On board AmaLegro with AmaWaterways – Paris to Normandy, France
It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went. ~ Henry David Thoreau
European River Cruises
While we enjoy driving a car or traveling by train through the European countryside and stopping in the quaint villages and towns along the way, we have found that moving from place to place and packing and unpacking can be inefficient and exhausting. European river cruises offer a more relaxed and cost-effective approach to travel.
River cruises are an excellent way to visit several destinations, especially in Europe. While the market has been increasing in popularity, it’s become even more attractive since the pandemic. The demographics have also changed, with younger cruisers interested in active offerings and excursions, such as hiking and biking tours. They also enjoy the intimate hotel-like atmosphere and the opportunity to visit several countries within one itinerary.
Cruising Europe’s waterways allows you to experience the stunning scenery while stopping in some of the oldest and most iconic European destinations. You can unpack once and enjoy the unique towns and storybook villages that at one time were only accessible by car. River cruises are not just about the destination but focus on the “joy of the journey.” Each itinerary immerses the passengers in the region’s history, culture, cuisine, and wines.
Paris to Normandy River Cruise with AmaWaterways
In the spring of 2014, we traveled with one of the leading luxury river cruise lines, AmaWaterways, to fulfill two bucket list items: a visit to Monet’s Garden in Giverny and to see the Normandy Beaches in France in the year of the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of France. Roger had wanted to take this trip since his parents met in France after the D-Day Invasion in Normandy. His mother was an army nurse, and his father was a soldier wounded in the war. It’s a story that could be made into a romance novel.
AmaWaterways is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top luxury river cruise lines. With a strong focus on their culinary program, the line was invited to join the prestigious Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the oldest and largest food and wine society founded in 1950 in Paris. Every AmaWaterways ship cruising in Europe is a La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs member.
We couldn’t think of a better way to travel to Normandy than along the River Seine on a round-trip excursion from one of the most spectacular cities in the world, Paris. There’s a reason why there’s a song and a movie entitled “April in Paris.” Spring is the perfect time to visit the city, the Normandy region, and the Landing Day Beaches. The sidewalk cafés in Paris are bustling with patrons, the Norman countryside is fertile and green with crops beginning to appear, the flowers are in bloom, and the spectacular skies are ever-changing with their brilliant blue colors and billowy white clouds.
With Paris as the city of embarkation and debarkation for this cruise, many travelers choose to spend several days in the city before or after the cruise, just as we did. Here is a video overview of our cruise on board the AmaLegro.
* Please adjust the settings to view in high definition (720 p)
When guests arrive at AmaLegro in Paris, the ship is docked with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Every evening at 9 pm, the city’s most famous landmark puts on a spectacular light show. Thanks to the commanding officer, Captain Dany, we got a closer view of the Eiffel Tower, all aglow and twinkling. We were fortunate to see this both at the beginning and end of the cruise.
Our first port of call on this 7-day cruise brought us to the charming little town of Vernon. With the morning free to wander through the town, we did just that and found local patisseries, boulangeries, butchers, cheesemongers, and an excellent fish market. The region of Normandy in the northwest corner of France is known for its lush green grasses and abundance of farms, which produce a French favorite, poulet de Bresse (a local chicken), and a sought-after duck from Rouen, along with some of the world’s best lamb. The region is also known for its abundance of apples used in desserts such as Tarte Normande (a rich apple tart) and Calvados, the region’s prized apple brandy.
Normandy may, however, be best known for its famous cheeses, such as Boursin, Pont-l’Évêque, and Camembert, and its incredibly rich cream from the famous Normande cows (Vaches Normandes) that graze in this beautiful countryside. When a dish is described with the word “Normande,” it is usually prepared with cream. Fish and shellfish harvested fresh from the Atlantic are also a highlight of this part of France and are found in many regional culinary specialties. Sole, lobster, scallops, and mussels are some of the most plentiful varieties of seafood available. For me, however, there are two French specialties that I dream about, especially when I’m in France…a warm, crusty French baguette with creamery butter.
River cruises offer the opportunity to explore onshore and provide many included excursions that bring you further inland. While wandering in and out of the delightful local shops, we continued on a mission that began in Paris. We were in hot pursuit to find the best baguette in this part of France. We stopped at various boulangeries in each town throughout our journey to taste the local bread. Our final decision at the end of our trip was that the town of Vernon won. This baguette had the best flavor, texture, and amount of salt out of all the French bread we enjoyed during our time in France.
Giverny, France – Home of Claude Monet
After a delightful walk through Vernon, we were transported to Giverny, the famed home of the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. His interesting personal story, combined with the serene yet stunning setting, made this excursion one of the most memorable of the trip. At almost every turn, it was as if you were looking at one of Monet’s striking paintings. Crossing this item off our bucket list, you can see why his beautiful home and gardens inspired Monet and many of his contemporaries during the Impressionist era.
Caudebec-en-Caux and Rouen, France
Arriving next in the port city of Caudebec-en-Caux, we visited their lively local market in the morning, followed by an excursion to the colorful and picturesque seaside town of Honfleur. In Honfleur, we meandered through the winding and narrow cobblestone streets sightseeing and had lunch at an outdoor café overlooking the boat-filled harbor. In the next port city of Rouen, we took a guided walking tour and saw its Old Market Square, made famous by the burning of Joan of Arc at the stake. Rouen is also home to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a favorite subject of the painter Claude Monet, and the burial site of William the Conqueror’s father and King Richard the Lionheart of England.
Rouen-Les Andelys, Conflans-Paris and Omaha Beach
From Rouen-Les Andelys, we visited Château Gaillard high atop the Seine. The remains of this impressive fortress were built by Richard I of England, the feudal Duke of Normandy, better known as Richard the Lionheart. We toured Château de Malmaison in Conflans-Paris, once home to Josephine and Napolean Bonaparte. This estate, purchased by Josephine in 1797, was once known to have “the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe,” with over 200 plants that had never been seen before in France. The highlight of the cruise, however, was the moving and emotional day spent at Omaha Beach, Pointe-du-Hoc, the D-Day Museum, and the American Cemetery. It was a day we’ll never forget.
Dining on AmaLegro
With full days and excursions in each port town or city, it was always lovely to return to the comfort of our ship, where light snacks and refreshments awaited us in the lounge. The evenings usually began with cocktails in the lounge area (several nights hosted by the Captain and crew), followed by dinner. Daily dining options on board the ship included a lighter lunch served in the lounge or a full menu in the Main Restaurant. In the evenings, there were two options for dinner. The ship’s specialty restaurant, Erlebnis, serves an elegant regionally inspired fixed menu paired with French wines and is a great option to experience once or twice during the cruise.
Chef Dorner and his team expertly prepared the evening dinners in the Main Restaurant. Inspired by the cuisine of Normandy, there were several menu options to choose from each night. Some of the culinary highlights during the cruise were the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner, the Captain’s Gala Dinner, and the Farewell Dinner.
On board AmaLegro
The AmaLegro was elegant and stylish yet had a very comfortable feel. With just 150 passengers, the ship’s staff gets to know each guest personally. We found all of the crew members to be very engaging and warm. It felt as though we had been invited to a friend’s beautiful home, where we enjoyed their fine amenities and companionship and shared some laughs and good times together with the perfect host. The entire ship’s staff was accommodating, and we enjoyed the lively personality and sense of humor of the ship’s captain, Dany Duvinage.
If you’re looking for a complete and active luxury travel experience combining unforgettable scenery with history, art, and exceptional food and wine, consider a river cruise with AmaWaterways. A nice touch that arrived once we were home was a postcard from the crew of the AmaLegro thanking us for traveling with them and their wish to welcome us back onboard again soon. We certainly hope to travel with AmaWaterways on one of their other exciting itineraries in Europe, Asia, or Africa in the near future.
Here are some other articles from this trip to Paris and Normandy:
The Hôtel Fouquet’s Barrière – Paris, France
Here is a link to AmaWaterways’ 7-night Paris to Normandy Cruise.
* Several photographs and one video clip in the video are courtesy of AmaWaterways.
* This is an update to an article originally published on January 27, 2015.
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Disclosure – AmaWaterways provided a media package for our cruise. We have not been compensated for any articles written, and the opinions expressed are our own.