If ever there was a river that encapsulated the gastronomic appeal and vibrant natural glory of Provencal France, it would be the Rhône and its largest tributary the Saône.
These waterways cut through some of the country’s premier wine regions along with the attractive city of Lyon, famous as France’s foodie capital, and the heart of Provence in the country’s south.
Sailings take guests past ancient Roman amphitheatres, centuries-old stone villages straddling sweeping hills of bright yellow sunflowers, and statuesque palaces and cathedrals standing prominently on the skyline.
Lyon is the starting and finishing point for many river cruises and also where the Rhône joins the Saône River as it flows from its source in eastern France.
Sailings generally head northwards along the Saône into Burgundy to visit the region’s wine capital Beaune, before doubling back through Lyon and travelling southwards to Avignon or Arles. On the way are medieval towns and the chance to explore the craggy limestone gorges of the Ardeche and untamed wetlands of the Camargue where the river splits into Le Grand Rhône and Le Petit Rhône as it flows into the Mediterranean.
Cruises run from March to December with hot summers, balmy springs and warm autumnal months. The Mistral, the strong, cold wind that famously passes through the Rhône Valley, is most prevalent in winter and spring but can strike in summer too. River levels can be affected by springtime snow melt from the Alps and if waters get too high, vessels are unable to pass through locks or under bridges. When this happens, passengers remain on the river ship, but are transported by coach.
Wine-tastings, vineyard tours and culinary-themed excursions, plus bike tours and art classes; Lyon and its atmospheric Old Town; Avignon, Tournon, Roman amphitheatres in Vienne and Arles; and the famous white horses of the Camargue. On the Saône, the main draw is Beaune, capital of Burgundy’s wine region.