Discover the most beautiful areas in France during your cruise on the Seine. The starting point of every trip is the city of love – Paris. This city’s indescribable flair is in sharp contrast to the idyllic romance of the Seine valley. Numerous turns and meanderings lead you to the orchards used for Calvados, lavender fields, vineyards and palaces. This cruise brings Monet’s paintings to life.
Even if you’ve never been to Paris before, you’ll feel like you recognise every corner of the city. Countless films, books, paintings, poems and songs have been set in the city of love. Yet there’s always more to discover. The fashion capital of the world, a mecca of art and culture, an oasis for gourmets and a metropolis for media, education and political and economic power – Paris is all of this and more. Paris is a city whose beauty never fades. The Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Madeleine, Opéra, Louvre, Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, Dôme des Invalides and Centre Pompidou are just some of the sights that exemplify this city’s fame and grandeur.
The Château Gaillard is now just a mighty ruin. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine Richard the Lionheart keeping watch here for the advance of the enemy – the French – through the Seine valley. The fortress, which almost blocks the river, was built in just two years between 1196 and 1198. It was the centre of the defence system, which included a network of trenches and a fortified island in the river with chains stretched across it. Wooden posts were erected in the water to prevent ships from crossing. Today, Les Andelys is a peaceful, picturesque location amid rugged limestone rocks, green fields, the river island, the Hôpital Saint-Jacques and the Saint-Sauveur church tower. From the ship, you can go for wonderful walks through the small town’s blossoming lanes towards the Gothic abbey church and, of course, the castle complex.
You quickly lose track of time in Normandy’s capital. But you’re reminded of it again by the 600-year-old ‘Big Clock’. This is one of the world’s oldest astronomical clocks and has just one hand – for the hour; minutes and seconds just weren’t so important back then. With this laid-back attitude in mind, the best way to while away the time here is to stroll towards the city centre past the medieval facades of the timber-framed houses. Rouen goes by several names – such as, ‘The Gothic City’ and ‘The City of 100 Bell Towers’. Rouen Cathedral is partly responsible for both these names. Thanks to the work of Claude Monet, this Gothic wonder is world-famous. And there’s something else the world associates with Rouen: it’s where the ashes of a peasant’s daughter were scattered into the Seine. This was an attempt to prevent a martyr cult from developing around the young woman who was burned at the stake here in 1431. The name of this woman was Joan of Arc.
There was once a time when the Seine’s tidal bore, or mascaret, could get up to seven metres high. However, when the river was dredged and made navigable for ships, this natural spectacle ceased. Today, visitors to this small town are enchanted by the restaurants and cafes on the river’s promenade, from where you can watch the comings and goings on the Seine. There are plenty of interesting excursion options here. Honfleur, an idyllic fishing town, has gorgeous little lanes and a picturesque old port quarter that has hardly changed since the 17th century. Another tour option takes you to the region’s venerable monasteries. Some of these are still inhabited, while others – such as Jumièges Abbey – survive as spectacular ruins.
At the start of the 19th century, artists and the world’s first jet set made the coast of Normandy fashionable. Wild chalk cliffs, pristine sandy beaches, quaint fishing villages, lushly green rural idylls and serene riverscapes embellished with abbeys and palaces snuggled up against the Seine’s curves – all of which contributes to the appeal of this region. Can you detect the gentle fragrance of apple trees in the air? If so, then you’ve detected the main ingredient of the local speciality – Calvados, the famous brandy distilled from cider. It’s not only an outstanding digestif but also the secret to the local traditional cuisine.
Many cities have famous sons, but the birthplace of the Sun King, Louis XIV, has made this charming city a very popular tourist destination. And, of course, the city is home to one of the largest palace complexes in Europe. The Palace of Versailles was the chief residence of the kings of France from the middle of the 17th century until the outbreak of the French Revolution. The baroque building, which at its longest point stretches for more than half a kilometre, witnessed the most eventful years in French history. The magnificent halls, gardens and ‘pleasure palaces’ give a vivid insight into this era.
It’s said that you can hear the beams creaking like old bones when you see the Vieux Moulin de Vernon. The mill is perched on two pillars, seemingly suspended in mid-air over the Seine, while its roof sags like an old worn-out horse. Claude Monet painted the mill; reassuringly, the sag is visible in these paintings, which date back to 1883. Vernon has a few sights, such as a Gothic abbey church with stunningly colourful stained-glass windows. Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to resist the lure of excursions to nearby destinations. In Château de Bizy (also known as ‘Little Versailles’), you can revel in luxurious Renaissance décor and go for a delightful stroll around the elegant park. Claude Monet’s house in Giverny is another magnet for culture enthusiasts and romantics – and rightly so. Unsurprisingly, the lush garden looks like a wild field of flowers from an impressionist painting. The crowning glory is the enchanting pond of water lilies – the subject of one of the most valuable paintings in the world.