The scenic Seine
A river cruise via Paris
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