Perfection with Viking River Cruises
Article & Photography by Michael Morcos & Natalie Ayotte
As a Canadian World Traveller, spring has become a favorite time for travelling abroad, particularly the month of May! Most Canadians are itching for some new adventures after a long winter, and travelling to Europe is often a top choice. Our plans this year were to travel to France, and with so many great French destinations to choose from, we finally decided on the regions of Rhone-Alps and Provence. For us, there is no better way to experience some of the best there is than on a Rhone river cruise.
River cruising has become the new way of travelling for many North Americans, and savvy travellers know what they want. A new destination each morning without having to look for hotels, pack and unpack luggage, drive through unknown roads, find parking… Viking has taken all the guess work and hassles out. It is truly a perfect way to travel, so much so that the only thing to do is remember what time the boat leaves. Even the pick up at the airport is seamless, offering a taste of the fun, relaxation and memorable trip to come.
It is no wonder that Viking River Cruises leads the way with more than 50% of all river cruises, they have many of the most modern ships and have now moved into ocean cruising as well.
What to expect on a Viking cruise
If you have high expectations, don’t worry, they will be met!
The ship cabins are well thought out and are decorated to make your journey a relaxing experience. Viking cabins are organised to maximise space and include all amenities you would expect from a high end cruise company, including a bottle of chilled bubbly waiting for you as a welcome gift. It’s easy to fall in love on the spot.
Interacting with the crew is a great experience in itself. Our crew was courteous, helpful, fun and funny, and by the end of the trip we felt like friends! On top of their friendliness, the crew were experts at keeping things tidy and passengers happy.
As you can imagine, cruising through France offers some great gastronomic experiences! On this cruise, we were treated with themed meals based on the regions we traveled through. For example, in Lyon it was a Rhone-Alps meal which offered Bresse poultry and many varieties of cheese, including Tomme de Savoie, Bleu de Bresse and Reblochon. Even better? We were treated to the wines of the region, including the very famous Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône and Savoy. As we moved closer to Provence, the palate became lighter with salads, melons, fresh fish and delicious breads coupled with the Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the region. The meals can be enjoyed in two different places, the main dining room and the Aquavit on the upper deck. The Aquavit can be open-air when the weather is good and closed with large glass window doors when it became cold or windy. There is also a Lounge that offers pre-meal cocktails and nightly entertainment for passengers who wish to relax to some soothing sounds in a quiet venue.
As with most cruises, there is a daily briefing. In 15 or so minutes, the cruise program director presents the following day’s activities, tours and what to expect from the cruise and the port of call. One of the main reasons to go on a river cruise is the Guided and Optional tours. All tours are included in the price of the trip for everyone and they are very well organized with professional local guides and brand new buses. Most tours are a half day long and in the morning, returning to the ship for lunch. All the tours are worth it, as they are the best way to see a destination in a short amount of time. For those who want to take a break from visiting and touring, the on-board activities include cooking lessons, shopping with the chef and French language courses.
The first day of your cruise was all about getting settled in and it usually takes a good day for all passengers to board the ship. Depending on your arrival time, you can enjoy a light lunch buffet before you decide what you wish to do for the rest of the day. You can join a guided walking tour of Lyon’s city center, lounge on deck while enjoying a cocktail, or catch up on some rest from jet lag – it’s really up to you! There is no need to rush and discover Lyon immediately, as you will have a full day for visiting this marvelous city.
Touring Lyon with Viking
The worldly city of Lyon is a great place to start a cruise. There is a mix of cosmopolitan and small town feel just a few blocks apart. Lyon is France’s third largest city and straddles the Rhône and Saône Rivers and includes a narrow peninsula island called the Presqu’ile. As you visit the old city of Lyon, you will see many reminders of its Roman origins, including the Famous Roman Theatre on top of Fourvière Hill, founded in 43 BC by the Romans.
Over the centuries, Lyon has enjoyed economic prosperity, including being one of the most active printing centres in Europe in the 15th century and then the silk manufacturing capital of Europe in the 17th century. You can visit many boutiques that still produce exceptional silk products.
Included in your Viking city tour is a drive by the many outdoor painted walls, such as the « Fresque des Lyonnais ». These are murals that depict all the famous people from Lyon, from antiquity with Emperor Claudius, through modern times with figures including Paul Bocuse and the Lumière family, known for having shot the first moving picture and responsible for Lyons world famous lumière festival.
The tour closes with a walk in the old city. Visitors enjoy the little hidden Traboules (passageways made for merchants in medieval times) and the choice of world renowned Bouchon restaurants, known for serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine of sausages, duck pâté and roast pork. You will not go hungry in Lyon, which is known as France’s gastronomic capital!
In the afternoon you can choose from two optional tours. There is a Lyon cooking workshop where you can learn the secrets to making fine pastries by a French pastry Chef, or choose a tour to the timeless Town of Pérouges, a medieval stone village located some 30km northeast of Lyon as we did. Perched on a small hill, Pérouges enjoys an outstanding view overlooking the French Alps. Founded around 1167 by a Gallic colony, Pérouges was a craftsmen commune, particularly farmers and linen weavers. Complete with cobble stone streets, you can’t help but be transported back though time. Pérouges is also where the famous three musketeers’ movie was filmed.
There is plenty worth exploring in and around Lyon that it needs more time or a second visit. Places of interest include the heritage-laden Musée des Beaux Arts, Quartier Saint-Jean and Quartier Saint-Georges the old town, the beautiful architecture and monumental town squares of the Presqu’ile District and the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere,
With so much to see and do in seven days, it would be best to leave the wonderful Viking destinations beyond Lyon to a second article in our next issue. The fabulous locations of Macon, Vienne, Tournon, Viviers, Arles and Avignon will just have to wait!
Click on cover to view published article