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Revelry on the Rhône 

Cruising along the timeless rivers of the world has understandably become one of the most desirable ways to travel today. Yet with so many alluring waterways, it can be difficult to choose where to make your splash. Do you choose by country? By sights? By unique experiences? When you choose the Rhône River, sailing through stunning southern France – a place where French wine and food blend together seamlessly for the gastronomical journey of a lifetime – you’re choosing a charming French feast for your senses and your soul.

View Rhone River Cruises

Fast Facts:

  • Countries: Switzerland, France
  • Source: Rhône Glacier
  • Mouth: Mediterranean Sea
  • Length: 505 miles
  • Area: 21 square miles

Watch and Learn About the Rhône River


Geography

One of Europe's longest rivers, the Rhône originates from a glacier located more than a mile high in the Swiss Alps. For about 100 miles, it flows through deep, picturesque Alpine valleys before entering Lake Geneva. The city of Geneva lies at the river's outflow from the lake. Flowing into France, the Rhône is joined at Lyon by the Saône, its principal tributary. Winding its way through the villages and vineyards of central France, the river is surrounded by some of the most awe-inspiring vistas in the world. Fed chiefly by the melting snow of the Alps, the Rhône's most rapid flow occurs in spring and early summer. In the south, it enters the Mediterranean region and winter rains lead to a secondary high level in November and December.

History

The Rhône River has been an important lifeline for Western Civilization dating back to Greek and Roman times. It was the main trade route from the Mediterranean to the heart of ancient Gaul. As such, it helped convey Greek cultural influence to the people living along its banks.

Until the 20th century, navigation on the Rhône was difficult due to fierce currents, floods in the spring, and droughts in the late summer. Before the advent of the steam boat in the late 18th century, passengers traveled along the river in coches d'eau (water coaches) pulled by men or horses on shore. Trade flourished via giant barges which were pulled upstream by as many as 80 horses at a time.

One of the earliest experimental steamboats was built in Lyon in 1783, but regular services did not begin until 1829. Steam vessels strolled down the river at a leisurely 12 miles per hour, and could make the downstream trip from Lyon to Arles in a day.

In 1933, the French government established Compagnie Nationale du Rhône to increase the navigability of the river. Some progress was made, but World War II brought work to a halt. In 1942, Italian military forces occupied southeastern France up to the eastern banks of the Rhône.

After the war and liberation of France, the government started construction once again on a series of locks and canal cuts, improving the flow of the river and generating electricity. Today, about eight percent of France's electricity is now supplied by the harnessed power of the Rhône.

Highlights

Flowing from the Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rhône River winds its way through the legendary landscapes of sun-washed lush lavender fields and fabled French vineyards that inspired Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gaugin. Marvel at medieval hilltop villages that are home to centuries-old Provençal kitchens featuring the epicurean delights of your dreams on a cruise along the Rhône River where wanderlust flows around every river bend. A kaleidoscope of colors, aromas, and tastes await in the charming city of Lyon with its timeless traditions, best-in-the-world bouchons, and the towering Traboules. 

 The alluring twin cities of Tournon and Tain L’Hermitage face each other in equal charm across the Rhône River. Equally spectacular are their castle ruins, monuments, terraced vineyards, and picture-postcard panoramas. In Avignon, the world’s largest Gothic fortress, the 14th-century Palace of the Popes shines as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Roman ruins, sunbaked stone homes, shady squares, and colorful landscapes – immortalized on the canvases of Van Gogh – never fail to make an impression in Arles. The Camargue Natural Park rises to meet the Petit Rhône and Grand Rhône. Here, small saltwater lakes and marshlands are interspersed between farmland to create a hauntingly beautiful and colorful landscape dotted with black bulls, white horses, and pink flamingos.

Treat yourself to the lands of local patisseries on the wondrous waters of the Rhone – as fitting for first-time cruisers as it is for seasoned, off-the-beaten-path travelers. With one-of-a-kind sightseeing and second-to-none panoramic views, Avalon invites you to revel in the Rhône as you please. 

 

Cruiser Profile

With a breadth of handsome harbors and lovely medieval villages, a Rhone River cruise touches the heart of every traveler. Whether you’re dipping your toe into the world of river cruising for the first time; impatiently ready to be swept off your feet again by a cruise; or taking the plunge with true love as a return cruiser, you’ll find plenty to swoon over as the Rhône reveals the best of France’s winding and wonderful shores.

 

Did You Know?

  • Tradition dictates that the Beaujolais Nouveau, cultivated near Lyon, is tasted for the first time on the third Thursday of November each year.
  • An ancient bust of Julius Caesar was discovered in the Rhône River near Arles in 2007. The unique statue, which archeologists believe dates back to 46 B.C., depicts the famed Roman ruler with aging features, worn eyes and a wrinkled brow.
  • In 1308, Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to Avignon. Clement V and the subsequent "Avignon Popes" were said to be great lovers of wine. The 70-year Avignon Papacy did much to promote French wine.
  • In 1750, Lyon was the silk-weaving capital of Europe, with silk weavers making up 40 percent of the city's workforce. By 1850, the city had tripled in size, boasting a population of 340,000 people and 100,000 weaving looms.
  • In the rocky soil of the northern Rhône regions, Syrah is the dominant grape. As you travel south, more grape varieties come into play. As an example of this anomaly, Red Hermitage is generally 100 percent Syrah while Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south permits thirteen different varieties of grape in its red wines.
  • In addition to his famous sunflower and interior still life masterpieces, Van Gogh painted "Starry Night Over the Rhône" in Arles, featuring the lights of the city blending with the stars in reflection on the river.