Knights to Remember: A Grand European Adventure

By Sue Wallace

The world-famous windmills in Kinderdijk in The Netherlands.
The world-famous windmills in Kinderdijk in The Netherlands.
The Grand European Tour takes you on an adventure full of fairytale castles, pretty cobblestone-paved towns, exquisite local delicacies, living history, ever-changing views, guided walking tours and unmatched onboard comfort.

I love a good medieval tale about knights in armour and intrigue from the Middle Ages. Fortunately, our charming guide, Robert Agnello has many stories to tell about Marksburg Castle that sits high above the Middle Rhine, overlooking the town of Braubach.

Dating back to the 13th century with turrets and spiralling towers, it’s one of 40 castles dotted between Bingen and Koblenz, the area a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the only castle in that area that has never been destroyed and remains well preserved, showcasing life in those treacherous times, with the best scenic views overlooking the river.

We visit the kitchens, wine cellar, knight’s hall, chapel and main bedroom, which has a tiny bed.

“People were much shorter in those days and they slept sitting up due to superstition about the devil taking them at night,” says Agnello.

A stop at the armoury reveals models of knights dressed in heavy mail, some of which weighed more than 100kg. “If they fell off their horses they were in trouble as the armour was so heavy,” says Agnello.

Blood-curdling weapons, wooden mallets with spikes and razor-sharp lances and swords are also displayed, but it’s the ancient ugly face masks that draws gasps.

“People were condemned to wear these masks to teach others a lesson – one with a ball in your mouth if you were a liar, a mask with pointy ears so you couldn’t hear if you were a spy and for women who had affairs, a pig mask that was so heavy they were forced to walk like a pig with their faces near the ground,” says Agnello.

We are on an inclusive excursion on Viking’s 15-day Grand European Tour river cruise that follows some of Europe’s best-known waterways from Budapest to Amsterdam, weaving our way through four countries with scenery you can’t take your eyes off.

Ancient fairytale castles perched on steep cliffs amid manicured vines, towns featuring cobblestone streets, colourful flowers spilling from windowsills and the smell of freshly baked pastries wafting from bakeries are just some of the attractions of this cruise. It doesn’t take long to adapt to river cruising life – it’s the easiest way to see so many of Europe’s highlights without having to cart your luggage around, find accommodation and organise tours.

This is slow travel at its best with surprises around every corner of the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers, stopping at big cities and smaller towns and sitting atop on the sundeck with 360-degree blockbuster views, watching river life go by.

Viking Longboat sails past enchanting Marksburg Castle at sunset.

A Grand European Adventure

The longboat Viking Bragi with its Scandinavian design is our comfortable home away from home as we visit Hungary, Austria, Germany and The Netherlands in weather ranging from sizzling hot to cooler temperatures and light showers.

Each day brings a new destination and adventure with daily inclusive and extra optional tours available throughout. After a city tour of Budapest and its stunning Houses of Parliament, Vienna is our next stop. We start with a city tour taking in views of the Ringstrasse and the beautiful Vienna State Opera. It’s followed by a fabulous musical recital where Mozart’s genius stars.

Next, we cruise through the pretty Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stopping at Melk’s sprawling Benedictine abbey and its impressive gardens.

Stepping into the library, where rare medieval leather-bound manuscripts line the walls and ancient world globes still spin, is one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.

There are 16,000 books in one room plus 12 more rooms with more than 100,000 volumes.

Onto Passau in the southeastern corner of Lower Bavaria we head to St Stephen’s Cathedral, a huge, sparkling white Baroque church boasting a 17,000-pipe organ.

Walking tours in Germany’s Regensburg, Nuremberg and Bamberg showcase the old city centres, followed by beer and sausage tasting.

Bamberg wins our vote for the best beer – even though it has a distinctly smoky flavour, it’s pretty good. In Würzburg, we visit the stunning Baroque Residenz Palace, another UNESCO site, with rooms that take your breath away, and in Wertheim we take part in a guided walking tour through the traditional German town.

Near Koblenz, we spot the famous Lorelei Rock, where legend has it sailors were seduced by a maiden’s singing and lured to their doom.

Cologne’s twin spired Gothic cathedral takes centre stage here – for the best bird’s eye view, sign up for a Top of Cologne tour and walk among the spires.

The last stop before Amsterdam is Kinderdijk, known for its impressive 18th-century windmills.

The Aquavit buffet is a big hit with passengers.

Life Aboard Viking Bragi

The longship features 95 well-designed comfortable outside staterooms with compact ensuites with heated floors.

Ours has a balcony which is perfect for river viewing and enjoying the sunshine; it’s great to pull back the curtains in the morning and see what’s happening.

The elegant lounge and bar area is where enrichment lectures and nightly port talks are held. Which are also televised in your room. It’s a social hub with a fun, casual atmosphere where we meet fellow Australians who are likewise river-cruising converts.

Dining is a culinary adventure. You can start the day with coffee and pastries at 6am or head to the Restaurant for a hearty breakfast – the eggs benedict, fruit and pastries have a following.

My favourite venue on the Viking Bragi is the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace at the ship’s bow for al fresco dining with a view.

For lunch it’s three courses with tasty salads, pasta and sandwiches. The dinner menu is always impressive with three courses and lots of choice with classics and regional specials and inclusive wine and beer.

One of my favourites is the Chairman’s Choice poached Norwegian salmon with cucumber salad and boiled potato. The dish is Viking’s founder Torstein Hagen’s favourite and is excellent. Then again, so is the chilled asparagus spears with gribiche sauce, roast châteaubriand béarnaise with a finale of crêpes suzette.

I fall asleep dreaming of fairytale castles, medieval cities and impenetrable fortresses – river cruising and those ever-changing views have worked their magic.

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The Grand European Tour’s iconic itinerary traces the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers between the windmill-dotted waterways of Holland and the stunning landscapes of Hungary, with engaging encounters at every bend. Available dates include 24 May, 4 June, 7 August and 13 September, 2024.


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