by Jackie Holland, The Telegraph, July 31, 2018
Travelling at a serene pace on a luxurious vessel – it is hard to imagine a more relaxing or enlightening way to explore than on a river cruise. To make the experience even more memorable, you might plan your trip to coincide with a special event and become immersed in the culture of the local people. Here are some upcoming happenings along the Rhine and Danube.
In 1633, the inhabitants of the little hamlet of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps asked God to save them from the bubonic plague that was spreading through Europe. As their death rate miraculously subsided, the villagers showed their gratitude for the divine intervention by producing a play depicting the life and death of Jesus, which they vowed to perform every 10 years.
The Passionsspiele or Passion Play is next scheduled for 2020 with a cast of more than 2,000 actors, musicians and choristers. Many of Oberammergau's residents still take part in the spectacular five-hour performance, which will be repeated more than 100 times from May until October 2020.
Viking River Cruises offers an all-inclusive 10-day cruise from Munich to Budapest on various dates from May to October 2020, from £3,395 per person. Price includes a complimentary shore excursion at each port of call, including the Passion Play in Oberammergau (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk).
Also known as the Garden of Europe with 79 acres of flowers, more than seven million bulbs planted each year and 800 different varieties of tulip, Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest gardens. Situated in Lisse, south Holland, it is only open to the public from mid-March to mid-May and, depending on the weather, the best time to see the tulips in full bloom is during April.
Noble Caledonia offers an all-inclusive nine-night Spring Flowers and the Golden Age of Dutch Art river cruise. Departing March 29, 2019 on board Royal Crown and costing from £2,595 per person, it includes Keukenhof Gardens, the botanical gardens in Utrecht and the art treasures of Amsterdam and The Hague (020 7752 0000; noble-caledonia.co.uk).
Rhine in Flames
Wine festivals are a highlight of the Rhine region. The air is full of music as colourful processions celebrate the pleasure of wine and its traditions. A spectacular event celebrating the wine harvest is Rhine in Flames, when a flotilla of illuminated ships makes its way along the river and hilltop fireworks create a blaze of colour above the mountains, castles and vineyards.
River Cruise Line offers an eight-day Rhine in Flames cruise from Andernach to Cologne, with departures in August and September 2019, from £820 per person. As well as joining the festivities, the itinerary includes the cathedral city of Cologne and the quaint wine town of Rüdesheim (01858 438330; rivercruiseline.co.uk).
Until you experience it in Munich, where the tradition began, you haven’t really “done” Oktoberfest – a mix of beer consumption, Bavarian feasting, live brass bands, singing and dancing. It all started in 1810 when a royal couple invited the citizens to their wedding feast; today it is the largest beer festival in the world.
Tauck offers an all-inclusive 10-day trip, combining a seven-night Rhine Cruise with a two-night stay in Munich from £5,045. Price includes shore excursions, such as lunch in a private section of an Oktoberfest brewery tent, a canal boat cruise in Amsterdam, brewery visits in Düsseldorf, a beer-pairing lunch in Heidelberg, a visit to Lake Lucerne and a gondola ride to the top of Mt Pilatus (0800 810 8020; tauck.co.uk).
Get classical in Prague
Going strong for more than 60 years, the Prague Spring International Music Festival is one of Europe’s leading classical music events. Over three weeks from mid-May, a packed programme features the world’s outstanding symphony orchestras and chamber music.
Saga Holidays offers an all-inclusive nine-day Prague and the Danube package, with a seven-night Danube cruise from Budapest to Regensburg aboard Amadeus Royal followed by two nights at the Corinthia Hotel in Prague. Departing Heathrow on May 19, 2019, it costs from £1,699 per person (0808 278 4822; travel.saga.co.uk).
Held on Óbudai-sziget — Old Buda island, in the middle of the Danube — the Sziget Festival is one of the world’s largest music festivals. During August, hundreds of bands, artists and DJs take to the stage. Lana Del Rey, Mumford & Sons, Dua Lipa and Liam Gallagher featured on the 2018 line-up.
Uniworld offers a choice of all-inclusive Danube river cruises from Budapest to Passau (or vice versa) on board SS Maria Theresa during August 2019 from £3,299 per person. A two-night stay in Budapest at the Corinthia Hotel can be added for £359 per person (0808 159 2664; uniworld.com).