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The Seine: A river cruise guide

Destination Reviews
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They say familiarity breeds contempt, so the British often overlook the Seine river, which is effectively upon our doorstep.

I for one was surprised to learn that it is France's longest river after the Loire, rising 18 miles northwest of Dijon and meandering in a northwesterly direction through Paris before emptying into the English Channel at Le Havre, 485 miles later.

By the time it reaches Paris it is only 80 feet above sea level, so it is not surprising that it is slow flowing, and a great traffic highway. Linking Paris to the sea, and to France's largest international shipping port, Le Havre, it is both a commercial artery and also a scenic route through the beauties of the lush Norman countryside.

AmaLyra on the river Seine at Les Andelys

The burgeoning settlement of Paris dates back to Roman times, and the Seine has played a key part in its history and prosperity. Paris itself, City of Light (or City of Love - take your pick!), has the curving Seine at its heart, romantic and inspiring, a key feature of much of France's great art and literature.

Visitors love to explore the Latin Quarter, home to the world-famous Sorbonne University, Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité, the Luxembourg Gardens, the magnificent Champs-Élysées topped by the imposing Arc de Triomphe; not to mention the iconic Eiffel Tower, and the winding streets of Montmartre overlooked by the Sacré Coeur.

View of Paris from the Sacré Coeur

From Paris the Seine loops its way through Normandy to the sea. It is not surprising that Normandy is renowned for its delicious cuisine, developed around the delicious fruits of the land: rich milk, creamy cheeses, apples and cider. The distinctive architectural style, dating back to the Middle Ages, includes small round towers topped by steep conical roofs, stone walls and an asymmetrical plan, with decorative half-timbering.

In the 19th century the Impressionists, with their love of painting 'en plein air', set up their easels outdoors on the banks and bridges of the Seine to capture the natural light and picturesque scenery. They also recorded the march of industrialisation along the river, painting the new steel bridges, sailing ships and commercial barges, in contrast to the villages and gently sloping banks so appealing to local visitors. Artists such as Bonnard, Morisot, Renoir, Seurat, Manet, Signac and Pissarro leave a captivating series of paintings, many of which can be seen in the galleries and museums of Paris, and visitors to the region should not miss the wonderful garden created by Claude Monet at Giverny which inspired a huge body of work, or Auvers sur Oise where Vincent van Gogh spent his final days.

Giverny, France

Snaking onwards, explore history and picturesque scenery, visiting Chateau de la Roche Guyon, built into a steep rock face overlooking the river, or the extensive ruins of King Richard the Lionheart's magnificent medieval fortress, the Chateau Gaillard, at Les Andelys.

Magnificent Rouen is the capital of Normandy, its hundreds of years of prosperity derived from its strategic location directly on the river's banks. The beautiful and flamboyant cathedral, with its soaring spire and lavish gothic architecture, is where the Dukes of Normandy were traditionally crowned. Visitors travel back in time as they wander the winding medieval lanes and half-timbered houses.

Rue du Gros-Horloge, Rouen

The pretty coastal port of Honfleur, with its quaint architecture, relaxed seaside atmosphere and colourful fishing boats, is an enchanting gem. To travel from this most picturesque of harbours to the huge port of Le Havre on the other side of the Seine, you cross the river on the Pont de Normandie, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world. Take a side trip from the Seine to visit the Normandy beaches, the site of the D-Day landings that took place in June 1944.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

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