Editor's Note: This past September, writer and photographer K.D. Leperi cruised with Viking River Cruise on their itinerary "France's Finest." Her journey on the Buri was the second week of a 15-day cruise.
First, let me make it abundantly clear that I love France. I even took French as my second language in high school and while at college because the sounds and words effortlessly roll off the tongue with a melodic refrain that is both pleasing and dare I say, romantic. And of course there is the food, wine, and great French cheeses and some of the greatest art treasures and palaces in the world.
So it was that in the wake of the heinous terrorism episodes on France in 2015, I vowed to show my solidarity. I would travel to France in the aftermath, to be part of a resistance movement that won't let the freedom-to-travel be chained. It was, with that in mind, that I booked a Viking cruise of "France's Finest." For 15 glorious days I sampled the best of both northern and southern France, from Paris and the heart of Normandy to Lyon and Provence: It proved to be an unbeatable combination – a tour de force.
I was left to totally immerse myself in charming French cities, towns, villages, and bucolic countryside while learning about, savoring Lyon's culinary heritage, drinking Burgundian and Beaujolais wines, sampling French cheeses, celebrating Provencal cooking and lifestyle, walking the cobble-stone streets of medieval towns, and connecting with post-impressionistic artist Vincent Van Gogh.
This review is regarding the second week of the cruise on Viking's Buri – a sister ship to the Rolf. Built and rolled out in 2014, the Buri longship is 443 ft. with 4 decks and a crew of 50. Guest capacity is 190.
The longship was named after Buri – the first mythological Norse God. He was not of man or woman but rather a giant cow. The legend goes that as the cow named Audumbla licked salty blocks of ice, the shape of a man began to emerge. As Buri was formed, she continued to nourish him with her milk.
The Viking Buri cruises on the Saone and Rhone rivers in France, with departures from Lyon and Avignon. Designed as a "green ship" by architects Yran & Storbraaten, it features solar panel, an organic herb garden, and hybrid energy-efficient engines.
Atrium (Decks 2&3)
Upon entering the ship, you will be dazzled by the spacious and contemporary-styling of the atrium-style lobby. It's light and airy with chrome and light woods that accentuate the grand staircase. Open risers compliment the airiness of the great room concept.
Aquavit Terrace (Deck 3)
Located at the bow of the ship, this outdoor seating area is a favorite with many passengers who want to breathe fresh air, read a book, or share a drink with new-found friends. The Aquavit Terrace is also a place where you can casually dine al fresco for lunch/dinner instead of the more formal dining room. Service is buffet-style with grills. Viking claims to have the most al fresco dining on Europe's rivers.
The Observation Lounge & Bar (Deck 3)
The spacious Observation Lounge serves as a central meeting place for shore excursion briefings, language lessons, special cooking demos, cultural lectures. The bar is located in The Observation Lounge and is a central meeting place where you can sip the latest designer cocktail, wine, beer or premium liquor in a relaxed and friendly setting.
Library and Internet (Deck 3)
A small library with materials relevant to ports-of-call can supplement learnings. Across from the library are two dedicated computers for internet use by guests. Be aware, that internet service can be slow, especially when underway.
The Restaurant (Deck 2)
The Restaurant serves regional specialties and contemporary cuisine, with attentive service throughout the meal. The panoramic windows are a nice touch.
Reception and Gift Shop (Deck 2)
The Reception Desk and Gift Shop are conveniently located for all guests. Be sure to check out the reasonably priced items in the shop, including a Viking cook book with international cuisines and recipes. It's titled, "The Kitchen Table – A Culinary Journey Around the World."
Veranda Staterooms (Decks 2&3)
Veranda Staterooms are noted for their river views and airy, spacious comfort. Roomy closets and storage space, mini-refrigerators, along with amenities like 40" flat-screen LCD TVs and complimentary movies On Demand are a real treat. Ladies will love the heated bathroom floor and anti-fog mirrors. Premium Freyja™ toiletries are provided, though I do miss the previous brand L'Occitane, especially since it is French and one of my favorites. Complimentary Wi-Fi is provided within the rooms. Standard staterooms are located on the Main level – Deck 1.
Sun Deck (Deck 4)
The upper-most deck is outfitted with an open-air walking/jogging track, lounge chairs, solar panels and an organic herb garden. It is also where the ship's wheelhouse is located. Interestingly, the wheelhouse is collapsible for those times when height clearance is critical for structures like bridges.
The Chef and the Cuisine
Executive Chef Dimitris Sidiropoulos says he always wanted to be a chef: it was his childhood dream. With his grandmother serving as his main inspiration, he studied classical cuisine at Le Monde, after taking a brief detour and serving as an officer for seven years in the military. These days he says he brings his military discipline to the kitchen to ensure the absolute best in quality food, professional cooking, and artistic presentation. He believes in taking good care of his team as he views all members as his kitchen family.
When asked about what is important to him, Chef Dimitris said, "My happiness comes from preparing real food with real flavors."
Some of my favorite appetizers and entrees from Chef Dimitris's menu are:
Velouté des Champignons des Bois: roasted forest mushroom velouté with crisp bacon, mushroom chips & truffle sabayon
Escargots à la Bourguignone: baked escargots with shallots, garlic, parsley & butter
"Surf & Turf" Filet Mignon de Boeuf Roti & Gambas Sauté: tenderloin of beef & sautéed shrimp; duchesse potatoes, Béarnaise sauce, red wine jus
The Itinerary & The Tours
Sep 11 Lyon
Sep 12 Lyon
Sep 13 Lyon
Sep 14 Vienne
Sep 15 Tournon & Viviers
Sep 16 Arles
Sep 17-18 Avignon
During the second week of my cruise on "France's Finest" itinerary, there were 7 guided tours included (no additional fee) along with an audio headset to ensure I didn't miss a word. Included Tours: Beaujolais Wine Excursion, Lyon City Tour, Vienne Walking Tour and Mini-Train, Tournon Steam Train Tour, Viviers Walking Tour, Arles City Walk and Avignon Walk & Pope's Palace.
Optional Excursions are ideal for pursuing passions and have additional fees. A sampling of my optional tours included: Truffle Hunt & Goats Cheese Farm, Timeless Town of Perouges, Cowboys of the Camargue, and the Taste of Provence – a food tour.
France's most beautiful medieval town
I visited Perouges as an optional Viking tour, because I couldn't resist exploring the most beautiful French medieval town. Built high on a hill with the French Alps as a backdrop, this medieval village built of stone is one of the best preserved in France. With towering walls that enclose the town along with cobble-stone streets, it doesn’t get any more authentic than this.
There are several restaurants, gift stores, as well as places to stay, but our guide mentioned the lack of night life within the walls. But we were here for the afternoon only. After negotiating uneven streets and alleys, our guide treated us to the local “Galette de Perouges” at one of the restaurants. (This is a local specialty best described as a sugar pizza.)
Sampling of Provence
From an ancient Roman Amphitheatre (Les Arenes) in Arles that once featured chariot races to Avignon Less Halles where you taste Provencal products to your heart's delight, Provence is a place where the unusual is a part of everyday life.
One of the more unusual was my optional excursion to the Camargue. The Camargue river delta in southern France is a place where French cowboys, white Camargue horses, and black bulls run unfettered along the coastlines and marshy wetlands. The Provencal cowboys are called “gardians” and have traditionally taken the Camargue horses as their mount to herd black bulls for their famous bull festivals (they do not kill the bulls).
After a demonstration of triage, our group was treated to a delicious meal of "daube" – a Provencal beef stew cooked and seasoned with herbs de Provence along with a local side dish of ratatouille. Later, we stopped at Aigues Mortes – which translates as “dead waters” due to the surrounding marshes. It is a well-preserved walled medieval town once a port in the days of Saint Louis (Louis IX). Nowadays, the actual town is several miles inland due to the accumulation of silt over the years. It harbors dozens of shops, boutiques, and sidewalk cafes.
After shopping for all things Provence like lavender, sea salt, herbs de Provence, rice, and the ever popular Nougat de Montelimar, we headed back to our longboat, the Viking Buri. Along the way our guide sincerely thanked us for coming to France, especially this year as she poignantly noted that others chose to stay home. She added with heartfelt emotion, “We welcome you and honor you as the resistance.”
Nice to Know – What's Included
• Viking's "France's Finest" is a 15-day cruise visiting 1 country & 11 ports; Visit 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
• 14 included shore excursions with local guide & headset
• Culture Curriculum®: learn about & sample a variety of French cheeses; try some Burgundian wines; see how silk printing is done today; learn to say a few words en Français; enjoy a concert of popular French tunes; visit a local market
• Beer, wine and soft drinks are complimentary with onboard lunch & dinner
• All onboard meals featuring regional specialties & always available American classics
• Welcome Cocktail Reception & Farewell Dinner
• Multiple dining venues with open seating
• 24/7 specialty coffees, teas & bottled water
• River-view stateroom, room steward & twice-daily housekeeping service
• Evening turndown service
• Hotel-style bed with optional twin-bed configuration; luxury linens & pillows
• Security safe, Hair dryer
• 110/220 volt outlets & USB port
• Direct-dial satellite phone
• 24/7 Guest Services for special requests
• Port taxes & fees
• Airport transfers on date of embarkation/disembarkation with Viking Air program
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