by Mary W Nicklin

River cruising is taking off in France, and once you’ve experienced it first-hand, you can see why it’s so popular. Here’s what’s in store on a Viking River cruise. From your mooring on the banks of the Rhône River, you can stroll to the world-famous Pont d’Avignon (on y danse, on y danse), or perhaps explore the UNESCO-listed city center, enclosed by medieval ramparts, with a local guide. Taste specialties like vinegar-soaked garlic at Les Halles, adorned with a “vertical garden” created by famed botanist Patrick Blanc as a lush habitat for birds. Gape at the magnificent Palais des Papes: the fresco-adorned walls, the kitchen chimney where tiers of skewered meats were smoked for Coronation feasts, and the enormous dining room, which is still rented out today for events.

After you’ve gotten your history fix, walk back to your floating hotel for lunch. Go casual with a fresh salad on the terrace, or enjoy a multi-course lunch, paired with wine, in the dining room. (Did we mention that rates are all-inclusive?)

In your state room, you’ll find L’Occitane bath amenities, a divinely comfortable bed, and a high-tech entertainment system with great programming. (Downton Abbey, anyone?) Bottled water is provided daily, and there’s a fridge to stash the wines and pungent cheeses you may have picked up on an excursion. Some rooms have furnished balconies, and you might be tempted to dangle a fishing rod over the side.

As featured in our annual Activity Holiday Guide, river cruising is a stress-free way of experiencing multiple French destinations (without packing up your bags and moving hotels) that also immerses you in local culture. Industry pioneers like Viking have perfected the experience; each cruise is down to a fine art– from the highly-trained staff to the smart ship design featuring the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace and an organic herb garden on the sundeck.

As explained by Viking chairman and CEO Torstein Hagen, on-board innovations have maximized efficiency so that Viking can offer competitive prices without sacrificing quality. The longships have a quieter engine, a square bow, and a patented corridor design which allows for more cabins in the vessels that are regulated in length (there is an industry standard so they can pass through the locks on European rivers). An added plus: The longships boast the largest suites of any river ship in Europe.

Viking has three eight-day itineraries in France: Paris and the Heart of Normandy (from $1,656 pp); Portraits of Southern France (a voyage through Burgundy and Provence from $1,856 pp); and brand new for 2014, Châteaux, Rivers & Wine (from $1,856 pp), which sails the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde Rivers through the Bordeaux wine region. (Bien sûr, you’ll enjoy wine tastings with master sommeliers along the way.) For more information, visit: www.vikingrivercruises.com

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Mary Winston Nicklin
Based in Paris, Nicklin is the Web Editor of France Today. She is also the Editor of Bonjour Paris, the site's sister publication. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to publications like The Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveler, Rhapsody, Travel Agent Magazine, Luxury Travel Advisor, Afar and USAToday.com.

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