Christmas Markets on the Rhine on Tauck
We were collected from the airport and taken straight to the river ship, MS Grace moored in Cologne. Despite our early arrival at 10am we were immediately made to feel welcome and shown into the lounge at the front of the river ship where we had coffee and pastries to keep us going until lunch time. Within 30 minutes the receptionist came to tell us that our very spacious, double French balconied suite was available. Our luggage had preceded us so we quickly unpacked and then went to explore.
The river ship was beautifully decorated with Christmas trees, decorations and table arrangements but one tree was looking rather bare. This was explained on our first tour to the lovely market town of Archen. All guests were given 10 euros and asked to purchase a tree decoration which we would hang ourselves on the tree after dinner, at the end of the cruise we could then reclaim our decoration and take it home with us. A lovely original idea and typical of the Tauck surprises that we came to enjoy during our week.
Each evening we met in the Panorama Lounge for pre-dinner cocktails and canapes. During this time the Head Chef would explain her choices for that evening’s menu. She had decided to treat us to a different European Christmas speciality each evening, so during the course of the week we enjoyed boar, duck, goose, venison, beef and chicken all cooked to the traditional recipe of a region on the Rhine, all beautifully presented. Non meat options were always available. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style but there was always an egg chef at breakfast and a desert chef during lunch, cooking that day’s special desert to order. This included flambéed pancakes, chocolate coated bananas and other delicious delights.
At the evening reception we were also told about the following days excursions. Three coaches would take us to that day’s market town. During the week we visited Archen, Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Baden Baden, Strasbourg and Colmar. The cruise started in Cologne and finished in Basel and we had time to explore Cologne on our own as well as with the guide.
The local guides would meet us at each destination, give us a well informed tour of the area using the Voxbox system and then we would have plenty of time for the all important Christmas Market explorations. Each market had their own unique style and we quickly realised that a lovely souvenir and reminder for each market was to purchase the Gluewein which came in a different decorated mug for each market. We have quite a collection now!
During our visit to Rudesheim we were given a private tour of the fascinating Musikkabinnet which contained rooms full of a fascinating collection of music boxes. These were switched on and the music created was quite exceptional considering the age of these instruments.
This was followed by a visit to the Rudesheimer Schloss for a hot coffee made with the local Asbach brandy and a demonstration of cookie making all accompanied by a three piece oompah band. A lovely atmosphere and another of the Tauck surprises.
Our visit to Heidelberg gave us a ride by cable car to the Castle on the hill. This was followed by lunch in a typical German microbrewery with local traditional food which was quite delicious. All guests from the MS Grace were treated to a three course meal accompanied by the excellent German beer. The portions were generous and a very convivial atmosphere was enjoyed by all.
Baden Baden had probably the smallest Christmas market, but the highlight for us, another Tauck surprise, was a reception in the beautiful Casino named by Marelene Dietrich as ‘the most beautiful casino in the world’. We were entertained by a local school choir singing Christmas carols while we enjoyed Champagne and canapes. This was laid on just for Tauck guests and the choir received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Our final Tauck surprise of the week was on our visit to Riquewihr. A beautiful medieval town with a long central street full of little shops, cafes and local food delicatessens. On arrival each guest was give 20 euros and told to find their own place for lunch, spend as little or as much as you like, no receipt required. We took advice and found a very traditional restaurant where we were lucky to get a table in as within 15 minutes of opening it was completely full. The food was delicious!
Throughout the week with Tauck it was apparent that they really care that their guests are having the best time. The service provided was always with a smile and we enjoyed the opportunity to chat and find out about the staff and their home country. Our cabin steward from Bulgaria was an expert on English football clubs!
The food was always of a high standard and plentiful. The wine included with each meal and paired according to the food we were eating was of a very high quality.
The on-board Tauck Director and the three Tauck Cruise Directors were very friendly and always around to deal with any questions. They accompanied us on all our tours and provided a continuous liaison between the tour and the river ship when we were on excursions.
Overall we had a fantastic cruise on MS Grace. The destinations were so special at that time of the year, the decorated towns and villages really added to the Christmas experience. The river ship was very comfortable and the food and beverage selection excellent. There was an alternative breakfast and dinner venue at Arthurs found at the back of the river ship offering a casual feel with a more relaxed menu.
The guests provided a happy mix from the UK, USA, Asia and Australia, including two couples from Adelaide who were moving onto Switzerland in search of their very first snowy Christmas!
We returned home rested and ready for the family festivities to begin.