The Rhine and the Moselle
The Germans refer respectfully to their longest and most important river as Father Rhine. The Rhine is one of Europe’s major arteries; 820 miles long from its source in the Swiss Alps to the North Sea at Rotterdam.
An international waterway, the river runs through six countries and forms an international border in several places. Castles are an unmistakeable feature of the river and most of Germany’s vineyards owe their existence to the Rhine. Through its tributary, the Main River, it is connected to the Danube by the Main-Danube Canal. Another tributary of the Rhine, the Moselle flows through France, Luxembourg and Germany. Its
landscape comprises of meadows and plains, lakes and forests, dotted with picturesque villages.
In the Middle Ages, aristocrats and monks settled along the Moselle and founded vineyards, many of which still exist. Riesling, in particular, flourishes on its steep slopes. The Main From the Rhine you can join the Main River near Mainz and travel through beautiful Bavarian countryside, alongside cities and towns including Frankfurt, Würzburg, Bamberg and Nuremberg. In former times, the river was primarily used by rafts carrying wood downstream to the Rhine. From the 19th century, chain shipping was a feature of navigation. Today, the Main and the Main-Danube Canal form an important link between the Rhine and the Danube, from where ships can sail on to the Black Sea.
Since ancient Celtic times, the Danube, flowing through nearly 1,800 miles of central Europe, has fascinated and attracted. It brought legions of Romans, Mongols and Turks and has been a central player in Europe’s
sweeping history from the Habsburg Dynasty to the 20th century. Beginning in the Black Forest region of Germany, it fl ows to the Black Sea through more European countries than any other: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia and Ukraine. Its strategic location makes the Danube important to central Europe, and its beauty makes it one of the most popular rivers.
774 miles long, the River Elbe rises in the Giant Mountains of the Czech Republic and runs through Germany to the North Sea. The Romans knew the river Elbe as Albis and in the Middle Ages it formed the Chain Bridge on the Danube. Following World War II the Elbe formed part of the border between East and West Germany. Today, the Elbe is one of Europe’s most peaceful and gentle rivers, fl owing through Saxon Switzerland and Dresden, alongside Torgau, Wittenberg, Dessau and Magdeburg northwards.
The Rhone and the Saone Rising high in the Swiss Alps, the fast moving Rhone flows into Lake Geneva and then south through southeastern France to the Mediterranean Sea. 300 miles in length, the Rhône joins the Saône at Lyon where it becomes navigable.
The countryside on both sides of the river comprises rich farmland and vineyards that produce the grapes for the region’s renowned wines. The lovely countryside of the Saône is mainly farming country with green meadows broken by rows of poplars and charming villages and towns, many with medieval centres. Since ancient times, the Saone has played an important role in the economic development of the whole region. A series of recently completed canals linking the Saône to the Rhine enables ships to traverse Europe from the North Sea all the way to the Mediterranean.
The name Seine is derived from the Latin word sequana, meaning ‘snake’. Look at a map and you will immediately see why the river was thus christened. It meanders snakelike through the interior of France and through beautiful countryside towards the Normandy coast and the English Channel. Between Paris and the sea the Seine measures nearly 240 miles, but the distance as the crow flies is only 110 miles.
In Paris, countless bridges span the Seine (there are more than 30 in the city centre alone), each with its own unique appearance.
In the beautiful, unspoilt region of northern Portugal, terraced vineyards and rolling landscapes provide a dramatic backdrop for the River Douro. The Douro River originates in Spain and fl ows west through the
north of Portugal until it reaches Porto, and the Atlantic Ocean. Once the Douro enters Portugal it becomes less populated, and the microclimate allows for cultivation of olives, almonds and especially grapes that are important for making the famous Port wine. Traditionally the wine was taken down river in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, still seen today at Porto.