Tour begins: 6:00 PM, InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel. A transfer is included from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport or the Gare de Lyon, Gare du Nord or Charles de Gaulle station to InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel, located in the heart of the city. Join us tonight for a welcome reception and dinner at Fouquet's, since 1908 a Paris icon; the brasserie has long been known as a favorite of celebrities. After dinner, the pleasures continue with an "Illuminations Tour" of Paris, providing glittery views of the city's nighttime lights and a beguiling ending to your first day in Paris.
A day of pleasures in Paris... a city filled with stories
The stories of Paris are linked to its 20 unique arrondissements (neighborhoods). Historically, the Right Bank of the Seine River was home to the elegant upper crust, while the artsy Left Bank was home to writers and artists like Picasso, Matisse and Hemingway, each of whom once called Paris home. You'll choose between an orientation tour of the city or a walking tour of the Marais, which includes parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. In the Marais you'll find narrow streets lined with 16th-century mansions, peaceful gardens and trendy boutiques. Highlights include the Place des Vosges, Victor Hugo's home while he wrote Les Misérables, the passageways of Village Saint-Paul, and lively Rue des Roisiers packed with bakeries and falafel stands. You'll have time to explore more of Paris on your own this afternoon and one of many options is a walk through the Opera District.
Take the fast train to Lyon & embark your riverboat
After a morning at leisure in Paris, travel first class on the high-speed TGV to Lyon. Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon is France's third largest city and enjoys a long history; you'll find both Roman ruins and Renaissance-era architecture here. Once known for its prominent silk industry, the city's reputation today is as the French gastronomic capital and a center of youthful design and futuristic architecture. After boarding ms Swiss Emerald in Lyon, join us for a Captain's welcome reception and dinner to celebrate the week ahead in festive fashion.
Lyon, old and new... a tasting lunch and a Beaujolais wine tasting
You'll see for yourself why Lyon is a place to eat well today on a tour that includes a tasting lunch at Les Halles de Lyon. This indoor food market offers an unbelievable array of breads, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, sausages, spices, poultry, seafood, wines, chocolates and more... all fresh, delicious and attracting the crème of Lyonnaise chefs. With your fellow travelers you'll enjoy a sampling of these Lyonnaise delights, before returning to the ship for lunch. But Lyon's treasures do not consist of "bread alone," so sightseeing also includes a visit to Vieux Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the 19th-century Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The afternoon brings an excursion to the Beaujolais wine region north of Lyon, where Gamay, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are grown. You'll enjoy a tasting of some of these vibrant wines at a private estate and travel through the gentle hills of Beaujolais, dotted with villages of stone, medieval churches and narrow lanes.
An afternoon in ancient Viviers and an introduction to pétanque
Overnight cruising continues this morning with an arrival about noon in Viviers, a walled city on the right bank of the Rhône. You'll explore the heart of this lovely town with a local guide, seeing the petite 12th-century Cathédrale Notre Dame de Rhône at its center and the richly detailed facade of the Maison des Chevaliers, the home of a 16th-century salt merchant aiming to impress. Then join us for a chance to try your hand at playing a game of pétanque, an outdoor pastime meant to be shared with friends and a beloved tradition in southern France.
Provençal "impressions" in Arles and on to Avignon
In Roman times, Arles was a happening place as a port city on the Rhône, a major political capital and an ardent center of religion. The Romans endowed Arles with a triumphal arch, circus, baths and an arena built to hold 10,000 spectators. By the time Vincent van Gogh settled here in 1888, however, Arles was a quiet and sleepy Provençal town. Fortunately, he found inspiration in the surrounding landscapes of yellow-tinted rock, red soil and lilac mountains; van Gogh's time in Arles was one of his most productive periods. You'll take a walking tour of the town where ancient and new coexist and visit its 1st-century arena, where bullfights have replaced the games of ancient Rome. Time to explore on your own follows, then it's back onboard for lunch and cruising along the Rhône.
The many charms of Avignon and a visit to Pont du Gard
French schoolchildren have sung about Avignon's bridge over the River Rhône for well over a century. It's also known as the city that served as an alternate papal headquarters in the 1300s. On a walking tour, you'll explore the fortress-like home that the pontiffs built for themselves, the Palais des Papes - where they not only enjoyed formidable lodgings but also the fruit of the vine. They are credited with originally cultivating the local wine industry recognized today by the nomenclature, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Along with the 14th-century bridge famed in song, you'll visit another famed bridge this afternoon - the Pont du Gard, which is actually a Roman aqueduct standing 160 feet high with three sets of arches spanning the River Gardon. It once carried millions of gallons of water a day to the city of Nîmes, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ms Swiss Emerald is docked in Avignon for the evening.
Discover the amazing colors of Roussillon plus a wine tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
You'll travel to the Luberon region today by coach, where you'll find trees sculpted by the famed mistral wind, narrow scenic roads and tidy buildings of stone. Sightseeing begins in Roussillon, a town with a picturesque main square, that is best known for the soft yellow-orange shades of ochre found on many of its buildings. Roussillon sits in the middle of one of the world's largest deposits of ochre (a clay pigment) and after a walk on an orange-hued walking path, you'll see why the town's livelihood was once dependent on this colorful natural pigment. After lunch on the ship, you'll head to the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, whose residents have benefitted from the proceeds of flourishing vineyards since the 13th century. At one time the village was encircled by a wall that included the château built by the popes of Avignon as a summer palace. Today life in the village, which dates back to medieval times, still centers around growing and producing wines of the same appellation. Later this afternoon, you'll enjoy a tasting of these bold and richly colored wines - which might include Syrah, Grenache and Clairette varieties - before returning to ship.
Savory delights in Tournon-sur-Rhône & a cooking presentation in Valence
A drive takes you up to a hillside vantage point to take in the compelling views of the tile-roofed town of Tournon-sur-Rhône and its surroundings from above. They include an ancient Grand Pont, the remains of a 10th-century castle, Côtes du Rhône vineyards and river vistas. Across the Rhône, and linked by a pedestrian bridge named La Passerelle Seguin after the engineer who designed the first suspension bridge over the river, you'll stop in for tastes at the Valhrona Chocolate factory (subject to Monday closings) in Tain-l'Hermitage, where the delectable sweets are known for being made with meticulous attention to detail. Up next is the town of Valence, where its reputation as a seat of learning and a role today as the market hub for fresh foods from the Rhône Valley, have made it a popular home base for some of France's finest culinary artists. Here at a renowned cooking school, you'll enjoy a cooking presentation that features fresh ingredients prepared in a light, inventive style and afterward be treated to a wine and cheese tasting, to experience some of the region's finest home-grown products. But do save an appetite for this evening, when the Captain's farewell reception and dinner celebrate a fantastic French week as the ship begins its return to the city of Lyon.
Tour ends: Lyon. Disembark ms Emerald in Lyon by 9:00 AM, then fly home anytime. A transfer from the riverboat to Lyon Airport or Perrache or Part Dieu train station is included; please allow 3 hours for flight check-in at the airport.