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The Brightest of Them All

Travel Writer Natasha Dragun boards Travelmarvel’s newest river ship in Amsterdam, exploring some of Europe’s most fabled waterways while developing a taste for life in the slow lane.

View of the Hungarian Parliament Building on the Danube River, Budapest

There’s a moment, when I’m standing on the top deck of Capella, when I feel like I’ve slipped into the pages of a fairy tale. Myself and 150 other slack-jawed passengers are gaping in wonderment at a parade of castles and fortresses, all wrapped in the impossibly green slopes of the Rhine Gorge. We’re not the only ones to be dazzled by this view – it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after all. But for now, we are the only ones that matter as we glide, in silence, along this atmospheric stretch of the Rhine River.

It’s day four of Travelmarvel’s 15-day ‘European Gems’ itinerary between Amsterdam and Budapest. And over the course of the sailing, we’ll cross five countries – the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary – pass through 68 locks, traverse three rivers (the Rhine, Main and Danube), visit up to 15 towns, villages and cities, and experience countless pinch-me moments. We’ll also drink a lot of good wine, which I discover the moment I step on the ship and am handed a glass of crisp German silvaner.

True North lounge bar on Travelmarvel Contemporary ship

The dapper bar staff get to know my name early on in the cruise… as do the insanely efficient waiters in the main dining room. Minutes after being seated here, whatever time of day, they’re by my side, explaining dishes that appear just as promptly: perhaps erwtensoep (a type of split pea soup that’s popular in the Netherlands), or schnitzel, which one must always wash down with a German beer. When I need something lighter at lunch, I make the most of the buffet in the True North Lounge at the bow, or McGeary’s Bar at the stern.

Everything I consume is included in cruise rates, as are my drinks at mealtime, including breakfast – sparkling wine is a morning drink, right? My dining companions seem to think so – the moment they see I’m travelling solo they usher me to their table, pour a flute and start divulging their life stories. There’s Jan, Beth and Peter, three best friends who love exploring the planet together and have been doing just that for decades. And Mike and Alice, a cheeky couple who go out of their way to include me in their evening card games. There’s also Angie, a single mum taking her 18-year-old son on the trip of a lifetime to celebrate his graduation from high school. I may be cruising on my own, but I’m certainly never alone.

TM Vega French Balcony Suite

Floated in April 2001, Capella is among Travelmarvel’s latest fleet of European river ships, each named after the most luminous stars in European skies. And she looks fresh. Every space is tastefully designed in a pared-back manner – after all, the real eye candy is outside. My suite is all earthy hues with splashes of blue, and my bathroom is enormous, with a shower cubicle that matches the size of mine at home. A real perk is the French (Juliette) balcony: at the touch of a button, my window drops to let the sounds and smells or river life permeate the room.

Augustusburg Bruhl Castle, Germany

The vast majority of shore excursions are also included in the rate, which means that I don’t have to think twice when signing up to cycle around the postcard-perfect town of Passau (the ship has a stash of bikes passengers can borrow); wander the streets of medieval Rothenberg with a knowledgeable local guide; tour the grand World Heritage-listed Augustusburg Castle on the outskirts of Cologne; or cruise Amsterdam’s canals. Every experience sends my heart aflutter, but perhaps the most special shore excursion is the chance to enjoy morning tea in the home of a friendly Miltenberg family. I’m tempted to ask for a glass of wine, such is the hospitality. But I know that awaits, chilled to perfection, on my return to Capella…

Cruise through the enchanting landscapes of Europe along the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers. Immerse yourself in culture, history, and scenic beauty—choose Travelmarvel for an extraordinary river cruise experience like no other!

Words by Natasha Dragun