Sail the Path of French Merchants on the Rhône River

A ship passes by an old French castle.

If you swoon at fields of lavender, hilltop towns with twisting cobblestone lanes, and multi-course lunches under a Mediterranean sun, book a deluxe stateroom or suite on Emerald Waterways’ Sensations of Lyon and Provence cruise.

The Rhône has long been one of the major arteries of France. Since the days of the Greeks and Romans, merchants have sailed its length, introducing their cultures to the country and exporting France’s products. Today, a cruise along the river is an ideal way for visitors to be introduced to many of France’s highlights: the culinary capital of Lyon; the historic Roman amphitheater in Arles; and Avignon, home of the famous Palace of the Popes. You’ll also stop at charming towns and villages like Viviers and Tournon.

Along the way, you’ll experience how Emerald Waterways recognizes the many different ways that travelers want to connect with the world. EmeraldACTIVE excursions include opportunities to bike through Lyon and explore Avignon by foot. EmeraldPLUS tastings allow you to learn about the cuisine of southern France. And if you want to venture beyond the itinerary and see sites farther from the Rhône, sign up for a DiscoverMORE outing.

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Explore the Wines of Tournon

In Tournon, you can spend the day seeing vines where local syrah grapes are grown; later, back on ship, you’ll learn more about wines at a lecture led by an onboard sommelier.
Emerald Waterways


Emerald Waterways

Launched in 2013, Emerald Waterways has quickly been lauded by both travel professionals (receiving multiple awards from Cruise Critic and Travel Weekly) and satisfied guests. With river cruises in Europe, Asia, and on the Nile, as well as ocean cruises on the Adriatic, Emerald Waterways showcases a new model of cruising. The innovatively designed ships offer an inviting intimacy and flawless service, while EmeraldPLUS excursions provide opportunities to experience the best of local cultures and cuisines.
A colorful riverside town in summer. A tall cathedral is seen on the left.

DAY 1Arrive in Lyon

When you land in Lyon, a representative from Emerald Waterways will greet you and transfer you to the Emerald Liberté, one of the three newest ships in the Emerald Waterways fleet.

With room for just 136 guests, the Emerald Liberté embraces an exuberant French sense of joie de vivre and the latest in cutting-edge amenities. The Reflections Restaurant serves gourmet French dishes matched with perfect wine pairings by the onboard sommeliers. If you want some pampering, the spa and hairdresser await. Innovations aboard the ship include details large and small, from a retractable glass roof over the pool to Nespresso machines in the top suites.

In the evening, you’ll enjoy a welcome reception and a chance to meet some of your fellow guests over dinner.
A close shot of brightly colored intricate mosaic roofs

DAY 2Beaune

Today you’ll travel by road to the Burgundy wine region. After a stop in the village of Chalon-sur-Saône, you’ll continue on to Beaune. Chalon-sur-Saône’s biggest claim to fame is as the birthplace of photography; credit goes to Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who created the world’s first photograph in either 1826 or 1827. (He was also responsible for a number of later advances in the field.) The town has a small photography museum and the relaxed air of a French provincial town.

You’ll continue on to Beaune, where the most famous landmark is the Hospices de Beaune, known for its multicolored roofs. It’s one of the best examples of the flamboyant variation of Gothic architecture. Established in 1443, it’s now a museum.

You’ll return to the Emerald Liberté, where you can try a special EmeraldPLUS activity: an olive-and-cheese tasting that provides an introduction to two of southern France’s most famous culinary exports.
An old stone bridge leading to apartment buildings

DAY 3Lyon

Today you’ll experience Lyon, France’s third-largest city. Sitting at the point where the Rhône and Saône rivers meet, Lyon was established in 43 B.C.E. by the Roman Senate. It would later become the capital of Gallia Lugdunensis, the Roman province that included much of modern-day central and northwestern France. Its amphitheater, baths, and many of its other Roman sites—stops on your ship’s walking tour—remain in remarkably good condition despite the centuries that have passed since they were built. The 19th-century Basilica of Notre-Dame can be seen from almost everywhere in Lyon, and in turn offers views of the city below. If you’d rather explore the city by bike, it’s an EmeraldACTIVE option here.

Whether you travel on two feet or two wheels, don’t spend all your time concentrating on the most famous sites. Part of Lyon’s magic is getting lost in the maze of the city’s old town.

You can also choose today to explore Perouges on an optional DiscoverMORE tour (at an additional cost). Much like Viviers, Perouges peaked a few hundred years ago. Today, only about 100 people still live in the village, but the homes of wine merchants, weavers, and craftsmen from centuries past have been preserved, giving the town a magical medieval atmosphere.
Brightly colored houses along a river. Two tall towers rise from the same building in the background

lucentius/Getty Images/iStockphoto

DAY 4Tournon

After arriving in Tournon, you can head to town and discover some of its historic sights, or go for a stroll along the river. On the Rue de Doux, you’ll find the houses of some of the town’s wealthiest merchants. Eden Parc, once part of a convent, is now a bucolic woodland with river views. Your ship’s walking tour includes Roman ruins and a castle with sections built in the 10th, 14th, and 16th centuries (today parts of it are used as the magistrates’ court).

Just across the river from Tournon, Tain d’Hermitage is one of France’s celebrated wine regions, most famous for its reds made from syrah grapes. An EmeraldPLUS wine lecture on board the ship will give you excellent insight into region’s products. You can also choose one of the EmeraldACTIVE excursions here: a guided bike tour or a guided walk through vineyards.
An alleyway through ancient moss-covered buildings.

DAY 5Viviers

As you continue your way along the Rhône, you’ll arrive in Viviers. Today, this town is home to fewer than 4,000 people. But at its height, when it was a prosperous medieval trading center, the population numbered around 30,000. Many architectural treasures from that period remain, including one of France’s oldest cathedrals, which incorporates Romanesque, Gothic, and later elements and houses a collection of Gobelin tapestries. You’ll also see the Maison des Chevaliers—a handsome Renaissance building—as well as centuries-old stone houses lining the town’s narrow streets.

A DiscoverMORE excursion (at an extra cost) visits the town of Grignan, most famous for a Renaissance castle that was transformed in the 17th century into an elegant palace. It sits on a small hill overlooking lavender fields in every direction.
A bridge extending into the water from a castle.

DAY 6Avignon

If you were paying attention in your European history class, Avignon will ring a bell. From 1309 to 1378, the city was the seat of seven popes—a situation that resulted from a dispute between France and the papacy. The story becomes even stranger after that: Between 1378 and 1418 there were two rival popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon.

On your visit to the Palace of the Popes, your guide will explain all the details of this odd chapter in history. Meanwhile, you’ll appreciate Europe’s largest gothic palace, measuring more than 160,000 square feet and featuring numerous chapels, cloisters, libraries, and apartments. Afterwards, wander along the cobblestone lanes of the historic center and admire the Pont d’Avignon. This landmark medieval bridge once spanned the Rhône; today, just four arches of the original 22 still stand.

EmeraldACTIVE offers two opportunities to stretch your legs, starting with morning yoga and later a tour by foot through town. Travelers interested in the legacy of Roman rule in southern France may want to join the DiscoverMORE excursion (at an extra cost) to the three-tiered Pont du Gard—the tallest Roman aqueduct that’s also one of the best preserved.

In the evening, you’ll savor the cuisine of Top Chef Fabien Morreale. Emerald Waterways’ EmeraldPLUS experiences are all about getting to the heart of the local culture, and there are few cultural experiences more enjoyable than trying traditional local dishes.
A Roman amphitheater in a town.

DAY 7Arles

Start your day with a walking tour of Arles. Its most famous landmark, the enormous Roman amphitheater, is a remarkably well-preserved structure from 90 C.E. that seated 20,000 spectators. Other Roman ruins include a theater, baths, and a cemetery. But Arles is perhaps most famous for inspiring Vincent Van Gogh. He painted the Café de la Nuit in Café in the Evening—a place that’s still operating today. Another subject of his, the garden of the former Arles Hospital, is preserved to look as it did in Van Gogh’s day.

If you want to venture beyond Arles, a DiscoverMORE excursion visits Les Baux de Provence (at an additional cost)—a spectacular hilltop village named one of the country’s most beautiful. Fewer than 500 people live here, in homes scattered among rocky outcrops.
A colorful coastal city at sunset. Ships float in the water.

DAY 8Depart

This morning you’ll say farewell to the Emerald Liberté and transfer to the airport in Nice to begin your journey home. If you’re now convinced that Emerald Waterways’ approach to travel matches yours, the cruise line offers a world of destinations to visit next. Perhaps you’ll want to experience another wine region like Portugal’s Douro River, or travel to the Nile for a taste of antiquity. You could also head east and cruise the mighty Mekong aboard the brand-new and luxe Emerald Harmony. With itineraries on nine rivers and ocean cruises in the Adriatic, one is sure to be the perfect fit.
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