Exploring French culture from the rivers and seas around France
Cruising is an excellent gateway for exploring all things cultural. This is especially true in Europe, where there is so much history, art and culture to discover. France is arguably one of the best endowed countries in Europe when it comes to cultural delights.
Whether exploring the inner waterways of France on a river cruise, which is one of the best ways to discover France…. or calling at its ports during a Mediterranean cruise, there is a virtual cultural smorgasbord awaiting you.
Our partner cruise lines and river cruise companies feature many excursion options in their ports of call. Many of these are focused on cultural explorations and can include exploring history, cuisine, art, music, vineyards and daily life in France. Here are a few examples of the many, many cultural possibilities to explore from French ports:
Louvre and the Seine River
Photo: Pierre Lepage
France is steeped in history going all the way back to the Roman Empire. One of the most striking examples of Roman influence is the Pont du Gard, in the Provence region, an impressive three-tiered vaulted structure supporting an aqueduct, the highest ever built by the Romans. There's a wonderful museum on the grounds, and you will have the opportunity to walk across the bridge itself.
The history of France is closely tied to the history of the Catholic Church and another splendid structure well worth a visit is the Palais des Papes in Avignon, also in the region of Provence, where seven French Popes reigned from 1309 to 1376. The Palais is adjacent to the famous Pont d'Avignon, reaching part way across the Rhône. This is a popular stop on Rhône cruises.
Just outside Paris, there's the magnificent Château de Versailles, where the French kings resided from 1682 until 1789 when the French Revolution forced the royal family to move into Paris. In 1919 it was the site of the Paris Peace Conference and also the site of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Today you can tour the wonderful gardens and the stunning Château on an easy daytrip from Paris, where many river cruises embark.
The Wine Regions
Monet's Gardens at Givermy
Photo: Pierre Lepage
There are several famous wine regions in France and happily, quite a few of them can be reached from the river cruise routes, many of which meander right through the famous wine country, and also some are within reach of the Mediterranean ports.
Probably the most popular region is Burgundy where the towns you pass through read like an expensive wine list! Nuit St. Georges, Chablis, Pouilly, Fuissé, Montrachet, Beaune, Gevrey-Chambertin and so on. The gently rolling vineyards have been there for many years, sometimes centuries, and you can visit the wineries and sample to your heart's content.
When you take a tour from your ship, expert guides will accompany you and you will learn much about the wine production of that region.
Another popular region is the Bordelais in Southwest France, located near the fabulous city of Bordeaux. The city itself is home to a magnificent Opera House and has a charming inner centre with lovely, winding pedestrian streets filled with wine shops, wonderful restaurants and bistros. The wine region can be toured easily from Bordeaux and there are river cruises in the region too.
What more can be said or written about French cuisine? Many ships now offer cooking classes and even take guests ashore to shop for ingredients. The cuisine of France is legendary and there are many opportunities to sample the food of different regions as you pass through. You will find that the cuisine varies somewhat depending on the region of France you are visiting. In the south you will find more Mediterranean style cuisine. In Burgundy and Paris, more traditional French cuisine… And everywhere, fabulous, wonderful cheeses to be sampled along with wines.
Although you will find art galleries and museums throughout much of France, the truly sensational ones are in or near Paris. If you are taking a river cruise from Paris, plan on staying a few extra days before or after your cruise to explore the cultural riches of the city.
You can literally spend days in the Louvre… People flock just to see the Mona Lisa, but the museum itself is a fantastic structure and houses many wonderful works of art from throughout the centuries.
A personal favourite is the nearby Musée D'Orsay, which houses French Impressionist paintings. This is worth another day! The museum, a fabulous restoration of an old railroad station, has the largest collection of Impressionist art and is a delight to explore.
Just outside Paris, and on the itinerary of many river cruises that sail from Paris to Normandy, you can take an excursion to Monet's house and gardens at Giverny. This is a wonderful, truly magical place where you can see the gardens that inspired so many of Monet's paintings.
Of course, if you have even the slightest interest in opera, then you will want to see some of the splendid opera houses in France. Opera came to France from Italy in the 1600s and thus began a fine tradition of French operas. The Palais Garnier in Paris is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. But other opera houses that are close to some well known cruise routes include Dijon, Lyon and Marseilles.
There are thousands of cultural excursions available in France. Let us help you find them!