A (Surprising) River Cruise Through Provence
All the food, wine, flower fields, and ancient history you can handle.
Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.
Unless you’re a person who’s opposed to beauty/amazing food in general, we all know a trip through Provence is bound to make just about anyone happy. The lavender fields, bright yellow sunflowers, and beautiful towns laden with some of the country’s best food are an easy sell, after all.
Recently, however, I discovered something that surprised me: Provence is darn near perfect if you also happen to be an ancient history geek.
I was looking at possible river cruises to take in France (an idea I’ve been toying with for awhile), and was blown away by the opportunities to see ancient history. AMA Waterways’ seven day “Colors of Provence” cruise, for example, hits up an astonishing number of Roman architectural wonders, all while exposing you to one of France’s most beautiful and celebrated culinary regions.
Here are some highlights of AMA’s Rhône River itinerary on the AmaCello, each one of which seems to outdo the sight before it. With a tour through Provence, you can have your cake (macarons, cheese, etc.) and eat your Roman history, too. (Let’s just agree that analogy is close enough, OK?).
The Food & Wine
If you love to eat and drink, Provence is where you want to be. Not only does the cruise stop in many towns famous for their food and vineyards, but it also offers you the chance to get involved in the process, and (literally) get your hands dirty. How about digging for black truffles with an expert forager and his dog, then enjoying your spoils over lunch? Or learning a most essential skill, the pairing of red wines with chocolate? In addition to the boat’s award-winning food, there are also plenty of opportunities to sample local delicacies like macarons, cheese, and tapenades in places like Avignon, so arrive with your appetite primed.
This trip also takes you through Beaujolais, one of France’s prettiest wine regions and an ideal place to imbibe.
If you’d like to get your sweat on before partaking in the drink, there’s a hike offered through the vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage, which finishes with a stop at a winery to sample their work.
Honestly, almost everything I’ll mention in this blog post is worthy of a photograph, but there are a few stops on this cruise that seem especially exciting for those with a passion for photography. Take Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum, for example, where Van Gogh spent time living and painting. It’s so darn gorgeous I wouldn’t mind living there myself for awhile!
There’s also Camargue National Park, one of Europe’s major wetlands and an area that includes a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. The area is famous for its elegant white horses, but also who knew you could go to France to see lagoons full of flamingos?!
OK, this is where I go full-fledged nerd. With so many famous sites in Italy, it’s easy to forget that the Roman empire spread across much of Europe at its height, including France (then known as Gaul). The southern part of the country is especially rich with ruins, and AMA’s cruise gets you to some of the best. Take the Augustus and Livia Temple in Vienne, for example; the best preserved of all the monuments in this area, it was dedicated at the end of the 1st century BCE to Augustus, then dedicated again to Livia in AD 41. A brief glance at this photo and the last place you’d expect it to be taken is France, no?
In Avignon, there’s the famous Pont de Gard, which is probably my favorite of all Roman structures in France; at 155 feet high, it was the tallest bridge in the ancient world, and the grandest part of an aqueduct that once carried water 31 miles from Uzès to Nîmes.
Once a thriving Roman outpost and later a major source of artistic inspiration for Van Gogh, Arles is another big highlight on the itinerary. It’s home to an amphitheatre that was built in 90 AD and was inspired by Rome’s Coliseum; it had the capacity for 20,000 citizens, who were there to be entertained by spectacles like brutal gladiatorial battles and chariot races.
Of course, the history doesn’t just have to be ancient to intrigue me—there’s plenty that’s practically ancient, too.
In this area, AMA offers an option to visit Grignan, a charming-as-all-get-out medieval village atop a small hill. It’s the kind of old-world place that’ll make you feel as though you’ve genuinely time traveled, and its château is a golden beauty.
If you’re in the mood for more magical hilltop villages (as I will always and forever be), then Les Baux de Provence is next. Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France, it’s on a site that’s been occupied since prehistoric times.
Or, if you’re interested in seeing something that’s old and super intimidating, you should opt for the Aigues-Mortes! It’s a seriously impressive walled Medieval town that remains in pristine condition, and is considered one of the finest examples of 13th century military architecture in all of Europe.
See? Something for everyone, from macaron-lovers to military buffs.