On 14th July 2018 our group of 22 friends set off from various parts of the UK to join the good ship Emerald Liberté for a seven-day cruise through Southern France. During our trip we visited amazing Roman archaeological sites such as the 2000 year-old Pont du Gard and the contemporary and equally impressive Amphitheatre in Arles; majestic medieval buildings, including the Hospices at Beaune and the Palace of the Popes in Avignon; and some absolutely delightful scenic wine villages, where tastings were impossible to resist.
The cruise started in Arles, where our suitcases were whisked from the coach by the crew and taken to our cabins. Meanwhile, we were greeted with champagne as we boarded the Liberté, newly launched in 2017 and especially built for the Rhone and Saone Rivers. This is a beautiful ship, with an Art Deco feel in its public spaces, glossy black and silver décor combined with chrome and glass. The crew kept the whole vessel immaculate, which I particularly admired, having owned a very labour-intensive chrome and glass coffee table back in the sixties. It is also a very quiet vessel, so although we often cruised at night our slumbers remained uninterrupted. All the staff and crew aboard, in every capacity, were unfailingly courteous, efficient and helpful in every way.
Most of us had chosen lower-deck cabins, since we knew from previous experience that we spend very little time in them. These were comfortable, spacious for a river cruiser and well designed. Suitcases could be placed under the beds out of the way and the wardrobes and other storage space were more than adequate. The bathroom was also well planned and the unobtrusive blue night-light very useful. Those who had booked cabins on the upper decks were also pleased with the ingenious ‘indoor balconies’ instead of the usual ‘French’ balcony. Wi-fi was good all over the ship.
For some of our group one of the real attractions of the ship was the good-sized indoor swimming pool with its sliding roof, which could be opened on sunny days to give a real al fresco feel. Even those of us who did not swim enjoyed the pool area, with its comfy seats, bar, and panoramic view of the river flowing behind the ship as we cruised along. At night it was transformed into a cinema, showing popular films – with popcorn provided.
For all of us, the restaurant experience was very good. The ambience, service, complimentary wines of the region and, of course, the food. Every meal offered an excellent choice, with something for even the pickiest eater and the staff were meticulous in accommodating our various food allergies: but the night that a local Provencal chef cooked Chateaubriand on board for us was particularly memorable.
We ended our cruise in Lyons, another lovely city, from whence, the next day, we reluctantly set off for the airport. Many people say river cruises are expensive, but given their all-inclusive nature – plus in this case also covered tips, drinks and a generous on-board spend allowance – I think they can represent excellent value.
My only slightly negative comment on this trip would be that the visit to the Pont du Gard should be an included, rather than an optional, payable, excursion and perhaps the visit to the Papal Palace in Avignon should offer a guided tour of the interior. These are the two major sights of the region and were perhaps not able to be fully appreciated. But these are mere quibbles; we had a great trip and would certainly consider another cruise with Emerald.