Early on a Friday evening, I arrived in Paris at Gare du Nord, hopped in a taxi and 30 minutes later embarked on the MS Boticelli river boat which was moored along the Seine, right by the Eiffel Tower. I was there to take a five day, four night voyage with CroisiEurope on the Seine, from Paris to Honfleur by boat via Rouen and several other bucket list towns…
Ms Boticelli is a very pretty boat indeed and is owned by France’s leading river cruise company CroisiEurope. I was greeted at the reception desk and shown to my double room (very roomy!) and given a table number for dinner. The receptionist told me I speak French well and I told her I’m trying my best! She immediately offered to change me from the table of English speakers I had been assigned to – so that I could practice with French speaking guests. It was the little personal touches like that on this cruise that made it stand out and left me feeling that this family run business really does care about its clients.
I decided to stick with the English speaking table and I’m glad I did as my charming table neighbours came from the US, Australia and UK and it was good to get their take on this cruise. This was a 4 night voyage and everyone had chosen it for its excellent value and because no other company offers a short cruise option like this taking in several bucket list destinations – Paris and Honfleur via Rouen.
Every member of staff speaks English, French and most of them speak several other languages too.
The boat goes at a leisurely pace and thanks to its relatively small size for a cruiser of this calibre, it is perfect for mooring right in the centre of the towns where it stops. The ship is immaculately clean, all gleaming brass rails, chandeliers, sparkling wood floors and comfy sofas and chairs, it feels very luxurious. Moving around is easy and there is a spacious lounge, restaurant and good-sized, air-conditioned bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms.
Paris to Honfleur and back
We started with cocktails and dinner whilst sailing along the Seine as the sun went down. Then we returned up river when darkness fell for a romantic night time cruise, arriving back at the Eiffel Tower exactly as the lights started sparkling.
Overnight we travelled to the beautiful riverside town of Les Andelys for an optional tour excursion. I stayed on board to cruise the Seine and enjoy going through the huge locks and had a fabulous time up on deck, the scenery was stunning along the river. Those who went on the tour re-embarked at Rouen – without fail everyone said it had been an excellent trip.
Then it was on to lovely Honfleur 355km from Paris by river, arriving in the early hours of the next morning. We had the whole day free and an optional tour in the afternoon to see the local sights. Honfleur at any time of the year is gorgeous. There is so much to see and wandering those little streets, sitting round the harbour in one of the many little cafés and brasseries, watching the world go by is a joy. I joined the Deauville, Trouville, Calvados distillery optional tour which lasted around 4 hours with time in the famous towns and a chance to taste the famous liqueur of Normandy.
The evening was spent in Honfleur too which gave us a chance to see the town lit up and to join in the lively night life. A band played at l’Albatros bar, chairs and tables spilled onto the cobbled walk ways around the harbour and children played on the carousel – it was a magical night.
On the fourth day we floated back to Paris, stopping off to spend the morning in gorgeous Rouen arriving early enough to be exploring before the town woke up – it was bliss having it to myself for a little while.
We cruised back up river in the afternoon and overnight, arriving in Paris in time for breakfast and allowing those who wanted, to spend a day in Paris before onward journeys – we were able to leave our cases on board whilst sight-seeing.
Food and wine
All that activity works up an appetite and MS Boticelli didn’t disappoint. The food and wine is inclusive in the price and superb value. The meals are not haute cuisine, but they are very tasty (although if you are a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish, you’ll find it’s typically French with lots of egg dishes). The wine was very good, I tried the red, white, rosé and sparkling (research!) and they were all outstanding. There’s also a cocktail du jour, spirits, beer, tea and coffee. Drinks are available from early morning until early the next morning.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served on board throughout, ending with the captain’s celebratory dinner in which the chef pulled out all the stops and the fabulous staff served cocktails and sparkling wines dressed in their crisp white dress uniform.
Entertainment on board
A charming pianist by the name of Jean-Pierre played music during the day and evening, there were quizzes (in English and French), dance night and a crew show.
The entertainment is very French. The very popular line dance Le Madison was played each night and lured the French passengers onto the dance floor. By the end of the trip I had learned the steps and joined in – much to the amusement of my table neighbours and the French passengers who applauded my efforts (it’s not quite as easy as it looks)! On the last night everyone did La Chenille (a sort of “hokey cokey”). French, American, Australian, Spanish, Belgian and British. We all danced round the boat with the staff – it was huge fun and had everyone in fits of laughter.
The thing that struck me most with this cruise is that the friendliness and the very Frenchness of it. At the end of it you’ll feel as though you’ve had an authentic French experience, ticked off several gorgeous bucket list destinations and you’ll have made friends too.
Overall – Excellent value, really friendly staff, roomy and comfortable
Read more about CroisiEurope – barge and riverboat cruise success story
Website for CroisiEurope in French and in English – you’ll find dozens of different itineraries for French river cruises.