Pampered Cruising on the Rhine

click to flip through (6) Marksburg Castle sits above the town of Braubach on the Rhine RIver.
  • Marksburg Castle sits above the town of Braubach on the Rhine RIver.

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The Premicon Queen's six-day Rhine River itineraries change year to year, heading upriver from its Cologne base to Basel, Switzerland in 2009, for example, and downriver to Amsterdam in 2010. The World Heritage section of the Rhine, with its castles, vineyards and little riverside towns, is always on the menu, though.

The opulence of "intimate" Augustusburg Palace

BRUHL, Germany | "Clemens August built this palace," our guide, Vanessa Krohn, tells us, "because his palace in Bonn was too big." This one, called Augustusburg, is a mere 120 rooms. The Bonn one, now used by the University of Bonn, was much larger.

August (1700-1761) was the prince-elector and archbishop of Cologne. He had 21 palaces altogether; this one was used mainly as a summer residence. But while the prince may have regarded Augustusburg as a cottage, to the modern world it is one of the marvels of that over-the-top style of craftsmanship known as rococo, and has been recognized as such since 1984 when it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.

August ordered the creation of Augustusburg, about 30 kilometres from Cologne, when he was just 26. He commissioned some of the most famous European artists of his day to create its splendid rooms, and "he always made his craftsmen use the most expensive materials," says Krohn. The chambers vie with each other to be the most magnificent, with their leather wallpaper, Dutch tiles, Venetian chandeliers and endless amounts of swirling golden plasterwork.

The masterpiece, though, is the ceremonial staircase, designed by Balthasar Neumann. It looks as if it's all made of marble, but, in fact, some of it is stucco marble, "which is even more expensive than marble," says Krohn, "because you can choose your form and colour." The pillars at the base of the stair, for instance, were made from stucco marble to give them a particular pattern and palette.

The ceremonial staircase was the first thing the prince's visitors, disembarking from their carriages in the porte cochère, would see. It was meant to impress and it certainly does. Once the sheer opulence of the materials had sufficiently dazzled newcomers, they could cast their eyes heavenward and take in the ceiling fresco. The expansive scene that appears to be painted on an oval dome exists, in fact, on the walls and flat top of a rectangular room. This trompe d'oreille is even more impressive when you know that it was painted by the Italian artist Carlo Carlone, 60 at the time, and two assistants in just 13 days.

The palace as a whole, however, took much longer to complete. Clemens August never lived to see its final glory, dying seven years before it was finished in 1768. He had better luck with nearby Falkenlust, a hunting lodge where he indulged his love of falconry. It (also a World Heritage Site) was begun in 1729 and done by 1737. A mere 15 rooms, it is, nevertheless, of the same exquisite quality as Augustusburg. It has a bathing room, or kabinet, of tall mirrors surrounded by rich gilt that Mozart admired as a boy of seven.

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