Burgundy, the River Rhône and Provence

Burgundy, the River Rhône and Provence - An Overview

An eight day cruise on the Rivers Saône and Rhône with Riviera Travel in August 2017

I'd done my first river cruise last summer on the River Rhine and enjoyed it so much I decided to repeat the experience on the River Rhone this summer. Checking out dates to coincide when the family were away and I had no grandparenting responsibilities, Riviera Travel  were the best match. A bonus was that I could fly from Manchester, as Riviera make a point of using local airports. It was another good trip starting from Lyons at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône. We began by and sailing north on the River Saône as far as Chalon-sur-Saône before retracing our steps back to Lyons and then south along the Rhône to Arles ending up in Avignon.

Both are large rivers flowing through some lovely scenery with vineyards, small villages, châteaux and distant views across to the Alpes Maritimes. There was less traffic with fewer cruise ships of barges than on the Rhine last summer. The Rhône is larger and more fast flowing than the Saône had had some very deep locks to negotiate.

We were on MS Lord Byron  which is jointly owned by SCYLLA, a shipping company based in Basel and Riviera Travel. Only a few years old, it is a very stylish and comfortable ship setting extremely high standards. I had a very comfortable standard cabin on the Emerald deck, the lowest deck. The only difference between more expensive cabins on the upper decks was a long narrow window just above the water level rather than panoramic windows which opened. As I was intending to spend all my time on the sun deck this didn’t worry me.

MS Lord Byron

The information pack provided in the cabin contained a map of the Rhône and Saône marking all the bridges and locks so we could follow our progress. There were also detailed maps for all the port of call which meant I could wander by myself without fear of getting lost. There were guided tours with a local guide but unless we were using a coach, I tended to give these a miss and explore by myself. The Riviera tour manager gave a short briefing each night about the following days itinerary and was a wealth of information and ideas if you did want to explore independently.

The ship can carry up to 140 passengers but there were just over one hundred on our trip. All the staff were excellent, as was the food. Link this in with interesting stops and some very good scenery and this made a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday

There were twenty other passengers flying from Manchester. It was an early evening flight which got us to Lyon airport just before 10pm. We were met by a Riviera rep and taken by coach to the ship, a journey taking around 30 minutes. A cold supper had been left in our rooms for us.

We had a guided tour of Lyon in the morning. We were picked up by coach and taken to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, sitting on top of the hill above Lyons. From there the coach took us down to the old town where we were taken through some of the network of passageways that provided quick access for goods and workers to the river. We had some free time to explore by ourselves and I headed to the Cathedral Church of St John the Baptist.

In the afternoon, the ship cruised north along the Saône past the vineyards of Beaujolais.

River Saone

The ship had moored at Chalon-sur-Saône overnight and I just had time for a quick scamper round the town before joining the guided tour of the Burgundy wine villages on the way to Beaune. Here we had a wine tasting and free time to explore the Saturday market. I also visited Notre Dame de Beaune.

We returned to the ship for a late lunch and then sailed back down the Saône to rejoin the Rhône.

River Saone

The ship had moored at Vienne in the early hours and we had a free morning to explore Vienne with its superb Roman remains, especially the theatre and the Temple of Augustus and Livia. The Church of St Peter is one of the oldest in France. Now deconsecrated it is an archaeology museum with a wonderful display of Roman masonry. The Cathedral of St Maurice has a splendid Gothic west front and the remains of wall paintings inside.

After Vienne, the ship continued to sail south along the Rhône mooring at Tournon in the early evening. There was just time for a quick walk around the town dominated by its castle, visiting St Julien’s Collegial Church with its chapel with C14th frescoes and then across the footbridge to the even smaller settlement of Tain l’Hermitage.


We spent the morning cruising south along the Rhône past wooded slope and vineyards with glimpses of the mountains of the Ardeche to the west. We moored at the tiny settlement of Le Pouzin where coaches picked us up for a visit to a Lavender Farm before driving down the Ardèche Gorges. The ship had sailed south to Vivier where we rejoined it.

Ardeche Gorge

The ship had sailed south to Arles and moored overnight. There was a guided tour of Arles in the morning. I was into breakfast early and skipped the guided tour, exploring by myself. This is another wonderful Roman city with a splendid amphitheatre and theatre. I also visited the
underground passageways, all that is left of the Roman forum. I also visited the Church of St Trophime with its wonderful carved west front and equally impressive cloisters.

After lunch we had a coach excursion to Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard

The ship had sailed to Avignon overnight. We began the morning with a guided tour of Pont d’Avignon and the Papal Palace. I then left the group to explore by myself, missing lunch and spending the afternoon in Avignon. I went into the Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral and Jardin des Doms, finishing off in the church of St Peter.


All our fellow passengers departed after breakfast. The Manchester flight was a late evening departure from Lyon and we had the run of the lounge, bar and sun deck until being picked up by coach mid afternoon for the nearly four hour drive to Lyon Airport. I took the chance to head back into Avignon to visit Les Halles and Rue des Teinturies which figures in all the guide books and also into the Church of St Agricol. It had been getting progressively warmer during the week and by now the temperatures were hitting 36˚. I decided it was too hot to explore further and headed back to the ship.

It was a good flight back to Manchester getting us in just turned 11pm. I’d booked overnight accommodation in the Radisson Blu hotel in the terminal before catching the train home the next day.

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