Guest Post - Cruising the River Seine: My Champagne Voyage

Jo Castro was in sparkling form aboard our annual Paris to Champagne cruise 

Welcome to Paris

On a sunny day towards the end of May we arrived in Paris and pulled up in a taxi outside the Westminster Hotel, ready to kick off on a luxury European Waterways barge cruise heading into the Champagne Region of France. Florian, our cruise director, introduced us to our 6 fellow travellers and then drove us all through the centre of Paris in a luxury minibus to the hotel barge Le Panache moored in a quiet spot on the banks of the River Seine.

Stepping onto Panache, bubbling with excitement, we were welcomed aboard by the friendly crew: Regina, Diane, Judith, Arnie and Andre who served up champagne and delicious canapes, so setting the indulgent holiday scene for the next 6 days. Chatting with fellow passengers, we were soon enjoying the magnificent Parisienne sights at dusk, and dinner was served shortly afterwards.

The Dining Table aboard Panache

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Fine Dining in France's Gourmet Capital

Dining aboard Le Panache is a gourmet experience and we were told that each night we would be indulged with a menu comprising of an entree, a main, a cheese course and dessert. At each meal 2 new wines of the region would be introduced – a white and a red. The menu on our first night was nothing short of gourmet.

Our entree consisted of a warm, mild goat’s cheese with cherry and sun-dried tomatoes, tiny bits of bacon and a delicious dressing followed by a main of duck breast in a red wine jus with purple and orange carrot puree. After this came a cheese board, and finally a to-die for chocolate mousse. As we dined, we cruised along the beautiful River Seine as far as the recently fire damaged Notre Dame Cathedral.

Duck Breast Main Course

Cruising by Moonlight

A Seine river cruise really gets you up close to some of the major architectural sights in Paris, without having to fight the crowds ashore. We cruised under beautiful bridges that join the Isle de la Cite to the city of Paris, we passed historic buildings and the mighty Louvre. We were hushed as we cruised past the haunting shell of Notre Dame Cathedral recently gutted by fire, and all the ancient riverside buildings that have stood through the ages, all with their own stories to tell.

I’m told that easily the best views of the Eiffel Tower are from the river, and our skipper Arne, and Florian, made sure we had the best view at the very best time. With perfect timing they halted Panache almost directly beneath the tower at the stroke of 10pm for the sparkling illuminations. I can’t describe my delight as the tower erupted into a fairytale light display which took everyone’s breath away. Hundreds of golden lights lit up the giant structure in a glittering shower of light.

“Cheers” we all said joyfully as a glass of champagne was served to celebrate the occasion.

The Eiffel Tower, this ‘pop-up’ monument, I learned, was built just for the 1889 Exposition Universelle by Gustave Eiffel, but it was so popular that the Paris authorities allowed it to stay as a permanent landmark. Amazing to think that prior to 1929 it was the tallest building in the world. Suitably impressed by our first evening on Panache, we retired to our luxury cabins for a sound night’s sleep, gently lulled by the motion of the river in a most historic and ancient setting.

View of the Eiffel Tower from Panache

Onwards... to Champagne!

We were up early the next morning as we wanted to be on deck by 7am for the morning cruise through Paris towards the River Marne. We gazed long at the 324 metre Eiffel Tower with its intricate wrought iron lattice work as it loomed large above us, and then we cruised on through old Paris in drizzling rain past the Ile de la Cite. We didn’t let the drizzle deter us though. Our vantage point from the river gave us a great perspective of the Gothic outline of Notre Dame, although it was sad to see the cathedral so devastated after the fire. I thought about its famous twin towers, and the famous bells and of course the hunchback Quasimodo.

As we cruised, we enjoyed a gastronomic breakfast in the salon, with a plethora of pastries, cold meats and cheeses, a vast bowl of lovely fresh fruit, yoghurts and a main of smoked salmon and scrambled egg. Divine. By mid morning we had moved from the River Seine onto the River Marne and navigated our first lock. Reading the useful guides in the barge’s small onboard library we learned that the River Marne flows from Epernay to Paris and meanders through the bucolic countryside of the Champagne region.

Having left the city we were now looking forward to cruising aboard Panache for 5 more languid days, discovering vineyards and champagne estates, glorious scenery and quaint towns and villages.

Just bliss!

If you’d like to know more about Jo’s time aboard Panache you can read the full account of her cruise here

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