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The Most Beautiful River Cities in the South of France

09 Feb 2018

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Ah France, it’s always high on the list isn’t it? For some it’s the beauty, some the sights and history, for many it’s the food; but it’s also got a little je ne sais quoi. It’s the kind of destination, no matter where you go, that has layered stories of romantic times gone by, friendly locals in family-run bistros, and a sense of nostalgia.

Cruising through the south of France with Uniworld this is more prominent than ever. Walled villages with bakeries that have been turning croissants for centuries, award-winning vineyards that are at once grand and understated, and regions renowned as the best in the world for their produce - lentils, truffles, butter and more.  Whether you choose a journey along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers near Bordeaux, or cruise along the Rhone and Saone through Lyon and Avignon, you’re bound to buy into the sense of nostalgia France is best known for. 

Bordeaux

Think Bordeaux and you think wine. It’s true, the region is famed for award-winning tipples, is home to the world’s best wine museum (La cite du vin) and even has its own wine council. But while cycling from vineyard to vineyard, or cruising along the Garonne and Dordogne are the main attraction, that’s not all the port city has to offer. The streets are lined with beautiful 18th and 19th century mansions, it boasts beautiful manicured gardens, the notable Musee de Beaux-Arts museum and the grand Place de la Bourse. Plus it’s also home to a healthy number of Michelin starred restaurants where you can wash that wine down with a hearty feast.

Saint-Emilion

The wine theme continues in this medieval town. In fact this was the very first vineyard region to be protected by UNESCO thanks to its history – the Romans were the first to plant grapes here. The steep cobbled streets are lined with wine shops and bakeries, there’s a stunning church with sizable subterranean chambers, and myriad other underground galleries, wine cellars, and the grotto – where St Emillion, the town’s namesake, lived for most of his life in the ninth century.

Lyon

French father of nouvelle cuisine, responsible for inventing the black truffle soup and turning food into an art form, Paul Bucose passed away last month. But while Lyon may be in mourning, France’s gastronomic capital hasn’t lost any of its charm – or flavour. The Old Town is still a maze of narrow medieval streets hugging the steep hillside, while the newer city centre is lined with elegant facades reminiscent of Paris. Bouchons – Lyon’s famed bistros – are still serving rich, hearty meals with ingredients from the surrounding regions, and the city’s quaint bars are still tip-toeing the line between sophisticated and rambunctious.


Ready to book your escape to the south of France? Uniworld cruises are now on sale

Want to know where to taste the best cuisine on a river cruise? The Best Dining on River Cruises


 

Beaune

In the heart of yet another famous French wine region – Burgundy – Beaune is a picturesque town rich in regional architectural heritage, nestled inside medieval ramparts. In the heart of the town is the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable hospital dating back to 1443, recognised by its multicoloured tile roof. It’s also the site of a now world-famous wine auction, which raises funds for the institution. Another highlight, and very French experience, is the farmer’s market. This region is famed for producing many specialty products, including cheeses, fruits and vegetables, which you can gather for an authentic picnic in the town square. There are of course meals you should try too, like Beef Bourbuignon, Coq au Vin, fondue and Lapin a la Moutarde (Rabbit in mustard sauce) all from this region. This is the south of France after all – food is at the heart of everything.

Arles

A dramatically historical town, Arles was founded by the Greeks in the sixth century BC, and was then where the Roman’s built their first bridge across the Rhone River, creating an overland route from Italy to Spain. Many of its Roman ruins have survived, including the impressive amphitheatre, still used for sporting events, and streets lined with medieval houses. The quaint town is also famed for inspiring some 200 of Van Gogh’s paintings, including the Starry Night Over the Rhone, now on display in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.

Pauillac and Medoc

Pauillac is the gateway to the Medoc peninsula and Medoc chateaux route. A tour of the peninsula takes you past multiple chateaux and picturesque villages of varied architectural styles, including Renaissance, Greek Revival and medieval. As with many regions in this part of France, it’s also renowned for its vineyards. In fact, in 1855 when Napleon III asked for the best wines in France to be classified, 60 or the 61 Medoc wines were awarded Grand Cru status – so you can expect them to be good. With Uniworld a tour of the peninsula includes a private tour and tasting of the premier Grand Cru wines, of course. 

Vicki Fletcher

An Australian writer and photographer, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, following locals to the best food in town and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up.