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What to Expect on a Rhône River Cruise

  • Everything you need to know with our guide to cruising the idyllic Rhône river
  • Key cruise stops for must-see sights including Beaune, Avignon and the Ardèche Gorges
  • Enjoy a feast for the senses – from incredible artwork and architecture to world-class wines and cuisine

Although the Rhône river meanders 813km from the Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, most cruises focus on a shorter stretch through idyllic French countryside – from the foodie capital of Lyon to beautiful Beaune, then continuing via Vienne towards Arles and Avignon. Much loved by first-timers and seasoned travellers, will you embark on a Rhône river cruise next?

rhone river lyon

Lyon, France

Why choose a Rhône river cruise?

Cruising the splendid Rhône valley is an unforgettable experience. Not only do you sail through scenic landscapes and rural settings with lush terraced vineyards and fields of purple lavender, river cruise ships also pass incredible rugged gorges and remarkable medieval towns.

It’s a cruise packed with opportunities to enjoy wine tasting in Burgundy, witness the natural wonder that is the Pont d’Arc, get up close to the Pont du Gard and explore the historical cities of Arles and Avignon. Many passengers opt for an eight-day Rhône river cruise designed to give you a flavour of France that’s charming, captivating and unique to this part of the country.

A typical Rhône river cruise itinerary

Setting sail from the delightful city of Lyon, famous for being France’s gastronomic capital – it’s home to 20 Michelin-star restaurants – the best Rhône river cruises head upstream towards Chalon on the Saône, the gateway to Burgundy. It’s not long before you catch a first glimpse of the vine-clad Beaujolais hills. With an excursion to Beaune, the region’s wine capital, on the itinerary expect to be intrigued by the walled town’s medieval centre and its ornately tiled Hospices de Beaune. A tour around an authentic wine cellar and a much-anticipated tasting are included too.

Vienne, a Celtic settlement then a Roman stronghold under Julius Caesar, is another cultural stop-off, as is Tournon, an overnight mooring arrived at after negotiating a series of locks on the river Rhône. The expanse of water here was notoriously treacherous due to fierce currents, however, rest assured it’s safe today and extremely picturesque.

Next on the itinerary is perhaps one of France’s most impressive natural landmarks, the Ardèche Gorges. Stretching some 24km, sheer limestone cliffs tower almost 305 metres above the river. Gaze in wonder at extraordinary rock formations, grottoes and caves. The highlight is undoubtedly Pont d’Arc – a huge, photogenic natural stone arch.

rhine river pont darc ardeche

Pont d’Arc, Ardèche

Arles is another key stop-off on a Rhône river cruise. In this Provençal city, artist Van Gogh produced around 300 works, inspired by the region’s light and beauty. On a tour around Arles’s many UNESCO-listed historic monuments, including a Roman amphitheatre, your expert guide will bring the past to life, engaging you with facts and bygone stories.

Then it’s on to another Roman wonder of the ancient world, the 2,000-year-old Pont du Gard aqueduct. Standing over 48 metres high and almost 275 metres wide, the three-storey bridge was constructed without using mortar. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pont du Gard is understandably one of the most visited attractions in the south of France.

rhone river avignon bridge and popes palace

Avignon Bridge & Popes’ Palace

Finally, the last destination on a typical Rhône river cruise is Avignon, and what a grand finale. Once the seat of Catholic popes, the city has an abundance of superb churches, chapels and convents, with the pièce de résistance being the Popes’ Palace. Made up of two buildings that together form the largest Gothic palace in the world, a tour of its interior will reveal priceless frescoes, graceful sculptures and rich furnishings including fine Gobelin tapestries.

An exceptional collection of Renaissance art lines the walls at the nearby Petit Palais, and down by the Rhône you can see what’s left of the mighty Pont d’Avignon – a bridge that dramatically ends halfway across the river.

When’s the best time to go on a Rhône cruise?

Relaxing on a ship on the river Rhône is a treat for the senses regardless of the time of year you choose to embark on a cruise. With local specialities such as salade lyonnaise, saucisson and quenelles de brochet to sample while discovering destinations, and perhaps at dinner onboard your ship in the evening, your taste buds are in for a thrill – especially as it can all be washed down with a glass of Côte de Beaune or Volnay.

Visit in late September when the grape harvest begins in earnest and you can raise a toast with jubilant winemakers, cheerful about another successful year. Or plan a holiday for late June or early July and you may be able to capture on camera that iconic Provençal shot of glorious purple lavender in bloom.

Rhône valley cruises are usually available from April through to October. If you dislike intense heat, avoid July and August when temperatures can reach 35°C.

What to pack for a Rhône river cruise?

As with all European river cruises, pack casual and loose-fitting clothing. While guided tours are at a leisurely pace, they may involve walking along cobbled streets so a pair of comfortable shoes are a must. It’s also a good idea to bring layers or, for ladies, a warm shawl. While the Mediterranean sun can shine brightly in France as early as April or May, there’s also often a breezy mistral wind. And it can be a little chilly when you’re touring around a wine cellar.

rhone river red wine harvest time

What you don’t pack for your Rhône cruise is every bit as important as what you do – you’ll want to leave some space in your suitcase for a few souvenirs. Local shops will be filled with jars of French mustard, boxes of pink pralines, lavender-scented toiletries and bottles of wine. The big decision is whether to buy some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, cherry-fragrant rosé or all three.

Plan your Rhône river cruise adventure

As you can see, Rhône river cruises have a wide appeal, catering for all interests and tastes. Whether you’re looking for a singles Rhône river cruise (without any single supplements), or a gastronomic trip where you’re joined by cookery writer Prue Leith, a cruise along the Rhône valley is simply sumptuous.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.