SPIRIT OF THE SEINE
IN ONE OF ITS MOST POPULAR RIVER CRUISES, UNIWORLD’S CHIC SUPER-YACHT JOIE DE VIVRE TAKES GUESTS FROM PARIS TO NORMANDY AND BACK IN EIGHT DAYS OF HISTORY, FOOD AND WINE, ART, ARCHITECTURE AND HERITAGE ESTATES.
On the river cruise ship Joie de Vivre, as she plies the Seine from Paris to Normandy and back, every passenger has a standout experience. For one American, a fleeting coach drive past Claude Monet’s country house and dreamy water lily ponds in Giverny – even in the dead of winter – is alone worth the price of admission.
For other passengers on Uniworld’s luxurious Parisian Royal Holiday, the highlight is a day trip to meet the handsome French aristocrat Jean-Charles de Vogüé, owner of the baroque Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, at an intimate reception following a private tour of his vast estate southeast of the French capital.
The eight-day round trip, starting from the Joie de Vivre’s mooring at Paris’s Quai André-Citroën, in sight of the Eiffel Tower, is proving highly popular with international guests, whether they are first-time visitors to France or old hands.
Cruising through the night from the French capital, the first port of call is Vernon, home of Château de la Roche-Guyon, positioned high above one of France’s most beautiful villages near Giverny. At dusk, Joie de Vivre guests visit more private grand houses, such as the 17th-century Château de Bizy, nicknamed the ‘‘Versailles of Normandy”, near Vernon for a torch-lit walk through the gardens and sculptured plants. Later a private chamber music concert is performed in one of the château’s reception areas, followed by champagne and canapés hosted by the owner.
Day two is Rouen – one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval France, with the very medieval distinction of being the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, when the city was under English control. A morning tour takes in Rouen’s Christmas markets with pit stops for high-end hot chocolate and mulled wine (it’s winter, remember) as well as a guided tour of the gothic Rouen Cathedral, which took four centuries to build.
Afternoon tea is served at La Couronne, a restaurant dating back to 1345 but with a more recent impact on western kitchens: it’s where the late TV chef Julia Child was introduced to French cooking. Joie de Vivre’s 128 guests are served afternoon tea, including the obligatory local speciality, tarte aux pommes à la Normande.
Heading south now back towards Paris, the next stop is Mantes-La-Jolie, which offers a day trip to the Palace of Versailles, including the famous Hall of Mirrors and a private viewing of the decadent world of Domaine de