One of the highlights of every Rhine cruise is the day you spend sailing through the iconic stretch of river called the Middle Rhine, or the Rhine Gorge. This is among the most scenic places on earth – you’ve probably seen it in the tourist ads – and it was the centrepiece of my Viking river cruise on the Rhine.
The Rhine flows 820 miles from the Swiss alps to the Rhine Delta in the Netherlands, but it’s only when you get to the German city of Koblenz that it gets truly dramatic. From there to the medieval town of Rudesheim, it flows between steep riverbanks covered with vineyards that produce the famous Riesling wines called “Rhine wines”.in most of Europe.
And of course, castles: in medieval times, these lands were ruled by a lineup of nobles who built fortresses high on the hills above the river to protect their territories. The castles also served as toll booths – many of these robber barons charged boatmen to transport their goods up and down the river. And since superhighways hadn’t been invented, what choice did they have but to pay?
The barons are gone, but the castles remain, commanding the Rhine from their lofty perches. There are a remarkable number: every small town seems to have one perched above its rooftops. Many are in ruins these days, others restored and turned into pricey hotels and restaurants. Either way, they make a dramatic sight as you sail down the river, and everyone on board turns out with camera in hand.
The highlight is the sail-past of the Lorelei Rock, a spot where legend says a beautiful siren once lured sailors to their deaths in the treacherous waters. It’s marked by a famous statue, but you have to look quick — it’s not very big. Another highlight is meeting a sister Viking ship on its way up the Rhine, having the same adventure in the other direction.
There’s more to tell, but I’d rather just give you a glimpse of what it’s like to sail through the Middle Rhine on the Viking Hlin. The weather didn’t cooperate that well, but somehow, no one seemed to mind. Standing in a bit of wind and rain was a small price to see one of Europe’s iconic sights.