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Gastronomic Cruise down the River Rhone

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  1. 1. 38 Saturday June 3, 2017The Herald Magazine France A voyage into gastronomy along the Rhone tastes as good as it sounds Tournon-sur-Rhone and Tain-l’Hermitage are divided by the Rhone and surrounded by lush vineyards PHOTOGRAPH: MATT GREEN/SHUTTERSTOCK KATIE WOOD A RE you one of those people who deride cruising yet have never actually been on a cruise? Convinced it would be too busy, involve constant queues and long days at sea with a bunch of people you have nothing in common with but – crucially – can’t escape from? Well, yes, that does sound like hell on earth but if you want the opposite of all that there is another option – a river cruise. I took one on the Rhone with Tauck River Cruises and I loved every minute of it (and I dislike large cruise ships and don’t give praise out easily). You spend as much time off the boat as on it. Coaches accompany your journey so you can explore interesting places, you don’t suffer queues, and there’s no need for sea-sickness tablets. Our cruise had 81 passengers (mainly middle-aged, well-travelled Americans) and the three cruise directors who looked after us superbly ensured we were split into smaller groups so at no point did you feel “packaged”. Come to think of it, the whole experience could be likened to a floating country house party with excellent food, a comfortable cabin and some unique experiences that would be difficult to set up yourself. I wouldn’t normally write in a day-by-day diary style but in this instance I’ll make an exception because only by following the programme that this trip took can you begin to understand how you can cram in so much to so little time. This particular cruise was entitled A Taste of France, and for food and wine lovers it is an excellent choice. Starting in Paris you stay two nights at the Inter Continental Paris Le Grand (don’t miss dinner in the wonderful fin de siecle Cafe de la Paix), eat at the famous Foquet’s in the Champs d’Elysees, attend a private pastry- making class at the culinary school Ecole Lenotre and enjoy a chocolate and wine tasting in the eclectic Saint Germain des Pres district. Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, you also take in a culinary walking tour. It’s full-on but gives you a great insight into why citizens of the French capital’s love affair with what they consume takes on an almost religious fervour come mealtimes. It won’t surprise you to learn that most of the passengers had a genuine interest in food and wine. There were serious wine buffs, and we had one couple who were both Cordon Bleu cooks. There were also quite a few single travellers because Tauck doesn’t charge a single supplement for category-one cabins (the least expensive) and also, on select departures, solo travellers can save up to £650 per cabin in categories four and five. While talking about costs, although this is not a cheap holiday by any stretch of the imagination, it is good value. Excursions – many of which are very unusual – are all included (worth £2010), as are all meals and unlimited drinks on board (including champagne and premium spirits). There’s a free hotel night before or after the trip and flights from and to London are included, as are all gratuities, airport transfers and porterage. From Paris we took the TGV down to Lyon. There you pick up the boat – a very pleasant surprise all round. Our cabin was spacious, air-conditioned and well equipped, with a bath, a shower and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept on. That night we drove to a gourmet feast at L’Abbaye de Collonges, just outside Lyon on the banks of the Saone River, owned by the award-winning chef Paul Bocuse. This was one of the meals where you sat with fellow passengers so if you’re not the sociable type, maybe this wouldn’t be for you, but for the vast majority of meals it was open seating and that could be just a deux, if you so wished. Exploring France’s gastronomic third city was on next morning’s agenda so we walked to the indoor market of Les Halles de Lyon and sashayed from stall to stall for tastings of everything delicious and French. Of course we also explored the delights of Vieux Lyon, the old Renaissance part of the city that is both a Unesco World Heritage Site and the first protected historic district in France. You also take in the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Fourviere, built atop the ruins of an ancient Roman forum. Lyon has so much to enjoy but in the afternoon it was off to the celebrated region of Beaujolais for another wine tasting before continuing down the Rhone to the next port of call: Viviers. This walled city dates back to the fifth century and is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in France. After a walking tour with our local guide taking in the 12th-century cathedral and richly detailed facade of the Maison des Chevaliers, we TRAVELetc