The Rhône River travels a sun-splashed path from the Swiss Alps through southeastern France and down to the Mediterranean Sea. Most cruises sail between Lyon and Avignon or Arles, though many also include diversions onto the Saône River, to visit Burgundy or for an overnight stay in Paris. Impressionist landscapes, bustling outdoor markets, amazing food, and fine wines all await on a trip that lasts eight to nine days.
The cruise season runs from March to December, but late spring and early fall are the most pleasant times to sail. In summer, the heat — and crowds — can be intense.
What We Love
The Wines: Most cruises offer tastings — both on shore and on board — ranging from elegant Burgundies or Châteauneuf-du-Papes to perky, chilled rosés.
The Cuisine: Dine in the fine restaurants of Lyon (home to legendary chef Paul Bocuse) or graze the markets in Provence for olives, cheese, and baguettes.
Best Known For
Medieval Towns: With distinctive ironwork-topped church towers, cobbled streets, and fortifications, Provençal towns are a delight. Linger in a sidewalk café, shop for lavender products, or just soak up the ancient atmosphere.
Roman Ruins: The triple-tiered Pont du Gard stone bridge, the Arles Archaeological Museum, the amphitheaters of Arles and Lyon, and the temple and other ruins at Vienne are all must-sees for history buffs.
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Lyon: The market Les Halles de Lyon - Paul Bocuse is foodie heaven, while the Fabric Museum celebrates Lyon's silk-weaving past. The UNESCO-designated Old Town is filled with Renaissance buildings (don't miss their courtyards) and “bouchons” (quirky local bistros) offer hearty lunches.
Avignon: Tour the massive, Gothic Palais des Papes, seat of seven pontiffs, wander the UNESCO-designated historic center, or set out for Châteauneuf-du-Pape wineries.
Arles: Vincent van Gogh painted nearly 200 works here. Get a feel for the light and landscape of this ancient city or search out remnants of its Roman past.
Viviers: Narrow streets are lined with stone and half-timbered buildings, including the ornate, 16th-century Chevaliers' House. Catch the view from behind Saint-Vincent Cathedral, or take a side trip to the Ardèche Gorges, Europe's answer to the Grand Canyon.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Beware of the Mistral: This chilly Provençal wind gusts up to 50 mph, causing choppy waters and frozen fingers.
Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.