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Review: Burgundy, the River Rhone and Provence with Riviera Travel

Cruise - River Cruise


An eight-day cruise on the rivers Saône and Rhône

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2359 reviews

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  • August 2017
  • Lyon
  • Outside
  • On your own
  • Regular holiday

40 people found this review helpful

I had done my first river cruise last summer on the River Rhine. I’d enjoyed it and decided to repeat the experience with a trip on the River Rhone in the summer of 2017. Checking out dates to coincide when the family were away and I had no grandparenting responsibilities, Riviera Travel came up with the best match. I liked the itinerary and an additional bonus was was that I could fly from Manchester, as Riviera make a point of using local airports.

It was a good trip, starting from Lyons at the confluence of the Rhine and Saône. We began by and sailing north on the River Saône as far as Chalon-sur-Saône before retracing our steps back to Lyons and then south along the Rhone to Arles ending up at Avignon.

Both are large rivers flowing through some lovely scenery with vineyards, small villages, chateaux and distant views across to the Alpes Maritimes. The Rhone is larger and more fast flowing than the Saône had had some very deep locks to negotiate.

We were on Lord Byron which is jointly owned by Scylla (a shipping company based in Basel) and Riviera Travel. Only a few years old, it was a very stylish and comfortable ship setting extremely high standards. I had a very comfortable standard cabin on the Emerald deck, the lowest deck. The only difference between more expensive cabins on the upper decks was a long narrow window just above the water level rather than panoramic windows that opened. As I was intending to spend all my time on the sun deck this didn’t worry me.

The information pack provided in the cabin contained a map of the Rhône and Saône marking all the bridges and locks so we could follow our progress. There were also detailed maps for all the port of call which meant I could wander by myself without fear of getting lost. There were guided tours with a local guide but, unless we were using a coach, I tended to give these a miss and explore by myself. The Riviera tour manager gave a short briefing each night about the following days itinerary and was a wealth of information and ideas if you did want to explore independently.

The ship can carry up to 140 passengers but there were just over one hundred on our trip. All the staff were excellent as was the food. Link this in with interesting stops and some very good scenery, this made a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday

There were twenty other passengers flying from
Manchester. It was an early evening flight which got us to Lyon airport just before 10pm. We were met by a Riviera rep and taken by coach to the ship, a journey taking around 30 minutes. A cold supper had been left in our rooms for us.

We had a guided tour of Lyon in the morning which included the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fouviere and the old town, followed by some free time.

In the afternoon, the ship cruised north along the Saône. This is a broad slow flowing river with wooded banks. Silt is a problem and the river has to be dredged regularly with the silt and sand being removed by barge. The banks are marshy with water lilies, swans and herons. Released Coypu have been a problem but numbers have been reduced drastically by culling.

The ship had moored at Chalon-sur-Saône overnight and I just had time for a quick scamper round the town before joining the guided tour of the Burgundy wine villages on the way to Beaune, where we had a wine tasting and free time to explore the market.

Returning to the ship for a late lunch, we then sailed back down the Saône to rejoin the Rhône. The river flows through a wide fertile valley with large arable fields and a lot of woodland. The banks are wooded and in places Charolais cattle were coming down to the river to drink. There is little settlement along this stretch of the Saône apart from Tournus with its distinctive church.

The ship had moored at Vienne in the early hours, and we had a free morning to explore Vienne with its superb Roman remains.

After Vienne, the ship continued to sail south along the Rhône to the next mooring point at Tournon in the early evening. This was an attractive stretch of the river with woodland, vineyards and small villages. There was some heavy industry on the side of the river and quite a bit of barge traffic. We could see the Alpes Maritime to the east with their bare granite tops catching all the sunlight.

There was just time for a quick walk around Tournon, and across the footbridge to the even smaller settlement of Tain l’Hermitage.

We spent the morning cruising south along the Rhône past wooded slope and vineyards with glimpses of the mountains of the Ardeche to the west, with some quite craggy outcrops of bare limestone. This part of the river is fast flowing and drops quickly. Until the locks were built in the 1930s, it was too dangerous for river traffic. These are some of the deepest locks on any river with depths of over forty feet. HEP power stations have been built beside the locks and now provide most of the power for the surrounding area.

We moored at the tiny settlement of Le Pouzin, which was heavily bombed by the Allies in August 1944 as they were wanting to destroy bridges and cut off supplies to the German Army. Only one street of old houses is left, beyond the railway line.

Coaches picked us up for a visit to a lavender farm before driving down the Ardèche Gorges.

The ship had sailed south to Vivier where we rejoined it before sailing south to Arles where we moored for the night.

I skipped the guided tour of Arles, and after an early breakfast set off to explore by myself. This is another wonderful Roman city.

After lunch we had a coach excursion to Pont du Gard. The boat sailed overnight to Avignon.

We began the morning with a guided tour of Pont d’Avignon and the Papal Palace.

I then left the group to explore by myself, missing lunch and spending the afternoon in Avignon.

All our fellow passengers departed after breakfast. The Manchester flight was a late evening departure from Lyon, and we had the run of the lounge, bar and sun deck until being picked up by coach mid-afternoon for the nearly four-hour drive to Lyon Airport. I took the chance to head back into Avignon and explore further.

It was a good flight back to Manchester getting us in just turned 11pm. I’d booked overnight accommodation in the Radisson Blu Hotel in the terminal before catching the train home the next day.

My full trip report with all the pictures can be read here.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 2 Comment(s)

  • snoweydog
    3 months ago
    It would be lovely to have a relaxing break in France, We went to Lourdes in 2017 as our friends live nearby. I would love to experience other parts of southern France, just like you have done with Riviera.

  • discerning-traveller
    3 months ago
    Oh to dream , that one day we will be able to safely do a trip like this again, sounds delightful