Having a Rhine old time!

Having a Rhine old time!

Mark Silver takes a luxury river cruise through Europe, uncovering a dark side of Jewish history, medieval castles and a plot to assassinate Hitler

Heidelberg, on the Rhine in Germany
Heidelberg, on the Rhine in Germany

The tour guide took me by surprise. Yet another story of Jews being persecuted? Surely not this time, I thought, as we stood in front of a chapel in the German town of Bacharach.

My wife and I were on a river cruise along the fabulous Rhine, where glorious medieval villages and towns are sprinkled within easy reach and leave you feeling as though you have just entered a film set.

Tales of Jews suffering during the Dark Ages were all too frequent, but I was not expecting more tales of woe as we gazed at the impressive chapel ruins.

Werner was a 16-year-old Christian who was murdered on this site back in 1287, explained the guide. No one had a clue who did it but – guess what? – the Jews were blamed.

It led to revenge killings across Europe, the victim becoming Saint Werner and the chapel constructed in his honour. Fortunately, the German king at the time, and later the Pope, did not believe the Jews were responsible and they were eventually exonerated.

It was another interesting story during a week of fascinating information amid stunning sites and, thanks to American holiday company Tauck, we were also pampered galore.

We woke up early for much of the sightseeing but, with an exciting day ahead, my alarm clock was actually a welcome noise.

I have experienced several river cruises and this was the best so far. Organisation, service and food were exceptional. We were invited on to Tauck’s newest vessel, Grace, and it proved a most comfortable choice.

Cruises are all-inclusive, although the joke wore a bit thin on my birthday when the 10th person offered to ‘buy’ me a drink.

Mark and Lludmila at ease during their trip
Mark and Lludmila at ease during their trip

It was our second cruise along the Rhine and we were seeing a tiny piece of Holland, Germany, France and Switzerland, having boarded in Amsterdam and finishing in Basel.

If you want a lazy week doing little, then this is not the holiday for you. If you don’t mind those early starts to see a collection of gems, such as medieval castles, houses from the 1500s, cathedrals from even earlier and treasures from Roman times, then look no further.

Amsterdam proved a great start. It was our first time in the Dutch capital and what a beautiful place it is to stroll around, with its many restaurants, cafés, museums and, of course, canals. We did wander along the famous Red Light District as curiosity got the better of us, and also popped into ‘sweet’ shops where chocolate bars with cannabis are readily (and legally) for sale.mt-pilatus-cable-car-switzerland

There’s nothing wrong with browsing, but it brought a chuckle when the subject came up that night of how people had spent their day. Funnily enough, our dinner companions seemed to have found the same streets!

Not everybody went to see the Anne Frank House, but we were glad we did. These days, you need to book an online ticket to visit between 9am and 3.30pm. After that you join a long queue, but it was worth it as we heard the remarkable tale of how Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for more than two years. The museum is open every day except Yom Kippur and, even if you think you know the story, is a must-see when in Amsterdam.

The following day we were part of Tauck’s fine itinerary, involving a delightful canal ride followed by a visit to the Rijksmuseum, dedicated to arts and history.

Art galleries are not normally my thing, but both my wife, Liudmila, and I loved it as our guide showed the detail in some of Rembrandt’s finest work, including The Night Watch.

When you cruise with a top company, there is sometimes a very special treat in store. Here Tauck is every bit as good at surreal evenings as, the next day, we enjoyed a spectacular reception and dinner at Schloss Ehreshoven, a moated castle in Germany now housing a charitable foundation that cares for elderly Catholic ladies.

The venue is stunning and we were treated like royalty from the moment we left Tauck’s comfortable coaches to enjoy champagne and canapés before a memorable dinner, with live classical music throughout.

In between, a foundation chief gave us a quick tour which included a viewing of a portrait of his relative, Philipp von Boeselager, who was part of the German plot to assassinate Hitler but was never caught.

If I had to choose a favourite time from the week (not an easy task), it would be our afternoon in Riquewihr.

This village in the Alsace region is mind-blowingly beautiful and that feeling of being on a film set was never truer than here – an appropriate feeling in some ways, given that Tauck goes that extra mile to make you feel like a star.

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