Posted by Jo Blair on 29th Oct 2019 -- Read Time: 5 minutes
From the City of Light to the Coast of Flowers: river cruising on the Seine
My first experience of river cruising was a 5-day trip down the Seine with CroisiEurope. From the centre of Paris, the ship travelled to Honfleur on the Normandy Coast and back, via Les Andelys and Rouen. Boarding the cruise proved quite easy – a little over two hours after my Eurostar journey began in London’s St Pancras Station, the train arrived in the Gare du Nord, Paris. From here it was just a short metro journey to the ship’s dock – and wow, what a position the boat enjoyed! It was docked right by the base of the Eiffel Tower, with the iconic metal structure stretching majestically above. In fact, it is only the ships of CroisiEurope that enjoy this privileged position, with other river cruisers being docked further down the banks of the Seine.
The boat itself, the MS Renoir, was essentially like a floating hotel. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the cabins – I’d expected them to be small considering that we were on a ship designed for rivers, but they were actually quite spacious. The beds were very comfortable and there were plenty of ingenious storage solutions in the cabins, some of which I could do with in my house! My cabin was on the main deck, which meant that it had floor-to-ceiling windows facing out across the river, resulting in a bright, airy room. Elegantly decorated in shades of pale blue, it was a very relaxing space.
Paris by night
After darkness fell, we embarked upon a river tour of Paris by night. Gliding down the River Seine through the heart of the dazzling city that evening, Paris truly earned its nickname of the ‘City of Light’! It was magical to see the gorgeous monuments and palaces of this grand city lit with a warm glow (even in the rain!), from a unique perspective. Passing below the river’s many wonderful bridges, including Pont Neuf, we took in several icons of the Parisian skyline – the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Institut de France, the Île de la Cité and of course, the Eiffel Tower. Twinkling lights danced across the famous tower on the hour, every hour, which was an incredible spectacle.
Setting sail on the Seine
The next morning, we awoke to a beautifully sunny autumnal morning – the perfect weather in which to sail out of Paris and along the Seine towards our next destination, Les Andelys. We enjoyed a delicious French breakfast whilst travelling sedately along the calm waters. CrosiEurope ships offer full board which includes a buffet breakfast, lunch (which is either a served 3-course or a buffet), and a 4- or 5-course served dinner. Wine is included at lunch and dinner, and indeed all drinks throughout the day are included in the package – the only exclusions are champagne and fine wines/spirits. The dinners follow a set menu, but helpfully the menu is put on your in-cabin TV each morning, so if there is anything you wish to change you can notify reception who will offer an alternative. The food was typically French in that it was of a very high standard, well presented, offered with a choice of wine, and there was plenty of it!
Les Andelys is a sweet little town, although it has a varied and quite gory history! The small settlement is nestled above a sharp curve in the Seine and culminates in a château commissioned centuries ago by Richard the Lionheart, which we explored on a guided tour. From here there were lovely views across the pretty rooftops, along the sinuous river and over the glorious, golden countryside.
Heading to Honfleur
Again, we spent the next morning relaxing whilst the boat cruised towards the pretty harbour town of Honfleur. Sailing each morning was a wonderfully tranquil way to start the day, and as we were travelling in autumn the scenery was stunning. Little towns were set amongst the beautiful landscapes, coloured with trees in various hues of gold, russet and ruby. As we sailed close to the banks the bright and colourful shrubbery could easily be seen, and the shades seemed ever changing. When we arrived in Honfleur, the scenery was very different but no less delightful. This historic harbour marks the beginning of Normandy’s Côte Fleurie (‘Flower Coast’) and is most well known for inspiring the Impressionist painters with its beauty; Monet amongst them. Once a charming fishing village, today the popular town is still punctuated by the masts of sailboats which are reflected in the glassy harbour waters. I loved wandering around this friendly, bustling town – my only regret was that I missed seeing the Eugène Boudin Museum, an art collection celebrating the Normandy coast, as unfortunately it closes on Tuesdays.
Returning via Rouen
From Honfleur, the boat returned back down the river towards Paris. After another calm morning’s sailing, we arrived in the ancient city of Rouen where we were met by a local guide for a tour of the historic city centre and its cathedral. Rouen is much bigger than Honfleur, but packed with lovely shops, cafés, churches, and plenty of cultural attractions. Its restored medieval core is lined with charmingly wonky timber-framed buildings, and at its heart is the Gothic masterpiece that is the cathedral. Rouen is also known for its association with Joan of Arc, and is rich with history and excellent museums.
On the final morning, the boat docked back in Paris early in the morning, and I took the return Eurostar home. It was a really useful trip for me in terms of seeing the quality of the ship, the way in which the tours run, where the ships dock, the standard of the cabins, and the level of service provided. Most river cruises have a price point that initially seems quite high, but this first-hand experience made me realise that they can actually be great value for money, as everything is included. Personally, I enjoyed having time to relax in the morning whilst cruising, and time to explore the region in the afternoons. The mornings provided the perfect time to socialise or play cards, and as our afternoon stops were all on the banks of the Seine there was no coach travel involved – it was all very stress-free!