With its cherished culture, historic landmarks and glorious countryside, France is a near legendary vacation destination that elevates the heart, mind and senses of travelers. And what better means to experience such a nation than by river cruising. More intimate than a typical riverboat, river cruises combine the flexible engagement, activity and variety of land-based travel with the comfort and relaxation of an ocean cruise.
With the Rhône and Saône Rivers in the southeast, the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers in the southwest and the Seine River near the northern coast, you’ll have the means and the locations to explore different aspects of France. Here are a few characteristics of these locations and the most relevant river cruise line for sailing them.
The Seine River
With its source in the wine-crafted regions of Burgundy, the Seine flows 482 miles north into the English Channel. Along the way, explore the sumptuous beauty of Paris, known for the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. You can also take an excursion to Auvers-Sur-Oise, the town that artist Vincent Van Gogh called home and where he spent the final highly productive months of his life. Near the mouth of the Seine, you’ll find the historic Normandy Beaches — where Allied troops fought bravely to turn the tide of World War II. Their sacrifice is honored further at Normandy’s American Military Cemetery.
Leading you on this journey of the Seine, you can sail upon Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways, Tauck, Uniworld or Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.
The Dordogne River
Derived from the Celtic words “du unna” meaning fast waters, the Dordogne is sourced from high on the Puy de Sancy of the mountainous Auvergne region of Southcentral France. It flows across five departments, or provinces, before joining the Garonne River to form the Gironde estuary. The Dordogne and its watershed were designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in July of 2012. With picturesque towns, fantastic vineyards and shimmering waters, the Dordogne makes an amazing location for kayaking and canoeing. There’s the beautiful La Roque-Gageac; an old-world village aligned upon a cliff overlooking the river. Or consider visiting Beynac-et-Cazenac, another medieval village that’s just as stunning as La Roque-Gageac, with structures built into the cliffside and complimented by the river’s serenity.
Cruise lines experienced in this region include: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Viking River Cruises, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and AmaWaterways.
The Garonne River
Forming the second half of the Gironde estuary, the Garonne is considered the most important river of Southwestern France. It flows 357 miles, formed by two headstreams in the Maladeta Massif, mountainous mass, in the Aragon region of Northeast Spain. The Garonne flows between the wine-growing Entre-deux-Mers peninsula to the east and the Médoc coastal strip to the west, uniting with the Dordogne 16 miles north of Bordeaux, an area of wines and cultural treasures. For example, the Chateau d’Agassac, set in the Medoc countryside, is one of the oldest winemaking institutions in the region dating back to the 13thcentury. It’s also a setting for live concerts of classical music.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Viking River Cruises, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and AmaWaterways will sail you through this astonishing region.
The Rhône River
Flowing 505 miles from a glacier in the mountains of Switzerland into the warm waters of the Mediterranean, the Rhône River is the pulse that grants vitality to the cultures and ecology of Southeastern France. As the Garonne feeds the vineyards of Bordeaux, the Rhône laces through the wine country of Burgundy and Provence. The river was also a means to trade for Western civilizations dating back to the times of the Greeks and Romans. Highlights for this ancient river include the city of Lyon, renown for its Renaissance architecture, cuisine and Roman ruins. While sailing from Lyon to the twin cities of Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage, regard fields of vivid lavender before observing Tournon’s 16th-century castle. Avignon is another town of historical significance on the Rhône, with its Palais des Papes, the 14thcentury residence of nine papal conclaves; and Le Pont d’Avignon, a 12thcentury medieval bridge, which collapsed mid-way in the 17thcentury due to river flooding.
Cruise lines that sail through this area include Avalon Waterways, Tauck, Viking or Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.
The Saône River
This river rises at an altitude of almost 1,300 feet near Vioménil, emerging southwest of Épinal in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France. It then flows for 300 miles before joining the Rhône River at Lyon, France’s culinary epicenter, a city of gastronomic pleasures. The 233-mile navigable portion of the Saône is almost entirely “canalized” with 30 locks; these canals link the river with other rivers such as the Seine, Rhine and Marne. Cruise ships sail both the Rhône and Saône Rivers, sharing itineraries into picturesque Burgundy and Beaujolais — exceptional wine regions.
Cruise lines that sail the Saône include Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways and Tauck.
Learn more about river cruises in France here.