Launched in a blaze of publicity by French screen siren Catherine Deneuve in Lyon in March 2014, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s opulent S.S. Catherine is an A-lister in the world of river cruise ships and wouldn’t look out of place in a society glossy or design journal.
For a river cruise company that defies convention, Uniworld vessels are far from homogenous; interiors scream gilded Old World grandeur and are the antithesis of minimalism.
Built at the Dutch shipyard of Gierlien van Tiem, the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine is a true aristocrat. Every deck showcases an eclectic mix of refined taste and exuberant design offset by vibrant colours – in keeping with a vessel that meanders through southern France, home to post-Impressionist masters like Van Gogh and Gauguin. The two-deck high lobby is resplendent in marble, mirrors and green-glass detailing, including a Murano chandelier and whimsical, life-size blown-glass horse. Vibrant blues and verdant greens fill the Cezanne Restaurant, while elegant floral love seats, red-and-white armchairs and oil paintings splashed in primary hues embolden the Van Gogh Lounge.
Where to eat
In the Cézanne Restaurant, décor, service, atmosphere and fresh ingredients all come together in harmonious balance. As for the cuisine, let’s just say the menu is less prêt-à-manger and more haute couture, using the finest local produce. On-board S.S. Catherine, the phrase ‘farm-to-table’ isn’t just a trendy culinary buzzword, it’s an abiding mantra. Attention has also been paid to the wine list, and complimentary red and white wines, usually selected from the region, are served at lunch and dinner.
There is also the opportunity to savour a speciality dinner three times per cruise in the Bar du Leopard at the stern of the vessel, which seats just 24 either inside or on the alfresco terrace. This quintessential bar is decorated in muted leopard print and dove-grey velour seating, with a bronze snow leopard in the corner of the room. Opposite the bar, surrounded by greenery and jade mosaics, is a heated pool enclosed in auto-frosting glass. There are convenient stairs leading up to the Sun Deck where there are plenty of sun-loungers for taking in the passing views. Obliging bar staff will deliver your tipple of choice at any time of the day or night.
Where to sleep
The lavishly appointed river-view staterooms and suites boast handcrafted Pinnacle beds draped in high-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and duvets, along with a menu of pillow options. Each boasts a unique colour scheme of rich fabrics in tones of mint-green, emerald-green, teal, or grey, as well as silk wall fabrics and antique mirrors. Even the marble bathrooms serve up little luxuries, from heated towel racks and mirrors to L’Occitane toiletries.
There are five categories of staterooms. These lead with the 162 sq ft category 4 and 5 staterooms on St Remy Deck, where there is also one single cabin. Category 2 and 3 staterooms at 194 sq ft can be found on Avignon Deck and come with a French Balcony created by a window that drops at the flick of a switch. On Camargue Deck there are category 1 staterooms, as well as five 305 sq ft suites and one 401 sq ft Royal Suite. All suites have period cabinetry which conceals a mini-bar, gilt mirrors, and come with butler service as well as Hermès bath products in the lavish, white-tiled bathrooms.
What to do
In the Van Gogh Lounge, with its hand-painted murals and period furniture, there is a bar located at the centre of the room which makes for a more intimate feel. Nightly entertainment is more sophisticated than is the norm on river cruise ships. Forward of this room is the Matisse Terrace – a perfect vantage point by day and night.
Uniworld has fine-tuned the all-inclusive proposition to cover almost everything: from fine wines and premium beverages to exercise classes, Wi-Fi and gratuities. Most excursions are complimentary, including such treats as an organ recital in the 12th Century Viviers Cathedral.
S.S. Catherine navigates the Rhône and Saone Rivers on an 8-day ‘Burgundy & Provence’ itinerary where tradition is as deeply rooted as the grapevines on the hillsides. This cruise is perfect for foodies and wine-lovers alike. Visits are made to Lyon’s lively Les Halles food market as well as the vineyards of Tain-L’Hermitage. There are also tours to Avignon for the majestic Palace of the Popes; enchanting Arles made famous by Van Gogh; or kayaking on the tranquil Gardon River under the UNESCO-designated Pont du Gard.
What I loved
With a crew of 59 looking after 159 passengers, the personable staff seemed to pre-empt my preferences with unerring instinct. On such a cruise through one of the most seductive wine regions of France, this amiable and competent team were certainly ‘premier crew’.
Don’t miss the ‘Do as the Locals Do’ walking tour in Lyon. No one eats better than the citizens of France’s gastronomic capital. More than a century ago women opened unpretentious restaurants to feed hungry workers, and these have become Lyonnais institutions. Savour the traditional, hearty, meat-based bouchons, but leave room for the seasoned cream cheese treats – cervelle de canut.
Cruising the rivers of Europe doesn’t get much better than this, and you can savour the experience for yourself when you book a voyage through our experienced Cruise Concierge team.
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