The Best of Burgundy and Provence on a Saône-Rhône River Cruise

SAIL FROM CHALON-SUR-SAONE TO AVIGNON ON A SAONE AND RHONE RIVER CRUISE:

Pont Benezet over the Rhône river in Avignon

Pont Benezet over the Rhône river in Avignon

This cruise takes you past some of the most beautiful vineyards and landscapes in the French countryside. Travelling along the Saône and Rhône Rivers you pass through the famous wine region of Burgundy, the lavender-scented hills of Provence and the wilder scenery of the Ardèche. Sunflowers, lavender fields, hilltop villages and cypress avenues – this is the scenery that inspired Van Gogh and Cézanne.

Most Saône River cruises visit Mâcon, where you can walk the Parcours Patrimonial heritage trail and see Old St. Vincent Cathedral, the dome of Hotel Dieu, Soufflot Chapel and numerous museums. Chalon-sur-Saône is an important wine trading port, where the 17th century Church of St. Pierre and the Crypt of St. Benigne are standout attractions. Of course, for many people, the wine’s the thing here, and a stop in Beaune has to be a highlight, where you can sample a good red as you look out at miles of Burgundy’s renowned vineyards.

Lyon, where the Saône and Rhône converge

Indeed, for the French, this area at the convergence of the Rhône and Saône is the perhaps the leading culinary region of the country, a place to explore the local produce market and indulge your taste buds by sampling the famed cuisine of Lyon, (maybe at Restaurant Paul Bocuse  at Collonges au Mont d’Or?), and sip the justly famous wines of Burgundy. Afterwards, you can walk some of it off by visiting St. Pierre Palace, Place des Terraux and Fourvière Hill (not too steep!). The big Roman amphitheatre on top is the oldest in France. That’s where Lugdunum – the Roman name for Lyon – was founded, back in 43 B.C.

Tournon is the place for chocolate freaks, because apart from being one of France’s oldest cities,it’s also home to Valrhona, a world-famous chocolate factory that dates back to 1924. Oh, and the Côtes de Rhône Hermitage vineyards are close by.

Avignon does as everyone knows, have a famous bridge, but the historic and spectacular Papal Palace of Avignon, the Gothic Palais des Papes, is the real attraction. In the 14th century when there were two Popes, this was the French equivalent of the Vatican. Not many people know that inside this palace is a special wine-tasting room where you can sample the region’s vintages (am I getting a little too obsessed with wine here?).

 Papal Palace of Avignon, the Gothic Palais des Papes

The spectacular Papal Palace of Avignon, the Gothic Palais des Papes

Of course, Arles was inspiration to Vincent van Gogh, and it’s fun to try to spot some of his favourite views, but the city is also rich in Gallo-Roman ruins. Known as the “Little Rome of Gaul”, a stroll through its narrow and winding streets is like stepping back in time. Sit down, relax and enjoy a coffee in the Place du Forum or the Place Voltaire, before shopping in the inevitable designer boutiques.

Sailing on a leisurely-paced cruise along the Saône and Rhône rivers through the heart of Burgundy and Provence is a treat for all the senses, and I’m not just referring to the magnificent wines and cuisine of the region, or the sun-drenched, lavender perfumed hills of Provence, but also to the intellectual stimulation of discovering so much French history, culture, architecture and works of art that are almost as famous as the region’s gastronomic accomplishments.

Seine River Cruises

Some Saône – Rhône River cruises are combined with river cruises along the Seine River in Northern France, stopping in places like Paris, Rouen, Honfleur and Giverny.

OUR ADVICE: The mainstream English-language river cruise lines such as Viking, Uniworld, Scenic Tours, Tauck and Avalon all offer Saône and Rhône River cruises and if you choose any of these companies, you’ll be cruising in their spacious and luxurious ships.   If you’re choosing a cruise by a tour aggregator, concentrate on the cruise itinerary and the ship you want to travel on  (of course, there’s also price!). Be sure to check out our “Things to watch for” page too!

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