Cruise the Rhine in your car with this driving holiday

Places on the Continent are nearer than you think. From the Belgian coast to the historic German city of Aachen, for example, is about 160 miles – the same distance as from London to Shrewsbury.

By taking advantage of longer sea crossings, such as Stena Line’s twice-daily service from Harwich to Hook of Holland or DFDS’s Newcastle to Amsterdam route, taking a holiday in Germany becomes a matter of a motorway drive eastwards. 

(Even if you take the shorter DFDS Channel routes from Dover to Calais or Dover to Dunkirk, the run to Germany is not much longer. Dunkirk to Germany is about 190 miles – around three hours’ driving.)

Inspiration: Lorelei Rock on the banks of the River Rhine. The wooden outcrop measures 433 feet high

Inspiration: Lorelei Rock on the banks of the River Rhine. The wooden outcrop measures 433 feet high

While we are used to a motoring holiday in France or Spain, the attractions of motoring around Germany are less well known. This is a destination much loved by river cruisers, who are more likely to sail down the Rhine than any other river. 

What’s sauce for the river cruiser should be equally tempting to the motorist given that the Rhine – and its tributary, the Mosel – lie within tempting reach of the ferry ports.

Aachen is a very good place to start. Lying near the borders of the Netherlands and Belgium, Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle as it is known in French) has had a turbulent history. The Ancient Romans loved a spa town and Aachen was a very good spa town with hot springs.

It made its mark on history when Charlemagne, known as the ‘Father of Europe’, made Aachen the centre of his Holy Roman Empire. The city has found itself in the path of many conflicts. 

Full speed ahead: From Aachen, Peter says there is a 'glorious' drive through the Eifel National Park to Koblenz'. En route you pass the 'formidable and dangerous Nürburgring Formula 1 racing circuit, which private motorists can drive on... at their peril'

Full speed ahead: From Aachen, Peter says there is a ‘glorious’ drive through the Eifel National Park to Koblenz’. En route you pass the ‘formidable and dangerous Nürburgring Formula 1 racing circuit, which private motorists can drive on… at their peril’

Shining example: The sunset casts a golden light over the historic German city of Aachen

Shining example: The sunset casts a golden light over the historic German city of Aachen

After the First World War it was occupied by the Allies until 1930; in the Second World War, large parts were levelled when it was besieged by US forces. 

Today it is one of Germany’s loveliest cities and you would hardly know that a brick had been damaged, especially when you see the cathedral that was built by Charlemagne and was the site of the coronation of the kings of Germany in the Middle Ages. 

From Aachen there is a glorious drive through the Eifel National Park to Koblenz. 

En route you pass the formidable and dangerous Nürburgring Formula 1 racing circuit, which private motorists can drive on… at their peril. 

Koblenz boasts the ‘Deutsches Eck’ – German Corner – where the Rhine and Moselle converge, set among vineyards, forests and four mountain ranges. 

Two-wheeled tour: Cyclists stop in the picturesque Market Square in Aachen

Two-wheeled tour: Cyclists stop in the picturesque Market Square in Aachen

One of the main attractions is Ehrenbreitstein, Europe’s second- largest preserved fortress, which sits 370ft above the river.

The Schängel fountain, in the courtyard of the town hall, dates back to the early 1800s, when Koblenz belonged to France. 

The fashion was to give boys the name Jean – which became Schang and then Schängel in the local dialect. 

The Ludwig Museum close to the Deutsches Eck has a fine collection of mainly post-1945 art, including works by Picasso and Serge Poliakoff.

Spouting out: The cheeky Schängel fountain in Koblenz

Spouting out: The cheeky Schängel fountain in Koblenz

In one direction you can explore the Moselle Valley down to Trier, 80 miles away. Trier, famous as the birthplace of Karl Marx, is another city founded by the Romans and boasts an amphitheatre and the remains of the old Roman thermal baths.

Fifty miles north of Koblenz up the Rhine is Bonn, the former German capital, which has the building that used to house the German parliament and a museum that records the recent history of the country and the city.

It is the drive south from Koblenz through this most dramatic section of the Rhine Valley that is likely to attract most travellers.

The highlight is the famous Lorelei Rock, which lies near St Goar and is the subject of Die Lorelei, a Heinrich Heine poem about a siren who sat on the cliff above the Rhine combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracting sailors with her beauty and causing them to crash on the rocks.

End your journey in Wiesbaden – one of the oldest spa towns in Germany. It has a beautiful setting on the Rhine.

One of its main attractions is its casino. This was a favourite haunt of Russian writer and compulsive gambler Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

He lost all his money in Wiesbaden’s Spielbank casino in 1865, a traumatic experience that provided the inspiration for his 1866 novel The Gambler. Food for thought…


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