I’m sitting in my own little garden on Viking Radgrid’s sundeck under the Eiffel Tower. Everyone is out on tours so I am enjoying this smart new river ship with a gin and tonic by my side and herb gardens at the foot of my lounger.
I’m enveloped by a jogging track so Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare comes to mind, but I stay horizontal to savour being in a prime spot because this cruise has brought home how much I have missed being able to simply pop across the Channel to France.
In past years I have taken for it granted and raced all over Paris, visiting the galleries, museums and palaces rather than soaking up life along the Seine.
And after all, what’s the rush? Viking Radgrid is a beautiful moving ‘home’ and with no gym, spa or salon, the precious square feet are cleverly utilised to create light and airy lounges and cabins.
My favourite spot is the Aquavit Terrace at the bow, with indoor or outdoor seating for casual dining. Eating breakfast alfresco, while the new hybrid-diesel electric ship glides silently along the meandering river is a real pleasure – and a medieval castle tower built into the chalk cliff comes into view just as I finish my complimentary Buck’s Fizz.
Within a five-minute walk I am at Chateau La Roche-Guyon where the Viking tours team is tempting guests with warm, freshly baked croissants and pain au raisin from the local boulangerie. We’ve only just eaten but it is satisfying to feast in the sunshine knowing this ‘Viking raid’ supports small businesses. A double tick in my box.
Inside the chateau I climb stairs to the tower which rewards with beautiful views across the river and over the nine-acre kitchen garden.
Versailles may have the largest potager in Ile-de-France (22 acres), but La Roche-Guyon’s has no crowds!
On the way back to the ship, I wander through the garden that is laid out in its original 18th century symmetrical design, made up of large squares, each with eight triangles – a classic show of human power over nature.
I stop to chat to a gardener pruning the heritage pear trees and while his English is as poor as my French, we laugh about his work being cut out to look after 700 fruit trees in the vegetable garden that has been organic since 2007 and classified as a ‘Jardin Remarquable’.
Viking Radgrid, built specifically for the Seine, sails on to Le Pecq, another new mooring for me, and I walk up through tree-lined avenues to Chateau Saint Germain-en-Laye, where the Sun King, Louis XIV, was born. The grand building, recently renovated and gleaming in the sunshine, is now home to the National Archaeology Museum with notable displays which include a stunning 27-panel Roman mosaic pavement that was discovered along the banks of the Rhone in 1967.
Continuing my slow lane mission, I cross Charles de Gaulle Square into the old town of St Germain-en-Laye, with narrow winding streets that are pleasingly crammed with small, classy but affordable boutiques. While in the appropriately named Rue au Pain is the patisserie Grandin. Do stop for a Debussy cake (hazelnut biscuit, praline mousse, rum-soaked raisins and chocolate icing) named after the composer who was born in the opposite property, no 38, which is now the tourist office.
On the subject of famous names, I am also secretly looking out for Paris St Germain (PSG) footballers, wives and girlfriends. PSG is France’s richest and most successful team with stars including Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymah. Shame they are not playing ball on my day in town and I learn that while the squad play and train locally most of the top footballers tend to live in the swanky 16th Arrondissement.
No matter, ‘Le Shopping’ goes well and there’s time for coffee back at Charles de Gaulle Square where I note, for another time, Saint-Germain-des-Prés station (Paris Metro Line 4). It’s a satisfying morning, just 12 miles west of central Paris.
On return to the ship, I spot a Monoprix supermarket opposite Viking Radgrid’s mooring which requires a detour to buy presents to take home – wine, sweets, children’s clothes and a pair of Havaianas flip-flops for nine euros. Result.
I skip up the gangway into the ship’s two-deck atrium, welcomed by the ever-friendly crew, and grab a book from the library corner and coffee from the drinks station next to the Viking Lounge where I end up sharing the day’s adventures with fellow travellers.
The resident pianist starts to play and suddenly it is gin o’clock. I am feeling very ‘at home’ and ready for an early dinner in the elegant restaurant with floor-length windows on either side. Open seating means I can dine with friends or meet someone new every day while working through a five-course menu that also changes daily with tempting regional choices.
Dining is certainly a highlight with beer and wine plus soft drinks served with lunch and dinner. A Silver Spirits package can be bought for any other drinks, costing £120 pp for the week.
While Scandi design could signal slightly bland styling, that is not the case on Viking Radgrid; public areas are warm and inviting with smart, comfortable chairs and sofas in bespoke textiles and leather with cushions and throws I would love to take home in my suitcase.
My Verandah Stateroom (205sq ft) has an easy-to-use shower that always delivers water at a steady flow and temperature, an anti-fog mirror and underfloor heating. The bed is really comfortable and there’s a balcony big enough for two chairs and a small table.
I also like the fact that a daily paper diary lands on my bed during the nightly turn-down. Some cruise lines have gone digital but there is something quite comforting about sitting in bed to choose your next day’s activities, tours, briefings, lectures, and classes from water colours to cheese tastings or Cognac masterclasses.
Which nicely demonstrates that without haring around, you can make every minute count on Viking Radgrid, whatever your pace.
Viking Radgrid’s eight-day ‘Paris & The Heart of Normandy’ voyages also visit the Normandy Beaches, Vernon for Giverny and Les Andelys. Prices from £1,945 pp for sailings in 2023 and there is still limited availability in 2022. This lead in price reflects an offer of a £1,000 pp discount for 2023 departures (valid until June 30, 2022).
Price includes six guided tours, return flights, on board meals including wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, wifi and gratuities.
Call 0800 319 66 60 or visit viking.com