Moselle River cruise through Europe: A meander through a fairytale

Somewhere in the night, Scenic Pearl has sailed into another dimension and found itself in a fairytale. I went to sleep in Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers: an attractive town, but discernibly in the 21st century, with its cable car and riverine container ships and student-loud beer gardens. Next morning, however, I fling back the curtains of my cabin, buzz down my panoramic window, and blink at Cochem and another world. 

The great sluggish Rhine has contracted to the dainty, silvery Moselle River. Houses have been downsized and painted pink and yellow and, on a hill above, a castle flaunts pepper-pot towers and weathervanes. As if to reinforce the Hans Christian Andersen moment, two white swans paddle past my balcony.

This is what river cruising is all about. While I was sleeping, someone else went to the bother of teleporting me elsewhere, cutting out all the practical annoyances of travel. I'm fresh as a daisy and eager for the morning's shore excursion, which propels us first above Cochem and into Reichsburg Castle. No surprise that it's the most castle-like castle you could possibly imagine: it was reconstructed by an industrial magnate to suit his apparently feverishly romantic imagination. The castle sports a wishing well, banquet hall, secret passageways and dressers full of Delft porcelain.

"They used to collect porcelain in those days," says our entertaining Scenic guide Katy says. "So did my mother and grandmother, but I'm afraid I only collect things that go in the dishwasher."

We stroll down through Cochem, past an old people's home with a view over a kindergarten and town graveyard ("So you see, the whole circle of life is here," Katy says) and into the medieval town square, where our guide points out which houses are genuine and which clever post-war reconstructions.

Next morning we sail past Cochem and up the vineyard-flanked Moselle Valley. Vines were first planted along the Moselle River by the Romans; since the 18th century riesling has been the predominant grape variety. Some of the world's best rieslings are produced here, including intense ice wines made from frozen grapes, and rare trockenbeerenauslese wine for which the grapes are left on the vine until they shrivel, leaving concentrated sugars.

A relaxing day of sailing takes us to Bernkastel-Kues and has passengers glued to the open deck with their "Tailormade", a Scenic commentary device that works with GPS to feed passing titbits of information into our earpieces. I learn that these are among the steepest vineyards in Europe; Bremmer Calmont takes out the record with a 70 per cent incline. The grapes thrive on the south-facing slopes, whose slate absorbs the sun and radiates night heat.

On our third day on the Moselle, we're offered a choice of excursions from Bernkastel. Some passengers opt for the ancient German town of Trier, but most are eager to head to Luxembourg City, tempted at the thought of visiting a new country. Luxembourg is an odd place, part international city and financial centre, part country town refreshingly free of mass tourism. The old town sits on a rock above a curved ravine, giving it one of the best settings of Europe's cities. It's hard not to be fascinated by a tiny country ruled by a grand duke, though the city is more suitable as the set of a frivolous operetta than a fairytale.

Back in Bernkastel, however, I step into another town straight from a Brothers Grimm illustration. The river splits it in two, medieval houses on one side leaning crookedly against each other, enfolded in vineyards and topped by the ruins of a castle from whose tower Rapunzel could have let down her hair. 

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The lovely town is tour-group busy, but I borrow a ship's bicycle and don't have to go far to find quieter villages along the river, and a wine tavern on its banks where I can sample the local riesling and gaze across the water at spectacularly steep vineyards. Tomorrow I'll be teleported out of here and into another adventure as Scenic Pearl sails towards Switzerland. For now, I soak up one of Europe's prettiest corners, content that the day will have a happy ending.

TRIP NOTES

MORE 

traveller.com.au/germany

mosellandtouristik.de

CRUISE

Scenic's 15-day Romantic Rhine & Moselle cruise between Amsterdam and Basel (or the reverse) has frequent departures between April and October 2017. Prices from $8195 a person, including meals, beverages, shore excursions and Wi-Fi. Phone 13 81 28. See scenic.com.au

FLY

Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai (14.5 hours) with onward connections to Amsterdam (7.5 hours). Phone 1300 303 777 or see emirates.com/au

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Scenic

See also: The world's best riverfront cities

See also: Eight things I learnt on my first river cruise

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