A Rhône River Cruise: Burgundy and Provence

Take a Journey Through the Beautiful French Countryside on a Rhône River Cruise

The Rhône flows through the heart of the gorgeous Rhône Valley wine region in south-eastern France, offering beautiful views of vineyards and historic towns. A Rhône river cruise will also take you on a journey to picturesque cities such as Lyon, Avignon, and Arles, and allows you to sample some of France’s finest wines and cuisine. I travelled by Eurostar and TGV to Lyon, leaving at 8am and arriving on the ship before 4pm – a good no-fly river cruise option. It’s a relaxing way to travel but did involve crossing Paris and finding the right train and pre-booked seat.

Sailing with Uniworld is an absolute pleasure. My ‘floating hotel’ was SS Catherine. I was extremely well looked after, and nothing is too much trouble for the fantastic staff. Look out for my SS Catherine ship review. It was also a privilege and a pleasure to spend time with the other guests. River cruising is a great solo travel option and a lovely way to enjoy the company of new people.

SS Catherine
Uniworld SS Catherine


Lyon is great if you love rivers, it’s boasts two of them, the Rhône and Saône. The city is a blend of historical charm and modern design, with well-preserved medieval and Renaissance architecture alongside contemporary buildings. The historic district, Vieux Lyon, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to the Cathedral of St. Jean, the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, and the ancient Roman amphitheatre, the Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum. The funicular railway is a great, energy-saving way to reach to top of the hill and enjoy the spectacular view.

A highlight of Lyon, famous for its silk, was the weavers’ secret passageways. A few remain open today and provide short cuts between streets. We also visited a silk weaver’s workshop and listened to stories about the traditional techniques and modern innovations. Our guide is one of the few remaining weavers who can use the original loom.

On leaving Lyon, we sailed on the Sôane to Macôn.


The excursion from Macôn took us to the charming town of Beaune, Burgundy. The Beaune Hospices, a collection of historic buildings, once served as a hospital for the sick and needy. These buildings now house a museum, a winery, and a charity auction that raises money for local hospitals and other health care organisations.

The Hospices of Beaune was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins, as a hospital for the poor and sick. They were inspired by their religious beliefs and a desire to give back to the community.

Over the centuries, the hospital grew in size and importance, becoming a renowned centre of care and compassion.

The museum is dedicated to the history of the hospital and its charitable works and includes an impressive collection of medieval art and artefacts. The wine cellar of the Hospices of Beaune is home to some of the finest wines in Burgundy.

Each year, a charity auction is held in the town, where the wines from the Hospices of Beaune are sold to the highest bidder, with the proceeds going to local health care organisations.

Our ship sailed back through Lyon and south on the Rhône.

Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage

With so many vineyards lining the banks, a Rhône river cruise is an excellent way to visit some of them. If you love wine, you’ll love the twin villages of Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage.

Tournon may be a small town, but many historical events took place here. A castle was built on the hilltop in the 10th century to protect the region, and new fortifications were added over the centuries, including two extra towers built to defend against Protestant attacks in the 16th century.

We admired the handsome houses constructed by wealthy merchants as we walked through the Rue de Doux area and passed the 14th-century church and the oldest secondary school in France.

We crossed the pretty flower-decked Marc Seguin suspension bridge to reach Tain-l’Hermitage.

In the hills above the Rhône, we enjoyed some delicious Hermitage wines while hearing stories about the estate and wine production. These were paired with cubes of tasty, local cheese and some mouth-watering, fresh bread.

Back on the ship, we continued our journey down the Rhône and docked at the tiny but very beautiful, medieval, city of Viviers.


Our guide and her husband were determined to raise their children in this beautiful, rural, Rhône Valley location. They left careers in management to work in landscaping and tourism and in her words, “we’ve never been happier”.

Viviers, the smallest cathedral city in France with a population of under 4000, was a delightful stop on my river cruise. The docking point is about 10 minutes level walk to the lower part of the city. This enchanting place was bought to life for us by our fantastic guide who recounted stories from historical events to the lives of the locals today, including her own. Time seems to have stood still and Viviers has a long and storied past with incredible medieval, architectural heritage.

At one time, Viviers was divided along religious lines—the clergy lived in the upper part of the town, the laity in the lower part. Views from the top are worth the climb.

The beautiful city of Viviers

The next stop on our Rhône river cruise journey was the walled city of Avignon.


Avignon is one of the most fascinating towns in southern France, with so many historic gems to explore.

L𝙚 𝙋𝙤𝙣𝙩 𝙙'𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙜𝙣𝙤𝙣

Do you remember this song? It was quoted several times on our river cruise on the Rhône, as we approached Avignon…

“𝙎𝙪𝙧 𝙡𝙚 𝙋𝙤𝙣𝙩 𝙙’𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙜𝙣𝙤𝙣

𝙇’𝙤𝙣 𝙮 𝙙𝙖𝙣𝙨𝙚, 𝙡’𝙤𝙣 𝙮 𝙙𝙖𝙣𝙨𝙚…”

Legend has it that the bridge was built in the 12th century by a young shepherd boy named Bénézet, who claimed to have had a divine revelation telling him to build a bridge across the river.

The Pont d’Avignon was originally 900 meters long and had 22 arches. However, over the centuries, it suffered damage from floods and wars, and today only four of the arches remain. It’s a popular tourist attraction partly due to the famous children’s song.

The city was once the seat of the Catholic Church in the 14th century, and the legacy of the papacy can be seen in the magnificent Palace of the Popes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Palace of the Popes is a massive Gothic palace that served as the residence of the popes during the 14th century. It is now a museum that houses a collection of medieval art and artefacts, as well as offering stunning views of the city and the Rhône River.

Our excellent guide bought her stories to life, asking a group member to play the part of the Pope and to bless his ‘followers’ in the courtyard below.

The Rhône River is also a popular spot for boating and kayaking, and some of my fellow travellers ventures out on a kayak tour, an active option available with Uniworld.


The final stop on my journey south along the Rhône was Arles. The town is famous for its stunning Roman ruins, as well as its association with the artist Vincent van Gogh. Arles so inspired Van Gogh that he painted over 200 paintings there. This includes his most famous works in Arles, including “Starry Night Over the Rhône” and “Café Terrace at Night”.

French cheese at the farmer's market

If you’re in Arles on a Saturday, you are in for a treat. The largest farmers market in Southern France provides an amazing array of luscious produce, clothes, gifts and, of course, fragrant, local lavender.

One of the most visited attractions in Arles is the Roman Amphitheatre, which dates back to the 1st century AD. The amphitheatre is a massive structure that could hold up to 20,000 spectators, and was used for gladiator battles and other public events.

Today, the amphitheatre is still used for concerts and cultural events. I sat in the very back row and imagined the roar of the crowds and the spectacle below.

Another famous Roman landmark in Arles is the Roman Theatre, which was built in the 1st century BC. The theatre is well-preserved, and you can still see the stage, seating areas, and backstage areas.


For a fascinating and beautiful snapshot of the Burgundy and Provence region, a Rhône river cruise the the perfect way to explore. A pre or post river cruise extension is an ideal way to see more of this area.

I’ve experienced this itinerary first hand and am happy to answer questions and chat about it. If you are looking for a no-fly river cruise option, I can help you find the right one.

Please fill in the form to get in touch.

Jenny Cookman