Avalon Waterways – From Avignon to Arles

Continuing our Active & Discovery adventure with Avalon Waterways, we left Viviers and after a few hours of sailing we arrived in Avignon just as the sun was setting.  Honestly, arriving into this truly stunning city in the evening was really magical.

We were overnight in Avignon so many of the passengers decided to get off and explore the city after dinner.  We were tired after our busy day of canoeing (see previous post), so decided to enjoy the ship to ourselves with our friends. We sat on the top deck with cocktails as the sun set, remarking at how wonderful the day had been. It was a really lovely finish to this day.

Avignon

We didn’t have any plans in Avignon and wanted to just explore the city. We were docked right in the centre of the city near Pont d’Avignon, made famous by the song, Sur le pont d’Avignon. Together with our friends Steve and Kristina, we headed out to explore.  We headed straight for the centre of town, and found ourselves in the Rue de la République where we enjoyed a (very strong) cup of coffee watching all the crowds.

It was at this time we noticed quite how many crowds there were, as well as all the posters hanging up literally everywhere across the city, and what looked like performers talking and interacting with visitors.  We found out that we’d arrived during the annual Avignon fringe festival, Festival d’Avignon, was taking place.  It is the oldest arts festival in France and considered one of the greatest in the word, with over a thousand performances across the month of July.  It gave the whole city such an amazing buzz.

We wandered through the city, enjoying the various sights including the Palais des Papes, Avignon Cathedral and its beautiful gardens, all while interacting with and watching the many street performances.

We made our way to the Avignon Market, Halles d’Avignon, partly to shelter from the 36C sun outside.  It is an unimposing building which has been clad in greenery, but once you walk through the door you find yourself in a warren of sights, scents and smells.  I don’t know about you, but I love to just explore local markets, see the local produce and enjoy everything that’s on offer.

All this exploring is thirsty work, so we decided to grab a beer in one of the main squares just outside the market.  It was a great spot to people watch, but also to enjoy the many pop-up performances – and when I say many, I mean a cacophony of art, theatre and music.  Enjoying the atmosphere we decided to take in a spot of lunch and continue to enjoy the jovial atmosphere.

We couldn’t finish our day without getting a closer look at Pont D’Avignon, so we made our way there to look at this famous structure.  In honesty, it was hard to stay out too long as it was getting so hot, so we made out way back to the ship to relax and cool-off for a few hours.

Our day in Avignon finished with the Poetry moving to sit adjacent to the famous bridge for that picture perfect moment.  It was really something to be so up close on the river.  There’s no rest for the wicked, so our adventure continued along the Rhône heading towards Arles.

Arles

The next day we were up bright and breezy to enjoy another gorgeous day in the south of France.  One thing I cannot complain about was the weather on this trip, it was utterly gorgeous the entire trip.

We’d arrived in Arles during the night so we were all set to head out on our next trip.  Today we were taking and Active & Discovery tour.  It was a trip of two halves, with first a hike and then a gallery experience like no other.

We arrived at Val d’Enfer and together with our knowledgeable and fun guides we headed out to hike the area.  While I love city life, there’s nothing better than being able to just get outdoors and enjoy the countryside and take in nature. And not to mention the utterly spectacular views over the region.  They really were something else and I could have easily spent a day here enjoying it all.

After we’d finished our hike we headed to the nearby Carrières de Lumières.  This unassuming place literally hides such a treasure.  This is an ex-quarry, which was transformed in 1976 into an immersive projection-art exhibition.  The gallery has a set of two art installations, firstly one that focusses around Van Gogh, who famously lived in Arles, and secondly, Dreamed Japan, a show that uses Japanese art.  I have to say I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect initially but was totally wowed by the experience.  It’s such a perfect fusion of technology, architecture, music and art.  Photos and videos do not do it justice so I urge you to go and see it if you have a chance.

We had the entire day in Arles, so we decided to spend the afternoon relaxing before some early evening cocktails on board (it has to be done!).  We’d arranged to go for dinner in the City with our friends.  It was a great opportunity to just wander and enjoy the city.  Arles has a very artsy vibe to it, with creatives everywhere you look.  In fact, a great amount of effort is going into turning Arles into a cultural hub.  Personally, I love this and felt right at home.  The place was bustling with cute restaurants and bars.  We’d booked a restaurant, Le Criquet, not too far from the ship which specialised in local cuisine and was supposed to be one of the best in the City.

I have to say it was such a magical meal.  We took our place at a cute table and sat al-fresco enjoying the warm summer’s eve.  As we’re not that far from the Mediterranean, there was lots of seafood on offer, but other local delicacies as well include the famous French red rice, bull and other things.  It was all so delicious.

The night was still young, so we decided to grab a couple of drinks in the city, right by the historic amphitheatre and take in the evening.  Another great end to a great day with great company.

Port St Louis

Overnight the Poetry had sailed from Arles to our last port of call, Port St Louis (which isn’t that far away).  This area is at the very mouth of the River Rhône.  The main reason for coming here was the visit the world-famous Camargue region of France.  This region is Europe’s largest river delta and is home to over 400 species of birds. It is also famed for its flamingos, together with the white or gray Camargue horses (one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world).  Due to the algae in the area, it also is known for producing vivid pink lakes of water (which are salt beds used for salt production) and is also the reason why the flamingos turn pink.

Not to miss out on all this, we took an active hike in the morning along the beautiful beach along the Camargue to see the various wildlife and to enjoy the sea air.  It was great to see all the flamingos and enjoy the outdoors again, particularly the fresh sea air.

You’ll notice I’ve spoken a lot about being outdoors around Arles and here – so here’s one word of warning. The area is also known for particularly ferocious and large mosquitos and I came away from the trip with about 20 really nasty bites, even with plenty of bug spray.  So, I definitely recommend bringing something and using it as much as possible.

Arles

Alas, our adventure was coming to an end and on our last evening we arrived back in Arles, before being whisked back to the UK the following morning.  We couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to have another meal out in the city.  We opted to go to one of the places we’d spied the previous night, a scrummy looking Moroccan place called Volubilis.  And boy it did not disappoint!  It was truly delicious.

I have to say, I really loved this Active & Discovery cruise, not to mention the gorgeous Rhône.  This type of cruise call appeal to so many people as it provides a great mix of excursions that suits all sorts of interests and fitness levels.  This was one of the first of these cruises and you can see how Avalon are learning as they go, but overall, I was really wowed by the experience.  If you are a person who loves love to try out different things on different days on a holiday, then this is the perfect river cruise experience for you.  And I cannot recommend a Rhône cruise enough.

I’ve spoken about Steve and Kristina a fair bit during this trip.  They are testament to why I love cruising so much, you always meet and get to know such interesting and fun people on board.  If you have a moment you should check out Steve’s photography – here.

So, what did you think of our Rhône adventure?  Have I convinced you that river cruising is a great way not only to see Europe, but the World?  Let me know in the comments below and on social media.

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