I spent a week here cruising the Saone River. The food is exquisite, the history is fascinating, the women are beautiful, and the scenery is to die for. What more could you want?
Well, some better information would have been nice. Here are some tips I learned the hard way:
November isn’t the best time to go. Well, duh-I guess I should have known that! It rained, and rained, and rained some more, and they have high winds they call mistral that feel like a Cat 2 ‘cane to a Floridian, except that in France it’s also bone-chilling. But in my defense, the weather on the French Riviera was glorious at the same time, so who knew? Well, you do, now. Go a bit earlier. October is a great time. But if you go in November, bring the windbreaker. You’re going to need it.
Some of their wine sucks. Yep. That’s right. Even the stuff they seem most proud of, like the Chateauneuf du Pape, can be so tannic it will make you wince. In Provence, they don’t tend to age their wines very long, and often not in oak. Of course, the definition of good wine varies from person to person, and some of their vintages are indeed kept in the cellar for decades, but nobody on my tour seemed very happy with what we were tasting. My advice is to buy a carafe at the restaurant unless you know the particular vintage on offer. The reds, especially, are pretty good table wines, and a good value to boot.
Cruising isn’t the best way to do this. I was on a (highly rated) Uniworld Cruise, which is like a regular ship except everything costs triple your normal rate. For this, you get a 2:1 passenger/staff ratio, unlimited drinks, luxurious bedding, and Murano chandeliers. But even with my prodigious appetite for alcohol, I couldn’t drink enough “free” booze to make any sense of the price. I’d have been far better off just renting a car and “cruising” on land, with a base in Avignon, Arles, or Beaune. I’d have seen more and also enjoyed more superlative French gastronomy while saving enough money to spend another two weeks in country. Don’t get me wrong, the cruise was a kick, and my wife loved the luxury, but this is one trip you don’t need to be on a boat to enjoy.
Do not rent a car and drive to Paris at the end of your trip-Driving here is easy. You’re on the right side of the road, and although I wouldn’t say they’re especially courteous, the French aren’t going to lay into the horn the first time you make a mistake, either. That said, don’t do as I did and try to make it through rush hour in Paris on your way to Charles De Gaulle, unless you need to take a year off of your life expectancy.
Learn some French-It will make you a better person, and any native always appreciates at least an effort from a visitor. And what better way to show your S.O. that you have that certain je ne sais quoi than to speak to the maitre d’ en francais?
Anyway, hope this helps. A’ tout a’ l’heure!