We take the Eurostar from London St. Pancras (exact time stated on travel documents), arriving in Brussels about 2 hours later. A coach takes us over the German border to Cologne, staying one night in either one of two four-star hotels – the Novotel Koeln City or the Lindner Hotel City Plaza – dependent on departure date. Dinner is included.
We begin the day with a guided tour of medieval Cologne, founded by the Romans. Walking along cobbled streets, surrounded by an ancient Roman wall, it’s easy to imagine you’ve been transported back in time. The historic centre features the Alter Markt town square, the old town hall, and its beloved star – The Dom, the famous 13th century cathedral dominating the skyline with its impressive twin spires. Truly a staggering masterpiece of Gothic architecture, it took over 600 years to build and boasts the most intricate stained glass art in Europe. Rising up behind the high altar is the gilded Shrine of the Three Kings, the largest reliquary in the western world and the high point of Mosan art. This afternoon we enter the ruggedly scenic Rhine gorge, so beautifully depicted on countless travel posters. We weave along the valley through fairy tale villages, overlooked by arresting castles crowning the hillsides. We see the Lorelei Rock, from which according to legend, mermaids lured unsuspecting sailors to their deaths with their enchanting song. The vine-covered slopes plunge into swirling waters below, which combined with the craggy shoreline, creates the river of so many poets’ dreams. We continue to sophisticated Wiesbaden and our hotel for two nights, the modern four-star superior Dorint Pallas Hotel, where dinner is included for the first night.
This morning, we enjoy a guided tour of Wiesbaden both by coach and on foot. One of Europe’s oldest spa towns, it’s known as the ‘Nice of the North’ because of its many natural hot springs that attracted much of the area’s elite. See the town’s Art Nouveau buildings, the old town hall, and the magnificent Kurhaus that houses an elegant casino. This afternoon, we take a drive through the scenic wine region of Rheingau to the idyllic wine-making town of Rüdesheim am Rhine. Here, we visit the Drosselgasse, a narrow lane measuring a mere 144 metres long, lined with traditional taverns and intimate courtyards, bustling with live music and dancing. You may wish to take the cable car ride up to the Germania monument for awe-inspiring views of the attractive town and the shimmering Rhine. Next up is the extraordinary Kloster Eberbach, a 12th century former monastery with the largest vineyards in medieval Europe, where monks made their own wine. Its remarkable Romanesque and early Gothic buildings make it one of Hesse’s most prominent architectural sites. Film enthusiasts may recognise its interiors from the film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.
Our morning starts with a visit to Heidelberg, nestled by the picturesque river Neckar in a valley dominated by its imposing castle, high on a wooded hillside. The town is a maze of historic, baroque and gabled buildings lining the river with its romantic old town behind. Its 14th century university, one of the most prestigious in Europe, lends a genteel atmosphere similar to that of Oxford or Cambridge. In the 19th century it was the centre of Germany’s Romantic Movement, on the route of ‘The Grand Tour’ and visited, amongst many others, by the artist Turner who captured its splendours for eternity! This afternoon we visit Baden-Baden, a famous spa resort town since Roman times, frequented by Europe’s aristocracy of the day. Today it still has a regency feel, rather like Bath or Cheltenham. We then continue our journey to Freiburg, where you’ll stay for the next four nights at the modern four-star Hotel Stadt Freiburg, in a quiet yet convenient location with easy access to heart of the city. Freiburg abounds with quality restaurants so we’ve included dinner on the first evening only.
This morning we enjoy a tour of picturesque Freiburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and university city with a vibrant historic centre, set against the dramatic mountains of the Black Forest. The car-free streets allow us to explore the town’s highlights, such as the late Gothic bourgeois Haus Zum Walfisch (Whale House), the 500-year old university, the Gothic Munster Cathedral, and its cobbled square Munsterplatz. Possibly the sunniest city in Germany, it’s not unheard of for locals to bask in the sunshine whilst neighbouring villages are still shovelling snow. This afternoon is free for you to explore as you wish. In the charming old town are plenty of local restaurants and cafés serving traditional food. For spectacular scenes from great heights, catch a cable car up the Schauinsland mountain – a comfortable 20-minute ride takes you up 1,200 metres, where breath-taking views of Freiburg and the Rhine Valley await.
Just west of Freiburg lies a picturesque wine route, an open-air museum of romantic medieval villages, cobbled streets and Renaissance chateaux, with rolling hills providing the perfect backdrop. We enjoy a scenic drive and taste some of Alsace’s fine wines at a traditional wine cellar before arriving in Colmar, the best preserved city in eastern France. Bisected by canals, it is a maze of former merchants’ houses, antique shops, and a monastery. The former wine exchange and the cathedral quarter are surrounded by pastel half-timbered houses, displaying intricate wrought iron signs typical of this area.
This morning a scenic drive takes us past towering Feldberg, the highest mountain in Germany outside the Alps, to picture-postcard Lake Titisee, the largest natural lake in the Black Forest, formed during the last ice age. Surrounding the serene waters are rolling forests and pretty villages with traditional Black Forest houses, characterised by long, sloping roofs. Enjoy a leisurely stroll or take a boat trip out on the lake. After a short drive, we reach Donaueschingen, where the Schwarzwaldbahn train takes us to the mountain town of Triberg. The 30-minute ride goes through forested valleys, rustic farms and quaint towns as we ascend through tunnels, each scene more dramatic than the last. (2018 departures) Triberg is home to Germany’s highest waterfall, which foams and thunders as it plunges 163 metres down the Gutach river. Those with a penchant for pastries will be pleased to know the original 1915 recipe for the Black Forest gâteau made its way to Triberg, where it’s still used today. See the traditional cuckoo clocks, for which the area is famed, and how they’re made.
This morning we cross the border into France and on to Strasbourg, connecting with the Eurostar service to London St. Pancras. To ensure you catch the right train, your tour manager will accompany you throughout.