Hi, I’m Ralph Grizzle. I run rivercruiseadvisor.com and this week I’m on the Rhone River. What I love about this river is that it combines the beauty of the river with the charm of Provence. I get a lot of questions about the Rhone and about France in general. Here’s our Riverside Chat featuring the Rhone River.
Rhone River cruises take place typically between Lyon and Avignon or Arles. The Rhone River’s a beautiful river. It starts up in the Swiss Alps, it’s 550 miles long, and it dumps into the Mediterranean Sea. It has quite a history. You had Celtic tribes who settled along the banks. You had Greeks. You had the Romans. You still see vestiges of all of that on this river. You also have some of the essence of Provence; you have the beautiful Burgundy countryside, and in Lyon it joins the Saone River so the confluence is there. Typically, a river cruise on the Rhone, you’ll do a little bit of the Saone River and you’ll cruise a whole lot of the Rhone River.
The reason that I would want to sail the Rhone, as opposed to say the Danube, the Rhine or the Douro, is because of the Rhone’s French ambiance. You are experiencing Provence. You typically don’t see all of the vestiges of the Roman empire on those other rivers. It’s there, but you don’t see it as readily as you do on this river. If you love France and all things France, if you love the joie de vivre and that sort of thing, if you love rosé wine, and good food, and baguettes, and all of that, you’re going to love this river cruise. You’ve got some great cities along the way, you’ve got Lyon, the culinary capital of France. You’ve got Avignon and Arles and all these great little villages along the way. You also have a gorgeous, gorgeous landscape. You’re going to want to spend time up on the top deck just watching France pass by. Number one reason, if you’re a Francophile you’re going to want to do the Rhone River.
On the Rhone River, you can expect a variety of tours, and they range from wine tasting in the Beaujolais country to bicycle rides, and hikes, chocolate tasting, chocolate and wine tastings. There’s a train ride. You can see the Pope’s Palace. In Arles you can visit these ancient Roman sites or can visit UNESCO world heritage sites. There’s quite a lot of diversity that’s offered on the Rhone River.
The best time of year to sail the Rhone … Now, I’m here in May and you can see I’m wearing a jacket and that’s because they have this wind called the Mistral. It can be a little bit chilly so the best recommendation I have for you is to layer, because you might be wearing a jacket like this during the day and you’re going to take it off and wear a t-shirt once you’re out being a little bit active. I would say, the wine harvest comes in September, October or so and that’s also a good time to be here. Basically, any time between April and, say, October or so would be a good time to be on the Rhone River.
You know, one of the things that I found fascinating about France is that there are so many misconceptions typically among American travelers. We were filming in Lyon and something very unusual happened and that was that a lady invited us into her house for coffee. We were outside filming graffiti on the side of her house. She walks up and we talk about it for a few minutes and she says, “By the way, this is my house and would you like a coffee?” We went inside and stayed with her for about 30 minutes and talked about what she loved about Lyon. She showed us her house and it was just an example of very warm hospitality. It happened more than once on this trip, actually, which is just to say that the French are very, very welcoming. Often, that’s a misconception to the way that people perceive France today.
As on any river cruise, one of the things that I really appreciate about the Rhone River is accessibility. Just picture this, you pull into a small village or town or city and they put put the gangway … I’ve seen gangways as short as four or five feet long. You walk across that gangway and you are in the heart of the city. It’s that simple. Just a few steps and you’re like a short walk from a cathedral, a downtown, some historic attraction. The accessibility with river cruising is one of the things that I appreciate most. I know I’ve talked to a lot of people and it’s one of the things that they appreciate most too.
There are a lot of locks between Lyon and Arles. One of the things that people enjoy doing is they run up to the upper decks and they watch the whole operation of the locks. What will happen if you’re going down river is that you descend, so you start at a higher point and you come into the lock, the water drains, and it brings the ship to a lower level. If you’re coming in the reverse direction, the exact opposite happens; you pull into the lock, it fills with water, and it raises you up to a higher level. It’s a fascinating process for even somebody like me who’s seen it a lot of times. I still enjoy being out on deck and watching that.
There are a lot of bridges on the Rhone River and some of them are low, some of them are low for the ship to get under with the railings up. What happens is that the captain will lower all of the railings, he’ll lower the wheel house, and everyone will go down a deck below so that we can pass under the bridge. Sometimes it’s only a matter of a few inches it seems. In other cases, the bridges are just high enough where we can be out on deck but we have to sit down and pass under a bridge that might just be a few feet above our head. That’s pretty cool to be on deck and see that.
A lot of people are afraid to come to France for various reasons. France has been in the news for geopolitical events and all. Why deny yourself the opportunity to come experience this? What is this? This is France, a place that brings me to a level of euphoria, whether I’m out on the bike, whether I’m just walking through the city. They have the joie de vivre. This is a country that celebrates life. When you’re here, it’s definitely something that you absorb and that you feel when you’re here. By not coming to France, while letting fear dictate the way that you’re going to live you’re life, you’re denying yourself the possibility to do that. You can’t calculate when you’re putting yourself in harm’s way or when you’re not. It could happen at home, it can happen anywhere. I was in France this past October on the Seine River, I’m here again now on the Rhone, it feels perfectly safe.
A Rhone River cruise serves up the very best of France. From gorgeous wine producing country side to storied cities, to UNESCO world heritage sites, and well-preserved vestiges of Roman occupation, a river cruise along the Rhone mixes France’s heritage and history with the country’s ever present charm and beauty.
I’m Ralph Grizzle and thanks for joining me on the Rhone River. Santé
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com.