Savouring France With Tauck River Cruises
A remarkable ride on the Rhône

by Vanessa Lee

For the first time ever, I just disembarked a cruise with nothing to pay on my account. This really is unusual -- especially for me. No costs for any wine or champagne, no charges for any of the plentiful and excellent shore excursions, Wi-Fi or any onboard meals. Nothing billed for transfers or gratuities (although we did leave some extra cash tips for some staff by choice).

We were travelling as guests of Tauck on its riverboat the Emerald (yes they call them boats) on the Rhône River roundtrip from Lyon for 7 days. Our trip actually started in Paris two days earlier when we were met off our flight and taken by private transfer to our hotel -- the Intercontinental on Rue Scribe near the Paris Opera.

Our only cost there was for a light lunch on arrival. All other items were included in the price of the cruise-tour. On the first evening we were treated to an absolutely marvellous dinner at the renowned Fouquet's on the Champs Elysees. Our relatively small group of 84 plus our three wonderful tour directors ate a sumptuous meal in an upstairs private dining room, sipped Champagne, and were treated to the sounds of a trio with a chanteuse of great talent. The food was exquisite and the brief illuminations tour to the Eiffel Tower for the nightly 10pm “sparkler” show was a suitable ending to our first day -- albeit a long one.

And so it went for the remaining nine days. All was taken care of, the TGV train to Lyon, a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu on Day 2 in Paris, another tasty repast in a medieval vaulted dining room at the Duchy D'Uzes on a late spring evening. Copious quantities of Champagne on offer day and night, and numerous, delicious sweet treats -- macarons, marron glacés, rich chocolate pralines and liqueurs, cold lemonade, nougat and more greeted us each day as we returned to our river boat from our varied walks and excursions.

We enjoyed wine tastings on the boat, an oyster tasting on a separate evening, an Aperol pre-dinner aperitif moment with cheeses, wine and charcuterie aplenty -- and so much more I can barely remember it all.

The Eiffel Tower “sparkler” show.

The vaulted dining room at Uzes.

The Duchy D'Uzes.

Choose the wine you wish to drink – in Arthur’s casual restaurant.

An Atelier moment with an American artist living in France who “painted” pictures in chocolate – which we were then able to eat for the remainder of the week was an unusual and popular highlight. Singers, an accordionist and a hysterical and clever crew show rounded out the entertainment moments along with a clever Liars Club with ship staff stumping the guests with very well told “lies.”

If a guest chose to participate in every excursion offered, and certainly some did most of them, there were almost 20 available – all included. There were experiences such as easy bicycle excursions from Arles and Avignon, a really enjoyable truffle hunt and tasting complete with two adorable truffle-sniffing yellow labs, and a visit to the stunning Camargue region and the manard (ranch) of the Laurent family. More choices: an enjoyable wine-tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a sweet little "choo choo" train tour of the lovely old town of Avignon, and, for some guests, a visit to the restaurant/studio of Anne-Sophie Pic, France’s only three-Michelin-starred female chef, for a tasting and cooking demo.

Macarons on the ship.

The Aperol evening – French Aperitif Tasting.

Camargue white horses and foals.

The desire to please on behalf of the staff of Tauck’s Emerald was a definite highlight, with special shout-outs to our three tour directors and the impressive Estzer, the onboard cruise director.

For me, memorable moments from the Tauck cruise-tour include the famous Camargue black bulls and the region’s white horses, some with their foals; the small medieval town of Grignan --a first visit for me; and a return to remarkable Arles and its Roman ruins and Provence in general. The setting is a slice of heaven on earth. The evening and dinner at the Duke’s castle in Uzes was very special, with that wonderful golden French light playing down on buildings that have stood for centuries. It was remarkable.

This Tauck river cruise offered its guests the epitome of excellence. I was extremely impressed with all the care and attention to detail and the amazing inclusions for the guests who were all very satisfied with their river cruise choice. In my next column, I will delve more deeply into the onboard experience, flesh out more details on the inclusions and special events and suggest ways to sell this type of cruise and to whom.

The Cruise Directors dressed up for the crew show.

An Atelier moment with an American artist, “painting” in chocolate.

All photos: Tim Boyles Photography

Vanessa Lee

Vanessa Lee Columnist

An internationally-known luxury cruise expert, Vanessa is publisher and editor of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. She contributes a column every other Friday for OJ’s Splash News and appears with Nina on the bi-monthly video Cruise Factor.

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