Vive La French Cruising!
Ah, France in the springtime... is there a better time to experience this amazing part of the world! If you're interested, this is what my itinerary looked like for my week of river cruising bliss:
After boarding the SS Catherine on Sunday, 26 April, first up was the city of historic proportions, Avignon. Surrounded by a medieval wall, it encases the original 'Palace of the Pope' - before the Romans took him back to Italy. The cobble-stoned paths and narrow walkways demanded my most practical walking shoes, or so I thought until I saw all the French women choosing style over comfort and wearing high heels!
Our visit to Arles, an ancient city with many Roman ruins, was such a treat as I discovered the sights that Vincent Van Gogh painted when he spent some time here. The Cafe de Nuit is still standing in the same bright yellow that he painted it, along with the famous rooftops and bridge paintings. It felt like I was truly stepping back in time as I walked in the same steps as him - but lucky for me, with 2 ears! Arles is such a beautiful little city with its cobbled streets, Mansion houses and history dating back to Julius Caesar, it's easy to see why people call this the heart of Provence.
Life on board the SS Catherine is very relaxed and casual with a great mix of ages and people. And the food - nothing short of sensational! I tried truffle mousse, frog legs and saffron sauce, with everything sourced locally and made on board. The pastries are to die for and I was forced to limit myself to one croissant a day.
The weather was extremely warm (mid-twenties) and up to 10 degrees higher than normal. I unfortunately (yes, so sad!) had to buy a few lighter clothes as the winter clothes I'd packed were simply too hot 😊.
A visit to the Pont du Gard aqueduct, a UNESCO World heritage site just out of Avignon, was both beautiful and fascinating.
Docking by Viviers (Viv-e-a), an enchanting village on a hill, we walked through an avenue lined with Sycamore trees that were planted by Napoleon (or so they say) to provide shade for his soldiers. As we wound up the hill, the cobblestone paths were so narrow in some places that you could stand in the middle and practically touch both medieval houses on either side.... some of these paths were even used in the movie " Chocolat"!! We enjoyed the panoramic views offered at the top as well as the smallest cathedral in France, where we were treated to a mini-concert from the powerful organ. We explored our guide's traditional French home, which was used as a safe house in the war and had many stories to tell. Viviers was absolutely one of my highlights and if I don't make it home, do come & visit me there!
Next up, some time in the centre of Cote du Rhone wine country with its picturesque villages on either side of the river, made easy to explore thanks to the suspension bridge that separates these twin towns. We hiked up some steep vineyards (similar to Mt Iron) on narrow paths with stone walls protecting the vines. There were lovely views from Tain L'Hermitage across to Tournon where Tour de France will race through in July. After a few sips, we explored the Valrhona Chocolate factory where premium chocolate is made and used by mainly high-end restaurants and chefs. A rather pleasant day was spent by all!
As we made our way to the gastronomy capital of France, Lyon, we enjoyed an easy afternoon of sailing in warm weather & entertained ourselves by watching the sights go by and going through the numerous locks.
First stop in Lyon was a visit to the top food market where the very best of the best produce is displayed... an utter visual & taste sensation that was very hard to leave! Bouchons (unpretentious restaurants) line the streets and people spill onto the streets from lunchtime until late in this city that knows how to eat, drink and be merry! The historic old quarter of Lyon was full of medieval and renaissance architecture and fabulous place to walk & soak up the history via the old passageways (les traboules) that connected one street to the next.
Sigh. Only one more day to go :(
Our last visit was to the village of Beaune, just far enough away from Paris for the wealthy to opt for their 2nd home & surrounded by the most expensive vineyards in the world ( EUR1-10 mill p/acre) producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine. Lucky for us, market day was on and the volume and variety of local produce was enviable, including Dijon mustard, which originated from close by.
River cruising is now my favourite way to holiday as it forces you to slow down and smell the roses - literally. Unpack once and then enjoy some wonderfully memorable shore excursions. Plus, being exposed to the most delectable food and wine available anywhere - it's a truly boutique hotel experience on water.
As we say au revoir France, until we meet again...in the words of our sommelier - 'May all your joys be true joy and your pains be champagne!'.
For loads more jaw-dropping images - head over to Paula's Instagram page.