By Larry Martin
[Editor's Note: Larry Martin is President of Food & Wine Trails, Tablas Creek's travel partner on our 2015 Rhone River cruise, which will be highlighted by a special visit to Beaucastel. We asked him to contribute a first-hand account of what cruise-goers might expect should they join us next year. For all the details on the August 2-9, 2015 trip, which will begin in Avignon, end in Lyon, and include many historical and oenological visits along the way, visit foodandwinetrails.com/tablascreek2015]
Our luggage was stolen from our rental car before we boarded our cruise; my wife twisted her knee and then got ill, so imagine my surprise when she said she wanted to do the same cruise again, “this time to get it right.” That’s a testament to how much we loved our first river cruise along the Rhône.
River cruising has exploded in popularity, and it’s now difficult to find a cabin during high-season as these cruise fill up months and months in advance.
Food & Wine Trails does not sell what we haven’t personally experienced, so because so many of our winery clients have been asking us about river cruises, we’ve now cruised on five different ships, on three rivers with three different cruise lines.
Each was as great as our first trip on the Rhône but fortunately without the calamities. Here’s why: Whether from the deck or the sliding glass door in my cabin, there was always something to see, from steep vineyard hills and medieval castles to picturesque villages.
The small scale of river ships, which typically carry less than two hundred people, explains much of their appeal, as they offer more intimacy than ocean-going ships. On a river ship, you don't need a GPS device to find the lobby or the dining room. The staff is much more attentive and friendly. There are also plenty of opportunities to immerse oneself into the region and with the locals. Because the ships dock right in town, it’s easy to take off on one of the bikes the ship carries, or drop into bars and coffee shops at night.
So after our first cruise, we cruised on the Danube, the Garonne (Bordeaux), the Volga and decided last year to return to the Rhone, and to cruise with our favorite cruise line: Uniworld.
Why you might ask? Because the trip begins in Provence, one of France’s most beautiful regions, and ends in Lyon, France’s most important food city. Each visited village and city was filled with history and charm, made all the more beautiful by the unique light that has inspired such artists as Picasso, Renoir and Van Gough. And for a wine lover, this particular cruise offers two special additions: One it traverses or visits five major wine regions; Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Burgundy. And two, you’ll be the guests of the Perrin family for lunch, owners of one of the most important wine estates in the region.
So what else does one need? A great ship, and Uniworld’s newest ship the Catherine is considered by many to be the world’s best river cruise ship.
The only thing that I found lacking was time, because with all the great scenery, history and food and wine to explore, I never found enough of it. I guess I’ll have to return for a third time.