germany, so the book is worth keeping for future journeys.

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