Fly to Amsterdam from a choice of regional airports or take the Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Brussels, where you change trains and continue to Amsterdam. On arrival, transfer by coach to your five-star cruise ship moored near the city centre and railway station. The friendly crew welcomes you on board, helping you settle into your spacious and exquisitely furnished accommodation – you’ll feel immediately at home.
Overnight the ship slips its moorings, steering a course north. As dawn breaks, you’re greeted by views of Enkhuizen, a picturesque port nestling at the edge of the former Zuiderzee. During the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, the Netherlands dominated world maritime trade, becoming fabulously prosperous. Enkhuizen, as one of the country’s principal ports specialising in trade in the East Indies, flourished. Merchants keen to display their wealth created this town of gabled houses, narrow streets, bridges and waterways. It’s a delight to explore, taking in the atmosphere of its little streets and jumble of sailing boats in the harbour. Fittingly, it is also home to the Zuiderzee Museum. This superbly recreates the 19th-century heritage of Holland’s inland bay and combines permanent exhibits with demonstrations of the artisan skills of yesteryear such as sailmaking, fish curing and blacksmithing, to make our visit here a fascinating experience. After a delicious lunch on board, we cruise along the Markermeer, the southwestern part of the IJsselmeer, the great freshwater lake created when the Zuiderzee was separated from the North Sea by a series of dams and dykes built during the 1920 and ’30s. This mammoth engineering achievement, only made possible because of Dutch knowledge and expertise gained over centuries battling the sea, now protects low-lying areas from flooding and has allowed the reclamation of 626 square miles of fertile land. Before long, thoughts turn to tonight’s à la carte dinner, served with panache by the restaurant staff, after which why not unwind with a digestif at the bar to the soothing sound of the ship’s pianist.
Wake this morning in historic Rotterdam, the Netherlands’ second largest metropolis, situated where the Rhine flows into the North Sea. Known as the ‘Gateway to Europe’, it is the largest European cargo port and has been a conduit for trade since the 14th century. Barges are able to transport goods deep into the heart of Europe via a maze of inland waterways, while ocean-going ships carry exports all over the world. Unsurprisingly, its logistical significance made it a target for bombing during the Second World War and its old town was destroyed, with only the Church of Saint Lawrence left standing. During the following decades Rotterdam was reconstructed with typical Dutch optimism and engineering expertise and now boasts an abundance of innovative and imaginative architecture. Highlights include Europe’s largest swing bridge, the cable-stayed Erasmus Bridge (known as ‘the Swan’), arched Markthal (market hall) and Cube Houses built on stilts and tilted at bizarre angles. There are also excellent museums, such as the vast Boijmans Van Beuningen, which houses a world-class collection of works by old and modern masters, from Rembrandt to Van Gogh to Dalí, and some rare and beautiful glassware. During lunch on board you can enjoy a kaleidoscope of views through the restaurant’s panoramic windows as we leave Rotterdam’s skyline behind. A significant part of the Netherlands lies up to 22 feet below sea level, but an intricate network of dykes and polders, the Netherland’s unique drainage systems, has kept the seawater at bay and allowed land reclamation. At the very heart of this fascinating reclaimed region is Kinderdijk, our next port of call. Here, you can witness a truly iconic polder scene – a series of 19 authentic windmills lining the canal banks, set against a starkly beautiful backdrop of pancake-flat marshland. The earliest known windmills appeared in the 13th century; a century later they had evolved to include a series of gears enabling them to pump water, and mass drainage of the land commenced. By the 19th century the Netherlands’ 9,000 windmills not only pumped seawater but powered many industries, including sawing timber, making potters’ clay and crushing pigments for paint, before the advent of advanced steam and diesel engines signalled their decline. Windmills are symbolic of Dutch history and the never-ending battle with the sea, and visiting these beautifully preserved structures is like stepping back in time. Our expert guide tells the extraordinary history of Kinderdijk and its windmills, bringing to life the experience of surviving in this watery landscape. Later we return to the cruise ship, where the chef has prepared a sumptuous dinner.
A long spring season and the polders’ well-drained soil create the perfect environment for growing the Netherlands’ world-famous tulips, first imported into the country from the Ottoman Empire in the late 16th century. This morning we drive through the scenic bulb fields to Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower garden, covering nearly 80 acres. Nothing prepares you for the dazzling carpet of colours created by the seven million tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and other blooms arranged in rows, swirls and every other imaginable shape. The art of flower planting reaches breathtaking heights in Keukenhof’s themed areas, and wandering among this dramatic pageant of hues set in a landscape of lakes, trees, pavilions and water features is magical – and provides gardeners with a wealth of inspiration to take home! We return to Amsterdam to explore this beautiful city on a classic glass-topped canal cruiser. A network of 165 canals built in rings during the 17th century defines life in its centre, and our ‘water’s-eye view’ is the best way to absorb Amsterdam’s history. Relax and watch this unique cityscape unfold as our guide explains the many intriguing aspects of life here. You’ll see moored houseboats, quirky bridges, cobbled streets lined with tall, narrow merchants’ houses, gabled civic buildings and homes of famous former residents such as Rembrandt, the greatest Dutch Golden Age artist, and Anne Frank, whose diaries tell a poignant tale of life under the Nazis. Amsterdam is the ideal walking city and we remain moored dockside so you can explore its characterful streets at your leisure. Exceptional art is always close by, from small galleries to the world-class Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, both holding huge collections. You might choose to discover the interior of Anne Frank’s house, rummage through the Waterlooplein flea market or relax at a café sipping a rich Dutch coffee and watching the locals trundle over cobbles along the canals on their high-handlebar bicycles. Wrapping up a memorable day is the lavish Captain’s Dinner in the ship’s restaurant, as evening falls and the lights of this unforgettable city sparkle in the night.
This morning, we transfer to the railway station or airport for our return journey.
The five-star MS George Eliot – named after one of the leading English novelists of the 19th century – is 110 metres of fine Swiss engineering and craftsmanship. As with all Riviera Travel cruise ships, MS George Eliot was built to the highest specifications and strict safety regulations by Scylla AG, world-renowned builders of the most modern cruisers in Europe.
Guests are welcomed in the elegant lobby with its gleaming marble floor, well-lit by sophisticated lighting. Thoughtful design is on tasteful display throughout the ship – sustainable hardwood furniture, intricate wrought-iron work, and polished copper and brass are beautifully complemented by soft leather and sumptuous Italian fabrics.
MS George Eliot offers the convivial ambience and personal service of a luxury boutique hotel. With 36 staff serving just 132 guests, the experience is far more intimate and enjoyable.
There are 70 luxuriously appointed suites and cabins, which all feature an en-suite bathroom with shower, individually controlled air-conditioning, flat-screen TV, hairdryer, safe, minibar, telephone and facilities for making tea and coffee. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship.
For information about life on board our European river cruise ships, click here.