France represents an excellent choice for would-be river cruisers as it boasts a number of different waterways on which you can travel during a voyage, each of which offers its own distinct blend of history, culture and stunning scenery. The most well-known is certainly the Seine in the north of France, not least because it offers river cruisers the opportunity to explore France’s legendary capital Paris. The Rhone is a great way to experience the south of France and the celebrated beauty – and indeed wine – that it is famous for and also provides the chance to briefly sample another French river – one of its tributaries the Saone. The Moselle, meanwhile offers another opportunity to experience the country’s capital before you set sail. From awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites to lush wine-growing valleys, you can experience the best that France has to offer with a river cruise.
Though the river begins its journey in the east of the country close to Dijon, river cruises along the Seine tend to be round-trips from the country’s capital, presenting river cruisers with plenty of opportunities to explore Paris’ many sights. Legendary landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral are all yours to experience, either before you embark or upon your return. During your Seine cruise, you’ll likely dock at Vernon, whereby you’ll be able to take a trip to Giverny and the former home of one of the country’s most revered artistic sons, Claude Monet. Rouen in the Normandy region is another popular port of call. It’s the city where Joan of Arc was martyred, offering some captivating architecture and a wealth of medieval history to explore. On Seine cruises you may also visit Les Andelys, famous for its Chateau Gaillard and Conflans, which offers a charming river trade heritage and also the opportunity for a trip to the opulent Palace of Versailles, where none other than Louis XIV once resided.
The Rhone and Saone
The Rhone is your ticket to the beauty of southern France and a journey along it can take you from the centre of the country to its beautiful, clement coast. Chalon-sur-Saone is a small town which offers plenty of charm and acts as a starting point for many a Rhone and Saone cruise, providing you with a taste of the Saone before you join the larger Rhone to continue your journey. Lyon lies just south of the point at which the Rhone and Saone Rivers meet and is a key port of call for many cruises along the rivers. This 2,000 year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a wealth of architectural treasures, such as the Basilica of Notre Dame and the St Jean Cathedral. Vienne, meanwhile delivers a very different taste of southern France with a strong Roman heritage – don’t miss the temple of Augustus & Livia and the amphitheatre. Tournon is your opportunity to sample some of the region’s celebrated red wine, while Viviers offers a pleasing mix of medieval and Renaissance architecture. Arles boasts more Roman architectural treasures to discover, while Avignon is one of the nation’s most historically important cities, as the historic home of seven different popes in the 1300s.
The Moselle is in fact a tributary of the Rhine and though, like its mother river, it flows through Germany, it actually begins its journey in France’s Voges Mountains. This means that a number of Moselle itineraries begin in Paris, which doesn’t lie on the river, but is close enough to warrant transfers to where your Moselle cruise begins in Trier, Germany. This offers the chance to experience more countries during your Moselle voyage and also lets you see Paris’ numerous iconic landmarks.
Garonne, Gironde and Dordogne
A select number of French river cruise itineraries also explore this beautiful tidal river system, which gives river cruisers the opportunity to explore the famous Bordeaux wine-growing region. Bordeaux itself is located on the Garonne and boasts a wealth of stunning 18th century architecture, while other key stops include Blaye, famous for its 17th century citadel and Cadillac, from where many river cruise operators offer wine-tasting excursions.
France travel tips
The currency in France is the Euro and even if you only know a little French, locals will appreciate your attempts to speak it. In larger tourist-centric cities, you’ll find English in wider use. In Northern France you can expect similar temperatures to the UK but Southern France enjoys a warmer climate thanks to its proximity to Spain.