Our delightful spring trip to France for an AMA Waterways river cruise, Spain and Provence, began with a 3-night package in Paris since we skipped Barcelona and only did the river cruise itself. We booked the Paris package with Monograms Independent Travel. Our hotel was the Radisson Blu, a beautiful hotel, very near the Opera and Galeries Lafayette department store.
Regardless of previous visits to Paris, each return always grants a new discovery. This time it was a private Monet museum located on the outskirts of Paris, the Marmottan Monet Museum. In 1966, Michel Monet, the painter’s son, bequeathed his collection of paintings, inherited from his father, to the Marmottan, making it the largest Claude Monet collection in the world. Anyone who loves Monet’s Water Lilies or has visited his home in Giverny will be enthralled by this magnificent museum housed in a fantastic private estate.
Notre Dame, Paris, France
After Paris it was on to the TGV fast train to Arles to board AMA Waterways AmaDagio. Bolstered by a lovely lunch we were ushered to our lovely cabin, spacious and very nicely appointed with comfortable beds. After unpacking for the next 7 nights we strolled around the city on our own. The following day’s shore excursion was all about Van Gogh, we saw where he lived, the hospital and asylum where he received treatment for his mental illness, and where he cut off part of his left ear. The hospital is a lovely place and filled with some of the painter’s most famous paintings, most painted during his time living in Arles.
The following morning we docked in Avignon, a gem of a town in the heart of Provence. The city is surrounded by a stone wall, built in the 14th century. From 1309 to 1376 Avignon was home to the Roman Catholic Papacy, and for those 67 years, the six popes resided in the Palais des Papes (see first photo) , a magnificent building included in our walking tour of Avignon. Our ship’s captain took us on a mini-cruise out and around the famous Benezet Bridge, of which half of the bridge collapsed in the 17th century leaving only the side connected to the city of Avignon intact. Sailing on down river, we arrived in the town of Viviers and enjoyed a “ghost walk” through the medieval town…a unique experience indeed!
AMA Waterways provided such nice surprises for us in the South of France. The following day we visited a farm that cultivated truffles. Anyone who’s read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence remembers the funny dog and his master who are the masters of finding the coveted truffles in the Luberon area. We saw how dogs are used to snuff out the truffle treasures which are planted on the roots of old oak trees. A tasting of truffle shavings and truffle oil was enjoyed by all, and quite a taste treat. Following our truffle farm we drove up to the hillside village of Grignan, where the views were splendid from the courtyard of the beautiful 16th-century Renaissance castle.
Back on the ship that afternoon we then sailed to Vienne, situated between the wine regions of Burgundy and Beaujolais. In the 9th century Vienne became the capital of Provence until being absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire during the 11th century. The Roman influence on Vienne is easily spotted during a walk through the town center. There is the Roman Theater, the second biggest in France, today home to a yearly Jazz festival, which is becoming more popular by the year thanks to the river cruise companies now including Vienne in their itineraries.
Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain
This part of our river cruise/tour turned into a living history of wines, vineyards, wineries and tastings of all kind of wines from around the Rhone Valley. After visiting Lyon, the second-largest city of France, and home to chef Paul Bocuse and his marvelous market, we traveled to the medieval village of Oingt, where we were transported back in time as we enjoyed a tour of the the vineyard and delicious wine tasting from the Pays d’ Or area of Provence.
Onboard the beautiful ship AmaDagio, every evening provided us with different entertainment, a piano player, a French singer, and a Latin singer group that was phenomenal. AMA provided a history of French wines and more wine tastings. The cuisine served up by the excellent chef and his staff was superb. Bountiful buffet breakfasts and lunches were followed each evening by a four-course “Culinary Delight” seated dinner, where wonderful regional wines were served free of charge.
I so enjoyed this river cruise. It exceeded all of my expectations and it is with great pleasure that I truly recommend AMA Waterways and their Spain and Provence itinerary to wine connoisseurs, to lovers of art and history, and to those who seek to savor the joys of true French cuisine…especially Provencal cuisine.
By Lucy Fernandez
Photos courtesy of AmaWaterways