Viking Hermod – Portraits of Southern France

My wife and I have recently returned from a river cruise along the Saône and Rhone Rivers of Southern France onboard the Viking Hermod…

 

*****

 

This was our fourth  river cruise with Viking and was taken later in the year from our normal month for which we had an important Cunard engagement…

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.com/2015/07/24/queen-mary-2-anniversary-voyage/

Like the previous cruises with Viking this one met all expectations and  did not disappoint.  Indeed, the quality, and comprehensive nature  of Viking River cruises becomes  evident the moment you receive your pre-cruise documentation…

 

As part of the Viking package we flew on a British Airways scheduled flight from Heathrow to Lyon,  where we were greeted by Viking Staff,  and transferred by coach to the town of  Chalon-sur-Saône where the Viking Hermod was berthed…

Check-in with Viking is a pretty slick, efficient and casual affair – not even a credit card was requested – and we were soon enjoying an excellent lunch on the Aquavit Terrace…

We had booked a French balcony (Cat D) Cabin…

…which had an excellent ensuite with glass fronted shower and, surprise surprise, underfloor heating…

Toiletries are of the highest quality, L’Occitane…

It goes without saying that cabins on river cruise ships are generally smaller and more compact than on ocean cruise ships,  however Viking do a particularly good job with the layout and ergonomics…

…and for a one week river cruise cabin size is quite sufficient. Other nice touches are the contactless key entry system, adjustable individual bed reading lights and no less than 8 electrical sockets.

Note the personal ‘bluetooth’ Vox Boxes near the telephone above: more about them in the itinerary section.

Viking Hermod is two years old and was in spotless condition. The layout follows the general pattern on board Viking’s new Longships and is particularly easy to navigate around…

Viking Lounge

…with its bar…

The Viking Lounge is the centre of entertainment and also provides an area for the daily briefings given by the Programme Director on the evenings prior to a visit.

At the front end of the lounge is the Aquavit terrace which serves as a buffet restaurant for breakfasts and lunches while making an excellent seating/observation area while the ship is underway.

The Restaurant 

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the main restaurant on an open seating basis, breakfast and lunch  on a semi-buffet basis…

That’s Ivan from Bulgaria. Great character.

Central to the ship is the Atrium…

…the lower deck of which is home to the Reception Desk…

…and the shop…

…while there are a number of other public spaces dotted around within the ship…

The small Library…

…complimentary computer station…

Some comfortable sitting out areas…

*****

 

…while not forgetting two self service beverage and ‘light snack’ stations…

 

The sun deck on the Viking Hermod is massive…

…and offers a very generous shaded seating area…

 

To accommodate the often encountered ‘low’ bridges on the river almost everything on the Sun Deck is collapsible…

*****

…and that includes the Captain’s Bridge position…

 

The Sun Deck even has its own herb garden…

Dining is of a high standard. As previously stated the main restaurant is available for all meals while the Aquavit Terrace offers buffet style only with an alfresco option.

Dinner is one sitting and on an open seating basis. Generally regional dishes are offered on the dinner menu along with the usual standard items, steak, chicken and salmon, which remain each evening. A typical Dinner Menu…

Some sample dishes served on the Rhone cruise…

Frogs Legs…

 

Sea bass…

A trio of Dessert...

 

And Cheese…

Lunches were fun and very often that Ivan chap appeared with his BBQ on the Aquavit Terrace…

..here offering a ‘Rack of Ribs’ which Solent Richard gratefully accepted.

If the weather wasn’t quite up to dining alfresco, no problem, then the Aquavit Terrace had an indoor section…

The joy of the buffet lunches had to be the selection of desserts…

…and fromage…

Viking offers complimentary wines, beers and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. They also offer a ‘Premium Beverage package’…

…at a cost of €150.00 per person for the duration of the cruise: 7 days. This package covers unlimited premium wines, beers and mineral waters. Having perused the wine list on arrival…

 

*****

…we plumped for the package. It not only gave us access to better quality wines but to our favoured pre-dinner Gin & Tonics (€4.40 each if purchased individually outside the package) and an array of cocktails including another of our favourites, a Hugo

Apart from the better quality wines the whole bottle was provided to order rather than being pored by the glass during the meal…

*****

There are of course many nice touches to Viking cruises that often fail to get a mention, like the fact they provide complimentary  wifi and bottled water for excursions…

 

…and generally operate their own coaches…

And on that note I will turn to the itinerary…

 

Itinerary

 

Day 1 Chalon-sur-Saône

We joined the Hermod at Chalon-sur-Saône and having settled in early afternoon the first of Viking’s complimentary excursions, a walking tour of Chalon was upon us.

Chalon-sur-Saône’s  greatest claim to fame is the fact it was the birthplace of  Nicéphore Niépce  the French inventor of photography…

Needless to say there is a museum to his work and photography in general…

Now I realised that this cruise was through some pretty famous wine domains but I was surprised to note that even the fountains in the main square and outside Chalon Cathedral flowed with a ‘red’ colour…

With a little free time we ventured across the river onto the picturesque island of  Ile Saint-Laurent…

…before returning to the Hermod in good time for pre-dinner drinks.

 

Day 2 Beaune and Cluny Abbey.

Following a good breakfast we embarked our coaches for an excursion to Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. Indeed, it is one of the key wine centres in France and the annual wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune is the primary wine auction in France.

The town is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages, while the facilities and cellars of many producers, large and small, are situated in Beaune itself. Thoughtfully, our complimentary Viking excursion started with a drive along what is known as the ‘Route des Grands Crus‘…

…which took us in turn through places like Meursault…

…and Puligny – Montrachet…

Arriving at Beaune we were given a guided tour of the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune…

 

…a former charitable almshouse founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building, the Hôtel-Dieu, one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, is now a museum…

In one section of the Hôtel-Dieu can be found the Beaune Altarpiece (which dates to 1450), and is often called The Last Judgement.  It was painted in oil on oak panels and consists of fifteen paintings on nine panels; six of these are painted on both sides…

Our knowledgeable guide explained how the altarpiece depicted Christ at the Gates of Heaven and the judgemental process with Archangel Michael holding scales as he weighs souls. The panel on Christ’s far right shows the gates of Heaven while on the far left sits the entrance to Hell. A closer look at the scales…

Another valuable collection of artefacts in the Hotel Dieu are its Tapestries…

 (worth noting are the travelling boxes under each tapestry)

 

Our visit to the Hotel Dieu was followed by a wine tasting visit to one of Beaune’s famous cellars…

 

Incidentally, the cellars below the town of Beaune hold around 25 million bottles of wine annually.

On completion of the wine tasting we were given some free time,  during which we found this interesting piece, the work of Bruno Catalano the French sculptor in Place Carnot….

After lunch on board, the  afternoon offered an optional (paid for) excursion to the Abbey at Cluny…

(View A)

Built mainly  in Romanesque style in succession from the 10th to the early 12th centuries, it was the largest church in Christendom until the completion of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica in the early 17th Century. In 1790 during the French Revolution, the abbey was sacked and mostly destroyed, with only a small part of it surviving.

 

However, a visit to experience the feel of this Abbey was well worthwhile and its former size and glory are easily seen during the visit…

…and (View B)

…should illustrate the enormous area this place once covered.

Day 3  The City of Lyon

Our included excursion commenced with a coach ride to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière which dominates the city of Lyon…

This was the only day the weather wasn’t too kind to us photographers though fortunately it did thankfully stay dry…

Other sights of Lyon that we visited included the most famous Fresco of Lyonnais…

Just couldn’t resist this one…

The Place Bellecoer…

Spot the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière high in the right background?

…the Fountain Bartholdi…

 

One advantage of having a knowledgeable guide is that those hidden out of the way places suddenly become accessible with little effort. One such place we discovered in Lyon was the Pink Tower...

 

Hidden in one of the most famous and beautiful alleyways of Lyon, deep  in the medieval district, secret passages lead to  courtyards of a building without passing through the street. They were used to avoid the army, the police, or simply as a shortcut.

This traboule is built in warm pink stone, and has the distinction of being equipped with a tower that serves as a staircase to serve the upper floors.  The alleyways are part of the UNESCO world heritage site with the rest of Vieux Lyon.

The afternoon optional excursion (additional charge) was to the timeless hilltop town of Pérouges...

It was an excellent excursion literally turning back the clock and it was easy to imagine why it is a sort after film set…

We discovered its cobbled side streets lined with old facades, and its 15th-century church resembling a fortress. Our guide even treated us to the local delicacy, Galette Pérougienne, created by Marie Louise Thibaut in 1912…

Day 4  Lyon and Vienne

For those who wished there was a leisurely morning in Lyon. I decided to join Chef Max on his visit to the local central food market…

…where we sampled many foods while  experiencing the culture of this foodies paradise…

During lunch the Hermod departed Lyon and mid afternoon arrived at Vienne.

During our arrival at Vienne we were able to witness at first hand how treacherous some currents on the Rhone can be…

And on closer inspection…

 

(The Bellefleur was on charter to Saga when it lost power and collided with a bridge)

There was only the included complimentary excursion in Vienne, first a coach took us to the Roman Gallo Museum…

with its adjacent archaeological site, the size of ten football pitches…

…with excellent exhibits…

This was followed by a walking tour of Vienne Town which included a visit to the immaculately preserved 1st century Temple of Augustus and Livia

Just prior to dinner we cast off from Vienne and arrived at Touron in the early hours of day 5.

 

Day 5 – Touron and l’Ardèche Steam Railway

Today was the first occasion that a decision had to be made as there were two complimentary excursions on offer.  My wife and I chose to take the Steam Railway ride over the Hermitage vineyard visit.

The Chemin de fer du Vivarais is a tourist railway in the Ardeche region and is renowned for its historical steam locomotives…

The line runs between Tourney, in the Rhone Valley and Lamastre,  in the Doux Valley. Originally opened in 1891, the line closed on 31 October 1968, and reopened as a heritage line the following year.

We travelled as far as St. Barthelemy, a distance of  13 Kilometres and Altitude 246.6 metres, when the train was turned on a turntable to allow us the return trip…

It was a most scenic journey, particularly enhanced by the Autumn colours…

An interesting feature, pointed out by our guide, was the presence of an aqueduct and canal…

…built by the German Army during the war, to power the hydro-electric station further down the valley…

We returned to the ship for lunch and cast off early afternoon for the scenic cruise to the town of Viviers, arriving after dinner.

There was an opportunity at Viviers to take an additional  complementary excursion, a night walk, around this  historic middle age town…

*****

*****

 

Day 6 – Avignon and Arles

Our first included excursion from Avignon was to none other than Vincent van Gogh’s beloved city, Arles.

Arles is a good example of the adaptation of an ancient city to medieval European civilization. It has some impressive Roman monuments like the Obélisque d’Arles

…and the magnificent  Arena, which dominates the city…

 

Our excursion included a guided tour of this impressive two-tiered amphitheatre…

Built in 90 AD, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators. Though not as large as the Colosseum in Rome its physical condition is considerably better. It is a designated UNESCO site.

Now I mentioned when describing our on board cabin, the bluetooth Vox Box personal headsets. By way of an illustration as to their range, once inside the arena I wandered off to the opposite end and, would you believe it, I could still hear the guide giving the briefing,  on the opposite side of the Arena, when taking this picture…

(you can just make out the group under and to the right of the smaller tower)

Other interesting memorials include the Angel Mosaic Memorial Fountain…

During our walk around Arles we were beginning to notice that Vincent van Gogh played an important part in many places we visited, none more so than in Arles where he stayed in December 1888 and again in January 1889.

For one period he was  hospitalised in The Old Hospital of Arles, also known as Hôtel-Dieu-Saint-Espirit, which was built in the 16th and 17th centuries.

During his time in Arles Van Gogh had became alarmingly eccentric, culminating in an altercation with Paul Gauguing  in December 1888 following which he cut off part of his own left ear.  He was then hospitalized in the Old Hospital twice over a few months. The gardens were very recognisable from a couple of works  that Van Gogh painted whilst there.

…and the recognisable garden view shown in van Gogh’s painting above…

…and also his Café Terrace at Night…

or, if one prefers, front on…

Following lunch on board the afternoon’s optional excursion was to Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy and Les Baux-de-Provence. 

Vincent Van Gogh was a self-admitted patient at Saint Paul Asylum and there is  a collection of paintings that he  did there. During much of his stay  he was confined to the grounds of the asylum, and he made paintings of the garden and  the wheat fields that he could see outside his room…

*****

*****

 

From  Saint-Rémy we continued on to Les Baux-de-Provence a  mountain top commune with  a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains.  Set atop a rocky outcrop that is crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south…

 

The commune itself is spectacular but the challenge for me was to get to the castle top. No mean feat considering the time constraints, but I did it. Looking down over the commune…

 

…and across the highest battlements…

Day 7 – Avignon and Pont du Gard

We were already tied up alongside at Avignon and only a short distance from the City walls. This mornings included excursion was a walking tour into Avignon. The highlight was a full guided  tour of the remarkable ‘Palais des Papes’ (Pope’s Palace)…

It came as something of a surprise to learn that for a long period France had their own Pope. The ‘Palais des Papes’ was built in two main stages and consists of two distinct wings, the austere Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and the more luxurious Palais Neuf (New Palace). Despite their names, only a couple of decades separate their construction.

The rooms in the Palais Vieux are huge, high-ceiling affairs like this the Papal Banqueting Hall…

…and its amazing ‘upper’ kitchen and chimney stack...

In the Palais Neuf, they are more colourful and intimate. In both wings they are mainly unfurnished and in some cases the original decor has long vanished.  Some of the rooms are shadows of the glory that must have been. Others have been restored, such as the superbly tiled and painted Pope’s bedchamber, where sadly no photographs were allowed.

Other areas of interest included the  Palais Vieux cloister…

(seen here with just one of the 4 corner towers)

The Northern Sacristy …

…and one of the preserved decorative ceilings…

Today, the most important and famous event in the Palais des Papes is the annual Festival d’Avignon and we had the opportunity to see the courtyard venue…

…but unfortunately not the actual performance.

The French Popes certainly lived in considerable splendour here and the tour lasted nearly 3 hours followed by another visit to a local market…

*****

…with the usual fascinating seafood stalls…

…featuring one of our favourite Mediterranean delicacies, the Sea Urchin…

At this point my wife and I broke away from our group as we wanted to stand on the Pont D’Avignon. Come on, you’ve all heard that famous French song…

And here she is, wish granted…

*****

We had, of course, seen the bridge the previous evening when the Captain gave us a treat after dinner, a cruise past the Pont D’Avignon…

*****

For the second occasion on this cruise this afternoon’s optional excursion (charged) required a decision over a conflict of interest. A visit to a Chateauneuf du Pape vineyard or a trip to the world’s largest, and best preserved, Roman Aqueduct, The Pont du Gard.

On this occasion, ( possibly to the surprise of many wink.png wink.png ) I opted for the Pont du Gard

…and not satisfied with that ground level photograph I stormed the hill to get a different view…

(Not bad that for a 69 year old)

And that was our final full day of the cruise. Our final evening on board was a fun occasion, the Brits lasting the longest at the bar. Actually to be fair though, many guests had early starts.

And here is another plus for Viking. Breakfasts were available in the Aquavit, for those disembarking early, from 2.30 am. Full restaurant breakfast was available from 6.30 and i was thrilled with my gammon and eggs served up by that guy Ivan again…

Summary:

This cruise was typical of the standard offered by Viking River Cruises though I would add that, on this particular itinerary,  where it lacked actual relaxed cruising time on the rivers it more than made up for on the itinerary visits and excursions.

Service, organisation, food and excursions were all outstanding. The crew were exemplary and I have to confess I fell in love with Bozena, the Night Auditor…

…who brightened my every morning as I’m an early-riser while I suspect Solent Barbara’s favourite was Hugo, the Head Barman, who gave us excellent service and conjured up some great Hugos into the bargain…

Apart from one evening we deliberately set out to dine with different guests each evening and it was fun. We Brits were in the minority but that did not matter, we found some particularly good company to share dinner with and that included this delightful quartet from Puerto Rico…

(Shame on you Solent Richard – underdressed)

It certainly was a high level of activity river cruise but of course individual passengers are free to do as much or as little as suits.

Viking offered ‘reduced activity’ options on the complimentary excursions – thus catering for those not so mobile.

And once again Viking made the onboard offer of doubling your deposit on a future Viking cruise…

Madness not to I say.

If you have enjoyed this review of Viking Hermod and would like to be amongst the first to hear of new reviews including port reviews ( which will soon include a One Way to do Liverpool and an excursion to Salem from Boston: as well as a number of Australian ports of call including Brisbane)  and forthcoming cruise reviews of  Oceania Riviera and the new Viking Ocean cruise ship, Viking Star, why not join the many other followers by clicking on the ‘Follow’ link on the front page.

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6 responses to “Viking Hermod – Portraits of Southern France

  1. Another interesting review. Took me back to a 3 week stay with a family in Lyons when in school. I stayed in their home right by the Cathedral at Fouvieres, a great location. We have done a Rhone river cruise with a different company when neither the accommodation or itinerary was as good as this. We clearly need to go back to Viking with which we have travelled along Russian waterways.

  2. Yes , outstanding for that 69 year old 🙂
    You made my day with that Harry Potter type scene and the steam locomotive , try to explain that to my grandchildren which is why Harry Potter books work. I am shocked that the only one at the table was not keeping to Cunard type standards.
    As usual you spotted a lovely young woman but quickly found a like one for Barbara.
    Very informative
    Cheers
    Rob

  3. Pingback: Viking Hermod – Portraits of Southern France | Eby Online Business·

  4. Super commentary. My husband and I would love to go on Viking’s river cruise “France’s Finest” which includes this trip. Thanks for the info. It makes me want to go very soon.

  5. Pingback: Cruising Mates | Solent Richard's Cruise Blog·

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