CroisiEurope’s MS Botticelli offers great-value cruising for those who love a French connection.
On a balmy summer’s night the Eiffel Tower put on a dazzling light show as we knocked back our welcome cocktails on the top deck of CroisiEurope’s river cruise ship Botticelli.
It was the perfect sail away from the City of Light, just before the midnight hour, and nobody wanted to leave the magical riverside scene.
When we did retire to our cabin we opened the windows to enjoy the sound of Botticelli gliding along the Seine and watched the moonlight dance on the river.
We awoke early to even more splendour as Botticelli drifted slowly along the sleepy green ribbon of water. The city had given way to grand riverside mansions where Parisians enjoy summertime living.
On the sundeck our newly found French friends pointed out places once painted by the Impressionists and there was much banter as we sailed on to Les Andeleys to visit Chateau Gaillard, a military masterpiece built by Richard the Lionheart in 1196. The drive to the top of the hill provided a stunning view of a loop in the river that was worth the journey on its own.
Most passengers on board Botticelli were French, many in small groups, with a sprinkling of Brits, Norwegians, Russians and Spanish. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, with plenty of opportunity to brush up on our schoolgirl French.
Botticelli was built in 2004 and does not boast the extravagant décor and furnishings of the new phase of river cruise ships, but she is clean and comfortable, with a welcoming and efficient crew.
Breakfast was buffet-style – fresh French bread and croissants, plenty of cereals, fruit, cheese, eggs and ham – all washed down with strong coffee, of course!
The three-course lunch and dinner were waiter-served. Botticelli does not feature a la carte menus, so meals were the same for everyone (except those with dietary needs). Portion sizes were generous, with an excellent variety of meat and fish dishes for main course. A choice of decent complimentary wine was also more than acceptable at lunch and dinner.
We sailed on to Rouen, Normandy’s cultural, historical and gastronomical capital, just in time to watch the spectacular illuminations at Notre Dame Cathedral before a nightcap in Place du Vieux Marché, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
Between Rouen and Honfleur is the attractive town of Duclair. Most passengers chose the Norman Abbey Circuit tour but we stretched our legs and did the 4.5km town circuit plus a walk along the riverside.
Duclair is a prosperous town, with plenty of patisseries, florists and independent stores, an imposing Town Hall, an established music school and welcoming bars, where we stopped for a beer with the locals.
The town is famous for Canard Duclair, a speciality duck dish that became a staple menu on the luxury cruise ship Ile-de-France, which sailed to New York between the two world wars.
Every September, Duclair celebrates the Fete du Canard with duck races, children’s duck drawing competitions, concerts and, of course, gastronomic evenings. There’s even a shop dedicated to the feathered friends and merchandise includes outfits for those who feel the need to dress up to look like a mallard!
Swiftly moving on, the next stop was Honfleur; with a late-night call, it gave us time to tour the pretty historic harbour and then take the bus over the imposing Pont de Normandie to Le Havre (five euros return), where the Museum of Modern Art and Auguste Perret’s post-war brutal architecture made for a grand day out.
On Botticelli’s return journey, as we headed towards Paris, our French holiday friends pointed out more places painted by the Impressionists, such as l’Ile de Chatou on a loop of the river, and in the stillness of the morning we got in touch with our arty side to detect a special light and luminosity that Pierre Auguste Renoir and Monet captured in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Monet’s paintings of the river at Argenteuil were among his crowning achievements and we too were enchanted by this rural riverside retreat.
All too quickly Botticelli gracefully returned us to Pont Grenelle, just a 15-minute walk along the Left Bank to the Eiffel Tower, but, inspired by the Impressionists, we crossed the bridge to visit Le Musée Marmottan Monet, in Rue Louis Boilly, 16th Arrondissement.
Michel Monet, the painter’s second son, bequeathed his collection of paintings to the museum, which now houses the largest Claude Monet collection in the world.
To see Monet’s paintings of the Seine Valley, where we had just sailed past, was the perfect end to our cruise.
In six days we had soaked up French culture, art and cuisine, which was made all the better for charming company on Botticelli.
With a hop, skip and a jump into a cab we were soon aboard Eurostar for the journey home – completely smitten with the Seine.
Length: 110 m
Width: 11.40 m
Facilities: All cabins are equipped with a shower and toilet, hairdryer, satellite TV, radio and safe. There is a lounge-bar with a dance floor, dining room, a large sundeck with loungers, a gift shop, 220V electricity and wifi.
CroisiEurope’s six-day Seine round trip from Paris on MS Botticelli costs from £718pp (cruise only) with several 2017 departures. Price includes all meals and drinks and port fees. Call CroisiEurope on 020 8328 1281 or visit croisieurope.co.uk