The best way to experience the heart and soul of a region is through the expertise of a local. Cruise Director Jana Pakstaitis gives us the lowdown on what to expect with Evergreen’s river cruise in the south of France.
Bonjour Jana. Please tell us a little about yourself!
I was born in Estonia, a small country in North-Eastern Europe but I dreamed of travelling the world and living abroad. When I was 16, I won a scholarship to study at a private school on the Isle of Wight. I stayed in the UK for eight years, completing a degree in modern European languages and a Masters in Russian and Eastern European studies.
What was your dream job as a child?
A spy because I watched too many James Bond films and his life seemed so full of excitement, adrenaline, fun and adventure!
What is so special about the Rhône and Saône Rivers?
The Rhône is one of the longest rivers in France and in my opinion the prettiest one, dotted with picturesque villages, historic towns and lovely scenery. When I started cruising here I was pleasantly surprised with our docking locations which are almost always close to the centre of town. You can easily stroll into town so it’s very convenient! These two rivers flow through two of the most famous French regions – Burgundy and Provence – which are blessed with stunning landscapes, excellent weather, a rich history and delicious food and wines.
What is your favourite stop on the cruise and why?
Avignon – it’s a quintessential Provençal town! Every stereotype you might have heard about Provence being a beautiful paradise of sunshine, lavender, impressionists and a carefree existence rings true here. The town is not only filled with sightseeing treasures like the Palace of the Popes and St Bénézet Bridge but it’s dynamic and lively, always bustling with activity. There are often fairs, music festivals, plays and outdoor performances. In the evening the town comes alive with terraces filled with both tourists and locals sipping French cocktails and soaking up the atmosphere of a relaxed southern lifestyle. It’s a great place where everyone can find something to see, do and enjoy.
What are guests most surprised about when they cruise in France?
The beauty of the vineyards on the way to Beaune. We take the scenic route where you can see all the world-famous names such Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, and Puligny-Montrachet written on plaques along the road next to sun-drenched vineyards spreading into what seems like an eternity. Once a guest came to me and said he had been in the wine business for 40 years selling quality wines around the world and when he saw all those names on the road he got so emotional he almost cried. It really is a feast for the eyes.
Also, the sheer variety of cheeses! France has over 1,200 regional cheese varieties but guests are always surprised that every day they can taste yet another local variation of Brie or Camembert. Some cheeses are so smelly and runny that only the most adventurous dare to try them!
What's one thing you love about Emerald Liberté?
Definitely the retractable roof on the pool! With the sunny French weather it is an excellent feature for guests.
What are the top 3 things guests must see or do when they’re visiting?
1) Get lost in the winding medieval streets of Viviers.
2) Enjoy wine-tasting in one of the local vineyards.
3) Explore the Old Town of Lyon with its historic traboules and gourmet restaurants.
When is the best time to visit?
It depends on what you like. Spring can be fresh and rainy but beautiful with all the flowers and trees in full bloom. In summer it gets quite hot and busy but that is when the major music and theatre festivals take place and the cities like Lyon, Avignon and Arles come to life.