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From Normandy to Paris: a river cruise along the Seine

view of Les Andelys from Château Gaillard
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view of Les Andelys from Château Gaillard

The longest inland waterway in France winds in serpentine loops between the coast in Normandy and one of the most fashionable and romantic cities in the world–Paris. Named Seine from the Latin sequana, meaning snake, the 110 mile distance by air between Paris and the coast meanders by river for 240 miles.

The passage of time

France is about the size of Texas with coastlines on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The rivers used for commerce and recreation also provided access for rivals and invaders.

Part of the Celtic area of the ancient kingdom known as Gaul, its name is from the Latin Francia “Country of the Franks”, the 5th century Germanic conquerors. Impressive Roman ruins and royal and papal palaces are reminders of the power and influence of empires, monarchies, and the church.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries trade and craft guilds prospered and Paris became an intellectual Mecca centered on the Sorbonne. With the glory and grandeur of the ages defined by Louis XIV, the Sun King, and Napoleon Bonaparte, self-proclaimed emperor—the culture and language of France dominated Europe and became an international standard.

Revolutions and wars have taken their toll, but France continues to define the good life. It leads in fine dining, romance, high fashion, extraordinary art, and fine wine. Paris draws more visitors than any other destination in the world.

Is River Cruising for You?

Cruising offers the advantage of unpacking just once. Travel between destinations while dining on a five- course dinner or sleeping in a well-appointed stateroom–without a care about the details of getting there. Relax during scenic daytime cruises and enjoy the ever-changing view from your room, the sundeck, or the panoramic windows of the air-conditioned lounge.

River ships carry around 150 passengers and do not overwhelm a port. They are best suited to people who enjoy exploring a variety of destinations, immersed in the culture of the region.

cooking demonstration onboard the Viking Seine
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cooking demonstration onboard the Viking Seine

Unlike the much larger and grander ocean cruise ships, there is little nightlife–no casino or lavish entertainment. Instead, sing along with a local French chanteuse, enjoy cooking demonstrations, sample regional wines or cheeses, watch a movie on your stateroom television, or applaud crew members in their show.

Viking Seine docked in Les Andelys, France
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Viking Seine docked in Les Andelys, France

These smaller ships usually dock near the center of villages, towns, and cities along the way. Step off and explore or hop aboard a motor coach excursion. Enjoy leisure time to explore your interests or discover a new one– art, architecture, history, or a sidewalk café.

Viking River Cruises owns and manages its ships and staffs them with an English-speaking crew. They also offer a new Tour Headphone Program for shore excursions, with individual volume control. Aside from a few optional excursions to outlying points of interest, everything is included. This is especially important now with the declining exchange rate for the dollar.

Early birds awaken to coffee and croissants as the river comes alive with activity. Breakfast is buffet style or cooked to order.

The food of France defines cuisine. Lunch and dinner onboard include regional specialties and local foods along with traditional favorites, all part of the experience.

A river cruise offers the opportunity to travel along the passageways of early explorers and in the footsteps of artists and soldiers, kings and dukes, Romans, Celts, and Vikings. History and its legends come to life, unfolding before your eyes.

Paris & the Heart of Normandy

This voyage includes the charm of the Normandy countryside, the grandeur of Paris, the history of battles through the ages, and the beauty of landscapes that inspired some of the world’s finest painters. Half-timbered houses stand by awe-inspiring cathedrals, and provincial specialties complements haute cuisine.

Over thirty varieties of regional cheeses are produced in this pastoral region, including soft cheeses like creamy Camembert, pungent Livarot, delicate Pont-l’Evèque, and the traditionally heart-shaped Neufchâtel, all from villages of the same name.

Normandy apple orchards have flourished since Roman times. Most of the apples are not eaten, but drunk, as cider or calvados, an apple brandy.

The Normandy beaches

The Seine meets the English Channel in Le Havre. Occupied by the enemy when Paris was liberated, it was Europe’s worst damaged port. France’s leading commercial port today, it is where the ship begins its voyage.

The journey begins with a full day excursion to the historic Normandy beaches and steep bluffs where Allied forces came ashore in the D-Day invasion. History’s greatest amphibious assault, in the early hours of June 6, 1944, turned the tide of World War 2. The shoreline of Normandy still bears the scars of World War II bombing.

The landings exhibition at the D-Day Museum in Arromanches overlooks the actual remains of the prefabricated port codenamed The Mulberry that was essential to this mission. With working models, artifacts and documents, and archive footage by the British Admiralty, the challenges of these heroic exploits come to life.

American Military Cemetery, Normandy, France
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American Military Cemetery, Normandy, France

The excursion includes beaches still known by their World War 2 code names and a visit to the American Military Cemetery and Memorial. Nine thousand three hundred and eighty-seven servicemen and women are buried in what is now a setting of peace and serenity. The grounds are meticulously maintained and the marble headstones– Latin crosses and Stars of David– are aligned with military precision, reminders of the enormity of lives lost.

Honfleur & Caudebec

This much painted and photographed harbor is lined with boutiques, cafés, and picturesque high and narrow seventeenth century houses. Charming Honfleur, with its winding narrow lanes, is one of Normandy’s best-preserved ports. It has inspired painters, musicians, and writers and draws tourists from around the world.

Artist Baudelaire wrote Invitation au Voyage here. Composer Erik Satie’s home is a museum and the Eugène Boudin’s Museum displays the largest collection of his art, along with work by lifelong friend Claude Monet. Two seventeenth century salt houses exhibit contemporary art.

The guided walking tour visits the sixteenth century Church of St. Catherine’s, a favorite of Monet, built by shipwrights in the design of a ship’s upturned hull.

A plaque near the entrance to the harbor is dedicated to Samuel De Champlain, founder of New France, now known as Quebec, who set sail here. Salt stones were kept here prior to being loaded on board the fishing boats that sailed to Newfoundland.

Stroll the city and sample succulent freshly cooked shrimp sold by fishermen unloading their daily catch in the outer harbor. Sip cider in a sidewalk café. C’est Si Bon!

Rouen

A Celtic settlement conquered by the Romans, the Normandy region is named for the Viking Norsemen who settled in this gateway to the northern countries and made Rouen their capital.

Midway between Paris and the sea, Rouen prospered as a center of porcelain, stained glass, printing, and wool, growing to be second in size only to Paris. Struggles over the claim to the French throne and control of this area continued between England and France, beginning with the Norman conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy in 1066, and continuing throughout the Hundred Year’s War.

Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book. Victor Hugo

Rouen is best known as the city of Joan of Arc, patron saint of France. This peasant girl led an army of the Dauphin Charles, heir to the French throne, against Henry V of England, who had invaded Normandy and become King of France in 1422. She was imprisoned in a tower that still bears her name, tried at the courthouse for heresy, and burned at the stake in Market Square in 1431. The modern design of Joan of Arc Church, built and dedicated to her in 1979, is reminiscent of the area’s Nordic roots.

The Gothic belfry and Renaissance archway of the landmark single hand clock, Gros Horloge, leads to the well-preserved medieval Market Square. Among the treasures of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, with a façade immortalized by Claude Monet and the tallest cast iron spire in France, are stained glass from the 13th century and the tomb of Richard the Lionhearted.

There is ample free time to browse faience shops where artists paint this traditional colorfully decorated glazed earthenware or to visit the exquisite collections at the Museums of Fine Arts, Ceramics, or Iron Works. Lanes lined with medieval timber-framed houses and cafés lead to the art school at Aître St. Maclou, built as a cemetery during the Black Plague of 1348, when three-quarters of the population was lost.

Les Andelys

Château Gaillard, seen from the Viking Seine
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Château Gaillard, seen from the Viking Seine

The view of Les Andelys and the Seine from Château Gaillard is not to be missed. The ruins of Château Gaillard loom high on a strategic position overlooking the sharp curves of the Seine, reminiscent of the romantic legends of knighthood and chivalry in Ivanhoe.

Château Gaillard was built in just a year by Richard I, the Lionhearted, Duke of Normandy, friend of Robin Hood, to guard Normandy against the King of France. After his brother, King John, succeeded him, the fortress was conquered, reportedly by gaining access through the latrines. Later, King Henry IV ordered it destroyed and allowed nearby monks to remove stones to repair their abbeys.

Giverny

bridge and Monet's water lilies, Giverny, France
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bridge and Monet’s water lilies, Giverny, France

Crossing the Japanese bridge over the river Monet diverted to create his water garden creates a sense of stepping inside some of the world’s best-known Impressionist paintings. An afternoon is spent touring the world’s most famous lily pond, gardens, and the stone farmhouse where Claude Monet lived and worked from 1883 until his death in 1926.

The village has retained its rural character, and artists and galleries are found along the road leading to the Museum of American Art, home to works of Americans who were part of an artists’ colony here at the turn of the twentieth century.

Conflans-Sainte-Honorine

Barges of retirees are moored where the Seine meets the Oise. Conflans-Sainte-Honorine is named for this confluence of rivers and 3rd century martyr Saint Honorine. Highlights are Saint Maclou Church, where her relics are buried, and the Montjoie Tower, a castle keep built to guard the Seine.

Walkers stroll riverside paths, former towpaths for horses that pulled the barges, past a colorful market and the barge chapel “Je Sers” (I serve). For three days in June, people and boats gather in this pilgrimage place for the religious celebration “Le Pardon de la Batellerie”, the blessing of the fleet.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, France
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Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, France

An optional tour is offered to the Palace of Versailles. Built and enlarged as a hunting lodge by Louis XIII it grew in gilded grandeur to become the official residence of court of France and the palace that set the standard for the rest.

Paris

The grand finale is Paris, beginning with a half-day tour of the highlights. Landmarks are grand — the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre and Orsay—fashion districts, academic and artistic neighborhoods, and boulevards like the Champs Elysées.

Basilique SacrŽ-Coeur, Paris, France
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Basilique SacrŽ-Coeur, Paris, France

After lunch onboard, the afternoon is free to tour the Louvre, shop the many boutiques, or visit the artists’ district of Montmartre. The evening in this romance capital of world begins with a boat tour along the Seine.

C’est la Vie!

There is so much more to see and do in Paris. If you can, add a few extra days in this great city, before or after your cruise. You’ll be glad you did.

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