Travelling by river is the perfect way to see France. But where should you jump ship and explore? Try these ports of call, writes Eli Orzessek.
We don't need to tell you why you should explore Paris — that one is rather obvious. It's impossible to see everything the City of Love has to offer in a day, so pick carefully to create your ideal day-trip itinerary.
Notre Dame Cathedral opens relatively early so it's a good place to start. The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe are clear must-dos — and a great way to get an extensive view of Paris. Take a walk down the nearby Champs-Elysees for shopping.
If you want to visit the Louvre, it's a good idea to limit your visit to two hours and just see some of the highlights.
It's the wine capital of Burgundy so naturally you'll want a glass or two while you're in port. Explore the walled old town and be sure to take a look at Hotel-Dieu, a 15th century hospital that's now a museum. Beneath the city streets are labyrinths of wine cellars — you can only imagine what precious drops are housed within.
For local cuisine, beef bourguignon is a favourite and most of the little bistros around town serve it.
If you're passing through on a Saturday, the markets in the old city are an incomparable feast of fragrant cheeses, smoky meats, fresh fruit and bread straight out of the oven.
Known as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon is a foodie's dream, so you'll want to sample as much as possible during your visit. Start with breakfast at Boulangerie du Palais, where you'll find delectable pastries and other sweet treats.
Then walk it all off with a wander around the Renaissance old town — the cobbled streets will lead you to plenty of cute cafes, flower shops and places to buy gifts, and you'll pass historic buildings like the Cathedrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
Stop for lunch and try a Lyonnaise salad. Then you can further indulge at the farmers' market — you might want to pack a few treats to take back on board with you.
Many river cruises offer passengers a half-day trip on the Ardeche train, which runs from March to November. The steam train visits the beautiful Doux Gorge — it's a great way to see the wider area.
The town of Tournon borders the Rhone, opposite the Tain-l'Hermitage vineyards and is overlooked by the outline of castles.
Visit the 16th century Chateau-Musee de Tournon sur Rhone, which has a museum housed within. Take some time to stroll around le Jardin d'Eden (the Garden of Eden). This is the former park of the Cordeliers monastery and the Notre Dame convent, a truly magical place to take an afternoon walk.
Full of history, Avignon is a small city with medieval streets and houses as well as private mansions from the Renaissance. A former Catholic seat, the spectacular Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) is a must-see, as well as the Saint-Benezet bridge — both are Unesco World Heritage sites.
The city is home to a number of art museums and has been nicknamed the cultural capital of Provence.
The Musee du Petit Palais is a great example of Avignon's old-town architecture, with a vast collection of Italian and Provencal artwork dating from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
Exploring this charming village on foot is the best way to get a taste of the fascinating history of the area, which runs through Roman and medieval times to the Renaissance and beyond. Start your visit in the old town at its centrepiece, the Cathedral of Saint-Vincent, which dates from the 12th to 18th centuries.
Explore the narrow streets and take a walk over the ancient stone bridge, the Pont Romain, across the Escoutay River — it's been around since the 2nd or 3rd century.
A small town on the River Seine, Vernon isn't loaded with blockbuster monuments but it does have charming old streets to explore, with timber-framed houses from the 1100s up to the 1600s.
The local tourist office can provide you with a map to see the sights and you can also buy tickets for Monet's Giverny Garden, a few kilometres away. The gardens are a must-see — whether you're a gardener or not, they're sure to take your breath away. Near the tourist office, you'll spot the Collegiale Notre-Dame de Vernon, an 11th century church in the Gothic style.
Start with a stroll along the Seine River banks, with the fine view of the Brotonne Bridge.
A particular highlight in this small town is the 15th century Gothic-style church of Notre Dame — reportedly named by Henry IV as the most beautiful church in his kingdom.
Nearby, you'll walk past the 12th century Maison des Templiers, among the oldest houses in Normandy. It now contains a museum of local history.
A second museum, MuseoSeine explores the interesting history of the river, through the lives of fisherman, sailors and shipbuilders.
The capital of Normandy, Rouen is home to more than 50 religious buildings, while many of the churches are gems of Gothic architecture. In the heart of the old town, the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the largest and most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France.
You can also witness the destruction suffered in the area during World War II.
The ornately Gothic law courts, the Palais de Justice, still has evidence of shell holes from Allied bombings.
Visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts, which ranks among the most important art museums in France. In the elegant Hotel d'Hocqueville, you'll find the Museum of Ceramics, a wonderful collection of faience pottery and porcelain.
Located at the mouth of the Rhone is a gateway to the wild Carmargue Regional National Park — a perfect opportunity to get in touch with nature. In the marsh areas, you'll find flocks of pink flamingos, and the area is also home to herds of wild horses.
The town has three popular beaches: Napoleon, Olga and Carteau.
One of the main sights in the area is the star-shaped fort, now home to two fascinating museums, where visitors can learn about the history of the Compagnie des Indes trading company and the maritime history of Port-Saint-Louis. Keen walkers can follow a 6km coastal path to Locmiquelic, which covers the Reserve Ornithologique (bird reserve).
A seven-night, Paris-to-Normandy Avalon cruise, can be purchased from helloworld for $4339pp. Ten nights from Burgundy to Provence starts at $6329pp.