Burgundy, the River Rhône & Provence River Cruise - MS Swiss Corona
From the lush slopes of the scenic winelands to the sun-baked hills of Provence and the wild beauty of the Ardèche Gorges to the medieval splendour of Avignon, enjoy a fascinating cruise to one of the most picturesque corners of France. We start in France’s gastronomic capital and explore the beautiful Saone and Rhône rivers, the preferred route of traders and invaders alike since the dawn of recorded history. Everywhere there are reminders of the Romans and the greatest empire of the ancient world. You will be staggered by the engineering genius of the staggering amphitheatre at Arles and the huge aqueduct at the Pont du Gard. Avignon was the seat of the Papacy during medieval times, heralding a century of greatness crowned by the absorbing Papal Palace and its stunning renaissance art collection. Van Gogh created arguably his greatest works in Provence and all this is set in some of France’s most stunning natural beauty – all waiting to be discovered on this wonderful cruise.
- Visit to Beaune, centre of the Burgundy wine region and wine tasting
- Cruise the spectacular Rhone valley
- Guided tour of Lyon, second city of France and its gastronomic capital
- Visit to charming Vienne
- Tour of the astonishing Ardeche Gorges
- Guided tour of Arles, with its extraordinary Roman remains and home of Vincent Van Gogh
- Visit to the Pont du Gard
- Tour of superbly preserved, medieval Avignon and the stunning Pope's Palace
- Price includes full-board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day
- Services of a cruise director and tour manager
- Standard class reserved seat on Eurostar from London St. Pancras with return rail connections on selected dates from more than 50 regional stations or return flights from selected airports (at a supplement)
Louis XIV as its focus. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is crammed with antique shops and intriguing traboules – narrow covered passageways enabling silk merchants to transport their wares to the river without getting wet – that today are a joy to amble through. As well as its glorious architecture, Lyon is generally acknowledged as France’s (and to locals the world’s) gastronomic capital. In fairness it has much to commend it: nouvelle cuisine was invented near here and the city boasts a huge array of speciality food shops and eateries, including 20 restaurants with one or more Michelin stars and countless little places to eat.
While you enjoy your first lunch the ship quietly slips its mooring. Cruising upstream, we catch the first glimpses of the vine-clad slopes of the hazy green Beaujolais hills as we approach one of the world’s most revered red-wine-producing regions. On our left we see the picturesque villages of Morgon, Fleury, Juliénas, Chénas and many more, while on the right you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of snow-capped Mont Blanc – Western Europe’s highest mountain. As the afternoon drifts into evening and we cruise past the town that gives them their name, the white wines of Mâcon hold sway – and what could be better than a cool, crisp glass in the lounge before enjoying this evening’s culinary delights in the restaurant, prepared by our outstanding chef.
During another superb lunch, we enter perhaps the most picturesque section of the Rhône as the river squeezes and twists past Condrieu, Saint-Rambert-d’Albon and Saint-Vallier, with wooded cliffs rising high on both sides. Traditionally these stretches were the most dangerous due to fierce currents and varying water levels but, with the waters now tamed by a series of locks whose complex mechanisms never cease to fascinate, this afternoon can be spent relaxing on the Sun Deck taking in the exceptional views. Later we moor in the pretty provincial town of Tournon, with its imposing castle and tree-lined avenues on one side of the river, while on the other are the steep vine-covered hillsides of Hermitage, where another of the world’s most revered wines is produced – a fitting view as we enjoy another exquisite dinner.
After lunch we explore one of France’s most outstanding landscapes – the Ardèche Gorges, whose scale is a fitting reminder of Mother Nature’s awesome power. Sheer limestone cliffs plunge almost 1,000 feet to the river’s blue waters, which elegantly snake their way through stupendous rock formations, culminating in a huge natural arch, the Pont d’Arc. Caves, grottoes and natural sculptures create marvellous views at every turn before we return to the gentler slopes of the Rhône Valley, where our ship is moored in charming Viviers, a medieval town clustered around its 12th-century cathedral. We slip our mooring and proceed through the famous lock at Bollène, one of the deepest in France, as you relax over dinner.
After lunch we visit the amazing Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct, one of the wonders of the ancient world. No amount of fame can diminish the first sight of this 2,000-year-old structure, which was the highest bridge built in the Empire –the Romans themselves considered it the most important testimony to their greatness. Its statistics are staggering: over 900 feet long and almost 160 feet high, with its stones each weighing up to six tons. To put this in perspective, the span of the Pont du Gard is greater than the width of the River Thames at London Bridge – and no mortar was used in its construction! The situation is lovely too, with pine- and cypress-covered hills adding to the harmonious setting. Rejoining the ship, we cruise along the Rhône and, during dinner, pass the imposing 15th-century castle at Tarascon standing guard on the river bank.
After lunch you’re free to explore as you wish, perhaps visiting the nearby Petit Palais, the former home of the archbishops of Avignon, to cast a critical eye over the remarkable collection of over 300 paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including works by Botticelli and Carpaccio. Or take a stroll on the iconic Pont d’Avignon, which, dramatically, ends halfway across the river, made famous by the melody we all recall from our first French lessons. It’s our final afternoon so you may wish to do some shopping, or just find a quiet café in a shady Provençal square to watch the world go by. Perhaps though, return to the luxurious surroundings of our ship, finding a quiet spot to contemplate the many wondrous places you’ve seen and experienced over a quiet cup of tea!
This evening we enjoy the sumptuous Captain’s Dinner, with the chef serving specialities of the regions you’ve visited during your voyage of discovery.
Built in 2004 utilising the most modern design techniques and latest in safety features, as its name suggests, the five-star MS Swiss Corona is Swiss owned and managed - and one of the finest such vessels adorning any European river!
Your first experience is the strikingly luxurious lobby, with beautiful polished marble decks, adorned with rich hardwoods, tasteful brass fittings and classic wrought-iron staircases, recalling classic five-star hotels from the golden age of travel. Blend this with the ship’s low passenger complement, just 139 guests (many similar size vessels carry nearly 200), with 35 crew, the ratio to passengers at less than 4 to 1 is very high, guaranteeing an excellent level of service and a more personal touch.
Read about 'Life On Board' our European river cruise ships here