Rhone River Cruise, France
I've always thought the best way to get to know a city is by foot. The best way to get a know a country, however, might just be by boat. In the spring of 2014, my mother and I embarked on a river cruise throughout the South of France - watching the sunset from our balcony each night, and exploring new chateaus, wineries, and picturesque villages each day. More intimate than a large cruise line and offering lots of varied tour options, AMA Waterways was the right choice to cover a lot of ground and explore the smaller cities along the Rhone River; you can find the itinerary HERE.
The tour kicked off in sunny Arles, welcoming us with warmth and the wonderfully bright colors so closely associated with the South of France. This was one of the few cities we were given a significant amount of time to explore, so my mum and I took our time wandering into the patisserie shops, smelling soaps and linens, dining in the town square. Although foie gras is more of a specialty in the Southwest regions of France, in Arles it is still far cheaper and more readily available (and delicious) than anywhere in the US.
Arles is also home to Van Gogh's final asylum before his passing - lined with flowers and beautiful archways. The beginning of the cruise also takes you through Avignon's historic Pont Du Gard - an historic Roman aqueduct, and Carrieres de Lumieres in Les Baux de Provence - an art installation featuring majestic music and artwork on the walls of stone quarries (a truly enthralling experience that must be seen, not read about !)
The cruise continued through Viviers and Tournon - where I wandered through farmer's markets and drank plenty of rosé on the roof our ship. The highlight of the trip for me, however, was Grignan - a small village atop a hill that could most aptly be described as "charming." With its cobblestone paths, confectionary shops, and stunning views - I only wish we'd had more time to wander and explore.
A few chocolate, wine, and truffle tastings later - you'll find yourself in Lyon, the gastronomic center of France. The Marchés-Lyon is an amazing find - full of nearly every sausage, cheese, and dessert for tastings and purchase. The cruise ends with a day trip to the medieval hilltop village of Oingt, pristine and surprisingly empty.
Understandably, cruises are not for everyone. My mother and I have always been fans, however, because of the sheer amount of things you can see in a short time without having to repack your bags every few days. AMA Waterways is clean, with amiable service, and good food (as well as unlimited wine pours with dinner.) If you don't mind having to make small talk with fellow river companions or sticking to a bit of a schedule, cruises are a great way to cover a lot of ground ! And drink a lot of rosé.