AmaWaterways offers a Rhone river cruise from Avignon through Southern France. There are many things to do in Southern France, including food, wine, art, history and culture.

I was thrilled to be able to go on an eight-day River Cruise from Avignon, France to Lyon, France. Wine, cheese, Roman Ruins, Van Gogh’s haunts, truffle-hunting, medieval chateaus and cathedrals were all part of the itinerary. The luxury 443-foot-long river ship, operated by AmaWaterways has 78 staterooms and offers daily excursions to towns along the Rhone River.

How to get to Avignon, France for my Rhone River cruise

In a few days, I was on a flight with Air France to Paris. From there, I transferred to a TGV high-speed train for a trip of three hours to Avignon.

The TGV is the fastest way to travel around France. Photo by Serjio74b from

In my youth, I had travelled across Europe on rickety rail cars with my head banging against the walls and ceiling. The 200-mph train glided at speeds that I had never experienced. We were soon rolling through fields of bright yellow rapeseed flowers, hills of lush lavender, and a landscape dotted with red-tiled roofing and cypress. When I reached the boat’s quay at Avignon I felt energized and ready to explore Provence.

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Lavender fields near Avignon France. Photo by Kassandra2 on

AmaWaterways Rhone River Cruise – Introduction

Our week onboard featured many luxuries and personal amenities–twice-daily room service, an onboard masseuse, hairdressers, and a fitness trainer with access to weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, and daily exercise classes. The bathrooms were stocked with French shampoos and creams as well as herbs and slippers. The top deck putting-green was a great place to practice my golfing skills under the full moon, as we sailed silently by medieval chateaus along the riverbank.

A Fast and Efficient way to Explore the Rhone River

As a first time river cruiser, I was blown away by the efficiency of this mode of transportation. They were all in agreement.

Kate Machinski from Breckinridge in Colorado, a grandmother who travels, said: “You don’t need to unpack or pack, and you can keep checking in at different places.” It’s like a five-star resort that goes with you.

Shannon Moss, an Atlanta travel agent, said: “You are taken into the heart and soul of each city or town on the river.” You can spend your time on the river exploring instead of looking at maps or dealing with other travel problems.

Ama Kristina at Avignon. Photo by Ama Waterways

The social atmosphere was also more intimate with only 70 passengers (the maximum number of guests on the ship is 156).

Machinski added that on large cruise ships with thousands of passengers, there is always a line to get food and not much mixing. You can’t avoid interacting with other people during meals, onboard social events, and the daily excursions.

Smooth Ride

I didn’t see anyone taking Dramamine to get seasick. Even on the windiest of days, it seemed that the boat was a magical carpet. AmaKristina’s crew and captain navigated each of the 12 locks that were located along the river to elevate the cruiser up to the Rhone.

Van Gogh: Entering his World

The artist fled Paris in February 1888 for the color, light and landscape of Provence. He first settled in Arles. The region boasts the best climate in France with 300 sunny days a year. There are plenty of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and robust red wines. A vibrant cafe culture is prevalent in the villages and small towns.

Nadine Sirop, our local guide said, “In Provence they say that we like to take things slowly in the morning, and not too quickly in the evening.”

Van Gogh created many masterpieces in Arles. Nadine took us to the Arles locations of his most famous works. Everything felt strangely familiar. The walls of the cafe were covered with a replica of Cafe Terrace At Night.

A replica of Café Terrace at Night painting is displayed in Arles’ Cafe Van Gogh. Photo by Adrian Maher

We saw the remains. Van Gogh cut off his right ear in December 1888 after a violent argument he had with artist Paul Gauguin. He was taken to the hospital. Le Jardin du Maison is a plaque that sits right where he looked out over the colorful courtyard of the hospital. We then went to the spot where Van Gogh painted The Starry Night over the Rhone.

Van Gogh’s Arles hospital courtyard with a copy of Le Jardin de la Maison. Photo by Adrian Maher

Nadine played “Starry, Starry Night”, by Don McClean, on the intercom of the tour bus on her way back to the lunch on board the ship. After seeing such beauty combined with so much pain, I misted up. Van Gogh paid a high price for his genius.

Rhone River Cruise Excursion to Les Baux

We visited Les Baux, a hilltop village with sweeping views of the plains. The abandoned limestone quarries below the village have been transformed into Carrieres Des Lumieres and an immersive exhibit which illuminates the works by great artists on the limestone walls.

Carrieres Des Lumieres in Les Baux. Photo by Adrian Maher

The Quarries of Light”, a stunning show of art projected on the walls of the caverns, is accompanied by stirring music. The performances, which were created in 1975, are Provence’s top visitor attraction. They feature the works of Picasso, Renoir and Chagall. A 35-minute performance focused on the architectural and artistic beauty in Venice. One show featured the Mediterranean Sky Art of French Painter Yves Klein. You’re staring up at huge slabs of gray walls, in dim light. Then the walls take over with stunning images and music. It was an experience I will never forget.

Carrieres Des Lumieres in Les Baux. Photo by Adrian Maher

Avignon is the first stop on our Rhone River cruise

As I returned to my luxurious stateroom, docked on the Avignon Quay, I jumped into bed and replenished my energy for the following day. I woke up to a slight rocking. I looked out the window and saw whitecaps in the river. This was my first experience with Le mistral, or The Master. It is a torrential, cold northern wind which blows through the Rhone valley in the spring and fall. The wind washed the sky, and I wondered if this inspired Van Gogh to paint one of his many starry night scenes.

Palais des Papes in Avignon

I chose to wear casual clothing for a quick walk around Avignon. The walled medieval city, also known as the City of Popes was the heart of the Catholic church. Its Palais des Papes housed seven popes. Avignon was under the control of the papacy more than 400-years ago. It only handed over its control to France during the French Revolution in 1791. Southern France was characterized by its quaint alleyways and shops, busy cafes and vibrant produce market.

Palais des Papes in Avignon. Photo by Adrian Maher

Pont du Gard near Avignon

My real goal was to visit the Pont du Gard. This ancient Roman bridge/aqueduct is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located an hour away. It’s 160 feet tall and 600 feet long. This is the largest Roman aqueduct section in the world. The entire waterworks, built in the 1st century AD, ran 31 miles between the natural springs at Uzes and the 50,000-resident Roman town of Nimes.

Pont du Gard. Photo by Adrian Maher

The ancient pipeline was a marvel of ancient technology, carrying tens and thousands of gallons of water per day to baths, fountains and private residences in Nimes. Nimes is only 56 feet below the springs in Uzes. This gradient was sufficient to keep water flowing down.

The Pont du Gard is made of blocks of precisely cut limestone. Some weighed as much as 4 tons and were held together only by friction and gravity. It was built without mortar and the sheer size and grandeur of it were astounding. The edifice, which has stood for two millennia, embodies the power and legacy left by the Roman Empire.

Aurelien Clevero, our guide, said that recent floods had washed out many modern bridges along the same river. But the Pont du Gard remained intact. The structure was converted into a toll-bridge in the 5th century after the Roman Empire fell. The bridge is one of France’s most popular tourist attractions.

Truffles are the focus of our Rhone River Cruise.

In my room, I drifted into a dream of water and gliding along the river toward Viviers. We traveled by motorcoach in the morning to a local farm of truffles, La Rabassiere.

Truffle Farm Exploration

Serge Aurel, the owner of the farm, gave us a brief tutorial on truffles. Since the 19th Century, his family has been working their 75-acre ranch with 6,000 oaks. The work is hard and sensitive to nature’s vagaries.

Black Truffle. Black Truffle.

It takes most trees more than 15-years to develop firm roots that can nurture the tiny spores, fungi and other microorganisms that grow into these black truffles. They can sell for up to $1,000 per kilo (2 pounds). Then, they are shipped to some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world.

We were soon hunting for truffles with Serge, and Emy his Lagotto Romagnolo, a dog breed that is specially trained to find them. Emy scampered around the trees, her nostrils flaring. She then began digging furiously on a fertile patch. Serge grabbed a few of the luscious, spouting truffles. We then shaved the truffles and spread them with truffle oil on freshly baked bread. The fruity taste and sweaty aroma of the flesh lingered in my mouth for several hours.

Emy, the truffle-hunting canine. Photo by Adrian Maher

Serge, through a translator, said: “My wife is sometimes jealous of the time I spend in the field with my three dogs.” This business is hard work and has a lot of risk. We are not allowed to use insecticides or herbicides and only 4 out of 10 trees in my garden produce truffles. “I also have to deal two types of thieves – feral pigs and resident.”

AmaWaterway Truffles for sampling

At the formal dining room of AmaWaterways’ luxury cruiser, I viewed my truffles in a different way. They looked more luscious. The chef used seasonal and local produce from the towns along the river.

AmaWaterway’s dining room. Photo by Avi Fischer

Onboard a ship, I enjoyed the following gourmet meal at a Chef’s Table event:

  • Concasse Heirloom Tomato, Mozzarella Pearls, Basil Olive Powder
  • Grilled Tiger shrimp, Tahini hummus, Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
  • Cauliflower Veloute, Marzipan, Grilled Figs, Peanuts, Ginger Oil
  • Braised Navette with Swiss Chard and Riesling Wine Sauce, Pan-fried Salmon Trout, Pumpkin Mashed,
  • Beef Striploin with Herb Crust and Natural Jus, Sweet Potato Fondant (with Heritage Carrots), Wild Broccoli, Heritage Carrots
  • Mango Ice Cream with Fresh Berries, Mango Macaron and Salty Caramel Chocolate Tart

The local Cotes du Rhone wines and Beaujolais wine served at lunch and dinner onboard never stopped flowing.

Dining room wine Photo by Avi Fischer

The Rhone River Cruise continues

We were soon cruising along the river to the picturesque village of Tournon. After docking, I spent several more hours at Le Chateau De Tournon a 16th century castle on the western side of the riverbank for a pairing local wine and chocolate.

We visited the well-preserved Roman ruins in Vienne. The Augustus-Livia Temple was built to honor Caesar Augustus, the son of Julius Caesar and his wife Livia. We went into the Saint-Maurice Cathedral. This Gothic church took over 500 years to construct.

Augustus and Livia Temple, Roman town Vienne. Photo by Adrian Maher

There were dozens headless statues inside, the result of wars between Catholics against Protestants during the 16th century. A young woman inside sang Ave Maria in perfect pitch. Next, we visited St. Pierre Abbey. It is one of France’s oldest churches and is now a museum. The tour was so fascinating that I missed our midday departure on the way to Lyon, France’s food capital.

Lyon is our Rhone River Cruise Destination

After docking in Lyon, we all made our way to the famous indoor market, Les Halles de Lyon Paol Bocuse. The gourmet market is a three-floored, 13,000-square-meter wonderland with 50 vendors selling every kind of delicacy and confection. There are butchers and bakers as well as chocolatiers, cheesemongers and delicatessens.

Entry to the food market Les Halles de Lyon, Paul Bocuse. Photo by ivotheeditors, via iStock. Getty Images

Explore the Lyon Food Markets

The 2004 market renovation was named after Paul Bocuse, the famous local chef who owns the longest-running Michelin 3-star restaurant in France (50 Years) — L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges —.

The first place we stopped was at a pastry shop. I tried Tarte Pralines Rougesa dense, sweet dessert made of caramelized sugar and almonds. My glycemic level soared after I ate a large portion.

After a long day, I went to the charcuterie section and had some terrine with pistachio, salami thinly sliced, mousse de duck liver, and a lemon mustard crusted chicken with minced.

Then, I scurried sideways to the cheesemonger, where I devoured a variety of goat cheeses, Camemberts, and some Saint Marcellin, a local version Brie with a creamy, aged mushroom flavor. France produces over 1,000 different types of cheese, the majority of which are unpasteurized.

Cheese vendor in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Photo by Keiron Keady,

Alex, our tour guide, said, “Fat is good, but butter is better,” as I waded to the exit.

Explore Old Town Lyon

I walked around Lyon’s Old Town to burn off all the delicious food that I had bought at the market. I walked through the unique covered sidewalks of the area, called traboules. There were also ornate streets and chic cafes.

Then, I struggled up a seemingly endless staircase on Fourviere Hill to where the 19th century Notre-Dame de Fourviere cathedral is located. I was amazed at the panoramic view, and grateful that my trip was free of rain.

Notre Dame de Fourviere Cathedral Lyon. Photo by Adrian Maher

The next night, at the usual table of fellow foodies on board, I realized that I had reached my gastronomic limits. I went to bed early, and got ready for my final day: a tour of the Beaujolais region.

Beaujolais Wine Region Tour

We then traveled to Oingt the next day, an official French list of one of France’s most beautiful medieval villages. It is perched on a hilltop of about 1500 feet and overlooks the Valley of the Azergues River. Local limestone with iron oxide is responsible for the golden color of all local buildings. As we climbed up the steep, charming streets with their red doors, it was a beautiful sight. The castle/chapel at the top offered a panoramic view of the vineyards that stretched to the horizon.

The medieval village Oignt. Photo by Adrian Maher

Afterward, we visited Domaine de la Logere, a 40-acre, multi-generation Beaujolais vineyard in operation since 1569. The owner Pascal Gayot wasn’t there, but his son Pierre, 32, showed us his giant vats and the gnarled rows he had made of wired branches. He seemed to suggest that the dynasty could end by referring to climate change, the challenges of the weather, such as drought, heat and hail, as well the threat of fungus and frost.

“My father works all day in the vineyard. “There are no weekends,” Pierre said. “My father is the boss of nature.”

As soon as we entered the tasting room, the atmosphere changed dramatically. We soon sipped the Beaujolais Rouge Blanc and Rose. My fellow oenophiles had arranged to have caseloads of the vintage air-shipped back home.

Enjoy a wine tasting at the Beaujolais vineyards on your Rhone river cruise. Photo by Plateresca, iStock. Getty Images

AmaWaterways Rhone River Cruise: Enjoy the Experience

As I returned to the cruise ship for my last night, I was amazed at my improved mood. The best way to combat melancholy is through work. Eight days of gorge on French culture while river cruising with an attentive crew might be more effective in eradicating depression. Now I am sure.

AmaWaterways is available online for this itinerary and many others. If you are interested in a travel experience that focuses on local wines and cuisines, then contact , Expanding Horizons, located in Tustin. Wander has more articles about what you can experience when you travel to France, and wow moments during your cruise.