Sleek, stylish and perfectly proportioned for the narrow locks and low bridges of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Emerald Liberté has brought its own distinctive style to this corner of southern France.

As one of the newest vessels in the fleet of Emerald Waterways (having launched in April 2017), the 138-passenger Emerald Liberté perfectly reflects the fresh flavour of this up-and-coming line.

As the younger sister of Aussie luxury brand Scenic, Emerald caused a few ripples when it appeared on the river cruise scene four years ago with a goal of injecting a new and younger feel to the market, with an emphasis on mid-market river cruises rather than luxury. This new entrant promised to be livelier and more casual, with innovative attractions which included a unique swimming pool that converted into a cinema room for the evenings, and value-for-money prices.

Since then, Emerald has steadily expanded, launching three more of its ‘Star-Ships’ this year alone, of which Emerald Liberté was the first.

Where to eat

A table next to a window with a shimmering river view on-board Emerald Liberte

There is just one dining venue on Emerald Liberté: the light and airy Reflections Restaurant, its expansive windows affording excellent views of the passing river scenery. In addition to larger tables, there is a good smattering of tables for two, so if you are travelling as a couple, you won’t be forced into dinner table small-talk with strangers if you don’t want to.

In its early days, Emerald’s cuisine could be left wanting, in stark contrast to the gourmet-style banquets served up by other lines. Admittedly, Emerald had never pretended to be on a par, but the gap was larger than it should have been. Not anymore…

A gourmet duck dish with orange sauce in the restaurant on an Emerald Liberte river cruise

The line has pulled its socks up on the foodie front with beautifully-presented four-course dinners comprising delicious dishes such as duet of duck, served with raspberry vinegar sauce; tender Chateaubriand or salmon with champagne caviar sauce, plus sweet treats including crepes, tarte tatin and dark chocolate and chilli mousse. There is also a permanent selection of Emerald Classics that include steak and chicken Caesar salad, while on one evening, the bar is raised again with a gala dinner menu prepared by Top Chef France finalist, Fabien Morreale.

Buffet breakfasts and lunches are served here, too, with everything you might expect, though the choice isn’t as ample as on other river cruise lines. But if you’re not bothered about having a morning fry-up, it is worth taking the light breakfast option in the Horizon Lounge and combining your croissants with excellent views from Emerald Liberté’s prow.

Where to sleep

Sophisticated, neutral-toned stateroom on-board the Emerald Liberte river cruise ship

Cabins are all contemporary chic without fuss or frills in modern, muted shades of slate and ivory. In addition to the de rigueur flat-screen TV, upper deck cabins have a floor-to-ceiling window which opens half-way to become a French balcony; perfect for cooling river breezes.

The compact size means space is on the tight side; and that goes for the well-equipped en-suite, too, which was uncomfortably close to one of the beds, separated by a sliding door with just a few centimetres between them. Ouch!

What to do

Couples relaxing in the pool area of Emerald Liberte, which transforms into a pool area at nightThis river cruise ship’s main draw has to be the swimming pool at the stern – not only a good size, but with a retractable glass roof and floor to ceiling windows that offer inspiring views. The ultimate flourish, however, was its transformation into a cinema – a fascinating process that took just a few minutes as the pool base rose to floor level with the water draining beneath it.

A couple wheeling complimentary bicycles back on-board Emerald Liberte after a cycling tourOn other nights the pool became the Riverview Club, complete with its own bar and a quiet alternative to the elegant and comfortable Horizon Lounge, where the resident keyboard player kept the music flowing or local groups came aboard to showcase their cultural talents – some being better than others!

Passengers wanting to work off excess pounds can use the small gym or help themselves to Emerald Liberté’s fleet of bikes on Saône and Rhône river cruises, while the compact wellness area and hairdressers offered suitably pampering diversions. But, as with river cruises in general, the main attractions lie ashore, and Emerald’s free walking tours at each stop proved to be a worthwhile benefit. Other tours were offered for an additional fee.

What I loved

Sun shining onto the lawn and seating area on-board Emerald Liberte's sun deck

  • The pool/cinema, where you could start the day with a swim and spend the evenings watching feel-good movies while munching free popcorn and enjoying a drink from the bar.
  • The large sundeck with its sun-chairs and faux grass, jogging track and putting green, which was a wonderful relaxing haven on sunny days.
  • Free wine with meals: a welcome perk and generously dispensed by the friendly and efficient crew. The cabin attendants were particularly efficient, nipping in to make-up my cabin while I took breakfast each day, guaranteeing a crisp, clean welcome on return.

Top tip

Afternoon tea is a welcome pick-me-up each day, but is only served for half an hour from 4pm, so be sure to arrive in time as cakes and sandwiches are whipped away on the dot of 4.30pm.

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Sara Macefield

About Sara Macefield

Sara Macefield is an award-winning travel journalist of more than 20 years standing, and has spent the last decade writing about the cruise industry – exploring the world's oceans and rivers on ships of all sizes. Having notched up more than 100 cruises, her most memorable trips have been to Alaska with its superb wildlife, and sailing along Burma’s remote Chindwin River to villages far off the tourist track. She writes regularly for The Times and Daily Telegraph and has written for the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express and Woman & Home Magazine.

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