Malcolm Ginsberg casts off to sample Emerald Waterways’ latest cruise along the historic Rhine.
As river cruising becomes more popular, I needed little persuasion to join Emerald Waterways’ newest offering along the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Koblenz – and as an added bonus, Sixties icon Twiggy would join us on board.
According to trade body CLIA UK & Ireland, which has replaced the old Passenger Shipping Association, 2014 will be a boom year for river cruising, with 27 ships already introduced and more on the way to join the 260 now on European waterways.
Emerald Sky is the newest addition at Emerald, a spin-off from Scenic Holidays, the long-established, up-market Australian luxury-tour operator whose UK operation was introduced in 2002. Another ship is due for summer 2014 and two more for next year.
Twiggy did the honours with the traditional bottle of champagne and then became just another guest of Emerald together with husband Leigh Lawson, enjoying among other things Emerald Sky’s indoor swimming pool with a sliding roof, which converts to a wide-screen cinema for the evening.
River-ship cabins are never going to be as large as their seagoing sisters, but what is on offer is more than adequate, with single or twin beds available. Emerald suites also offer balconies with large electrically-operated windows that can be opened for fresh air on summer days.
There is plenty of storage space, a well thought-out shower/toilet unit and free wi-fi and digital TV. Passengers can’t get lost with just a single corridor down the middle of the ship, which carries a maximum of 182 passengers. The three-deck atrium also houses an elevator.
Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, with a set time for the evening meal. There is a big selection of food, and vegetarians are well catered for. Evening entertainment is limited, with normally a talk on the next destination by the cruise director (or a specialist) and music provided by the resident pianist. At some ports, local performers come on board to add some regional flavour.
The ship also boasts a small but well-equipped gym and spa, swimming pool, walking/running track and a putting course.
River-cruise boats often travel by night but we left soon after midday, passing quietly through massive locks and into the Rhine proper, before arriving right in the centre of Cologne 24 hours later.
Our mooring station at Cologne was alongside the Am Leystapel promenade, where our local guides met us. It is a short walk into the centre of the city, which is Germany’s fourth largest, the place where Eau du Cologne was invented and home to a famous twin-towered cathedral.
Our visit included the Archaeological Zone, which uncovered relics from Roman times and one of the most significant Jewish quarters in Europe. Among the remains so far discovered are a Roman sewer, a mikveh which dates back to before 800AD and an ancient synagogue. A Jewish museum is under construction at the site.
The next stop was Koblenz at the junction of the Rhine and Moselle, an attractive little town, where we boarded a coach as part of the normal package to enjoy a drive past flowering vineyards marking one of the largest wine-producing areas in Europe and on to the village of Cochem.
Nestled in the river valley, this charming destination is dominated by the Reichsburg, or imperial castle, although the typical German hilltop bastion is something of a fraud, dating from the 12th century, abandoned in the Middle Ages and rebuilt in 1870 by a Berlin millionaire in Gothic Revival style.