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Cruising the Rhine and Mosel Rivers
Lined by some of Europe's oldest, steepest vineyards, the Rhine and Mosel rivers boast breathtaking scenery punctuated by storybook castles and half-timber villages. A river cruise is a must-do.
Today, the Rhine and Mosel rivers are best known for their Riesling wines and the formidable medieval castles once used by robber barons to extort tolls from passing ships. But the rivers' history goes back even further to the Romans, who first established the region's viniculture.
Although the fastest way to get around the rivers is by car or train (and there are some gorgeous train routes directly on the Rhine), the rivers have been navigated by ship for thousands of years, and this option remains the most scenic, and the safest for visitors looking to drink in a little history. The Rhine is the more popular of the two rivers, but many find its little sister, the Mosel, even more beautiful with its narrow, twisting landscapes.
When to Go
Day cruises on the Rhine and Mosel generally start around Easter and run through October. In summer, the hills are at their greenest and crowds gather to celebrate the Rhein in Flammen fireworks festivals. However, most wine festivals don't take place until August or September. Some multiday cruises also make extra trips in November and December to stop at Christmas markets.
A Day on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers
Day-trippers don't generally need advance reservations and the tourist offices in any major Rhine or Mosel town can give you information about short round-trip cruises (Rundfahrten) or waterbuses (Linienfahrten), which allow you to hop on or off the boat, and generally run on the Rhine daily from Easter to late October and on the Mosel from June through September. Although there are many boat trips available from Köln and Düsseldorf, the Rhine doesn't truly turn scenic until south of Bonn. The most popular starting point is Koblenz, where the two rivers converge. The area between Koblenz and Bingen, the Rhine Gorge, offers the shortest cruises with the highest concentration of castles.
From Koblenz, you can take a water taxi run by one of the biggest operators on the Rhine, Köln-Düsseldorfer Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt (KD Rhine Line 0221/208-8318 www.k-d.de), which has many special offers, such as free travel on your birthday; half price for seniors on Monday and Friday; and free travel for up to three children for every adult on Wednesday. One good place to disembark and stretch your legs is Boppard. Take some time to sample the local wine, Bopparder Hamm. This route provides not only fantastic white wines, but also views of the legendary Loreley cliff and the Marksburg, the only Rhine castle never laid to ruin.
Personenschiffahrt Merkelbach (0261/76810 www.merkelbach-personenschiffe.de) also does round-trip "castle cruises" on the Rhine from Koblenz to Schloss Stolzenfels (one hour) or the Marksburg (two hours).
Meanwhile, the Mosel's stunning, medieval Burg Eltz castle, and the towns of Cochem and Bernkastel-Kues between Koblenz and Trier, rival any sights along the Rhine. Mosel-Schiffstouristic Hans Michels of Bernkastel-Kues (06531/8222 www.mosel-personenschifffahrt.de), goes from Bernkastel to Traben-Trarbach. Personenschiffahrt Kolb of Briedern (02651/26666 www.moselfahrplan.de), runs a fleet of boats that cruise shorter stretches between Koblenz and Trier.
Viking River Cruises (0221/25860, 877/668-4546 in U.S. www.vikingrivers.com) offers various multiday cruises on cabin ships between Amsterdam and Basel. The luxury Uniworld cruise line (800/733-7820 in U.S. www.uniworld.com) offers a two-week cruise of both rivers.
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