Ahhh, spring in southern France: The temperature is pleasant, the throng of summer tourists has not yet arrived and the sun-drenched vineyards, bucolic countryside and charming towns and villages ooze romance. My wife and I are journeying aboard Emerald Waterways stunning new Star-Ship Liberté, on an eight-day Rhone River cruise through beautiful Provence.

With many river-cruise companies, a variety of itineraries and destinations to choose from, and the romance of Provence in mind, we chose Emerald Waterway’s Sensations of Southern France. Rivers were once the commercial and cultural lifeblood of Europe, now they offer a unique way to discover a country. Traveling slowly north from Arles to Lyon, we savor the pastoral charm and history of Provence, as the Liberté cuts a course through lavender fields and vineyards.

Our ship, Liberté, offers amenities that one might expect in a world-class hotel. Stylish and cutting-edge innovations include a pool with a retractable roof that converts into a cinema at night and a drop-down glass balcony window in the suites, offering a panoramic view of the passing countryside.

Bicycles are available for use by cruising guests.

Stay active aboard a Rhone River cruise with Emerald Waterways’ EmeraldActive program. Bicycles and helmets are carried aboard for use by guests on guided and on-own tours. (Credit: James Ross)

Emerald targets active boomers

This is my first cruise of any kind, and I find the pace, intimacy and delightful setting to be very agreeable. But while I had thought of a cruise as a staid type of vacation, imagining myself on a slow, relaxing, romantic journey up the Rhone, my wife had envisioned adventure and activity around each river bend. I am to discover that these days a river cruise is only as restful as you, (or your spouse), would like it to be.

Shore excursions and touring options continue to diversify, and wellness choices, both onboard and ashore, are evolving with the 50-plus, fitness-conscious generation in mind.

Shore excursions and touring options continue to diversify, and wellness choices, both onboard and ashore, are evolving with the 50-plus, fitness-conscious generation in mind. River cruise ships are chasing a slightly wider demographic by offering more active pursuits. Following this trend, Emerald Waterways has instituted EmeraldActive, a selection of onboard activities to keep you moving during those days on the water as well as with adventures on shore, such as vigorous hikes and canoeing experiences. The Liberté carries bikes and helmets onboard for guided cycling tours or personal use.

Emerald’s onboard Activity Manager organizes a range of classes from yoga and Pilates to aqua aerobics or participating in Nintendo Wii activities. The pool, gym, putting green and walking track on the upper deck are more suitable options for me, especially when I can walk across the track with a glass of champagne in hand to watch the Rhone River glide past.

As per my wife’s personal river-cruising itinerary, we take advantage of every vigorous adventure offered, biking and hiking through the region’s medieval towns and picturesque vineyards. With ease we hop on and off the ship, sometimes joining engaging walking tours through the Provençal villages. Other times, we set off on our own strolling through warrens of narrow cobblestone streets and alleys. Each day brings a new, magical experience.

Passengers ccan visit the Arles Coliseum while enjoying an Emerald Waterways Rhone River cruise.

The Arles Coliseum, built by the Romans, is one of many ancient sites along the Rhone River.

Touring ancient sites

In Arles, we step back in time with a visit to the perfectly preserved, 2,000-year-old Roman Colosseum, built to hold 20,000 spectators. By foot, bike and bus we explore the medieval village of Perouges (filming location for the Three Musketeers), Les Baux-de-Provence (an ancient village built into the desolate craggy cliffs of Val d’Enfer), the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, the Bridge of Avignon, and the famed Hospices de Beaune.

We work up a sweat trekking up the precipitous stone steps to the top of the 48-metre-high Pont du Gard aqueduct. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s tallest aqueduct-bridge is an engineering feat, a technical masterpiece built by the Romans when Rome controlled what is now southern France.

When the Liberté docks in the heart of the beguiling towns of Macon, Chalon-Sur Saone and Tournon, my energetic spouse signs us up for a hike through Tournon’s steep-terraced vineyards. Our reward for ascending the slopes of La Massif Central, we look down on the town’s 16th-century castle and Roman ruins.

Another stop on a Rhone River cruise

Balance cruising ease with a workout climbing the steps of the Pont du Gard Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Finding balance on a Rhone River cruise

After morning walking tours, we take breaks in the shaded terraces of cafés to nibble on pastries and drink coffee, or to enjoy a lazy lunch in a quiet brasserie, sipping the exquisite wines of Beaujolais and Burgundy while people-watching. Sleepy village squares come to life as vibrant bazaars, where vendors sell art, jewelry, woodwork, lavender and olive oil.

On spirited outings, we peddle along the banks of the Rhone to the village of Glun or set off on a lively stroll through the fortified streets of Avignon. We balance this activity with wine lectures, olive tastings and delicious Provençal dinners on board.

I am to find out that the evening is no time for rest. It is rather a time for dancing in the lounge to live music.

There's a putting green aboard Emerald Waterways Star Ship Liberte

Passengers can putt while cruising with Emerald Waterways. (Credit: Emerald Waterways)

Lyon farewell

The end-port on our Rhone River cruise is the former Roman capital of Lyon, now France’s third largest city, positioned at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. After a cycle tour, we climb to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, Lyon’s hilltop church, and enjoy stunning views over the town. Lyon also is considered the world’s gastronomic capital, so after our exercise, we visit the city’s old town to explore the shops and sample cheeses and fresh baguettes.

We join others in the lounge after our final dinner for the cruise’s farewell. The dancing that started as a small group activity at the outset of the trip now involves most of the passengers as well as many of the crew, resulting in a conga line snaking around the busy salon.

The secret of an Emerald Waterways Rhone River cruise revealed

Did we get in better shape with all of the exercise? Well, no, we also drank wine and ate very well. River cruising is becoming even more popular because of the new active itineraries being offered, which juxtapose nicely with the unhurried pace of life onboard.

Finding the right balance is the secret. At the end of each energetic day as the ship sailed from port, I retreated to our stateroom balcony, with a glass of local wine, and literally watched the world go by.

All photo credits: James Ross, unless otherwise noted.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • There is something to be said about not having to seek out new accommodations each evening, for our eight-day sail we unpack once.
  • Onboard meals, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and all gratuities are included. You won’t be surprised by any hidden costs.
  • Emerald looked after all of our travel arrangements. We flew into Nice and our transfer to Arles was included. We flew home from Lyon. The Advantage: the boat won’t leave without you.
  • Daily tours with knowledgeable local guides are included. Guests have their own interactive headset to easily follow tour commentary.

Take note

  • While the boat does meet ADA accessibility guidelines, the guided city tours involve some walking along uneven pavement and older cobblestone streets; this was an obvious challenge for some with mobility issues.
  • In some ports, there were several river cruise vessels moored together. Once we had to cross over another boat when disembarking. Make sure you join the proper city tour when ashore and also be careful to return to the right vessel.
  • It seems it is always time to eat. Excellent cuisine and fine local wines can lead to weight gain!


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Staying active on an Emerald Waterways Rhone River Cruise