Uniworld’s River Royale

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Every passenger on a walking tour is given a receiver and earpiece so that they can hear the comments of the tour guide. So, if someone wishes to stop and spend a few extra moments a block away, they can still hear the comments of the guide. This should be a must for history buffs who want the specific details instead of a passing comment while looking through a bus window. Unlike the basic bus tours—and there were one or two on this trip—one of the keys to the walking tours is the personal and close contact of the tour guide with the groups, usually small in comparison to the general bus tour group. The ability to interface with the tour guide and ask specific questions during the walking tour is a plus, usually not found in basic cruise bus tours. If a passenger does not wish to join a tour group, they can tour the town on their own. Easy-to-read maps are available for those who prefer this type of sightseeing. And, if the individual’s choice is to just relax, they can simply stay aboard the ship. However, let clients know that the tour options on a river cruise are not as numerous as on an ocean cruise liner.

Adding to the intimate feel, is that during our trip, at least, the River Royale cruise director, Nadia Benhouer, was like a mother hen. She participated in every tour, both walking and bus, to make sure that everything was coordinated properly and that participants received the maximum benefit of the tour experience.

The cruise basically covers the Provence and Burgundy regions of Eastern and Southern France. The boat departs from Arles up the Rhone River and then into the Saone, finishing at Chalon-sur-Saone then reverses the itinerary. This itinerary will continue into 2011.

Home to some of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings, including “Sunflowers,” and dating back to the sixth century B.C., Arles features very visible Roman ruins, remarkable churches including the 12th century St. Trophine and, of course, the always popular town square. There is an optional bus tour to a working olive farm and a medieval village of Les Baux-de-Prevence. Viewing the valley from the top of this fortress with its narrow winding streets is breathtaking and is one of the sites your clients should not miss.

Next stop is the ancient city of Avignon, a must for history and architecture buffs. Avignon is encased in a medieval fortification wall. A can’t-miss is the Pope’s Palace Square—an imposing structure built sometime between 1335 and 1364.

Viviers and Tournon are next. Walking through the ancient streets of Viviers (founded in the fifth century), clients will be charmed by the combination of ancient Roman and French architecture influences, culminating with the fountain square in the old town. On this particular voyage, the passengers of the River Royale were entertained by an organ recital in a 12th century cathedral—a very unique experience. In the twin cities of Tain l’Hermitage/Tournon, there’s an interesting walking tour where one crosses a beautiful bridge from Tain l’Hermitage to Tournon—both cities date back to the middle ages. Famous for their wines, there’s an opportunity to visit the vineyards in the area for a wine tasting.

The ship then proceeds to Lyon, often called the culinary capital of France (and sometimes the world). It’s right at the apex of the Rhone and the Saone tributary. Despite the fact that Lyon is the second largest city in France, it is still quaint in many respects, with its architecture and many plazas. Of course, those seeking all the well-known and high-end shops, won’t be disappointed while touring Lyon.

Arriving in Chalon-sur-Saone, a coach takes passengers to the very quaint town of Beaune. It’s Saturday and market day. There’s an exciting and festive atmosphere as one strolls through the many stalls displaying beautiful vegetables and fruits and other bounties of the region’s agriculture. Other vendors are selling jewelry and other items to the milling crowd.

we say goodbye Disembarkation off the River Royale is well planned, well executed and even though passengers may have many departure options, including extended trips, the scheduling of buses, taxis and other forms of transportation by the ship’s staff is exemplary.