River cruise lines have taken note of travelers wanting more immersive cultural experiences that take them deep into the communities they visit.
And AmaWaterways‘ Soulful Experience Black heritage river cruises do just that.
Launched last year as the Soulful Epicurean Experience, the line shortened its name to reflect the broader focus it will take as more destinations and itineraries offer the program this year, with Egypt and Portugal joining France on the roster.
The Soulful Experience program is designed to deliver the highlights along the Rhone, Douro and Nile rivers while adding a curated, insightful journey into Black history and culture in each destination.
The best thing about the itinerary, as I discovered while aboard the AmaKristina for the first Soulful Experience sailing in August, is how AmaWaterways marries a relaxing cruise experience with a thought-provoking roster of guest lecturers and shore excursions. It made my cruise — a 10-day Colors of Provence itinerary on the Rhone between Arles and Lyon, France — a unique and culturally rich journey, one that stimulates the senses.
Street art in Little Africa, a cultural hub and neighborhood in Paris. Photo Credit: Nicole Edenedo
Breathtaking sights …
If you’re familiar with Provence, you know that parts of the region are dominated by a mixture of vibrant and muted colors, from the verdant greens of lush vineyards to lavender fields and the sand-hued hillside houses of Gordes, a village synonymous with Provence’s idyllic countryside.
This tranquil atmosphere perfectly complements the progressive art scene found at Fondation Blachere in Bonnieux, a contemporary art center and exhibition space dedicated to African artists that Soulful Experience guests can visit on an excursion in Avignon.
Here you’ll find a trove of modern mixed-media works from artists like Morocco native Ghizlane Sahli and Oumar Ball of Mauritania spread over a two-story exhibition space. The property features an outdoor sculpture garden visitors can stroll through and a cafe overlooking rolling hills that seats for lunch and serves wine and beer.
The visit pairs with a scenic motorcoach tour through Provence as the local guide explains the area’s history, while sprinkling in a bit of personal history and anecdotes.
In Lyon, the Soulful Experience crafts a similar experience of contrasts during a visit to a stunning and particularly moving memorial followed by a visit to a famous wine region.
Tata Senegalais de Chasselay, a cemetery and memorial for the nearly 200 Senegalese soldiers who were massacred by German forces during World War II. Photo Credit: Nicole Edenedo
The story behind Tata Senegalais de Chasselay is as unforgettable as it is visually striking in design. The cemetery and World War II memorial commemorates nearly 200 Senegalese soldiers who were massacred by German forces in 1940 in the field surrounding the site.
Our group was captivated by our guide’s telling of the yearslong effort by French veterans to create the memorial, and the support they received from the French government, a story that even she was visibly moved by.
Recovering the bodies of the Senegalese soldiers and the building of the memorial brought attention to the atrocities that befell them and the sacrifice they made for France, a legacy enshrined at Tata Senegalais de Chasselay.
Our group was able to unwind at the next stop, a wine and cheese tasting at Domand de Fond-Vieille in Beaujolais, where we could ponder the day on a leisurely afternoon spent strolling through a majestic vineyard.
… and savory delights
Tripe sausage with poached eggs and potatoes at Bouchon Les Lyonnais in Lyon, France. Photo Credit: Nicole Edenedo
Lyon is widely regarded as the gastronomical capital of France and by some accounts, the world. France’s third-largest city, after Paris and Marseille, has more than 4,000 restaurants serving a spectrum of cuisines at prices fitting all budgets.
If there is any port worth skipping a shipboard meal for a night or two, it is Lyon. A couple of guests from the Ama-Kristina told me they enjoyed a nice meal at a Caribbean restaurant not too far from where the ship docked near the Pont Bonaparte bridge and that there were more Caribbean options in the neighborhood nearby.
But I decided to set my sights on traditional Lyonnais cuisine. I dined in two restaurants in Lyon’s Old Town: Bouchon Les Lyonnais, a down-to-earth, cafeteria-style spot, and Les Enfants Terrible, a cozy bar and restaurant.
Not knowing what to order, I simply looked at the dishes people next to me were eating and if I saw multiple tables order the same one, I figured it was good enough to try. I ended up indulging in a tripe sausage dish with a poached egg at the first restaurant and quenelle — a fish dumpling served in a rich, creamy crayfish sauce, and perhaps my favorite dish of all — at the second.
Being able to roam cities like Lyon was one of the best parts of the Soulful Experience sailing — the free time we had to explore on our own, setting our own agenda while anticipating the wonders the next day was slated to bring.