Paris to Vernon
I have visited Paris several times and typically always enjoyed a city sightseeing cruise on the river, but other than viewing the famous landmarks from the water I knew little else about the Seine, until an opportunity arose with one of our partners, Scenic, for a 5 night taster river-cruise through Normandy from Paris to the English Channel.
We arrived on a balmy late October afternoon with Paris bathed in sunshine. The Scenic Gem, moored within sight of the Eiffel Tower, has a very appealing sundeck with loungers and the Riverview Terrace, an extremely comfortable bar area with tables and chairs – the perfect place to sip the best French champagne – and it was here I headed immediately. Like most passengers we stayed on deck as long as we could to enjoy the autumnal sunshine against the backdrop of Paris. What a blissful start to the trip.
As dusk approached I tore myself away from the sun-deck and took the opportunity to have a look around the ship. Scenic refer to their river cruise ships as Space-Ships because of their sleek and contemporary design which is easy on the eye and very light and spacious. The majority of cabins have a balcony, the bathrooms have multi-coloured spray showers to brighten up early mornings, excellent storage, complimentary L’Occitane toiletries, extremely comfortable beds with a pillow menu to ensure your head gets the good night’s sleep it deserves and a free minibar. A butler service is provided as standard – early morning tea delivered to my cabin if I didn’t fancy going to the restaurant – as well as a free laundry service. There are several dining options, including a gourmet restaurant and throughout the day tea, coffee and snacks are available in the lounge, as are drinks from the bar. There is also a small gym and walking track on the sun-deck if you feel the need to exercise. Apart from choosing to pay for a massage or hairdresser everything on the ship is included, so no need to worry about how much that extra bottle of champagne might set you back – all included – which isn’t always the case on cruise ships.
Before we sailed at 9pm we watched the Eiffel Tower light show, which, once dark, is every hour on the hour. The twinkling lights and laser beams only lasted about 5 minutes but it was a wonderful spectacle to view from the river, drink in hand, an added bonus to the start of our cruise.
Gliding along the Seine we set sail for Poissy, our next stop. Essentially a Paris suburb, Poissy is probably most well known as the home of the car manufacturer Citroen where the iconic 2CV was designed in 1939 – originally to carry 2 passengers, a barrel of wine and sack of potatoes and some might say comfort levels haven’t changed much! Our reason for stopping here though, was not for a tour of the Citroen plant or Poissy but to visit Chateau de Chantilly a short distance away. As the Chateau has the largest collection of artwork outside the Louvre I opted for this tour (the alternative was to visit Van Gogh’s final resting place) and Chantilly didn’t disappoint. With 19,000 antique books in the library, mosaics from Pompeii, paintings by Van Dyke, Botticelli and Raphael, including his famous Three Graces, to name but a few, beautiful furniture and porcelain, this is definitely somewhere I want to return and explore further. Especially as we didn’t have time to see the Chateau’s magnificent stables, the largest in France and home to 220 horses – a must for anyone interested in equestrianism.
As we sailed towards our next stop Mantes-La-Jolie, I was able to stretch out on a sunbed on the sun deck and, in between a soporific post-lunch snooze, admire some of the wonderful houses running down to the river bank before a brief stop to view Mantes’ fine gothic cathedral. I was a tad surprised, though, to find a very familiar look-a-like Padre gracing the walls in this beautiful church.
One of many highlights of the trip later that evening was our visit to Chateau de La Roche Guyon for a truly memorable classical concert. The restored Chateau fronts the spectacular backdrop of a steep cliff-face topped with the ruined fortress of Roche Guyon that dates back to medieval times. Throughout history all towns along the Seine have been of strategic importance, particularly during WW2, when Rommel used this vantage point as his headquarters.
Following a cocktail we moved into a medieval hall where a very talented quartet – 2 violinists, a cellist and a flautist – performed a selection of pieces by famous European composers. A stunning performance, a stunning location – a truly memorable experience.
After another night of seamless sailing we awoke in Vernon and I opened my curtains to find myself overlooked by guests breakfasting on an adjacent ship. We were warned it was highly likely we would be moored next to other vessels in this popular destination but it was rather surprising to see smiling faces, particularly when not fully dressed! Ahem. Lesson learned and I will pay more attention next time – if there is a next time. At popular destinations ships often moor alongside each other which does require some walking up and down steps to cross sun decks to access the shore if the vessels are not the same height – for technical reasons lifts on most river cruise ships are unable to reach the sun-deck – so if you have any walking issues or difficulties with stairs check with your operator beforehand.
Walking across the other two ships I had the opportunity to have a quick peek to assess standards and am happy to report the Scenic Gem was definitely the cruise ship of choice!
Chrissy Nason travelled as a guest of Scenic.Full details of their Normandy & Gems of the Seine cruise and other destinations can be found here.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Scenic.