Rhône River Cruises
One of Europe’s longest rivers, the 505-mile-long Rhône is also one of its most scenic, flowing from the Swiss Alps through lush mountain valleys into Lake Geneva before entering sun-drenched southern France and emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.
Joining the river along its southernmost stretch, Rhône river cruises offer a unique window into the rich heritage and serenity of Burgundy and Provence. Along the way, they twist and turn through the seductive landscapes that inspired Van Gogh and Cezanne, serve up the chance to sample the region’s fine wines and call at historic towns filled with impressive ancient and medieval architecture.
The banks of the Rhône reflect its eclectic past, charting the chequered influences of the Celts, Greeks, Romans and French. An important trading route for the Greeks, the river helped to transport more than goods into central France – ferrying sophisticated Greek ways and ideas to the Celtic tribes upstream. A period of Roman domination followed, attested to by the Roman relics found in Lyon, Arles and Nîmes. During the Middle Ages, the Rhône valley was the seat of the popes of the Avignon papacy, while in the 20th century, it became a spearhead for Mediterranean invasion when World War II Allied forces traced it northwards into Nazi-occupied France.
Why Rhône river cruises?
Avalon Rhône cruises travel through some of France’s loveliest landscapes and the centuries of history that have made the river valley a mecca for great art, architecture, cuisine and wine. From the emerald vineyards of Burgundy to the sunflowers of Provence and a string of dream-like medieval cities, cruises on the Rhône feed the senses and broaden the mind like no other European river journey.
As it courses away from the Alps, the Rhône curves gracefully towards Lyon. Lying in the heart of Beaujolais wine country, France’s elegant culinary capital dates back 2,000 years and boasts imposing Roman ruins, a UNESCO-listed old quarter and impressive Renaissance buildings. Further downstream is Tournon, a delightful town crowned by a splendid 16th century castle, and the quaint village of Viviers, clasped around a fine Romanesque cathedral. From here, the Rhône heads for the stone-built city of Avignon, sometimes dubbed the ‘City of Popes’. The seat of the papacy in the 14th century, its showpieces are its breathtaking Papal Palace and arched bridge, the latter immortalised in the popular French song. Attractions nearby include the superbly preserved Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard and wine-tastings at the fabled Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine cellars.
From Avignon, the Rhône winds south to Arles. This charming town was once muse to Van Gogh and centres on a dazzling Roman amphitheatre and 12th century cathedral. Further downstream, the river divides into the Grand and Petite Rhône, creating the tranquil Camargue delta, a haven for birdlife and the famous Camargue white horses. Other must-sees await close by – glittering Monte Carlo on the Cote d’Azur and Nîmes, with its stunning Roman landmarks.
Rhône, Saône, Seine & Rhine cruises
Avalon Rhône cruises don’t just feature the Rhône – they also take in its largest tributary, the Saône river. Joining the Rhône at Lyon, this quiet waterway meanders through Burgundy’s wine country, passing close to Beaune, home to the architectural marvel that is the intricately glaze-tiled, 15th century Hôtel Dieu hospital. Also gracing its shores are the old monastic town of Tournus and Mâcon, famous for its wine production. Some Avalon Rhône-Saône cruises also include cruises along the Seine, starting or concluding with time in Paris itself. Breathe in the glorious French capital and venture deep into picturesque Normandy to visit medieval Rouen, Monet’s exquisite gardens at Giverny and perhaps even the haunting D-Day beaches of World War II.
A new option for 2015 is to combine a cruise on Europe's longest river the legendary Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel before changing ships to cruise the Saône and Rhône to the Cote d’Azur.