Lovers know France best. What romantically inspired traveler has not dreamed of exploring a country where its rivers, like its wines, flow with irresistible invitations to drink in the intoxicating beauty of landmarks, landscapes and lifestyles that reward body, mind and soul.
So when I had the opportunity to take a European river cruise that started in Paris and seduced with soul-stirring sights along the Seine, my heart raced with anticipation. I dreamily imagined star-crossed lovers and Hemingwayesque scenes playing out in sidewalk cafés, wine, chocolat and roses at the ready, strolls atop the beautiful Pont Neuf, until recently draped with hundreds of love locks, and intimate dinners in candlelit brasseries like Fouquet’s on the Champs-Élyssés, gleaming in brass and portending many a bonne nuit for its always-glamorous patrons.
My armchair imaginings mirrored my real-life impressions as I found myself waking up to a steaming cup of café au lait and a melt in my mouth buttery croissant, delicately flaked and still warm from the oven, in my Tauck hotel ideally located right near the Louvre. I was in Paris for a river cruise… in springtime… when, as the multitude of song lyrics attest, the chestnuts are in bloom, the Seine beats with invitations for a bateau ride or two and love most definitely is in the air.
Lest you start rolling your eyes and thinking that I’m about to ramble on about some love affair with a handsome French garçon I met under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower on a moonlit starry night… à la one of van Gogh’s most famous painted scenes of Arles… I’m not. It’s rather about all the things travelers to France – especially in Paris and along the river Seine – fall in love with… like food, wine, history, intrigue, art, gardens, paintings, pastries, people, parks… and so much more.
Paris grew up along the banks of the slow-flowing river Seine, Joan of Arc left her legacy in towns and villages that line its shores outside the city, and artists, van Gogh and Monet among them, found her picturesque charms life giving and inspirational. At 485 miles long, the Seine is the longest navigable waterway in France and welcomes river ships like Tauck’s ms Swiss Sapphire with natural, national and cultural history.
The Seine ducks under some 37 city bridges in Paris through the arrondisements of the artsy Left Bank and the more elite Right Bank, where you’ll find a spectacular procession of masterpieces everywhere you look. They include the Eiffel Tower, gargoyled Nôtre Dame Cathedral and the truly palatial Louvre. Travel with Tauck and you’ll visit each of these up close with local guides who share fascinating stories and tidbits of knowledge you may not have known about before!
Meandering out of the city, the river runs past the scenic world-famous towns of Giverny, home to Monet’s oft-painted gardens; Les Andelys guarded by a fortified castle innovatively built by Richard the Lionheart, King of England; and multi-spired Rouen, where Joan of Arc tragically died. Guided shore excursions in these storied destinations ensure that you don’t miss the places painted by artists and immortalized by one very dedicated saint, along with the fabulous French fare famous here… like hand-harvested pommes, freshly pressed and fragrantly spiced apple cider and the bold brandied flavor of Calvados. Délicieux!
As the Seine makes its way to the coast, you’ll discover lovely little villages like Caudebec-en-Caux, close to the home of the Benedictine Jumièges Abbey, the charming fishing port of Honfleur, lined with Renaissance architecture and half-timbered houses and inspiration to Impressionists, and seaside Le Havre, where the river meets the English Channel and is not far from the D-Day beaches, somber still.
And while the discoveries you’ll make as you step off the boat into the heart of history, past and present, will transport you to another time and place – from a tasting of goat cheese and chocolate handmade on a farm in Étretat and an exclusive dinner at a private countryside château flowing with local wines to a forever poignant visit to the Normandy beaches and the American cemetery – my guess is that the memories you’ll bring home with you will linger long… like a really wonderful love affair is prone to do!
Visit Paris and cruise the Seine on these Tauck river cruises: