River cruises are attracting gourmets, art fans and avid travelers for a leisurely way to explore Europe. Unpack once and watch vineyards and vistas in the French countryside from the top deck or your stateroom balcony. My husband and I selected a Scenic Cruise on a 75-cabin (150 passenger) luxury vessel to cruise The Rhone and Saone Rivers.
One morning we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avignon and toured the historic Papal Palace. After the palace closed to visitors, we returned in the late afternoon for a private evening concert, organized by Scenic Cruises, where virtuoso musicians performed Mozart and Bach on a harp, flute and cello. Other days we visited Gallo-Roman ruins in Lyon and walked in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh in St. Remy.
Another evening we climbed to the massive, medieval castle at Tournon, after it had closed to visitors, for a private acoustical concert and cocktails on the terrace. As the sun set over the Rhone River and hillside vineyards, we toasted our new cruise friends from Scotland, Australia and Canada.
During our 8-day journey, we explored the famed region of Beaujolais and the lavender fields of Provence. We cruised past fortified medieval villages with towers, small farms, fields of red poppies, meadows of lavender, grazing goats and steep vineyards.My husband hurried up to the top deck of the boat whenever we passed through locks, where he could observe the nautical maneuvers. I slipped into the pool and had a 360’ view of the fairytale scenery slipping by. One day I had a massage in the spa, another afternoon I took the free cooking class with a former Michelin-stared restaurant chef. Ah, now that’s a vacation!
In the Beaujolais region a Countess welcomed us to her family’s castle, built in the 10th century and re-built many times since. She explained the history and architecture of the castle and the region’s time-honored winemaking traditions before we sampled the wines made from grapes grown and made by her husband, the Count
In Lyon, Avignon, Tarascon, Tournon and Chalon-sur-Saone we slipped into town to shop, sip wine in the cafes and mingle with the local population. We explored Vienne and Lyon by bike on the ship’s electronically assisted bicycles.
Breakfast on the Balcony
Most mornings we awoke to the chirping birds and church bells. One sunny morning our personal butler delivered Eggs Benedict and mimosas to our stateroom, so we could stay in our soft robes and slippers and dine in the privacy of balcony. The balconies were an extension of the room and are approximately 36 square feet, furnished with two chairs, a table and an electric sliding-glass window. With a push of a button, you can raise or lower the window and have fresh air or keep out cold, heat, rain or bugs.
Hassle-free and Relaxing
This wasn’t our first River Cruise. You could say we’re hooked. 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 late afternoon for a quiet time to read in our air-conditioned stateroom. We unpacked our bags, hung everything in the closet, and settled in for 8 days. Rarely do we relax on a vacation to Europe as much as we do on a River Cruise because we’re usually planning the next day’s activities, meals and entertainment.
You may wonder why you haven’t heard of Scenic Cruising, a luxury river cruise company. Until recently, the Australian Parent Company had not marketed to Americans. For us, that is a plus. Our fellow cruisers were from the UK, Australia, Canada, Panama, and the US. This makes for dynamic, interesting conversations and new international friends.Scenic operates an all-inclusive river cruise. All meals, wine, beer and drinks (excluding the very highest-end liquors and champagne), internet, all excursions, tips, laundry (once during the cruise) and professional butler service are included in the price.
Thirty-some French wines (no surcharge) were served throughout the cruise, allowing us to sample wines from the regions we cruised through. To enhance your wine experience, a succulent selection of cheeses is served at lunch and dinner daily. To wake up every day, in a new place, with no hassles was a true vacation for us. If you are looking for an upscale, all-inclusive river cruise, Scenic River Cruises is definitely worth checking out. Here are tips for packing.