Rhône River Cruises
Rhône river cruises may be most associated with France—and understandably so, since the majority of the river flows through the southeastern region of the country—but the river actually originates from the Rhône Glacier that is located about 6,000 feet above sea level in the Swiss Alps. After it descends through the Alps, the river empties into Lake Geneva and then continues on its journey south west, meeting up with the Arve River just below the Swiss city of Geneva and then rushing through the Jura Mountains. Shortly after the river flows into France it turns south and starts a trek of about 190 miles to the Mediterranean Sea, which makes it unique, as the Rhône is the only major river in Europe that flows into the Mediterranean.
The Rhône’s connection to the Mediterranean made it one of the most important waterways in ancient times. Not only did it serve as an inland trade route during a period when river travel was the quickest means of transportation, it also linked regions of Gaul (a Roman province that today encompasses France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, as well as sections of Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany). Before the Roman Empire, however, the Rhône River basin was home to several Celtic tribes, and the Greeks also explored the region. Several hundred years after Roman rule, during the Medieval Period, the Rhône Valley was transformed into an area populated by cathedral towns and abbeys; and while the area’s wine-making tradition germinated during this time, it flourished during the Renaissance and the centuries that followed.
Rhône River Cruising Through Lyon
If Paris is the city that draws people to the Seine for a river cruise, it is Lyon that attracts travelers to the Rhône. Considered by many to be the French culinary capital (food critic Maurice Edmond Sailland, better known as Curnonsky, once declared the city to be the “gastronomic capital of the world”), Lyon is famous for its bouchons—restaurants that serve traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as coq au vin, rosette Lyonnaise, and a plethora of charcuterie. The most renowned of these establishments is Paul Bocuse’s L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, a Michelin 3-star restaurant that graces the fine-dining bucket lists of gourmands around the world. Should you be lucky enough to get a table, don’t pass up the chef’s Truffle soup, which Bocuse created in 1975 for then-president of France Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
Unlike in other French cities, where wine is the alcoholic beverage of choice—so much so that one would think the fountains in the town squares are overflowing with Grand Crus—in Lyon, expertly crafted French beers are poured from taps as frequently as corks are pulled from bottles of red and white Burgundy. If you yearn for a cold beer and gastropub fare while in Lyon, make sure you visit Brasserie Georges, an art-deco styled beer hall that first opened in 1836 and serves four house-brewed beers, a pils, a gold, a brown, and a seasonal offering.
Rhone River Cruises
Rhône river cruise guests will be greeted by brightly colored lavender fields, plentiful vineyards, ancient Roman ruins and idyllic French villages. In between the pastoral countryside you’ll discover the picturesque cities of Lyon and Avignon, as well as the iconic wine region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. People and places along the Rhône have contributed to some of the world’s most significant artistic, culinary and cultural movements.
Wines Of The Rhône River Valley
If wine is your libation of choice, the Rhône River Valley offers plenty of world-class options. The region is abundant in vineyards that stretch out over the hillsides, some of which are incredibly steep. The area’s Mediterranean climate produces long, sweltering days during the summer and brisk winters characterized by fierce rain-bearing winds. Such severe growing conditions are what lead to dynamic, complex, and flavorful wines; and wines of that quality have become the staple of many top châteaux in the region—châteaux that specialize in Côtes du Rhône, Pouilly-Fuisse, Beaujolais and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These wines dominate the menus of restaurants and cafés in Lyon, as well as the shelves of wine shops throughout the city.
Of course, Lyon isn’t a destination for only those who love to eat and drink. Film buffs will enjoy touring the streets of the city that was home to Auguste and Louis Lumière, brothers who created the first film camera in 1892. The city is now home to the Institut Lumière, which features a movie theater as well as a museum dedicated to the cinematic art form. And don’t think that Notre-Dame is only famous in Paris. The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon was built in the late 19th century and is situated at the peak of the city’s main hillside, which provides visitors with breathtaking views of the town. In fact, on clear days, those who make the climb to the basilica’s rooftop can even catch a glimpse of the Swiss Alps in the distance.
A History Buff’s Paradise
The entire Rhône River Valley, in fact, is teeming with Roman Catholic history; however the city of Avignon, about 140 miles south of Lyon, is the epicenter. From 1309 to 1377, the city served as the home of the Roman papacy. During that period, seven popes resided in Avignon, beginning with Pope Clement V and culminating with Pope Gregory XI. Today, the Palais des Papes (the Papal Palace in English), is a World Heritage Site made up of two buildings, the old Palais of Benedict XII and the new Palais of Clement VI, who was the most extravagant of all of Avignon’s popes. Other noteworthy historical sites of the Roman Empire exist in the area, including Arles, a once vibrant Roman city that is home to a well-preserved and often-visited Roman amphitheater; and Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that was built on the Gardon River not far from the town of Uzès.
This is only a small sampling of the sights and experiences that passengers can enjoy during a European river cruise. In fact, Rhône River itineraries also include time spent in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, or Paris—in some cases cruises are bookended by time spent in two of those cities—which means Scenic passengers can immerse themselves in several European cultures over the course of their European river cruise trip.
Luxury River Cruise Ships
Every Scenic French river cruise begins aboard one of the company’s boutique vessels or custom-built Space-Ships, so named for their spacious guest cabins, dining, and entertaining areas. Each of these four-deck Scenic Space-Ships includes numerous dining and sightseeing areas, as well as a lounge and bar area that offers panoramic views. Additionally, guests can soak up the rays at the top-deck swimming pool or retreat to the wellness center, which is equipped with a fitness area, beauty salon, and massage rooms. These ships are also noteworthy for their luxury suites, which are outfitted with sun lounges, 32-inch high-definition TVs, and complimentary wireless internet access.
Rhône River cruises take place aboard Scenic Emerald and Scenic Sapphire, 443-foot-long ships that were refit in 2013 and can accommodate 167 passengers in 84 cabins, as well as 53 crew members.