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River Cruises in the South of France

Itineraries from Viking and Uniworld

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ABOVE: The MS Maribelle in Chalon-Sur-Saône, France before a southbound voyage to Arles and Avignon. INSET BELOW: Beaujolais vineyards, MS Maribelle in a lock and Uniworld's River Royale.

What do you do after you've cruised the Rhine and the Danube, or if you want to cruise in a region where you can practice your high-school French? My advice: Take a river cruise on the Rhône and Saône in the sunny, scenic South of France.

Two cruise lines--Viking River Cruises and Uniworld--offer Rhône and Saône cruises for English-speaking travelers from spring through fall. Their itineraries vary slightly, but--at a minimum--you'll visit the former silk capital and present-day gastronomic mecca of Lyon, Avignon with its Papal Palace, and Arles, with its Roman amphitheatre and Van Gogh landmarks.

You'll also travel through river locks and have the chance to visit such places as Beaune (Burgundy's wine capital), the Pont du Gard aqueduct, and medieval villages such as Uze and Les Baux. See my detailed MS Maribelle cruise review and photo gallery to learn about a typical Rhône-Saône cruise.

Here's what to expect from Viking, Peter Deilmann, and Uniworld when you book a river cruise in Southern France:

Viking River Cruises

photoViking has two ships on the Rhône and Saône: the MS Maribelle, which caters to the English-speaking market, and the Viking Rhone, which is geared to Germans and other Europeans. (On my MS Maribelle voyage, most of the cruisers were American, but a pair of English ladies were on board.)

The MS Maribelle's 7-night cruises run from Chalon-sur-Saône to Arles and Avignon or vice versa, depending on the departure date. The itinerary includes excursions to Beaune (with a visit to the medieval Hôtel-Dieu hospital) and various local tours. My son and I enjoyed our cruise aboard the MS Maribelle, and I wouldn't hesitate to cruise with Viking again.

For more more information, see the Viking River Cruises Web site.

Uniworld Grand River Cruises

photoUniworld's River Royale has seven-night cruises from Arles to Chalon-sur-Saône or vice versa, depending on the departure week. The ship offers a Jacuzzi, a fitness center, and optional Internet access (with Wi-Fi connections for laptops).

Most shore excursions from the River Royale are included in the fare, but there are some optional tours, such as a half-day excursion to Beaune or a visit to the Pont du Gard aqueduct.

For more information, visit the Uniworld Grand River Cruises Web site.

Land packages and cruise combos

Often, you can book land tours in combination with river cruises, and some lines offer combination cruises at a package price.For details on such packages, see the cruise lines' Web sites.

River Royale photo © Uniworld.