Experience an enlightening river cruise, which will take you along the Rhône, Moselle, Rhine and the Nile in search of archaeological treasures at each port. We are delighted to have partnered with Croisi Europe in 2022 to offer these special tours in Europe, and in Egypt we cruise along the Nile in the MS Tamr Henna. Our cruises are designed to open up the enchanting world of river cruising to keen archaeology and history enthusiasts from all walks of life. What makes them unique is the accompanying package of fully exclusive, private excursions that have been skilfully crafted by our experts to enhance each itinerary.
Each river we travel on will reveal a different story – uncover ancient ruins, discover archaeological splendours and find out how these major rivers functioned both as limits of empire and as conduits of trade.
20 September 2022
In antiquity, the Rhône was the most important artery connecting the Mediterranean to Southern and Eastern Gaul, which explains the spread of Hellenisation after the Greek foundation of Massalia (ancient Marseilles), as well as Roman culture after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. So strongly felt was Roman culture in the Rhône Valley, that Pliny the Elder described it as more akin to Italy than a province. The wealth from the production of wheat, olive oil and wine, which flowed down the river, resulted in an incredible development of the cities of the Rhône Valley, starting in Lugdunum – ancient Lyon – continuing on to Vienne and then onto Arles, the epicentre of the trade tours, as well as Nîmes. It’s for this reason that the Rhône Valley is home to the most spectacular Roman monuments in all of France.
The Rhine acts not only as an artery for trade, as evidenced by the spread of the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures in the Late Bronze – Iron Ages, but as a formidable barrier. Unknown to Greek writers, Roman writers characterise the Rhine as a boundary. Servius describes the river as the border between Gallia and Germania, while Augustus sees it as the limits of the civilised world. Roman colonisation began with the Julio Claudian emperors, starting with the foundation of Cologne. From this period, there is a flourishing of Roman culture and the development of Roman cultures. This was aided by an enormous military presence on the Rhine – a staggering eight legions were kept along the Rhine, including legions in Argentoratum and Moguntiacum. With the metamorphosis of the Roman Empire into the Frankish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, the legions of the Roman Empire settled along the Rhine gave way to castles in the medieval period as competing elites fought over its fragmented territory. It is this landscape that has shaped the modern vision of the Rhine, with its extraordinary proliferation of castles along its banks.
A tributary of the Rhine, the Moselle, particularly the section between Trier and Koblenz, presents one of the most beautiful course ways in Germany. Called the Mosella by Romans, the beauty of the river was extolled by the late antique poet and politician Ausonius in a poem he wrote while he was at the Imperial Court in Trier in the 4th century AD. Today the Moselle remains famous for its beauty and its wines, though it might equally be remembered for its long history. Not only is the course of the river marked along its route by a plethora of medieval castles, but its vines, producing some of the most expensive wines in the world, were introduced in the area in the Roman period, at a time when there was a policy of Romanising the Gauls living in the area in order to provide a bulwark against tribes who menaced the Roman borders. Several historical cities line the river, most notably Trier, which can boast about being the oldest city in Germany and was the capital of the Praefecture of Gaul from the 4th century AD. Koblenz, founded by Augustus’ step son, Drusus and so named because it was on the confluence (confluentes) of the rivers Rhine and Moselle reached its peak in the Middle Ages.
Called the Kertis or Rherkes by indigenous peoples and Baetis in the Roman period, the Guadalquivir is the most important river in Spain, not just because it is the country’s only navigable river but because it flows through Andalusia, the heartbeat of Iberian history. The current name of the river derives from the Arabic wadi al kabir, or great river, bestowed on it by the Moors who settled in the area from the 8th century onwards. The river acted as a conduit of trade and culture over millennia of history, allowing great cities to flourish in the magnificent epochs which graced Andalucia. Originating in the mountains of the Jaen province, the Guadalquivir empties itself in the Gulf of Cadiz, through a plethora of cities which forged Spanish history, including those that were the homeland of Roman emperors and others which prospered when the region was known as Al Andalus. It is also from the Guadalquivir that ships first set sail to the New World, as is commemorated by the fact that Christopher Columbus is buried in the Seville’s Cathedral. With the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century, the Guadalquivir became the gateway of trade with the New World, bringing untold wealth to Seville and Cadiz and the rest of the region. According to a contemporary saying gold was that was born in the Americas was spent in Seville.
The 4th largest river in the Iberian Peninsula, the very name of the Guadiana underlines its rich history, named as it is after the Latin word for duck, anas, and the Arabic word for river, wadi. Attracted by the fertility of the river’s banks and by its commercial opportunities, a succession of peoples, from the Phoenicians and Romans to various Muslim peoples, founded or developed cities along the river’s course. The Guadiana runs east to west through one of the most picturesque landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula, starting from a source near Badajoz in the Spanish region of Extremadura to the Algarve, ultimately emptying in the Gul of Cadiz, where it meets the Guadalquivir. The confluence of these two rivers unites two of the most important historical centres of the Iberian Peninsula, namely Andalucia and the Algarve, just as the river serves as the boundary between Spain and Portugal at several points, notably between Huelva and Faro. By both uniting and separating these countries, the Guadiana has acted both as a barrier and a conduit of millennia of history.
The importance of the River Nile can scarcely be overstated. A slim ribbon of blue and green winding its way north through Egypt from its southern border to the Mediterranean, the river is so vital to life in this arid land that 95% of Egypt’s population live in 4% of its land area – along the fertile banks and delta of the Nile. It was always thus – Egypt’s astonishingly rich history is also a gift of the Nile. The great cities of the pharaohs were built besides and even across its waters, the gigantic stones to build the monumental temples and pyramids were transported by river barge, and the flood waters were all too often the difference between feast and famine for the ancients. Without this mighty waterway, the story of civilisation would be told very differently. For the traveller to Egypt, the Nile represents endlessly photogenic views of white-sailed feluccas and tumbling cataracts, sublime tranquillity at the end of a packed day’s exploration, and – in the fine cruise vessels – surely the most enjoyable and relaxing means of transportation between Egypt’s unforgettable sights. The boats may be more numerous these days, but there is still more than a whiff of romance, adventure and Agatha Christie glamour about a classic Nile cruise.
A very well organised programme of visits, accompanied by very professional and knowledgeable guides. Excellent information from the company. Feefo reviewer