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A Viking Longship Sails the Rhone (Image: Viking)

Lyon & Provence: A Journey through the Heart of the South of France

A Viking Longship Sails the Rhone (Image: Viking)
Cruise Critic contributor
Todd Walker

Jul 25, 2023

Read time
6 min read

Sponsored by Viking

In the springtime I set sail along the Rhône River on the Viking Hermod, one of Viking’s Longships. The journey ahead promised an immersion into a rich tapestry of French culture, history, and culinary delights.

Join me as I unfold this eight-day voyage that was as much an exploration of a storied river as it was a journey through the vibrant essence of the South of France.

Day 1-2: Lyon: Where Old-World Charm Meets Modern Energy

Lyon is the start of a Viking River cruises journey through the heart of France (Photo: Viking)

After settling into our staterooms on the first day aboard the Viking Longship in Lyon, we joined fellow passengers in the lounge for a welcome briefing, where we received an overview of the exciting adventure that awaited us in the South of France during the Lyon & Provence itinerary.

In Lyon, a city that seamlessly blends old-world charm with modern energy, our exploration on day 2 began with a Viking included walking tour. We ventured through the city's cobbled streets, immersed in Lyon's rich heritage, admiring the exquisite Renaissance architecture that adorned the old town, Veiux Lyon.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière presented breathtaking panoramic views, showcasing the grandeur of Lyon. Lyon's vibrant culinary scene delighted us with a diverse range of flavors, from delicious street crepes to savory local sausages and indulgent pralines. The bustling markets and enchanting hidden passageways further enriched our experience, offering glimpses into Lyon's cultural tapestry.

Returning to the Viking Hermod, we were treated to the Lyonnaise favorites we had been introduced to during our walking tour. The Viking chefs expertly crafted these delectable dishes, paying homage to the region's culinary heritage and providing us with an authentic taste of the local cuisine.

Day 3: Into the Wine Region of Beaujolais

Wine in the Beaujolais region (Image: Viking)

As we continued our voyage, we arrived in the province of Beaujolais, a sun-kissed wine region known for its exceptional wines. A visit to the Beaujolais vineyards allowed us to explore the origins of the famous wine. Strolling through the rolling vineyards, we learned about the winemaking process and indulged in the exquisite flavors of the region. It was a journey that connected us with the land and its proud winemaking traditions.

After exploring the history of the Beaujolais wine region, we had a delightful dinner in The Restaurant featuring regional cuisine with wine pairings from the area, all part of Viking’s inclusive value. For dessert, we savored the delicious Poire à la Beaujolais. The evening ended on a high note with a performance by local musicians who entertained us with beloved French classics, including the iconic "La Vie en Rose.”

Day 4: Vienne /Tournon sur Rhône: A Rich Roman Heritage

Temple of Augustus Livia in Vienne France (Image: Viking)

In Vienne, we discovered a rich Roman heritage and a captivating blend of ancient and modern attractions. During our Viking included walking tour, we explored one of France's largest ancient theaters and the well-preserved Temple of Augustus and Livia.

After an enchanting stroll through Vienne, we journeyed to Tournon sur Rhone. Onboard the ship, Viking arranged an interesting and informative Q & A with the first officer, who provided an insider's perspective on life along the Rhône River and the intricacies of navigating one of Viking’s Longships.

Day 5: Tournon sur Rhône /Viviers and the Doux Valley

Tournon sur Rhone (Photo: Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock)

In Tournon, an included Viking excursion took us on the Train de l'Ardèche, immersing us in the remarkable scenery of the Doux Valley. This heritage railway offered panoramic views of the vibrant French countryside, with lush greenery, steep gorges, and meandering rivers dotting the landscape.

Upon departing from Tournon sur Rhone for Viviers, passengers were invited to the lounge for a chocolate fondant demonstration by Viking chefs. This culinary experience was a welcome surprise, especially since a number of us had just indulged in this French chocolate delight over coffee in a Vienne café the previous day.

As evening descended upon Viviers, we stepped back in time, exploring the winding cobbled streets, alleys, and passageways lined with homes, churches, the magnificent Viviers Cathedral, and the charming town hall. Bathed in a mysterious golden hue, the medieval charm of the town came alive, creating an enchanting atmosphere straight out of a fairy tale. The softly illuminated buildings, with their timeless architecture, added to the allure of this fascinating setting. Immersed in Viviers' rich history and architectural beauty, we discovered the magic within its ancient walls and streets.

• Want to know more about first time river cruising? Check out our comprehensive guide.

Day 6: Arles /Avignon And Vincent Van Gogh

Viking shore excursion in Arles France (Image: Viking)

In Arles, a city renowned for its ancient Roman history and artistic significance, we were captivated by the Arles Amphitheatre. This well-preserved structure, once a venue for gladiatorial battles and now bullfighting events, filled us with a sense of awe and transported us to an era of grand spectacles.

Arles had a special connection to the artist Vincent van Gogh. This was where he found inspiration for some of his most iconic works. Just a short walk from where our Viking Longship docked, we walked the streets he once roamed, visiting the locations he immortalized on canvas, like Café Terrace at Night and Asylum Garden at Arles. Van Gogh's distinctive brushstrokes brought these scenes to life, allowing us to witness the captivating beauty that inspired the artist.

In the evening aboard the Viking Hermod, guests were invited to a lively cocktail party in the lounge. The atmosphere was filled with party chatter as passengers shared tales of our exploration in the historic and beautiful city of Arles. The night culminated with a dynamic performance of French music by the local Arles musicians, Les Gitans.

Day 7: Avignon: A City Brimming With Life & Energy

A town square in Avignon France (Image: Viking)

Our journey culminated in Avignon, a city enclosed by medieval walls that seamlessly blended history and modern vibrancy. The imposing Papal Palace, a grand gothic structure, stood as a testament to the city's central role in Western Christianity. It became the seat of the Papacy during the 14th century, marking a unique period when the Papal court resided outside of Rome. Exploring its vast halls and chambers, we were transported to an era when Avignon held religious and political power, solidifying its significance as a historical landmark.

Beyond the Papal Palace, we discovered a city brimming with life and vitality. Its charming streets led us to hidden boutiques, inviting cafes, and charming corners where we could embrace the essence of Avignon's modern vibrancy. The local market, with its vibrant atmosphere and diverse array of stalls, delighted our senses with fresh produce and delicious delicacies. From plump olives and vibrant fruits to artisanal cheeses and tasty chocolates, the market showcased the flavors and culinary treasures of the region.

After a fulfilling day exploring Avignon, our final evening aboard the Viking Hermod in the South of France had arrived. Passengers gathered to commemorate the occasion by joining Captain Robert for a farewell toast. We celebrated our journey, shared memories, and bid adieu to the many new friends we had made during our adventure.

In Closing: Lyon & Provence – The Perfect Backdrop to an Unforgettable Adventure

A Viking Longship in Lyon France (Image: Viking)

As our journey through Lyon and Provence comes to a close, my fellow passengers and I reflect on the remarkable experiences aboard the Viking Hermod. This captivating region, with its rich history, vibrant culture, and culinary delights, provided the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable adventure.

From Lyon's Renaissance architecture to the charming towns of Provence, and from the breathtaking landscapes of Tournon sur Rhône to the grandeur of Avignon, each moment unfolded as a testament to the beauty and allure of the South of France.

Updated July 25, 2023
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