Ponders escorted River Cruise with Uniworld exploring The Rhone and Saone
DAY 1: Avignon
We arrived at Marseille Airport. Here we were met and greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship docked in Avignon, this was about a 50 minute journey through lovely countryside. I loved seeing so many wild poppies – I do love them as a flower. We were greeted with a warm reception from the SS Catherine staff, and shown straight to the sumptuous lounge for drinks. I took a tour of the ship so I could be sure to let all my group know what was on board. SS Catherine is a truly gorgeous boutique ship that simply has luxury and style seeping from every corner! As well as the large and friendly lounge there is a bar area, piano lounge, coffee bar, and a quaint array of sweets that guests can help themselves to. The boat has 4 decks, the lowest level are a few cabins with what I would describe as having a head height window, and a very plush cabin. There is a coffee and water station with cookies always to hand, a well sized gym and some lovely display areas with some nice jewellery, perfume and creams, etc for sale. The elevator starts here and can work the three floors ahead. The middle deck has the French balcony cabins. I always say to clients if you can afford these, it is nice to have a lovely river view during your cruise. The cabins again are well designed and have the most comfortable bedding and toiletries and from Asprey… very indulgent. The reception area and the dining room are also on this floor. We then head up to the Upper deck – again all with French balcony cabins and also in the middle of this corridor are a handful or luxurious suites that have a lot more space and comfort along with a Butler. The lounge is also located on this deck – at the very front of the ship there are a few tables and chairs to sit and take in the views – a lovely little sun trap here to. At the back of this deck there is a second bar/lounge/restaurant area called the Leopard bar and a small but beautifully appointed swimming pool
Then the top deck – lots of sun loungers and tables and chairs to simply enjoy the sun deck and the stunning views that surround you.
DAY 2: Tarascon (Arles or Tarascon)
Today we are invited to one of two sun-drenched Provençal towns, each with an allure all of its own. Arles, known for its remarkable Roman ruins and an inspirational place for Van Gogh, so much so that he painted some 200 paintings there (including Sunflower, Starry night and The Yellow House) in just 15 months. We decided to visit Arles, we saw the first bridge built to cross the Rhône River by the Romans, creating a vital overland route between Italy and Spain and facilitating the expansion of their empire. I loved the paintings on the old buildings, the Amphitheatre and seeing where Van Gough painted many of his famous paintings, or the second choice is to visit Tarascon boasts an ancient castle, as well as a local legend about a ferocious dragon. Its many medieval sites include a 12th-century church and a 15th-century castle that is rich with tales of a beloved ruler. During the drive we were lucky enough to see Camargue horses grazing, and growing abundantly were apricot trees, strawberries, ganache red plants to help produce rose wine, almond trees and this region is known as the largest producing area for asparagus and in all colours – White, green and purple!
In the evening there is a special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner where we were introduced to all the on board staff.
DAY 3: Avignon
The walled city of Avignon is one of the most fascinating towns in southern France, with a host of historic gems to explore—including the fortress residence of rebellious popes who broke from Rome and once lived and ruled here. Avignon is home to the medieval bridge immortalized in the folk song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon which we saw along with the Palace of the Popes. This is a picture-perfect city centre which looks as though it has been lifted straight from the pages of a history book and by stepping inside its medieval walls you find yourself immersed in a time gone by. We had our unluckiest day with the weather and had rain here. As one of our group needed assistance with a wheelchair we decided to join the “petit train” that leaves from the main square in Avignon – The train visited everywhere interesting in the old town. Just being on the train was an experience as it made its way around the very narrow streets. The commentary was excellent. For just 10 Euros each this was a perfect way to take in much of the city in such a short time as you can.
DAY 4: Viviers
This was one of my favourite days. What a truly beautiful and indeed enchanting village this is. Time seems to have stopped centuries ago, Viviers has a long and storied past that goes back more than 1,600 years—and a splendid architectural heritage to match. At one time, Viviers was divided along religious lines—the clergy lived in the upper part of the town, the laity in the lower part. Your exploration of the town will take you through both parts. We were treated to a musical recital in the historic Cathedral and can quite believe it is the smallest in France. We were then invited back to our lovely tour guides home. Inside a big wooden door to what looked like a small space, but hidden tunnels, 4 floors and total French décor were all awaiting us. and the French hospitality just kept getting better, with French cheeses, wine and the village mayor all to greet us. This was a unique experience, I will never forget.
DAY 5: Tournon (Tain-l’Hermitage)
If you love fine wine, you’ll love the twin villages of Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage. Today we could opt for a guided walk or a more vigorous vineyard hike, on both we had the chance to taste the local specialty—wonderful wines made primarily from Syrah grapes.
Tournon is nestled alongside the Rhône it is a picture postcard town of a little French village once again an old historic bridge crosses the Rhone. By crossing the bridge you get the best views of both towns for either side.
Then Tain-l’Hermitage. We walked along the beautiful streets and then went to a very quaint wine merchants called Compagnie de l’Hermitage. We were provided with a very individual tour and talk re the land, the production of the vines, how it is then placed in cement casks or barrels and eventually bottled and distributed… and of course it would have been rude not to partake in a wine tasting. Each wine was explained and we enjoyed all three very much.
DAY 6: Lyon
As the epicentre of French gastronomy, Lyon is a city of tantalizing contrasts, there’s much to explore here, from the work of culinary visionaries to silk weavers’ secret passageways.
Again on this Uniworld cruise we were given three choices of excursions
Exclusive guided “Let’s Go” Lyon peninsula bicycle tour
Choice of Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Lyon walking tour or Exclusive silk weavers walking tour
I fell in love with the old town – boasting colourful Old World façades, medieval mansions and hidden passageways; Street cafes both French and Italian in decor and shops selling local crafts, mingled in with the locals and their homes. Hidden corridors run through this part of the town which has now earn’t its UNESSCO. World heritage status
In the morning we were taken on a really interesting trip of culinary riches as we visited peerless market hall. My taste buds were alive and kicking here and the presentation and colour of the pastries, the vegetables, and that cheese was fabulous.
Situated at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and with roots stretching back over 2,000 years to the days of Julius Caesar, Lyon is a place of fascinating dualities.
Exclusive guided “Let’s Go” Lyon peninsula bicycle tour
Choice of Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Lyon walking tour or Exclusive silk weavers walking tour.
DAY 7: Mâcon (Beaune)
The pace of life is decidedly more relaxed in Burgundy, where endless rows of grapes hang heavy on the vine. The capital of the region’s wine trade, Beaune, is renowned for its history, beauty and highly prized wine, as well as its medieval-era hospital—the Hospices de Beaune. Located in the southernmost part of Burgundy, Mâcon, a Saône River port, is your gateway to Beaune.
Choice of Burgundy wine landscapes, Beaune, Hospices de Beaune with open-air farmers’ market visit or Mâcon walking discovery tour
A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner was prepared for us this evening.
DAY 8: Lyon (Disembark)
Time to disembark the ship
A short half an hour transfer from the ship to the airport and then we ended our lovely weeks river cruise with a nice easy flight from Lyon back to London
In summary I want to go back – for a longer time to visit Avignon and Lyon – two lovely towns and when there I will definitely be visiting lovely Viviers again
Uniworld once again delivered to the very highest standard and we are all just deciding which cruise to take next year as we will all be going back.
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