I took my maiden voyage on a European river cruise aboard the beautiful Viking Burgundy, motoring along France’s scenic Saone and Rhone Rivers past some of the most beautiful vineyards and vistas in the French countryside. It’s a smaller (but beautiful) boat, carrying just 154 guests; you won’t need a pager to find your family aboard or a map to navigate back to your stateroom from dinner.
Over eight days, my husband and I explored the famed wine region of Burgundy and the lavender fields of Provence. We visited Gallo-Roman ruins in Lyon, Vienne and Arles; we walked the cobbled streets that inspired Vincent van Gogh. We visited the historic Papal Palace in Avignon, “City of the Popes.” We learned about the region’s time-honored winemaking traditions, sampled Burgundy varietals at a small, family-owned vineyard and we indulged in the famed Provençal cuisine in Lyon.
By day we enjoyed sightseeing on solid ground; most evenings we returned to the boat for a leisurely dinner in the dining room, which featured panoramic windows, so we didn’t miss any of the scenery or the amazing locks. The dining room was open seating, with tables for four, six or eight guests, so we were free to sit where we wished —a great way to meet fellow cruisers. The atmosphere was casual but elegant.
Excursions were half a day, so we always had time for exploring on our own. After breakfast one morning, we took a scenic drive along France’s Burgundy wine route through Pommard, Volnay and Meursault. In Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, we enjoyed a guided tour of the beautiful Hôtel Dieu, founded as a hospice in 1443. I couldn’t take enough photos of the medieval hospital, a real architectural jewel with a roof of brightly colored tiles laid out in geometric patterns. And then on to more wine-tasting at one of Beaune’s famous cellars. In Lyon, Avignon and Chalon-sur-Saone we exited the gangplank and slipped right into town to shop, sip wine in the cafés and mingle with the local population.
River Cruises Are a Growing Trend
More and more people are opting to travel through Europe via waterways. Here are some good reasons:
Value: You know what you’re spending right up front when you book a riverboat cruise. Well established travel companies like Viking River Cruises have buying power because of their numerous itineraries and cruises. Just about everything was included in our cruise: three meals a day, gratuities for guides, entries to museums, transfers from the airport and many excursions, like the Beaune and Burgundy wine tour, sightseeing tours in Avignon, Arles and Lyon.
Good use of limited time: In a eight-day cruise, we were able to enjoy many of the French countryside’s attractions and experience the local culture without ever feeling rushed.
Unpack once: How wonderful it was to unpack in our floating hotel and hang everything in the closet–once!
Ever-changing scenery: Floating along the Saone and Rhone Rivers, we passed fortified medieval villages, towers, small farms, fields of sunflowers, meadows of lavender, grazing goats and steep slopes of vineyards. My husband hurried up to the top of the boat whenever we passed through locks.
Hassle-free and relaxing: Rarely do we relax on a vacation to Europe, because we’re planning the next day’s activities, meals and entertainment. On this trip, we didn’t have to rent a car, read road maps, find gas stations, or figure out the hours of a museum or restaurants. We often returned to the boat in the late afternoon for a reviving nap or quiet time to read in our cozy, air-conditioned stateroom. It was that rare vacation from which we didn’t return home needing a rest.
For more information: www.vikingrivercruises.com or ask your travel agent.