Our seventh Viking River Cruise was the "Portraits of Southern France" on board the Viking Neptune a comfortable, spacious vessel of similar design to the Viking Spirit which we had sailed on on the "Tulips and Windmill's cruise the previous year.
Our cabin, one of the 63 deluxe cabins (there are oonly 12 standard cabins)was light and spacious, 170 sq ft, with a comfortable hotel-style bed, a panoramic style window and more than adequate storage.
We did the no fly rail option travelling by Eurostar from London to Lille and TGV from Lille to Avignon returning from Chalon-sur-Sa'ne to Paris where a very personable Viking rep met us and took us by coach across Paris to Paris Nord for the Eurostar trip back to London.
All the crew were friendly and helpful and eager to please; some of them were making their first trip with Viking.
The food was very good but not as good as on the other Viking cruises we have been on. There was a choice of both traditional favourites and regional specialities including 'frog's legs' and 'escargot'. Magalie, the chef, gave a break down of the evening menu during the briefing which some guests found irritating. Magalie served the meat dishes at the light lunches; her servings were miniscule.
On board entertainment was varied and included oyster tasting; a music quiz; question and answers with the crew; a cookery demonstration, Fondant au chocolat; French tunes and a silk demonstration by staff of 'Atelier de Solerie' from Lyon. A French lesson on basic phrases on day 4 would have been more beneficial earlier.
Claudia, the Program Director gave talks on 'Burgundy', 'Provence and Art' and 'French Food and Culture'. Johanna, a program manager who we'd met on a previous cruise gave a talk on 'Mustard and Dijon'
One of the local guides gave an excellent talk on 'France Today'. Our group were fortunate enough to have him as our guide on two occasions. Most of the guides were very good.
Details of ports of call can be found in the Viking River Cruise brochure. I am including a few points that interested us:
Arles interested us with its links to Vincent van Gogh and the 20,00 seat arena still used for bull fights and plays.
Avignon was particularly memorable for us all for getting soaked literally to the skin in an horrendous rain storm. We had chosen the less strenuous of the trips simply because we wanted to visit Pont d'Avignon made famous in school French lessons! The small chapel on the bridge was a surprise.
Tournon and Tain l'Hermitage. Here we visited Musee de Tain l'Hermitage, located in the oldest house in the region and the amazing Valrhona chocolate shop.
Vienne, another beautiful town with an ancient Roman past. A mini train ride up Mount Pipet affords a great panoramic view of the area.
Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking through the cobbled streets of the old town, don't miss the fascinating 'traboules', narrow passages passing through actual houses which enabled silk merchants easy access to the river.
Beaune. wine capital of Burgundy. The beautiful H'tel Dieu, founded as a hospice in 1443.has an amazing roof, the multi coloured tiles create extraordinary geometric patterns.
This was a memorable cruise along two rivers the Rhone and the Sa'ne which flow through some of France's finest scenery. During this cruise we learnt a great deal about the various regions' wine making traditions and we had many opportunities to taste these world renowned wines. If you like French wine don't miss this cruise!