Today is a celebration of Northern France’s natural beauty, with an excursion to a splendid chateau and gardens situated in an equally grand setting, plus a chance to immerse yourself in the very landscapes that inspired Impressionist master Claude Monet.
Visit the hilltop Chateau La Roche-Guyon, surrounded by beautiful gardens and offering sweeping views over the Seine. Later, you can visit the home and gardens of Impressionist master Claude Monet—the inspiration for many of his most beloved works. Or, take in the beautiful French countryside in a more invigorating way, with a guided bike ride from Vernon to Giverny.
Monet often painted the little riverside town of Vernon, so you are likely to recognize scenes the master rendered in oils on your way to his home in the village of Giverny, where he lived and worked for more than 40 years. When Monet bought the property, most of it was an orchard; he transformed it over the years into the enchanting visions immortalized in his paintings, essentially creating each work of art twice: once as a living garden and again as a painting. As you stroll through the grounds, you’ll see the famed Japanese bridge and water garden shaded by weeping willows. Monet’s house, which you will also visit, remains furnished as it was when the leader of the impressionist school lived here, complete with his precious collection of Japanese engravings.
Note: Giverny will be closed during the March and November cruise departure dates.
From cave dwelling to fortress to castle to palace: This is the history of Château La Roche- Guyon (the Rock of Guy), which takes its name from its medieval lords (traditionally named Guy) and its location, a limestone outcropping—a rock—above the Seine. Medieval knights kept watch for marauding Vikings from the tower high atop the hill and later defended the double wall around a 13th-century manor house; successive lords added to the buildings over the centuries, so you can see not just troglodyte chapels but Renaissance rooms where kings Francis I and Henry II were entertained (and, legend says, Henry IV pursued a lovely chatelaine without success) and handsome 18th-century state apartments. Enlightenment thinkers met with the Duchess d’Enville, who owned the château before the revolution and who had the huge kitchen garden laid out according to Enlightenment principles. You might think, as you walk through the elegantly designed garden and beautifully paneled rooms (mostly without furniture these days, so you can appreciate the Gobelins tapestries without distraction) that the residence’s military function was in the far distant past, but Rommel made his headquarters here during WWII, precisely because the ancient fortifications and caves were so secure.
Walk in the footsteps of greatness in Normandy’s medieval capital, a city with a historic quarter that remains amazingly intact. From the cathedral Monet painted dozens of times to the cross marking to spot where Joan of Arc was martyred, Rouen is a treasure trove for the culturally curious.
The medieval capital of Normandy, Rouen has managed to preserve much of its historic core, despite being turned into a battlefield numerous times. The roll call of famous people who lived or died in Rouen is long and varied— Richard the Lionheart, Joan of Arc, Gustave Flaubert and Claude Monet are among them.
Rouen’s most famous landmark, the cathedral—celebrated in 30 paintings by Monet—was begun some 800 years ago, acquiring a multitude of spires and styles as it was expanded and renovated in different eras. Ramble from the cathedral square, with its ornate Renaissance clock, and begin your exploration of the Old Town. The cobblestone alleyways are lined with tall half-timbered houses, often with shops on the first floor and apartments above; it may be a historic district, but it is also a living one. Step into a couple of these shops and patisseries for tastes of regional specialties—delicious cider, for instance, and the chocolate confection unique to Rouen known as the “tears of Joan of Arc”—as you make your way toward the Old Market Square. Reminders of life and death are common here: Note the carved skulls and other symbols of death on the buildings near Saint-Maclou, a spectacular late-Flamboyant Gothic church, and the adjacent Aître Saint-Maclou, once a cemetery for plague victims and now a garden. As you enter the Old Market Square, you’ll spot a bronze cross marking the most famous death in the city—the place where the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake. The Church of St. Joan, on the square, may seem incongruous in its modernity; it was built on the site of Saint-Sauveur church, which was destroyed during WWII—the stained-glass windows in the new church were salvaged from the ruins.
Golfing? On a river cruise? This delightfully unexpected excursion—a Uniworld exclusive—features a dramatic links course set atop Normandy’s Alabaster Coast. In a word, magnifique. Not into golf? Stroll through seaside Honfleur, captured on canvas by generations of artists.
Caudebec, a lovely little town on a serene loop of the Seine, is your base for one of two very different excursions. You could drive through the beautiful Calvados countryside to Honfleur, a delightful seaside harbor and city of painters, or head to the windy cliffs of Étretat for a game of golf.
It would be hard to find a more spectacular location than Étretat’s clifftop course, which is ranked as one of the best in France. Originally laid out in 1908 and substantially redesigned in the 1990s, it offers a multitude of challenges: Two nine-hole loops take players right to the cliff’s edge, the wind can be a serious challenge in and of itself, and the 10th through 14th holes offer formidable tests of a golfer’s skill. Spend the morning on the course, lunch on your own in charming Étretat and explore the seaside village that so many artists, including Monet, rendered in paint, or return to the ship for lunch and a leisurely afternoon onboard.
Note: Golf excursion is open to a limited number of golfers.
The Normandy coast will forever be associated with the Allies’ D-Day invasion, a day that comes vividly to life today on an excursion to the beaches of 1944. Or travel even further into the past with an up-close look at the thousand-year-old Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the Norman conquest.
Immerse yourself in the tactics, desperate courage and horrendous human cost of the 1944 Allied invasion of France, the first step in the ultimately victorious land campaign against the Third Reich. It began here, on these Norman beaches, each of which was assigned a code name by the Allies as they planned their attack.
This tour encompasses the major areas of the American assault: Utah Beach, where the first American infantry units came ashore; Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village freed from the Germans and home to a museum dedicated to the Airborne divisions that suffered 2,500 casualties in the battle; Pointe du Hoc, a strategic high point controlled by the Germans and captured by a Ranger unit; and Omaha Beach, the second landing site, where the Americans encountered much stiffer resistance than they did at Utah. At each location, you can see the actual equipment used for the invasion—tanks, landing craft, bombers, gliders—and get a feel for what these young men experienced.
When the Allies prepared to invade Normandy, they assigned a six-mile stretch of beach to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division under the command of Major-General Rodney Keller. The Canadians trained for their assault in Scotland and were generally regarded as the best-prepared of any of the invading forces. Unfortunately, preliminary bombing had failed to eliminate German battlements, so Canadian troops were met with well-prepared German resistance, and several companies suffered heavy casualties. Walk the shoreline where so many died, and visit Juno Beach Center, dedicated to the Canadian war effort. One million Canadians served during WWII, and 14,000 participated in the landing. Exhibits describe both life at home during the war and the service of—and sacrifices made by—the men who fought.
Bayeux, the first French town to be liberated in 1944, is home to the Bayeux Tapestry, an astonishing millennium-old textile listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. The tapestry tells the story of the Norman conquest of England; it was probably embroidered by monks in the south of England in October 1066, a few months after William I’s troops overwhelmed the island’s Saxon defenders. Take a guided audio tour of this remarkable textile, which details the story of the conquest in 58 distinct scenes with Latin annotations.
Note: Because the Tapestry Museum is a popular attraction in summer, the order of events may change to accommodate scheduling issues.
It was the official residence of the country’s kings and queens from 1682 until the revolution, and though the monarchy possessed other palaces, Versailles stood alone in magnificence. Tour the royal apartments, which still look much as they did when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fled in 1789. In these rooms, you’ll find lush silk draperies, exquisite marquetry tables, gilded beds, Aubusson carpets and porcelain ornaments that reveal the elegance of the 18th-century royalty’s lifestyle, as well as the extravagance that helped fuel the rage leading to the revolution. Climb the great staircase and enter the jaw-dropping Hall of Mirrors, where the absolute ruler of France held court for the ambassadors of Siam, Persia and the Ottoman Empire, along with all the great seigneurs of France. Ladies intrigued behind their fans, plots were hatched, and careers were made and destroyed beneath the sparkling chandeliers here.
Part great romance, part scandal, part politics—this is the story of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine, the fascinating (and notorious) widow he married in 1796 and divorced 14 years later in order to marry Marie-Louise of Austria (who gave him the son Josephine could not bear him). Despite the divorce, Napoleon remained devoted to Josephine: Malmaison is a testament to that devotion. The jewel-box palace was redesigned under Josephine’s direction in the 1790s, with every facet intended to reflect both the “Little Corporal’s” glory and Josephine’s own exquisite Directoire tastes. Though the palace fell on hard times in the 19th century, it has been beautifully restored. The Consulate Chamber, where Napoleon met with his staff, resembles a military tent; the library is furnished with the emperor’s desk from his apartments in the Tuileries. Josephine’s bedroom retains the elegant tented Jacob-Desmalter bed in which the empress slept. Among the many gems on display here are David’s original Napoleon Crossing the Alps and the Austerlitz table inlaid with Sèvres plaques commemorating Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz.
Hemingway called Paris a moveable feast: Once you’ve experienced it, you will take it with you wherever you go. If you are experiencing Paris for the first time, this tour will introduce you to the City of Light’s most cherished landmarks. You’ll head via motorcoach from the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate his Grand Army’s 128 victories, down the Champs-Élysées to the Place de la Concorde. These broad 19th-century avenues and stately buildings were created by Baron Haussmann in a great urban development that eliminated the cramped, crazy-quilt medieval city and gave Paris its modern form. You’ll pass the magnificent Opéra Garnier, the Place Vendôme (home to designer salons), the legendary Louvre and, on the Left Bank, the Sorbonne University and the Panthéon. Stretch your legs at the Luxembourg Gardens, then take in the École Militaire before arriving at the manicured grounds of the Champs de Mars, the perfect vantage point from which to see Paris’s most iconic structure—the Eiffel Tower. Cross the Seine via the most stunning single-arch bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III; it displays elegantly sculpted nymphs, winged horses and graceful art nouveau lamps. Once on the other side of the river, you’ll be sure to spot the largest glass ceilings in France, which shelter the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. As you continue along the Seine’s banks you’ll see many striking contemporary bridges too. Your city tour will finish at your ship’s dock.
As a true Parisian would, take the Métro to the Île de la Cité and the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Henry IV said that Paris was worth a Mass when he converted to Catholicism—and he made that conversion official here, in the center of Paris. In fact, Notre Dame is officially the center of France; facing its main entrance is Kilometer Zero, the location from which distances in France (including those of the French national highways) are traditionally measured. An expert in the history and architecture of this magnificent cathedral is your guide as you explore both inside and out. Begun in the 12th century and finished about 200 years later, Notre Dame is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in Europe.
After you’ve admired Notre Dame’s stained glass, flying buttresses and idiosyncratic gargoyles, cross the Archbishop’s Bridge to the Left Bank and the Latin Quarter. Wander through the narrow streets where for centuries artists, writers, philosophers and the Sorbonne’s students have lived and worked, argued politics, painted, sipped absinthe and lived the bohemian lifestyle for which the district is famous. Matisse, Picasso, Rimbaud and Sartre, as well as American expatriate writers Hemingway and Fitzgerald, are just a few of the notables who made this district home. Take some time to meander through the area’s little squares, perusing the shop windows and perhaps relaxing with a drink at a classic café.
The Seine’s quays may be protected by UNESCO for their cultural importance and significance in the development of Paris, but they are also the scene of a host of fun outdoor activities: games for kids and grown-ups, a climbing wall, a running track, yoga classes, even a beach in August—and an inviting bike path. Join a guide to pedal along the Left Bank, crossing the bridges that link historic Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis and getting a close look at the heart of the city’s origins. Bike to the Esplanade des Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb is one of the monuments here) and along the Quay d’Orsay to the Champs de Mars, one of Paris’s largest green spaces . . . which just happens to have one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower in the city. It’s a fun way to take part in the life of the city while also getting some exercise.
Disembark the ship. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for your flight home.