To fully experience a destination is to steep yourself in – whether strolling with the locals through the weekly market, cycling along the river, en route to a family-run vineyard, or climbing a medieval fortress. If you're sailing the Rhone River, here are five experiences illuminating the countryside's history, culture, and wine.
Five Rhone River cruises experiences
1. Learn the Story of the City and Tour the Local Market
Explore the medieval echoes in Chalon-sur-Saone, in southern Burgundy. Depart your cruise ship here in the heart of the Cote Chalonnaise wine region and get to know the sleepy riverside town of Chalon, historically a distribution port for wines from the vineyards of Burgundy and the Rhone Valley.
Wander along cobblestone streets past half-timbered shops and grand French classical-style buildings. Don't miss the neo-Gothic St. Vincent's Cathedral, declared a national monument of France in 1903.
Bring an appetite (and an extra day bag for the treasures you'll find!) to Place St. Vincent Market, which dates back to the medieval era and still operates three days a week. Sample local delicacies and barter over handmade souvenir items from Burgundy's finest craftspeople.
2. Pedal from Chalon to Tournus
This lovely bike tour has a grand finale – sampling the area's famous white Maconnais wines in Tournus. You'll glide along the famous Voie Bleue national cycle route through the alluvial plains of southern Burgundy. Upon arrival in Tournus, tour numerous wineries to appreciate the area's omnipresent Chardonnay grape.
3. Explore Tournus and the Abbey of Saint Philibert
Join your knowledgeable local guide as they lead you through Tournus, emphasizing the magnificent Benedictine Abbey of Saint Philibert. Known for its no-frills architecture, the abbey is a monastic gem in Tournus – explore the cloisters, refectory, and chapter house.
Fun fact: the refectory was used as an indoor tennis court in the 17th century!
Today, numerous classical music concerts and art exhibitions are held on the abbey grounds. Elsewhere in Tournos, lose yourself in winding, narrow alleyways between old stone houses and discover hole-in-the-wall boutiques and restaurants.
4. Tour Avignon and the Palais des Papes
Immerse yourself in the history of Avignon, led by a local expert who will introduce you to the secrets of the "City of Popes." In the 14th century, Avignon was considered the center of the Catholic Church, much like the Vatican City of today. Explore the medieval walls surrounding the city's historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Venture inside the impressive Palais des Papes, flanked by four remarkable towers. Discover more than 20 rooms, the pope's private chambers, and gorgeous frescoes painted by Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti.
5. Get to Know Cluny & Berze-le-Chatel
Known for its large abbey and towering castle, Cluny is the perfect excursion to feel sequestered from the crowds and soak up the region's history. If you're active, consider a guided bike tour from Cluny to the nearby Berze-le-Chatel castle, perched on a rocky hill. Marvel at its 13 medieval towers, three surrounding walls, furnished interior rooms, Carolingian chapel, and terrace gardens.
So When Should I Go?
For optimal weather conditions for experiences like those listed above, time your sailing the Rhone River Valley between March and December. For the most gloriously blue-skied weather, aim for June to late September.
There are countless more riverside excursions where these came from. Let's chat about which ones appeal to your interests and travel style, whether you're a history buff, oenophile, or avid cyclist.