Day 1: Paris (Embark)
Arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.
Day 2: La Roche-Guyon, Vernon (Giverny)
Today is a celebration of Northern France’s natural beauty, with an excursion to a splendid chateau and gardens situated in an equally grand setting, plus a chance to immerse yourself in the very landscapes that inspired Impressionist master Claude Monet. Visit the hilltop Chateau La Roche-Guyon, surrounded by beautiful gardens and offering sweeping views over the Seine. Later, you can visit the home and gardens of Impressionist master Claude Monet—the inspiration for many of his most beloved works. Or, take in the beautiful French countryside in a more invigorating way, with a guided bike ride from Vernon to Giverny.Featured Excursions:Monet’s gardens at GivernyMonet often painted the little riverside town of Vernon, so you are likely to recognize scenes the master rendered in oils on your way to his home in the village of Giverny, where he lived and worked for more than 40 years. When Monet bought the property, most of it was an orchard; he transformed it over the years into the enchanting visions immortalized in his paintings, essentially creating each work of art twice: once as a living garden and again as a painting. As you stroll through the grounds, you’ll see the famed Japanese bridge and water garden shaded by weeping willows. Monet’s house, which you will also visit, remains furnished as it was when the leader of the impressionist school lived here, complete with his precious collection of Japanese engravings. Note: Giverny will be closed during the March and November cruise departure dates.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” bicycle ride to GivernyThe country roads between Vernon and Giverny offer easy—and pretty—biking. Hop aboard your bike and pedal about three miles to the village where the artist lived for decades. You’ll pass the church and cemetery where Monet is buried and the Hotel Baudy, where his painter friends often stayed, and arrive at the artist’s home and garden for a tour.Château La Roche-GuyonFrom cave dwelling to fortress to castle to palace: This is the history of Château La Roche- Guyon (the Rock of Guy), which takes its name from its medieval lords (traditionally named Guy) and its location, a limestone outcropping—a rock—above the Seine. Medieval knights kept watch for marauding Vikings from the tower high atop the hill and later defended the double wall around a 13th-century manor house; successive lords added to the buildings over the centuries, so you can see not just troglodyte chapels but Renaissance rooms where kings Francis I and Henry II were entertained (and, legend says, Henry IV pursued a lovely chatelaine without success) and handsome 18th-century state apartments. Enlightenment thinkers met with the Duchess d’Enville, who owned the château before the revolution and who had the huge kitchen garden laid out according to Enlightenment principles. You might think, as you walk through the elegantly designed garden and beautifully paneled rooms (mostly without furniture these days, so you can appreciate the Gobelins tapestries without distraction) that the residence’s military function was in the far distant past, but Rommel made his headquarters here during WWII, precisely because the ancient fortications and caves were so secure.This evening, a special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.
Day 3: Rouen
Walk in the footsteps of greatness in Normandy’s medieval capital, a city with a historic quarter that remains amazingly intact. From the cathedral Monet painted dozens of times to the cross marking to spot where Joan of Arc was martyred, Rouen is a treasure trove for the culturally curious. The medieval capital of Normandy, Rouen has managed to preserve much of its historic core, despite being turned into a battlefield numerous times. The roll call of famous people who lived or died in Rouen is long and varied— Richard the Lionheart, Joan of Arc, Gustave Flaubert and Claude Monet are among them.Featured Excursions:Rouen gourmet walking discovery tourRouen’s most famous landmark, the cathedral—celebrated in 30 paintings by Monet—was begun some 800 years ago, acquiring a multitude of spires and styles as it was expanded and renovated in different eras. Ramble from the cathedral square, with its ornate Renaissance clock, and begin your exploration of the Old Town. The cobblestone alleyways are lined with tall half-timbered houses, often with shops on the first floor and apartments above; it may be a historic district, but it is also a living one. Step into a couple of these shops and patisseries for tastes of regional specialties—delicious cider, for instance, and the chocolate confection unique to Rouen known as the “tears of Joan of Arc”—as you make your way toward the Old Market Square. Reminders of life and death are common here: Note the carved skulls and other symbols of death on the buildings near Saint-Maclou, a spectacular late-Flamboyant Gothic church, and the adjacent Aître Saint-Maclou, once a cemetery for plague victims and now a garden. As you enter the Old Market Square, you’ll spot a bronze cross marking the most famous death in the city—the place where the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake. The Church of St. Joan, on the square, may seem incongruous in its modernity; it was built on the site of Saint-Sauveur church, which was destroyed during WWII—the stained-glass windows in the new church were salvaged from the ruins.
Day 4: Caudebec-en-Caux (Honfleur or Étretat)
Golfing? On a river cruise? This delightfully unexpected excursion—a Uniworld exclusive—features a dramatic links course atop Normandy’s Alabaster Coast. In a word, magnifique. Not into golf? Stroll through seaside Honfleur, captured on canvas by generations of artists. Caudebec, a lovely little town on a serene loop of the Seine, is your base for one of two very different excursions. You could drive through the beautiful Calvados countryside to Honfleur, a delightful seaside harbor and city of painters, or head to the windy cliffs of Étretat for a game of golf.Featured Excursions:Honfleur walking discovery tourA walking tour of the fishing village begins at the former smugglers’ harbor of Vieux Bassin—the most frequently painted scene in Honfleur—which looks much as it did a century ago, though now the boats in the harbor are more likely to be pleasure craft than fishing vessels. Your local guide will take you down tiny lanes, where houses stand shoulder to shoulder in a jumble of styles: narrow 19th-century slate-roofed townhouses, 15th-century fishermen’s cottages, and tall and elegant mansions— many adorned with figures of chimeras or saints. You’ll also see St. Catherine’s Church, built in the 15th century by shipwrights who gave it an oak ceiling that looks like the hull of a boat.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” golfing in ÉtretatIt would be hard to find a more spectacular location than Étretat’s clifftop course, which is ranked as one of the best in France. Originally laid out in 1908 and substantially redesigned in the 1990s, it offers a multitude of challenges: Two nine-hole loops take players right to the cliff’s edge, the wind can be a serious challenge in and of itself, and the 10th through 14th holes offer formidable tests of a golfer’s skill. Spend the morning on the course, lunch on your own in charming Étretat and explore the seaside village that so many artists, including Monet, rendered in paint, or return to the ship for lunch and a leisurely afternoon onboard. Note: Golf excursion is open to a limited number of golfers.
Day 5: Rouen (Normandy Beaches)
The Normandy coast will forever be associated with the Allies’ D-Day invasion, a day that comes vividly to life on today’s excursion to the beaches of 1944. Or travel even further into the past with an up-close look at the thousand-year-old Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the Norman conquest. Immerse yourself in the tactics, desperate courage and horrendous human cost of the 1944 Allied invasion of France, the first step in the ultimately victorious land campaign against the Third Reich. It began here, on these Norman beaches, each of which was assigned a code name by the Allies as they planned their attack.Featured Excursions:Utah and Omaha beaches with Sainte-Mère-ÉgliseThis tour encompasses the major areas of the American assault: Utah Beach, where the first American infantry units came ashore; Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village freed from the Germans and home to a museum dedicated to the Airborne divisions that suffered 2,500 casualties in the battle; Pointe du Hoc, a strategic high point controlled by the Germans and captured by a Ranger unit; and Omaha Beach, the second landing site, where the Americans encountered much stiffer resistance than they did at Utah. At each location, you can see the actual equipment used for the invasion—tanks, landing craft, bombers, gliders—and get a feel for what these young men experienced.Juno BeachWhen the Allies prepared to invade Normandy, they assigned a six-mile stretch of beach to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division under the command of Major-General Rodney Keller. The Canadians trained for their assault in Scotland and were generally regarded as the best-prepared of any of the invading forces. Unfortunately, preliminary bombing had failed to eliminate German battlements, so Canadian troops were met with well-prepared German resistance, and several companies suffered heavy casualties. Walk the shoreline where so many died, and visit Juno Beach Center, dedicated to the Canadian war effort. One million Canadians served during WWII, and 14,000 participated in the landing. Exhibits describe both life at home during the war and the service of—and sacrifices made by—the men who fought.BayeuxBayeux, the first French town to be liberated in 1944, is home to the Bayeux Tapestry, an astonishing millennium-old textile listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. The tapestry tells the story of the Norman conquest of England; it was probably embroidered by monks in the south of England in October 1066, a few months after William I’s troops overwhelmed the island’s Saxon defenders. Take a guided audio tour of this remarkable textile, which details the story of the conquest in 58 distinct scenes with Latin annotations. Note: Because the Tapestry Museum is a popular attraction in summer, the order of events may change to accommodate scheduling issues.Arromanches and the American CemeteryWhichever excursion you select, you’ll join your fellow passengers in a journey to the American cemetery, where almost 10,000 US soldiers are buried, most of whom lost their lives during the D-Day invasion. Pay your respects at the end of the day with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American cemetery.
Day 6: Mantes-la-Jolie (Versailles)
If you’ve ever wondered what life was really like for the French rulers of yesteryear, find out today with a visit to one of two over-the-top residences—the Palace of Versailles or the private rooms of Château de Malmaison, once home to Napoleon’s beloved Empress Josephine. How did France’s rulers live over the centuries? Step into the private rooms of either Versailles, the lavish palace built by the Sun King, or Malmaison, home to Napoleon Bonaparte’s empress Josephine, to find out.Featured Excursions:Palace of VersaillesIt was the official residence of the country’s kings and queens from 1682 until the revolution, and though the monarchy possessed other palaces, Versailles stood alone in magnificence. Tour the royal apartments, which still look much as they did when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fled in 1789. In these rooms, you’ll find lush silk draperies, exquisite marquetry tables, gilded beds, Aubusson carpets and porcelain ornaments that reveal the elegance of the 18th-century royalty’s lifestyle, as well as the extravagance that helped fuel the rage leading to the revolution. Climb the great staircase and enter the jaw-dropping Hall of Mirrors, where the absolute ruler of France held court for the ambassadors of Siam, Persia and the Ottoman Empire, along with all the great seigneurs of France. Ladies intrigued behind their fans, plots were hatched, and careers were made and destroyed beneath the sparkling chandeliers here.Château de MalmaisonPart great romance, part scandal, part politics—this is the story of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine, the fascinating (and notorious) widow he married in 1796 and divorced 14 years later in order to marry Marie-Louise of Austria (who gave him the son Josephine could not bear him). Despite the divorce, Napoleon remained devoted to Josephine: Malmaison is a testament to that devotion. The jewel-box palace was redesigned under Josephine’s direction in the 1790s, with every facet intended to reflect both the “Little Corporal’s” glory and Josephine’s own exquisite Directoire tastes. Though the palace fell on hard times in the 19th century, it has been beautifully restored. The Consulate Chamber, where Napoleon met with his staff, resembles a military tent; the library is furnished with the emperor’s desk from his apartments in the Tuileries. Josephine’s bedroom retains the elegant tented Jacob-Desmalter bed in which the empress slept. Among the many gems on display here are David’s original Napoleon Crossing the Alps and the Austerlitz table inlaid with Sèvres plaques commemorating Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz.A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 7: Paris
Whether you’re a first-time visitor to the “City of Light” or you’ve been here many times before, there’s something for everyone today in Paris. Enjoy a panoramic overview of the city, join a local expert for a walk through two much-loved neighborhoods, or pedal your way along the Left Bank, a fresh and fun way to take in the sights. You have a host of options for exploring incomparable Paris: See all the important sights via boat and motorcoach, explore the heart and soul of the city on a walk from Notre Dame to the Latin Quarter, or bike along the quays with a knowledgeable guide.Featured Excursions:“Heart of Paris” cruise and city tourHemingway called Paris a moveable feast: Once you’ve experienced it, you will take it with you wherever you go. If you are experiencing Paris for the first time, this tour will introduce you to the City of Light’s most cherished landmarks from both the water and the land. Paris, after all, grew up along the banks of the Seine, and its principal civic and historic buildings line the river; the Louvre, National Assembly, Conciergerie, Hotel de Ville, Place de la Concorde, Notre Dame—you will see them all as you cruise through the heart of the city. Onshore, you’ll head via motorcoach from the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate his Grand Army’s 128 victories, down the Champs-Élysées to the Place de la Concorde. These broad 19th-century avenues and stately buildings were created by Baron Haussmann in a great urban development that eliminated the cramped, crazy-quilt medieval city and gave Paris its modern form. You’ll pass the magnificent Opéra Garnier, the Place Vendôme (home to designer salons), the legendary Louvre and, on the Left Bank, the Sorbonne University and the Panthéon. Stretch your legs at the Luxembourg Gardens, then take in the École Militaire before arriving at the manicured grounds of the Champs de Mars, the perfect vantage point from which to see Paris’s most iconic structure—the Eiffel Tower. Cross the Seine via the most stunning single-arch bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III; it displays elegantly sculpted nymphs, winged horses and graceful art nouveau lamps. Once on the other side of the river, you’ll be sure to spot the largest glass ceilings in France, which shelter the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. As you continue along the Seine’s banks you’ll see many striking contemporary bridges too. Your city tour will finish at your ship’s dock.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Île de la Cité and Latin Quarter walking tourAs a true Parisian would, take the Métro to the Île de la Cité and the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Henry IV said that Paris was worth a Mass when he converted to Catholicism—and he made that conversion official here, in the center of Paris. In fact, Notre Dame is officially the center of France; facing its main entrance is Kilometer Zero, the location from which distances in France (including those of the French national highways) are traditionally measured. An expert in the history and architecture of this magnificent cathedral is your guide as you explore both inside and out. Begun in the 12th century and finished about 200 years later, Notre Dame is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in Europe. After you’ve admired Notre Dame’s stained glass, flying buttresses and idiosyncratic gargoyles, cross the Archbishop’s Bridge to the Left Bank and the Latin Quarter. Wander through the narrow streets where for centuries artists, writers, philosophers and the Sorbonne’s students have lived and worked, argued politics, painted, sipped absinthe and lived the bohemian lifestyle for which the district is famous. Matisse, Picasso, Rimbaud and Sartre, as well as American expatriate writers Hemingway and Fitzgerald, are just a few of the notables who made this district home. Take some time to meander through the area’s little squares, perusing the shop windows and perhaps relaxing with a drink at a classic café.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Left Bank bicycle rideThe Seine’s quays may be protected by UNESCO for their cultural importance and significance in the development of Paris, but they are also the scene of a host of fun outdoor activities: games for kids and grown-ups, a climbing wall, a running track, yoga classes, even a beach in August—and an inviting bike path. Join a guide to pedal along the Left Bank, crossing the bridges that link historic Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis and getting a close look at the heart of the city’s origins. Bike to the Esplanade des Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb is one of the monuments here) and along the Quay d’Orsay to the Champs de Mars, one of Paris’s largest green spaces . . . which just happens to have one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower in the city. It’s a fun way to take part in the life of the city while also getting some exercise.
Day 8: Paris (Disembark), Transfer to Lyon via High-Speed TGV Train (Embark)
You’ll transfer from the magical S.S. Joie de Vivre cruise ship in Paris to the striking S.S. Catherine in Lyon via high-speed, first-class TGV train for the second half of this fabulous grand tour. Once you’ve settled into your new home, you’ll have some time to explore delightful Lyon, which is nestled alongside the Saône River.
Day 9: Mâcon (Beaune)
The pace of life is decidedly more relaxed in Burgundy, where endless rows of grapes hang heavy on the vine. The capital of the region’s wine trade, Beaune, is renowned for its history, beauty and highly prized wines, as well as its medieval-era hospital—the Hospices de Beaune. Located in the southernmost part of Burgundy, Mâcon, a Saône River port, is your gateway to Beaune.Featured Excursions:Burgundy wine landscapes, Beaune and Hospices de BeauneBeaune may not be a large town, but it brims with history, a wealth of splendid regional architecture and incredible food. Nestled inside medieval ramparts, Beaune was the seat of the warlike dukes of Burgundy until the 16th century. It is best known for two magnificent sights: the Hospices de Beaune and the open-air market. You’ll recognize the Hospices de Beaune (also known as Hôtel-Dieu) immediately by its fabulous multicolored-tile roof—it’s a symbol of Burgundy. Founded as a charitable institution by the duke’s chancellor in 1443, the hospital became a model for charitable giving in southern France, one with a unique fundraising tradition that continues to this day. Over the centuries, the hospice monks were given wine and vineyards, and they began selling the wine at auction in order to support their charitable work. The wine auction is now world-famous, and the institution remains a working hospital for the poor, with modern facilities standing alongside the historic Hôtel-Dieu.Mâcon walking discovery tourThe man whose impassioned defense of France’s famous tricolor flag guaranteed its continuance as the national flag was born in Mâcon, your destination today. Alphonse de Lamartine, born a year after the French revolution began, became the country’s first Romantic poet and a celebrated man of letters—and, in 1848, a founder of the Second Republic. You’ll spot his statue opposite Mâcon’s city hall as you stroll from the ship with your guide through this historic riverport city, which has been an important trading center since the Celts founded it 2,200 years ago. The Romans built a bridge across the Saone here, and you’ll have a great view of its 16th-century successor, the graceful multi-arched St. Laurent bridge, from the square. Ramble down Rue Monrevel for a look at the twin towers of St. Peter’s, the church that replaced Mâcon’s medieval—and irreparable—cathedral and then along bustling Rue Carnot, lined with shops and cafes, to a curious wooden house that predates the bridge: Maison de Bois’s facade is decorated with carved figures of men and monkeys—standing, sitting, holding onto mythical beasts. It’s the oldest house in Mâcon, built around the year 1500, and one of just a few remaining examples of this rustic medieval style of architecture.A special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 10: Lyon
As the epicenter of French gastronomy, Lyon is a city of tantalizing contrasts. There’s much to explore here, from the work of culinary visionaries to silk weavers’ secret passageways. After your choice of excursions, embrace the locals’ favorite mode of transportation with a patisserie-fueled bike ride—a great way to see the sights. Two rivers: one tranquil, one torrential. Two hills: one for labor, where the sound of the silk weavers’ looms used to echo; the other for prayers, crowned by a spectacular basilica. Two cities, as different as night and day: one boasting colorful Old World façades, medieval mansions and hidden passageways; one with a sophisticated urbanity reminiscent of Paris. Situated at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and with roots stretching back over 2,000 years to the days of Julius Caesar, Lyon is a place of fascinating dualities. Today you have your choice of ways to explore this city of contrasts: Sample its culinary riches with a visit to its peerless market hall or follow the footsteps of the silk weavers in the old quarter. For a more active option, see the city from its extensive—and lovely—bike paths.Featured Excursions:Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Lyon walking tourNo one eats better than the citizens of Lyon, a tradition that harks back more than a century, when women opened unpretentious restaurants, called bouchons, to feed hungry workers. The traditional bouchon serves hearty meat-based dishes, but quenelles—luscious dumplings—and a seasoned cream cheese called cervelle de canut are longtime local favorites too. While explaining Lyon’s important gastronomic history, your guide will show you the city’s bouchons and specialty food shops and take you into the legendary main market, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. There you’ll find stalls brimming with local produce, fish, game and cheeses, all beautifully displayed on black marble countertops—and you’ll have a chance to taste some of these delectable offerings. Don’t miss the macarons! On the way to these fabulous culinary destinations, you’ll see some of Lyon’s historic old quarter, with its many spectacular examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture, and les traboules, the city’s old passageways.Exclusive silk weavers walking tourLyon’s history is entwined with silk, which dominated the city’s economy for centuries—at one time, almost a third of the city’s population were silk weavers. Jump on a tram and head for Lyon-Perrache station with your guide, who will take you into the historic Saint-Jean Quarter, part of the UNESCO-honored Old Town. The Gothic cathedral is probably the most striking heirloom of the Middle Ages, but the tall rose and ocher buildings dating to the Renaissance pay tribute to the importance of the silk trade with Italy in that era. Enter the courtyard of the Gadagne Museum, which is housed in an early 16th-century building, and stroll along Rue Juiverie, which has been occupied since Roman times and was once home to Nostradamus. You’ll see some of the traboules, the old passageways that snake between and through buildings, secret shortcuts that silk weavers took to keep their delicate fabrics out of the rain. You’ll pass cozy bouchons, which serve traditional local dishes, and you’ll have a chance to see a Jacquard loom in use. The afternoon is yours to spend in town at your leisure, shopping in the fashion or textile boutiques, visiting the antique dealers or simply relaxing with a glass of Beaujolais at one of the many cafés.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Lyon peninsula bicycle tourGet out and about with a bike ride along the river. Lyon boasts a thriving bike-rental scene, which tells you just how popular this mode of transportation is—you will definitely have two-wheeled company as you pedal along the banks of the Rhône on a sunny day. Your route takes you over the new Raymond Barre Bridge, past the spectacular new Museum of Confluences (so named because it sits at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône), and along the peninsula, a strip of land with the Saône on one side and the Rhône on the other. Here, houseboats tie up along the banks; swans float on the water; and locals take advantage of the lovely parklike setting. You’ll also have a great view of the Old Town on the other side of the river. This outing gives you a little taste of what it is like to live in Lyon, as well as a little exercise.
Day 11: Tournon (Tain-l’Hermitage)
If you love fine wine, you’ll love the twin villages of Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage. Whether you opt for a guided walk or a more vigorous vineyard hike, you’ll also have an opportunity to taste the local specialty—wonderful wines made primarily from Syrah grapes. Spend the day in the midst of Côte du Rhône wine country, exploring storied vineyards and picturesque villages.Featured Excursions:Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage twin villages stroll with wine tastingNestled on opposite sides of the river in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône, the twin cities of Tournon and Tain-l’Hermitage are an ideal destination for connoisseurs of fine wine. Tournon may be a small town, but stirring events took place here: A castle was raised on the hilltop in the 10th century to protect the region, and new fortifications were added over the centuries, including two “new” towers built to defend against Protestant attacks in the 16th century. You’ll see the handsome houses constructed by wealthy merchants and garrison officers when you walk through the Rue de Doux area, and you’ll pass the 14th-century church—unusual for the number of houses incorporated in its walls—and the oldest secondary school in France. Cross the pretty flower-decked Marc Seguin suspension bridge to Tain-l’Hermitage to visit local wine cellars, where you’ll taste the region’s famous Côtes du Rhône, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage wines. These wines are produced from the Syrah grapes that grow on the steep slopes lining the river. After your wine tasting, you’ll have time to browse through the shops; the Valrhona chocolate factory is always a popular stop.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Hermitage vineyards hike with wine tastingAre you ready to explore the steepest vineyards on the Rhône? The vines producing the world-famous Hermitage wines grow on precipitous slopes above the river, so steep that terracing is essential. Hike along the paths that parallel the rough courses of stone through the vineyards, each one situated to catch the afternoon sun. After you’ve seen how the grapes— primarily Syrah—are grown, taste the fruit that has been transformed by the vintners’ craft into legendary wine.
Day 12: Viviers
You’ll meet some new friends today in the village of Viviers, encounters that really get at the heart and soul of the French people and their culture and traditions. No matter whom you get to know—a pottery maker, a dance teacher or a local homeowner—you’ll have an enjoyable and truly authentic experience, something you’ll remember for years to come. An enchanting village where time seems to have stopped centuries ago, Viviers has a long and storied history that goes back more than 1,600 years and a splendid architectural heritage to match. At one time Viviers was divided along religious lines—the clergy lived in the upper part of the town, the laity in the lower part. You’ll see both parts today on your walking tours; its picturesque rooftops and cobblestone streets always delight visitors.Featured Excursions:Intimate Viviers “Village Day”Sycamores line some of Viviers’ stone-paved streets (planted, so they say, to provide shade for Napoleon’s soldiers), and houses here bear the watermarks of floods over the years. Your local guide will show you the fountain squares in the Old Town, which combines Roman and medieval influences, and cobblestone lanes so narrow you can stand in the middle and touch the medieval houses on either side. Viviers climbs a hill crowned by 12th-century St. Vincent’s Cathedral. It happens to be the smallest cathedral in France, but it contains a marvelous organ. Take a seat under the soaring vaults and listen while a local organist demonstrates just how fine an instrument it is before you meet some of the local residents. You might choose to learn how a local potter makes the attractive wares sold at Poterie; step into one of two homes—one a mansion, the other more modest; take a dance class; or sample the wares at a popular bar. Don’t feel that you must opt for the bar if you’d like a little refreshment; all visits include an aperitif. On your way back to the ship, stop to try your hand at a game of petanque, which is akin to horseshoes, only it’s played with steel balls.
Day 13: Avignon
The walled city of Avignon is one of the most fascinating towns in southern France, with a host of historic gems to explore—including the fortress residence of rebellious popes who broke from Rome and once lived and ruled here. You’ll see the Palace of the Popes and much more today, and also have a chance to kayak under a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct. Avignon is home to the medieval bridge immortalized in the folk song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon,” as well as the mighty Palace of the Popes. From a distance, the picture-perfect city center looks as though it has been lifted straight from the pages of a history book, but all you need to do is step inside its medieval walls to discover the prosperous heart of contemporary Avignon. Choose between three different ways to explore this intriguing and ancient city.Featured Excursions:Avignon walking discovery tour with Palace of the PopesIt’s hard to believe, looking at the charming cafés and entertaining street performers in the Clock Tower Square, that this lively scene owes its existence to a 15th-century siege. This area was the heart of medieval Avignon (and the site of the original Roman town), crowded with cottages and narrow streets—until a pope had it all demolished in order to give his troops a clearer field of fire. That is Avignon in a nutshell: It was the city of the popes. The Avignon popes built the ramparts that still surround the Old Town and the huge, nearly impregnable fortress that dominates the UNESCO- designated district; in fact, the city did not officially become part of France until 1791. Stand below the high, thick walls to get a sense of just how daunting these fortifications were, then prepare to climb many steps as you tour the Palace of the Popes itself—it’s worth it!Avignon walking discovery tour with Pont du GardIn the middle of the first century, Roman engineers responded to Nîmes’ need for water to fill its baths, fountains and pools by building a 30-mile-long (48-kilometer-long) aqueduct from Uzès to Nîmes— which required transporting Uzès springwater over the River Gardon. A thousand workers quarried 50,000 tons of soft golden limestone and used it to construct— without mortar—the magnificent tri-level bridge that still spans the river. An expert guide will explain the techniques used to build this engineering marvel, which has withstood 2,000 years of floods and storms that swept away much newer bridges. You can see notations those ancient Romans made in the stone as they cut and fitted them into place when you view the bridge itself, and you can learn about the entire project at the museum. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is as beautiful as it is fascinating.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” kayak ride on the Gardon RiverSlather on some sunscreen and plan to get wet as you spend a couple of fun and relaxing hours on the clear, tranquil waters of the Gardon. Accompanied by a soundtrack of chirping cicadas, you’ll paddle from Collias to Remoulins, spotting trout in the river and water birds on the shores. Your adventure ends with a marvelous view of the arches of the oldest extant Roman aqueduct in France, the 2,000-year-old, UNESCO-designated Pont du Gard. This magnificent tri-level aqueduct bridge has spanned the Gardon since 19 BC, when it was constructed as part of the system that carried water from Uzès to Nîmes. Note: The kayak ride on the Gardon River is only available for May-October departure dates.A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 14: Tarascon (Arles or Tarascon)
Explore one of two sun-drenched Provençal towns today, each with an allure all its own. Known for its remarkable Roman ruins, Arles so inspired Van Gogh that he painted some 200 paintings there; Tarascon boasts an ancient castle, as well as a local legend about a ferocious dragon! Arles has existed since the sixth century BC, when the ancient Greeks founded it and named it Theline. It was here that the Romans built their first bridge across the Rhône River, creating a vital overland route between Italy and Spain and facilitating the expansion of their empire. Long renowned as one of the region’s most attractive cities, it lured artist Vincent van Gogh, who painted hundreds of works here (including Sunflowers and The Yellow House) in just 15 months. A short distance from Arles is the ancient and charming town of Tarascon. Its many medieval sites include a 12th-century church and a 15th-century château that is rich with tales of a beloved ruler. Bask in the warmth of the Provençal sunlight in either of these friendly Mediterranean towns.Featured Excursions:Tarascon walking discovery tourThe stern castle walls rising from the Rhône, erected in the 15th century to defend valuable trade routes, could stand in for the Bastille, and indeed this castle was used as a prison for centuries (in fact, occupying German forces housed British prisoners of war in it). Owned by the dukes of Anjou, it was transformed into a splendid Renaissance palace by the duke known as Good King René for his generous patronage of the arts and his support of local fishermen. As you walk from the castle through the little town, you’ll find wonderful examples of Provençal architecture—civic buildings, houses and churches, including St. Martha’s Collegiate Church. (According to legend, the area was terrorized by a dragon called Tarasque until AD 48, when St. Martha arrived and tamed the ferocious beast.)Arles walking discovery tourVan Gogh paid tribute to Arles’s atmospheric beauty in some 200 paintings, including Starry Night Over the Rhône. It’s an ancient city boasting a remarkable collection of Roman ruins; among them are a theater where the famous Venus of Arles—on display in the Louvre—was discovered in 1651 and an amphitheater that is still used for sporting events. Join your expert local guide for a stroll through this district, where medieval houses crowd in among the ancient structures and the city gates date to the 13th century. Pause before the town hall, built with stone quarried from the Roman theater, and the Romanesque St. Trophime Church, which was erected in the 12th century. It replaced the church where St. Augustine, the man who converted the inhabitants of England to Christianity, was consecrated by the first archbishop of Canterbury. Walk in Van Gogh’s footsteps past the cheery yellow Café de Nuit—still open and still the same shade of yellow it was when he painted it—and across Forum Square before visiting the town’s bountiful farmers’ market, which displays seasonal fruits and vegetables, medicinal herbs and many more specialties of Southern France. During your free time after the tour, you can peruse the local shops, go olive tasting or delve further into Arles’s stunning collection of architectural treasures. After lunch onboard, enjoy more leisure time.
Day 15: Avignon (Disembark)
Disembark the ship. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Marseille International Airport for your flight home.