The 159-guest Catherine illustrates that the distinct pleasures of river cruising are no longer the best-kept secret in the travel world. Because of the intimate size of river vessels and their increasingly luxurious accommodations—not to mention the inclusive fares—ocean cruisers are finding their way to voyages along some of the world’s most interesting rivers.
In the case of my spring French river cruise, we sailed on two rivers: the busy Rhone and the Saone, which meet near Lyon, the food capital of France. During our six-port journey, we went through 15 locks and enjoyed views from the sun deck. When not in port, guests enjoyed cooking demonstrations, enriching lectures, dips in the indoor pool, and treatments in the ship’s spa.
The land highlights of this French river cruise are too numerous to list, but one had to be a visit to the village—yes, it’s a village—of Viviers, which is reminiscent of the village featured in the movie Chocolat. Our outing took us to France’s smallest cathedral, 12th century Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Viviers, for an organ recital by Valéry Imbernon.
A special surprise followed. Tour guide Frances Vandy, a native Briton who moved to Viviers in 1990, invited us for a visit to her home—a large, three-story brick structure that backs up to the former bishop’s palace. The older part of the home dates to the 1660s, and the “newer” part to the 1700s, she said. After wandering the Vandy’s mind-boggling home, we reached the kitchen at the top, which opened to a lush garden, where she and a cousin had set up wine, cheese and fruit for our group.