by Chris Hutchinson

WE joined Brabant in Dusseldorf and the welcome from staff on board was infectiously friendly.

Cologne was our first port of call and our first shore excursion was a panoramic city tour capturing its highlights.

Dominating the city is Cologne Cathedral, we were impressed with the external gothic architecture, but once inside we were astounded by the stained-glass windows and the golden bejewelled shrine of the Three Kings - a sight to behold.

Further down the Rhine is Konigswinter, crowned by the majestic Drachenburg Castle nestling in dense forest atop a high peak.

Overnight sailing brought us to Koblenz. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines offered guests a full-day complementary Mosel river excursion. Our first stop was Cochem, a small city where we visited Reichburg Castle, fairy tale in appearance. We meandered through the labyrinth of quaint cobbled streets including the atmospheric market square.

Next a short journey into Beilstein, one of the most beautiful villages on the Moselle, Individually styled houses are adorned with floral displays giving off an abundance of aromas. From here we boarded a river cruiser, sailing down the Moselle River, taking in picturesque landscapes.

The day’s final treat was sampling renowned Moselle wines, we returned in a jolly mood! This was a memorable day - in every way- thanks to Fred!

Next morning still in Koblenz, we took a short walk to the cable car, a thrilling ride looking down where the Rhine and Moselle merge -and a magnificent sight, stepping out at the well preserved Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Returning on the cable car, the nearby beer festival was in full swing - we just had to stop and sample. Well, when in Germany!

An afternoon cruising revealed at every twist and turn spectacular sights, characterised by picture postcard villages, steep terraced vineyards, lush forests, and of course, peaks dominated by imposing castle after castle, each with its own style. We looked forward to evening delights, where you were spoilt for choice with the sumptuous five - course a` la carte dinner menu.

Overnight sailing to Speyer, founded by the Romans, one of the highlights of our morning walking tour included the Technik museum housing vintage cars, aircraft and historical locomotives. Our afternoon tour took us to the impressive Heidelberg Castle. Sailing into France, we visited Strasbourg, its centre, a Unesco World Heritage site. We boarded a river cruiser for our canal trip, and were captivated going through the first lock in front of La Petite France district where, in a bygone era, millers, fishermen and tanners plied their trades.

Gliding under ornate iron, brick and wooden bridges you see stunning sights, a mixture of French and German architecture spanning over centuries; majestic palaces and tower fortifications rise from the waterway. In contrast the route took us into the modern area passing by the European Parliament and Court of Human Rights. Re-entering the Imperial City, we alighted close to the magnificent Strasbourg Cathedral.

Back on German soil, we sailed into Breisach. Our final tour was the enchanting Black Forest. A steep ascent of 2,000 feet brought us to the forest peak where views were breathtaking - nature at its best.

Descending into a tranquil valley we visited the House of Black Forest Clocks, where the Herr family have made cuckoo clocks for seven generations. Adolf Herr greeted us with cherry liquor; inside we were served, with, what else but Black Forest gateau. Our host took us to his workshop where we watched in awe as his skilful hands carved the intricate designs on the clock face. I could have watched all day!

Our cruise ended in Basel, Switzerland for disembarkation. This Brabant river cruise itinerary exceeded my expectations. With exciting shore excursions, with high standards of local guides, it was terrific value.