My DS and I were part of a group of about 40 who elected to spend four days in Paris, France before our cruise on the AmaDagio to Provence. We took advantage of some of the pre-arranged tours and transfers AmaWaterways (“AMA”) offered. Our trip began the evening of Saturday, May 10, when we flew from JFK airport to Paris. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport Sunday morning, retrieved our luggage and met the Ama rep who led us to our coach bound for the city. Another rep at the Ama desk at the Pullman Paris Montparnasse hotel gave us all our room keycards. Our luggage was taken to our rooms if it bore the Ama tag that was previously provided. After settling in at the Pullman, my DS and I walked around the neighborhood. Gare Montparnasse and the local metro are conveniently located at the end of the street, and there are several restaurants, banks, clothing, grocery and other stores nearby. We grabbed a crepe with cheese and located a BNP Paribas bank to withdraw euros.
Sunday evening, the group’s first tour in Paris consisted of a cabaret dinner show at the Moulin Rouge; needless to say the men were mesmerized (lol). The following morning, our guide took us on a city tour by coach to see the major sites in Paris; we traveled by metro to spend some time at Notre Dame Cathedral. The tour continued with lunch at Le 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant, and in the evening we had dinner on a Seine River cruise. Since we were free most of the third day, a couple joined my DS and I on an excursion by local bus to Musee D'Orsay. To skip the long lines, we paid a couple more euros and obtained passes from the concierge at the hotel. Metro tickets were sold out so we bought day passes at the station. I was particularly interested in viewing The Disciples, by Eugene Burnand, but was disappointed to learn it was in storage. Nevertheless, Musee D'Orsay was delightful as were the exhibits. We used the nearby footbridge with “love locks” to cross the Seine and continued through Tuileries Garden and Place de La Concorde to get to Rue du Faubourg St. Honore where we browsed high-end shops. We then walked along Champs Elysees and enjoyed a late lunch. We rode the metro back to the hotel to prepare for the Montmartre and Illuminations evening tour which gave us an opportunity to explore the hilltop district and Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and to observe the lights of Paris at night. The stop at the Eiffel Tower was a treat with its sparkling lighting effects. Day four consisted of a tour that focused on various ethnic groups in Paris and the night ended with a Brazilian cabaret dinner show.
The second day in Paris, the group met Sebastien Leroy who was to be our cruise director on the AmaDagio. He welcomed and assisted us, made us feel comfortable and at ease and ensured we got off to a good start on our tours. I believe getting to know Sebastien in Paris, and the foundation that Ama laid from the point of greeting us at the airport, set the tone and helped us to settle in early and better enjoy the cruise that was to follow. The transfers were also particularly helpful as we did not have to find our way from point A-B or traipse our luggage around as Ama handled these details.
Early Thursday, the 15th, after breakfast at the Pullman, we left by coach to take the TGV high-speed train to Lyon. Within two hours we arrived and were whisked away to our first cruise tour which was a cooking demonstration where we prepared an appetizer, main meal and dessert. We were then taken to the AmaDagio where our luggage awaited us in our French balcony cabin on the Cello deck. There was sufficient storage for my DS and I to unpack and we settled in. We later attended a cocktail reception where all guests were introduced to the top brass of the ship and were provided safety instructions and other information. The ladies present enjoyed a special welcome from Captain Louis Devaux which caused some men to be jealous (lol).
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were about the same time each day on the AmaDagio and the latter meals provided delightful opportunities to explore and experience French cuisine, wines, and cheeses. One night, we had dinner at the Erlebnis Restaurant in the aft where an exquisite meal was prepared to individual order, while we enjoyed a splendid scenic view of the banks of Tournon and the suspension footbridge which reminded us of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Also, entertainment was provided each night, and some couples showed us their dance moves on the floor. At times local artists were highlighted. The Daily Cruiser newsletter kept us abreast of important information such as ports, local history, excursions, and schedules.
My DS and I joined the informative guided tours Ama offered at each port. Several of the locations are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Among other things, we learned of: the impact of papal and ancient Roman history on local culture, and the Saone and Rhone Rivers on the livelihood of the people along their banks centuries ago and today; the regions we were visiting; soil types and conditions that produce various wine appellations and other products; olive and truffle farming; trades, artistry and industries; ancient architecture and lifestyles; the Mistral wind and more. On reflection, I doubt I would have gotten as much detail on a self-guided tour or drive through. Also, we were able to keep pace with our English-speaking guides with the voice box Ama provided each of us, which was wonderful since we did not have to strain to hear what was being said and we could stop momentarily to observe an item or site of interest while the group continued several feet ahead.
Some memorable tour highlights were -- Lyon: During the City Tour, we slipped easily over the Rhone and Saone Rivers and learned how traboules, covered walkways, were used in the old town. Belleville: On the Beaujolais Excursion we met a local vintner, Pascal, who explained regional wine production with Gamay grapes; and we visited the ochre-colored, medieval, hilltop village of Oingt (pronounced like a nasal “wah”). Vienne: During the walking tour, we took photos of the first century, Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia with its Corinthian columns. Tournon: We toured Tain-l'Hermitage, learned about Syrah/Shiraz grapes, Cotes-du-Rhone vintages and aging potential, and we sampled wines at M. Chapoutier. Viviers: On the evening Ghost Walk, we heard of Noel Albert, a burgher and embezzler who was beheaded and is claimed to haunt the medieval town. St. Etienne des Sorts: We traversed the village of Grignan and visited the hilltop Renaissance chateau where the daughter of Madame de Sevigne, who is credited with influencing French literature, lived; we later visited a farm and observed how the owner, Serge, harvests truffles with the help of his dog, Emy, who is Italian and understands French and English (lol). Avignon: We envisioned how seven successive popes lived in the Gothic Papal Palace in the 14th century, and we took advantage of the opportunity to shop. Arles: Our coach climbed the Alpilles Mountains to the rocky outcrop village of Les Baux de Provence where the ruins of a castle and its fortress sit; we also visited a farm in Saint-Remy and learned about olive oil production and quality from Gilles; and our walking tour of Arles took us to the Roman Amphitheater and sites that inspired some of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings such as the yellow café and the courtyard of the hospital where he was admitted in the late 1800s.
Sometimes more than one tour was available at a port. For example, I was outnumbered by a vote of 3:1 and we signed up for the L'Hermitage Wine Tour although I would have also enjoyed the Chocolate and Wine Pairing Excursion at the chateau in Tournon. Some guests opted for the Nougat Demonstration in Viviers; Pont du Gard Roman Aqueduct Tour & Uzes or Chef Cabestan Culinary Studio in Avignon; while others went with the Impressionist Experience Tour in Arles. At times, gentle walkers' and later risers' tours were offered.
The last night in Arles, there was a farewell gala cocktail and captain's dinner at which time the Captain and crew gave the guests a great send-off. Our group did not continue to Barcelona so the next day, on the 22nd, we transferred to Marseille by coach to fly to JFK via Charles de Gaulle. Ama handled our luggage from our cabins to the airport.
Overall, Captain Louis and Patricia, his second in command and wife, were excellent hosts who made us feel at home on the AmaDagio. All staff we encountered on the ship were professional, courteous and helpful. We knew several by name. This was my first riverboat cruise and I hope it will not be my last. I found it to be an intimate, personal and enriching experience as I became more immediately in touch with my surroundings when we stepped off the ship and into the local culture. I was also aware of the ship and its navigation as it glided over the calm and gentle waterways, through locks, and along the rolling slopes of vineyards and the banks of everyday living in towns and villages, all as I absorbed and embraced the French way of life, if only for a moment. La vie c'est belle!