Festive Family Fun: Mistletoe and Rhine
Adrian Bridge finds Germany's Rüdesheim perfect for a festive family adventure
There's nothing quite like seeing a river up close -- especially one as powerful and full of legend as the Rhine. Admittedly, our initial contact was brief: a 10-minute journey by car barge from the riverbank town of Bingen across to the other side and the twinkling lights of Rüdesheim.
But standing on the deck we could almost touch the water, by now almost black and swirling all around us. This is one of the most romantic spots on the Rhine and it was a suitably dramatic introduction.
It was the weekend before Christmas and we wanted to give our children -- then aged nine and 10 -- a taste of the special magic that the Germans bring to the season.
Rüdesheim (or Rüdesheim am Rhein to give it its full name) did not disappoint. With its picturesque, cobbled alleyways, half-timbered houses, a history stretching back to Roman times and sweeping vineyards all around, it conforms almost perfectly to the fairytale image of a Rhineside town.
It puts on a show at Christmas, filling its central square and streets with stalls selling handcrafted wooden toys, lanterns and an array of (mostly tasteful) tree decorations.
It also has what is said to be the largest depiction of the Nativity scene to be found in Europe, the life-size figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the crib serving to remind us that there is a religious aspect to the period of good cheer.
Not that our children wanted to linger at it: much more interesting to them were the scents, sounds and tastes of everything all around: spicy gingerbread men, grilled sausages and heated marshmallows.
Unlike some German Christmas markets, the one at Rüdesheim is compact -- ideal for legs that tire quickly.
And when it gets too cold to be wandering around outside, there are the many bars and taverns lining the town's famously narrow (and packed) Drosselgasse alley.
Rüdesheim does offer other diversions, notably Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum, which has a unique collection of automated musical instruments, and a wine museum (the area is famous for its Rieslings).
But we wanted to get back on the Rhine, so we boarded a local ship plying the route between Bingen and St Goar, passing along the way hilltop medieval castles, Gothic and Baroque fortifications and the Lorelei rock -- said once to have been inhabited by a beautiful blonde maiden whose enchanting singing distracted sailors and caused them to crash.
It was a chilly, grey December day, but even so, we could see something of what inspired Byron and a host of German romantic poets and composers to sing the praises of this particular stretch of the Rhine.
We were back in Rüdesheim in time for a final stroll around the central square, yet more chocolate-covered strawberries and carols courtesy of a rather accomplished brass band.
Christmas had indeed come early, and the following morning, as we set off at 6pm, it was snowing.
The Rüdesheim Christmas market runs until December 23, open daily 11am-8pm (9pm Fridays and Saturdays).See ruedesheim.de. For more on Christmas markets and travel to Germany, see germany.travel and germanyiswunderbar.com