Enjoy the best Normandy has to offer from the comfort of a luxurious river cruise
Watching the sun go down and Paris fade into the distance from the sundeck of the A-Rosa Viva, there’s no denying the romance of a river cruise. It’s enchanting, but the real joy of going on a river cruise is waking up with a different view every day and a new place to explore.
The historic city of Rouen makes for a fascinating stop. It’s one of the most beautifully preserved medieval cities in Europe, despite its often turbulent past, and is famous for being the place where religious martyr Joan of Arc met her death. A 65ft cross in the market square, Place du Vieux-Marché, marks the spot where she was burned at the stake – and sits alongside the modern church of St Vincent and Jeanne d’Arc, which was bizarrely designed to look like an upturned boat.
If you have time, it’s worth meandering down the side streets of the Place du Vieux-Marché to see row upon row of the city’s famous half-timbered houses. And every evening at 9.30pm, there’s a light show at Rouen’s imposing Notre Dame cathedral – the tallest spire in France, no less.
The sleepy riverside town of Les Andelys, again dotted with picture-perfect timber-framed buildings, is another that’s steeped in history. Its quiet, tree-lined square is overlooked by the impressive ruins of a castle built on the orders of Richard the Lionheart. It’s an energetic walk to the ruins, but worth it for the spectacular views.
Ports of call
Le Havre, situated on the Alabaster Coast, is on the itinerary and accessed via an hour-long coach trip. Largely flattened by bombs in WWII, it has since been rebuilt by an architect known as the Poet of Concrete and has even been awarded UNESCO status.
Beyond Le Havre is Etretat, a quaint seaside resort known for its chalk cliffs. If you’re feeling up to it, there’s a steep climb to a small chapel on top of the cliff, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views. Or, for the less energetic, a stroll along the pebble beach, ice cream in hand, is a great way to while away the leisure time.
Out and about
The idyllic village of Caudebec-en-Caux is the departure point for an electric bicycle tour. Using the boat’s own stock of e-bikes, cycling up and down hills and through open spaces is easier than it sounds, a lot of fun and a great way to explore the beautiful Normandy countryside.
The picturesque town of Honfleur, with its charming fishing and sailing port, is another recommended destination. This historic gem is full of narrow alleyways, cobblestone streets and timber-framed buildings. It’s worth grabbing a drink at one of the cafes in the Vieux Bassin and watching the world go by.
In nearby Deauville there’s a gorgeous sandy stretch of beach and a boardwalk lined with kitsch beach huts carrying the names of American stars such as Rita Hayworth and Bette Davis.
Finally, a visit to a Calvados distillery is a must-do to find out how the local apple brandy is made and, of course, to indulge in a tasting – not just of the Calvados, but also the local cider and Pommeau (a mix of apple juice and apple brandy).
Life on board
Whatever the outing, returning to the A-Rosa Viva is a welcome retreat. With a super-friendly crew and comfortable rooms with river views, you won’t suffer from cabin fever. There’s even space for a small gym, outdoor whirlpool and a spa on board. Entertainment includes quizzes and dancing in the bar, a giant chess set on the sundeck and a hot and cold buffet offering plenty of choice.
Need to know
· Shearings Holidays packages the “Paris & the Seine Valley to Normandy” river cruise with coach travel from pick-up points around the UK, flights from various regional airports or Eurostar from London St Pancras.
A seven-night cruise aboard MS A-Rosa Viva in September 2019 costs from £1,649pp and includes return Eurostar from London St Pancras, seven nights all-inclusive cruise on MS A-Rose Viva, two excursions (a Rouen guided walking tour and the Normandy coast & D-Day landing beaches excursion) plus the services of a dedicated Shearings cruise manager on board. Based on two sharing. Coach packages are from £1,414pp and flight packages from £1,669pp. To book, call 0344 874 8220 or visit Shearings.com.
A range of excursions can be booked once on board, including the bike tour through Normandy, from £43pp, Côte Fleurie to Honfleur, Deauville and the Calvados distillery, from £69pp, and Côte d’Albâtre, Etretat and Le Havre, from £51pp