Viking River Cruise: Lyon & Provence

Because our first Viking River Cruise (Paris to Normandy) was so enjoyable, we decided to try another one, and to see a part of France that we had driven through, but to see it more leisurely as we travel north on the Le Rhône River (See Viking River Cruises for more details).

Our goal was to see a different area of France, and hopefully have the same great river cruise experience we had on our River Seine Viking River Cruise.

Trip Beginnings/Planning

As Viking had "sweetened their trip price offer" to the point where we could no longer ignore it, we decided to go for it. Perhaps because the airfare component of the trip was "free", it turned out to be a bit different than we were used to (see below). Go here to view Viking's information on this cruise.

The steps to get to the Viking Ship were as follows;

Summary: We decided to "take" the Viking free air fare even though it placed us into economy seating. Yes, that is a very uncomfortable way to travel anywhere and we would never do this kind of thing again! If your tolerance level for uncomfortable airplane seating can be overcome by "no cost tickets", then perhaps your experience(s) might be different than ours.

Upon arrival in Marseilles, we collected our luggage and met the Viking River Cruises representative, who got us onto their bus, and took us to Avignon, France where we boarded the Viking Heimdal, our home for the next week.

This is a relatively new ship for Viking, it was built in Avignon and launched in March 2014. At 443 feet in length, it is longer than our first Viking trip (the Viking Spirit) in 2014 (that ship is 375 feet long).

Day One: Avignon, France    Map

Avignon & the Papal Palace

This is an interesting city, still surrounded by massive stone walls and containing the "home of the popes" during the period 1309–77 when the popes took up residence here, instead of at Rome, primarily because of the political conditions during that time.
Please click here to view our Avignon Page.

Arles, France    Map

Day Trip to Arles

Click here to view our day trip tour to Arles.

Day 3: Day Trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape    Map

Day Trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Click here to view our day trip tour to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and read about our wine tasting experience.

Day 4 Tournon-sur-Rhône    Map

Écluse de Caderousse Locks

These locks are located on the Rhône River (24 kilometers north of Avignon), and as you can easily see, the limited height inside the lock is the primary reason why the River Cruise Ships on the Rhône have to leave the sun deck in the collapsed position. On our River Seine Viking Cruise the previous year, all of the locks were open at the top, so the ships could always leave their sun decks in the upright position during the entire cruise.
Our ship passed through these locks on the way to Tournon-sur-Rhône. Click here for a really good Google Image of the River and the locks.

Marc Seguin Bridge

This suspension bridge was built in 1847 to connect Tournon to the Hermitage side of the Rhône River. This bridge is now limited to pedestrian usage. Please note that this is not the original bridge, as it was rebuilt at some point.

War Memorial at the base of the Castle

This war memorial attached to the castle lists those who died serving in WWI.

Tournon-sur-Rhône Castle

Celeste and I hiked around Tournon-sur-Rhône, to see as much of the village as we could. This castle was originally constructed starting in the tenth century, but what remains today dates from the 15th century and is now a Museum named "Chateau-Musee de Tournon-sur-Rhône".

Saint-Julien church of Tournon-sur-Rhône

Gives you some idea of the age of this village doesn't it? This church was initially constructed starting in 1300.

The Viking Heimdal arrived in Tournon at 1PM. This was the longest leg of the cruise, as it is approximately 150 kilometers from Avignon to Tournon.

There were two tours today, one to the Tain l'Hermitage for another wine tasting, and the second option was to take a steam train near Saint-Jean-de-Muzols (Train de l'Ardèche) into the Ardeche Mountains. We decided to take the train tour, as it is a very old steam locomotive, and the train would be going through the mountains, with steep gorges and beautiful views.

The steam locomotive was built in 1903, and the cars we rode in were from the same era, so it felt like we had entered a time machine! Seat comfort was not a "design goal" in that era, wooden bench seating with no pads.

The Chemin de fer du Vivarais (CFV) - often called Le Mastrou or Train de l'Ardèche - is a tourist railway in the Ardèche region of the South of France. The metre gauge line is 33 kilometres (21 mi) long. The railway is renowned for its historical steam locomotives in Mallet articulated locomotive style, as well as a collection of historic rolling stock and diesel railcars.

The line runs between Tournon, in the Rhône Valley, and Lamastre in the Doux valley. From Lamastre, the original line ran a further 19 kilometres (12 mi) to Le Cheylard. Originally opened on 12 July 1891, the line closed on 31 October 1968, and reopened as a heritage line the following year. In 2008, heritage services were suspended due to lack of funds to repair steam locomotives, among other issues. In 2013, steam returned to the Vivarais and services were resumed.

Train de l'Ardèche Steam Train

We had decided to take the 4 hour tour on the Steam Train, because it seemed as though it would be fun and it was located in a very scenic part of the mountains near Tournon. Viking arranged it all, and took everyone by bus to the train station where a sufficient number of train cars had to be positioned in order to carry our large tour group.
The bus ride was brief, as the train station is only 5 kilometers from Tournon-sur-Rhône.

Waiting for the Train

And so we hung out for a few minutes, until the train cars were ready for us. Did I mention that it was cold that day?

Overlooking the Gorges du Doux

As the train went up the mountain, it looped back and forth over the River Doux below. The entire area the train traversed was geographically interesting. The Doux Valley, is a conservation area where panoramic views appear around every turn!

There were a lot of Bridges

Some additional views of the many bridges that were built to carry the train up the mountain.
There are no roads in this entire area because it is a conservation zone, so all of these bridges were for the railroad.

Everyone off the Train!

Everyone had to get off the train, so that the engine could move onto the turnstile to prepare for the return trip. Did I mention that it was cold that day?

Some Videos of the Locomotive Positioning

Click the "Play Button" on any video & then once the video has started, you can make it "full screen" by clicking the square in the lower right corner of any video.

Locomotive Turnstile

The turnstile operation drew everyone's attention! The locomotive was repositioned much quicker than I would have thought possible.

Once at the top of the gorge, everyone got off the train, the locomotive was decoupled from the cars and driven onto a turnstile, where the engineer swung the engine around and then he drove it back to the front of the passenger cars and re-coupled for the drive back down the gorge.

Day 5 Vienne, France    Map

City of Vienne

The ship departed Tournon at 7PM on day 4, set to arrive in Vienne at midnight. It is Easter Sunday, and it is not only chilly outside this morning, but most things are closed here in Vienne. The ship is docked on the west side of the River Rhône, and to get to the other side, we hiked over a pedestrian bridge.
Click here to view our Vienne Page.

 Quick History Lesson 

Note that Vienne became a Roman colony in 47 B.C. under Julius Ceasar, who forced the Allobroges tribe to vacate. That tribe then founded the city of Lyon. As a Roman Colony, Vienne became a major urban center, ideally located along the Rhône, then a major axis of communication.

The above information was extracted from Wikipedia

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Day 6 Lyon, France   Map

The ship arrives in Lyon at 3PM, and we initially tied up at the Quai Claude Bernard - the eastern side of the Rhône River. This is a very scenic location, adjacent to the Université Lumière Lyon and only 2.2 kilometers from the Place des Terreaux.

The Rhône River splits away from the Saône River at the southern tip of the Lyon City Peninsula and swings east on the north side of Lyon. The Saône River continues it's northward march to Vioménil, France. We were told by Viking personnel, that the Saône River was too high to allow the Viking Heimdal to proceed to it's usual location.

Since the city tour we are interested in takes place on day 7 (Tuesday), we decided to go ahead and do our "own" walking tour and so we head off to Place Bellecour, and tramp around the Rue de Victor Hugo and Rue de la Charite. The goal was to see some of the city, walk off some of the good food being served on the Heimdal, and to earn our next meal!

Day 6 Tour from Lyon to Perouges, France   Map

Perouges France

Perouges is another of those amazing medieval walled & cobblestoned little villages that are all over Europe, but each is just different enough, to where it is always interesting to visit them. It is a medieval walled town 19 miles northeast of Lyon and is perched on a small hill that overlooks the plain of the Ain River.
Please click here to view our Perouges Page.

Day 7 Lyon, France   Map

As this was the last day, we did quite a bit of exploring, click here to view our Lyon Page.

Day 8 Cruise Departure Day

This was our "departure day" and we woke up that morning to discover that not only had the French Air Traffic Controllers gone on strike sometime during the night, we also found to our horror, that the strike had caused many domestic flights to be cancelled. Including our Lyon to Paris flight, that was due to depart Lyon at 1PM.

I'm not going to fully describe this part of the trip, suffice it to say that we eventually were able to get a semblance of normality restored, and we finally got back to Sarasota at 1:45AM. If it had not been for some very, very nice Air France personnel at the Lyon Airport, we would probably still be in Lyon today!

Trip Summary

This was our second Viking River Cruise, and it is difficult to compare it to our 2014 River Seine cruise. The stops we made on this cruise were very good, however, the River locks are frequent and are quite low compared to the River Seine lock systems. The River bridges are also quite low, which meant that the sun-deck area was never open throughout the entire cruise. Considering how chilly it frequently was, the sun-deck would probably have not been utilized often. As just an example, average temperatures for Lyon, France are in the mid to lower 50's (farenheit).

The wine on this ship was as good as the River Seine cruise, but the food was not quite as good. It is difficult to put the food into perspective, it was well prepared, it was good quality, but it was not as enjoyable as what we had on the previous cruise. Bear in mind that it was not "bad", it was just not as good when you compare the two ships, perhaps due to the chef?

Viking changes various parameters of this cruise from time to time, so you should Click here to go the Viking Site and read about this cruise in more detail.

 River Cruises Pro & Con 

Please click here to read our perspective on Viking River Cruises. Many of these perspectives and/or opinions will be applicable to other Cruise Companies as well.

  • The Viking Lyon & Provence Cruise Overview & Guide Our Viking River Cruise from Marseilles to Lyon, north on the Rhône River with various ports of call, click here to read more.

  • Avignon, France The first stop as we head up the Rhône River, click here to read more.

  • Arles, France The town of Arles is a community situated in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the south eastern area of France. click here to read more.

  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France While docked in Avignon, Viking organized an afternoon tour to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region, known in France as one of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) regions. click here to read more.

  • Tournon-sur-Rhône, France The Viking Heimdal cast off at 4AM to continue north on the River Rhône, to Tournon - set to arrive at 1PM. This was the longest leg of the cruise, it is approximately 150 kilometers from Avignon to Tournon. click here to read more.

  • Vienne, France Vienne is a commune in southeastern France, located 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Lyon, on the river Rhône. It is only the fourth largest city in the Isère department, of which it is a sub-prefecture, but was a major center of the Roman Empire. click here to read more.

  • Lyon, France The ship arrives in Lyon at 3PM, and we initially tied up at the Quai Claude Bernard - the eastern side of the Rhône River. This is a very scenic location, adjacent to the Université Lumière Lyon and only 2.2 kilometers from the Place des Terreaux. click here to read more.

  • Perouges, France The optional free bus tour to Perouges departs at 2PM today, and we drive through some really beautiful countryside on the way there. The La Dombes district is where fish are raised in a series of 1,200 ponds. Click here to read more.

  • Our Thoughts on Viking River Cruises Our perspective on Viking River Cruises, plus a few pros & cons to consider. Click here to read more.


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