Gareth and I had a very last minute trip over to France to go on a river cruise with Great Rail Journeys and it was one of the best experiences ever. I thought I would document the whole trip for you, to give you a sneak peek of river cruising down the Seine involves. Let’s get to it!
An early start at Leeds train station to London Kings Cross to catch the Eurostar from St Pancras. I was super excited as I haven’t been on the Eurostar in years and this would be Gareth’s first time. Also, like many of us, this was my first time out of the country since 2019, so as you can imagine, excitement levels were at full speed! We went to meet Tim (our tour manager) at the St Pancras Grand Terrace (which is on the first floor of St Pancras train station) to retrieve our tickets and to get all the information that we needed.
We headed to M&S to buy some lunch to have on the train and then proceeded through to check-in and border control which was quite straightforward and waited for our train. It still blows my mind that you go under water (crazy times). The train takes around 2 hours 37 minutes but felt a lot quicker. Before we knew it, we were in Paris, getting on the coach with all the other passengers and heading to our river cruise ship, the MS Renoir, where we had welcome drinks and explored the beautiful ship for a bit.
After an incredible breakfast, we then went on a guided coach tour around Paris. We got to see all the touristy spots such as – Eiffel Tower, the 16th District, Arc Di Triumph, Champs-Élysées, Assemble Nationale, Opera House, Notredam and many others. We then had a stop at Jardin du Luxembourg gardens which were just so beautiful.
We were driving around Paris for around 2 hours and it was mesmerising. After heading back to the ship, we had some lunch and then went for a lovely walk around Paris in search of a cute café, but if you know me by now, we ended up in a bar style café with a glass of champagne and a glass of wine. We were in Paris after all, so it had to be done right?
That evening, after dinner, everyone went upstairs to the top deck for the Paris by night cruise. This was one of my many highlights of the trip and seeing Paris at night really took my breath away. Fun fact – the Eiffel Tower flashes from dawn until 1:00am and many of the Parisian people hate it. I personally loved it of course. Check out my reel on our night sailing around Paris.
After breakfast this morning, we headed into the lounge area for an expert talk on the ‘Definition of Impressionism’ which if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy, but I couldn’t be more wrong. I learned so much on the background of each painting and the artists themselves. It was so interesting.
On Day 3 of the cruise, you had the option of 2 tours to either Giverny (and the Monet Gardens) or the Palace of Versailles. Gareth and I decided to explore more of the cute town of Poissy instead and headed to a little patisserie as I hadn’t been to one yet in France (shocking right?) and it was divine.
Next stop, Rouen – which used to be the capital of Normandy. This place blew me away, it was so stunning and some of the cobbled streets reminded me of York. We had an incredible guided tour where we got to explore the beautiful cathedral and from there we headed to the Museum of Fine Art to see its impressive collection of Impressionist pieces. I am so happy that we had the guided tour in the museum as I got to understand the paintings more and the history of them. Even though I am always impressed with artist’s work, I always find myself just walking around a museum and not really understanding the history of the pieces and especially with everything being in French, a guided tour was the way to go.
We then had some time to ourselves, so we had a wander around the town before heading back to the ship for dinner.
We sailed to Duclair today and visited the Route des Abbayes. We went on a guided excursion and explored the abbeys, which really did take my breath away. There was so much history and you could really feel it. On the second stop, we were told of the monks living in the monasteries and how they took a vow of silence. It was really impressive and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
We headed back to the ship where we continued up the river to Hon Fleur.
There were two tours happening today, one was a guided walk around the town of Hon Fleur and the other was to discover the beaches of WWII. Gareth has always wanted to go and see the beaches and with having some downtime after, there would be plenty of time to explore the town after our excursion. We went to one of the new memorials which was built in 2019 and this is where I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was very emotional and I can’t even start to imagine what happened there all those years ago.
On the way back to the ship, we headed to one of the landing beaches (Juno Beach) and it was so beautiful, however, again quite emotional. A must-see whenever you visit. After heading back to the ship, we took off to explore the town and wow – this is one place that I need to go back to. We made sure to have a cheeky drink overlooking the harbour which was such a special moment.
After breakfast, sadly it was time to go home. A coach came to pick us up and take us back to Paris to catch the Eurostar. Everything was done to a high standard and the crew really did take care of us.
If you are worried about travelling during these times, please don’t be. I know it can be quite scary in regards to all the paperwork you need, but everyone was so helpful and if you had any questions, you could ask the cruise manager Kate and she would be at hand to help you.
If you are wondering about the food on board, let me tell you this! It was some of the best food I have ever had and I really wish I could have brought the chef home haha! At dinner, it is freedom dining so you will get to meet lots of people and we actually dined with the same couple three days in a row because we loved their company so much. All in all, my first river cruise with Great Rail Journeys was exceptional.