THE MA­JES­TIC SEINE

Small boat­ing clubs flour­ish out in the stick sand fish­er­men are le­gion. In sum­mer, there are beaches where lo­cals go to swim

Motorboat & Yachting - - Cruising -

My first ap­proach to the Seine was on a calm, hazy Septem­ber morn­ing. A slow west­erly swell rolled in, but oth­er­wise the bay was still. Cap de la Hève grad­u­ally took shape to port, with Le Havre beyond it. Ships waited at an­chor and a pi­lot boat buzzed about. The south side of the es­tu­ary was a vague smudge curv­ing to­wards Deauville and Trou­ville. You feel the majesty of this great river. The es­sen­tial spirit of France seems to waft out across the wide es­tu­ary and its miles of dry­ing banks. The Seine car­ries not only ships and barges, but also the che­quered flux of his­tory on its con­stant jour­ney past stately fam­ily châteaux, el­e­gant parks and the weep­ing wil­lows of the Im­pres­sion­ists’ brushes.

Once you find the outer buoys, it’s easy to en­ter be­tween two long train­ing walls. Hon­fleur lies seven miles up, one of the most pic­turesque har­bours in Nor­mandy. Car­ry­ing a fair tide above Hon­fleur, you pass two high sus­pen­sion bridges be­fore the Seine curves south-east to leave the sea be­hind. Now you be­come an in­land trav­eller through a land­scape hardly changed in cen­turies. There have been barges at Vieux-port, pi­lots at Caude­bec and fer­ries cross­ing at Du­clair since the days of sail.

HIS­TORIC ROUEN

Aim to make the 60-mile pas­sage to Rouen in one hop be­cause there are no safe places to stop on the way. In the city you can ei­ther lie at a dock­lands ma­rina in Bassin Saint-ger­vais, or fur­ther up at a halte nau­tique on the north side of Île Lacroix – an at­trac­tive spot fac­ing a barge quay. There’s a fuel berth and it’s not far across Pont Corneille to Rouen’s old quar­ter, with its maze of cob­bled streets and al­leys. Al­though the city was bombed in World War II, many me­dieval tim­bered build­ings were painstak­ingly re­stored. By con­trast, the church com­mem­o­rat­ing Joan of Arc is a spec­tac­u­lar modern design.

A two-hour run above Île Lacroix are the fas­ci­nat­ing barge locks at Am­fre­ville, the first of six large locks in the 204km of canalised river to Paris. They are op­er­ated from loom­ing con­trol tow­ers and you sim­ply obey the traf­fic sig­nals af­ter let­ting any barges in first. The process is smooth and au­to­matic, much eas­ier than locks on smaller canals.

THE CANALISED SEINE

As with most large rivers, you must plan your overnight stops with care. Even though the up­per Seine is canalised, a steady cur­rent usu­ally runs down­stream to keep the wa­ter­way un­easy. Wash can make life un­com­fort­able un­less you are ly­ing against a solid quay, a re­tired barge, or shel­tered be­hind one of the many is­lands. The guides show sev­eral bank­side vis­i­tor pon­toons, though some are rather rick­ety for larger boats.

About 30km above Am­fre­ville, the Seine glides be­low tow­er­ing white cliffs at Les An­delys, where the ru­ins of Château Gail­lard – Richard the Lion­heart’s 12th cen­tury cas­tle – look across the val­ley. Les An­delys has a small ma­rina, but depths can be skimpy. Bet­ter to carry on to Ver­non, where you can moor in ru­ral sur­round­ings near the ru­ins of a tide mill. This lovely spot is near Claude Monet’s fab­u­lous gar­dens at Giverny, where the painter lived and worked for over 40 years un­til his death in 1926.

Try to al­low a relaxing three or four days be­tween Ver­non and Paris. Use­ful stops are Port St Louis ma­rina at Car­rières­sous-poissy and Port Van Gogh at As­nières-sur-seine, which is 25km from Paris ma­rina. Me­an­der­ing through th­ese mid­dle reaches of the Seine, it’s won­der­ful just to sit back and watch the vis­tas un­fold. Small boat­ing clubs flour­ish out in the sticks and fish­er­men are le­gion, pa­tiently at­tached to their lines. In sum­mer there are beaches where lo­cals come down to swim. One high­light is Con­flans-sainte-hon­orine, a lively barge port at the con­flu­ence of the Seine and Oise. You’ll see plenty of fam­ily barges lin­ing the quays, self-con­tained work­ing homes of­ten with a car stowed on the aft deck and wash­ing flut­ter­ing on a line.

EN­TER­ING PARIS

You know Paris is near when the Eif­fel Tower ap­pears ahead. Soon you pass Tro­cadéro Gar­dens and the white pavil­ions of Palais de Chail­lot. Then the Seine curves east, with the Lou­vre in the dis­tance. The or­nate Pont Alexan­dre III is an iconic river­mark, with its gleam­ing gilt fig­ures on four stone col­umns.

Paris-arse­nal ma­rina is four kilo­me­tres on from Pont Alexan­dre. Fringed with plane trees and quay­side gar­dens, Arse­nal feels pleas­antly co­cooned from city hurly-burly and it’s only a short stroll down to the fash­ion­able Paris is­lands – Île St Louis with its chic shops and bistros, and Île de la Cité, the cap­i­tal’s me­dieval heart adorned by Notre-dame cathe­dral. I want to be there now!

The rest­ful vil­lage of Les An­delys. Op­po­site, Pont Alexan­dre III, Paris

Artists show their work by the quay­side in Hon­fleur, Nor­mandy

One of the many work­ing barges on the Seine

Once seen never for­got­ten: the old tide mill at Ver­non

Passers-by win­dow shop­ping on Île St Louis in Paris

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