by Jennie Carr of Silver Travel Advisor
Leaving Arles, with the light dancing on the river Rhône, there’s an air of gentle excitement onboard Emerald Liberté as we head to Avignon. What delights me, in addition to the spacious, modern cabin, with its panorama balcony windows, is the utter ease of the river cruise experience.
The guest is gloriously pampered, in that the floating hotel, for this is what the ship is, takes care of everything. Excellent meals appear like clockwork, with many choices, in the bright restaurant and lounge. We took lunch onto the sundeck several times, a splendid treat. Good wine, beer and soft drinks are all included at mealtimes; tea (exceptionally good for Europe) and coffee are available 24/7! A rather charming local, celebrity chef created a delicious Provençal meal one evening – all part of the EmeraldPLUS programme, giving authentic extras that are relevant to the region. The staff are pleasantly attentive, lightly humorous and unfailingly helpful, particularly with older guests who needed time to disembark, foregather for excursions or work out the nifty earpieces for guided tours.
Talking of which, these devices are wonderful, they allow you to hear the guide individually, without having to move as a herd the whole time. We had included walking tours at every stop – Arles (home to Van Gogh in his later years), Avignon (where we sang the song beside the bridge), Tournon, Mâcon, Beaune (more Michelin starred restaurants than I thought possible) and in Lyon – all of which were informative and enjoyable. The pace of the tours is leisurely as befits the old, elegant towns. My partner and I are used to a pretty busy lifestyle, so we took out the onboard bikes on a couple of afternoons to explore the area more fully. The EmeraldACTIVE programme offered a 22 kilometre guided ride along river cycle paths at Tournon, lycra not needed: it was really good fun, with a witty leader, who ensured we were back to the ship in time to partake of the EmeraldPLUS wine tasting. Our North American cycling shipmates were 100% determined not to miss this!
We loved Lyon, our final stop. We wandered around after the tour quite happily, taking the funicular up to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière to enjoy glorious views and the marvellous interior of the church. We strolled through a Saturday morning food market, all bustle and hustle with artistic food displays, happy in the knowledge that we could be back on Emerald Liberté in but a few minutes, where we were sure of a warm welcome ‘home’.
That’s the joy of river cruising: the chance to visit new, interesting places, from a safe, secure ship, certain that you’ll be marvellously looked after.
Emerald Waterways offer cruises on many European rivers, as well as Russia, southeast Asia, Egypt and Jordan. Jennie travelled on the Sensations of Southern France cruise from Marseilles to Lyon, currently from £2,095 per person for 8 days / 7 nights including flights or rail travel. You can reverse the cruise from Lyon to Marseilles as well.