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Demand for food and wine experiences and historic sites is driving a big jump in Australian passenger on the rivers of France, according to Viking River Cruises.

Australian guests are up 20% this year, and Aussie favourite routes include a 15-day France’s Finest cruise-tour itinerary between Paris and Avignon, and an eight-day Lyon and Provence itinerary.

The world’s biggest river cruise fleet already sails seven destinations in France, and has a huge program of shore excursions.

Australians, excited by the line’s new Ocean vessels and keen to experience more of what Viking has to offer, have been flocking to French sailings, setting new records for bookings.

River Cruise Passenger spent last week experiencing Provence aboard the Viking Delling, a 190-passenger longship and one of three that plies this beautiful area of southern France.

Seventeen Australians, including a film crew, were among the 180 mainly American and British passengers on board.

Some had booked French extensions: three nights in Paris or the French Riviera.

There were 63 returning  passengers, including Australians who said they had already travelled on Viking Ocean.

Most maintained the ships, destinations and Viking’s high value offering were key reasons to choose the cruise.

The line includes wine and beer with meals, one included shore excursion a day plus free wi-fi as part of its regular package.

It is proving a big hit.

Like it’s ocean ships, Viking River Cruises claims to be the thinking travellers’ choice, with an emphasis on cultural immersion, and a no-kids-no-casino policy.

Aboard the Viking Delling, there is a wide-cross section of age groups, and most were keen to explore.

Shore excursions were offered for all abilities, including new hiking options designed to appeal to today’s highly-active river cruiser.

Program director Mia Drihem, who comes from Provence and is proud to be showing off her home region, told Cruise Passenger Australian guests were among the most adventurous and loved to strike out on their own.

“I feel we have more and more Australian passengers over the years. We tend to have more Australians in July and August, getting away from the cold”.

“They are very adventurous – they like active tours.  Whenever we can, we have a group that would be dedicated to guests who are more active.”

Favourite shore excursion for Australians in provence

While Viking ships don’t yet offer bicycles or gyms,  passenger feedback suggested the company may well have to consider a greater emphasis on active pursuits in the future.

Food on board was strongly influenced by Provence – a region abounding with Michelin starred restaurants and well-known wineries like Chateauneuf-du-Pap.

Viking Delling is a lovely, relaxed vessel with open-plan living, wall-to-ceiling glass and light, bright outlook.

There were plenty of optional experiences, from cooking schools to truffle hunts, with wine tasting and lavender fields in between.

A veranda cabin (275 sq feet) costs from $5,995 per person with an air offer of $995 return to Europe. France is hot right now with Australians, so bookings for 2020 are on sale and going fast.

See vikingrivercruises.com.au.

For a full review of the Viking Delling and Provence, see the next edition of Cruise Passenger magazine, out in September.