River cruising is probably the most relaxing way to travel: you board your boat, and for the duration of the cruise, all you have to think about is food, sightseeing and simply kicking back and relaxing. Heaven. I’ve experienced both ocean and river cruises, and often find river cruising more intimate and more relaxing. So I was delighted when CroisiEurope invited me on their Rhône River cruise, sailing from Avignon in Provence, to Lyon, the French gastronomic capital.
CroisiEurope is a French-owned family company that has been in operation since 1976. Based in Strasbourg, the cruise line now operates in 38 countries across the world, offering 110 itineraries, both river and ocean cruising, from its 55 boats. Of these, 25 vessels are based in France for cruising on the Seine, the Loire, the Dordogne, the Rhône and the Rhine.
Increasingly, discerning cruisers are seeking larger cabins, more storage, and larger balconies, all of which I noticed our ship, the elegant MS Van Gogh, provided. We had arrived at Marseille airport that afternoon, caught our taxi, and in just under an hour, we were aboard our floating home for the next three nights. The 110 metre-long Van Gogh, capable of accommodating 150 guests in 54 cabins, was moored a stone’s throw from the famous Pont d’Avignon. We were met by the crew at the gangplank, and our luggage was taken speedily to our cabins by the efficient and welcoming staff.
MS Van Gogh cabins
My cabin on MS Van Gogh was tastefully decorated, relaxing and cosy. Floor-to-ceiling French windows allowed in plenty of light, as well as a superb river view. Spacious, clean and with very generous storage, I particularly loved my comfortable king-sized bed and the en-suite power shower and toilet plus amenities. In addition, a TV screen was suspended from the ceiling offering international and French channels, but most of us eschewed the tube in favour of socialising with our fellow voyagers.
We were soon called for welcome drinks with our dashing Captain Elvis Nicolas and crew in the comfortable lounge area. It was very well laid out with cosy sofas and tables, a bar, dance floor and DJ booth, perfect for couples and groups. Our cruise director Anis set the relaxed tone with his humour-filled, yet informative presentation, which was very much appreciated by the mainly French guests, a few Aussies, Americans, Malaysians, and us Brits. Couples and groups of friends were the main demographic.
CroisiEurope food and drink
CroisiEurope has an all-inclusive policy which guests on our cruise very much appreciated. This means you only pay for alcohol that’s not on the special menu. Deciding on a local beer and Côtes de Rhône wine, our group enjoyed the superb service from our friendly and efficient bar stewards Angelika and Gabriella.
Food is an integral part of any river cruise, and I’m happy to report that the cuisine on the Ms Van Gogh was superb and beautifully presented. Chef Samuel Garcia has created a menu that appeals to all palates and caters very well to vegetarians like myself. Whilst my companions tucked into steak and chicken, I enjoyed a superb cheese tartlette with salad greens, carrots and quinoa. The desert was always excellent too – a mix of sorbets, gateaux, and a superb baked Alaska on our gala evening dinner.
CroisiEurope has an eclectic wine list from across the French wine-growing regions to match its seasonal dinners. We enjoyed two superb reds, namely Côtes de Rhône Village Laudun from the Domaine de Rabusas, as well as a Terroirs de Cevennes. Whites included a Chardonnay Moulinier, an Alsace variety from Maison Petterman and Moulin de Gassac, while rosé was well represented by a Syrah and a Mas des Cygales from the Herault. Most of the French wine regions are available. Just ask for the list.