Avalon Waterways – From Lyon to Avignon

While I was really excited to experience Avalon’s take on river cruising, the real highlight of this trip was enjoying the new Active & Discovery excursions on board.  This trip took us from Lyon in south France all the way to the coast in Arles/Port St Louis, giving us a real insight into the towns, culture and scenery of the Rhône.

Lyon

After we had been collected from home and taken our flight from London to Lyon, we met the beautiful Avalon Poetry II.  I’ve wanted to visit Lyon for a long time.  It’s known as the gastronomic capital of France, and arguably the world, and is bubbling with history, culture and loads of things to do.

For the first day on board we pretty much had the whole day to ourselves.  Officially, check-in didn’t start until the afternoon, so we left our luggage with the Poetry and eagerly headed out to explore.  The ship was docked in the cool Confluence urban renewal area.  An ex-industrial area, this place was bustling with shops and bars. We left the ship and wandered up the Saône River which also winds its way through the City.

We headed up and into the Old Town to explore the various sights.  We couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to jump onto the funicular railway up to Notre Dame de Fourvière.  It’s really worth the trip up as this beautiful 19th Century basilica overlooks Lyon and the surrounding area.  It’s truly breath-taking and you really start to get a sense of the size of the city.  If you can, make sure you walk back down (or even up if you’re up to it) to enjoy the gorgeous parks and gardens that litter the hillside.

In the afternoon we made our way back to Poetry to unpack, unwind and get to know our beautiful Avalon ship (head to the rest of this blog to read all about this).  In the early evening we had our muster drill (which I have to say was the perfect balance between being informative, yet casual) and a welcome reception by the Cruise Director and our Captain.  As we enjoyed dinner, the Poetry sailed from the Confluence area of Lyon to dock right in the city centre on the Rhône.

It seemed a waste to not to enjoy the evening in the city, so after dinner we nipped off the ship and walked along the main promenade and around the city centre.  I have to say Lyon had such a cool and relaxed vibe.  The promenade was buzzing with people just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company.  You could easily see the gastronomic influence with restaurants and bars all bustling with activity.  It was also the Fifa Women’s World Cup in Lyon, so the main City square was alive with activities and broadcasting the matches live.

We retired back to the Poetry and took full advantage of the unique design of our stateroom.  We opened the panoramic window fully and enjoyed a glass of wine overlooking the Rhône and this fantastic city.

Lyon (Day 2)

We woke up early the next day, eager to explore Lyon some more.  We’d opted to go on one of the included Discovery tours, a gastronomic walking tour of the city (right up my street!).

We started our tour right outside the ship on the banks of the Rhône where are informative guide gave us a whirlwind guide to the history of Lyon and the surrounding region.  We then made our way from the ship back towards the Old Town.  I have to say I love the architecture of Lyon, particularly the cute hidden alleys, known as Traboules.  These secret alleyways litter the city and a number are open to the public during the day.  Originating back to the 4th Century, these alleys allowed residents to access the Saône River quick and easily.  This also helped the various forms of trade including for Silk, which the city is also known for.  Incredibly, the city has over 500 of these passageways, but only 40 can be explored by visitors.  They’re worth a look if you get the chance.

Our first stop on our gastronomic tour was a cute cheese shop.  Here we learnt about all the local cheeses from the area and more widely from France.  We then had the opportunity to try (a lot) of local cheese.  There’s never a bad time of day to eat cheese so I was in my element trying to various delicacies.  I was in heaven.

Already feeling pretty full, we left the fromagerie and headed to a local charcuterie.  Here, again, we learnt all about the local saucisson, together with many of the local wines.  We were taken down into the basement of the shop, into a cute wine cellar, where we had the opportunity to try lots of the meats, washed down with some beautiful Rhône wines – all at 11am!

To finish off our morning of exploration, we went to a local café to enjoy a lovely coffee and a local praline tart (a speciality of Lyon), which was super-delicious.  What a lovely morning it had been enjoying everything Lyon has to offer, but I couldn’t help but feel I’d only scratched the surface. I must come back.  We slowly mooched back to the ship enjoying the city before we set-sail mid-afternoon.

One thing I’ve really grown to love about river cruising is scenic sailing.  Just sitting back and relaxing as you literally watch the world go by.  Whether it’s the cute little villages that punctuate the banks, or the various locks you go through, there’s always something to see and take-in.

Tournan

We arrived in Tournan late into the night of the next day.  This was great as we could get out and about early, especially since we only had half a day here.  Working in transport, today’s adventure really had a soft place in my heart.

We headed out on a short coach journey to Boucieu-le-Roi to take ‘railbikes’ through the French countryside, as part of one of the included active excursions.  These bikes resemble tiny VW beetles and can take up to four people to cycle along the railway tracks.  We found ourselves at a disused railway station with number of antique and retro trains. It was so cute, calm and picture perfect.

We all hopped into one of the cute retro train carriages and headed through the wilderness with our railbikes in tow, and after a short safety demonstration, hopped onto these little wonders before peddling back towards the station.  Honestly, it was so much fun, and I cannot recommend it enough if you are in the Bardiche area.

We only had a half day in Tournan before rejoining the Poetry and spending the afternoon sailing once again.

Viviers

We arrived in Viviers in the early evening and enjoyed dinner overlooking this charming place.  Viviers is a postcard town with gorgeous medieval, gothic and even flamboyant streets and architecture.

Once we’d finished dinner we headed out on an evening walking excursion around the town.  We joined our historically dressed guides and headed out on a ghostly tour of Viviers.  Shortly after leaving the ship we were ambushed (multiple times) by the ‘ghost’ of Nöel Albert.  French history books describe him as “Huguenot captain, business man, philanthropist and warlord”.  The ‘ghost’ explained to use how he had an important role in collecting town taxes and may have been keeping some for himself in the process.  He also had quite a thing for the ladies of our group.

We headed up to the Bishops Palace where we were treated to local music while enjoying the fabulous architecture around us.  While this was a walking tour, there was plenty of time to just stop and enjoy the amazing views out over the city and surrounding area. As there are just over 3,000 people living in Viviers it truly feels like a ghost town.  It’s really quite surreal to walk around the streets and literally find no one else about.

We woke up early the next morning as were heading out to kayak the Ardèches Gorges Natural Reserve. Upon entering the gorges I was taken aback by the natural beauty of the area.  It was truly stunning.  We boarded our kayaks and started to make our way through the preserve.  It’s quite something with cliffs that can reach 300 metres high.  It was both so relaxing just to paddle along the water and take in the scenery, but also to take on the various rapids along the way.  Truly a great morning!

We got back to Poetry again around lunchtime, and boy was I famished!  But there’s no rest for the wicked, as the Poetry was setting sail for our next destination, Avignon.

Have you spent time in the south of France?  What did you get up to?  Let me know in the comments below and on social media.  I have to say I truly loved sailing through the Rhône.  In the next blog of this series we head to beautiful Avignon during its annual Fringe Festival and finish our epic journey in Arles and Port St Louis.

To head back to the beginning of this series, click the image below.