Seeking inspiration aboard MS Inspire
Let’s get it out of the way – I’m a Tauck convert. There are few travel experiences that provide such an enriching way to explore Europe, something I feel qualified to say with over 30 years’ experience in the industry and plenty of river cruises under my belt.. Imagine waking each morning to views of hilltop castles and colourful villages – the best river stretches are saved for daytime sailing – and stopping at some of the Continent’s most fascinating cities and towns. And, it’s here that Tauck distinguishes itself from the crowd. Four tour directors, yes four, ensure every excursion and step is utterly seamless as local guides help them bring each destination to life. Expect VIP access to sights and lively commentary provided by personal VOX headsets, meaning you won’t have to strain to listen.
The MS Inspire
Our ship, the MS Inspire, was equally considered. All ultra-modern design and muted colours, it features the most space per guest of any vessel to sail Europe’s rivers – big is definitely beautiful. I was particularly impressed with my cabin, a Category 6. Sliding doors open onto a French balcony and the bed is angled to face the river, making the most of those floor-to-ceiling views. However, I was impressed with each cabin, with almost all host to a French balcony. What’s more, the suites on the lower deck make the most of the scenery with an innovative split-level ‘loft’ layout. Outside the rooms, the Inspire makes the most of the views with a full-length sun deck, complete with hot tub and even a putting green. To stay active, there’s a fitness room and bicycles available to explore the riverbanks, while a spa and massage room are on hand to soothe any sightseeing aches. In turn, the two dining venues – Arthur’s and the Compass Rose – are superb. Both lived up to my rather exacting (read: high) standards, with beef fillet Rossini and lobster thermidor among the highlights. I was especially fond of Arthur’s; named for the founder of the Tauck family business, it’s a more intimate venue, featuring a 180° opening glass wall. But, wherever you are on the ship, snacks and free-flowing wine, beer and cocktails are available on demand, 24 hours a day. It’s all-inclusive at its all-time best.
Our itinerary started in Basel, a scenic riverside city with a great collection of museums and a delightful old town where cobbled streets are lined with half-timber buildings. We were then welcomed into Lucerne by its shimmering lake and its ring of meadows and forests. After wandering the town’s narrow lanes, peaceful squares and covered wooden footbridges we had a choice between summiting Mt. Pilatus aboard the world’s steepest cogwheel train or heading out on the Alsace Wine Route. I opted for the former and was treated to some fantastic views, but others were equally impressed with the tasting lunch menu. It was served at a 13th-century chateau built on a rocky promontory above the Alsatian plains.
We then continued through the French countryside, waking up among the vineyard-chequered hills of southern Alsace. The day began with a guided visit to Strasbourg, taking in its pretty canals, stately city residences and Gothic cathedral. Our next stop was Baden-Baden’s Art Nouveau villas and grand, colonnaded buildings – the perfect backdrop to some beer-garden relaxation. We also sampled some schwarzwälderkirschtorte; a delectable mouthful in more ways than one, it’s black forest gateau to the uninitiated. We ended the day being pampered at the Caracalla Spa – bliss!
The black forest gateau...
Journeying north, I chose to visit Speyer’s Technik Museum over Heidelberg’s grand castle. It was a difficult decision but the museum’s vintage cars, 747 and space shuttle made for a very enjoyable experience, not least for the biergarten visit. In turn, day five saw us arrive into Koblenz, where the Rhine and Moselle meet. A crucial Middle Ages trade centre, its historic wealth is remembered by medieval churches and Baroque residences – something showcased on either a guided walk or bicycle tour. We then journeyed past vineyards and ancient walled towns to arrive at Schloss Ehreshoven, a 14th-century moated castle surrounded by picturesque gardens. As part of an exclusive Tauck evening – one of their ‘Uncommon Access’ experiences – we were treated to a cocktail reception and a grand dinner with orchestral accompaniment.
Our last stop in Germany was Cologne whose undisputed highlight was its Gothic cathedral. This UNESCO-listed treasure took 600 years to build, rendering its twin towers in stunningly intricate carvings. We then concluded in Amsterdam for a private cruise through its 17th-century canal network – surely the most evocative way to see the city. We also enjoyed a private visit to the famed Rijksmuseum and its stunning collection of Rembrandts. It was these little details that made our trip so memorable, all helped by the staff’s flawless service. To borrow a phrase, I’m sure that “no” wasn’t in their vocabulary! And, I should know, I’m now a fully fledged Tauck Certified Agent, joining less than 1% of the travel industry.