The inspiration for Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gaugin, the South of France is as beautiful as any painting. Easily combinable with a stay in Paris or Nice, the regions of Provence and Burgundy are the perfect destinations for foodies, culture buffs, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. While there are plenty of ways to explore the countryside, few are as luxurious as a trip with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. We recently had the opportunity to sail aboard the S.S. Catherine from Avignon to Lyon, so follow along below as we give you a glimpse into a week with Uniworld!
First, you have to get yourself to the river cruise. If you fly into the closest airport of Marseille, Uniworld includes your transfer to the ship – how nice is that? If you have a little more vacation time, we recommend opting to spend a few nights in Paris instead, then take a quick 3 hour train to the city center and a taxi over to the dock. As soon as you arrive, be prepared for the friendly staff to take your luggage and whisk you onboard. Staterooms are ready around 3pm, so while you wait be sure to grab a nice lunch (with a glass or two of Rosé to start the trip off right!). Then, get your bearings by exploring the ship – while not too large in size, you’ll definitely want to locate the essentials like the coffee station, lounge area, and complimentary laundry room.
Once your stateroom is ready, the staff will show you where you’ll be spending the next seven nights. On the S.S. Catherine, rooms are split along three different decks, with the higher categories towards the top of the ship. Regardless of your room type, expect a wonderfully comfortable bed, spacious bathroom, and plenty of storage space for your clothes and luggage. Set aside some time to unpack – after all, one of the best parts of river cruising is exploring the countryside without repacking every day!
Right before dinner, rejoin your old and new travel companions in the lounge for your initial port talk – the first of your nightly talks, it will help familiarize you with the crew, ship procedures, and itinerary. Then, it’s off to the dining room for a multi-course a la carte dinner with plenty of options for salads, soups, entrees, and desserts – our recommendation is to always order anything that’s noted as the founder Bea Tollman’s original recipe (trust us, they’re great!). Finally, it’s off to bed in your comfy stateroom as you’ve made it through your first day!
First, you have to start the day with another fantastic meal. For breakfast this morning, check out the buffet options but don’t forget you can order off the menu. Our favorite are the made-to-order waffles and eggs benedict, though you really can’t go wrong with anything served onboard a Uniworld River Cruises ship! Then, pick a group number from the front desk and board the bus for your excursion over to Arles.
Arles is probably best known for its association with Vincent Van Gogh – the artist painted over 200 paintings in the city over the course of a year, before his famed ear-cutting incident. In touring around the city, keep an eye out for the plaques showing the real-life inspiration for his paintings like Café de Nuit or L’Espace Van Gogh. The city also boasts a remarkable number of ancient Roman ruins, including an ampitheatre that is still home to Provencal-style bullfights called courses camarguaises – in these events the bulls are not killed, and instead a team of men attempt to remove a crown from the bull’s horn. If you’re in town during one of these events, make sure to keep an eye out for the bull-running in the streets!
After exploring in the sun, head back to the S.S. Catherine to prepare for the Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner. One of the two more formal events on Uniworld, this dinner is a great opportunity to get a little dressed up. Enjoy a glass of champagne at the reception, then ask the onboard sommelier to explain the red and white wine pairings at dinner (on Uniworld, it’s all included!). There’s usually live entertainment available after the meal, or retire to the Leopard Bar at the back of the ship for a nightcap before bed.
While you embarked your Uniworld ship in Avignon, you probably didn’t have the opportunity to see much of the city, so the ship moves back upriver today so you can see this fascinating town. If you’re feeling tired from the events of the night before, order the complimentary room service for breakfast (and place a daily coffee order from your butler if you haven’t already!). Then set off on a walking tour into the walled city.
Avignon is most famous for its walled ramparts as well as for being home to the Palais des Papes or Palace of the Popes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site served as the papal residence during the 14th century, and its daunting fortifications are certainly worth the tour! Also of interest are the surviving arches of the Pont d’Avignon and the Avignon Cathedral, though make time to stop in one of the many cute stores or pastry shops that line the streets!
Uniworld is known for having “Let’s Go” active excursions available, so this afternoon take advantage of their kayak trip on the Gardon River. You’ll paddle along the clear waters of the river between Collias and Remoulins, past French locals having a swim. The trip ends with a view of the 2000-year-old Pont du Gard roman aqueduct as you kayak beneath – a unique experience not sure to disappoint!
While many river cruise ports are well-known names, you probably won’t have heard of Viviers before. This village is over 1600 years old and an enchanting place where time seems to stand still. As part of a unique offering by Uniworld, guests can enjoy an exclusive “Village Day” with some of the locals – our favorite is the visit inside the home of a former dancer, where you can then enjoy conversation with the town’s mayor over a glass of Rosé. You’ll also want to make time to visit France’s smallest cathedral for an organ concert – another exclusive experience. There’s also an opportunity to play a few games of petanque, the French equivalent to Bocce Ball.
If you’re traveling in the right season, today you can also experience one of Uniworld’s optional excursions (at an additional cost) to visit the lavender fields. Spend some time taking photographs among the fragrant fields, before taking a side trip over to a truffle farm to learn more about these “diamonds of the kitchen”.
Today is a wine-centric day, as the twin villages of Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage are known for their delicious red and white wines. For a more relaxed pace, enjoy a stroll through the towns with a wine tasting and stop at the Valrhona chocolate shop (trust us when we say to bring an empty stomach for the many tastings!).
For a more active adventure to work off all of the delicious Uniworld cruise food, set out a hike through the steepest vineyards on the Rhone. The Syrah vines that produce the Hermitage wines grow on vertical terraces overlooking the river, and today you’ll hike to the top for a spectacular view and discussion of the appellation’s history and practices (did you know all of the work is done by hand or using horses?). At the end of your hike, parch your thirst with some tastings courtesy of the Cave de Tain cooperative.
Food reigns supreme in Lyon, the epicenter of French gastronomy. Consider skipping breakfast this morning, as your walking tour today will feature plenty of tastings and treats. First, begin a tour through the historic old quarter to learn about the city’s old passageways known as les traboules – these secret shortcuts played a huge role in the resistance against the Nazis during WWII. Along the way, visit some of the many bouchons and cafes serving traditional treats like the pink praline brioche or green chocolate coussins.
Lastly, save room for the crème de la crème of the legendary market Le Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Named after the famous French chef, the indoor market features an incredible variety of butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, cheesemongers, and more offering the highest quality ingredients and cuisine. Though your guide will treat you to several tastings, make some time to wander and pick up treats like truffle oil and olive oil to take back home with you.
Now nearing the end of your Uniworld cruise, dock in the relaxed town of Macon for a trip North to Beaune. This town is known for the iconic Hospices de Beaune with its famous multicolored roof, which still remains a working hospital for the poor of the region. After touring, check out the extensive farmers market filled with local produce, breads, sausages and more – another colorful opportunity to taste some treats and buy last-minute souvenirs. Beaune is located in the southernmost part of Burgundy, so you can also stop in to one of the many wine shops to try their wines made of Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes.
This evening, you’ll enjoy a Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner, a great opportunity to say farewell to your new friends onboard and thank your favorite members of the staff (trust us, you’ll want to take them all home with you by the end!). Be sure to also listen in on the disembarkation procedures for the following morning so you will know what to do in the morning. Pro-tip: do your packing and settle your final bill the night before to avoid a rushed morning.
Depending on your return flight arrangements, you’ll be assigned to a specific departure transfer time. If you’re lucky enough to get a later flight out or if you’d like to stay in the city of Lyon, you’re welcome to enjoy breakfast and lunch onboard the ship before saying goodbye to the S.S. Catherine.
So, how did the above week sound to you? Ready to experience Provence and Burgundy for yourself onboard a Uniworld River Cruise? Schedule an appointment with one of our Houston travel advisors or send us an email to start the planning! We can help you decide which river cruise line will be the best fit, plus explain the different itineraries available on Europe’s many rivers.