A great introduction to river cruising
River cruising on the Rhone has a charm of its own. Like all rivers, it has its unique jewels and specialities that you delight in discovering as you sail serenely along.
We travelled with Shearings on the A-Rosa Stella – a lovely boat with only 160 people on board during our trip. Arriving at Lyon airport, we were met by a chauffeur and whisked in comfort and style to the ship. Many of our group had travelled by road and were very complimentary about the luxury coaches that Shearings use for the holidays.
Our first night saw us sailing away as the sun set and the city and its bridges were lit up as we began our journey northwards, up the Saône to the medieval city of Chalon. The next morning found us looking around this beautiful place with its timbered houses and narrow streets. Crossing bridges to explore, we used the self-guided walking tour we were given – along with maps and leaflets – offering a suggested route with places of interest.
Shearings do their coach excursions very well and our first found us wine tasting at an ancient chateau, where we enjoyed a morning exploring the kitchens and grounds before descending into the cellars to taste the produce of the vineyards.
On other occasions you could visit the Camargue, a Lavender farm (fascinating) and the amazing scenery of the Ardèche gorges.
The A-Rosa Stella is not as grand as some other boats – you don’t have a balcony where you can sit outside – but as all ships on the river have to be the same width to get through the locks, it means you have a bigger cabin. All meals are open dining with a buffet system although there is one optional ‘Fine wine dining night’ where the chef produces his specialities with waiter service which you can attend for a fee. You should also note that the food on board has a distinct European slant, but I have no doubt that this will change as the company aims more at the UK market.
The large sundeck is lovely with a pool, shuffleboard and a small putting green! The service is excellent: nothing is too much trouble. Our Shearings’ rep Melanie was top notch and went of her way to make sure everything ran smoothly. On one occasion, after we had a guided tour of the old city of Lyons with its cobbled narrow streets and ancient passages and incredible cathedral with its gold and turquoise mosaics, she bought a Brioche from the local bakery and shared it with us on our return to the ship
There is a small library on the ship plus a cupboard with board games and if you wish to be pampered there is also an excellent wellness centre where Caroline had a manicure and I tried a massage – and it was good, I can tell you! There’s also a fitness centre with exercise bikes and a running machine.
Heading southwards, the boat passes through many fascinating locks where cascading water spilling down can ‘Christen’ you on the Rhone and we enjoyed the waiter service on the sun deck whilst some took to the pool. Some of the stretches between stops can be quite long so do bring a book or cards but you will quickly find you gel with members of your group.
We stopped at lovely French villages where some people took a cycle ride to meet the ship further downstream. You can also take circular bike tours from the longer stays such as Lyon, Macon or Avignon. Do remember to bring sun cream as this is the south of France and we had clear blue skies with the temperature at times nudging towards 30 degrees. A small pair of binoculars to study the wildlife, medieval castles, river traffic and modern architecture you see from the boat is also useful.
The beauty of this cruise is walking into the towns such as Chalons, Avignon, Arles and Lyons where you can explore the medieval narrow streets and buildings, taste the local food and visit the incredible markets. Do have a look at the open-air Farmers Market on the riverbank in Lyon and the central undercover market in Avignon where you will be amazed at the size of tomatoes and peppers and the plethora of local produce on display.
Failing that, you can take in a gladiator show at the Roman Amphitheatre in Arles or stroll around the town visiting the places Vincent Van Gogh frequented or painted on a regular basis. Why not try Van Gogh’s own cafe? Once known as the Café Terrace, this is the place captured in Van Gogh’s painting of Place du Forum in Arles. Still in operation today and now named Café Van Gogh, it’s a lovely little spot to have your espresso or glass of wine and watch the world go by.
So, would I recommend this cruise? Well, yes especially as a starter cruise for someone who has never taken a river cruise before. It’s an ideal taster and is good value for money. The A-Rosa Stella is not as palatial as some of the other boats but Shearings have worked on this cruise and it’s enjoyable and fun.
I really enjoyed this cruise and if you haven’t tried river cruising before do have a look at it.
Steve Newman was a guest of Shearings/A-Rosa.
We are sorry to advise that the Specialist Leisure Group, which includes Shearings, entered administration on 22 May 2020. If you have booked a holiday with Shearings, or you have any questions please visit the Shearings website.