Madelin Tomelty

A relaxed Viking river cruise through some of the prettiest towns and countryside in France

I’ve just discovered, after years of considering myself quite the cheese connoisseur, that hard cheese is in fact best paired with red wine – a Burgundy pinot noir, perhaps – and not white.

I’m in the gastronomic capital of Lyon in the south of France, so my years-long blunder could possibly be forgiven, but I haven’t learned this in one of the city’s many Michelin-star restaurants or at an iconic Lyonnaise red-and-white-check tablecloth bouchon. Rather, I’m no more than an hour settled on board the luxury river cruise longship Viking Heimdal and have already found myself at an enlightening (not to say delicious) cheese and wine tasting.

This epicurean learning turns out to be the first of many morsels of wisdom I devour over the next seven days as I cruise leisurely down the Rhône from Lyon to Avignon in one of the prettiest and historically revered parts of France.

Glass of chilled chardonnay in hand, I take a seat on the Aquavit Terrace – Heimdal’s impressive alfresco dining area, positioned at the bow of the longship. It affords me a panoramic view of Lyon’s Pont de l’Université (University Bridge) from our docked position on the river, and as I relax, letting the warm summer sun wash over me, I acknowledge the obvious: I’m very lucky to be here.

Viking’s Lyon & Provence journey is one of the cruise line’s most popular – and it’s no wonder. Viking is considered a leader in luxury river cruising, with the largest suites and most alfresco dining on Europe’s rivers.

All 95 of Heimdal’s accommodations are ‘outside’ rooms, and my light and airy 19-square-metre Veranda Stateroom feels far more spacious and comfortable than I’d anticipated.

As for the communal spaces, in addition to the breezy Aquavit Terrace there is a small, stylish library stocked with a curated selection of books, many of which focus on the culture, food and history of France – a nice touch; the lounge and restaurant; and a ship-length sun deck up top, creating more than enough space for the longship’s 180 passengers to spread out and make Heimdal a comfortable home for the cruise.

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