CRUISING PROVENCE, FROM LYON TO MARSEILLE ON THE RHÔNE RIVER | by Waheeda Harris |
The sparkling reflections from contemporary glass towers give way to 18th- and 19th-century stone buildings, dazzling in ornamentation and symmetry.
My surroundings reflect the area’s storied past as I’m welcomed into the heart of Lyon, the third largest city in France.
Choosing a river cruise through Provence was an effortless decision; its history, culture and cuisine have been an inspiration for artists and travelers for centuries. My travel advisor recommended Avalon’s Active & Discovery journey, which offered a variety of daily excursions and access to notable cities like Avignon and Arles.
The Journey Begins
The Avalon Poetry II will be my home for the next eight days, sailing south on the Rhône River to Port Saint Louis near Marseille. Docked at Port Rambaud, in Lyon’s second arrondissement La Confluence, it’s where the Rhône and Saône Rivers converge. Once an industrial port of shipping, markets and factories, La Confluence has been reimagined with multiple parks, walking and cycling trails and commercial buildings designed by the who’s who of modern architecture, including Christian de Portzamparc, Kengo Kuma and Massimiliano Fuksas.
A culinary walking tour of Lyon is my first outing. It’s second only to Paris in the number of Michelin-star restaurants, the prestigious culinary guide founded in France. Our host introduces Vieux Lyon by showing us its distinctive traboules (hidden passageways), many of which date back to the fourth century and feature spiral staircases and Renaissance arches.
First stop: Le Sirop de la Rue, a gourmet food shop brimming with Lyon charcuterie, including quenelles (dumplings), grattons (pork rinds) and saucisson brioche (sausage coated in crushed pistachios). The salami and cured meats I sample are skillfully made, salty and smoky.
We pop into a bakery to sample la praluline, a sweet brioche bread studded with pink pralines that’s especially popular at Christmas. I gaze lovingly at a shop window of handmade soaps displayed like rare jewels before moving on to our next stop at Le Luminarium, a whimsical tea salon, for a hot drink, a slice of gateau and a hit of free Wi-Fi.
We’re snap-happy walking beside the Saône beneath the immense horse chestnut trees, pausing in front of the impressive courthouse with its 24 stately Corinthian columns.
The last tasting is around the corner, at a quaint restaurant terrace overlooking the back courtyard of the 14th-century Cathedral Saint-Jean Baptiste, for another French passion: cheese. Each tasting plate features four regional cheeses, walnuts and a basket of baguettes we tear and share. My favorite is comte, a pale yellow cheese well known for its distinctive terroir. Returning to the ship, it’s au revoir, Lyon, as we leave behind La Confluence for Tournon-sur-Rhône.