Of all the rivers of France, the Rhône is rivaled only by the Loire in its diversity of offerings for visitors. Starting life as a glacier in the Swiss Alps, the Rhône gives water to Geneva’s Lac Leman before plunging into France where it picks up the Saone tributary in Lyon. From there, the Rhône turns south through the mountainous wine regions surrounding Vienne and Tain-Hermitage before its valley spreads out again north of the grand old walled city of Avignon. Finally, as it reaches the still-somewhat-wild Carmargue estuary, it splits in two, forming the Grand Rhône in the east and the Petit Rhône in the west before lazily sliding into the Mediterranean, its mighty roar ending with a contented sigh.
It is a river valley of great food – need more be said than the word “Lyon”? – and of equally great wines. Its Saone tributary drains the hills of Burgundy, while the Rhône’s own banks kiss the vineyards of Côte Rotie, Condrieu, Château Grillet, Hermitage, and Châteauneuf du Pape.
It is also a river valley that is home to both classical architecture – it likely has more Roman ruins than Rome itself – and such stunning new buildings as Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Musée des Confluences in Lyon. Its landscape is equally varied, as it flows past cow pastures, jagged mountains topped by crumbling castles, and, finally, salt marshes abuzz with mosquitoes.
The best way to see the river and the valley is, unsurprisingly, from the river itself. Recently, I was a guest of Atout France, Air France, and CroisiEurope, the Alsace-based cruise company that is Europe’s largest, to spend a week aboard the newly outfitted and fittingly named Camargue. Snapped in between long meals on board, vineyard visits and strolls down innumerable small village streets, here is my photo notebook.