Rhining and dining on a river cruise through German heartland

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The three-night trip began in Dusseldorf, capital of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state.

With a few hours to spare before boarding the ship, I joined a walking tour around the historic Old Town. Winding through the streets, the sugary-sweet aroma of roasted almonds from the nearby Christmas markets filled the air.

Past the twisted church tower of St Lambertus and over the Dussel river, we stopped off at a brewery inn to sample some traditional Altbier.

While the Old Town is compact – well under half a square mile – more than 260 pubs and bars are packed within it to make up the “longest bar in the world.”

Although masks and Covid passes were required to enter all food and drink venues, the chance to experience a different culture, language, and cuisine made for intoxicating escapism. But it felt great coming in from the cold to a warm welcome on the modern and spacious VIVA Tiara.

Renovated in 2020, the 361ft-long ship has 76 cabins spread across three decks. As I stepped into mine, I was immediately drawn to the French balcony and the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors which flooded the room with light. There was plenty of space for relaxing and luggage, as well as a private bathroom, a minibar which is replenished daily, Nespresso machine and aircon.

Up on the sun deck, there is a bubbling hot tub, and another in the ship’s wellness area, which includes a sauna and a steam room.

Guests are able to privately book out the area for themselves in one-hour slots and even request bathrobes and slippers to be delivered to their cabins. While most folk on board spend their evenings in the gourmet Riverside restaurant – where there is flexible dining and a free choice of seats – there is also the Bistro, a converted former library area offering classic dishes.

Packages are all-inclusive with a buffet breakfast and irresistible pastries from a specialist chef. This is followed by a four-course lunch and dinner, with meats and soups, as well as a generous drinks menu, including Negronis, Aperol spritzes, champagne and much more. Truth be told, the quality of the food took me by surprise and mealtimes became a real highlight of the trip.

After toasting our arrival and cruising through the night, we arrived at Koblenz, a charming town at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Here we were greeted by the enormous equestrian statue of William I, the first German Emperor, standing proud on the Deutsches Eck headland.

As the sun set and night drew in, we took the cable car up high across the river to the Festung Ehrenbreitstein. This Prussian fortress was built in the early 19th century and sits at the northernmost edge of the Upper Rhine Valley Unesco world heritage site.

To mark the winter season, the gardens had been transformed into an enchanting walking trail, ending with stunning views looking down over Koblenz.

With music echoing around the fortress and spectacular light shows projected on to the walls, a visit to this bewitching display of festive splendour would warm even the coldest Scrooge-like hearts.

On we travelled to Konigswinter, a quaint summer resort twinned with Lincolnshire’s Cleethorpes, that sits at the foot of the Siebengebirge Mountains. Our whistle-stop visit was unfortunate to fall on a dreary day, otherwise we would have ridden the cog railway up the cliff to the imposing Drachenfels Castle perched high above the town.

We soon moved on to Cologne with its world-famous Gothic cathedral; its twin spires providing a magnificent backdrop to a bustling Christmas market. Gripping tightly to our piping hot gluhwein, we shuffled our way to the centre of the market to bop along to the live concert and drink in our surroundings.

Of course, there was no shortage of markets to glide between and no lack of ornate stalls with beautifully handmade goods to potter around.

Then it was time to head back to the ship to feast on a typically indulgent five-course farewell dinner.

Marching back up to the bar to eke out even further value from the all-inclusive package, we were treated to a rousing live performance from a talented pair of local musicians – a great send-off for everyone on board.

I am 26 and had never considered a river cruise for a holiday. It had simply never been on my radar.

But having not been abroad since the summer of 2019, I jumped at the chance to experience something different and am so glad I did.

What is not to enjoy about waking up and exploring new cities each morning, eating fantastic local dishes and relaxing at the bar late into the evening knowing that it’s all paid for up-front?

Whether you’re a first-timer like I was, or a river cruise enthusiast, booking a trip aboard the VIVA Tiara for 2022 should be high on your to-do list. River cruising really is for people of all ages. Consider me a convert.

Get on board: VIVA Cruises offer an all-inclusive four-night Rhine Christmas Cruise round trip from Koblenz, Germany, on MS VIVA One from around £665 per person, departing on December 22 and calling at Boppard, Rudesheim, Mainz and Frankfurt. Find out more on viva-cruises.com/en/

More info at germany.travel

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