EVERY RIVER CRUISE is a lovely experience – the joys of gently drifting down a particular river, through small quaint towns, some medieval, some exquisite and others just a pop of colour amidst green riverbanks, graceful willows and avenues of linden and plane trees. The swans glide with us and waking each day to an entrancing view is a wonderful and leisurely way to travel. Seeing the sights from the top deck, sharing stories and making memories with like-minded companions, we are pampered and cared for by an attentive staff. We delight in their thoughtful ministrations, honed to deliver a special “secret sauce” that they douse, in just the right amount and fashion, over everything they touch. It’s just one of the reasons this venerable brand shines brightly in everything they do.
Charmed by the numerous “reach out and touch” points and all the marvellous and included excursions – which are a highlight – we are immersed in this enriching experience. It’s no wonder that on our cruise there are many repeat clients taking their 10th Tauck trip and more – the most being 16. The proof of the pudding indeed!
The Swiss Emerald. Photo courtesy of Tauck.
Our all-inclusive experience commences with two nights in Paris at a central hotel, a special private dinner at renowned Champs Élysées restaurant Fouquet’s, and an evening tour topped off by the Eiffel tower in full display. Then it’s on the train to Lyon where we board our ship for the week. We are accompanied by three wonderfully competent Tour Directors who will stay with us for the cruise and when we board our ship, we meet our Cruise Director who is also at our disposal. We are 84 guests with four charming young people to accompany and cater to us during our cruise and on every excursion. This is unique to Tauck and much appreciated.
There are about 20 excursions on offer – each one included – and the array is dazzling. Ranging from biking and walking tours, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, a visit to Les Halles in Lyon and tours in Avignon, Arles, Roussillon and Grignan to name a few. We enjoy a wine-tasting in Chateauneuf-du-Pape near the ruins of the ancient castle and a visit to the restaurant/ studio of Anne-Sophie Pic, France’s only three-Michelin-starred female chef, for a tasting and cooking demo. We love the truffle farm where, much to our delight, we see two yellow Labradors “hunt and dig” for truffles and subsequently taste a few previously harvested varieties.
A precious morsel was the prize from a truffle hunt. Photo credit: Tim Boyles Photography
We are driven to the absolutely stunning Pont du Gard – part of the Roman aqueduct built in the first century and are in awe. A true highlight is our excursion to the Camargue – a special place I had long wished to see. This large flat plain on the delta of the Rhône is known for its cowboys, white horses and black bulls and it does not disappoint. We visit a local working ranch called a Menard where we meet the Laurent family and are treated to a Provençal-style lunch, accompanied by music and then a tour to see the aforementioned animals, including some newly-born foals. Very special.
Our ship, the Swiss Emerald has been remodelled in the last few years with the staterooms and suites being enlarged for a complement of just 98 guests. She is lovely, tastefully decorated and very comfortable.
The beautiful white horses of Camargue with their spring foals. Photo credit: Tim Boyles Photography
The main lounge hosts many gatherings and literally every day there is a special treat for us. These range from live accordion music played by a deliciously quirky gentleman, a chanteuse duo singing jazz tunes as we sail from Lyon, an oyster tasting, an ice cream social, a chocolate truffle demo and tasting, an Aperol market pre-dinner aperitif moment with wine, various French cocktails and a tasty spread of outstanding local cheeses and charcuterie, and something very different – a chocolate atelier. The artist creates a painting from chocolate which then becomes a sweet treat for the guests. Having such social moments every day or evening, really ensures that we mix, mingle and enjoy each other’s company, along with that of the excellent brigade of onboard staff.
The spacious and elegant main restaurant, the Compass Rose offers three meals a day, open-seating dining and at the time of one’s choice between 7 pm and 9 pm for dinner – something I particularly enjoy and appreciate after a long day of touring. Casual, bistro-style food is served from an open kitchen in Arthurs at the aft of the ship. This relaxed venue is for just 28 guests with no reservations required and is open most days from 11 to 11 with a continental breakfast starting at 6 am.
The author enjoys a selection of local wines onboard the ship. Photo credit: Tim Boyles Photography
On several occasions, sailing out of port along this serene river, we enjoy drinking in a great view and savouring tasty evening meals with new-found friends. All drinks on the ship, including an excellent selection of wines and Moet et Chandon Champagne were included as were all gratuities to everyone. Literally the only costs one might incur are for a massage, laundry or selections from the gift shop.
The most unforgettable moment, literally the pièce de résistance is an exclusive gala evening and dinner at the exquisite Duchy D’Uzes, a 12th century Duke’s castle set in the gorgeous small town of Uzes in the Languedoc near Avignon. We enjoy a cocktail reception and Champagne in the poplar-lined courtyard as we are serenaded by a trio playing classical melodies. We then dine lavishly in a vaulted room of the Chateau as the sun sets in the late spring light, casting a magical golden glow upon us, the fortunate few enjoying this treasured and special evening. Such moments, arranged by Tauck, are richly rewarding, ensuring the fondest of memories.
A springtime view of the village of Grignan. Photo credit: Tim Boyles Photography
There are some companies that have crafted the knack of captivating their guests, who strive to achieve high standards and then ensure effortless and natural execution. It’s a big part of guest satisfaction and secures client loyalty by providing extraordinary value. That famous secret sauce is liberally used as we gladly sit for an inspirational feast at their table. Tauck is such a company – not just on the rivers but in small ship cruising and tours literally all over the world. They deserve every accolade.
IF YOU GO For information on Tauck’s extensive programs see your travel advisor or check out www.tauck.com and Air Canada will take you to Paris or Lyon.
Written by Vanessa Lee for Cruise and Travel Lifestyles (summer 2019).