Rhône river cruising tour is a combination of elegance, history, beauty and gastronomical delights. The Rhone Rivers wind through some of the world’s most famous wine regions, olive groves, rolling fields of fragrant purple lavender and charming historic towns. As it stretches from the Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rhône connects towns, cities and fascinating landscapes.
Cruises on the Rhône rivers help you discover Southern France and its wealthy cultural, natural, gastronomic, traditional, and historical background. From the Camargue to the Ardèche gorges, via the Vercors massif, cruises on the Rhone from Lyon to Martigues or, in the reverse itinerary, from Martigues to Lyon, offer you a journey in the heart of some of the most beautiful and most preserved landscapes of France.
Beginning life in a Swiss Alpine glacier, the Rhône is the only major river in Europe to flow directly into the Mediterranean Sea. Starting off in the Swiss Alps in the Canton of Valais and flowing down through the Canton of Geneva, the river enters France in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region. Its journey through southern France makes for an idyllic river cruise, taking guests to the most beautiful and historic French cities and landmarks.
Since the time of the Greeks and Romans, the Rhone has served as a route for trade and transportation between the Mediterranean and the French city of Lyon. The Rhone has always been a fierce waterway. Following World War II, 12 locks were constructed to elevate vessels from the sea leavel to 485 feet, allowing visitors to enjoy the French countryside from the inside out, with stops along the way to take in the history and culture, the food and wine.
Discover in one journey some of the most beautiful and traditional cities such as: Arles, Montelimar, Valencia, Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, but also Avignon and its legendary bridge. Discover the surroundings that inspired artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne or Chagall, sip Beaujolais wine in its own terroir, stroll through historic towns, Roman ruins, and enchanting rural landscapes.
A lot of European culture has been shaped along the banks of the Rhône, those early traders left their marks along the river, at ports like Arles, Avignon and Vienne, where ancient theaters and temples stand proudly. As the Rhône makes steady progress towards the Mediterranean, its banks reveal a land of outstanding contrast, where world-renowned cities are bordered by some of Provence’s most esteemed beauty spots, giving you a wealth of cultural highlights to explore.
Throughout the cruise, admire the beautiful Rhone landscapes. History and authenticity will be on the program throughout your cruise on the Rhone. Discover the authentic Provence combining style and refinement. Taking in the vineyards of Burgundy, the charms of Lyon and Vienne, and the incredible history of Avignon and the Pont du Gard. Medieval castles dot the river passage, and Roman ruins hint at the rich history of the region. Breathtaking panoramas of the Swiss Alps give way to stunning scenes of the French countryside and the Beaujolais wine region.
Discover cities with rich historical and cultural pasts. Discover the authentic Provence combining style and refinement. Throughout this cruise, you will be able to admire the beautiful Rhone landscapes. Discover Les Baux de Provence, one of the most beautiful, majestic and exotic villages in France, and plunge into the heart of an extraordinary setting whose charm and fragrance will captivate you. Visit the Alpilles where nature and authentic traditions have been carefully preserved.
The journey steadily north, calling at Vienne, Tournon and Viviers before arriving in Avignon, home to the wonderful Palais des Papes, “Papal city” with a rich past and exceptional jewels of architecture. Marvel at Avignon’s World Heritage-listed Palais des Papes, the biggest Gothic palace in Europe and a symbol of the church’s influence on western Christianity, and taste the celebrated wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a Côtes du Rhône vineyard.
Lyon, the “gastronomic capital of the world”, located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and attend an exclusive concert in the decadent halls of the city’s Baroque Trinity Chapel. Don’t miss discover its famous ‘traboules’, secret passages. Visit the Cluny Abbey, which has had an exceptional political, artistic and religious influence on Europe, then admire the castle of Tournon which stands upright on its majestic rock in the heart of the town and houses a museum labeled “Museum of France” since 1927. In the charming town of Chalon-sur-Saône and on to heart of the ‘Golden Stone’ region of Beaujolais, where you can enjoy an exclusive wine tasting.
Due to the shallow river bed of upper Lyon that is not navigable by larger cruise ships, journeys often incorporate other means to continue exploring this beautiful land. The treasured towns along the Saône and its many tributaries are easily accessible by ferry or other short-distance transport. There is many well designed hiking itinerary to discover wonderful scenery, vine-covered hillsides, and picturesque villages.
The Rhone and Saone Rivers wind through some of the world’s most famous wine regions, olive groves, rolling fields of fragrant purple lavender and charming historic towns. Enjoy fine French Provencal cusine and wines of the Cote du Rhone as you roll along the river. Rolling vibrant lavender fields, plentiful vineyards, ancient ruins and quaint villages along a waterway.
The sunny Côtes du Rhône wine road winds along a mountainous landscape carpeted with vines, studded with warm stone villages, and presided over by the Vesuvius-like Mont Ventoux. Following the River Rhône, with the exception of the scenic stretch of vineyards and fruit orchards between the Roman city of Vienne and the distinctly southern city of Valence. The nougat capital of Montélimar, further south still, also wears its charms well.
Arles is a town of the department of Bouches-du-Rhône, in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The city contains some of the most important Roman ruins in France, and as the gateway between the Rhone River Valley and the Mediterranean, it maintains much of its Provencal aura. Remarkable monuments were built during Antiquity in Roman times, such as the ancient theater, the arenas, the Alyscamps or the Roman circus. The Arena in Arles intact and a stirring reminder of the sprawl of the Roman empire at its peak. Built in A.D. 90, just a decade after the Colosseum, the arena could seat more than 20,000 spectators for gladiator games. The arena is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with other Arles monuments including the Baths of Constantine, the theater and forum.
Due to its geographical position, Arles is a cultural crossroads. It has always been open to Mediterranean cultures in all areas of creation: music, photography, literature. Arles is also the city of the Gipsy Kings, of Chico et les Gypsies, of Christian Lacroix, of Yvan Audouard, of the photographer Lucien Clergue, of the Rencontres d’Arles, the world’s leading meeting place for photo enthusiasts, of the Actes Sud editions and Harmonia Mundi: an inspired city where authors, creators and artists are at home.
Many artists lived and worked in this area. The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889, and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there. These are in internationally known museums and private collections around the world. The Vincent Van Gogh Foundation regularly shows his work as part of larger exhibitions. The architecture of the museum, adapted from a 15th-century townhouse, is stirring and includes an entrance gate by Bertrand Lavier and a glass piece above the bookshop by Raphael Hefti; the lovely terrace offers a view of the city, the Rhone River and Montmajour Abbey. The tourism office offers a guide and itinerary to the sites around Arles where Van Gogh set up his easel.
Open to tourism which is the first activity of the city, it hosts many festivities throughout the year: in December, Funny Christmas, in April, the Feria d’Arles, the international meetings of photography during the summer, as well as in September, the Rice Festival. An international photography festival has been held annually in the city since 1970. On a Wednesday or Saturday morning, be sure to check out the traditional Provencal market in Arles. In early August, the drive to Arles will treat you to fields of sunflowers at the peak of bloom.
Vallabrègues used to be the biggest basket-producer in France, back when baskets were widely in use for transport, carrying etc. Vallabrègues has a small dock for boats traveling on the Rhône River. Basket weaving is traditional and unique to Vallabrègues. They hold a festival every year during the month of August and home-made baskets are displayed in the street and on front of houses. There is a museum commemorating the unique tradition of the village.
Beaucaire is a commune in the Gard department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. A large number of buildings and sites in Beaucaire are registered as historical monuments, including: Chateau of Beaucaire and its triangular Keep; The Taureau Cocardier (Cocardier bull) Goya, a sculpture by Camille Soccorsi (1984) in the Place Jean-Jaurès; The Paul Laurent bullring where are held bullfight events, and shows and concerts during the feria of Sainte-Madeleine; The Sculpture of Drac in the Place de la Republique; The Vieux Mas, a farmhouse from 1900.
Tarascon is a commune situated at the extreme west of the Bouches-du-Rhône department of France in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Tarascon was founded in 48 by the Romans. Viking’s Longships dock in Tarascon, a smaller town 12 miles upriver from Arles. A short walk from the dock in Tarascon is an imposing castle that rises abruptly from the banks of the river. Completed in 1411 by Louis II, Tarascon Castle was built to reinforce the Provence border, though by the 17th century the sentinel served mainly as a prison.
The town’s history is shaped by “The Legend of Martha and Tarasque”. According to population legend, the dragon Tarasque devoured travellers on the banks of the Rhône and was banished by Saint Martha. This legend also gave the city its current name; its previous name is said to have been Nerluc. Église collégiale Ste Marthe (St Martha’s Collegiate Church) is where, according to a local tradition, the biblical figure Martha is buried. The church was built half-Romanesque in the 12th century and half-Gothic in the 14th century. The crypt dates from the 3rd century. Collegiate Sainte-Marthe was dedicated in 1197 and enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries. The crypt houses the relics of Martha in a sarcophagus of the fourth century.
The castle of King René. The present castle replaced a fortress, built on the site of the Roman town to monitor the border of Provence. After the destruction perpetrated in 1399 by the bands of Raymond de Turenne, the Anjou family decided to rebuild it entirely. The construction of the current castle of Tarascon was started in 1401 by Louis II of Anjou. The construction was continued by his first son, Louis III of Anjou, and was completed in 1449 by his second son, René I of Naples (René d’Anjou). Thus, the castle is often referred to as le château du roi René (King René’s castle). It was turned into a military prison in the 17th century, until its acquisition by the state in 1932.
Avignon is the capital of the French department of Vaucluse in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and is on the banks of the Rhône river. Avignon is famous as the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. Between 1309 and 1377, during the Avignon Papacy, seven successive popes resided in Avignon and in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from Joanna I of Naples. Papal control persisted until 1791 when during the French Revolution it became part of France. The city is one of the few French cities to have preserved its city walls. Avignon was one of the European Cities of Culture in 2000 and its historical centre has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Palace of Popes which was built then is the world’s largest Gothic building. It was largely emptied over the centuries, and its vast stone rooms are filled with little more than old frescos, but it is still an imposing building. The Ramparts themselves were erected to keep the plague and invaders out during the turbulent Middle Ages, when Avignon belonged to the papacy and not the French crown.
Le Pont Saint-Bénezet is a ruined bridge not far from the Palais des Papes. The legend of the bridge’s building is that a local shepherd, Benezet (a dialect form of Benedict) was inspired by angels to build a bridge. The bridge was built with 22 arches, reaching across to the tower of Philippe le Bel via the mid-stream île de la Barthelasse. Only 4 of the 22 arches remain.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a ruined medieval castle sits above the village and dominates the landscape to the south. It was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon. None of the subsequent Avignon popes stayed in Châteauneuf but after the schism of 1378 the antipope Clement VII sought the security of the castle. With the departure of the popes the castle passed to the archbishop of Avignon, but it was too large and too expensive to maintain and was used as a source of stone for building work in the village. At the time of the Revolution the buildings were sold off and only the donjon was preserved.
Several museums are worth exploring, including the Musee Angladon showcasing Italian and Provencal paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to works by Picasso, Degas and Cezanne, “Railway Carriages,” the only Van Gogh in Provence, can be seen here. The Musee Louis Vouland is a decorative arts museum that features furnishings, tapestries and a horde of porcelain from the 17th and 18th centuries, along with themed exhibitions.
A theatre festival is held annually in Avignon. Founded in 1947, the Avignon Festival comprises traditional theatrical events as well as other art forms such as dance, music, and cinema, making use of the town’s historical monuments. Avignon festival was founded by Jean Vilar. This cultural initiative brought, year after year, a major economic boost to the city and to the region of Provence. The tourists visiting Avignon during the month of July usually take benefit of their presence to go to the smaller villages around, to discover the local food, local wines, touristic activities.
The area of Bourg-Saint-Andéol is popular for tourism and summer homes, and the city is known as having the richest cultural heritage in Ardèche: there are many dolmens in the Bois du Laoul forest and a sculpture of Mithra near the Vauclusian springs of the Tourne. Several former noble or grand-bourgeois 18th century places are regularly used for local and visitors during summer season. A mediaeval fort with embellishments dating from the 15th and 17th century, the entire construction a classified historical monument, the Bishops’ palace of Bourg-Saint-Andéol with inside the museum René Margotton, front of Rhône, is one of the largest and most complex in the Vivarais region.
Vivarais is a village in the department of Ardèche in southern France. It is famed for its medieval catherdral and views over the Rhone river. Vivarais retains an important heritage from its rich past, including many listed monuments. These include the Town Hall, in the former bishops’ palace; the 18th-century Hôtel de Roqueplane, now the seat of the diocese; the Cathedral of St Vincent, Romanesque, flamboyant Gothic and 18th-century in style, with its choir decorated by Gobelins tapestries and its marble high altar; the 16th-century Knights’ House (Maison des Chevaliers) with its Renaissance façade, decorated with medallioned busts; and the Grande Rue with the elegant mansions of Beaulieu and Tourville, both dating from the 18th century.
Located in the heart of the Rhone corridor, Valence is often referred to as “the door to the South of France”. Between Vercors and Provence, its geographical location attracts many tourists. The commune, founded in 121 BC, over the centuries, the town grew and grew. Today, many vestiges of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, but also from the 17th century, 18th century and 19th century are visible in the city centre. Many monuments of Valence are protected as historical monuments. Many of these monuments are in the quarter of Vieux Valence. Monuments in Valence include the Maison des Têtes, built between 1528 and 1532 by Antoine de Dorne, the Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral, built between 1063 and 1099 under the leadership of Bishop Gontard and also the monumental fountain designed by the architect Eugène Poitoux.
Tain-l’Hermitage is a notable wine producing commune, wines include Hermitage AOC and Crozes-Hermitage AOC, Cornas AOC. In 1818 the commune was the home of French wine négociant Calvet, founded by Jean-Marie Calvet. Shortly after, it expanded to Bordeaux, establishing itself in the city proper and building a château in the Médoc in 1870. Tain-l’Hermitage is also home to Valrhona’s Chocolate City, a museum dedicated to the history and production of the beloved cacao seed. Premium chocolatier Valrhona has been making the confection in Tain-l’Hermitage since 1922 and converted its original factory into a museum with a mouth-watering tour. The factory’s self-service cafe features entrees subtly infused with chocolate.
Tournon-sur-Rhône is a twin town of Tain-l’Hermitage, a village dominated by an imposing castle against the banks of the river. The two small communities flank the Rhone here, connected by a footbridge replicating the original 1825 crossing, the first suspension bridge constructed in Europe. The cobblestone streets of Tournon-sur-Rhone invite a casual ramble. It’s a short walk to the Garden of Eden, former grounds of a monastery dating to 1654, now home to ponds, bridges, footpaths and boxwoods. The gardens are located just a few minutes’ walk from the town center. Tournon-sur-Rhone is known for several agricultural products including sausage and picodon, a very mature goat cheese. Chestnut cream, sold in metal tubes.
Vienne of Isère is 20 miles south of Lyon, on the Rhône River. As a Roman provincial capital, remains of Roman constructions are widespread across modern Vienne. The French Ministry of Culture and Communication has classified Vienne as a city of art and history. The city was also an important early bishopric in Christian Gaul. Its most famous bishop was Avitus of Vienne. At the Council of Vienne, which was convened there in October 1311, Pope Clement V abolished the order of the Knights Templar. The town is now a regional commercial and industrial centre, known regionally for its Saturday market. A Roman temple, circus pyramid and theatre (where the annual Jazz à Vienne is held), as well as museums (archaeological, textile industry) and notable Catholic buildings, make tourism an important part of the town’s economy.
Take a walking tours to the top of Mount Pipet, revealing a great view of Vienne and the Rhone River Valley. A small church, the Belvedere de Pipet, is adjacent to the viewpoint. You can strike out on your own using the walking itinerary developed by the local tourist office, which hits all of the major sites in a two-hour circuit (plus stops). Be sure to stop by the Roman theater, built in the first century A.D. and snuggled into the base of Mount Pipet. Also warranting a look is St. Maurice Cathedral, a medieval Roman Catholic church where Archbishop Guy of Burgundy was crowned pope in 1119. On the edge of town, about a half-mile downriver from the port, lies the Pyramid, a stone obelisk that marks where the old Roman circus (chariot racetrack) was located.
The two outstanding Roman remains in Vienne are the temple of Augustus and Livia, and the Plan de l’Aiguille or Pyramide, a truncated pyramid resting on a portico with four arches, which was associated with the city’s Roman circus. The Temple of Augustus and Livia rising from the heart of town, the monument is one of the best preserved Roman temples outside Italy, in large part, because it was converted to a church in the fifth century. In the 19th century, it was restored and converted into a library.
The early Romanesque church of Saint Peter belonged to an ancient Benedictine abbey and was rebuilt in the ninth century, with tall square piers and two ranges of windows in the tall aisles and a notable porch. It is one of France’s oldest Christian buildings dating from the 5th century laid-out in the form of a basilica and having a large and well constructed nave. It also has a Romanesque tower and a sculptured South portal containing a statue of Saint Peter. Today, the building houses a lapidary museum that holds a Junon head and a statue of Tutela, the city’s protective divinity.
The Gothic former cathedral of St Maurice was built between 1052 and 1533. It is a basilica, with three aisles and an apse, but no ambulatory or transepts. It is 96 m in length, 36 m wide and 27 m in height. The most striking portion is the west front, which rises majestically from a terrace overhanging the Rhône. Its sculptural decoration was badly damaged by the Protestants in 1562 during the Wars of Religion. The Romanesque church of St André en Bas was the church of a second Benedictine monastery, and became the chapel of the earlier kings of Provence. It was rebuilt in 1152, in the later Romanesque style.
Lyon is the third-largest city of France. The capital of the Gauls during the Roman Empire, Lyon is the seat of an archbishopric whose holder bears the title of Primate of the Gauls. Lyon became a major economic hub during the Renaissance. Lyon was historically an important area for the production and weaving of silk. Lyon played a significant role in the history of cinema since Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph there. The city is also known for its light festival, the Fête des Lumières, which begins every 8 December and lasts for four days, earning Lyon the title of “Capital of Lights”.
Lyon was a Roman provincial capital and thus has extensive Roman ruins. Architecture in old Lyon ranges from 12th century to modern, and is primarily influenced by its position in the Renaissance as a centre of silk production. The city is recognised for its cuisine and gastronomy, as well as historical and architectural landmarks; as such, the districts of Old Lyon, the Fourvière hill, the Presqu’île and the slopes of the Croix-Rousse are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Lyon is a vibrant metropolis which starts to make the most out of its unique architectural, cultural and gastronomic heritage, its dynamic demographics and economy and its strategic location between Northern and Southern Europe. It is more and more open to the world, with an increasing number of students and international events.
The original center of Lyon was Lugdunum, built on the slopes of Fourviere, a hill descending into the city. You can wander up footpaths from Vieux Lyon or opt for the funicular ride that departs from just above the Vieux Lyon metro station. At the summit is the Grand Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, built in the late 19th century and commanding a superb viewpoint overlooking the city and its rivers. Inside are exquisite mosaics, and up above, 90-minute rooftop tours allow you to have Lyon at your feet. Some 300 “traboules,” odd little public passageways through private property.
The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon contains one of France’s best art hordes outside Paris. The permanent collection ranges from a trove of Egyptian antiquities to contemporary artworks, with paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Tintoretto represented. At the tip of Presqu’ile is the Musee des Confluences, worth discovering both for its striking, modern architecture of metal and glass as well as its collection focused on science and natural history. Four permanent exhibitions — Origins, Species, Societies and excellent temporary shows are offered.
The old town of Lyon has a unique charm. To see the city from a different perspective, appreciate the unique historical and cultural heritage of this city more appropriately from the sightseeing cruise. A promenade cruise, a lunch or dinner on the water, a ride in the little train or in the double-decker bus will offer more pleasure. Lyon Canoe provides guided canoe and kayak trips down the latter, which hugs the old city. Try a stand-up paddle-board cruise down the Rhone. Suitable for beginners, the guided tours end at La Confluence, the tip of the peninsula where the Rhone and Saone meet.
Ancient theaters and numerous vestiges of the Gallo-Roman era in Vieux-Lyon from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, from the Peninsula and its classic buildings to the Croix-Rousse of the canuts and the silk industry… The city s’ is extended over time on the banks of the Saône, then beyond the Rhône, up to today’s Confluence, while preserving its heritage. Each era has left its traces and architectural, pictorial, literary, silky, gourmet and festive works at the origin of a real cultural dynamism. It is for this continuity and this architectural harmony that Unesco has listed the historic urban site of Lyon as a World Heritage Site.
Lyon-Rhône is often offered as a supplementary option to Rhone tours. The central part of the region comprises the river valleys of the Rhône and the Saône. Boasting eight natural parks and peerless sites such as Mont Blanc and the Gorges de l’Ardèche, Rhône-Alpes offers a wide range of different landscapes: mountains, vineyards and gentle valleys, fields of lavender and olive groves. Enthusiasts of art and culture will not be disappointed by the region’s Villes d’Art: Lyon, which is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, Annecy, Grenoble, Chambéry, and Saint-Étienne.
The confluence of these two rivers is at Lyon. The western part of the region contains the start of the Massif Central mountain range. The region also borders or contains major lakes such as Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) and Lake Annecy. The Ardèche flows through the southwest portion of the region, where it has carved the deepest gorge in Europe. Every form of sport is readily available, set against a natural backdrop: skiing, hiking, mountain biking or even paragliding and canoeing. Besides hosting three Winter Olympics games due to its being the largest ski area in the world, Rhône-Alpes is the second most important golfing region in France with over 60 courses.
Connoisseurs of good food and wine will be spoilt for choice by the range of local specialties available to taste along with a Beaujolais or a Côtes du Rhône, and by the sheer number of famous restaurants (with Paul Bocuse at the top of the list) in the region. Lyon is noted as a gastronomic centre of France and specialities served in its traditional bouchons include Lyon sausage, sophisticated salami (known there as “rosette”), tripe and quenelles. In the east of the region the food has an Alpine flavour with dishes such as fondue, raclette common, gratin dauphinois and gratin savoyard. The region is also famous for its Bresse poultry and the many varieties of cheese including Tomme de Savoie, Bleu de Bresse, Reblochon, Saint-Marcellin and Vacherin du Haut-Doubs. Lyon is the home of very typical and traditional restaurants: the bouchons. Bouchons are usually convivial restaurants serving local dishes, and local wines.
Lyon is renowned for its gastronomic cuisine, and just north lies the wine region of Beaujolais. Bouchons, small bistros typically started by women cooks (known as the mothers of Lyon) are synonymous with Lyon and found nowhere else in France. In Vieux Lyon try Aux Trois Maries, offer traditional Lyonnaise cuisine based on seasonal produce and dishes such as chicken flambe in cognac, pike quenelles or pork sausage sauteed with pistachios. Lyon is famous for its morning snacks, the mâchons, made up of local charcuterie, especially the rosette and usually accompanied by Beaujolais red wine. Traditional local dishes include saucisson de Lyon (sausage), andouillette, coq au vin, esox (pike) quenelle, gras double (tripe cooked with onions), salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croûtons and a poached egg), marrons glacés and cardoon au gratin.
The regional wine scene is dominated by the Rhone Valley (Côtes du Rhône). Wines of this appellation generally use Grenache grapes for reds and rosés, and Grenache blanc for whites. More premium varieties have a legally-required higher Grenache content, because the French government has its priorities sorted. The superior versions are called Côtes du Rhône Villages, while the very best are known as Crus, which use the name of their home village rather than the Rhone label. Rhone bottles are known for their longer than average necks, meaning nerdy oenophiles can pick out such a wine without even reading the label.