As you read in our previous article about Scenic Cruises, we recently returned from a luxurious 11-day, all-inclusive river cruise in France. While I shared all the glamorous details of the Scenic Gem ship, their epic ‘Normandy & Gems of the Seine’ itinerary is filled with fabulous destinations that are worth individually highlighting below. From medieval cities to stunning chateaus, Scenic perfectly crafts a route filled with a variety of cultural activities that any traveler can enjoy.
Les Andelys: A Picturesque Riverside Town
Our river cruise with Scenic began in Paris, and after a lovely welcome dinner, we set sail to Les Andelys, a delightful riverside town nestled in the scenic Normandy region. The town’s charm lies in its well-preserved medieval architecture and the imposing Château Gaillard, a historic fortress built by Richard the Lionheart. A visit to this stunning castle offers panoramic views of the Seine Valley that are nothing short of breathtaking. In Les Andelys, I enjoyed a guided walking tour of the historic center, while my husband chose a cycling excursion with e-bikes. As I said before, Scenic offers many excursion options for those with varying interests – there were exactly 27 to pick from throughout our 11 days!
Rouen: A City Steeped in History
As we continued our voyage along the Seine, we arrived in Rouen, a city with a rich historical and cultural heritage. This is also the capital city of the Normandy region so I was grateful to spend a couple days here as there was so much to explore. Known as the “City of a Hundred Spires,” Rouen boasts an impressive collection of Gothic architecture, including the magnificent Rouen Cathedral, made famous by Claude Monet’s iconic series of paintings. The charming old town, with its timber-framed houses and cobbled streets, invites you to wander through history, including the Gros-Horloge (an astronomical clock from the 1300s). Speaking of history, we loved dining at the 14th century La Couronne – the oldest inn in France! This really helped put into perspective just how historic Rouen is.
Don’t forget to visit the Place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was martyred in 1431. Along with this beautiful square in her memory, there is also a memorial cross and modern church dedicated to the patron saint. Although the church was built in the 1970s, the impressive stained glass inside dates back to the 1500s.
Honfleur: An Artist’s Paradise
Next on our itinerary was Honfleur, a picturesque coastal town that has long been a muse for artists and writers. With its quaint harbor, colorful buildings, and charming streets, Honfleur feels like a living postcard. Honfleur is a small port, and with the Scenic Gem being the perfect size, built specifically for the Seine River, we were the only river cruise able to stop here. I enjoyed independently strolling along the Vieux Bassin, the town’s famous old harbor, and discovering all the art galleries and boutiques that line its waterfront. The town’s unique light has inspired countless artists, including Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet. It is so easy to immerse yourself in the artistic ambiance of Honfleur, and I truly loved that, although small, we were able to stop here on our journey up the Seine.
Caudebec-en-Caux: Gateway to Normandy’s Treasures
Our cruise continued on to Caudebec-en-Caux, a charming town that serves as the gateway to the treasures of Normandy. Here, you have the option to embark on excursions to explore the historic D-Day landing beaches, where significant events of World War II unfolded. Alternatively, you can delve into the captivating culture of Normandy by visiting the beautifully preserved village of Villequier or sampling the region’s renowned Calvados apple brandy. Caudebec-en-Caux offers a choice between history and heritage, allowing you to tailor your experience to your interests.
We chose to learn about the U.S. contribution to the battle in June 1944, and started our visit at the Utah Beach & Landing Memorial Museum. We then continued onto the Normandy American Cemetery which sits on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. This World War II cemetery in Normandy contains the graves of nearly 9,400 soldiers, and about 1,600 names on the Walls of the Missing, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings. Although it was a very rainy day, we still learned so much and were happy to pay our respects to the fallen soldiers.
Vernon: A Garden of Inspiration & Private Concert
Our journey took another artistic turn as we arrived in Vernon, where we had the opportunity to visit the legendary home of Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Giverny is a place of inspiration, with its world-famous water lily garden and the enchanting Japanese bridge that featured prominently in Monet’s masterpieces. I enjoyed strolling through the meticulously landscaped gardens, as well as stepping inside Monet’s charming pink house to see where he lived and worked here for over 40 years. It’s a truly immersive journey into the world of one of France’s greatest artists, and a highlight for anyone visiting the Seine Valley.
In the evening, Scenic arranged an exclusive reception and private concert at a beautiful French castle! The 18th century Château de La Roche-Guyon welcomed us with delicious wine and classical live music from talented musicians. Hearing such beautiful music in a grand and historic setting like La Roche-Guyon was definitely a special experience for us. Scenic really knows how to create memorable experiences for their guests.
Chantilly Castle: A Grand Finale Outside of Paris
Our final stop on this unforgettable cruise was where we began our journey – in the City of Lights! I loved ending in Paris, and having more time to explore the city, but equally enjoyed taking advantage of Scenic excursions outside the city too. On our last full day, we chose to visit the magnificent Château de Chantilly, a masterpiece of French Renaissance architecture. Nestled in the heart of a vast forest, this fairy-tale castle is surrounded by lush gardens and a shimmering reflection pond. With an expert guide, we explored the opulent interiors of the castle, as well as the Conde Museum, which houses an exceptional collection of paintings, including works by Raphael and Botticelli. There’s been a chateau on this estate since the 14th century, however, the original mansion was sadly destroyed during the French Revolution. The chateau you see today was rebuilt in 1875!
Outside, the stunning gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, the famed landscaper behind the gardens at Versailles, offer a serene setting for a leisurely stroll. The grounds are vast, and a few options include taking in the beauty of the Grand Canal, visit the charming Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet), or simply relaxing amidst the picturesque landscapes. Chantilly Castle is truly an ideal day trip outside of Paris, especially if you’ve already explored Versailles. This is much more intimate and, of course, less crowded.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an art lover, or simply seeking a serene escape, Scenic’s Normandy & Gems of the Seine’ river cruise promises an unforgettable voyage through the heart of one of Europe’s most enchanting regions. Prepare to be well taken care of by Scenic and truly captivated by the timeless allure of France!
Disclosure: I was a guest of Scenic, but all opinions here are my own.