Christmas Markets Cruise: How to see several markets in one sensational trip
A peaceful river cruise is the perfect foil to the hustle and bustle of Europe's Christmas markets, says Katie Byrne.
Set the mood
We knew we wanted to visit one of Europe's magical Christmas markets, but we had no idea which to choose. Strasbourg has one of the oldest; Heidelberg one of the prettiest and, by all accounts, Cologne has the biggest and the best.
AmaWaterways eventually made the decision on our behalf - we'd just have to visit all of them, and more besides...
The award-winning river cruise line offers a seven-day 'Christmas on the Rhine' package, which embarks at Amsterdam and docks at some of Europe's most enchanting cities. We jumped aboard in November and soon discovered that the gentle pace of riverboat sailing is the perfect foil to the hustle and bustle of the market stalls.
The 'Christmas on the Rhine' cruise is a culinary odyssey for those with a sweet tooth. We indulged in Kugelhopf (a traditional Austrian coffee cake) and hot chocolate in Strasbourg, winterkuchen in Heidelberg and every variation of every crêpe imaginable in Freiburg.
The temptations continued back at the boat, where afternoon tea and midnight feasts are part of the daily dining schedule and chocolate Santa Clauses magically appear on guests' pillows. There are also themed lunches, cocktails-of-the-day and an opportunity to dine at the Chef's Table, a more intimate haute cuisine restaurant.
Oh well. The diet starts in January...
Save for tipping, there are no added extras once you board the AmaCerto. Package prices include welcome drinks, all meals on board, a daily sightseeing programme and unlimited wine and beer with lunch and dinner - so they really are all-inclusive. The comfort, luxury and peaceful practicality of river cruises tends to attract an older clientele and, yes, that demographic was well represented on our trip. By the same token, age is nothing but a number when everyone is channelling their inner child.
Don't miss the open-air ice rink at the Heidelberg Christmas market. Strasbourg is a gem for stocking fillers too - we stocked up the pantry for Christmas at the market's artisan food stalls and the city's specialty food and wine shops.
Elegance and cosiness can be mutually exclusive, but this isn't the case on the AmaCerto. The low ceilings and curved design features make the space feel welcoming and intimate, while the luxurious cabins set this fleet apart from other riverboats.
Bedrooms are designed to be enjoyed, with plush bedding, marble bathrooms and a library of free films. There's a heated top-deck swimming pool, too.
Most of the AmaWaterways programmes - and ships- aren't family-friendly. While the minimum age for sailing is 4, children between the ages of 4-7 are not recommended and no child-minding facilities are provided.
Get me there
Katie travelled with Sunway Holidays on a five-star AmaWaterways Luxury River Cruise. Christmas market cruises start from €1,599pp for seven nights on the Rhine, departing December 16. A Treasures of the Main & Rhine cruise, priced from €1,999pp, is set to depart December 28. The Christmas Time Cruise on the River Danube departs December 12 from €2,499pp. Call (01) 231-1889 or visit sunway.ie/rivercruise for more.