TARASCON, France: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours offer some of the finest European river cruises in the world. With many itineraries to choose from, their Rhone River trip aboard the Scenic Sapphire from Tarascon to Chalon-sur-Saône in southern France is one of the most popular.
From the moment you step on board, you will know that you have entered an exclusive world that caters to those seeking the ultimate in a luxury river cruise.
What sets Scenic apart from others? Start with all-inclusive dining and beverages (including alcohol), which usually cost extra on other lines. All gratuities are also part of the cruise fare. If you get hungry between meals, the River Café offers a variety of between meal pastries, snacks, sandwiches, and tapas, all-inclusive.
If all that isn’t enough, guests have the services of a personal butler, expertly trained in providing five-star service.
The Scenic Space-Ship fleet is state-of-the-art. Spacious suites include comfortable Scenic Slumber beds, a pillow menu, plush bathrobes, slippers, and Wi-Fi. A complimentary mini-bar, restocked daily, is standard as are spacious bathrooms and upscale L’Occitane toiletries. For those who wish to exercise, there are E-bikes as well as a gym. Finally, to help keep you healthy while traveling, Scenic has an onboard Salt Therapy Lounge, a wellness center, and a massage service.
You have generous culinary options onboard ranging from casual to fine dining. Breakfast in the Crystal Dining Room is buffet style with stations for meats, seafood, fruit, yogurt, bread, and omelets made to order.
Healthy snacks, tasty treats, and a gelato bar are available all day at the River Café. The café is in the beautiful Panorama Lounge, which also serves as a focal point for port talks and relaxing with fellow passengers. You can enjoy all this floating past idyllic scenery through their floor to ceiling windows, affording unobstructed views along the banks of the Rhône and later the Saône River.
At least once a week, all guests will experience dining at L’Amour. Five-course menus feature regional specialties paired with local wines. Ten Diamond Deck guests can choose a gastronomic six-course meal expertly prepared by the chef at Table La Rive.
Unforgettable on-shore excursions are available at each port of call, designed to enrich your cruising experience. These include city tours with knowledgeable guides as well as trips to abbeys, medieval churches, and wineries, and visits to fascinating historical landmarks.
Sailing from south to north along the Rhone is like floating along in a luxury, all-inclusive resort hotel. You can have a 360-degree view of the countryside on the sun deck, enjoy wine and music in the Panorama Lounge, or take in the views on your room’s private, step-out balcony with electronically controlled windows. Either way, the route takes you past vineyard-laden hillsides, pastoral villages, and interesting architecture. Here are the main ports of call on Scenic’s Idyllic Rhône itinerary.
Tarascon, in the Provence region, has an array of sites to explore. A visit to a local olive farm, Saint-Rémy, and the Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery are some of the most popular in this area. Also here is the Saint-Paul Asylum, the hospital where Vincent van Gogh admitted himself after cutting off his ear. He produced some of his most prolific paintings and sketches while here, including one of his most famous, The Starry Night.
Avignon is home to the largest Gothic edifice, Le Palais des Papes. The popes fled to Avignon when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. The commune sits within impressive limestone ramparts measuring 4,330 meters in length. Shopping here is a visual feast with more than 1,700 retail businesses such as boulangeries, patisseries, gelato shops, perfumeries, clothing, apparel stores, and local specialty shops.
Other options are a walking tour or E-bike rental to visit one of many museums or historical sites. Musée Angladon, a small and interesting museum, houses paintings by van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Sisley, and Picasso.
One of the not-to-miss nighttime excursions takes passengers to the Pope’s Palace for a night of musical enchantment. Inside a large, beautiful hall with a high vaulted ceiling, three young women play classical and contemporary songs on harp, cello, and flute, to the delight of the guests.
The acoustics in this room are perfect to carry the melodic sounds.
Viviers is a small village with winding, cobblestone paths meandering throughout. Narrow grey houses with window shutters accented by vibrant red roses are an unexpected but beautiful addition to this town.
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The main focus is the Viviers Cathedral, built in the 11th and 12th centuries. After visiting the cathedral, grab a delicious pastry at the local modern yet traditional patisserie.
Vienne is a historical riverside town best seen by a walking tour. The Maison Carrée, a first century B.C. temple, is one of the finest examples of Roman architecture in France. The Vienne Cathedral dates back to the Late Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Another one of Vienne’s wonders is the Théâtre Antique de Vienne, a Roman amphitheater. During the height of Rome’s glory, this amazing wonder could seat 13,000 citizens. Today the theater is home to a variety of concerts and entertainment events.
Tournon-sur-Rhône is home to the Castle of Tourney where a special guitar performance plays for your listening enjoyment. Relax with a glass of wine and canapés on the terrace of this medieval castle, and don’t forget your camera as there are fantastic views of the countryside, river, and nearby village.
As you continue sailing up the river, you will come to Macon in the Burgundy region of France. This quaint commune has beautiful flower-laden streets, sidewalk cafés, retail shops, and museums. The Musée des Ursulines is a former convent transformed into a beautiful building with displays of art and crafts ranging from prehistoric to present day. The best of Burgundy’s Chardonnays are from this area, and a trip to a local winery is a must for wine aficionados.
Lyon, on the banks of the Saône River, is the gastronomic capital of France. Just about every city block has chocolate and pastry shops. Scenic’s guests have a choice of walking the cobblestone paths in the nearby medieval town of Pérouges, a visit to the Notre Dame Basilica, or a trip to Lyon’s Botanical Garden and Zoo on an E-bike. For foodies, cooking classes taught by local chefs provide a great opportunity for culinary enrichment.
There is also a recommended tour that includes the old city of Lyon (Vieux Lyon). The city is an excellent example of Renaissance architecture with hidden passageways called traboules.
Lyon the center of silk production in antiquity with as many as 13,000 warehouses, and these passageways between buildings made it easier to transport goods from street to street. You can still find some of the best silk fabrics in the shops along the cobblestone streets.
Unpack once and your river cruise will be a hassle-free since all the planning has been done ahead of time. You can partake in all the excursions or simply relax on board while taking in the sights. This type of traveling is all about culture, art, and history. Enjoy fine food, make new friends, and bring home some amazing memories!
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored trip by Scenic Cruise Lines; however, all opinions herein are the authors.