• Overview
  • Trip Outline
  • Trip Includes
  • Trip Excludes

From the slopes of the scenic winelands to the hills of Provence, and the beauty of the French landscape to the medieval splendour of Avignon, enjoy a fascinating cruise to one of the most picturesque corners of France. Sample delicious local wines with a wine-tasting in Burgundy's wine capital, Beaune. Visit the Palace of the Popes in the 14th-century City of Avignon, adorned with priceless frescoes, Gobelin tapestries and graceful sculptures. Explore the magnificent Ardèche Gorges, one of France's most outstanding natural landscapes. Take a guided tour around the highlights of Lyon, including renaissance buildings, imposing churches and Europe's largest pedestrian square, Place Bellecour, featuring a statue of Louis XIV. Marvel at the amazing Pont du Gard aqueduct and the Roman amphitheatre in Arles.

  • Available ships: MS William Shakespeare, MS Lord Byron, MS Thomas Hardy 
  • 8 Days
  • from £1649 pp  

Price correct at time of publication 15.05.2024 

Day 1: Arrival in Avignon 

Day 2: Day in Avignon            

Day 3: Arles and Pont Du Gard  

Day 4: Ardeche Gorges & Tain L'hermitage                 

Day 5: Vienne                                                            

Day 6: Chalon & Beaune                      

Day 7: Lyon                             

Day 8: Return Home 

Itineraries

Day 1

Arrival in Avignon

On arrival you will be transferred by coach to the ship moored in Avignon’s historic centre. The dedicated English-speaking crew will welcome you on board and help you to your cabin. After settling in to your spacious and tastefully furnished accommodation, there’s time to familiarise yourself with this five-star floating hotel.

Day 2

Avignon

The light catching the red roofs of Avignon’s majestic skyline is a sight to behold over breakfast, after which you'll embark on a guided tour of one of the most extraordinary and intriguing cities in France. Avignon’s destiny changed during the 14th century, when the Pope’s court moved here to avoid strife in Rome.

Igniting a century of prosperity, the pontiff commissioned a host of ambitious building projects, and today the city is immaculately preserved, nestling behind its almost-intact 14th-century walls and boasting more remarkable monuments, superbly decorated buildings, churches, chapels and convents than you can possibly count.

Most important is the stunning Popes’ Palace, made up of two buildings that together form the largest Gothic palace in the world. With turrets, towers, parapets and other fortifications, its exterior resembles a mighty fortress, while the interior is a tour de force of medieval architecture and ornamentation, adorned with priceless frescoes, Gobelin tapestries and graceful sculptures.

The ceremonial hall, chapels, cloisters and private apartments are all unmissable. But to truly embrace the feel of papal Avignon, imagine yourself here during the Middle Ages amid the Palace’s rich furnishings and extravagant decoration, with cardinals, princes and ambassadors milling about its candlelit halls and corridors, while in the streets below countless pilgrims eagerly anticipate benediction. This was Avignon’s brief golden age, when it was truly the centre of Christendom.

After lunch you’re free to explore as you wish, perhaps visiting the nearby Petit Palais, the former home of the archbishops of Avignon, to cast a critical eye over the remarkable collection of over 300 paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including works by Botticelli and Carpaccio. Or take a stroll on the iconic Pont d’Avignon, which, dramatically, ends halfway across the river, made famous by the melody we all recall from our first French lessons.

You may wish to do some shopping, or just find a quiet café in a shady Provençal square to watch the world go by.

Returning on board for dinner, the ship sets sail towards our next destination, Arles, arriving later that evening. After a welcome dinner, sit back and relax to the sounds of a talented local pianist who'll entertain us with French songs on board.

Day 3

Arles & Pont Du Gard

Arles
You awake under the azure skies of deepest Provence and amid the warm stone colours of Arles, many of whose historic monuments are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Although small in size, it was the key stronghold on the Roman road to Spain, one of the empire’s richest possessions. Seagoing ships could reach here, and the city became a regional capital, briefly ruling over Gaul, Spain and Britain.

Your guided tour will help you appreciate the finer points of Arles’s magnificent Roman remains, including the splendid amphitheatre, one of the best preserved in the world, the earlier theatre built during the reign of Augustus and the Alyscamps, the ancient necropolis with its extraordinary atmosphere.

The disturbed but great genius of an artist Van Gogh lived in Arles for just over a year, from February 1888. It was his most prolific period and, inspired by Arles and the light and beauty of the Provençal countryside, he produced around 300 works, including The Night Café, The Sower and, of course, Sunflowers.

Pont du Gard
After lunch you will visit the amazing Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct, one of the wonders of the ancient world. No amount of fame can diminish the first sight of this 2,000-year-old structure, which was the highest bridge built in the Empire –the Romans themselves considered it the most important testimony to their greatness. Its statistics are staggering - over 900 feet long and almost 160 feet high, with its stones each weighing up to six tons.

To put this in perspective, the span of the Pont du Gard is greater than the width of the River Thames at London Bridge – and no mortar was used in its construction! The situation is lovely too, with pine- and cypress-covered hills adding to the harmonious setting. Re-joining the ship, we cruise along the Rhône and, during dinner, pass the imposing 15th-century castle at Tarascon standing guard on the riverbank.

Day 4

Ardèche Gorges & Tain l'Hermitage

Ardèche Gorges
Disembark after breakfast whilst the ship effortlessly cruises upstream towards Le Pouzin. You will explore one of France’s most outstanding landscapes – the Ardèche Gorges, whose scale is a fitting reminder of Mother Nature’s awesome power.

Sheer limestone cliffs plunge almost 1,000 feet to the river’s blue waters, which elegantly snake their way through stupendous rock formations, culminating in a huge natural arch, the Pont d’Arc. You will enjoy marvellous views at every turn of caves, grottoes and natural sculptures before returning to the ship moored in Le Pouzin.

Tain l'Hermitage
Enjoy a relaxing afternoon on board – perhaps catching up on some reading or just lazing in the sun as the temperature rises, before we arrive in Tain l'Hermitage, surrounded by steep vine-covered hillsides, where another of the world’s most revered wines is produced. After dinner, perhaps take a stroll along the river and wander across the oldest suspension bridge in France to the pretty provincial town of Tournon on the opposite bank of the river, with its imposing castle and tree-lined avenues.

After dinner, delight in a ballroom dancing performance in the lounge with the opportunity to learn some basic steps of a French madison line dance!

Day 5

Vienne

Cruise through the Rhône Valley
During breakfast this morning, you'll cruise north through one of the most spectacular sections of the Rhône Valley, as the river squeezes and twists pasts Condrieu, Saint-Rambert-d’Albon and Saint-Vallier, with wooded cliffs rising high on both sides.

Traditionally these stretches were the most dangerous due to fierce currents and varying water levels but, with the waters now tamed by a series of locks whose complex mechanisms never cease to fascinate, you can relax on the Sun Deck taking in the exceptional views.

Vienne
After lunch you will arrive in the ancient Roman stronghold of Vienne, first a Celtic settlement, then a Roman stronghold under Julius Caesar. Here you'll be taken on a captivating tour, hosted by a local expert. Strikingly located in a narrow section of the Rhône, where the river meanders dramatically around a steep bluff, Vienne is a treasure trove of historic remains, including the stunning Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia, and a walk around its streets really brings its heritage to life.

You will also have some free time to explore at your leisure before returning to the ship for dinner, during which we commence our cruise towards Chalon-sur-Saône.

Day 6

Date : 16/04/2024

Chalon & Beaune

Beaune
Mid-morning you will arrive and berth in Chalon, gateway to Burgundy and the home of Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography. On today’s tour you will see some of the pretty yet surprisingly small villages that produce some of the world’s most sublime wines – Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin and many more.

Nearby is medieval Beaune, Burgundy’s wine capital, which is wonderful to wander around. At its centre is the Hospices de Beaune, also known as the Hôtel-Dieu. Originally built in the 15th century as a hospital for the disadvantaged, it’s a jewel of High Gothic architecture, instantly recognisable for its colourful glazed roof tiles arranged in dazzling geometric patterns.

A prestigious annual wine auction takes place here each November, with proceeds going to benefit the Hospices and its charity work. Of course, you can’t visit Burgundy without sampling its amazing wines, so we visit the cellars of a leading traditional winemaker for a tour and tasting. During dinner back on board we retrace our steps on the Saône back towards Lyon.

Day 7

Lyon

Lyon
One of river cruising’s great pleasures is the fascination of waking in a completely different location and on waking this morning, the ship arrives in Lyon. After another splendid breakfast, you have a leisurely start enjoying a guided tour of Lyon, one of France’s most fascinating cities.

The Rhône Valley had been the route of choice for marauding armies and peaceful traders for centuries, and Lyon’s current site, at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, cried out to be fortified. In 43 BC the Romans founded the city, which subsequently grew in importance; Emperor Claudius, conqueror of Britain, was born here.

There are many Roman remains to see, but it was the production of silk that brought Lyon to prominence during the Middle Ages, and throughout the city you can see signs of the wealth that poured in – Renaissance buildings, imposing churches and Europe’s largest pedestrian square, Place Bellecour, with a statue of Louis XIV as its focus.

The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is crammed with antique shops and intriguing traboules – narrow covered passageways enabling silk merchants to transport their wares to the river without getting wet – that today are a joy to amble through. As well as its glorious architecture, Lyon is generally acknowledged as France’s (and to locals, the world’s) gastronomic capital.

In fairness it has much to commend it: nouvelle cuisine was invented near here and the city boasts a huge array of speciality food shops and eateries, including 20 restaurants with one or more Michelin stars and countless little places to eat.

It’s our final afternoon in which you are free to explore Lyon further or perhaps though, return to the sumptuous surroundings of your ship, head up on to the Sun Deck and just contemplate the wondrous places you have seen and experienced over a quiet cup of tea.

This evening enjoy the sumptuous Chef’s Dinner, featuring some of their signature dishes - a truly memorable experience.

Day 8

Return Home

It’s time to say goodbye to your crew and start the journey home.

  • Free Superior drinks package
  • 7 nights on board a five-star ship
  • Return flights & transfers
  • 11 included experiences
  • Full board dining
  • Complimentary on-board tea & coffee
  • Free on-board Wi-Fi
  • Expert Riviera Cruise Director & Concierge
  • All port charges & airport taxes
  • Checked luggage
  • Return Eurostar, TGV & transfers

GIB – UK flights