The scenic Seine

A river cruise via Paris

Prima (UK) - - Contents -

Roughly 500 miles long, the Seine may not be the long­est river in France, let alone Europe, but it is one of the green­est, snaking its way through bushy Nor­man coun­try­side. And it’s so much more than just a pretty face. Take a one-week round trip cruise from Paris and you’ll also dis­cover ports of call that are var­ied, his­toric and fas­ci­nat­ing.

The Avalon Tapestry II, one of the new­est boats on the river, was moored on a quay just along from the Eif­fel

Tower. She was long but slim, with room for just 130 pas­sen­gers, but that didn’t im­ply any short­com­ings in terms of fa­cil­i­ties. There was a small gym, a hot tub on the open-top deck, a hair sa­lon, bi­cy­cles to bor­row, two lounges and two places to eat. In the cab­ins, the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows slid wide open, trans­form­ing the in­te­ri­ors into bal­conies with beds.

I liked some of the lit­tle things, too, such as the sup­ply of chilled wa­ter for pas­sen­gers set­ting off on shore trips, the wide range of breads at break­fast and how one of the TV chan­nels in the cab­ins broad­casts a blaz­ing log fire – just the thing if the evenings turn nippy.

We sailed from Paris, pass­ing the ‘other’ Statue of Lib­erty, and go­ing un­der a series of bridges so low that pas­sen­gers weren’t al­lowed on the sun­deck. First stop was Ver­non, just a 10-minute coach ride from Giverny and Monet’s pair of glo­ri­ous gar­dens. One is a flo­ral tri­umph of mul­ti­coloured blooms that cry out for a place on an artist’s palette, the sec­ond the bet­ter-known wa­ter gar­den with wa­ter lily ponds, weep­ing wil­lows and the fa­mous Ja­panese bridge. ‘I am filled with de­light,’ the artist wrote when he first hap­pened upon the prop­erty, ‘Giverny is a splen­did spot for me.’ It’s also a splen­did spot for over half a mil­lion vis­i­tors each year, but we are the first in, well ahead of the coachloads from Paris.

In the af­ter­noon, we stop at the charm­ing, half-tim­bered town of Les An­delys and climb a high promon­tory to visit Richard the Lion­heart’s cas­tle, which over­looks a dra­matic loop of the Seine. The next day, we fol­low the Abbey Route, vis­it­ing just two of an in­cred­i­ble legacy of Nor­mandy abbeys – the mag­nif­i­cent ru­ins of Ju­mièges and the work­ing monastery of Saint-wan­drille, a silent or­der of 30 Bene­dic­tine monks.

From Caude­bec-en-caux, the fur­thest we cruised down­stream, we were coached to the D-day land­ing beaches. First stop, the Pe­ga­sus Bridge and its mov­ing mu­seum, one of 95 war mu­se­ums and ceme­ter­ies along this 75-mile strip of Chan­nel coast. We also vis­ited Ar­ro­manches, where the re­mains of the Mul­berry har­bours, which turned the tiny sea­side town into the busiest port in the world for six months af­ter D-day, still ring the bay like beached whales.

To Rouen, Vic­tor Hugo’s ‘city of a hun­dred spires’ and an in­spi­ra­tion for Monet, who painted the front of the mighty Gothic cathe­dral more than 30 times in var­i­ous lights. It’s also the city of poor Joan of Arc, com­mem­o­rated by a mod­ern church and sou­venir choco­lates called the ‘Tears of Joan of Arc’.

And so back to Paris, where we pur­sued the Monet theme by in­spect­ing his paint­ings of the Seine, Giverny and Rouen Cathe­dral in the Musée d’or­say, plus his wa­ter lilies in the Musée de l’orangerie.

An eight-day Paris to Nor­mandy cruise costs from £1,999pp, in­clud­ing flights from Gatwick, wi-fi, gra­tu­ities, drinks with meals, shore ex­cur­sions at ev­ery port and pri­vate pick-up within 100 miles of the cho­sen de­par­ture air­port. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit aval­on­cruises.co.uk.

See the beauty of France from the Seine

Dis­cover the gar­dens that in­spired Monet Take in the view from Richard the Lion­heart’s cas­tle

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