Award-winning travel writer, Sue Bryant, recently joined us on board Scenic Sapphire for a river cruise through southern France, enjoying an array of exciting excursions and activities. Discover, in her own words, her highlights of this delightful itinerary.
River cruising is, as we all know, a most relaxing way to travel. Lounging on deck, watching gorgeous scenery drift by and pottering around pretty riverside towns. Needless to say, plenty of delicious meals are involved, too.
But what if you want something more? Much as I love chilling on deck, I’m also pretty sporty. And besides, all that amazing food has, somehow, to be worked off. One of the biggest bonuses of cruising with Scenic is the choice of activities you’re offered. So my partner David and I joined Scenic Sapphire for a week on the Rhône and vowed to try everything we possibly could: culture, new experiences and above all, exercise.
In the sleepy riverside town of Tournon, some passengers opted for what was billed as a ‘gentle walk’, which, while lovely, wasn’t going to provide much of a workout, particularly as it ended at a chocolate shop. So we signed up for a guided 20-mile bike ride along the Rhône. We pedalled along the top of a dyke in the soft, early morning light, past apricot orchards and slumbering villages, calling out ‘Bonjour’ to joggers and dog walkers. Cycling really is one of the best ways to enjoy river scenery and despite the fact that Scenic’s bicycles are electric and I’d cheated on some of the hills, I really felt as though I’d had a workout.
I couldn’t resist a kayak trip through the Ardèche gorge, famous for its cascading rapids. The two-hour descent required strong arms and teamwork to shoot several sets of white water, me paddling madly, yelling out ‘Left!’ and ‘Right!’ and David wrestling to control the back end of the kayak to dodge giant rocks and other boats. The reward, after a few tense moments, was gliding under the mighty Pont d’Arc, a dramatic, 200-foot rock arch that towers over the entrance to the deepest part of the gorge. The mood on the bus back to the ship was jubilant; the trip had been a real adventure.
The ports along the Rhône really lend themselves to independent exploration as you can reach everything easily from the ship – and Scenic provides GPS devices if you want a ‘guide’ to take with you. In the medieval riverside town of Viviers, we scrambled right up to the top of the Rocher du Châteauvieux for panoramic views down over the terracotta rooftops, the river and our ship (although I was slightly shamed when we encountered our Cruise Director in running gear – she’d jogged up there). We joined a morning tour to the magnificent Pont du Gard, too. Being the first on site was worth the very early start, just listening to the silence as the sun started to warm the yellow limestone of the graceful Roman aqueduct, the sky the deepest blue imaginable. There are marked hiking trails around the site and we spent a happy couple of hours strolling through the woods alongside the Gardon river, which the aqueduct spans, photographing the incredible structure from every angle.
The Train de l’Ardèche excursion is great fun, hanging out the window of a vintage steam train as it puffs its way along narrow hillsides on tracks laid in 1891, following the craggy gorge of the River Doux. At the top of the track, we bought freshly picked plums from a local who’d set up an impromptu stall and watched the engine was spun round on an ancient turntable before chugging through dappled oak forests with glimpses of rocks and swimming beaches far below.
You can’t travel in Provence without being seduced by the local produce. We joined a wine tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, epicentre of one of the world’s most famous wine-growing regions. We visited the insanely beautiful medieval town of Uzès, where we grazed our way through the market, picking at creamy cheeses, garlicky olives, freshly baked baguettes and finally, buying a bag of those huge, juicy peaches you only find in the south of France in summer. Back on board, the newly refurbished Scenic Sapphire has a high-tech cookery room, Scenic Culinaire, for hands-on cookery lessons, which are a lot of fun; on my cruise, we learned how to cook a poulet de Bresse with cream and mushrooms, which, as the aromas wafted through the ship, attracted a large crowd angling for a sample.
Then there was the sunset cocktail party on the terrace at Tournon Castle, a very grand private dinner for Scenic guests inside the Palais des Papes, the salt marshes of the Camargue… A week on the Rhone is packed with sensations. I really felt we’d experienced it to the full on this cruise – but that only means we want to go back for more.
If you’d like to follow Sue Bryant’s footsteps on a river cruise of the Rhône, head over to our dedicated Rhône River Cruises page, here, or call our helpful team today on 0808 159 8834.