Hiking in Austria – the wild Leutasch Gorge and picturesque Mittenwald

November 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Austria, Europe, featured, Germany, Leisure, Walking

Our walking holiday in Austria with Headwater Holidays had taken us along the picturesque Gaistal Valley, up to the high peak of Seefelder Spitz and we’d enjoyed the traditional Rifleman’s parade at Seefeld. On our final day of hiking in Austria, my friend Julia and I found that the best was yet to come, as we explored the wild, rocky landscapes of the Leutasch Gorge and the picturesque painted houses of Mittenwald, before a final lakeside walk through glorious mountain scenery.

Hiking in the Leutasch Gorge Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

From our hotel we took a 10 minute taxi ride down the valley to the entrance of the Leutasch Gorge which spans the border between Austria and Germany. On reading the information signs it was clear that we were entering a mysterious watery realm, owned by the fairies and goblins that live in the gorge, where the water swirls in a fast moving torrent between high rocky cliffs.

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays

Along the wooded path we took the turning that leads into the gorge itself, along metal walkways from which we could see the water foaming in pools of milky-green below us. The metal walkways, a complex feat of engineering completed in 2005, followed one side of the gorge until we crossed a bridge to the other side.

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays

Dizzyingly far below us, the rushing water made a ribbon of green, while above us the pine trees shot tall towards the sky from the grey rocky side of the gorge. We walked in dappled sunshine, stopping every now and then to read the information boards with stories of mountain fairies and the dramatic names of this watery world, such as Hell’s Bridge and the Devil’s Cauldron.

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays

At the end of our walk through the main gorge, the path descended to a cafe and kiosk where we found the entrance to a smaller gorge. While the main gorge walk had been free, we now paid €3 to enter the gorge, in order the see the rushing waterfall at the end, which was well worth the additional cost. This time the gorge was narrow and the air refreshingly cool, as we zig-zagged along the walkway just above the green-blue water.

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays

After 10 minutes we reached the waterfall at the end of the gorge, a deafening torrent of water that created spray all around us. Although the day had been warm, I was pleased to have my waterproof jacket to stay dry and found a small alcove to the side of the viewing platform to unpack my camera for a quick photo.

The waterfall of the Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The waterfall of the Leutasch Gorge in Austria with Headwater Holidays

Retracing our steps along the walkway through the gorge, Julia and I stopped to eat our picnic lunch by a flower filled meadow, then followed the river past pretty Alpine houses to reach the town Mittenwald on the German side of the border.

Walking to Mittenwald from the Leutasch Gorge Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking to Mittenwald from the Leutasch Gorge

As we entered the centre of Mittenwald we noticed the painted houses for which the town is well known. The murals often have a religious story or meaning behind them and the local tourist office runs guided tours where you can discover more about them.

Mittenwald in Germany with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mittenwald in Germany with Headwater Holidays

We walked along the main pedestrianised street, past many attractive pavement cafes, to the painted church tower of St. Peter and Paul at the end. We found a shady cafe to have a beer and then inquired at the tourist office about the bus up to the lakes of Lautersee and Ferchensee above Mittenwald.

The painted houses of Mittenwald in Germany with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The painted houses of Mittenwald in Germany with Headwater Holidays

Other hotel guests had recommended these lakes and since I’d hurt my ankle in a fall on the first day, we were looking for a gentle walk rather than the arduous Frenchman’s Climb described in the Headwater Holidays walking notes. Enquiring at the tourist office we were directed to the train station where we found the number 1 bus to take us up to the two lakes, from where we could walk back down into Mittenwald.

The painted houses of Mittenwald in Germany with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The painted houses of Mittenwald in Germany with Headwater Holidays

The bus dropped us off at the furthest lake of Ferchensee, at a convenient cafe with cheerful yellow sun umbrellas, where we couldn’t resist stopping for an apple strudel and a creamy iced coffee. Our table on the lakeside terrrace was perfectly placed to watch the trout and larger perch swimming around the jetty, in a scene that was pure Austrian holiday brochure

Lake Ferchensee above Mittenwald in Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lake Ferchensee above Mittenwald in Germany

As the afternoon wore on and the sun cast its golden glow across the lake, it was tempting to just sit and enjoy the idyllic mountain scenery. Reluctantly we continued on the lake side path, knowing that if we delayed too long we’d miss the last bus from Mittenwald back to our hotel.

Lake Ferchensee above Mittenwald in Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lake Ferchensee above Mittenwald in Germany

We reached the grassy swimming place where Julia decided to go for a swim and I waited on a bench while she gently breaststroked up and down serenely like a swan. At the end of the lake, the path took us through forest past a pretty little shrine and in another 15 minutes we reached the second lake of Lautersee. Not daring to stop too long we continued as the track took us now steeply down to Mittenwald past several cascades and waterfalls which streamed down the mountain.

Chapel by Lake Ferchensee above Mittenwald in Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Chapel by Lake Ferchensee above Mittenwald in Germany

By half past six we were down at Mittenwald again, with the evening sun lighting up the grey crag above us. Returning to the bus station we found the bus that would drop us back at our hotel in Leutasch after a day of enjoying the landscapes of Austria and Southern Germany.

It was a fabulous finale to our four days of walking with Headwater Holidays. I hope you’ll also enjoy reading about the other walks from this trip;

Day 1 – A high mountain walk (and a tumble) in the Gaistal Valley of Austria in which we set out from our hotel hoping to sample the local food served in the mountain huts of the valley but changed our plans when I took a tumble and had to hobble down the mountain.

Day 2 – Hiking in Austria – the views from the cross at Seefelder Spitze in which we took the cable car from Seefeld up the ridge of Seefelder Spitze for 360 degree views over Seefeld and the surrounding valleys.

Day 3 – Hiking in Austria – a Rifleman’s Parade and Mental Power Walk at Seefeld in which we joined a traditional parade with local regiments in colourful uniforms, then walked back to our hotel along a forest walking trail with relaxation stations on the theme of mental wellbeing.

Want to go walking in Austria’s Leutasch Valley?

Heather’s walking holiday in Austria’s Leutasch Valley was provided by Headwater Holidays – find out more about this holiday here. This 7 night walking holiday is based in Kirchplaztl at the 4 star Hotel Xander with over 450km of walking trails accessible direct from the hotel or via local bus, taxi and lifts. The holiday includes a full programme of self-guided day walks of 1 boot or 2 boot levels, depending on whether you prefer the gentle valley walks or the more challenging high altitude trails which are sometimes accessed via chair lifts and cable cars. The holiday includes detailed walking guides and maps, breakfast and dinner at the hotel, a packed lunch on walking days and flights/ transfers via Innsbruck. Prices from £669 per person.

Headwater Holidays are a leading UK specialist in self-guided walking, cycling and relaxed activity holidays that allow you to travel at your own pace and get closer to the places you visit. For more information check their Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Youtube | Pinterest | Instagram

More things to do in the Tirol region of Austria

For more information on things to do in the Tirol region of Austria visit the Tirol tourism website and follow their social media channels: Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest. More information about things to do in Austria on the Visit Austria Website and information on the Seefeld Region on the Seefeld Olympia Region Website.

How to get to Leutasch Valley, Austria

Heather flew from Bristol to Munich with BMI Regional who fly 12 times each week on this route, so you often have a choice of 2 flights per day. The ticket includes 20kg checked baggage and full at-seat in-flight bar and snack service at no extra charge.

Transfers from Innsbruck airport are less than 1 hour’s drive to Leutach and included in your Headwater Holidays package. If, like us you fly into Munich Airport, the transfer to Leutasch Valley takes around 2 hours and can be arranged through your hotel or holiday provider.

Hotel Xander in Leutasch, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Xander in Leutasch, Austria

Stay at Sporthotel Xander in Leutasch

Heather stayed at Sporthotel Xander in Leutasch as part of the walking holiday booked through Headwater Holidays. The hotel is a very comfortable 4 star hotel offering rooms, suites and apartments that are ideal for summer walkers or winter cross-country skiers. The other guests when we stayed at the end of August were mainly couples and a few families enjoying a late summer walking break. The hotel is used by several walking companies including Headwater Holidays.

Hotel Xander in Leutasch, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Xander in Leutasch, Austria

We stayed on a full board basis, with breakfast, packed lunch and evening meal and found the food to be of a very high standard with a 4 course meal every night and a 5 course gala meal on one of the nights we were there. The hotel has an indoor pool and spa although we did not use them since we were out all day walking and making the most of the fine weather. The hamlet of Kirchplatzl where the hotel is situated is mainly residential and the nearest shops are a 15 minute walk away in Weidach. The bus to Seefeld which runs several times a day stops right by the hotel.

We think Hotel Xander is a comfortable, traditional hotel that will suit keen walkers who want a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. If you are looking for a lively atmosphere, shopping or evening entertainment then Seefeld would be a good alternative base. Check prices and book your stay here.

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Read about hiking in the Leutasch Gorge and Mittenwald with Headwater Holidays

Thanks to Headwater Holidays who hosted Heather’s walking holiday and to BMI regional who provided Heather’s flight to Munich.

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Six of the best coffees around the world

Are you a coffee lover like me? It’s the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans that hits your nose first and then you take a sip of hot, sweet coffee. Ahhh, the day starts to feel better already. But perhaps for you it’s a tiny cup of strong, black expresso, ending the meal perfectly like a full stop at the end of a sentence. Or a frothy cappuccino to eat with a sweet pastry for breakfast like they do in Spain.

6 of the best coffees around the world

However you like it, a great cup of coffee is full of ritual as you watch a skilled barista operate those shiny machines that woosh and hiss, or the buzzy atmosphere of your favourite coffee shop where you meet your friends for a late morning weekend brunch or an afternoon coffee and cake.

Now I’m dreaming about all the coffees I’ve enjoyed on my travels, each coffee experience giving me a doorway into the culture of the place I visited. For more coffee inspiration, take a look at this Coffee infographic that will take you around the world in 31 coffees, but in the meantime let me share with you some of my favourite coffees around the world.

1. Copenhagen – the best coffee in the world?

If ever there was a place where they know how to elevate coffee to an art form it is Copenhagen and Coffee Collective sits among the best of the best.

Coffee Collective in Copenhagen Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Coffee Collective in Copenhagen

I visited their original coffee shop in Nørrebro a few years ago, a tiny place with just a few wooden tables outside and a stool inside to perch while your coffee is being expertly made. Their coffee beans are sold all around Copenhagen and they operate on a Direct Trade model, working with farmers in Brazil, Guatamala, Kenya and Panama to pay the best prices for the best quality coffee. If you visit this place you’ll probably be buying your coffee to take away (perhaps picking up a pastry from the Claus Meyer bakery across the road) but if you want to sit and enjoy your coffee in a foodie atmosphere, head for their stand in the Torvehallerne food market halls.

Coffee Cooperative in Copenhagen Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Coffee Cooperative in Copenhagen

Torvehallerne is one of my favourite places in Copenhagen, where you can get a fabulous but reasonably priced lunch or sip your coffee with a cake just like your Danish grandmother might have baked. The third branch of Coffee Collective is in Frederiksberg, where the beans are roasted and they do monthly tours and coffee tastings where you can learn how to make a perfect coffee. Definitely a place of pilgrimage for the coffee connoisseur.

Read More: Eat the Neighbourhood in Norrebro, Copenhagen

2. Coffee time is Fika time in Sweden

If you’ve visited Sweden I’m sure you’ll have come across the tradition of ‘fika’, or having a coffee break with friends. This is the occasion to settle down in a cosy cafe where the counters are laden with buns and pastries to relax over a good cup of coffee and a chat. When I visited Gothenburg I discovered that the picturesque old neighbourhood of Haga was the perfect fika spot, since its cobbled streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and artizan shops.

Buns at Cafe Kringlan in Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Buns at Cafe Kringlan in Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden

Cafe Husaren on the corner of the main street of Hada Nygatan is reputed to be the original source of the enormous cinamon buns which are a speciality of Gothenburg, although we squeezed into the pretty, traditional Cafe Kringlan with the gold bagel hanging outside. The local’s choice for fika in Gothenburg seems to be Da Matteo and they have several shops including the largest in Magasingaten where they bake the bread and pastries on the premises, so you get the aroma of freshly baked bread thrown in with your coffee.

Read More: Favourite coffee spots in Gothenburg for your coffee fix

3. Salzburg – for coffee and cakes

Perhaps you’ve gathered by now that I have something of a sweet tooth, so heaven for me is a great cup of coffee served in the afternoon with a slice of the local cake. Of course Austria makes a speciality of this Kaffee und Kuchen ritual and where better than Salzburg, the glorious homeland of Mozart and the Sound of Music to enjoy it?

Steinterrasse in Salzburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Steinterrasse in Salzburg

When it comes to cake to accompany your afternoon coffee, you’ll likely be wavering between the Apfelstrudel (soft bites of apple wrapped in crisp layers of pastry) and the Sacher Torte (rich, dense chocolate cake laced with apricot jam). The traditional choice would probably be to head for Hotel Sacher which overlooks the river but we enjoyed our kaffee und kuchen on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Stein with a fabulous view of the fortress, which is highly recommended in good weather. 

Read more: Bratwurst and Sacher Torte – or what we ate in Salzburg

4. A chilled frappe on the beach in Greece

Coffee can be a cool drink in more ways than one, as I discovered on my annual trips to Greece to visit my sister who lives on the Greek Island of Zakynthos. Traditionally the Greeks drink their coffee like the Turks, strong and sweet in a tiny cup together with those ultra-sweet pastries that drip with syrup. This is what you’d serve to friends who come visiting in the afternoon.

Frappuccino on Ionian beach, Zakynthos, Greece Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Frappuccino on Ionian beach, Zakynthos, Greece

But the trendy thing to drink in summer is a chilled Frappé – where an expresso is poured over ice with creamy milk to make a coffee that’s sipped through a straw from a long glass. When you’re lying on your sunbed or sitting in a trendy Greek beach bar, be sure to order a “Freddo” coffee, which comes in different Italian styles such as a Freddo cappuccino, Freddo Expresso or a Freddoccino (iced mocha coffee with chocolate). 

Read More: Sunday morning Greek coffee and Glika in Zakynthos

5. Ruddesheimer coffee in Germany – coffee with a creamy kick

If you fancy your coffee with something a little stronger, we found the perfect alternative coffee on our Rhine River Cruise stop at the pretty town of Rudesheim. Wandering down the cobbled street of the Drosselgasse with its wine shops and taverns we stopped at Rudesheimer Schloss to try the local speciality of Rudesheimer coffee.

Rudesheimer coffee Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rudesheimer coffee

This coffee spiked with brandy is the German equivalent of Irish Coffee and started in the 1920s when the Alspach brandy company invented a brandy chocolate so that ladies could enjoy a secret tipple, at a time when it was considered unseemly for women to drink in public. One good thing lead to another and in the 1950s the Rudesheimer coffee was born, a warming mixture of sweet coffee with a good helping of Asbach brandy, topped with sweet, whipped vanilla cream and sprinkled with grated chocolate. These days the Rudesheimer coffee is served in all the local coffee shops and you can bring back small bottles of the Alspach brandy if you want to try it at home.

Read More: How to make a Rudesheimer coffee – video

6. A hot chocolate alternative to coffee in Gothenburg

If you’re not a coffee drinker, you’ll be pleased to know that in Gothenburg we found an excellent alternative at Cafe Kanold that specialises in velvety hot chocolate. Staying cosy from the chilly wind and weather, we sat on the cushioned banquette with pretty floral cushions and enjoyed a warming hot chocolate – served with chili flakes on top for an extra kick.

Cafe Kanold in Gothenburg, Sweden Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Kanold in Gothenburg, Sweden

While there is also a counter of hand-made Kanold chocolates in the cafe, you’ll want to visit the main Kanold chocolate shop close by on Södra Larmgatan at the end of Viktoriapassagen. It’s a cross between an old fashioned candy store and a boutique chocolatier where you can buy the Kanold speciality, a soft chocolate truffle centre topped with sea salt, which has now become known as the “Gothenburg Truffle”. Of course if you insist of coffee at Cafe Kanold, I’m sure they serve that too!

Read More: Chocolate with sea salt – a taste of West Sweden

Check out this Coffee Infographic

If you want to fuel your coffee fascination even more, take a look at this Coffee infographic from  Cheapflights that will take you around the world in 31 coffees. Here are a few cool coffee facts that I discovered;

  • In Italy you only drink milky coffee in the morning and NEVER after a meal – the cappuccino in the afternoon is only for tourists!
  • Breakfast in Spain normally consists of a cup of coffee with a sweet pastry or churros
  • In Senegal coffee is served with cloves and guinea pepper
  • In 2001 Brazil issued a coffee scented postage stamp
  • Seatle has 10 times more coffee store per head than the rest of the USA
Around the world in 31 Coffees Photo: Cheapflights.com

Around the world in 31 Coffees – infographic from Cheapflights

Now, please excuse me as I’m off to find the perfect coffee to have with my weekend brunch in Bristol

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6 of the best coffees around the world

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

This article is written in association with Cheapflights

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Podcast 28 – My Rhine River Cruise – a week of history, wine and music

In this Travel Podcast Episode 28, you’ll hear about the Rhine River cruise that I took in May with my husband Guy with Lüftner Cruises.  I talk about the pretty riverside towns we visited on our cruise from Basel to Cologne, about the food, the wine and above all the history of this fascinating river. You’ll find out what the experience of cruising down the Rhine is like, so you can decide whether you might enjoy this style of travel, where you can see four countries in a week and but sleep in comfort and only unpack once.


Link to audio file

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If you enjoyed this podcast, check out all my other Travel Podcasts in my Podcast Archive

The Amadeus Princess at Cochem with Lueftner Crusies Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Amadeus Princess at Cochem with Lueftner Crusies

Day 1 – Basel

We flew to Basel from London to meet our river cruise ship, and were very much looking forward to our first cruise. There was a time a few years ago when I thought of cruising as something that my parents would do, but as I’ve got older the idea of only unpacking once, being very comfortable and yet seeing lots of interesting places in Europe has started to appeal.

On finding the ship, we left our bags on board as it was too early to check in, and made the short walk back to the centre, to have a look around Basel. As it was a public holiday we found the town very quiet and it was a shame that the shops and confectioners were shut as I saw plenty to tempt me in the windows. In the main square was the medieval town hall with a red painted facade and clock and we had a look in the courtyard that was full of classical frescoes on the themes of Law and  Justice.

We walked up the hill through the alleyways into the old quarter around the Cathedral square where we had a coffee and slice of cake in the cafe beside the Museum der Kulturen. From the adjoining courtyard we could see the amazing sculptural roof with hanging gardens dangling down, which made an interesting architectural contrast to the older half timbered buildings surrounding it. We walked on to the Cathedral and looked around the cloisters where the bare, open stonework was softened by an attractive wild flower garden in the centre. As it was nearly time to check in on board, we walked back along the river bank, passing swimming platforms with changing rooms beside the river, where it is popular to swim in the Rhine in summer.

Back at the Amadeus Princess, we checked in to our cabin, which was compact but with plenty of good storage space and floor to ceiling windows which could slide right back to create the effect of our own balcony. We had a safety briefing with information about the ship and itinerary and then got ready for the Captain’s welcome reception, with a champagne cocktail before dinner in the Panorama Restaurant. Read more about our day in Basel

Kultur Museum and Town hall in Basel, Switzerland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: Museum der Kulturen and Right: Town hall in Basel, Switzerland

Day 2 – Strasbourg

The boat travelled overnight from Basel to Strasbourg and our morning started with a guided tour of the city, where the coach toured around some of the different neighbourhoods with a commentary from the guide. Strasbourg is on the border of France and Germany, and while it is now part of France, over the centuries it has changed hands from French to German and back again. This is one of the reasons that the people of Strasbourg are so pro-peace and why the European Parliament and European Court of Human Rights are situated here, while the Conseil de l’Europe enables member countries to work out their differences through discussion, to maintain peace in Europe. We passed a statue in one of the squares called “Mother Alsace”, of a mother mourning over her two dead sons killed in action, commemorating the times in the past when Strasbourg was changing hands from France to Germany and members of one family might be fighting in different armies on opposing sides; father against son or brother against brother.

In the historic centre we saw the pretty square with half timbered houses around the Cathedral which was very beautiful with stained glass windows that had recently been cleaned and a colourful organ halfway up in the roof. Our tour included a boat tour through the area called Petite France along the canals and rivers that encircle the city centre. There was an audio commentary that you could set to whatever language you liked, with plenty of interesting annecdotes about all the old buildings and places that we passed. After the boat tour the coach took us back to the ship where we enjoyed our 3 course lunch.

The Cathedral Square in Strasbourg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Cathedral Square in Strasbourg

Day 2 – The Alsace Wine Route

Not far from the Rhine are the Vosges Mountains which run parallel to the river from north to south. In the foothills of these mountains are all the vineyards where the Alsace wine is produced, with a route that runs through the small villages and towns known as the Alsace Wine Route. We took a tour of Domaine Hering, a family run property in the village of Barr where we had a walk through their cellars to see the large stainless steel wine vats and the old oak barrels where the wine are aged. In their wine tasting room, overlooking the garden, we enjoyed a wine tasting of Pinot Gris, the dry Reisling and Guwurstraminer which is fruity and floral, tasting them side by side to compare flavours. On the return journey after the wine tasting we stopped at the small town of Obernai which is a pretty town on the wine route that grew wealthy on the wine trade. Read Guy’s account of our wine tasting on the Alsace Wine Route

Wine tasting on the Alsace Wine Route Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Wine tasting on the Alsace Wine Route

Day 3 – Speyer

Overnight the Amadeus Princess had moved on to Speyer and we woke up with a perfect view of the beer garden. The town was just a five minute walk from the river and after breakfast we set off for a walking tour with our guide. Our first stop was the medieval Jewish Baths or Mikveh that were in use up to the 16th century, but were covered over with rubble when the town was destroyed and only restored in the 1960s. We walked down the stone steps into the baths which were used for ritual purification, and combined water from heaven with water from the earth, being open to the sky to allow the rainwater in.

Next stop on the tour was the Lutheran church of the Holy Trinity, with a beautiful painted ceiling, gilded altar and decorative carved angels. We were told it was unusual for a Lutheran church to be so richly decorated and we could see why it was a popular spot for weddings (there was an organist practicing the wedding music that you can hear in the podcast).

Our final visit was to the huge cathedral, with stark sandstone pillars and a crypt housing the stone coffins of the kings and emperors of Germany from the 12th century. The coffins were housed in niches in the walls and I wondered how they had managed to slide them in as they must have weighed several tons. In front of the cathedral was a large stone bowl three metres across and whenever there is a new bishop of Speyer, the tradition is that he has to fill the bowl with wine for the people of Speyer. Read more about our tour of Speyer

The Romanesque Cathedral in Speyer, Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Romanesque Cathedral in Speyer, Germany

Day 3 – Heidelberg

During lunch, the ship travelled on to Mannheim, but for our afternoon excursion, we took the excursion arranged by Lüftner Cruises to the picturesque town of Heidelberg, which is well known for its old university and medical school. Heidelberg was one of the few German towns not to be bombed by the Allies during the Second World War and the story goes that General Linden had enjoyed a popular operetta of the 20s and 30s called The Student Prince that was set in Heidelberg, and was so taken by the romantic aspect of the city, that he made sure that it was not bombed.  Just as well, as after the war the Americans made Heidelberg their headquarters in Europe.

The coach took us first up to see the castle on the hill that gives the town its romantic aspect and although the castle is ruined, there were many beautiful courtyards, terraces and carved stone facades with statues and pillars. We went down into the cellar that housed some enormous wine casks, one so big that you could only reach the top by climbing up a staircase. After an hour looking around the castle, we drove down to the lower part of the town, which was pedestrianised with plenty of pleasant squares, cafes and beer gardens. On the way we passed several imposing old houses with flags flying which the guide explained are owned by different student fraternities. These are like members only clubs where the male students gather to drink plenty of beer and sometimes (if it is a fighting fraternity) practice their sword fighting in private.

We walked along the River Neckar where a university regatta was taking place and onto the arched stone bridge where you could see marks where the river had risen to in times of flood over the centuries. We also enjoyed the shop selling nothing but Christmas decorations and cuckoo clocks where we brought a small wooden Christmas decoration to take home as a souvenir.

Heidelberg, Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: The Bridge Right: View from the castle in Heidelberg, Germany

Day 4 – Rudesheim

Overnight, the ship travelled to Rudesheim, and that morning a small tourist train took us from the ship to the Rudesheim Music Museum, an old manor house with a collection of mechanical musical instruments with everything from a fairground organ to a tiny music box. The museum can only be visited during one of their guided tours and the museum guide took us from room to room, explaining about each mechanical instrument and then setting one playing. Watch the video of the musical instruments at the Music Museum

Before we knew it, we were all humming and singing along to nostalgic tunes like “It’s a small world” and “Que Sera Sera”. In one room was a mechanical piano and it was if some ghostly invisible pianist was playing to us, while in another the guide passed around with a charming music box with a tiny tweeting bird. I noticed that the reproduction of the music box in solid silver was on sale in the gift shop for a mere €2000, so any thoughts I had of taking that home were shattered.

Finally we walked down the narrow street of the Drosselgasse which was lined with inns and wine shops where you could try and buy different local wines. In a very pleasant tavern we tried the local speciality, a Rudesheim coffee, made of flamed Asbach brandy topped with hot coffee and whipped cream, with a sprinkling of chocolate. It was both delicious and warming and put us in excellent spirits as we walked back to the Amadeus Princess, in time for the sailing at midday. Watch the video of how to make a Rudesheimer coffee

Music Museum and Rudesheim coffee at Rudesheim Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: The Music museum Right: Rudesheim coffee in Rudesheim, Germany

Day 4 – The Middle Rhine

Up to that point the landscape of the Rhine had been quite flat, but now we were moving through a part of the Rhine known for its romantic beauty, with vineyards and castles set high on rocky cliffs above the river. These castles were built in the Middle Ages by local princes who wanted to dominate the river and grew rich from the taxes on the trade along the river. Over the centuries, the castles fell into ruins, but many were rebuilt in the 18th century in romantic style with turrets and gothic arched windows. Over two hours we sailed through the Middle Rhine valley, passing a high cliff called the Loreley where the Rhine narrows to a small channel where many ships have got into difficulty. There is a story of a beautiful mermaid who sits on the rock, combing her hair, and distracting the sailors onto the rocks – somehow it’s always the woman’s fault!

Cruising through the Middle Rhine Valley Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cruising through the Middle Rhine Valley

 Day 4 – Koblenz

In the afternoon we reached Koblenz at the confluence of the Rivers Mosel and Rhine and walked along the quay where the flags of the German states were flying. Most of the town was destroyed during World War Two by Allied bombing and the bridges that used to be along this stretch of the river were also destroyed at the end of the war by the retreating Germans.

We walked past the Museum of Modern art with some interesting sculptures in the couryard and through the beautiful gardens beside the church filled with colourful spring flowers. The symbol of Koblenz is a fountain of a spitting boy with a jet  of water which spurts out of his mouth every few minutes to soak the unwary who might be standing in front of it. Our tour ended at 6pm under the town hall clock where there was a face that rolled its eyes and then stuck its tongue out 6 times in time to the chimes of the bell. Back on the ship we enjoyed another delicious dinner, this time with a pirate theme with all the staff dressed up as pirates with stripy shirts and bandanas. Read more about our tour of Koblenz

Koblenz in Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: The Quayside at Koblenz Right: The Amadeus Princess

My chat with Nancy, one of the other cruise guests

I recorded a chat with Nancy, an American guest from Texas who was enjoying the cruise with her husband. She had experienced a couple of other cruises with Lüftner Cruises; the Tulip Time Cruise in April from Amsterdam to see the bulb fields and gardens of the Netherlands as well as interesting historical tours in Belgium and Ghent; and the Christmas Markets cruise from Vienna which Nancy found was perfect to put you in the Christmas mood. Although Nancy and her husband had travelled widely in Europe on land based tours, she found that the cruise enabled you to see a lot in a short space of time and had the advantage of providing a comfortable base so you didn’t have to frequently pack and unpack when moving hotels every few nights. Read more about life on the Amadeus Princess Cruise ship with video

Nancy enjoys walking and found the walking pace on the European cruises to be relatively easy, with tours that were planned to take into consideration that “we’re not all mountain climbers”. She chose the Rhine cruise because most of the places visited on this trip were new to her and she had especially enjoyed Basel, Ruddesheim and the beautifully preserved castle at Cochem. Nancy told me how she loves to shoot videos when on the tours which she reviews when she gets home. She started this habit because she loved the sound of the church bells in Europe and wanted to capture the sounds to take home with her. On this type of cruise she found that when you see so much, in such a short space of time, it was difficult to take everything in, so the video enabled her to capture as much as possible from the trip and made history come alive for her.

Cochem in Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: Castle at Cochem Right: Cycling along the river Mosel at Cochem

Day 5 – Cochem

From Cochem, the Amadeus Princess took us on a detour away from the Rhine on the Mosel river to Cochem. Our morning tour with Lüftner Cruises took us up to the castle on the hill which was built in the Middle Ages but had fallen into ruins until it was restored in the 19th century, when it was fashionable for wealthy businessmen to buy these castles and rebuild them in romantic style. In the 1860s the castle was bought by a wealthy German industrialist, Jacob Louis Ravanez who spent a small fortune renovating and redecorating it. Ravanez used the castle as a summer residence for his family, adding all the modern conveniences of electricity and running water. We found the castle surprisingly intimite inside, decorated with hunting trophies with walls richly painted in neo-gothic style and fabulous views from the balconies over the river valley and town.

Further down the hill we walked down some of the stone staircases that wind through the old town. The town centre is pedestrianised through most of the day with plenty of pleasant cafes beside the river to relax. The guide pointed out some of the shops and businesses by the river which are set up to be cleared quickly if the river floods. They monitor the water level upstream at the town of Trier and if it reaches a certain point they know they will be flooded in the next twelve hours. This gives them the opportunity to remove all the goods from the shops and once the water recedes they can clean up and get back to business.

We stopped at one of the wine shops for a wine tasting of the local Mosel wines. The best wines are grown on the south facing slopes with a layer of slate chippings covering the soil under the vines, which absorbes the heat of the sun during the day and then radiates it out at night to help ripen the grapes. The Riesling grape thrives in this area in damp, humid conditions and tends to be harvested quite late in September or October as it needs a long growing season. We also tried a peach liqueur made from a special variety with thick skin and red flesh that grows in the vineyards. The fruit is used in deserts but also to make the delicious aperitif when the peach liqueur is mixed with sparkling Mosel wine.

As there were no excursions planned for the afternoon, so we borrowed bikes which are provided by Lüftner Cruises for guests to use and cycled along the towpath with views of the town and the castle. Later after dinner we enjoyed a cruise cabaret with different sketches and entertainments that the staff laid on for the guests. In the evening the ship sailed back to Koblenz and then overnight to Cologne, where we would be disembarking.

Cologne in Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: Chocolate Museum in Cologne Right: Cologne Cathedral

Day 6 – Cologne

We spent the final day of our trip in Cologne where we had to leave the cruise due to work committments, although the cruise would continue to Amsterdam. We left our cases in the automatic lockers at the train station and had a look at Cologne Cathedral, one of the major landmarks of the city, as it remained standing while the rest of the city was flattened by bombing. We found beautiful side chapels and religious artworks, but was I surprised that we couldn’t find an audio-guide, only a small leaflet the explain about the things to see in the Cathedral. We missed having the wonderful guides that we had experienced on our other cruise excursions and realised how much we had learned from their stories and annecdotes.

For lunch we found ourself in a square called Heumarkt and settled on a restaurant called XII Apostles which had an attractive painted ceiling, although we later realised that the food was Italian rather than German. After lunch we decided to spend our last couple of hours at the Chocolate Museum by the Rhine and even if we didn’t know the way, we could probably have guessed by the number of teenagers heading in that direction. The rooms on the ground floor told the story of how cacao is grown around the world and there was a mini-rainforest glasshouse to walk through.

Upstairs there were machines behind glass like a glimpse into a chocolate factory, where you could follow the process and see the chocolate being melted, then made into squares and finally wrapped. There was also an enormous chocolate fountain where you could have a taste of chocolate on a wafer and we ended our visit in the cafe overlooking the Rhine with a cup of hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake. The fantastic gift shop had every type and flavour of chocolate so it was the ideal place to pick up some souvenirs for our kids as we were heading for home. As we walked out we saw some cycle taxis and decided to treat ourselves to a ride along the river and back to the station where we picked up our bags and took the very efficient train service to the airport.

Our Rhine River cruise with Lüftner Cruises was very enjoyable and if you love history, are interested in food and wine and want to see a lot of different things on your holiday, but do so in comfort, then this kind of cruise will be ideal for you. We found it a great combination of stimulation with the fascinating history of the river and the region, and relaxation of having a floating hotel to return to each day which made the experience very stress-free. I will definitely be looking at what other river cruises in Europe I might enjoy in the future.

About Lüftner Cruises

Lueftner2My thanks to Lüftner Cruises who hosted our Rhine River Cruise – Lüftner Cruises specialise in European river cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhône and other destinations in Europe, with personal service and Austrian hospitality. You can also follow them on their Facebook Page. We travelled on the Amadeus Princess on a 7 day Classical Rhine Cruise which travelled from Basel to Amsterdam, although we disembarked at Cologne.

Music on the Podcast

Opening Music – Venus as a girl my Andy McGee on Musicalley.com
Piano Music – played on board by one of the guests
Organ Music – the organist in the Lutheran Church of the Trinity at Speyer was practicing for a wedding
Drinking song from Heidelberg that our guide played us on the coach
Mechanical instrument  playing “It’s a small world” at the Rudesheim Music Museum
Que Sera Sera Gramophone played at the Ruddesheim Music Museum
Music Museum – mechanical piano playing at Rudesheim Music Museum
Music box in the Rudesheim music museum
Piano music – played on board by one of the guests

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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