There’s nothing quite like seeing a river up close – especially one as powerful and as 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 fairy-tale image of a Rhineside town.
Like all German towns, it puts on a show at Christmas, filling its central square and streets with stalls selling handcrafted wooden toys, nutcracker men, lanterns and an array of (mostly tasteful) decorations for the tree. 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.