Cruise review: Along the Rhône and Saône on MS Lord Byron

by France User

River cruises in southern France are becoming more popular, in no small part due to the almost assured sunshine.

While cruises along the Rhine and the Danube remain popular, trips along the rivers of southern France are gaining in popularity, thanks in no small part to the almost assured sunshine. Traveling via Burgundy, the Rhone River, and Provence, we embarked aboard the MS Lord Byron.

The Cruise

Riviera Travel, a rapidly expanding British travel agency, set off from sunny Lyon on a cruise through Burgundy, the Rhone River, and Provence in the middle of April. After passing through the heart of the city, the Rhône, which originates in Lake Geneva, meets the Saône.

The cruise begins in the Burgundy wine region and continues south through numerous vineyards, stops in Roman-rich cities like Vienna and Arles, and ends in Avignon, where guests can take advantage of free walking tours and other excursions.

The Ship – Ms Lord Byron

The MS Lord Byron set sail in 2013 and can accommodate up to 140 guests. The interior’s polished wood, marble flooring, brass, and rich blue carpets with fleur de lys accents provide a welcome counterpoint to the exterior’s streamlined design. There’s a lounge and bar that stretches from the ship’s center to its front, all decked out in blue and gold furnishings. Downstairs, in a comparable area, is where you’ll find the restaurant.

The upper and middle floors of the cabins include glass walls, half of which fold back to provide an open environment, while the ground floor has only windows that reach over the cabin occupants’ heads.

A long hot tub and putting green can be found on the ship’s sun deck. A hair salon, steam room, and sauna can all be found below ground.

Dinner is served in five courses and includes meat, fish, and vegetarian alternatives in addition to the always-available salmon and chicken. Breakfast consists of fried favorites, cereals, fruit, cold meats, and cheese.

Nightly entertainment includes piano performances by Kirill, trivia games, and special guests (such as a ballroom dance couple and a hilarious French accordionist).


Serene Sunset on a Cruise Ship’s Pool DeckImage source: photobeginner/

On the city’s central riverside, where joggers, bikers, and even yoga devotees congregate against a background of exquisite architecture, we board the ship to begin our journey. It’s noon, so we take a stroll over the Rhône, through the streets of the peninsula that sits between the two rivers, across the Saône, and into the heart of the old town. We turn around and go back down the river to Confluence Park, a collection of stores, residences, and eateries at the point where the river joins the Rhône.

The following day, we take a bus up to the hill above the old town to see the magnificent Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which was built in the 19th century and can be seen from almost everywhere.

After rounding Confluence Park, we go up the Saône past the city, squeezing under low bridges—one with barely 4 inches to spare, even with the wheelhouse lowered—before reaching the tranquil countryside.


Breathtaking Daytime View of LyonImage source: Stockbym/

After a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee, we set out to explore the newly opened market, the grandiose gardens of Parc George Nouelle, and the charming river island that serves as the town’s historical center. The next stop is the charming town of Beaune, in the heart of France’s wine region, for a stroll around its historic center and a wine tasting.

Not even 9:30, and we’re already drinking red, white, and the most deliciously rich cassis, that blackcurrant liqueur, under the old stone arches under a wine store. Then we drive back through famous vineyards, stopping at La Moutarderie, the Edmond Fallot mustard plant (30 miles from Dijon), for a complimentary tasting and to stock up (the Cassis mustard is wonderful).


Aerial View of the Ancient Gallo-Roman Theatre of Vienne, FranceImage source: Keitma/

There are a bunch of hills around this nice little town. The City Tram, a miniature road train, takes us on a winding route through Roman walls and up to the Belvedere de Pipet viewpoint and the quietly magnificent Notre Dame de Pipet church, both built in the 19th century. Looking down, we see the Roman theater that once held 13,000 people, but today it only hosts the two-week-long Jazz à Vienne event each July, with an audience of about 8,000. We slam on the brakes and scream to a stop in the town square, where our walking tour will begin.

There are the gigantic columns of the Auguste and Livia Temple, which seem like they belong on the Acropolis; the Jardin de Cybele, which was formerly part of the Forum; and the Pyramid, a stone obelisk around which chariots used to race. Immediately after crossing the river bridges, we arrive at the vast, modern Gallo-Roman Museum, behind which is a seven-acre expanse with exposed roadways, foundations, and fountains.


Village Church in Tournon-sur-Rhône, FranceImage source: Bob Pool/

We took an afternoon trip from Vienne to the heart of wine country, where we saw storks nesting in trees and seagulls with their young on the locks just north of tiny Andance. A little town with the remains of a castle perched on a nearby hill Nearly a mountain of vines rises up behind Tournon, which is located across the river from Tain-l’Hermitage, another wine-producing town.

At night, we get on the ship’s bicycles and ride a short distance along the 500-mile ViaRhôna trail that connects Lake Geneva with the Mediterranean. Along the way, we pass the bridge that inventor Marc Seguin constructed in 1849; it was the first suspension bridge to use wire cables (and a wooden roadway).

Ardeche Gorge

Bend in the Ardèche River, Gorges de l’Ardèche, FranceImage source:Rolf E. Staerk/

The next day, we woke up in Tournon and made our way south via hills and chalky bluffs, eventually reaching the little commune of Le Pouzin at midday (although we had already eaten). Quickly we set out on a five-hour trip to the canyon, although one that includes a stop at a lavender farm (and lavender gift shop).

Similar to the Grand Canyon, the gorge is a deep river channel snaking through the wilderness. We navigate the winding roads down to river level, passing the Pont d’Arc, a 180-foot rock arch. With coach parking, we enjoy the unhurried, gorgeous trip back up, stopping off for shots at the top. We continue on to the Belvedere Lookout, a secluded area with a cool coffee shop overlooking the canyon and the towering Cathedral Rock.


Cafe Van Gogh at Place du Forum in Arles, FranceImage source:

At the southernmost point of our journey, we stopped at a Roman city, where we spent an entire day systematically investigating its many ruins. The morning begins with a guided stroll through the city’s winding alleys, where sights like the imposing stone amphitheater and the mysterious, medieval Church of St. Trophime await.

We go by the sunflower-hued Van Gogh Café (immortalized in the painting Café Terrace at Night) and stop at Espace Van Gogh, the colorfully planted courtyard of the old hospital where he was confined after chopping off his ear, both of which were important settings for Vincent Van Gogh’s works.

Our next stop will be the famous Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard, in southern France. Eventually, the balmy Provencal weather gave up, and we strolled over the massive structure in the pouring rain, crossing the River Gardon and its valley.


Aerial Panoramic View of Saint Benezet Bridge and Rhone River in Avignon, FranceImage source:

The last stop on our journey begins at the bridge, which is docked not far from the historic Pont d’Avignon. The ancient arches that are still standing are an impressive sight, and we even get to take a stroll along the river. Nonetheless, the city itself is much more remarkable because of its Roman wall, which stretches for 2.7 miles.

A number of popes lived lavishly in the Palais des Papes, a massive stone building that is more of a castle than a palace, where each time you enter a new chamber, you are surprised to discover it is even larger than the last. The tranquil Jardin des Doms, perched on a hill above the river and bridge, is the ideal way to round up a week spent immersed in wine, Romans, and breathtaking vistas at the Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral, which houses the Gothic tomb of Pope John XXII and dates back to the 14th century.

Check availability

Starting at only £1,569 per person (including flights, transfers, and WiFi), this cruise explores Burgundy, the Rhône River, and Provence between April and October ( Wine and beer for lunch and supper for just £99!

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