This cruise on the French rivers Saône and Rhône aboard the luxury river vessel MS Amadeus Provence, is the perfect way to explore some of France’s most beautiful countryside and historic sights. The cruise encompasses not only the history, culture, food, wine and tradition, but also attractive villages, proud castles, impressive churches and some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable in Provence.
Our voyage begins as we sail north from Lyon up the Saône to the small city of Mâcon from where we explore the famed vineyards of the Mâcon and Beaujolais wine regions and visit the ruins of the Benedictine Cluny Abbey. Continuing to Chalon-sur-Saône, we drive along the Burgundy ‘wine route’ to Beaune to visit the magnificent 15th-century Hospices de Beaune and enjoy a wine tasting. We then sail back to the historic city of Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, and, after a tour of Vieux Lyon and the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, we re-join the Rhône and sail south to Avignon – the ‘City of Popes’.
Here we explore the city with its narrow streets and grandiose Palais des Papes. We also venture into the Provençal countryside to see the magnificent Roman aqueduct – Pont du Gard; the historic hilltop town of Uzès; the beautiful city of Arles, a treasure trove of Roman antiquity with its magnificent amphitheatre and the epitome of Provence; as well as the Camargue nature reserve. Our voyage continues sailing north again, where we will enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Ardèche Gorges before the journey ends back in Lyon.
It promises to be a delightful journey, complimented by an inspiring array of shore excursions and captivating lectures from Douglas Skeggs.
LONDON / LYON
Early afternoon departure from London Heathrow on a British Airways flight to Lyon arriving late afternoon. On arrival, transfer to the dock in Lyon to board the luxury MS Amadeus Provence and embark on a seven-night cruise on the Rhône and Saône. Welcome dinner on board.
LYON / MACON
This morning the vessel arrives in the town of Mâcon, located in southern Burgundy. This wine-producing region produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. Spend the morning exploring the city with its pastel buildings and tiled roofs, and visit the wine museum, Georges Duboeuf’s Hameau du Vin, dedicated to the history and production of Burgundy wines. Finish the visit with a tasting of Beaujolais wines, in a room housing a barrel organ called a ‘bouteillophone’.
Lunch on board. Near the city of Mâcon is the Cluny Abbey, dedicated to St Peter. This afternoon visit the ‘spiritual heart of medieval Europe’. Founded in 910 by Guillaume d’Aquitaine, the abbey is comprised of three abbey churches. At its height, it was home to over 10,000 monks. Welcome drinks followed by dinner on board.
CHARLON SUR SAONE / TOURNUS
Continue to explore the wine region with a stop in the town of Chalon sur Saône with its half-timbered houses overlooking the square, with art galleries, speciality shops as well as a museum dedicated to photography. This morning we will drive along France’s Burgundy wine route through Pommard, Volnay and Meursault. In Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, you will visit the beautiful Hôtel-Dieu (Hospices de Beaune), founded as a hospital in 1443. Today, it covers a large area of the town with its museum, three courtyards, outbuildings, 15th-century bastion and hundreds of meters of cellars, which are notable for containing the private wine reserve of Hôtel-Dieu. Before returning to the boat enjoy a wine tasting at one of Beaune’s famous cellars.
Lunch on board. This afternoon explore the medieval towns of Brancion and Cormatin including the Castle of Cormatin, built between 1605 and 1629 by the du Blé family, which chronicles the history of the arts at this time in France. The castle also boasts a beautiful Renaissance formal garden. Re-join the boat in Tournus. Dinner on board.
Arrive back in Lyon, situated at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers, and is the third-largest city in France. This UNESCO World Heritage city is known for its cuisine as well as historical and architectural landmarks. This morning we will visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the well-known pilgrimage church, which offers unforgettable views of the city. Return to the boat.
Lunch on board. Relax this afternoon as the vessel sails through the picturesque countryside. Dinner on board.
This morning we will explore the Provencal city of Avignon, also known as the City of Popes, due to the role the city played in the Avignon conspiracy of the 14th century, when a pope abandoned Rome and fled to Avignon. Visit Avignon’s lavish Palais des Papes (Papal Palace), once a fortress and a palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. From 1309 to 1377, seven popes resided in this impressive building, one of Europe’s most fascinating examples of Gothic architecture. Also see the Pont D’Avignon, a ruined 12th century bridge that once spanned Rhône.
Lunch on board. Afternoon excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Pont du Gard, a three-level aqueduct constructed over 2000 years ago by the Romans and one of the architectural masterpieces of the ancient world. Built by the Romans in 1 AD it was designed to carry fresh water from springs across the small Gardon river valley to the Roman city of Nîmes. Continue to the lovely old town of Uzès, perched on top of a hill above the River Alzon, with the windowed, Pisa-like Tour Fenestrelle, which is tacked onto the cathedral. The narrow lanes are lined with Renaissance and Neoclassical houses which were once the residences of the 17th- and 18th-century bourgeoisie, who had grown rich on textiles. Return to the boat. Dinner on board.
Morning walking tour of Arles which was once known as the ‘Little Rome of Gaul’ and is a treasure trove of Roman antiquity. See the magnificent ancient Roman amphitheatre, the 12th century Romanesque church of St. Trophime and the Gallo-Roman burial road. The city’s vibrant colours and striking quality of light were also an inspiration to Vincent Van Gogh, who utilized Arles as a backdrop for many of his finest works.
Lunch on board. Afternoon visit to the Camargue Nature Park which covers 86,000 hectares and is known for its unique flora and fauna as well as semi-wild bulls, white Camargue horses and hundreds of species of birds. Also visit Saintes Maries de la Mer, located on the Mediterranean Sea where the Rhône joins the ocean. This village is steeped in history and boasts stunning beaches which meet the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Dinner on board.
CHATEAUNEUF-DU-RHONE / LE POUZIN
This morning visit to the the Ardèche Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of Europe, with its spectacular limestone cliffs towering up to 1,000 feet above the meandering river below. The entrance to the Ardèche Gorge is through the famous Pont d’Arc near Vallon which, at 192 feet is, according to the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, ‘the largest natural bridge in Europe’. Take the famous Gorge Trail, from where there are viewpoints such as the Pont d’Arc and Serre de Tourre which offer the greatest views onto the canyon and the river Ardèche.
Lunch on board. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Captain’s Gala Dinner.
LYON / LONDON
This morning disembark the boat and drive along the banks of the Sâone and enjoy views of the Cathedral of St. John and the Palace of Justice, before arriving at the Vieux Lyon (Lyon’s old town). Take a gentle stroll through the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the famous Roman theatre and buildings showing the influence of the Italian Renaissance. Visit the Musée Gadagne, a 16th-century mansion built for two rich Florentine bankers, which includes an excellent local history museum, Musée d’Histoire de Lyon, as well as an international puppet museum, Musée des Marionettes du Monde, that pays homage to Lyon’s iconic puppet, Guignol.
Lunch at a local restaurant in Vieux Lyon. Transfer to Lyon airport for an afternoon British Airways flight to London Heathrow.