The day has gone a deep purple. The sun hangs no longer in the hues of the night sky, having set behind the browning bricks and warm glow of the fiery lamp posts that line the Paris streets. The faint smell of river water hangs in the air but, hey, you can hardly smell it, not past the scent of of fine French wine swirling beneath your nose. Around you, the sound of music from the piano bar. You breathe in deeply, and sink into your seat as you succumb to a serene evening on the Seine. Welcome to the French river cruise experience.
River cruises have been a staple tourism activity for many river-bound cities for the longest time. This year, however, their popularity has greatly risen, with tourists rushing to the banks of the greatest rivers, often booking months in advance. The river cruise has become a vital activity for those on the hunt for slow tourism, as their laid-back nature promises an experience catered to those looking to prioritize relaxation. France is among the frontrunners of the river cruise industry—and once you’ve seen the view from the countries’ greatest waterways, it’s easy to see why.
Luxury is the brand of many of the French river cruise ships, and stepping aboard is almost like walking into five-star arrangements. Warmly-lit lounges and dining halls are floored with wood and embroidered carpet. Depending on the cruise you’ve booked, ships range from the ultra-modern to the comfortably classic. Fine dining—French cuisine, of course—is offered according to the set schedule, at a slow and steady pace so as to let you enjoy every moment of your experience. The rooms can get a little claustrophobic, but that’s hardly a problem—lush pillows and mattresses mesh with exquisite fixings and unhindered views of the French countryside as it floats past, so it’s a wholly relaxing experience even if it’s a little on the tight side.
The river cruise itself is similar to the great oceanic cruises that ply the open seas. Most cruises last several days, aboard long boats that can seat hundreds of passengers. Hotel boats are also available for those looking to extend their stay, and smaller groups can avail of tour boats made out of repurposed barges, with a seating capacity between six to 24. Like cruise ships, these river cruises also have fixed itineraries for guests to follow. In between scheduled meals and live performances are shore leaves at France’s many storied cities and quaint townscapes, making the river cruises a great way to explore the French countryside.
The season for French river cruises is long, lasting from late March to November. There are four main routes: the Seine route from Paris; the route along the Rhone and Saône from Chalon sur Saône to Avignon; the Rhine cruise from Basel in Switzerland; and the Gironde cruises, famous for their trips through the Bordeaux wine country. It’s slow, yes, but slow holidays often make for the best vacations.
If you’d like to learn more about the river cruises of France, or of river cruises offered all across the world, check out www.cruisecritic.com.
Thumbnail Photo from @travelsavvytv