Wine-themed river cruise: Tournon to Lyon

Place Bellecour serves as Lyon’s central square.
Place Bellecour serves as Lyon’s central square.

ABOARD THE AmaDAGIO – Sailing from Tournon around midnight brought us into Vienne before breakfast. We fell in love at first sight with this very historic little city, only about 30 km south of our destination, Lyon. Perhaps we were getting wistful as we approached the end of a most memorable voyage, but we enjoyed one of the best city walking tours ever in Vienne.

Our guide, a young man not yet 30, said to call him “Fred.” He said it was what most everyone called him though his given name was Frederic. By any name he had a deep knowledge and an obvious affection for this place and its significant role in history—his anecdotes helped bring this history life.

In the massive Gothic church, formerly a cathedral, he pointed to some bas-relief carving on a stone lintel over a doorway. “Those two narrow bands of lighter-colored stone toward either end—those are evidence of the time in 1531 when the king standardized the calendar, decreeing that the year would begin in January.” He said the zodiac calendar represented by the carving was adjusted, by moving a bit of the end to the beginning. Fred imparted many more details of Vienne history as we toured a quirky and fascinating museum in a deconsecrated church, visited a remarkably preserved Roman Temple erected in 10 BC, and looked over the town and its Roman Theater from a hilltop.

Cheese tasting at Les Halles Market in Lyon
Cheese tasting at Les Halles Market in Lyon

A three-hour cruise (one of the few times we sailed in daylight) brought us into Lyon at Quai Claude Bernard. Of course during this leg we enjoyed lunch and Steve Ledson’s final wine lecture on “Winemaking, Art or Science.” We would say Steve definitely comes down more on the Science side of the debate—perhaps a bit more so than some of his French counterparts.

Immediately after we arrived we joined a tour of Les Halles, Lyon’s central covered market, traveling on a city tram that picked us up right in front of AmaDagio. The market is home to high-end vendors of cured meats, fresh meats, fish, cheese, chocolate, pastry, produce—everything culinary. It all looked perfect, and the ham, sausage, cheese, and dessert we sampled confirmed that appearance. Our guide explained neither she, nor most residents of Lyon, shopped here—it was too pricey—but that up-scale restaurants and caterers did. She said regular folks shopped at open-air neighborhood markets where the food was still very good and prices rather better.

Lyon is a very walkable, lively and comfortable city, and we enjoyed the opportunity to explore it on our own, but of course it was necessary to interrupt this activity with another wine excursion. AmaDagio made a short trip down the Rhone, then up the Soane to Collonges, where coaches picked us up for a tour of Beaujolais. We enjoyed trying to pronounce the name of the picturesque village of Oingt almost as much as our walking tour, but the highlight and purpose of this excursion was our visit to a Beaujolais winery.

Our guide, “Fred” enlivens Vienne history
Our guide, “Fred” enlivens Vienne history

When we arrived we were greeted by Jean-Jacques Paire, owner, grower, winemaker, and the 16th generation of his family to be so on this very spot. Though of exceptional longevity, Domaine Paire is otherwise typical of the small, family-owned wine-growers and wine-makers of the Beaujolais Region. Jean-Jacques instructed us on proper wine-tasting technique, including seeing with the eyes, smelling with the nose, and finally, tasting with the mouth, before he poured one white and two red wines for us, including the just released, 2014 Beaujolais Nouveaux. We decided to take home a bottle of the Beaujolais Nouveaux to share with friends.

We disembarked for the final time in Lyon, thinking the week had gone way too fast, though packed with many memorable experiences. We lingered in Lyon for another day of sightseeing, riding the funicular up and down Fourviere Hill and wandering the narrow lanes of Vieux Lyon and bustling streets of the Presqu’ile. Another remarkable dinner awaited us when we returned to the small restaurant in Vieux Lyon called Les Adrets where we had dined seven years earlier. It seems we never want the trip to end, and that proved particularly true of this journey. Well, at least we’ll have a few days in Paris before we head home.

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