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A Voyage of Enchantment: Navigating the Rhône River Aboard Viking Cruises

Barbara Angelakis
Barbara Angelakis is travel & culture editor at LuxuryWeb Magazine.
Published: January 8, 2024
Our fourth journey with Viking Cruises led us to the majestic Rhône River in southern France, a voyage that became an unexpected adventure due to a meteorological twist: rising waters. (Image: Barbara and Manos Angelakis)

Published with permission from Luxury Web Magazine

Our fourth journey with Viking Cruises led us to the majestic Rhône River in southern France, a voyage that became an unexpected adventure due to a meteorological twist: rising waters. Contrary to our initial thoughts, abundant water proved to be more of a challenge than a boon, particularly given the river’s origins in the Swiss Alps and its path to the Mediterranean Sea. This seasonal surge resulted in treacherous navigation conditions this fall.

Embarking on the Viking Heimdal in the idyllic town of Avignon, we found ourselves anchored, waiting for the waters to recede. Despite this, the ship’s spirited crew, led by the amiable Captain Richard Scheen, adapted seamlessly to our stationary state. This unexpected turn gave us the luxury of time to enjoy sumptuous meals and forge connections with fellow passengers, sharing tales of past voyages. Notably, except for a honeymooning couple on their maiden cruise, all aboard were seasoned Viking explorers.

(Image: Barbara and Manos Angelakis)

While the inability to embark on some of the planned excursions was a letdown, and we missed the scenic journey past the vineyard-draped hills of the Rhône Valley, we were compensated by visits to lesser-known locales not originally on our itinerary.

Our exploration began with a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Arles, a town immortalized by Vincent van Gogh. Our anticipation to see van Gogh’s and Paul Gauguin’s artworks in Arles, where they created numerous pieces, was met with the realization that these masterpieces were scattered in museums worldwide.

MORE ON THIS: Visiting Arles: A Journey Through Art and History

We did, however, experience The Café de Nuit, electrified since van Gogh’s depiction, but the Yellow House, his former residence, had been lost to war, replaced by modern construction. Despite this, Arles, with its rich Roman heritage, including the impressive Les Arènes amphitheater, was a historical treasure, though I lamented the absence of van Gogh’s presence in this city synonymous with him.

(Image: Barbara and Manos Angelakis)

Avignon, our next destination, epitomized the quintessential charm of southern France’s medieval towns. Known as the “City of Popes,” this walled city was a pivotal religious and cultural center in the 14th century.

The expansive Palace of the Popes — devoid of its former lavish furnishings — still impresses with its imposing architecture. A highlight of Avignon was the vibrant central market, a feast for the senses with its wine tasting stations and artistically displayed local produce, a stark contrast to the packaged goods in U.S. markets.

(Image: Barbara and Manos Angelakis)

Viviers, another gem in the Ardèche region, boasted the Cathedrale Saint-Vincent de Viviers, France’s smallest continually used cathedral since the 12th century. Our visit here included a delightful detour to the home of Richard & Maryann Leon, a blend of 15th and 18th-century architecture, elegantly modernized for 21st-century living. Their hospitality extended to delicious homemade brioche and “Casteneau,” a unique local brew.

(Image: Barbara and Manos Angelakis)

Our guide, the award-winning ballroom dancer and comedian Pierre Brunel, and his wife, provided memorable onboard entertainment, showcasing popular French dances with humor and elegance.

The cruise concluded in Lyon, marked by heartfelt farewells to the crew and newfound friends. Although our journey with Viking Heimdal deviated from the usual cruising experience, it became a unique exploration of resilience, camaraderie, and the unexpected joys of travel.

For more information on Viking River Cruises, please visit their website at Viking River Cruises.