Sail on three rivers – the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne – when cruising in this wonderful region of south-west France. With itineraries focusing on the region’s world famous wines there are visits to chateaux in the Medoc, St Emilion and Sauternes, as well as Bergerac and Bordeaux. Optional excursions include Arcachon on the Atlantic coast and Cognac from Baye, on the north bank of the Gironde.
The city was voted Europe’s Best Destination 201 5 and there’s no better way to arrive than by river, sailing along the Garonne to moor near Pont de Pierre, a bridge built by order of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Passengers can step onto the newly landscaped promenade which leads to the 18th century Place du Bourse. Between this majestic building and the river, children splash about in the Miroir d’eau, a huge area of granite paving covered with water, which, about every quarter of an hour, creates a complete fog – much to the delight of little ones who roll, chase, ‘swim’ and squeal in this sophisticated paddling pool.
A sleek tram snakes i ts way quietly past Place de la Bourse and around the city with tickets sold on a time basis, rather than distance, so cruise passengers can treat themselves to an hour’s ride take in the sights of this stunni ng UNESCO World Heritage city.
Tours to Bergerac depart from Libourne, a town at the confluence of the Isle and Dordogne rivers. It’s a 90-minute drive to this lovely old town with pretty squares, half-timbered houses and plenty of places to eat. On Saturdays there is a market by the neo-romantic L’Eglise Notre-Dame.
Do the elves polish this pretty town every night? St Emilion is forever linked with wine but guests should be encouraged to build in time to stroll in its charming streets. The town was founded in the 8th century by a monk, St Emilion, who stole bread for the poor. Legend has it he turned the loaves into logs when he was arrested.
Tours follow the Route de la Corniche Fleurie, named after the 1 9th century houses built by ship captains who decorated them with exotic plants collected on their travels. Excursions also take in Blaye’s 17th century citadel.
he Rhone rises in Switzerland and flows into France, emptying into the Mediterranean near Aries, while the Saone rises in France. The rivers converge in Lyon, where the Saone becomes the Rhone. The main itinerary is a seven-night cruise from Lyon to Aries or Avignon, or vice-versa, plus round-trip voyages from Lyon. Some cruises also depart from Chalon-sur-Saone, just north of Lyon.
France’s second-largest city is the gastronomic capital of France and visitors do not have to spend a fortune to eat well, with Bouchon restaurants serving traditional Lyonnaise food in simple surroundings.
Tours often start at the white Basilica of Notre Dame, built above the city on the site of the old Roman forum, and move down to the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with cobbled streets and attractive Gothic and Renaissance architecture. From Lyon, cruises typically go north for a day to visit Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy.
Tournon’s 10th-century castle and pretty village with medieval houses make for a pleasant visit but the main attraction is to cross the river to Tain l’Hermitage. Here. Hermitage and Crazes Hermitage vines are etched onto the hillside while exceptional chocolate is made at Valrhona’s Ecole du Grand Chocolat.
A once-thriving medieval town, Viviers is now a town of two parts with narrow alleyways lined with traders’ houses close to the river and a magnificent upper quarter, home to St Vincent’s Cathedral.
Julius Caesar arrived in Vienne in 47BC and it became a thriving city. The Roman remains can still be seen including the temple built in honour of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia and the 13,000-seat amphitheatre which now makes a wonderful setting for jazz festivals. The Jardin de Ville is close to the river and makes lovely spot to the relax and picnic or enjoy a coffee in a nearby cafe.
River cruise passengers can step off their ship, cross the road and step straight into the magnificent walled city. From 1309 to 1377, Avignon was the seat of the Catholic popes, and remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. Inside the medieval stone ramparts is the impressive Palais des Papes. The remains of the 12th century Saint-Benezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon (as featured in the nursery rhyme) is another fine attraction.
Aries, founded by Roman legionnaires, has a well-preserved amphitheatre to discover. Art-lovers will know Van Gogh was inspired by the town; it was here he painted Cafe Terrace at Night. Perhaps order an al fresco coffee or cognac at the cafe and watch the stars.
The Seine rises north-west of Dijon and flows north through Paris, into Normandy and empties into the English Channel at Le Havre. River cruises sail from Paris to Rouen or Caudebac and back and usually offer a full day in Paris plus a call at Vernon, for artist Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny, as well as Les Andelys.
Fred. Olsen’s 14-night Rivers of France and Spain cruise, on March 18, 2016, offers 300 nautical miles of scenic cruising on Braemar, including the River Seine en route to Rouen, as well the Gironde and Garonne for Bordeaux. Price from £1449.
Vernon is a lovely town to explore in its own right with a gothic church, fine arts museum, 12th century castles and plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. However, most excursions go to Monet’s garden, where the Impressionist artist painted scenes including the water lilies and the Japanese Footbridge draped in wisteria.
Visit Chatcau-Gaillard, built i n 1 196 by Richard the Lionheart. It’s a ruin now, destroyed by Henry IV in 1603, but its colourful past, having changed hands between the British and French several times during the Hundred Years War, makes for a fascinating tour.
Most river cruise ships moor overnight in Rouen to give visitors ample time to explore this attractive city. Tours focus on the cathedral, which was rebuilt after suffering bomb damage in the Second World War.