To begin our journey we boarded our flight from the US and hopped across the pond to Lyon, France. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France with all the best eateries in as many variations you could imagine. Here we were picked up and transferred straight to the ship. There was no line or assigned boarding time you just get to the ship and walk right on it was amazing. The ships decor was very elegant, yet casual and the main room was very spacious and staff extremely welcoming. We were ushered to our cabin which was also almost double what I have experienced on ocean cruise ship. We dropped our bags and then got right back off the ship to explore Lyon on our own for the rest of the evening. Upon returning to the ship, we stopped in the lounge and the staff set down a favorite wine that he had recommended earlier in the day (I was floored that he remembered that already-we had only met once). That was the first thing I loved is that there were less than 150 people on board at max capacity.
The next morning, we got up early to discover dynamic Lyon, starting in Fourvière Hill, part of the city’s historic region that is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the 19th-century basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière. We continued on to the old town of Lyon, followed by a guided walk through the St. Jean district, where you will be introduced to the city’s unique covered walkways, known as “traboules.” During the afternoon we took a walking food tour around old town, I was amazed by the murals of local living on the buildings. We boarded the ship, enjoyed the complimentary cocktail hour then headed to dinner. As we were eating dinner the ship departed for our next destination so we were able to see Lyon’s skyline lit up as we cruised down the river. Not only did we enjoy the cultural sites in the country but each day fresh local produce and wines were brought on board so that you have the convenience of traveling on the ship, but you are tasting the farm to table foods and wines of that region. Next day, different area and different locals foods and wines.
Day 3, we woke up and headed to breakfast. Starting with breakfast, all of the meals on board were fabulous. As we were eating breakfast we realized that we were docked once again in the small town in the middle of the Beaujolais wine region—known as the Pays d’Or or “land of the golden stones.” We had the option to indulge in a wine tasting at a traditional winery and learn about the history and techniques of their vineyard. We enjoyed the afternoon at leisure exploring the town and its quaint charm before boarding the ship and sailing to Vienne. Also something I loved about traveling during the day you can sit on the upper decks and have amazing views of the surrounding areas while coasting along this beautiful river or laugh at Tammy rushing to the front of the ship to watch every detail of passing through the locks (she did not miss one of them).
Day 4, We arrived in Vienne situated between the wine regions of Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône. Vienne’s alignment with its Roman past can be seen in its marvelously preserved ruins. We had several excursion options (regular departure, late risers or active) to follow the footsteps of the ancient Romans on a walking tour to see the amazingly well-preserved.
Augustus and Livia Temple, the Saint Maurice Cathedral, a Gothic church that took more than 500 years to build, and St. Pierre Abbey—one of the oldest surviving churches in France, and now an Archaeological Museum. For those wishing to be more active (Like me), you can either take a guided bike tour along a portion of the ViaRhôna bike route or a guided hike (Mom) from the ship to the Monastery at Mount Pipet. The bike ride is the tour I chose. It was beautiful we crossed bridges, rode through vineyards, rode along the river, and through farm land passing chateaus and beautiful ruins. Each night we gathered in the main lounge for a brief local entertainment from that particular village. We ended each night with a little music and dancing and wine. There was a small wine club group from New York on board and they welcomed us to their group and we enjoyed meeting up each evening to discuss the different excursions and experiences everyone had enjoyed separately.
Day 5, After breakfast we were given the choice of three excursions. Take a train ride past magnificent landscape carved along the Gorge du Doux, stopping at the charming little station of Colombier le Vieux-Saint Barthélemy le Plain, where the train maneuvers in preparation for its return journey. Alternatively, lovers of wine and chocolate will want to visit Le Château de Tournon for a presentation and tasting on the pairing of red wine and chocolate . For a more active adventure, cycle through the French countryside or take a hike through the vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage, followed by a visit to a local winery where you’ll sample some of the wines.
I chose the wine tasting with chocolate pairing at Le Château de Tournon. It was an amazing experience. We were brought under the “castle” to a private room and learned about the history of this Chateau, wine region, and culture of Tournon. It was such a cool environment and the wine & chocolates were delicious. Afterwards we had the afternoon on our own to explore this riverside town and check out all of the shops and buy some wine to take home. You could walk at leisure exploring or people watching or you could use the complimentary bikes on board the ship. The ship stayed in port until 11pm that night so Tammy participated in a baguette making class as the famous Guarmandisi Bakery. The aroma was amazing as they all returned to the ship with their freshly baked baguettes. Did I mention that all of these awesome excursions are included in the cost of the cruise.
Day 6, Advancing to Avignon, aptly named the “City of Popes,” was the center of the Catholic Church in the 14th century when its “Palais des Papes” was the equivalent of today’s Vatican. Depending on your interests, we had three choices of excursions. Discover the history of Avignon on a guided walking tour that includes the Papal Palace and the well-preserved medieval walls surrounding the historic center of town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alternatively, if you enjoy cooking you can go into a local chef’s restaurant to learn how to prepare a traditional meal.
If you preferred, you could visit three venues around Avignon to taste regional specialties including macaroons, cheese and wine, and tapenades. We decided to do the cooking class and it was the ABSOLUTE highlight of our trip. It was so much fun to learn from a local chef in his own restaurant. During the afternoon, we enjoyed free time in Avignon touring the Palais des Papes. After visiting this enchanting Provençal town, we went in search of the highly prized “Black Diamond” truffles with a farmer and his trustworthy canine companion followed by a visit to an olive farm where you’ll learn about age-old Provençial traditions from a master olive miller as well as sample the olive oils. In the evening, we enjoyed an illuminations cruise around Avignon to see the city aglow along the river. This night we had dinner at the Chef’s table Dining Experience (complimentary and reservations required) for an open kitchen meal experience. We watched the chef prepare each of our 6 courses each as scrumptious as the previous. It is located at the back of the boat with floor to ceiling windows so the views were enchanting sunset as we sailed away from Avignon.
Day 6, Artistic Arles, considered one of the most beautiful cities in France. For art lovers, you’ll wish to visit Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum, where Vincent van Gogh once lived and painted. Afterwards, we went to the Carrières de Lumières, where we were treated to a spectacular presentation of art, sound and history projected on the walls of caves. Alternatively, you could have chosen to venture to the medieval hilltop village, Les Baux de Provence, or for a different adventure, journey to Aigues-Mortes, known for its well preserved medieval walls and guard towers, followed by a visit to the beautiful Camargue National Park, a protected natural territory with more than 400 different species of birds. During the afternoon, we joined a walking tour of Arles highlighting top sights, including the Romanesque cathedral and Roman amphitheater; Also offered for those who wish to delve further into Van Gogh’s Arles, join a special walking tour along with a visit to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, showcasing his legacy.
Day 7, we had breakfast and then disembarked this magnificent journey. Not quite having our fill of adventure. We opted into their post-cruise extension and boarded a motorcoach to Barcelona, Spain. There we spent 3 magnificent nights exploring that amazing city, but that is a story for another day. I hope you enjoyed and can now envision yourself cruising down the Rhine, Rhone, Danube, Moselle, and/or Main Rivers.
Some of the highlights for us on river cruising were virtually everything was included so there were less decisions to be made. Our dining, shore excursions, entertainment, wine, beer and soft drinks included during lunch and dinner. We could tour in the mornings, return to ship for lunch then stroll the city on our own in the afternoon. The towns/cities were small and we felt completely safe to walk around on our own. The ship docking in the city center was a huge plus, high quality tours were high quality. I also like the casual dinners, I wore jeans all nights with exception of the Captain’s farewell dinner.
There are many choices of river cruise ships and itineraries. Activities vary based on the river and destinations. If you would think river cruising may be in your future, don’t hesitate to call us. There are some big differences by ship, we would LOVE to chat and hear which things are most important to you and help you choose the ship that is just right for you. We have incredible connections with several cruise lines and also have some added amenities that are exclusive to our agency, we would love to share those with you on your next travel experience. If you think When you feel like it's a dream come true, it just keeps getting better! If you’re ready for your first cruise through countries, contact VIP Travel Experience, and let us show you just how easy planning the vacation of a lifetime can be.