Tain l'Hermitage

Rhone River Cruise: A Magical Itinerary of History, Art, Wine and Food

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Want to Take A River Cruise on the Rhone? Here is What You Can Expect

We truly love the area of Provence, and we feel a perfect way to experience this region is to take a Rhone River cruise. In fact, we have travelled on a river cruise on the Rhone twice! Cruising along the river gives you a comfortable and convenient way to see the stunning countryside and really experience the charm of the entire area.

What To Expect On a River Cruise On The Rhone

Itinerary: Rhone River Cruise From Lyon

Our most recent cruise on the Rhone was with Riverside Luxury Cruises on its Ravel Ship. The itinerary took us on a magical journey from Lyon to Avignon with some exciting stops along the way. Below is a Rhone River cruise map in order to see the overall route.

Map of the Rhone itinerary

Embarkation in Lyon

The cruise began in Lyon – one of our favourite French cities. As the gastronomic capital of France, this city deserves some extra time for visiting. While the cruise has an overnight in Lyon before leaving, we suggest coming in a day or two in advance to enjoy this fabulous city.

Lyon city

In Lyon you can enjoy walking the Old Town, taking the funicular to the Cathedral high above the city, the expansive park areas, awesome street art, a walk or boat ride along the Soane and the terrific open air and covered markets. Lyon has something for everyone!

Insider Tip

It is important to note that even though your cruise will be on the Rhone, the river cruise ships are typically docked along the Soane River. These two rivers converge in Lyon, so it makes getting around quite easy.

During one cruise we were docked within walking distance of the city centre but on the Riverside cruise we were docked much further out, and it required a taxi to get to the ship.  This will change depending on the day, season, port congestion, etc.

Riverside Ravel docked

Since we were going to be a distance away, we spent the day touring around Lyon and went to the ship around 4:00pm. But if you are arriving on the day of embarkation Riverside will arrange your airport or train station transfer and bring you directly to the ship.

On our first night, we settled into our spacious cabin, enjoyed drinks at the lounge, were welcomed by the captain and officers and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the dining room. During dinner, the ship relocated to Fillon Quai, further down the river, so we enjoyed a serene cruise on the water while dining.

Captains Welcome Reception

Touring in Lyon

On our first morning onboard, we had a mid-morning tour departure for Lyon.  Our local guide took us first up the hill by coach to see the Roman amphitheatres that date to 25 BC for a photo stop.

Roman Amphitheatre in Lyon

We got off the bus at the Notre Dame de Fourviere Basilica which has an honorific title of Basilica from the pope in 1870 and went inside to see the impressive mosaics that covered most of the walls of this beautiful church.

Mosaics in Cathedral in Lyon

This building is owned by a private foundation, so it does not have funerals or weddings – but does host concerts and events. From the terraces, there is a fantastic view of the city below.

View of Lyon from Fourviere

Our driver brought us down and dropped us off in the city where we took a wonderful tour of the Old Town of Lyon. Our guide helped us discover the traboules (passageways) within the city, taught us about Guignol puppets and showed us some of the specialty food items famous in Lyon.

We then had free time in the city before meeting back at the bus. On our way back to the ship, the bus drove through the neighbourhoods of Lyon to give a brief insight into the city and its history.

After lunch, there was a choice to visit a winery in Beaujolais or a medieval village and we chose the second option. We set off for a second tour of the day to the Medieval village of Perouges – approximately 40 minutes from Lyon. This small town is listed on the Le Plus Beaux Villages list which acknowledges 172 beautiful villages located in France.

Village of Perouges

The Church of Perogues is a unique fortified church built into the rampart. It is in Gothic style with Romanesque elements, and it dates to between the 14th and 15th centuries.

Perouges church

We walked around in the beautiful cobblestone streets and then went to have galette – a type of pancake/crepe that is made with buckwheat flour and sugar. It is served warm by the slice and is very tasty. We washed this down with glasses of cider.

Galette

It was a leisurely and very enjoyable tour of a hidden gem in the countryside of this beautiful region.

Tain L’Hermitage & Viviers

Tain l’Hermitage is a very pretty spot located directly on the Rhone River. We had visited here previously and enjoyed a hike up through the vineyards where you can enjoy fabulous views of the entire area and a stop at the delectable chocolate factory that this town is well known for.

View from Tain L'Hermitage

On our Riverside cruise, they were offering a tour of Tournon – the town located directly across from Tain l”Hermitage or a visit to the Cheval Palace. We chose the Palace.

The drive to Hautriveires was through the beautiful vineyards of the Rhone Valley – quite the scenery to see. The Cheval Palace is an extraordinary monument that was built by one man for his daughter. We had read about the Palace prior to coming to France and had watched a movie inspired by his endeavour.

Rhone Valley

After having seen the movie the week previous about this amazing man we were very excited to see the Palace. It was incredible to view this site up close. The design and the detail are out of this world and to think it was created by a man who had never travelled nor was he trained in design or architecture.

Cheval Palace

A self-made design from his mind created with stones that he collected on his own with a small wheelbarrow.  This is a creation like no other. Taking 33 years to build it is something very special. 

Cheval Palace

We loved walking around the structure, listening to the audio guide and really taking in the entire site at a relaxed pace. It was an incredible experience.

The ship sailed soon after we returned and, in the afternoon, we joined in on a mixology course in the lounge. It was great fun!

Mixology class

Today gave us plenty of opportunity for exploring as after dinner we were given the opportunity for a nighttime walking tour of Viviers. This medieval town is also located within walking distance from the dock along the river. We met our guide who was dressed in costume from the 13th century, and he took us on a lovely walk through the village.

Our guide in costume

Viviers is considered to be the best-preserved Medieval city in all of France. The city has winding cobblestone streets, a beautiful cathedral, and a fascinating history. We enjoyed walking around the illuminated streets as the guide told us stories of who had lived here and the history of the town. 

Viviers illuminated at night

We also appreciated listening to a violinist who performed in the courtyard of the cathedral. Viviers is a magical place to see – we have now enjoyed it both during the day and in the evening.

Viviers and Chateauneuf de Pape

Our ship had stayed docked in Viviers overnight and today we had the choice to visit a truffle farm and Chateau de Grignan or Chauvet Cave. We chose the truffle farm.

We visited a third-generation truffle farm where the proprietor Giles shared his process with us for growing and farming truffles. He explained how they introduce the spores from the truffles into the roots of tree saplings to create “truffle trees” and how he is now selling them to farmers around the world. 

The setting of the market price for truffles is done on a weekly basis in a small town just 7 kms from his farm. 

The farmers home

He had his dogs join us and we watched as they easily sniffed out truffles from under the earth. Pretty fascinating. 

Dog sniffing for truffles

Then Giles invited us into his home where he grated fresh truffles onto bread and served it with wine from the local vineyard. We were also able to purchase truffle oil and lavender products that are made on his property.

Preparing truffles and bread

From here we were taken to the town of Grignan where we were led on a walking tour through the beautiful town and up to see the Chateau that sits up on the hill overlooking the entire region.

Chateau in Grignan

The guide was very knowledgeable and shared the facts about the town and the history of the Chateau. The weather was perfect, and the views were spectacular. We had some free time to wander the village and enjoy homemade ice cream.

Spectacular views from the top of the hill

While we were touring, our ship had sailed from Viviers and was meeting us further down the river at a tiny little dock in Chateauneuf de Pape. From here our coach took us into the quaint town centre and brought us to a stunning local winery called Bouachon.

Bouachon Winery

The sommelier led a tour of the winery and then conducted a master class on how to taste wine. It was the most informative tasting event we have ever experienced.

We were instructed on the proper process for tasting wine and enjoyed some special varietals that can’t be purchased anywhere but at the local winery.  It was a very memorable experience.

Wine tasting with cheese

Upon our arrival back to the ship, we were served a lovely dinner with wines from Chateauneuf de Pape. One of the nice things about river cruising is being able to taste the different regional foods and wines from the areas you have visited during the day.

The food each evening was beautifully presented and accompanied by wines chosen specifically by the sommelier to compliment the chef’s dishes.

Arles and Nimes

This morning our ship was sailing and along the river, we were treated to some gorgeous scenery including castles and chateaus. It was very relaxing and pleasant. The pool area made for a wonderful spot to enjoy a swim and watch the shore as the ship sailed along.

Pool Area On Riverside Ravel

After lunch, we had the choice of a walking tour of Arles or a trip to Nimes. Since we had been to Arles previously and were staying here overnight, we chose to take the tour to Nimes.

Our guide took us first to see Le Jardins de Fontaine – a stunning garden built over a Roman spring. The gardens are massive with terraces, wide open paths and canals running throughout. It is such a serene place to wander and to see some Roman ruins. What a wonderful start to the tour.

La Jardins de Fontaine

Our tour continued with a walk through the Old Town which is quite compact and has pretty streets with boutiques, cafes, and fountains everywhere.

Streets of Nimes

Nimes is known for having some of the best-preserved Roman structures including the Maison Carree and the Amphitheatre – they are over 2000 years old and in amazing shape. We visited both on our tour and received extensive information about the history and importance of these buildings.

Nimes Amphitheatre

It was exciting to spend time climbing around in both.  There was also some free time available in Nimes and we both agreed it would be a city to come back and explore some more.

Nimes Amphitheatre

Upon our return, we enjoyed a refreshing lunch and headed to Arles on our own to explore the city. It is an easy walk from where the ship is docked to reach the city and since we had been there previously, we enjoyed leisurely walking the streets and stopping to see some of the sights we had seen on our last trip there.

Plaza in Arles

We were in no rush as our ship was docked for the night which gave us time to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun started to set over the river.

Sunset in Arles

Arles and Aix En Provence

Our ship would spend the day again in Arles but also offered an excursion by coach to Aix en Provence which we opted to do.

Aix is a very upscale city with beautiful manor homes, huge plazas and over 100 fountains all around the city. This is a shopping mecca since you can enjoy all the designer shops in a relatively small area of the Old Town.

Shopping in Aix

Our guide took us for a cheese and wine tasting at a local shop. It was great to sample the different styles of cheese made from local ingredients.

Cheese and wine tasting

From here we had a lovely walking tour of the Old Town including the famous squares, Town Hall, the incredible cathedral, and the most famous locations where the artist Cezanne spent his time while he lived in Aix.

Town Hall

We finished up with a visit to a specialty candy shop where we each received a pretty package containing the local candies – Calisson so we could taste the treats made originally for the King’s wife in the 15th century. Overall, the city is quite beautiful and has a charm all its own.

Candy store in Aix

Upon our return to the ship, the crew served us an incredible BBQ outside on the top sun deck. They went over the top with salads, seafood, ribs, and steak. It was a lovely treat.

With the afternoon free we chose to head back into Arles to visit some of the ancient sights we hadn’t visited previously and revisit the Amphitheatre – very similar to the one in Nimes. It was nice having the extra time here to explore at our own pace.

There are so many amazing things to see in this wonderful city that was also the home of Van Gogh during his most productive years. If you enjoy history and art – this is an amazing place to visit.

Avignon

This morning we enjoyed a tasty breakfast and then met our guide out front of the ship to walk into the city of Avignon. This is yet another fascinating city located right on the bank of the Rhone River.

Walking into the city of Avignon is quite impressive with its amazing, fortified walls that surround the Old Town. These walls date to the 14th century and stretch around the city for more than 4 kms.

Fortified walls of Avignon

Our guide took us on a walking tour of the Old Town including an inside tour of the incredible Popes Palace. Seeing the inside of this location was awesome and having a guide to explain the history and significance of the immense rooms and halls made it that much more special.

Inside Popes Palace

We also visited the grounds surrounding the Palace which included an overlook down to the Pont d’Avignon and the surrounding countryside.

Pont d'Avignon

While winding through the streets, we were shown the Cathedral and the huge covered market. There is so much to see in this lovely city. As the tour finished, we made the decision to spend some additional time in town and explore further.

Sant Pierre Basilica in Avignon
Covered market in Avignon

This is always an option if the ship is located close by and stays docked for a period of time. Since we were there for an overnight this was a perfect way to take advantage of the extra time.

We made our way back to the ship later in the afternoon. It was very quiet on board as there was a second excursion to Marseille offered in the afternoon. We chose not to go on this tour since we had been to Marseille the year prior and spent some time relaxing on the deck, doing some laundry onboard and getting ready for disembarkation the following morning.

Insider Tip

Riverside Luxury Cruises offers self-serve laundry on its ships. The laundry room has washers, dryers, irons and detergent.

On the final evening, we had a wonderful private dinner at a well-known winery in the area. The tables were set up under the stars and we enjoyed a tasty three-course meal with free-flowing wine with some friends made while onboard.

Panery Winery for dinner
Friends made while onboard our Rhone River Cruise

It was a fantastic evening and a very nice finish to our voyage on the Rhone.

Disembarkation in Avignon

Our final morning was efficient – after a quick meal in the bistro, we were picked up by a private driver and taken to the train station for our trip to Paris.

There are no queues when disembarking a river cruise – it is super simple. They bring your luggage off while you are walking to the vehicle, and someone puts it in the waiting car. The excursion manager was there to bid us farewell and we were whisked off to catch a train for our onward journey.

FAQs

Do You Have To Go On All The Excursions On A Rhone River Cruise?

Your voyage is yours to decide on how you want to spend your time. You can join every tour, just some or hang back and enjoy the ship. It is completely up to you and what you enjoy best.

River Cruise vs Ocean Cruise – What Is Different?

Rhone River cruises are a very different experience from ocean cruises.

  • ✅ Much fewer people onboard – on the Rhone typically less than 150 passengers
  • ✅ It is a much more intimate experience
  • ✅ You will not have queues for any activity
  • ✅ There is plenty of seating in all public areas for relaxing
  • ✅ Tours are conducted in small groups
  • ✅ The ship docks within walking distance of many of the ports
  • ✅ You visit some quaint, small villages that aren’t accessible by large ships
  • ✅ No seasickness as the river is calm and you always see land on either side

What Is The Difference Between The Rhone and The Rhine?

We have sailed both rivers and have enjoyed both. However, there are some major differences between the two. The Rhine River travels through multiple countries including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland whereas the Rhone is located only in France.

✦ The Rhine has some incredible scenery such as the Rhine Gorge where you will see castles and chateaus for a three-hour period. There are also lovely German villages along the route, but it is also a much busier river and as a result, you will see more cargo ships and industrial areas between the ports. The Rhone is less developed and so the sights are more located in the towns and cities within the ports that you visit.

✦ Sailing on the Rhine provides additional opportunities such as traditional Christmas markets and connections to the Danube for extensions. The Rhone offers an immersive experience in one country where you can see historical Roman structures, and locations steeped with artistic influences from Impressionist painters and really experience the wines and food of the region.

There are benefits to either river – you may need to have a plan to do both!

What Are The Best Rhone River Cruises?

We have sailed with both Riverside Luxury Cruises and Emerald Cruises on the Rhone. Each company has a different offering, but we thoroughly enjoyed both and would highly recommend either.

We have also sailed on Ama Waterways on other rivers and have enjoyed their service as well.  If you are looking to book a Rhone River cruise in 2024 reach out for expert travel planning advice.

Final World On Rhone River Cruise Review

We have loved both our voyages on Rhone River Cruises. Each time there have been new sights to explore and a different perspective on cities we may have visited previously.

We love to discover the Roman ruins, learn about the deep connection to the artists of the past and of course taste the regional specialties and wines of the area. We highly recommend taking a Rhone River cruise to experience the beautiful region of Provence.

Our picture with the Riverside Ravel ship