The Rhône and Saône rivers are among the most significant in Europe, converging in Lyon before flowing southwards to the Mediterranean. What better to way to experience this region, which is renowned for its cuisine, culture, history and architecture, than by embarking on a cruise holiday on the waterways that flow through its heart? These are some of the highlights you will encounter along the way.
France’s third-largest city has a history that stretches back more than 2000 years, and its buildings and streets reflect this extensive past. At its heart is the Place Bellecour – the largest pedestrian-only square in Europe. Four of the city’s main shopping streets start from here, while just across the river, the city’s old town is a maze of secret traboules, or passageways, and spiral staircases.
North of Lyon along the Saône, you’ll find yourself in the heart of one of France’s greatest wine regions. As well as world-famous vineyards, you’ll find the countryside dotted with elegant chateaux, including the beautiful gardens of seventeenth century Château de Cormatin and the acclaimed wine estate of Château Meursault. This region is also renowned for its gastronomy: take a walk with highly trained truffle hounds in search of this unique delicacy or learn how best to enjoy them during a lesson in French cookery.
South of Lyon, the town of Tournon-sur-Rhône straddles a bend in the Rhône river, famed as the birthplace of another gastronomic delight: Valrhona Chocolates. After sampling these exquisite treats, join a walking tour through the terraced vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage followed by a tasting of its famously delicious varietals, or take a guided, riverside cycling tour through the neighbouring villages.
The magnificent city of Avignon is probably best known for its bridge, whose four stone arches are all that remain from the original 22 that once spanned the Rhône. It’s an iconic symbol of the city, which once served as the residence for seven successive popes. Today, a walking tour will allow you to explore the fourteenth century Pope’s Palace, as well as the old town’s medieval streets, charming squares and the bridge. Wine aficionados will be thrilled to learn that they are within easy reach of the lovely village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where they can sample its famed Côtes du Rhône offerings.
As the Rhône approaches the conclusion of its journey from the Alps to the Mediterranean, it flows through the city of Arles, which once served as an important centre for the Romans. They left behind a vast amphitheatre which once seated crowds of up to 20,000 who came to witness thrilling chariot races and bloody battles – visit today and you’re likely to find a concert or play in progress. The painter, Vincent van Gogh, lived in Arles for a year, and you can visit the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole, where he produced more than 300 paintings and drawings.
Beyond Arles, the Rhône becomes a vast delta, known as the Camargue, which is renowned for its unique flora and fauna, including the famed, white Camargue horses. Take a guided walk through La Camargue National Park and you may be lucky enough to spot these beautiful, semi-wild animals running free in their herds.
To take your own amazing journey along one of France’s greatest waterways, talk to your personal travel manager today.