Garden-Lovers & The Rhine River
My European partners and I have developed a group tour concept that combines a 7 day Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Strasbourg with an opportunity to view some famous and beautiful gardens along the way. We are also able to recommend some special pre- and/or post-cruise land program ideas that would provide additional viewing options for those garden-lover groups who are interested in extending their stay.
PRE-CRUISE GARDEN INFORMATION
While you are visiting Amsterdam, we highly recommend an early morning visit to the Aalsmer Flower Auction at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport (open from 6:00-10:00 AM). Every morning over 19 million flowers arrive into that facility from around the world. The flowers are then sold at auction and flown by their buyers for resale to markets all over the world. Group tour participants are welcome with enough advance notice. Their guide explains how the auction works and they are able to view the proceedings from atop an elevated section of the building.
Outside of Amsterdam, there are many options to chose from. We have included this direct link to the tourist office website: http://www.holland.com/global/discover/gardens so you can see for yourself what is out there. Our local ground operator partners can customize land programs that would include scheduled visits to many of these public gardens, as well as, to various private gardens and special greenhouses.
Belgium is the immediate southern neighbor of The Netherlands. There you will find many castles and chateaus with magnificent gardens that are open from April-October. Each of these grand estates and their gardens are unique unto themselves. The Belgian Tourist Office in New York has a website location (www.visitbelgium.com/gardens.htm) with several pages devoted solely to the subject of castles and gardens.
While you are in Belgium, also consider a group visit to The Greenhouses of the Royal Palace of Laeken (located in the northern part of the city of Brussels). They open their doors to the public for only 2-3 weeks each year, usually starting in mid-April. Any springtime Rhine River cruise program, beginning or ending in The Netherlands, could easily include a few days on a pre-cruise basis in Brussels in order to view these very special royal gardens.
GARDEN OPTIONS DURING THE RIVER CRUISE
Our cruise program begins with embarkation in Amsterdam where the ship spends a few nights in port before sailing south. So let’s begin our discussion with the garden-viewing opportunities that present themselves along the northernmost portion of the Rhine River in (Holland) The Netherlands during the cruise.
The first one is the lovely tulip fields and impeccably-manicured grounds at the Keukenhof Gardens outside of Amsterdam (www.keukenhof.nl). Of course, a visit there would be on a limited seasonal basis, as Keukenhof is only open from around the last week of March until the beginning of the last week of May. Keukenhof is closed for the rest of the year and peak floral viewing times normally run from just before mid-April until early to mid-May. For more information on Holland check out their website (www.holland.com).
Once the river cruise departs Amsterdam, sailing south on the Rhine, there are several options to consider. Keep in mind, of course, that it is imperative to adhere to the ship’s existing daily port schedule. The Het Loo Palace, located just outside of Appeldoorn (the ship docks in Nijmegen), is open from mid-April to October. Built in the style of a French chateau, Het Loo Palace is set at the edge of 27,000 acres of royal forests. It has been recently restored to its former glory and the reproduction of the original formal gardens is superb. The palace is closed on Mondays.
Another featured garden highlight on the Rhine River cruise is the Benrath Palace located near Dusseldorf (the ship docks in Krefeld). The unusual harmony of the entire complex is due to the fact that the palace’s French-born architect, Nicholas de Pigage, was also a landscape gardener. The Museum of European Garden History is housed at Benrath Palace and the grounds have various themed gardens to admire. Specific and detailed information on Benrath Palace is found on their website (www.schloss-benrath.de). The palace is closed on Mondays.
The final full river cruise day normally includes a guided tour of the beautiful university city of Heidelberg on the Neckar River (the ship docks in Mannheim). Outside of Heidleberg, a garden tour of the grounds at Schwetzingen Palace is highly recommended. Schwetzingen was modeled after the French palace in Versailles and their gardens consist of two elements. One, is a symmetrically-designed French baroque garden with the Arion fountain. The other is an English landscape garden that is formed around a large pond with arced canals in planned naturalness. Schwetzingen Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Further information can be found on their website (www.schloss-schwetzingen.de). The palace is closed on Mondays.
Our cruise program ends the following morning after Heidelberg with disembarkation taking place in Strasbourg.
Proposed Daily Itinerary
Embarkation takes place in Amsterdam between 5.00-6.00 PM. There is time to settle comfortably into your cabin before meeting the crew during a welcome cocktail reception in the lounge. Dinner is served on board followed by an optional guided tour of Amsterdam on a canal boat. Overnight is in Amsterdam.
After breakfast on board, an optional city tour of Amsterdam is offered with a visit to a diamond merchant. The Dutch capital is a truly delightful city with a rich and fascinating history, offering its visitors a striking contrast between traditional Dutch architecture and other more unusual landmarks, such as the Red Light District. Return to the ship for lunch. The afternoon is spent on an excursion to the Keukenhof Gardens where tour participants are able to view the spectacular tulip fields in a most beautiful setting. After the tour, it is back to the ship for dinner on board. Enjoy a free evening in Amsterdam. Overnight sailing begins just past 12:00 Midnight.
Depart Amsterdam in the very early morning to begin the cruise south on the Rhine River. Breakfast and lunch are served on board while cruising towards Nijmegen, where we have a scheduled port call. The Garden Group disembarks in Nijmegen where a coach and guide is waiting to take them to the Het Loo Palace for a special tour. Return back to the ship in time for dinner on board. We then begin sailing towards Krefeld, passing the towns of Wesel and Duisburg along the way before arriving at our destination in late evening. Overnight is in Krefeld.
The ship begins sailing at 7.00 AM with breakfast served on board. The Garden Group will disembark at Krefeld to begin a full day of special touring by coach. The day begins with a guided tour of Dusseldorf, capital of the province of Westphalia. From there, it is on the Benrath Palace to tour the gardens and the Museum of European Garden History. A group lunch is served at a local restaurant in Cologne followed by a private tour of the Cologne Cathedral. Return to the ship at 5:00 PM before cruising on towards Bonn (an old university town and former capital of West Germany). Dinner will be served on board before mooring for the night in Koenigswinter.
Breakfast is served on board before sailing through the Romantic Rhine. After passing by Koblenz and the legendary Lorelei Rock, we enter the most beautiful section of the Rhine, where castles perch high atop the hills overlooking lush vineyards and picturesque wine towns. We arrive in Rudesheim late in the afternoon. Once there, you can choose to shop and sightsee on your own, or take part in an optional excursion by minitrain. A wine tasting is offered at a local cellar, as well as, a visit to the musical instrument museum. Dinner is served on board. Afterwards, we invite you to spend a free evening in the lively Drosselgasse, which is a world famous pedestrian street known for its open-air restaurants and taverns with their oom-pah bands. Overnight is in Rudesheim.
We get an early start and begin sailing south while breakfast is served on board. Today, we cruise along the Rhine towards Speyer, passing the towns of Wiesbaden, Nierstein and Worms along the way. At about 1:00 PM, we arrive in Mannheim, and after lunch on board, a private coach and guide arrive to pickup the Garden Group for an excursion to the Schwentzingen Palace, outside of Heidelberg. Return to the ship at the end of the afternoon for dinner on board followed by a gala evening. The ship will sail overnight from Mannheim or Speyer, heading south towards Strasbourg.
Breakfast is served on board prior to arriving in Strasbourg where disembarkation takes place around 9:00 AM. End of the cruise.
POST-CRUISE PROGRAM OPTIONS
Baden-Baden would also be accessible on a daytrip from the lovely French Alsatian city of Strasbourg. Other options using Strasbourg as a base would include; a full day excursion south of the city along the Alsatian Wine Road and/or a full day excursion through the Black Forest of southwest Germany.
Should a group use Zurich as a base of operations prior to returning home, we can highly recommend several local options for garden-lovers. The town of Rapperswil is located on Lake Zurich and it is famous for its rose gardens. Although, there are no websites linked to these specialty gardens, the Zurich Tourist Office recommends; the Chinese Garden which was a gift from the city of Kumming, the Botanical Garden at the University of Zurich and the Masoala Rainforest at the Zurich Zoo which has transplanted flora from the rain forests of Madagascar.
Finally, we have saved the best for last. If you are not familiar with the Mainau Island Gardens, you are in for an unbelievable treat. Mainau Island is located in the northwest corner of Lake Constance in southwest Germany (close to the Swiss border and an easy daytrip from Zurich or Strasbourg). These island gardens are the brainchild of the late Count Lennart Bernadotte, who was descended from the Swedish royal family. Unfortunately, Count Bernadotte died in 2005 at the age of 95 but his gardens are as lovely as ever. Mainau Island has a very favorable micro-climate and the Count dutifully imported trees and plants from around the world for his island paradise.
Besides all the beautiful gardens, the island boasts a striking chateau/palace, numerous greenhouses, fountains, sculptures, bird houses, a butterfly garden, a petting zoo, gift shops, a large cafeteria, plus, a wonderful formal-dining restaurant with excellent culinary credentials. It is safe to say that Mainau Island is an unforgettable experience for gardeners and nature lovers of all ages. For more information, you may go to their website (www.mainau.de). Unfortunately, this website is only in German but photos on the website tell the real story.