Luxury Riverboat Cruising in France – Seine, Rhone, Saone, Bordeaux

Luxury riverboats cruise in France on the Seine, Rhone, Saone, Gironde, and Rhine rivers with smaller boats also plying interesting routes on smaller rivers and canals.

River Royale on the Rhone at Avignon
Uniworld River Royale in Avignon
Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

The Seine and the Rhône are the two main rivers for luxury riverboat cruises in France but cruising is also possible in the Bordeaux region (Gironde, Dordogne, and Garonne) as well as on smaller rivers and canals in many parts of France. The Rhine forms part of the French border with Germany with many cruises on the Rhine calling in Strasbourg and other destinations in Alsace. Riverboats play a minor role in making France the world’s premier tourist destination but an increasing number of travelers are discovering the pleasure of exploring France from the comfort of a luxurious riverboat.

Cruising on the Seine River in France

The Seine is only the second most important river for boat cruises in France but as it flows through Paris, is first choice for many visitors.

Cruises on the Seine are typically one-week round-trip cruises from Paris to Normandy but occasionally the cruises are one-week one-way allowing for more leisurely sightseeing. Two and three night cruises are also available with the boat never leaving the French capital.

Luxury cruises on the meandering, slow-flowing Seine usually include some time in Paris. However, many may find staying in a hotel as an extension to a cruise cheaper and a better deal.

Other top sights along the Seine include mostly Gothic architecture, half-timbered houses, and artists’ haunts such as Monet’s Giverny and the lovely town Honfleur. Excursions to D-day Beaches and related Second World War monuments in Normandy are popular day-trip destinations.

Visiting the Loire Valley’s fabulous chateaux (the Loire is not navigable) is a common extension packaged deal with Seine River cruises. Cruise vacations combining the Seine and the Rhône (a change of boat with bus or train transfers) is necessary) are often offered by international cruise operators offering cruises on France’s two main rivers in a single vacation for cheaper than two cruises booked separately.

The cruise season on the Seine River is mostly from April to mid-October but short cruises around Paris are popular during the Christmas and New Year’s season.

Cruising on the RhĂ´ne and SaĂ´ne Rivers in France

The RhĂ´ne is the biggest river in France and the most popular for riverboat cruises. The RhĂ´ne is navigable from its confluence with the SaĂ´ne in Lyon all the way south to the Mediterranean Sea. It passes through Avignon and Provence making it a very popular destination with sunny weather most of the year.

Cruises on the RhĂ´ne and SaĂ´ne are typically one-week cruises but can be as short as four nights or up to two weeks long. The most typical routing is Lyon return with the boat either turning at Avignon or Arles. However, it is possible to go all the way south to Port Louis or Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue or north up the SaĂ´ne to Chalon-sur-SaĂ´ne.

The atmosphere of Rhone and Saone River cruises in Burgundy and Provence are quite different from the Seine. Wine production is important along the full navigable length of these south-flowing cruise rivers while apples (and cider) are more common in the north.

Lyon is often seen as the gourmet capital of France and the food is definitely more Mediterranean rather than the heavier cream-based dishes popular in the north. The Saone and Rhone towns have many Gothic buildings but even more impressive are the older Romanesque and Roman monuments.

The cruise season on the Rhone and Saone is from March to mid-November.

Cruising on the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne (Bordeaux Waterways) in France

The Bordeaux region on the southwestern Atlantic coast of France is increasingly popular with river cruise boat vacationers. The region is famous for the city Bordeaux with its monumental architecture, magnificent wines and vineyards, lovely landscapes and romantic chateaux

The Gironde, which is formed just north of Bordeaux by the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, is the largest estuary in Europe. Cruises here usually combine travel on both rivers and estuary.

The French riverboat cruise company CroisiEurope is traditionally the only line to offer multiple-day cruises on the Gironde, Garonne, and Dordogne. Cruises are usually weeklong round trips from Bordeaux.

However, from 2014, Viking and Uniworld will also have boats in the region offering more luxurious (and far more expensive) alternatives.

The cruise season on the Bordeaux waterways is mostly from May to September. CroisiEurope offer cruises during Christmas and New Years too.

Cruising on French Canals and Smaller Rivers

Cruising is possible on many other French rivers and canals. Options here range from self-steered houseboats to luxury barges and small cruise boats.

Particularly popular are the canals in the south (Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne), Burgundy, Brittany, and Alsace.

Almost all European riverboat cruise providers have boats on the Seine and Rhone (and Saone) Rivers in France. Luxury riverboat cruise providers selling vacations in international markets (especially in North America) usually offer all-inclusive package deals, such as Viking River Cruises, AMA Waterways, Tauck, Uniworld, and Avalon.

European cruise operators usually offer much cheaper cruises where excursions, transfers, and drinks are additional, e.g. the French company CroisiEurope and several German riverboat cruise specialists such as A-Rosa, Nicko Tours, Phoenix, and Trans Ocean. These tours can usually book by any traveler via the operator’s website or even better through German (or other European) riverboat cruise specialist travel agents, e.g. Ehoi or Kreuzfahrtferien. (P130429)

See Also:

Top Rivers for Boat Cruises in Europe