Natalie’s Blog… Five Star Food, Bicycles & Wine Tasting… in Provence Natalie Ford, UK Sales Manager for AmaWaterways, tells us all about her recent trip aboard the AmaDagio as she travelled from Lyon to Arles along the river Rhone…
Day 1 The alarm goes off at 04:30, I hit snooze........only to awaken a few minutes later in a startled panic thinking I had slept through and missed the flight! But of course I hadn’t...... I flew to Lyon after a smooth and efficient check in, to begin my journey along the Rhone river. The transfer time from the airport to the ship is approximately 45 minutes by coach, so not too long to wait! As we approach the ship, I start to get that excited feeling that I always get when I am going onboard again, you know the one that wakes you up early on your birthday or Christmas Day… or is that just me?! We were greeted by a talented gentleman playing the accordion, serenading us as we walked up the gangway to the ship; the double doors opened and we were welcomed by the immaculate crew with beaming smiles, my shoulders dropped and instantly I felt relaxed. We were given hot towels and were shown into the lounge, - we knew we couldn't have access to our cabins until 15:00 so enjoyed the light lunch of soup and sandwiches that were available in the main lounge; it's surprising how hungry travelling makes you. The main lounge has a selection of inviting sofas, warm, rich colours and tones which all compliment each other and are framed by panoramic floor to ceiling windows showing the stunning views of the Rhone river and Lyon, our home port for the evening. The main lounge is the hub of the ship with is a complimentary coffee and tea station serving every type of tea you can imagine and a bar area with staff ready and waiting to take your order. The lounge has a piano for the resident pianist and a dance floor, which I am sure I will make use of whilst onboard.
15:00 quickly came around and I was shown to my cabin, my luggage was already waiting inside and I was shown how to use the TV system which includes complimentary movies, music and even internet for staying in touch with home. The cabin is very spacious and well equipped with plenty of wardrobe space. One of the highlights is the French balcony which I cannot resist opening, I would definitely recommend you to upgrade where possible and enjoy the views from the privacy of your own French balcony. After enjoying the view from my cabin I decided to have a wonder around the ship. The reception area boasts a dark wood and iron staircase which leads you to all decks on the ship. If you don't
fancy using the stairs, there is a lift that takes you to decks 3 & 2 and the restaurant. On deck 3, in the reception area, there is a small library area where you relax and read the books on display. The Cruise Manager has a desk in the same area and is always on hand to assist you with any questions or needs you may have. The reception team are available 24 hours a day. To the left of reception there is a small gift shop that sells general toiletry items and a variety of gifts. From reception, the staircase also leads down to the main restaurant where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served, but there is also a speciality restaurant onboard called Erlebnis which is at the aft of the ship. It has 4 rectangle tables for 24 guests and a large glass show kitchen to watch the chef preparing your evening meal; I will update you on the experience later in the week when I have dined here. Everyone onboard gets the opportunity to dine in Erlebnis once during the cruise. There is a gym (which I am going to try and use) that has some free weights, a running machine and an exercise bike, plus a sauna and shower room. There is even a beauty/hair salon onboard too! Up on the top deck there is lots of space to take in the views with plenty of chairs and for anyone that wants to relax there's a jacuzzi hot tub.
Later that night, I dressed for the Captainâ€™s welcome dinner (after an invigorating blast under the amazing multijet shower!). Making my way into the main lounge I was welcomed with a glass of champagne, greeted by the Hotel Manager, Cruise Manager and the one and only Captain - who also gave me a rose.....Ok not only me, all the ladies onboard got one too! Our Cruise Manager then introduced the heads of each department and gave us an overview of what to expect whilst onboard. The Captain conducted the safety briefing and then gave a toast to all guests onboard. Dinner was served at 19:30; I made my way down to the main restaurant and was met by the very welcoming Maitre D who showed me to a table. The ship has an open seating policy and there are tables from 2 to 8 available. With everyone seated there is such a wonderful atmosphere with all of the waiters explaining the menu options and the wine waiter describing the red and white wines available which are free flowing during lunch and evening meals. With so many choices on the menu I was completely spoilt!.....in the end I managed to chose beef consommĂŠ to start, followed by sorbet, then Tranche of Beef Entrecote and Marinated Tiger Shrimp Tail for main course and rounded it off with vanilla ice-cream, cherry ragout and the most amazingly delicious macaroons. What an incredible first meal, I can already fill the pounds piling on and it is only night one!
After filling myself so full that I could barely walk, my double bed covered with plush white on white linen is calling me after my early start, so off to bed for me ready for tours and the day in Lyon tomorrow.........
Day 2 I don't think that I ever sleep as well as I do onboard AmaWaterways anywhere else when I am travelling. I certainly needed a good nights sleep after the long day yesterday. I decided to go to the main restaurant for breakfast this morning, however, early risers can opt for pastries in the main lounge for something a bit lighter. Breakfast is beautifully presented; in the centre of the restaurant there is an island which has a hot buffet selection available including bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes and sausages. On the other side of the island there is fresh fruit, yoghurts, granola and a continental selection. There is a great selection of fruit juices available too. Fresh smoked salmon and sparking wine is perfectly laid out with bagels and there is a wide array of different breads, pastries and cakes and condiments. If none of this takes your fancy, there is also a kitchen menu where you can order eggs benedict, porridge, waffles or even the A+ breakfast which is a full English Breakfast including steak! Making my way around I opted for some fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice. The waiters are on hand to assist and to keep you topped up with tea or coffee. After breakfast it was time to set off for our Lyon city tour. We departed the ship at 09:30 by coach with a local guide who was able to provide us with the expert knowledge of the city. Lyon is the third largest city in France, the birthplace of the cinema and historically known as an important area for the production of weaving silk but in more modern times now has a reputation for being the capital of gastronomy in France. We arrived at our first stop, Fourviere Hill, an amazing viewpoint that spans across the skyline of Lyon. We toured the 19th century Basilica which had the most incredible intricate detailing in the stained glass windows and the wall mosaicsâ€Ś
We then proceeded to look at La Tour Metallique - this is a mini Eiffel Tower which was built by the owners of the land it stands on, to rival the real thing. It is the highest point in Lyon and is actually higher then the Eiffel Tower itself....(well because it is on a hill).
We continued our morning tour to the charming old town of Lyon, St Jean. Enroute we were able to stop and admire the attention to detail of some of the painted walls in Lyon. There are almost 100 mural frescos painted on the facades of buildings. We arrived in St Jean where we were guided through the narrow cobbled streets and traboules; it is thought that the first examples of the traboules were built in Lyon in the 4th century. It is a beautiful town with lots of small boutique stores and restaurants.
After free time we headed back to the ship to be welcomed by warm hand towels and a fruit punch. Lunch was then served and I chose to opt for the lighter lunch option in the main lounge instead of going to the main restaurant. The light lunch is a perfect option, it has soup, sandwiches,
a hot meal choice and a wide selection of salads, even in the main lounge your wine, beer and soft drinks are included during lunch.
The afternoon was free for us to explore Lyon or to relax on the ship. I chose to take one of the shipâ€™s bicycles (there are 20 onboard) and cycle along the river. It was a glorious afternoon, as I cycled along the path the scenery was just stunning, with the old buildings framing the river, all changing in colour from yellow to pink to orange. I cycled through a small park called Parc de Gerland, a remarkable development on the banks of the Rhone river; it was only because the cycle path stopped that I turned back. I have to say that at the time I didn't realise how far I had cycled from the ship, it was only in the evening when we began our sailing towards the Saone to reach Belleville that John our Cruise Manager pointed out that this is the confluence of the rivers where the Saone flows into the Rhone.....when I recognised where I was I became very proud of myself for working off all the wonderful food I had eaten that day and was then looking forward to eating dessert that evening!
I arrived back at the ship after a sunny afternoon pedalling my way along the Rhone and dressed for dinner as we began our sailing to Belleville; it is so relaxing sitting back in the lounge and watching the scenery pass you by. We continued sailing through dinner, where again I was completely spoilt for choice with the options available. I decided on the Caesar salad to start, followed by lamb and then hazelnut ice-cream for dessert, I had earned it on my afternoon bike ride! During dinner we passed through our first of twelve locks. It still amazes me at how the captain navigates us through such a narrow gap - we are literally inches from each side of the lock. As we start to go through we are lowered into the lock and gradually the dining room starts to darken; within no time at all we exit the lock and continue with our journey.
After a delicious meal, I headed up to the main lounge to watch a wonderful performance of music and song by Adele Bracco, from Lyon. We continued sailing while Adele serenaded us as the sky continued to darken and night fell.........
Day 3 So today I am very excited, last night at around 23:30 we arrived in Belleville which is on the Saone river and it means that today we are going to tour the Beaujolais Wine region :) After another filling breakfast, we set off by coach at 09:00 for our Beaujolais excursion. We had a local guide who was very informative, knowledgeable and was as excited as we were to learn
more about the regional wines and production. Our careful driver navigated the winding country roads where the scenery and views were just outstanding. There were miles of lush green rolling hillsides as we travelled through small villages that looked to be straight out of a film set. We were enroute to a small medieval town â€“ Oingt, which is 30kms from Lyon and perched on a hill surrounded by the Beaujolais vineyards. It is the only village in the county to be awarded the French accolade 'Most Beautiful Village'. It took us around 50 minutes to get there and it was well worth the journey..... The village was simply stunning. As you walk into the village you go through an archway and it feels like you are stepping back in time. All of the streets are narrow and cobbled, in the heart of the village, houses with ocre yellow facades are homes to craftsmen and artists - what an amazing place to live! We wandered through the streets making our way up a hill to be welcomed by a stunning view of the Beaujolais regionâ€Ś
During some free time, we visited the Castle chapel and took a look at the unique shops the village had to offer.
We travelled round to the other side of the hills and made our way onto our next stop........wine tasting. We were greeted by a wonderful gentleman (Jean Jacques) who took us on a tour of the winery and estate that has been in the family for 16 generations! As we were guided through to the wine cellar where the magic happens, there were examples of how the family business has changed over the years. There were photos displayed alongside equipment that was used decades ago. It really is amazing to see how well preserved the gadgets and tools that were used prior to the modern day, had been kept.
After the tour it was time to learn how to taste the wine and to understand exactly what you should look for when tasting a wine. Jean Jacques was a complete expert and it was an honour to listen and learn from someone so passionate.
So how do you taste a wine....? You start by looking at the colour - a shiny clear wine is what you are looking for (a sheet of white paper always helps to see its true colour). You then tilt the glass for the first smell - swirl it for a minimum of 15 seconds to open the wine and let the air in - tilt and take a second smell - by now the wine may have changed from the first smell - You then get to put your hard work into tasting the wine......you should keep it in your mouth for a few seconds and take a breathâ€Ś If the taste is with you after 5 seconds of swallowing......you have a good wine!
A white chardonnay, a young red and a full bodied red wine later it was time to leave Jean Jacques and make our journey back to the ship. Lunch was served in perfect timing as we arrived. Again I chose the lighter option in the main lounge; chicken wraps and a delicious salad.
At 15:00 we were presented with a talk and demonstration on Silk painting and printing by a local producer in the main lounge. It was great to learn more about the historic industry that made Lyon famous throughout Europe. From 16:00 - 17:00 afternoon tea was served and I really did try to resist but was drawn in by the stunning cakes so perfectly presented in the main lounge, note to self must get to the gym at some point :)
At 18:45 our Cruise Manager, John, gave a talk on what to expect for our next port of call - Vienne. He gave us a great overview of the excursion and advised that the weather is due to get warmer and the sun will be shining! We whisked ourselves down to dinner for yet another superb meal
onboard. Complete compliments to the chef and the team, I really don't know how they manage to pull off the 5* service and serve such incredible cuisine time and time again. Fun and games in the lounge tonight, John hosted a music quiz….. I do enjoy a quiz - it tends to bring out the competitive side of me! We gathered in teams of 6 and had a wonderful fun evening guessing music composers, films and songs. Unfortunately for me I didn't win, I came close and missed it by a point! The winning team was awarded champagne. At 22:30, for anyone who could possibly squeeze in any more food before bed, the late night snacks were available.....a wide selection of cold meats and delicacies. I had no room left at all so made my way back to the cabin ready for another peaceful nights sleep onboard.....
Day 4 We arrived in Vienne at around 22:00 last night and this morning, explored the town on a guided walking tour. Vienne is situated between the wine regions of Burgundy and Beaujolais, 32km south of Lyon and was once one of Gaul's largest settlements, becoming a Roman colony in 47 BC under Julius Caesar. The ship had docked in the centre of town so there was no need for a coach today. We left the ship at 09:00 with our headsets tuned in and set off for a stroll into town. For this excursion you can choose between a ‘gentle’ walkers group which has less walking and takes you via the town’s mini train to and from the ship; the ‘general’ walkers group or even a ‘late starters’ option. I chose the general walking tour; we were enjoying learning about the local history and ways of life when we turned a corner and there before us was a huge temple - The Temple of Augustus and Livia. It's a 1st century Roman temple, surrounded on three sides by columns - it is so impressive to see the ruins in the centre of town and that well preserved.
We made our way through the picturesque streets to the central square where we were met by a mini train. Hopping onboard we climbed the winding streets of Vienne to the view point. WOW.......need I say anymore!
The mini train took us back to the river level of town where we were able to visit the roman museum; it was quite something to wander around a museum where all the artefacts are not in display cupboards and to visit a museum that is still kept in its original state instead of being introduced to modern technology. We had some free time to explore the streets of Vienne before taking the picturesque walk along the Rhone river banks as we embarked the ship ready for lunch. Those of you who know me well know that I am a creature of habit, so guess what I had for lunch :) A very light and delicious vegetable risotto! As I tucked into my lunch we began to sail from Vienne, towards Tournon in the Northern Ardeche. This afternoon we cruised through the Northern Cote-duRhone region. This is by far the best day we have had for weather, it is 75 degrees on the sun deck and everyone made the most of the ever-changing scenery by relaxing on the sun deck.
At 15:00 afternoon tea was served and you will be pleased to know that I managed to resist today.....purely because I was strong and avoided the main lounge during 15:00 and 16:00 :) See now at this point you think I am being really good but what I have yet to tell you is that I was saving myself for 16:00! At 16:00 we had a professional sommelier and wine expert join us in the main lounge for wine tasting. It was a very interactive presentation where all guests were given a quiz sheet and the main lounge had areas where we had to answer questions. Questions included a blind tasting, guessing what flowers and fruits were used for particular wines by smelling some concentrates and of course wine tasting itself. We tried a variation of wines including, red, white, rose and sparkling. I scored 15 out of 20 which I thought was pretty good. John the cruise manager gave a talk at 17:30 to run us through the options for tomorrowâ€™s excursion and to advise that we were due to arrive in Tournon at 18:30 this evening. Dinner is being served at 19:00 so there was a short time to have a look around town if we wanted to before dinner. After yet another delicious evening meal onboard we went to the lounge to be serenaded by La Strada - classical musicians. I have seen some of the members of La Strada on the Danube and the Seine so was looking forward to seeing them again. They certainly didn't disappoint, there were two gentlemen and a lady who played renditions of well- known classical music by violin and guitar. Looking around the lounge, it was clear to see that it was not only me who was enjoying their performance. We were lucky enough to have almost an hour of beautifully played music and on that note (sorry couldn't resist) I was off to bed........
To be continued.....