Rhône and Saône cruises
The Rhône, gateway to the mediterranean
It does not tolerate amateurism when it comes to navigation. The Rhone, the impetuous guest at the table of monks, popes, kings and… CroisiEurope since 1995, goes back to the birth of Time.
The intoxication of the senses which it cultivates with its ancestral arts is well worth this lesson we offer for the pleasure of reading and understanding the paths of human adventure and tourism.
The Rhone, one of our four great French rivers, is an immigrant. It rises in Switzerland in the Saint Gothard massif, 1,750 m above sea level, and keeps the impetuous character of its Alpine origins.
In 1934, the "Compagnie Générale du Rhône" made plans for its development. Canals, civil engineering works at Génissat, Donzère-Mondragon... Locks at Bollène, Vallabrègues… It is a seductive and gastronomic destination in our catalogue.
Mediterranean by vocation, it takes us to the heart of our Gallo-Roman roots. But it also invites us on a veritable pilgrimage to the most famous vineyards which flourish on its banks with a foray to the north on its accomplice, the Saône.
A river with attitude
Gateway to the Mediterranean, the Rhone is a major thoroughfare. From Lyons, an important crossroads since prehistory, the valleys of the Saône, the Rhine and the Seine open the way to Europe.
The Gauls sailed down it from the north to Marseilles in thirty days. The Romans sailed up it in vessels hauled by horses. In the 19th century, steam boats plied their trade here, well before the Rhine. Its fluvial commerce has always been dense.
Our cruises criss-cross wonderful landscapes and prestigious names in the world of wine: Beaujolais and Burgundy, between Chalon and Mâcon, Côtes du Rhône near Tain l'Hermitage. Then comes the Ardèche gorge, mythical Provence and, finally, the Camargue.
Caesar opened the flood gates…
There is a very strange alliance behind the story of the Rhone valley.
That of Rome and Christianity. Two civilisations which left their mark in the towns which will be our ports of call.
Lyons, capital of the Gauls, St-Vallier where Diane de Poitiers lived. Viviers, a charming medieval and episcopal town. Avignon and the Palais des Papes rising on its rocky pinnacle. Beaucaire and its traditional, picturesque market. The walls of Tarascon and the castle of the refined King René. Arles, a rich and welcoming Provençal town. And finally Aix, the first Roman encampment, and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the refuge of Sarah, the patron saint of gypsies… It is here that the tour begins.
Well before the birth of Christ, the Romans occupied Provence.
In 50 B.C., Caesar decided to conquer Gaul. His legionaries travelled up the Rhone, hammering out the Via Agrippa with their footsteps, which was the forerunner of our main road no. 7. Conquering Vercingétorix, they left prosperous towns in their wake, constructed thermal baths, aqueducts, temples and amphitheatres. And planted wheat, vines and olive trees.
In the prosperous period of the "Pax Romana", Arles and Aix were the great political, cultural and economic capitals.
In around 300, the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity and the granting of freedom of worship were to change the course of history.
… the monks followed
Religious communities, which had maintained a timid presence, sent their monks in Caesar's footsteps. The "builders" constructed churches and abbeys, the "pontiffs" built four bridges to cross the Rhone. They cleared the land and evangelised the countryside.
The collapse of the Roman empire and the barbarian invasions, the black death and famine unleashed a wave of piety. One person in five entered a religious order, Saint Louis embarked for the crusades from Aigues-Mortes and the Church consolidated its power base.
When the Germanic Holy Roman Empire granted itself the region in 1302, the Rhone became a border. Opposing towns on both banks dug in on the hillsides. But the boatmen barely batted an eyelid. On a river free of constraints, trade flourished.
The Popes came to Avignon. This setting for the capital of Christianity simply shone. In its waters were reflected the flamboyant towers of Baroque churches, the castles of aesthete princes and cultivated bishops, the famous universities and the lights of sumptuous festivals. There was dancing beneath the arches of the St Bénézet bridge. Glasses were raised as much as chalices. Cultivated with religious care by all the monks in the land, the vine prospered on its banks which France accepted as a dowry when Louis XI inherited Provence in the 15th century.
Today, our cruises, particularly those during which presentations are given by wine specialists and wine makers, pay homage to the celebrated reputation of the vintages of the Rhone valley: Beaujolais and Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône and Côtes de Provence, not to mention the sparkling wine of Cassis.