Review: Tauck's Rhine Christmas Markets
Tauck Grace 26/11/2016 - Christmas Markets along the Rhine - Southbound.
Upon arrival at Cologne airport we were met by our Tauck representative and swiftly taken to our transfer - a spotless Mercedes Benz minivan complete with bottled water for all - very welcoming indeed!
After an effortless transfer from Cologne airport, we were welcomed aboard the MS Grace with warm flannels for your hands. Check in was swift and efficient and within minutes we were led to our cabin, a category 5 French Balcony. We unpacked, connected to the complimentary Wi-Fi and began exploring the ship.
There was no mistaking the season as we strolled through MS Grace - Christmas stockings hung outside every cabin, Christmas garlands of red & gold, twinkly lights and a Christmas tree adorned the public areas. And in the Panorama lounge there was even a fantastic edible gingerbread house and train with a Gracelands theme – magical!
Before dinner we were welcomed in the lounge to meet our cruise director, Michael, who ran us through general housekeeping and excursion information. Oh and shared with us, the ‘low bridge policy’ – “Duck or you may lose your head!” – this is no joke, you often sail under very low bridges and you do literally have to duck.
Did you know? All Tauck boats only serve organic food!
27th November - Cologne
After an evening on the town and an extremely comfortable night’s sleep (best beds ever!), we awake early, refreshed and ready for our first tour – visiting the magnificent Coln Cathedral and the Roman Germanic Museum.
Tauck’s guided tour began the moment the museum opened its doors. We were amongst the first to arrive - beating the large crowds meant we could take in all of the history, artefacts, statues and, most impressive of all, the mosaic floor!
Back on-board for a champagne brunch in the the Compass Rose dining room. It's good to know you can alternatively opt for lunch in Arthur's Bistro.
After a champagne brunch onboard the MS Grace, it was time for our first glimpse of a Christmas Market, in the medieval town of Aachen (reached by coach transfer). Here, Tauck gave all guests 10 Euroes to buy a tree decoration which was to be displayed upon the Christmas tree aboard MS Grace.
The smells as we wander the markets are incredible… German specialities like Printen, Dominosteine, Spekulatius and marzipan bread are amongst the freshly baked tasty delights on offer.
When we turned in for the night we were greeted with a lovely surprise in our cabin – a Santa tie & hat with a yummy chocolate.
Did you know? Salad course tonight was tangerine & egg salad! Who knew these would compliment each other so well!
28th November 2016 - Depart Koblenz for Rudesheim, Germany
What a way to start your day! I opened the curtains and the MS Grace was gliding effortlessly along the Rhine as the early morning mist was lifting and it felt almost magical. Curtains open, I returned to bed to watch the views passing by our French balcony window.
Our morning is spent gazing at the numerous castles and vineyards as the MS Grace navigates the UNESCO protected middle Rhine. We were sat on the upper deck, wrapped in blankets, sipping on hot chocolate and sampling potato fritters & apple sauce with the sun peeping - a beautiful experience.
One of the highlights of this section of the river is the legendary Loreli Rock which rises at a bend in the Rhine where the river is perilously fast and deep, legend has it a witch, named Lorelei, lured sailors to the rocks with her siren songs!
Lunch today was in Arthur's bistro, a beef burger and fries freshly prepared by our chef, served with a chilled glass of Riesling – delicious!
The Grace arrives into Rudesheim at 2pm and after our discovery briefing we disembark to visit the Musikkabinnet – a fascinating and unusual collection of music boxes of all descriptions. We caught the train which took approx 5 minutes from the Grace. Rudesheim is a lovely quaint town and offers small Christmas market stalls leading off narrow cobbled streets, decorated with Christmas trees and lights. After our visit to the museum Tauck had arranged a cookie making demonstration and a glass of gluwein to enjoy whilst listening to a local band. A leisurely stroll along the bank via numerous stalls and we are back on-board for dinner.
Did you know? If you take the little town train from your River boat you get an overview of what the town has to offer and a little sightseeing excursion of the town.
29th November 2016 - Departed Rudesheim for Heidelberg
We awake to another beautiful crisp, frosty morning, and leave Speyer on a Mercedes Benz coach, for Heidelberg. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes and our on-board guide used the time to point out significant highlights along the way, including the Speyer technological museum which includes all modes of transport from WW1 upwards including a spacecraft!
Upon arrival we are met by our local guides and split into small groups for our tour of Heidelberg castle – the theme here really is love and romance… the university town is a city that will capture your heart, and a must-see is the student kiss shop where you can purchase heart shaped chocolate delights to give to a loved one! After the tour you may wish to continue shopping, or join in the Yuletide festivities at the local ice rink.
We were taken to a traditional German brau house where we experienced German sausage, sauerkraut and what is best described as macaroni cheese with bacon bits - delicious!
The meals, when travelling with Tauck, are so authentic and traditional that they don’t just complete the experience, they make it extra special – our fellow guests certainly agreed with us that this is just one detail that makes cruising with Tauck different!
After lunch we had free time to shop or visit the local beer houses, ample time of 2 1/2 hours.
The coach was waiting at its designated spot on return where we were greeted with a student kiss chocolate surprise courtesy of Tauck.
This evening we were entertained onboard by a local Santa jazz band… very festive!
30th November 2016 - Baden-Baden, Germany
This morning we board our coach for our short 40 minute journey from Plitterdorf to Baden-Baden. Our local guide took us on a walking tour of the town. It's freezing today, but the sun is starting to peep through and the town looks so pretty covered in frost. Baden is best known for its thermal baths. There are two options; The opulent, Roman styled Friedrichsbad, built in 1869-1877, is a nudist bath, and The Carcalla Spa, built in 1985, here bathing suits are required if you fancy a dip!
The town is very affluent and the architecture is stunning. After our walking tour we are taken to the world famous Baden Casino - 'Wow' - beautiful chandeliers and frescos adorn the ceilings with rich red and gold ornate carvings. It really is a place to be admired and is amazing! Tauck then surprise us with a glass of champagne and nibbles whilst watching a local school choir perform a carol service.
There are 3 scheduled coaches to travel back to the MS Grace today (12:30pm, 3pm or 4pm). We opted for the 3pm coach, giving us time to visit the Christmas market. Here there was a live nativity with a horse, donkey and two cows. We sampled some gluwein, enjoyed some German sausage and meandered around the markets.
Tonight onboard we were treated to a Christmas quiz.
Did you know? - All drinks including champagne, branded spirits, cocktails and soft drinks are included in the cost of your river cruise!
1st December - Strasbourg, France
This morning is an early 08.30 start departing by coach into lovely Strasbourg – the home of the original Christmas market, dating back to 1570! Since this time, Strasbourg has continued the tradition of authentic, warm and generous Alsation Christmas!
After an in-depth walking tour of the old city (which is not recommended for those with mobility issues) you finish outside the Notre Dame du Strasbourg cathedral.
From here you can choose to return to the ship or enjoy some free time in the city. Shuttles are scheduled at various times enabling you to tailor make the day to suit you.
After an early lunch on board we decided to burn off some of the Gluwein calories and go for a bike ride along the river, using one of Tauck’s onboard bikes! The paths are flat and perfect for cycling, we even cycled over the Europa bridge which has fantastic views.
Cocktail hour this evening was accompanied by local French delicacies of fresh Oysters and Escargot!
Tonight was our Gala Dinner in the Compass Rose dining room - Amuse of goose praline, Soup of clear oxtail, Starter of Seared king prawns, mango sorbet with a choice of three main courses which includes Chateaubriand followed by a choice of three desserts including a Toblerone parfait, homemade praline and brandy all served alongside amazing wines; Chardonnay Reserve de la Baume, Sancerre Les Jeunes and Chate au Lyonnat - One word can only be used to describe DELICIOUS!
After dinner we enjoyed a traditional Alsation folklore show in the panorama lounge followed by a demonstration in the art of European scarf tying.
Did you know? All the bikes on-board your river cruise are complimentary.
2nd December - Colmar, France
We awoke this morning and noticed that we were berthed alongside four other riverboats - interesting - to disembark, you simply walk up to the sun deck and walk across the other riverboats top decks until you then reach the final boat and disembark via their reception.
Today was a long day of sightseeing 9.00 - 5.30 but certainly worth it as this was the prettiest part of the trip - Colmar tops the travel guides as one of the most beautiful towns in France, although novelist George Duhamel went further and declared it the most beautiful little town on the planet!
We first visited Riquewihr for a short tour followed by free time. We were each given 20 euros to spend on lunch of our choice (Tauck certainly don’t like you paying for things). A very beautiful town full of charm with its traditional Alsatian style houses and cobbled! All of the shops and houses are decorated in various Christmas themes, it really is a quaint town to have lunch, relax and meander through the markets.
At 1pm we were back on the coaches and heading for Colmar - known as the little town of light. Colmar is story book picture perfect, cobbled streets, canals, medieval buildings and a mini Venice river running through. The early Renaissance houses are enchanting in any season - but no more than at Christmas.
Here we enjoyed a walking tour of the town followed by free time to explore and take plenty of photos! One thing to point out is that today contained a lot of walking. But this is also is noted in your daily planner.
This evening we exchanged Secret Santa gifts – we were invited to join this earlier in the cruise, so plenty of time to pick up a small gift at one of the ports of call – it was lovely to see that most of the guests on-board were participating.
Did you know? One for the ladies! All cabins contain fab hairdryers, European and American plug sockets, Molten Brown toiletries, dressing gowns and slippers!
3rd December - Basel, Switzerland.
We awoke to a beautiful view of Switzerland. Today was our last day, however, many passengers were extending their stay in the nearby Tauck hotel.
Check out couldn't have been easier - we simply put our bags outside our rooms with designated luggage tags, specific to our flight departure. The cases were loaded onto the coaches for us, and our journey to the airport was approximately 15 minutes.
Our Tauck Cruise Summed Up…
In just a couple of words… understated elegance!
The staff on-board the MS Grace were fantastic from the moment we arrived. Everyday we disembarked with a bottle of water in hand and were escorted by two of the Tauck tour guides, and on return to the ship we were welcomed with a hot towel and either a cake or chocolate. The food is outstanding in the Compass Rose dining room or for a more casual alternative Arthur's bistro. Canapés are served during the daily cocktail hour, the chef discusses her daily menu and why it's specific to the region and the sommelier advises which wines he has chosen for the menu and the reasons why. The cruise director on-board, Michael, is extremely knowledgeable and always on hand to assist all guests whatever their needs.
All of your needs are catered for on a Tauck River Cruise - If you are looking for a slow paced holiday with the option to visit some fantastic towns and cities, or to simply sit back, relax and watch the world go by in comfortable surroundings… with delicious food and fantastic wines… then a Tauck River Cruise is definitely the place to start!
If you need any advice on cabin types or itineraries, or simply a chat about our Tauck experience please just give us a call.
We hope you enjoy your Tauck River cruise as much as we did!
Heather Ascroft & Carol Limacher