At any given point on a Tauck river cruise, at least four out of your five senses are stimulated. That’s one of my take-aways from my recent Tauck river cruise in France. The other manifested in a few take-home pounds, happily earned, around my waistline.
#1. SENSING THE SIGHTS.
Your eyes eat first on Tauck’s daily shore excursions. Take in medieval hamlets tucked alongside riverbanks for centuries, admire flower-filled gardens vying for prizes from the French government, stand in awe in front of ruins of ancient Roman and Greek heritage, and wander, appetite peaked, in open air marchés overflowing with baskets of fruits and vegetables, and boutique shops dedicated to the specialty of the house. See shops of fromage with more different kinds of cheeses than you can count, pâtisseries tempting with pastel-colored macarons, cocoa-gilded almonds and exquisitely sculpted chocolates and an assortment of other farm fresh and artisan food products that make your mouth water for a taste of that famous, perfected in France, gourmet fare. For me, seeing them wasn’t enough. I had to stop in and experience them.
#2. A SENSE OF SCENTS.
Visions mingle with fragrances as soon as you step off the boat…the irresistible aroma of warm-from-the-oven croissants and freshly baked baguettes, the unmistakable scent of lavender, incarnated in sachets, soaps, dried bundles, jams and honey, café steeped and steamed with lait, aromatic teas sweetened with miel, liqueur with heady bouquets like the licorice-flavored pastis favored by pétanque players in town squares in villages and towns all over France, and more… each scent playing an important role in the daily lives of the people who live here and tempting visitors like me to try a taste at every opportunity. Which, admittedly, I did, both on the riverboat and off.
#3. SENSATIONAL TASTES.
I sipped vintage wines from family-owned vineyards – red velvet Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a winery outside of Avignon, chardonnay grapes in a 900-year-old castle and Burgundy blends in a centuries-old château in Mercurey – and enjoyed pairings of local vin rouge and vin blanc at dinners aboard, each paying homage to the secrets of the terroir in the region where they were produced… Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâcon and Beaujolais, and others. I indulged in Valrhona chocolate in Tain-l’Hermitage, nibbled on gourmet samplings of meats, cheeses, figs and olives in Lyon’s exceptional les Halles market, and snacked on macarons and meringues whenever I had the chance during shore-side strolls on my own. I sat down for a home-hosted Provençal lunch in la Camargue and savored elegant cuisine at Fouquet’s brasserie in Paris… and continued feasting, happily, on regional fare in the ship’s dining room.
#4. A SENSE OF PLACE.
I like to feel like a local when I travel. Which is why I like to travel with Tauck. No name tags and no mass-produced experiences for me. I am interested in really getting a feel for a place by meeting the locals, seeking out hidden gems where crowds of tourists don’t go, avoiding lines and slipping in a side door where an insider waits to show me the ropes… like playing pétanque with the village champions in a little town named Viviers, learning how to craft the perfect 16-layer croissant with a French accountant-turned-award-winning-baker in Chalon-sur-Saône or hearing the love story between the dashing equestrian and the beautiful law student who hosted us for lunch and a cowboy vs. black bull competition on their private ranch in southern France… or countless other memorable moments when the locals welcomed us into their lives and I was able to make connections that I wouldn’t have had access to if not for Tauck.
#5. WORD SENSE.
I love hearing the French language. Thanks to Tauck, our little French lessons on board readied me to greet passers-by with a heartfelt “bonjour” on our morning shore excursions, thank them with a genuine “merci” for all the kindnesses they shared and bid them “adieu” with a well-pronounced but inevitably reluctant “au revoir,” along with lots of other phrases that led to conversations made merrier by my attempts to speak their language.
Eat, drink and be merry, a magnifique description for my Tauck river cruise in France.