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An assortment of pastries at a market (Viking River Cruises)

A Food Lover’s Guide to the Rhône River

An assortment of pastries at a market (Viking River Cruises)
Cruise Critic contributor
Todd Walker

Sep 27, 2023

Read time
7 min read

Sponsored by Viking

I recently set sail on an enriching epicurean voyage through Provence in the South of France, charting a course along the Rhône River aboard the Viking Hermod, part of Viking’s Longship fleet. Join me as this epic adventure progresses South from Lyon, renowned as the culinary capital of France, through the scenic landscapes of Provence, and towards the raw, natural beauty of Camargue.

During this journey, I had the privilege of chatting with two of Viking’s corporate executive chefs, the artisans behind the daily regional specialties featured on the menu in The Restaurant. The culinary team aboard the ship skillfully prepares their menus to feature the distinct flavors of the regions we explore.

While navigating the Rhône River on Viking's Lyon & Provence itinerary, guests are presented with a diverse selection of food-focused excursions designed to suit both novice and experienced food enthusiasts. Viking provides complimentary excursions at each port as well as optional excursions for an additional cost. These thoughtfully curated experiences provide a journey of discovery and education,allowing guests to explore the world of French cuisine during their voyage.

Our Culinary Voyage Begins in Lyon Venturing South Along the Rhône River

Lyon (photo via Shutterstock)

Lyon is an enticing city bustling with food markets displaying an array of artisanal cheeses and the irresistible aroma of freshly baked bread. We savored iconic classics like sweet and savory crepes, immersing ourselves in the city's rich heritage with every bite at the charming Bouchons – traditional Lyonnais eateries.

This optional excursion is ideal for those intrigued by Lyon's food scene. The gastronomy-focused experience immerses guests in the local culinary culture. It begins with a delightful tasting of Brioche à la Praline, a signature Lyonnaise treat combining buttery brioche and crushed pralines. The tour continues with a visit to a local chocolatier for sampling fine chocolates. A highlight of the excursion is a comprehensive cheese tasting, featuring a variety of local cheeses paired with regional wines. The tour concludes at a traditional Lyonnais bistro, where guests savor a platter of regional charcuterie, including pâté croûte, terrine, and grattons – a beloved local delicacy.

A Delightful Marriage of Marzipan and Chocolate

I chose the complimentary Viking excursion to explore the city of Lyon. The journey began with a visit to Basilica of Notre Dame on Fourvière Hill, offering stunning panoramic views of Lyon. We then ventured into Vieux Lyon, the city's historic Old Town, where I indulged in a culinary adventure along its enchanting cobblestone streets. Immersed in Lyon's vibrant food scene, I savored a variety of traditional delicacies, including rich sausages, unique quenelles, heavenly pastries and confections. Among them, the Coussin de Lyon which became an instant personal favorite, with its delightful marriage of marzipan and chocolate.

Preserving the Essence of the Classics: A Chat with Viking Chefs

Viking River Cruises' Longship chefs talk gastronomy with guests (Photo: Viking River Cruises)

When I returned to the ship, I had the pleasure of sitting down with two of Viking’s executive chefs to gain deeper insights into the creation of the regional specialties and to discover some of the secrets behind the beloved classics. Our culinary conversation began with the simple yet iconic Salade Lyonnaise. At the heart of this dish lies a meticulously steamed egg, achieved through a unique process: initially steamed in the oven, rapidly cooled in ice, and gently bathed in vinegar-infused water. This elegant preparation yields a velvety, decadent egg that imparts a creamy richness to the salad.

Throughout our discussion, a recurring mantra echoed: "Don't mess with the classics." While perfecting the classics holds its own importance, sometimes it's about preserving their essence. The unanimous favorite among the 10 dedicated members of the onboard culinary team along with an executive chef, was the cherished Coq au Vin. This hearty French stew boasts tender chicken slow-cooked in red wine, onions, mushrooms, and occasionally a touch of brandy. Its comforting richness embodies the principle of not tampering with a beloved classic. Coq au Vin is a dish that guests eagerly anticipate and represents the culinary prowess of the region. The ship's culinary team crafts an impressive 720 meals daily to satisfy the appetites of 190 passengers.

Continuing South: Exploring the Beaujolais Region

Truffle hunter on Viking River excursion (Photo: Rebecca Toy)

Nestled in the heart of France lies the Beaujolais region. With its rolling hills and vineyards, this picturesque land is a testament to centuries-old winemaking traditions. We had the opportunity to explore charming villages, visit historic estates, and meet passionate winemakers who carry on the legacy of this esteemed wine-producing region. But it wasn't just about the wine. The Beaujolais region also delighted us with its epicurean treasures, particularly its renowned truffles. We indulged in the earthy and aromatic flavors of this delicacy, experiencing the essence of Beaujolais's gastronomic offerings.

Beaujolais & Truffles…Irresistible French Delicacies - Optional Excursion

For those looking to further their gourmand exploration, Viking offers an optional full-day excursion,“Beaujolais & Truffles”. This outing offers a blend of Beaujolais's delectable treasures, inviting guests to visit a wine château and two operational farms nestled in the region's countryside.

The excursion begins with a scenic drive through picturesque landscapes, guided by a local guide who shares valuable insights into the region's agricultural practices and the significance of local produce. The first stop is a charming château known for its exceptional wines. Inside, guests are taken to a medieval wine cellar, for a private tasting, where they have the opportunity to savor the nuanced flavors of Beaujolais wine in an historic setting.

The next stop on the tour is a truffle farm, well-known as a significant part of French cuisine. After a delightful lunch prepared with farm-fresh organic ingredients, guests have a unique opportunity to witness a truffle hunt, carried out by the farmer's trained dog. Truffles, often referred to as the "diamonds of the kitchen" are known for their distinctive, robust and complex flavor, and are a prized component in many French dishes.

The tour's final destination is a farm acclaimed for its production of chèvre, or goat cheese, a significant French export. Here, the farm owner takes guests on a tour, explaining the process of cheese-making from start to finish. The visit concludes with a cheese tasting, where guests can compare and appreciate the difference between freshly made and matured cheeses. The excursion encapsulates the best of Beaujolais's culinary offerings, making it an excellent choice for foodies.

• Interested in learning more about first time river cruising? Check out our comprehensive guide.

Unveiling the Essence of Provence and the City of Arles

Vibrant sunflower fields in Arles, France (via Shutterstock)

Continuing our journey through the breathtaking landscapes of the South of France, we arrive at the Port of Arles in the Provence region. This historic city, renowned for its first-century BC Roman Amphitheatre, holds great significance, particularly for art enthusiasts, as it was a source of inspiration for the painter Vincent van Gogh. We explored the picturesque villages and vineyards of the region, immersing ourselves in the local flavors and culinary delights that make Provence a haven for food enthusiasts.

Just a short distance away, the remarkable Camargue region awaits, situated where the Rhône River meets the Mediterranean Sea offering a glimpse into the untamed beauty of this coastal paradise.

Delights of Provence: Where History, Culture & Cuisine Meet

In Arles, guests have the opportunity to embark on an excursion that blends history, culture, and cuisine. The tour begins with a scenic drive through the Provencal countryside, offering views reminiscent of the landscapes depicted in Van Gogh's masterpiece, ‘The Red Vineyard’. Guests also explore the St. John Mill in Fontvieille, a family-owned operation, passed down through generations since the 12th century. The mill offers an interesting insight into the traditional methods of olive tree care and oil production. It follows practices that respect nature and the craft, from planting the trees with ample room to grow and draw water naturally to gently harvesting each olive by brushing the branches over a net.

The Regional Tasting Menu: Flavors of Provence

Back on board the Viking Longship, we were taken on a journey through the flavors of Provence. The Taste of Provence Tasting Menu perfectly captured the essence of this region, beginning with a creamy French Goat Cheese Soufflé. Next, we savored Crumble de Légumes Provençaux, a traditional dish hailing from the Provence region. This flavorful creation featured a savory vegetable filling, generously topped with a crispy breadcrumb and cheese crust. To complete our Provence-inspired feast, we indulged in the decadence of a classic Crème Brûlée.

Culinary Treasures: A Journey through Lyon and Provence with Viking

A charming restaurant in Lyon, France (Photo: Viking River Cruises)

Reflecting on this flavorful adventure, Viking’s Longship Hermod guided me on an unforgettable exploration through the heart of France. From the bustling food markets and quaint bistros of Lyon to the lush vineyards and fragrant olive groves of Provence, the experience was a feast for all the senses. This journey was not just about tasting food, but understanding the culture and the history behind each dish. It was about meeting the Viking culinary artists who craft these meals with passion and precision.

Updated September 27, 2023
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