Michele and a dear friend traveled to France from May 1-11, 2022. We spent time in Paris and then eight days on the Avalon Waterways Tapestry II, sailing from LeHavre back to Paris. We visited amazing places in Normandie along the Seine. We learned a great deal about the history of Normandie and the many wars that have scarred the lands. We also learned an enormous amount about art and architecture, cheese and liquor. I hope the post below inspires you to explore Paris or Western France.
Paris is an absolutely magical city, full of light, art, food, history, culture and greenery. Do not let anyone tell you that Parisians hate tourists. Michele felt welcomed during the four days she recently spent there.
Le Méridian Etoile and other places to stay
Michele and a dear friend took an Avalon Waterways river cruise on the Seine that started and ended in Paris. Avalon Waterways put us into their preferred hotel, Le Méridian Etoile, about a 15 minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe.
We understand why the river cruise company chose this hotel – it is large, close to the highway and offers a generous breakfast. However, it is utterly charmless. Clean, neat, functional, but it is a business class hotel. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées with the Arc de Triomphe is a lovely, busy, noisy boulevard that is lined with American retailers. While you must see the Arc while in Paris, Michele recommends staying elsewhere.
Michele recommends staying in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Latin Quarter, Montmartre or the Marais district near the Pompidou Center. Those neighborhoods have way, way more charm and character. There are tons of small hotels and lots of apartments to rent.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806. It was not completed until 1835. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The Arc sits in the center of the L’Etoile (the star), a circular configuration of radiating avenues. To reach the Arc, use the underground passageways around it. Do not attempt to walk to the Arc through the traffic circle.
To avoid waiting in line or not being able to access the top of the monument, buy your timed entry ticket in advance from the official French government website. An elevator can take you to the top. As of June 2022, the Arc is open from 10am-11pm for wonderful views of the city.
La Tour Eiffel is an iconic sight in Paris. Simply magical. You can see it from so many different spots in the city. Be sure to walk up to it and see it up close. If you wish to climb to the second level or use the elevators to get to the second level and the top, secure your timed entry tickets from the official website well in advance. The lines to purchase day-of tickets in May 2022 were SO long.
Once nightfalls, the lights on the tower will dance for five minutes at the top of every hour. Michele highly recommends going to the tower and sitting on the grass to watch the show. It is a wonderful experience with the crowds clapping and cheering.
Sacré-Couer and Montmartre
A totally charming area of Paris is the Montmartre section. Loaded with cafes, stores and artists selling their works, the area around the Basilica of Sacré-Couer is not to be missed. Take the Metro to the Anvers station and wander to your heart’s delight. For those who struggle with hills or stairs, there is a funicular that can take you up to the church and the Place du Tertre, a cafe-lined square and artist hangout. Be sure to stop and grab a coffee or glass of wine in this funky spot.
Michele’s favorite museum in the entire world is the Musee d’Orsay in the heart of Paris, near the Tuileries Gardens. It is such a beautiful museum filled with so much art and light. The museum is housed in an old train station, and it has a huge collection of impressionist pieces. We saw everything we wanted to see in about two hours time. The museum has two light fare dining options – a restaurant and a café, both of which are simply oozing with charm. We enjoyed two glasses of rosé in the restaurant.
We highly recommend getting timed entrance tickets in advance through the official website and not a third party website. We breezed through security while hundreds and hundreds of people waited in line to purchase tickets.
The Louvre is the world’s most visited art museum. The museum used to be a royal palace, and it is enormous! Truly, truly enormous. The museum houses famous works including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. If you do not feel like spending time in an overwhelming and somewhat dark museum, skip it! Be sure to visit the grounds.
Michele and Jim visited in 2000. Kendall took a quick stroll through in 2021. When Michele was in France in 2022, she chose to only visit it from the outside. She HIGHLY recommends that you purchase VIP timed-entry tickets in advance, so you do not have to wait in the crazy long lines. You will have no more than a 30 minute wait. When you arrive to the museum, be sure you are in the proper line.
If you can only do one museum in Paris, do the Musee d”Orsay instead. We like it much, much better.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Cathedral of Notre Dame dates to 1163. It has been desecrated and renovated many times in its 850 year history. The Cathedral was almost lost to an inferno on April 15, 2019. So, if you visit, you will not be allowed inside while reconstruction is happening. But, you can see it from the outside, listen to street musicians nearby, and learn from many signs just what is being done to restore the church. We highly recommend a visit, even while the church is being fixed.
The Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés
We love strolling around the neighborhoods of the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The neighborhoods are on the left bank of the Seine. You can access the areas by crossing the Pont Neuf and walking either to the right to get to Saint-Germain-des-Prés or to the left to reach the Latin Quarter. Our best advice to you is to simply wander off the main streets and find lovely shops, galleries and cafes.
The Pantheon is in the Latin Quarter. You can pay to hike to the top for a lovely view of Paris. We did not do that.
The Tuileries Garden
The Tuileries Garden (French: Jardin des Tuileries) covers 55 acres and is surrounded by the Louvre (to the east), the Seine (to the south), the Place de la Concorde (to the west) and the Rue de Rivoli (to the north).
The garden is wonderful place to stroll, sit, picnic, or eat at an outdoor cafe. Be sure to stroll through before or after a visit to the Louvre.
Galeries Lafayette and Lafayette Maison et Gourmet
If you want to enjoy a wonderful view of Paris, that is free, visit the Galeries Lafayette. It is located very close to the Opera. There are six floors of amazing shopping and a wonderful roof top deck. We were too early to enjoy the restaurant on the roof. There are so many restaurants and cafes in the building. You could eat all day long! We only went into the building that sells women’s clothes and shoes.
Across the street is the men’s store, accessible by bridge and the Lafayette Maison et Gourmet which is probably the nicest food store in the world. It is beyond amazing. Spices, chocolates, breads, wine, cheese, vegetables, meats, fish, flowers, fruits – if you can eat it, it is there. And, the curated presentation is spectacular!
We walked past the Paris Opera house a few times. It is a lovely building from the outside. The line to get in was not long, so we entered to purchase a ticket. On the day we stopped in, the main hall was in use, so we could not see it. We were very disappointed. So, we only saw it from the outside and from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette.
Avalon Waterways Active and Discovery on the Seine, Southbound
We took a cruise with Avalon Waterways called Active and Discovery on the Seine, Southbound. The cruise included all meals, most shore excursions (you could do two a day on some of the days), alcohol during meals, afternoon tea, wifi and nightly entertainment. The staterooms are considered to be among the largest of any river cruises. They make excellent use of a telescoping sliding door to make a fabulous Parisienne balcony in the Panorama suites.
The cruise included one night in Paris at a hotel. The next day at 1pm, we boarded a bus and spent two and a half hours traveling to the huge port city of Le Havre on the English Channel, where we boarded our boat. The service throughout the week was outstanding as was the food. Breakfast and lunch were enormous buffets. Dinner was four courses with multiple options. Allergies and dietary preferences were taken into serious consideration. We then spent eight days slowly sailing back to Paris. Because we only sailed in one direction, this allowed us to have more immersive experiences on land and less on the boat, which we loved. Many Seine river cruises start in Paris and turn around somewhere on the Seine, so you do not get as much time on land as we did.
We pulled up next to other river boats several times during our week on the river. Our boat looked much, much, much nicer than many ships we shared docking space with. Avalon Waterways offers an incredible product with more inclusions and less people than most other boats on the European rivers.
The small Normandie town of Fécamp sits on the English Channel and is about 45 minutes from Le Havre. The Germans had tight control of the town during World War II and you can still see the bunkers in the cliffs. Many of the town’s buildings are made of stone, found right on the beaches. It was a lovely place to visit. This excursion was included with the price of our cruise. We were taken to the town on a air conditioned bus. We had headsets to hear our guide. We could get up to 300 feet away from our guide and still here her voice. This allowed us to walk and explore on our own.
In Fécamp, sits the birthplace of Bénédictine liquor. If you want true Bénédictine liquor, you must buy it from this company. It is only made here! Palais Bénédictine has been making this liquor since 1863. We took a tour of the distillery and learned all about how it is made. It was a fascinating excursion! We also took a cocktail making class where we learned how to make two cocktails with the liquor! If you are visiting Fécamp, you should stop here!
The utterly charming, adorable, cute and magnificent town of Honfleur was Michele’s favorite village during our 10 day trip to France. Go, just go to Honfleur. Avalon offered a walking tour and guide. We chose to skip it and explore on our own. Take a few hours and wander the streets. Be sure to walk up the hill to Notre Dame de Grâce to see the view and the Pont de Normandie bridge. Stunning!!
Caudebec-en-Caux, Vimoutiers, Camembert, Beuvron-en-Auge and Cambremer
Avalon Waterways had the choice of three different day-long excursions after sailing overnight on the Seine to Caudebec-en-Caux. The choices were – visiting the American WWII beaches, cemeteries and memorials; visiting the Canadian WWII beaches, cemeteries and memorials; or, spending a day in the French countryside learning how cheese and apple brandy is made. Jim wants to visit the landing beaches, so Michele chose to spend a full day in the French countryside.
You also had the option to stay on the boat in Caudebec-en-Caux, but it is very small with not that much to do! There is a pretty church there, and a tiny town. You could take a nice walk along the river.
We drove about 90 minutes from our boat through gorgeous countryside to reach Vimoutiers. This is a village that includes the Camembert Museum. We had a tour and a tasting. We enjoyed it. However, we gave feedback to our cruise director, that we did not need to go to the museum or to the actual town of Camembert. They were too far from the boat (but closer than the landing beaches!). I am sure that Avalon Waterways could have found an artisanal cheese maker closer to Caudebec-en-Caux!
We visited a tiny artisanal cheese maker in the village of Camembert. This was our favorite stop. We loved seeing the baby and adult cows. We watched the owner salting a batch of cheese. We did a nice tasting. It was a gorgeous stop, but far from the boat!
We drove through absolutely stunning French countryside for about 30 minutes to the tiny village of Beuvron-en-Auge. Avalon Waterways gave each of us 25 Euros to go purchase lunch. We ate in a tiny cafe and had authentic cassoulet and Beef Bourginone. We enjoyed our walk around the village, even getting more steps in walking the surrounding fields.
We drove for about 40 minutes to the town of Cambremer. There, we stopped at Pierre Huet Calvados Distillery. The fields of apples are gorgeous. We took a tour and did a tasting with a delicious apple tart from a local bakery. While we truly enjoyed our visit, the tour was at least 20 minutes too long! It is so very pretty here. While Michele would recommend spending this day learning about French cheese and liquor, Avalon Waterways should find a way to make the day a bit shorter!
The Norman city of Rouen is loaded with charm and character. Wander, stroll, eat, shop and gaze at the many cathedrals. Avalon Waterways offered both a walking tour of the city and a bike tour. We chose the bike tour in the morning. The guide talked way too much, but we loved riding around the city. Whether you bike or walk, spending time in this city is magical.
In the afternoon, Michele took an optional excursion (it cost about $50) to Domaine Dulcos Fougeray to watch a border collie herd sheep in an apple orchard. We also learned about making Calvados at their small distillery. It was a stunningly gorgeous afternoon. Highly recommended to visit here.
Michele gave feedback to the cruise director about this tour and the one from the day before that went really far to Camembert. The two tours should be combined. Ideally, the tour should include a stop at an artisanal cheese maker, closer to the boat. It should include a stop at this distillery/sheep herding with the dog demonstration. And, it should include lunch in a cute village, making it a six hour day instead of the 10 hour day that we had going all the way out to Camembert!
Les Andelys and Château Gaillard
In the morning, we woke to our boat sailing into the tiny area of Les Andelys. After breakfast, we joined a guide for a quick, steep walk up the hill to Château Gaillard which was built by Richard the Lionheart in 1196. The ruin is fascinating to walk around. Our guide was great, and admission to the inner part of the castle was included. We loved this walk. In a photo below, I will tell you how to get the best shot of the ruin.
Monet’s Gardens in Giverny
Our included afternoon excursion was a short bus ride to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny. The gardens that inspired his work and his home are lovely. The flowers are amazing. We went on a Saturday at the end of a two week school vacation. The gardens were insanely crowded. We chose not to stay with our group, because we knew we could see more if we were a party of two, rather than a party of 24! We saw the entire gardens and the pond. We loved our visit, but if you can, go on a weekday in the late afternoon and purchase tickets in advance. The many onsite gift shops are lovely!
To maximize our time on land, we often sailed at night. When we did sail with daylight or moonlight, it was magical to spend time on the deck, talking, laughing and sharing wine.
Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and Auvers-sur-Oise
We woke in the village of Conflates-Sainte-Honorine. After breakfast we strolled around the tiny village, spotting the church boat and the ancient Roman wall. There is a lovely public park at the top of the hill, overlooking the Seine.
After our morning stroll, we boarded a bus with a guide for Auvers-sur-Oise. Vincent Van Gogh spent the last two months of his life here, painting more than 80 works of art, many of which hang in the Musee d’Orsay! We listened to stories about his time in the village. He is buried here as is his brother. We learned that his brother, Theo, saved all of their correspondence, which told us a great deal about Vincent’s state of mind. Fascinating!
Sailing into Paris
After returning to the boat, we set sail for Paris. Michele loved that we sailed into this magnificent city in the light of day. It was wonderful! Avalon Waterways did the “disembarkation” gala dinner after we docked in Paris, even though we were spending two nights on the boat in the city of light. It was a five course extravaganza with lobster tail and chateaubriand! The wine was flowing, and they did a can-can show for us in the lounge. It sounds silly, and it was, but we had a fun time!
The next morning, Avalon Waterways offered a food tour, a walking tour or a museum tour of Paris. We chose just to wander all over the city by ourselves. We ate breakfast and dinner on board and lunch in St. Germain-des-Prés.
Be sure to walk, walk, walk and walk some more around this amazing city!
On the last day of the cruise, we had to be out of our staterooms by 8:30am and off the boat by 10am. We were so glad that we chose to have one more night in Paris. Many guests had to leave the boat at dawn to get flights home. If you can, add a day on to the end of your cruise!