River cruising in Europe is back! We just completed a Paris to Normandy cruise with AmaWaterways, so if you are looking for a river cruise in France, I highly recommend this one, especially if you are a history buff or art lover.
Note: You may select another vendor, but most of the ports will be the similar, if not the same as the AmaWaterways ports.
To start the cruise, we boarded the AmaLyra in Paris, France. The port, which is not far from the Eiffel Tower on the Seine, is about an hour drive from Charles de Gaulle Airport. The first night we chose to participate in the Chef’s Table, which offered a 7-course meal. It was delicious and a great way to start our cruise as we headed toward our first port stop.
The adventure began in the quaint village of Les Andelys, divided into Petit & Grand Andelys. Petit Andelys is charming. An easy to walk or bike ride with only a few cobblestone streets. It is home to French inventor and balloonist, Jean-Pierre Blanchard who is credited with the first hot air balloon crossing of the English Channel in 1785. You can find his memorial near the parking lot of the beautiful L’Eglise Saint Sauveur du Petit Andely church. Inside the church, you can see the “lion” gargoyle that was made in honor of Richard the Lionhearted. See the bottom right picture. The gargoyle is fairly small and protrudes from the column.
Chateau Gaillard, Richard the Lion-Hearted’s castle, overlooks Les Andelys. Before visiting, I suggest watching a few YouTube videos about the history of the castle and how French King Phillip Augustus finally captured the fortification after Richard died. Richard was the King of England and the Dutchy of Normandy and controlled the area of Normandy, which was a source of aggravation for the French. Take a tour bus to the top of the knoll and from there the castle is an easy walk. In fact, you can also walk all the way back to Les Andelys on a nice foot path.
After a wonderful day hiking around Chateau Gaillard, we continued our Seine River journey to the estuary where the Seine meets the English Channel. Here we ported in Le Havre and also visited the historic town of Honfleur, a UNESCO heritage site. These two towns could not be more different. Honfleur was an artist enclave and not considered important during WWII, which was why it was not bombed. Here you will see many well-preserved half-timbered buildings from the 14th to 18th centuries. This beautiful harbor is lined with cafes, so dining is never a problem. On Saturdays, enjoy the town market and buy clothing, fresh vegetables, specialty foods, flowers, and more. There is something for everyone here! From a giant Ferris wheel, cafes, chocolate shops, a WWII memorial, flowers, the beautiful Eglise Sainte-Catherine church, the Eugene Boudin Museum, and a Marine Museum (Musee de la Marine), this is a stop you do not want to miss! If you need some extra cash, we found two ATM’s near the local banks. There is also a tourist office where you can ask for information or pick up a souvenir.
Across the Seine, Le Havre by contrast was almost completely destroyed during WWII, with 80% of its structures bombed after D-Day. The city is considered a “martyr city.”
After the September 1944 bombing by Allied forces, about 80,000 of the 160,000 residents were homeless. Almost all of the historic downtown area was destroyed, leaving only a few buildings that still bear the marks of war today. Le Havre is an interesting place to visit for a few hours especially after visiting Honfleur, given the contrast. Le Havre today is a wonderful place to take a bike ride. During our ride, we went past the war memorial in the downtown district and then down to the English Channel for a view of the beach.
Most of the days on our Paris & Normandy cruise were fun and lighthearted. But the day after visiting La Havre was different. It was moving and spiritual. We docked in the town of Caudebec-en-Caux, home of the MuseoSeine, only a few steps from the docking port. Some of our group took the Routes Des Abbayes Excursion—a scenic drive past the ruins of Jumieges Abbey, one of the most important Benedictine monasteries in Normandy.
Travel Tip: Back in Caudebec, you can visit the Notre Dame de Caudebec (most towns have a Notre Dame church or cathedral).
The reason our day was so moving is that most of our group chose the Full-Day Normandy U.S. Landing Beaches as our tour for the day. The Full-Day Normandy British and Canadian Landing Beaches excursion was also offered. We really got to soak in the history.
After a 2-hr drive, we arrived at Colleville Cemetery just off of Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer. AmaWaterways arranged for the group to participate in a ceremony honoring those that had fought during the D-Day invasion. Participating in the ceremony was a US veteran from our party, who was able to lay a wreath at the foot of the memorial statue.
After a solemn, quiet walk through the cemetery, we boarded the motor coach for a short ride to the center of Omaha Beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer (mer meaning “sea”). Here we walked down the beach and looked up at the hills where German soldiers fought to hold off the Allies. On the beach, you really got a sense for the nearly impossible task the Allied soldiers had, and the amount of effort it took to successfully storm the beach.
Two memorials are located on the beach, the Lew Braves Omaha Beach Memorial and the First American War Cemetery, the latter of which is off the side of the road. There is one restaurant near the memorials if you would like to eat a quick snack or get something to drink.
Our next stop was in Longues-sur-Mer, which is between Omaha and Gold Beach. Here a Germany battery was constructed as part of the Atlantic Wall coastal fortification effort. The battery actually shelled both Omaha and Gold Beach on D-Day in 1944.
Our final stop of the day was in the coastal town of Arromanches, the site of Gold Beach in the D-Day landings. Arromanches is unique because it was chosen as a man-made landing harbor. These floating harbors were transported across the English Channel and can still be seen today. This quaint village has quite a few souvenir shops and cafes for tourists to visit. This is a good place to pick up your D-Day t-shirt.
After a beautiful day at the beaches of Normandy, we loaded our motorcoach and headed back to the ship. In Bayeaux, there is a nice memorial in a round-a-bout honoring Gen. Eisenhower. While driving through Caen, we also passed one of William the Conquerors’ castles. It looked amazing and is one of the many reasons we want to return to Normandy.
As amazing as the trip was up until this point, nothing compared to our next stop. Known as the “city of a hundred spires,” Rouen is a museum town with incredible historic depth. For hundreds of years, it was part of a long struggle between France and England and has seen many ups and downs. One of the most interesting historical facts about Rouen is that it was where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Despite its dark past, modern day Rouen is a gem packed with stunning architecture and incredible cultural vibrancy. Of particular interest is the historic restaurant La Couronne, which was founded all the way back in 1345. This was where famous French chef, Julie Child, found inspiration for many of her fabulous creations. Other popular sites include The Great Clock (Gros-Horloge) of 1389, Saint Joan of Arc Church, and the Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral.
In Rouen, don’t forget about the shops! Rest your feet at Dame Cakes and enjoy pastries and tea. If you still have a sweet-tooth after the pastries, stop by Amorino for gelato. It is on your way to Old Town where the Joan of Arc Church and La Couronne are located. If you are a chocolate lover, there are several chocolatiers in town, including L’Atelier Du Chocolat, so you won’t be disappointed. If you want to try French cheese, stop by Restaurant Le Vieux Carré in the heart of Rouen. This beautiful historic restaurant is also a hotel and is highly recommended if you want an authentic overnight stay.
Our wonderful day at Rouen was followed by an equally immersive experience at Monet’s home in Giverny. To get there, we sailed to Vernon, France, which is where we docked. Giverny was about a 20 minute bus ride from Vernon. There is an optional excursion to the lovely Chateau de Bizy, however, most opt for the artist enclave of Giverny. Here you will enter the stunning grounds where Claude Monet lived from 1883 to 1926. After walking around and taking plenty of pictures of the famous pond, you will get to tour his home. Enjoy Monet’s studio room, bedroom, the dramatic yellow dining room and kitchen. Enjoy your time here and relax!
After the home tour, don’t forget about the gift shop; it has a nice selection of items to purchase. There are also restrooms near the gift shop.
The last morning of your cruise, the ship docks at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France. Here is another nice opportunity for a bike ride for active guests. We however, chose the Artists Walk of Auvers-sur-Oise. The town is a former enclave of Impressionist including Vincent Van Gogh. On its own, this tour might feel underwhelming! However, if you visited Monet’s home the day before, you will appreciate the small room that Van Gogh rented. The tour takes you to the cemetery where Vincent and his brother are buried. The tour guide will enlightened you on thoughts about Van Gogh’s life, death, and fame. After this half-day tour, head back to the ship; you will be back in Paris tonight!
While sailing back to Paris, enjoy the last evening on the ship. Start organizing your suitcases and paperwork (passports, credit cards, etc) for disembarking the ship and your land extension or flight home. Please remember to take all important items from the safe. A trick: place one shoe that you will wear tomorrow in the safe tonight. In the morning when rushed, you won’t leave without opening the safe and finding your passport and shoe!
Even though you think the river cruise is over, AmaWaterways has one last surprise. Be on the top deck no later than 9:45pm with camera in hand. The ship will set sail from the dock toward Pont de Grenelle. From this vantage point, you will be able to see the replica of the Statue of Liberty and enjoy the Eiffel Tower light show. The show starts at 10pm sharp and lasts about 5 minutes. This is a stunning experience and you can enjoy it with your new found friends.
If you would like to inquiry about an AmaWaterways cruise, please feel free to send an e-mail at EagleTravelTexas@aol.com or Brenda.Hall@AvoyaNetwork.com. You may also call our office line at: 936-756-1217 (CST).