Photo courtesy Emerald Cruises


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Voyaging aboard a large cruise ship across the ocean has never held much fascination for me. But traveling on a slow boat down a meandering, well-travelled waterway stokes my imagination. River cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, its burgeoning popularity a testament to the quality of the product as companies offer a unique, leisurely, relaxing and luxurious way to discover a country.

My wife and I are enjoying a romantic Rhone River cruise across Southern France aboard Emerald Cruises’ stunning Emerald Liberté. With many river cruise companies and a variety of itineraries and destinations to choose from, and with the romance of Provence in mind, we chose Emerald to introduce us to the joys of a river cruise in Southern France.


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The author spending time with his wife while exploring Arles aboard a Rhone river cruise (Photo: James Ross / LuxuryEurope)


The company is fresh and innovative, and Emerald’s vessels are modern and luxurious, with a fleet of new ships sailing some of the best places to visit in Europe including the Rhine, Main, Danube, Moselle, Rhone, Saone, Mekong, and Douro rivers.


Rhone River Cruise Aboard the Emerald Liberté


We find the pace, intimacy, and delightful setting of the journey wonderful. The changing scenery, passing vessels, bustle of activity and the characters we meet lead to new adventures and fresh discoveries around every bend. Rivers were once the highways into the heart of a country and the lifeblood of Europe. They brought trade and commerce, and as goods flowed in and out, so too did culture, with many cities and towns springing up along their path.


Emerald Liberte docked along a romantic Rhone River Cruise
The Emerald Liberté offers an unforgettable river cruise experience (Photo courtesy Emerald Cruises)


The ship itself is an engineering marvel, built to get through the river locks and into ports that most vessels cannot reach. Through the ingenuity of hydraulics and design, the chairs, tables, shelters, and railings on the upper sundeck fold flat and the navigating bridge drops below deck, allowing the Liberté to pass under low bridges with inches to spare. The smaller ship, carrying only 138 guests, lends itself to a very comfortable experience, and the friendly staff exceeds expectations.

The Liberté’s contemporary décor sparkles with glass and chrome, and the ship demonstrates an ingenious use of space, both in our berth and in the ship’s amenities. There are stylish and cutting-edge innovations like a pool with a retractable roof which converts into a cinema at night, and a drop-down glass balcony window in the suites, offering a panoramic view of the passing countryside.


An Enchanting Experience on an Elegant Ship


While the ship is elegant, the journey through the South of France is enchanting. The temperature is pleasant, and the sun-drenched vineyards, bucolic countryside and charming towns and villages ooze romance.

Travelling slowly north from Arles to Lyon we savour the pastoral charm and history of Provence as the Liberté cuts a course through lavender fields and vineyards. With ease, we hop on and off the ship, joining informative tours through the Provencal villages, or we set off on our own, strolling through the warren of narrow cobblestone streets and alleys.


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The Liberte’s suites are extremely luxurious (Photo courtesy Emerald Cruises)


Each day brings a new, magical experience. We step back in time in Arles with a visit to the perfectly preserved, 2,000-year-old Roman colosseum, built to hold 20,000 spectators. The ancient city is situated at the point where the Rhone spreads out into a vast delta that bounds the Camargue region, making it an obvious site for a Roman city in 49 BC when Julius Caesar took over the area.


France’s Most-visited Monument


Provence is a romantic land of remarkable beauty, which is what captivated Vincent van Gogh, whose masterworks from his year-long stay in Arles make up some of his most inspiring landscapes.

By foot, bike, and bus we explore the medieval village of Perouges (film location for the Three Musketeers), Les Baux-de-Provence (an ancient village built into the desolate craggy cliffs of Val d’Enfer), the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, the Bridge of Avignon, the famed Hospices de Beaune, and the impressive Pont du Gard aqueduct (a UNESCO world heritage site and technical masterpiece).


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The magnificent Roman-era Pont Du Gard is Southern France’s most visited attraction (Photo: James Ross / LuxuryEurope)



When Rome controlled what is now the South of France, the Romans were responsible for some impressive engineering feats. At 157 ft high, the Pont Du Gard is the world’s tallest aqueduct bridge, and for being around for nearly 2,000 years it is in remarkably good condition. The aqueduct is the most visited monument in France.


To Macon and Lyon


The Liberté docks in the heart of the beguiling towns of Macon, Chalon-Sur Saone, and Tournon. We hike up through Tournon’s steep-stepped vineyards to look down on its 16th-century castle and Roman ruins. After morning tours we will take a break in the shaded terraces of cafés to nibble on pastries and drink coffee, or we enjoy a lazy lunch in a quiet brasserie, sipping the exquisite wines of Beaujolais and Burgundy while we people-watch.

Sleepy village squares come to life as vibrant bazaars, where vendors sell art, jewellery, woodwork, lavender, and olive oil. There’s no better way to meet fascinating locals than spending time strolling around the central squares.


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Expect superlative service and plenty of luxury aboard your Emerald Cruises adventure e (Photo courtesy Emerald Cruises)


The end-port on our romantic Rhone River cruise is Lyon, France’s third largest city, the world capital of gastronomy and a former Roman capital positioned at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. Touring the city we reach the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, Lyon’s hilltop church that offers stunning views over the town. The culinary theme continues in the cobbled streets of Lyon’s old town as we explore the shops to sample olives, cheeses, and fresh baguettes.

From the Captain’s welcome reception on the eve of our arrival to the farewell dinner shared with new-found friends, the river journey is magical and memorable. River cruising is becoming ever more popular because of the unhurried pace of life onboard, yet the experience is in-depth, intimate and exceptional. The travel between destinations is easy; we sit back in our stateroom balcony with a glass of local wine and literally watch the world go by.


If You Go…


Getting There: Emerald looked after all of our travel arrangements. We flew into Nice and our transfer to Arles was included. We flew home from Lyon. Pre- and post-cruise extensions are available for a luxury stay in Paris or Nice.

Eight-Day Sensations of Southern France: The Panorama Balcony Suites are our preferred choice, and your cruise includes onboard meals, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and all gratuities are included, so you won’t be surprised by any hidden costs. There is also something to be said about not having to seek out new accommodations each evening… for our eight-day sail we unpacked only once.

Tours: Daily tours with knowledgeable local guides are included. Guests have their own interactive headsets to easily follow tour commentary. Special “Emerald More” tours can be booked at an added cost.

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Contributor James Ross writes about destinations and travel adventures for various international publications. You can see more of his work at