A Rhone River Cruise Odyssey in France

The food and wine are French, the ruins Roman. Cruise writer Susan J. Young explores the “Colors of Provence” aboard the AmaWaterways AmaKristina.

Embarking in Lyon

From my lovely Mount Pipet hillside perch in southeastern France, I gazed across Vienne’s medieval and Baroque cityscape to the Rhone River beyond—savoring a truly “frameable moment.” Nestled 20 miles south of Lyon, Vienne was once a former Celtic tribe capital and one of Roman Gaul’s most important towns between 121 B.C. and 275 A.D. As I began my destination immersion during an AmaWaterways “Colors of Provence” luxury river cruise late last year, I was mesmerized by Vienne’s cityscape. 

I spotted the Saint Maurice Cathedral, a Gothic and Romanesque jewel built mostly between the 12th to 16th centuries, plus other ancient, medieval, Baroque and urban structures. In the distance, the meandering Rhone was crowned with cascading vineyards. Glancing downward, I then laid eyes on Vienne’s spectacular Roman-era theater. Back in its day, the venue  welcomed 13,000 or so spectators. Abandoned for centuries, it was restored in the 20th century, and today hosts  performances. 

My fellow passengers and I embarked the 152-passenger AmaKristina, a modern, luxurious river vessel, in Lyon. We had several days to explore France’s third largest city and gastronomic capital as well as nearby Beaujolais wine country. Then as the ship sailed southward along the Rhone River, we went ashore for port calls not only at Vienne, but also Tournon/Viviers, Avignon and Arles, where our  itinerary ended. 

With the AmaKristina as a home base, passengers could take advantage of excursions from Lyon that included a search for “Black Diamond” truffles and a visit to the famous les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, an incredible indoor food market that is a feast for the senses. 

I chose the Beaujolais wine tasting tour, which took us motoring through lovely rural countryside to Domaine de Fond-Vielle, a small, family-run wine estate in Oingt village. After a brief vineyard tour, we headed into the winery to taste charcuterie, fresh bread, a 2022 Beaujolais Blanc, a 2022 Pink Tower Beaujolais, and a Beaujolais Vielles Vignes 2021, among other vintages. Yes, it was copious wine early in the day, but as curious explorers, we persevered! 

For active guests, AmaWaterways also typically organizes a guided Lyon bike tour. It’s a plus that AmaKristina carries its own fleet of bicycles—used both for bike tours and for guests’ independent exploration. 

The AmaKristina headed next to Vienne and the above-mentioned views from Mount Pipet. Guests could also opt for a walking tour with a stop at the impressive Augustus and Livia Temple, built between 20-10 B.C. in honor of Caesar Augustus and his wife Livia.

Tournon, Viviers, Avignon

Our cruise also journeyed to Tournon, a gorgeous, grandiose village with an imposing castle, monuments, terraced vineyards and incredible panoramas. The river line’s tours include a steam train ride, a red wine and chocolate tasting experience or a hike and wine tasting in Tain-l’Hermitage across the river. 

For a unique experience after sundown, a special “ghost tour” is arranged for guests. Guided by an expert dressed in Renaissance-era attire, it stars the town’s “residents of yesteryear,” also dressed in period clothing, who reenact significant events and legends.  

Next up, AmaKristina called at
Avignon, center stage for Western Christianity in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, it oozes historic charm as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also well-known for its 12th century Saint Benezet Bridge, sporting just four of 22 original arches, and the subject of the famous “On the Bridge of Avignon” children’s song. 

Art and architecture enthusiasts will love Avignon as it’s home to superb art museums and the impressive Palace of the Popes, one of Europe’s largest medieval Gothic structures. In addition to walking and biking excursions, the line offers a tour to Pont du Gard, built in the first century B.C. to supply Nimes with water. As the world’s highest Roman aqueduct bridge, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also the only three-tiered Roman structure of its kind still standing. Additional choices include a Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine tasting experience or a Grignan truffle farm visit. 

Famed for its ancient, two-tiered Roman amphitheater, Arles, our final “Colors of Provence” destination, also beckons with strong artistic connections.

Both Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso once called this city home. In fact, peering down into Arles’ river inspired van Gogh to paint “The Starry Night.” Contemporary art fans will be interested in Luma Arles, an art complex, park and The Tower, designed by Los Angeles’ own Frank Gehry. 

In Arles, AmaWaterways’ guests can choose a van Gogh walking tour, bike tour or city walking tour, or a tour to Les Baux de Provence, a picturesque hilltop village. We loved browsing that village’s shops, cafes and art galleries, set amid castle ruins. 


The famous bridge at Avignon
Photo courtesy Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Tourisme

Sailing Along the Rhone River 

While the ship was sailing from destination to destination, we had plenty of time to enjoy the comforts of the AmaKristina. The large Main Lounge is the central hub of the ship, an inviting place to socialize filled with comfortable couches, a piano, dance floor, full bar and expanses of windows for natural light and riverbank views. 

The Sun Deck offers a small, heated pool with a swim-up bar, plus plenty of loungers and tables. It is the best spot on board for unobstructed, panoramic views. Fitness buffs can head for an interior exercise room or exterior walking track. Plus, guests can book an onboard spa or salon appointment. 

Food and Drink 

As a member of the exclusive Chaine des Rotisseurs, AmaWaterways offers gourmet dining inspired by the destinations visited. In addition to the ship’s Main Restaurant, a light Bistro lunch, quick breakfast and afternoon tapas are served in the Lounge. 

The line offers a complimentary Sip & Sail cocktail hour in the Main Lounge and Bar just before dinner (with free soft drinks, wine, beer and cocktails). Guests also receive complimentary soft drinks, wine and beer with lunch and dinner service, plus complimentary sparkling wine and mimosas at breakfast. 

The Chef’s Table

As soon as possible after boarding, guests should make a reservation for The Chef’s Table. That seven-course tasting menu experience serves just 28, and  books up quickly. Available on a complimentary basis once per sailing, it unfolds in a lovely aft restaurant that features an open-view gallery and a curved wall of windows for soaking in river views. 

Highlights of our Chef’s Table experience included cured Atlantic salmon with avocado mousse, a delicious coconut lemon grass soup and slow-roasted Argentinian beef ribs with truffle jus and potato parsnip puree. 

Upscale Accommodations

As for accommodations, AmaKristina offers 155-to-235-square-foot staterooms and 350-square-foot suites. I opted for a signature double balcony stateroom, with both a full exterior private balcony and separate French balcony. 

Our stateroom furnishings included a desk area with several drawers, mini-fridge, complimentary water (refilled daily) and a large flat-screen TV
with complimentary English-language entertainment-on-demand. High-speed Wi-Fi is also complimentary.  

We slept soundly on a comfortable, sumptuous queen-sized bed (convertible to two twins) with a soft duvet, high-thread-count Egyptian sheets and down pillows. 

Amenities in the expansive (for a cruise ship) marble bathroom include a large shower with multi-jet showerhead, and upscale bath and beauty products.

 Multiple 2024-2025 Sailings

AmaWaterways’ “Colors of Provence” departs from spring through the end of the year. A bonus in  late November and December are the winter markets along this wondrous stretch of the Rhone. Pre- and post-cruise extensions are available in Paris, Barcelona and more. 



Top Five Reasons to Choose a River Cruise Vacation

  1. Heart of the Destination
    Ocean cruises sail around countries and stop at coastal ports. But,  river cruises sail directly through a country. Passengers simply walk off the ship into the heart of Paris, Budapest or other beloved European cities. 
  2. Intimate, Upscale, Not Crowded
    A river cruise vessel typically serves from 90 to 250 guests. You’ll sail with like-minded passengers who are more interested in history and culture than in partying aboard a massive ship.  
  3. Convenient Travel
    When travelers book a European land tour, they’ll pack and unpack repeatedly.  They’ll also spend time on airplanes, trains, motorcoaches or private cars. In contrast, a river cruise ship is a floating hotel. After a day of exploring a destination, guests simply stroll back aboard, relax and enjoy scenic river views from their private balcony, while the ship sails away.
  4. Lovely Spaces, Upscale Digs
    Today’s luxury river cruise vessels feature sleek, modern design with lovely public spaces for relaxation, dining, enrichment and fitness. In addition to guest lecturers,  demonstrations and wine tastings, evenings are filled with entertainment that ranges from pianists to singers and even local folk troupes.
  5. Inclusive Luxury 
    Luxury river cruises are more of an “all-inclusive” product than many ocean cruises. Therefore, guests typically won’t have to pay separately for soft drinks, teas and coffees, alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, gourmet dining, specialty culinary experiences, wine tastings, gratuities, port fees, taxes and some shore excursions. (Varies by line)