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A cruise through northern France is high on culture

Frankly, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have refused to get on the cross- Channel ferry at Dover.

Forget stabilisers, pills and those bands you put on your wrists. I was once seasick on a lilo at Brighton beach.

So it was with trepidation that I boarded Tauck’s MS Sapphire, which glides peacefully along the River Seine — so peacefully that at times it was hard to tell whether we were moored up beside a leafy bank or on the move. What a sybaritic way to travel. Blissfully comfortable, super-king beds, wet-room style bathroom, two floor-to-ceiling windows and all the trimmings you expect from a boutique hotel.

Les Andelys in Normandy, the route the sailing boat takes en route to the coast of northern France

What’s more, my husband and I didn’t have to open our wallets for anything. Every meal, every drink, every trip to an art gallery, every tour guide was included in the pre-paid price.

And no constant packing and unpacking, of course.

We took five days to sail 200-odd miles through Normandy from Paris, going roughly north-west towards the Channel estuary between Le Havre and the pretty port of Honfleur.

Unlike the Thames, which gets decidedly down-at-heel after leaving London, the curvaceous Seine does the opposite.

We floated through locks with inches to spare, past dramatic chalk hills which could have been the Sussex Downs, and saw herons, 20-strong squadrons of swans, a kingfisher, and a creature I thought was a beaver but was probably a coypu.

Far more fascinating than the wildlife, though, were our fellow passengers. Since the Sapphire is American-owned, they were all from Trump’s side of the pond.

There was a well-dressed woman from Idaho who was dumbfounded by the beach at Etretat on Normandy’s white-cliffed coast because she had never seen a pebble one before; a farmer from Ohio who lived in a town miles away from his 1,000-acre ranch, and a once penniless refugee from the Nazis whose son now employs Theresa May’s husband, Philip.

The Sapphire sails along the Seine taking in the towns of Normandy on the way from Paris 

The Sapphire sails along the Seine taking in the towns of Normandy on the way from Paris 

The Seine flows close by all the main tourist attractions of northern France, and each day we moored up at a different cobblestoned town or village and a coach would whisk us away, complete with our walkie-talkies, so that the tour guides didn’t have to shout.

Our itinerary included Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh spent his last days, plus the tiny village of Giverny where Monet created his flower gardens and where, of course, he painted his iconic water lilies. Giverny only has 500 residents, but 600,000 tourists visit the 13-acre gardens every year. Mercifully, Tauck had arranged a private tour before the gardens opened to the public.

My favourite stopping place was historic Rouen where we ‘parked’ bang in the centre of town, a few minutes’ stroll from fabulous Rouen Cathedral — which is bigger and, I think, more beautiful than Notre Dame in Paris. Round the corner is the site where poor Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Rouen also has a Galeries Lafayette, a Printemps, and dozens of exclusive boutiques, including L’atelier Valgus and Fringance, which is stuffed with last year’s designer clothes at a fraction of their original price.

I have one huge piece of advice about cruising. Calories must never be counted.

In the town of Vernon, for instance, we had lunch on board at 1pm, followed by oysters and lobster with white wine at the local poissonnerie (fish shop to you and me). Then it was cocktails back on the ship at 5pm, followed by a champagne reception with nibbles, and then a banquet at Chateau de Bizy, the baroque former residence of King Louis Philippe.

A little greedy? Absolutely. But going with the flow is what river cruising is all about.


The 14-day Cruising the Seine Northbound with Tauck (, 0800 810 8020) costs from £4,995 pp, full-board. 

Includes two nights at London’s Savoy Hotel, two nights at Versailles’s Trianon Palace, excursions and a talk by Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sandys.