This was our third river cruise (but the first with Riviera Travel) and this trip on the MS Lord Byron certainly takes first place. It was organised with typical Riviera efficiency at every stage, from booking to transportation and from the on-board facilities to well-chosen and planned excursions. The ship itself is impressively elegant and comfortable and the catering was high quality.
River cruising appears to be a growing market, judging by the number of ships seen on this and other trips and also by the necessity of double and even triple “parking” at some of the stops en route (so beware of waking in the morning to find a neighbouring cabin window facing you instead of a flowing river scene!) Also, judging from our 140 fellow passengers on board the Lord Byron, it is also the type of holiday which appeals largely to “Silver Travellers”.
The cruise began in Avignon with its famous “Sur le Pont…” bridge, Pont d’Avignon. This is an ancient city dominated by the Cathedral Notre Dame and adjoining Palais des Papes, the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages. The week-long programme went on to feature much of the history of Provence from Roman times onwards, including the impressive amphitheatre at Arles and the massive stone-built, three-tiered aqueduct of Pont du Gard – where a superb museum and visitor centre displays graphically just how such a structure could have been constructed in those far-off days.
Cruising northwards through rural Provence and some of the 15 locks encountered during the week, it was notable how calm and relaxing this trip is when compared with the Rhine cruise and its constant, busy flow of industrial barge traffic.
A highlight of the cruise programme was the bus tour of the Burgundy area and driving through villages with recognisable names like Meursault, Volnay and Pommard on the way to the “wine capital” of Beaune. There, with a knowledgable sommelier, we were able to enjoy a traditional wine-tasting of several varieties of the local product.
Finally, the trip took us to France’s third largest city, Lyon, where from our centrally-located quay, we were able to visit more historical Renaissance buildings, including the Forum and the hilltop basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. Close by is the somewhat incongruous 86-metre steel tower built to a design similar to the Eiffel Tower and dating back three years earlier than the Paris landmark.