I joined Tauck's Artistic Impression itinerary which started with a two night stay at the Fairmont Monte Carlo before joining the Swiss Emerald for a nine night cruise alone the Rhone and Saone. As one of Tauck's themed departures this itinerary differs from others with additional sightseeing carefully tailored for those with an interest in art, specifically the impressionist movement. It provided more insight to the area with two art experts joining the three Tauck Tour Directors who escorted us throughout the trip.
My initial concern, that this theme might become all-encompassing to the neglect of the more traditional sightseeing, was quickly dismissed during the first two days. We visited the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, saw the famous harbour of Monte Carlo from 'the Rock', and enjoyed wonderful escorted tours of the Chagall and Matisse museums that catered for all levels of artistic knowledge. Walking in the footsteps of these artists and seeing the beautiful and unique light that drew them to the area was as much a part of the theme as seeing the work that they produced.
Once we joined the Swiss Emerald we were able to relax and settle in to our home from home for the next nine nights. A small but comfortable cabin provided enough space in which to relax and the French balcony was a pleasant addition when we had an afternoon's cruising.
Calls along the Rhone included the pretty town of Arles and Aix-en- Provence which inspired many of van Gogh's and Cézanne's works, as well as wine tasting in Châteauneuf-du- Pape. At every stop we were accompanied by the excellent Tauck Tour Directors who, with local experts, were able to deliver an impressive level of service, whether that was ensuring we avoided the crowds at Le Palais des Papes in Avignon or helping to make up petanque teams during a visit to the quiet medieval walled village of Viviers. In Dijon we were given a guide to the best locally-produced foods and, as lunch was at our leisure, we were also given €20 with which to pay for it.
As we travelled north and joined the Saone, the river slowed and the pace of the trip relaxed. We visited the Romanesque Abbey of Cluny and were treated to an impressive equestrian display at stables founded in 1665 by Louis XIV, once used to breed horses for his cavalry. As with all the tours our group was carefully divided into smaller numbers to provide a more personal experience.
Whilst the days were filled with new areas to visit, the evenings were spent enjoying the daily cocktail before testing excellent local dishes in the main dining room. For a more intimate evening the Bistro offered an al fresco feel with large patio doors opened to allow the warm breeze to drift through. Both provided an informal atmosphere which continued after dinner with entertainment in the Panorama Lounge, including local singers and on two evenings a highly entertaining art themed quiz which pitched the men against the women in an enjoyable fine art version of catchphrase and team Pictionary.
With so much of Europe's history and culture on the banks of its rivers I can completely understand why river cruising has become so popular, and Tauck offered a level of service which meant we felt hugely cared for, comfortable and relaxed at all times, ideal during a trip full of new sites to see and places to visit.
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