The pool, a signature feature on all Emerald Waterways’ river ships, is at the back of the vessel, inside but covered by a roof that can be opened on warm days, and surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows so you are guaranteed fantastic views while swimming.
It’s such a lovely way to start the day, so much so that I’ve been coming here every morning of this cruise – a one week voyage along the Rhône and Saône in France – and can’t wait to resume my schedule on a voyage through Eastern Europe with Emerald Waterways this summer.
Emerald Liberté, launched last summer and is a 138-passsenger beauty that sails seven night cruises between Lyon and Arles or vice-versa. A journey that takes you through lush, green countryside in Burgundy and parched, rocky landscapes in Provence.
Whichever direction you choose, the itinerary is brilliant, with full days in Lyon and Arles at the start or end and lots to enjoy in between. We visited markets, tasted local food, went cycling along the rivers and hiking through vineyards. We also dipped into Roman history in Lyon, Arles and Avignon.
Our cruise began in Lyon, known as the gastronomic capital of France – some even say the world – for its multitude of restaurants serving authentic French food. You can splash out in classy Michelinstarred establishments or sample the cuisine served in one of the town’s bouchon restaurants (bouchon is a local name given to bistros that serve typically Lyonnais food).
We went exploring alone, taking a funicular up above the city to see the white Basilica of Notre Dame and the remains of a nearby Roman theatre, then wandered back down to nose around the narrow, cobbled streets and seek out the traboules, the name given to alleyways between people’s houses that date back to medieval times and were built to allow folk to get around town quickly. They are hidden behind huge wooden doors, and going inside does feel a bit intrusive, but as the guides say, when in Lyon, do as the locals do.
You usually have most of the day to enjoy Lyon on this itinerary, but we had to be back on board soon after lunch for a very important event – Emerald Liberté’s naming ceremony. There were balloons, music, food and drink, and of course a bottle of champagne was smashed against the hull, and then we were off, sailing north on the Saône towards Chalon-sur-Saône.
We decided to do a DIY walking tour in Chalon, but most people skipped the town and instead joined an included tour to Beaune, to see a hospital that opened in 1443 to care for the poor and sick. This was something really revolutionary back then as patients were fed, cared for by nurses and slept in beds with sheets (most likely sharing with three or more other people though) – all at no charge. These days the hospital is a museum, and one of the most visited sights in France on account of its spectacular multi-coloured tiled roofs.
From Chalon, we sailed back south to Mâcon – enjoyed an optional tour in Cluny, to see what remains of what was once the largest church in the world – then rejoined the Rhône at Lyon and cruised to Tournon, a town across the river from Tain L’Hermitage, where wine is king and just one hectare of land on Hermitage Hill, the birthplace of Syrah, will set you back almost £1.3 million.
After a day indulging in wine and chocolates (the Valrhona chocolate shop is not to be missed!), we continued south to Avignon, one of my favourite towns in France and home to what remains of the famous Pont d’Avignon and the medieval Popes Palace, where seven pontiffs lived in the 1300s.
We had a packed but brilliant day – a morning in the town, an afternoon trip to the Pont du Gard, a magnificent Roman aqueduct built some 2,000 years ago, and a fabulous dinner back on board Emerald Liberté prepared by French chef Fabien Morreale, who regular readers will recall I met when I did a cookery class with him while sailing the Rhône with Scenic.
In Arles, our last stop, our guide Jerome took us inside a spectacular 20,000-seat Roman amphitheatre in the middle or town that is used to this day for plays, concerts and French bullfights (very different to the Spanish variety as the bulls are not harmed) and showed us scenes that Vincent Van Gogh painted when he lived in the town in 1888 and 1889.
He also told us the back story of the obelisk in the Place de la Republique. It dates from Roman times and has sported various symbols depending on who was in power – a sun for the Sun King (Louis XIV), a Phrygian Cap for the Revolution, a Napoleonic eagle, and so on – but they got so fed up changing it that now it’s just a bare needle. Politics is just no fun anymore.
Take a look at ROL Cruise’s selection of holidays with Emerald Waterways to start planning your own European adventure.