DAY 1 ARRIVAL IN AMSTERDAM
You fly to Amsterdam or take a late morning Eurostar from London, St Pancras International, arriving in Brussels approximately 2 hours later, where you change trains connecting to Amsterdam. A coach will take you to the ship where the dedicated crew welcome you aboard ensuring you settle in to your comfortable and extremely well-appointed cabin, and familiarise yourself with the ship, your first-class floating hotel.
DAY 2 AMSTERDAM & HOORN
Breakfast is an institution on our river cruisers and you are always assured of a magnificent selection, the perfect start to the day. We are moored in the heart of fascinating Amsterdam, so we take a delightful sightseeing cruise around its picturesque canals – in classic glass-topped boats. The tour brings a real insight into Amsterdam’s history, art and people, throughout history at the heart of European culture and commerce and often a fierce rival to British ambitions! You’ll see a fascinating variety of gabled buildings along the charming waterfronts, slide beneath bridges immortalised by the great artists and hear about Old Masters like Rembrandt and heroes such as Anne Frank, whose diaries tell an extraordinarily moving story.
A splendid buffet lunch awaits your return as we slip away from the quayside towards the Ijsselmeer the lake created when the Zuiderzee was dammed, then we cruise to historic Hoorn, once a prosperous port of the Dutch East India Company. Reminiscent of another age, it is a delightful mix of imposing 15th to 19th century, brick-built mercantile warehouses, cobbled squares and twisting alleys. Hoorn’s ships traded the world over, with one intrepid sailor even naming the southernmost tip of South America after his home town – Cape Horn! There’s time to explore this intriguing spot before another splendid dinner.
DAY 3 ARNHEM
One of the delights of river cruising is the enchanting experience of awaking in a new world, the water gently lapping as the ship glides almost imperceptibly along. We are now deep in the heart of Holland passing flower bedecked houseboats, flocks of wildfowl and of course windmills! We soon arrive in Arnhem, once a member of the Hanseatic League, but since 1944 synonymous with the ill-fated battle so vividly depicted in the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’. We visit the former British HQ at Oosterbeek, now an excellent museum and the poignant Commonwealth War Cemetery, the final resting place of so many. Back on board, we cruise along the mighty River Rhine, one of Europe’s foremost waterways before enjoying another sumptuous dinner on board, as the riverside lights twinkle on.
DAY 4 ANTWERP
This morning there’s a chance to marvel at the Captain’s calm skill as he safely navigates the ship through the busy waters of the River Schelde, mooring in Antwerp whose picturesque main square is lined by the tall, gabled townhouses so typical of the ‘low countries’. Once ruled by Spain, Antwerp grew immensely wealthy during its 16th century ‘Golden Age’ when it was Europe’s largest port north of the Alps, with the profits invested in the city’s art and architectural heritage. This morning we enjoy a sightseeing tour of this historic and vastly underrated city, birthplace of Rubens and steeped in history. This afternoon is free to explore as you wish and perhaps visitthe Fine Art Museum with over 7,000 paintings including renowned works by Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck.
DAY 5 GHENT & YPRES
Today we awake in medieval Ghent, once Western Europe’s largest city and our picturesque base for the next two days. Ghent is a perfectly preserved medieval gem boasting: a gorgeously unspoilt waterfront; the imposing Gravenstein fortress towering above the river; a 13th century skyline punctured by the soaring belfry and Van Eyck’s masterpiece ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ which decorates the cathedral. This morning we have a sightseeing tour and after lunch we visit Ypres, a name synonymous with the horrors of the Great War and the centre of British activity in Belgium. Almost totally destroyed Ypres is now a place of pilgrimage, peace and reflection. We learn about some of the places made famous during the fighting. You may wish to visit the excellent, ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum in the heart of the beautifully restored town centre and a must for those interested in the decisions of the General and the extraordinary lives of the ordinary soldiers and civilians. We also visit Tyne Cot Cemetery and the infamous battlefield of Passchendaele. Ypres is the home of the Menin Gate, the incredibly moving memorial to the missing where the last post is played every evening. However, this excursion is not compulsory so should you choose to have free time in Ghent, perhaps ride in a horse drawn carriage, or visit one of the many other attractions, this afternoon is the ideal opportunity to do so.
DAY 6 BRUGES
After breakfast we take the short drive to Bruges, one of Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval cities and have a guided walk of this beautiful town which really does carry its remarkable medieval legacy with charm and to perfection. The whole atmosphere of Bruges is pure romance with its streets crammed with fascination. It is so exquisitely compact, centred on the main square, dominated by the soaring Belfry and when the unique old Flemish chimes are heard, the atmosphere is idyllic. You can climb this tower and if you can face the 366 steps, the view is breath-taking. You will also see the City Hall, the old Law Courts and the Basilica of the Holy Blood in which is housed some of Jesus’ blood. Another must is the Notre Dame Church which houses Michelangelo’s beautiful Madonna and Child, carved in white carrara marble, plus of course the legendary chocolate shops! You will be
DAY 7 KEUKENHOF & AMSTERDAM
Early risers discover the ship making effortless progress along the delightful waterways and you experience the somewhat surreal effect of cruising above the height of the surrounding reclaimed ‘polder’- it’s almost like flying! Today we take you to the stunning Keukenhof Gardens, the heart of the glorious bulbfields. On arrival, nothing quite prepares you for the dazzling spectrum of colours stretched out before you, the countryside ablaze in a riot of colour unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. The art of the flower garden reaches breathtaking heights here, as you marvel at the tens of thousands of blooms set amongst a delightful landscape of shimmering lakes, ancient trees, flowering shrubs and beautiful water gardens. We re-join our ship in Amsterdam and after lunch you are free to explore as you wish. Perhaps you may wish to admire the fine art of the Rijksmuseum, with its many works by the Great Masters, or the Van Gogh Museum housing the world’s greatest collection by this genius of a man. Alternatively perhaps, relax in a pavement café absorbing Amsterdam’s special atmosphere over a rich Dutch coffee, go shopping or just stay on board catching up on some reading; the choice is yours.
This evening is the Captain’s Dinner, where the chef prepares his superb ‘signature’ dishes served in delightful surroundings, with chance to reflect on the fascinating places you have discovered, poignant stories you have heard and interesting, like-minded people you have met.
DAY 8 RETURN HOME
After breakfast this morning your friendly crew bid you farewell before you return home.