Days of wine and Roses

A lux­ury cruise along the Seine re­veals some of France’s most mem­o­rable high­lights from a unique point of view,

Travel Bulletin - - RIVER CRUISING - writes KRISTIE KELLAHAN.

BEAU­TI­FUL Paris, that most mag­nif­i­cently ro­man­tic of all cities, is al­ways a vis­ual feast. The Eif­fel Tower, daz­zling at mid­night, ducks on the pond in Lux­em­bourg Gar­dens, the im­pos­ing grandeur of Notre-dame cathe­dral, a colour­ful dis­play of cakes in the win­dow of a patis­serie in Le Marais.

I thought I knew well the sights of Paris, un­til I saw them from a river cruise. What a pleas­ant sur­prise to see the city’s iconic land­marks through fresh eyes as I sailed along the Seine River aboard Tapestry II, one of Avalon Wa­ter­ways’ Suite Ships.

Trav­el­ling on Avalon’s eight-day Paris to Nor­mandy’s Land­ing Beaches cruise, we spent the first and last day in France’s mag­nif­i­cent cap­i­tal, with an in­cluded city sight­see­ing pack­age and plenty of free time for shop­ping and patis­serie-hop­ping.

Tapestry II’S jour­ney along the Seine cov­ers some charm­ing French vil­lage land­scapes and land­mark des­ti­na­tions. Guests are well-ad­vised to have smart­phones and video cam­eras at the ready to cap­ture the ru­ral idyll of cen­turies-old stone farm­houses, graz­ing cows and vil­lage churches where gen­er­a­tions of life events have been pon­dered.

Monet’s gar­dens at Giverny are vis­ited, as well as the his­toric footsteps of Joan of Arc in Rouen, the cap­i­tal of Up­per Nor­mandy. In Con­flans, cruis­ers have the choice of fol­low­ing the trail of Van Gogh’s last days to Au­vers-sur-oise or mar­vel­ling at the lav­ishly re­stored luxe of Napoleon and Josephine’s Chateau de Mal­mai­son.

Cer­tainly one of the un­for­get­table high­lights of the cruise itin­er­ary is the day spent dis­cov­er­ing Nor­mandy’s Land­ing Beaches.

Stand­ing on the windswept sands of Omaha Beach, we lis­tened wide-eyed and rapt as our guide de­scribed the events of 6 June 1944: D-day, the largest seaborne in­va­sion in his­tory. An un­stop­pable flotilla of 5,000 war­ships charg­ing to­wards the Ger­mans who had been oc­cu­py­ing Nor­mandy. The land­ing of 24,000 air­borne troops in the dead of night. At least 10,000 Al­lied ca­su­al­ties in one day. A bat­tle that would last 80 days, claim 425,000 lives and ul­ti­mately give France its free­dom.

At the Nor­mandy Amer­i­can Ceme­tery and Memo­rial, more than 9,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers are buried. The sim­ple, strik­ing de­sign of rows and rows and rows of white crosses and Stars of David on the lawns head­ing down to the ocean is sober­ing and dig­ni­fied. Lo­cal staff handed out roses for us to place on graves.

Ex­pertly han­dled shore ex­cur­sions are one of the hall­marks of Avalon river cruises, whether in France, Ger­many, Cambodia or be­yond. Avalon em­ploys the ser­vices of mul­ti­lin­gual guides, care­fully se­lected for their ex­pert lo­cal knowl­edge. The Lo­cal Favourites

pro­gram dishes up au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences in each des­ti­na­tion that go be­yond what is nor­mally avail­able to in­de­pen­dent tourists. For­get a stan­dard group out­ing to the Lou­vre: on a day trip to Chateau de Bizy near Giverny, we were per­son­ally wel­comed by the nona­ge­nar­ian lady of the manor, a di­rect de­scen­dant of the Bon­a­partes. In prepa­ra­tion for our day at the Nor­mandy beaches, we were lec­tured by one of the fore­most WWII schol­ars liv­ing in France.

An­other no­table sell­ing point of Avalon Wa­ter­ways’ cruises is their Panorama Suites. The unique de­sign of the suites gives cruis­ers the op­tion of turn­ing their en­tire cabin into an open-air bal­cony by open­ing wide the wall-to-wall glass doors. It also gives them the op­tion not to do that - re­mem­ber, the weather in north­ern France and other parts of Europe dur­ing the shoul­der sea­sons of March and Septem­ber is of­ten not warm enough to let the out­side in, and bal­conies of­ten sit empty dur­ing those times.

On the Tapestry II ship, launched last year, the beds face the view, in­stead of the wall. So sim­ple, yet such a big change for the hol­i­day­maker’s van­tage point.

Trav­ellers more ac­cus­tomed to ocean cruis­ing will no­tice other dif­fer­ences when tak­ing to the rivers. With fewer than 200 pas­sen­gers, there’s a re­laxed ease to get­ting on and off the ship, a man­age­able line at the break­fast buf­fet and never a crowd on the sun deck. Per­son­alised, at­ten­tive ser­vice from the cruise di­rec­tor and op­er­a­tions staff makes ev­ery guest feel like a VIP, while the lux­ury in­clu­sions of the ship and the spa­cious cab­ins are a pleas­ant in­dul­gence. On-board casi­nos? For­get about it.

Me­an­der­ing along Europe’s wa­ter­ways, close enough to prac­ti­cally peek into the win­dows of river­front homes, is a de­light­ful way to get up close and mem­o­rable with his­toric vil­lages and de­light­ful wa­ter­front cities. Vive la France!

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Avalon Water­ways

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