Emerald Waterways Southern France Review
After spending the last five years building and developing our RiverCruising.co.uk brand I felt it was time to brush aside those 1 and 2 day river ship visits and take the plunge. Yes, this is the time to book a river cruising holiday for my wife and myself.
Attracted by the romance, the food and the wine of the South of France we decided on Emerald Waterways and their new ship Emerald Liberte. The itinerary was aptly named Emerald Waterways Sensations of Southern France.
That was it, the deed was done, we were booked and looking forward to our first river cruise holiday.
Flying into Lyon the transfer from the airport to the ship was 30 minutes and we were greeted by the cruise director Andreaa. She was fabulous throughout the cruise, had a great sense of humour and was extremely popular with the guests.
One of the destinations we were due to visit was Chalon-sur-Saône but due to a French bank holiday, no one was prepared to operate the lock so we had to stay in Macon overnight. Because both towns are quite close, Emerald were able to operate the excursions and it didn't have too much impact on our holiday.
You just never know what can happen on the rivers, but I can tell you there are worse places to stay overnight and it's all part of the adventure.
Our next challenge after leaving Macon on the Saône river was to sail back to Lyon and onto the river Rhone towards Tournon, our next stop.
In between the stops along the river, I have to tell you just how good the food and service is onboard the ship. Having spent 30 years in the travel industry and being fortunate enough to have been wined and dined in some of the most iconic restaurants on land and at sea, Emerald Liberte had something to prove, or so I thought. I need not have worried because the food was of the highest standard as you can see from the photos I have displayed here.
Each day breakfast is served until 9.30am, lunch is from 12.30 till 2pm, afternoon tea is at 4pm before dinner which is served at 7pm. Wine, beer and soft drinks at meal times are included in the fare, but there is an option to purchase drinks packages. We opted for the Emerald premium package at only €19.90 a day. This is great value when you consider a couple (or three) Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics, a couple pints of Guinness and a few glasses of Prosecco. There’ve also a fab choice of wines on board which can be consumed in the sun up on deck or whilst relaxing in the horizon lounge.
In Tournon Emerald Waterways offer a fabulous bike tour for the more active guests. It's entirely flat and the best way of seeing the surrounding villages and countryside out in the fresh air. However, if you’d rather do your own thing, you can take the bikes ashore yourself, something we decided to do. We found a local Patisserie to relax and charge up our energy levels before taking a leisurely cycle back to ship.
There's absolutely no queuing when on a river cruising holiday because there's only, on average, 150 guests on board. There is no rush to get off because you’re worried about having to queue or to take a shuttle bus to the nearest town and then feel obliged to stay out for the day because it's a hassle getting back on and off. The ships berth very close to or right beside the heart of the towns, villages & cities. You therefore have so many options in how to plan your day!
After breakfast each day we would sit in the lounge and have a coffee, catch up on what's happening in the world, talk about yesterday's adventures and then eventually get off for a stroll. Nip back for a spot of lunch, have a lazy hour and then go back out for some shopping or a drink in a local bar or cafe before making our way back to the ship to depart for the next destination.
Day five and we are in Avignon. What a beautiful vibrant town this is and very clean. No visit here is complete without the obligatory photos of the 1177 built Pont d'Avignon. Ladies take note, this is a fabulous shopping stop! Fella's there's plenty of cafes and bars!
Normally there is a late evening / early hours departure from Avignon and this is perfect because the main square has a plethora of French cafes in and around the Hotel de Ville. It's as French as it gets and if you are out for the evening, then I highly recommend the 5 minute walk back into town.
This Sensations of Southern France itinerary is perfect for those who are less mobile because everywhere we have been has been flat. There are some excursions that will not be appropriate but in terms of the cruise, it has the RiverCuising.co.uk "everywhere is flat" seal of approval. The most steps we had to climb was when our ship berthed alongside another, and to get off the ship, we had to take the stairs up to sun deck, walk across the neighbouring ship and back down a flight of stairs.
What is the dress code on a river cruise? This is probably the most asked question and I can tell you that I packed 4 collared shirts for this cruise, 1 pair of trousers and 2 pairs of jeans.
I only wore two of the shirts, 1st and last night and switched between smart jeans and trousers each evening. I packed 1 pair of shoes a pair of trainers and slip on moccasins. It really is smart yet relaxed holidaying at its best. It is a very comfortable environment with no one competing for "best dressed" every night. My wife packed far too many high heeled shoes - yet forgot her trainers! The result....we went shopping!!
Our last day and an overnight stay is Arles. A beautiful little town with fabulous boutique shops, cafes and one day a week - a local market which is extremely popular and only a 10 minute walk from the ship which is a bonus. The market is normally on a Saturday but best to check with your cruise director or better still, the captain.
If you are prepared to explore the side streets in Arles you will find some little gems. Small bars in alleys and courtyards, a fabulous Japanese and sushi restaurant - not exactly French I know, but amazing and highly recommended by locals none the less.
If the weather isn't too great, Emerald Waterways have their own little gem – (briefly mentioned earlier) a swimming pool. Not just any swimming pool, but an indoor swimming pool with retractable roof for when the sun is shining. PLUS, the area converts into a cinema by night.
We really enjoyed our voyage on the Saône and the Rhone and particularly the regional wines served each evening at dinner. The option to overnight in Lyon is also appealing as is the opportunity for non-flyers to use the rail links from Lyon and Avignon to St Pancras.
Do I need a step-out balcony on a river cruise? The answer in a definite no. My opinion is that you lose space in your cabin (in most cases) in order to make an outdoor balcony. Emerald Waterways (and other leading operators) now feature ‘split windows’ - an innovative French-balcony system, whereby the top glass of the window comes down to create an innovative balcony space – essentially, bringing the outdoors in.
See video below.
If you want to know more about Emerald Waterways, view our Emerald Waterways River Cruises online!