France is one of my favourite countries in the world to visit. There’s an endless number of experiences for literally every area of interest; from its diverse nature to vibrant cities, rich cultural heritage, historic monuments and fabulous cuisine, to name a few. I recently joined a France river cruise and I must say, it was a wonderful experience exploring a part of France from the comforts of a floating hotel! I sailed with Avalon Waterways on their Active & Discovery Rhône River cruise from Lyon to Marseille. The wide variety of excursions and relaxed pace allowed me to truly appreciate the great diversity of France.
An immersive France river cruise
I sailed with Avalon on a Danube river cruise several years ago and I was very impressed by the variety of excursions. There was quite literally something for everyone. This time around was no different. The cruise definitely lived up to its ‘Active & Discovery’ billing!
There were hiking, kayaking and cycling excursions as well as immersive food and culture experiences. In addition, guests were free to use the ship’s bicycles at any stop. There was sufficient time to go out and explore on my own, one of the aspects of this France river cruise I appreciated most. These were some of my favourite excursions:
The food and hidden passageways of Lyon
This lovely walking tour of Lyon highlighted its amazing food products as well as the traboules, secret passageways in the historic city centre.
Our guide, a local lady, took us through a maze of covered passageways which were created as far back as the 4th century. Along the way, she entertained us with a delightful mix of historical facts, anecdotes and hilarious stories. In addition, we visited several deli’s to taste some of the city’s famous cheeses, patés and sausages.
A taste of Beaujolais
This excursion to the Beaujolais region north of Lyon was another highlight of the cruise. Along the way, we got to enjoy the beautiful hilly landscapes and medieval villages. We stopped at a family winery, where we were welcomed by the (16th generation!) owner.
He proceeded to tell us the history of Beaujolais wines before guiding us through a step-by-step tasting of his delicious wines.
After the visit, we continued to Oingt, a gorgeous hilltop medieval town. I loved the quaint streets and stunning panoramic views during our walk around the town.
Read more about my experiences on this Avalon Rhône River cruise.
Our hike in the Ardeche Gorge was another highlight. Often called the ‘European Grand Canyon’, this 30 kilometer long canyon is famous for its Pont d’Arc (natural arch) as well as the Chauvet Cave, where some of the best-preserved prehistoric cave paintings in the world were discovered.
Guests could choose between the easy- or advanced-level hike, or a kayaking trip, all of which offered amazing views of Pont d’Arc and the cliffs.
Walking tour of Avignon
I’d been to Avignon before but this walking tour provided new insights to the city and its rich history. The former seat of the Popes, Avignon is a beautiful town with formidable medieval walls, impressive palaces and charming streets. The highlight of the tour was our visit to the Popes’ Palace, the residence of the Popes in the 14th century. Read more about things to see in Avignon.
The tour ended at Avignon’s Les Halles food market, which was an absolutely mouthwatering experience!
I left the group and spent some free time people-watching at a café. I then continued by exploring the maze of lively, colourful streets and found a restaurant in a little square, where I enjoyed a sublime lunch.
This little town near Avignon is home to one of the most famous wines in the world. The excursion included an informative and entertaining wine-tasting at the Bouachon winery, followed by sufficient free time to explore the town, with its picturesque streets, countless wine stores and imposing castle ruins. I ended my walk with another glass of local wine at a café. Read more about things to do in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Hike in the Alpilles and Carrières de Lumières
This excursion from Arles, a combination of nature and culture experiences, was absolutely unforgettable! As we hiked up the hilly Alpilles, with their thick pine forests and towering limestone outcrops, the gorgeous views slowly unfolded. Along the way, I continuously caught the scents of rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender.
The highlight of the hike was a lookout point with panoramic views of Les Baux-de-Provence, one of the most beautiful villages in France. This medieval village is perched precariously on a hillside and is topped by the ruins of a castle.
The 1.5 hour hike ended at the entrance to the Carrières de Lumières, a multimedia show inside an old stone quarry. This spectacular show featured the works of Kandinsky and Cezanne. Read more about my experience at Carrières de Lumières.
On the way back from Les Baux-de-Provence, I asked the bus driver to drop me off in Arles. I spent the whole afternoon wandering around Arles, stopping for lunch at a lovely café and soaking up the ambiance of the town’s quaint streets. Famous for its Roman amphitheatre, Van Gogh heritage and charming lanes, Arles was a joy to explore!
Oyster tasting in the Camargue
This was another highlight of my France river cruise! From our final docking place, Port St. Louis, we went on a drive around the lagoons of the Camargue where we spotted many flamingos. We stopped at a family-owned oyster farm where the son guided us through the process of oyster farming.
Their passion for oysters was infectious and I appreciated their focus on quality and sustainable oyster farming. At the end of the tour, we were invited to taste their oysters along with a glass of local wine. That turned out to be an unforgettable experience as these were some of the best oysters I’ve ever had!
Why I loved the Avalon itinerary
This Avalon Active & Discovery river cruise in France was absolutely wonderful! Aside from the staterooms with panoramic windows and great service onboard, the thing that I found most impressive was the sheer number, variety and quality of the excursions.
When I received my itinerary, I had a hard time choosing. Excursions such as learning to paint like Van Gogh in Provence, making chocolate at the world-famous Valrhona chocolatier, bike-and-wine tours and a ‘ghost walk’ in the medieval village of Viviers sounded so enticing! Alas, I had to choose and I enjoyed each and every one of them!
During the excursions, the groups were always small (±15 people), the guides were excellent and there was ample time to go out and explore on my own.
I also appreciate the fact that Avalon Waterways often chooses to work with smaller, local operators or family-owned establishments which provide an authentic experience. I had a terrific time and I can wholeheartedly recommend this Avalon Rhône River cruise!
Note: this post is a result of the #AvalonAD project, a collaboration between iambassador and Avalon Waterways. However, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.