Last March I joined a group of helloworld Travel agents who were lucky enough to experience a week on a Uniworld river cruise in the South of France. Having never cruised before I was a little unsure how I would like it, but I went prepared to experience everything I could.
The week’s adventure began when we joined our Uniworld cruise ship, SS Catherine, in Avignon. What a sleek, modern-looking ship she is – and her interior is even more impressive. We were met by our room stewards, who showed us to our spacious, beautifully decorated staterooms. We had a quick tour of the ship before unpacking our bags – I couldn’t quite bring myself to accept the steward’s offer to do it for me!
That night set the evening routine for the next week: we met for drinks in the Van Gogh lounge where our cruise director explained to us where we would be the next day and outlined the sightseeing options and other activities. We also met the two captains, and the sommelier told us all about the wines she had paired with our menu for that evening.
Then it was off for a delicious three-course, silverservice, à la carte dinner. The waiters got to know our drinks of preference within a day and the menu included local specialities from whichever town we were visiting. After dinner we headed back to the Van Gogh lounge for a nightcap or to the smaller, more intimate Bar du Léopard at the rear of the ship. From there you could watch the twinkling lights of the small villages and bigger towns as we cruised to our next destination.
On the first morning of the cruise we woke up in the small village of Tarascon, gateway to the Camargue region of Provence. The main sightseeing option was a short bus drive away: the town of Arles, where Van Gogh spent 18 months producing more than 200 paintings. We also visited the second-largest Roman amphitheatre in Europe (still used for bullfighting today).
The following day saw us back in Avignon, where we opted out of the tours and took the opportunity to sit in an outdoor bar in the central square and absorb the ambience of a beautiful French city in spring. That afternoon we paid a visit to the Pont du Gard, an extremely well-preserved Roman aqueduct.
Our next stop along the river was the tiny village of Viviers – Uniworld is the only cruise line that stops in this quaint place. We walked through the cobbled alleyways up to the small 12th-century cathedral for a pipe organ concert, then back via our guide’s home, which had many hidden rooms that were used to hide Jews from the Nazis during WW2. To finish off, we enjoyed a game of pétanque with the local men. It was amazing to experience life in a rural French village.
Soon we were cruising to our next destination so we spent the remainder of the day sitting in the sun on the top deck watching the countryside pass by, and going through locks, a fascinating experience. That night we tied up in Tain L’Hermitage/Tournon-sur-Rhône, which for me was one of the trip highlights. Here we opted for one of the active options: a hike through the vineyards with two wine-tasting stops. This was followed by a visit to the worldfamous Valrhona chocolate shop. Tain L’Hermitage is the home of Valrhona chocolate and a lot more tasting happened! This visit is a must-do.
The next day saw us in Lyon, where I decided again to take the active option of a bike tour. This is a fantastic way to see the city and added personal headsets let us hear the local guide talking while we were biking. Our last day saw us in Beaune, to experience the local markets – the food stalls were incredible! – and a visit to a 15th-century hospital which was in use until the 1970s. Then it was time to head back to Lyon and say goodbye to all the new friends we had made on board.
I fell in love with river cruising. It is such a relaxing way to see a country.
Despite my initial reservations, I fell in love with river cruising. It is such a relaxing way to see a country, and as cities and villages were originally built around rivers, you always dock in the heart of everything. It was great to be able to watch the countryside pass by while relaxing in your stateroom or from the top deck in the sunshine or in one of the lounges.
To wake up in a new place every day, with many choices of what to do and see, was also wonderful. What I also particularly loved about Uniworld’s Boutique River Cruise were the active options – the opportunities to hike, bike or kayak made exploring even more fun. I also liked the fact that everything – food, beverages, sightseeing, gratuities, entertainment, transport and accommodation – was covered in the inclusive cost – even the jar of lollies that appeared in my stateroom every night!
As for negatives? I have only one: seven nights on board the SS Catherine was not long enough!