The Slow Boat to Lyon
The latest vacation pastime for those looking to move at a leisurely pace, on and off the water. The latest generation of ships and mix of itineraries are affordable, reach less well-travelled destinations and are quite luxurious.
“Down the lazy river” takes on new meaning when it comes to cruising our way down the Rhône from Avignon to Arles, and back to Lyon. Aboard Viking Cruises’ Buri, my spacious cabin, complete with bathtub and balcony, makes settling in for a week’s adventure a breeze.
The Rhône and its system of locks doesn’t have the most scenic of riverbanks, with the requisite quaint churches, little villages and curious sites to see. Frequent flooding has, over the years, caused residents to take shelter further inland.
However, seasoned tour guides at each stop make up for the river’s scenic pauses with storytelling and witty repartee that helps to chronicle the life, times and debacles of living on the river for those who came before us. From tales of European kings and queens and the power of the church (and the wars between denominations) to talks about the historic vineyards and transportation of goods, it’s truly a blow-by-blow regional history lesson for those who care to indulge. There’s even a steam-train ride through a beautiful river gorge.
Of the five ports of call Lyon is, of course, the highlight, with its town squares, cobblestone streets, hard-to-resist patisseries, countless nicer-than-the-one-before restaurants, and fashionable clothing and shoe shops. A charming way to wander away a day or two.
On board, there’s no shortage of time to relax, meet new friends from all over the world and play a game or two of Scrabble. Thankfully, the air conditioning and on-board laundry service work like a charm, as the days are hot, sunny and sometimes steamy. At times, for many guests, it is even a treat to just stay on the boat and not brave the heat on shore.
Dining options are limited and at set times, unlike on larger cruise boats, but the main dining room is modern, roomy and offers versatile seating arrangements for mix and minglers, family groups and couples wishing to dine alone. A few of us find that we can quite happily take most of our meals on the Aquavit Terrace, which is situated at the bow of the ship and where the almost one-on-one personalized service and alfresco dining options suit us to a tee.
The road less travelled
Actually, “sneaking away” to less well-travelled parts of the ship for meals or relaxation proves to be a treat, as the service teams drop their “official” welcoming role and give us a taste of their multinational origins and hospitality.
Speaking of the food (and we are on a cruise ship after all, so who isn’t thinking of the food?), it is thoughtfully turned out by an up-and-coming superstar chef in the Viking fleet. He is hands-on and serves up a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are creatively prepared and nicely presented. He’s even obliging enough to give us a back-of-the-house galley tour—a memorable peek behind the curtain at exactly how he artfully manages to shop for, store and cater hundreds of meals a day in tight quarters. Impressive, to say the least.
Photos: Viking River Cruises’