River Cruising in France – Stretch Your Time and Travel Dollars

Lavander in Provence - Van Gogh said "Nature here is extraordinarily beautiful"

Lavender in Provence - Van Gogh said "Nature here is extraordinarily beautiful"

What do you do if your heart is set on going to France but you only have 10-days of vacation?

Last summer my husband and I looked for a way to see the sites in Burgundy and Provence and also relax. Is that possible?

For once, I didn’t want to plan the whole trip, rent a car, read the maps, find gas stations, or figure out the hours of a museum or restaurants.

We also wanted to know what we would spend up front, to stay within our travel budget. So we booked a Viking River Cruise which combined the best of cruising and land tours.

During our 8-day journey, we explored the famed wine region of Burgundy and the lavender fields of Provence. We visited Gallo-Roman ruins in Lyon, Vienne and Arles and we walked the cobbled streets of Arles to see how it inspired Vincent van Gogh.

We visited the historic Papal Palace in Avignon, “City of the Popes.” We learned about the region’s winemaking traditions, sampled Burgundy varietals at a family-owned small vineyard and we indulged in the famed Provençal cuisine in Lyon.

The boat carried just 154 guests on board. Unlike some of the large cruise ships, you won’t need a pager to find your family aboard or a GPS to navigate back to your stateroom after a meal.

For more information www.vikingrivercruises.com

Southern France by Boat

By day we enjoyed sightseeing and most evenings we returned to the boat for a leisurely dinner in the dining room which featured panoramic windows, so we didn’t miss any of the scenery or the amazing locks, while we were dining.

Sightseeing excursions were half a day, so we had time for exploring on our own. After breakfast one morning, we took a scenic drive along France’s Burgundy wine route through Pommard, Volnay and Meursault.

The roof of the medieval hospital in Beaune

The roof of the medieval hospital in Beaune

In Beaune, wine capital of Burgundy, we enjoyed a guided tour of beautiful Hôtel Dieu, founded as a hospice in 1443. I couldn’t take enough photos of the medieval hospital; a real architectural jewel with a roof of brightly colored tiles laid out in geometric patterns. And then on to more wine-tasting at one of Beaune’s famous cellars.

In Lyon, Avignon and Chalon-sur-Saone we got a little exercise. Stepping onto the gangplank, we walked onto the shore and slipped right into town to wander the streets, shop, sip wine in the cafes, listen to musicians and watch street artists.

River cruising was a good value for our travel dollars and for our limited vacation days. Just about everything was included in our cruise: three meals a day, gratuities for guides, entries to museums, transfers from the airport and many excursions, like the Beaune and Burgundy wine tour, sightseeing tours in Avignon, Arles and Lyon.

A big plus for cruising is to unpack your bags once and settle in. One of my favorite parts of river cruising was to relax in a lounge chair on the roof and watch the ever-changing scenery.

Floating along the Saone and Rhone Rivers we passed fortified medieval villages with towers, small farms, fields of sunflowers, meadows of lavender, grazing goats and steep slopes of vineyards.

Give yourself a relaxing vacation: try a float through Europe someday.

For more information www.vikingrivercruises.com

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About Marybeth Bond

Marybeth Bond is the nation’s preeminent expert on women travel. She is the award-winning
author-editor of 11 books.

Marybeth has hiked, cycled, climbed, dived and kayaked her way through more than seventy countries around the world.

She was a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Marybeth has appeared on CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio and National Geographic Weekend.

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