The 500-mile-long Rhône River, which is fed from the glaciers of the Swiss Alps, carves its way through some of Europe’s most stunning landscapes. The Telegraph, in fact, included the Rhône on its list of “Europe’s 11 Most Beautiful Rivers.”
What can you expect if you book an Avalon river cruise on the Rhône? Historic towns, some of France’s most famous vineyards, pretty farmland and lavender-laced fields. The following are just some of the major highlights that you’ll have the pleasure of discovering during your time on the Rhône, one of the longest rivers in Europe.
Lyon may rank behind Paris, Nice and Cannes in popularity with travelers, but a chance to explore this gem of a city is one of the biggest rewards of embarking upon a Rhône River cruise. This city is located at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône and is France’s second largest urban area.
Its Old Town — also known as Vieux Lyon is one of the largest Renaissance quarters in France and a UNESCO World Heritage site. In Lyon, you can stroll through traboules, which are hidden passageways that run beneath the buildings, or visit the city’s many beautiful churches, such as the magnificent Fourviere Basilica. And because Lyon was once an important Roman city in what was then known as Gaul, it is also boasts historic ruins, including the 2,000-year-old Ancient Theater of Fourviere.
Lyon is also famous for its culinary delights. In fact, Lyon is considered by chefs and foodies as the gastronomic capital of France — not Paris, but Lyon. That’s pretty amazing, considering that France, itself, is known throughout the world for its culinary supremacy.
If you’re going to be in Lyon — a city that GQ called the “Real Capital of French Food” — you would be sorely amiss not to dine in one of its restaurants. Or, even better, why not take a cooking class, so that you can learn the tips and tricks of Lyon’s world-famous chefs? It’s a gift to yourself that will keep on giving, long after you return home from your cruise.
From 1309 to 1376, Avignon — not Rome — was the seat of the papacy. During this period, seven successive popes resided in this city located in Provence. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Avignon is the magnificent Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace).
Both a fortress and a palace, it is one of the most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. And if you love wine, you won’t want to miss visiting the vineyards and wine cellars of nearby Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Many artists have muses that inspire their paintings. Most often, they are beautiful women. But for Van Gogh, it was the sweetly seductive town of Arles that inspired a large number of his famous paintings and drawings. In his honor, the Arles Office of Tourism offers a Van Gogh walking tour so you can see for yourself the Place du Forum, which was featured in the artist’s oil painting, “Cafe Terrace at Night.”
You can also see the area that influenced one of his most famous works, “Starry Night Over the Rhône.” And if you find that — like Van Gogh — Arles inspires your creativity, consider signing up for a workshop where you can learn to paint surrounded by the same scenery that influenced his artistry.
Arles, which was once an important Roman city, also boasts a well-preserved Roman amphitheater that was large enough to seat more than 20,000 spectators. Built in 90 AD, the Arles Amphitheatre still hosts bullfights, plays and concerts today. Another major attraction in Arles is the Church of St. Trophime. This former cathedral, which was between the 12th century and 15th century, is an important example of Provencal Romanesque architecture.
This city is also considered the gateway to Camargue Natural Park, a must-see for animal lovers. Camargue, which is Western Europe’s largest river delta, is home to more than 300 bird species, including thousands of pink flamingos. But Camargue is probably most famous for the stunning white horses that roam the park. These gorgeous horses are a photographer’s dream, especially when they’re splashing through the park’s marshy waters.
During Medieval times, Viviers was a bustling town with a population of approximately 30,000. Today, this charming town is much smaller — home to just about 4,000. It boasts cobbled streets, a picturesque Old Town and the smallest active cathedral in France — St. Vincent Cathedral, which dates back to at least the 11th century.
While you could explore Viviers’ picturesque streets during the day, why not take a nighttime ghost tour instead? You’ll get a generous dose of history mixed with a sprinkling of spooky. It’s definitely a fun and interesting way to learn all about Viviers’ many layered history.