Last Updated on December 13, 2023
By John and Sandra Nowlan / all photos by the authors unless otherwise noted
We knew we were in good hands with Tauck for a Seine River cruise we’d hoped to take for years. The Connecticut-based touring company, after all, has been in business for almost 100 years.
Sailing north from Paris would also give us a preview of a busy year in France. The 2024 Summer Olympics will undoubtedly bring large crowds to the French capital. In addition, there will be a focus on the Beaches of Normandy as 2024 marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day.
Chauffeured From de Gaulle In a BMW
Our arrival in Paris for the river cruise showed why Tauck is unique and popular, particularly with older travelers.
At the Charles de Gaulle Airport, a driver met us, put our luggage in the trunk of a BMW, and drove us directly to Sapphire. It was to be our riverboat home, for a week of pampering, great food, and exclusive tours.
As Cruise Director Lindsey Burgess told us soon after boarding, “We want to share with guests an authentic and thorough local experience without any worries. You’ll be taken care of. You’ll be safe.”
That “no worries” philosophy is unique in the industry. In addition to private airport transfers and excellent accommodation, all meals, all drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), all gratuities, all special events, and all tours are included in the base fare. They even gave each guest 20 Euros for lunch on one walking tour. Tauck river cruise Directors also provide the proper coins if pay toilets are needed (common in Europe).
A Comfortable Ship
Sapphire is one of several river cruises that Tauck’s European partner, Scylla, owns and operates. This Switzerland-based company hires all the crew except the Tauck Cruise Director and the three Tauck Tour Directors.
The boat conforms to the required width and height to fit under bridges and through locks. But its public spaces are unusually generous because the ship holds a maximum of 98 passengers. Most enjoy 225 and 300-square-foot cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open to reveal French balconies. Our cruise had fewer than 80 guests.
Our room on Deck 2 had a king-size bed facing the windows and excellent lighting including bedside reading lights. There was also great temperature control and fast wi-fi. Along with a large TV with U.S. channels and good movie choices, there was a fridge, coffee maker, and safe. The large bathroom includes a wide sink, L’Occitane toiletries. In addition, there was a generous-sized shower with an overhead rain shower and traditional nozzles. Several guests missed a makeup mirror in their bathrooms, and toilet flushing from the deck above was occasionally quite loud.
Creative Cuisine On a Tauck River Cruise
Excellent cuisine is always a priority for Tauck and on our river cruise we were very impressed by the high quality and creativity of the food coming from the small galley.
The Bulgarian-trained Executive Chef, Krasimir Marinov, and his team constantly delighted us with dishes like fresh scallops, smoked duck breast, Arctic halibut, and Surf & Turf (sauteed shrimps and beef tenderloin). The soups, salads, and desserts were always excellent. Complimentary French wines, at both lunch and dinner, rated highly on our Vivino wine app.
During several pre-dinner cocktail hours, the kitchen team also served small portions of local French specialties. These included oysters, snails, and frog legs, plus, of course, marvelous local cheeses and charcuterie.
Tauck often includes a unique, exclusive dinner on its European river cruises, and we were looking forward to it. Our special treat along the Seine was an evening at the 16th-century Chateau du Taillis near Rouen. Lit only by candlelight, the charming dining room included classical music by a violin and cello duo as a sumptuous six-course meal was served.
De Milo, da Vinci and Claude Monet
Our river cruise tour began in Paris with Tauck’s excellent guides showing us the Paris Opera House (no phantom sightings) as well as the ancient underground section of the Louvre. Despite the crowds, we couldn’t miss seeing the Louvre’s unique treasures, the Venus de Milo Greek sculpture, and Leonardo da Vinci’s small masterpiece, Mona Lisa.
As we cruised down the river from Paris, we stopped in Giverny, where Tauck arranged a private early-opening tour of impressionist painter Claude Monet’s charming house. Our tour also included the water garden with its famous Japanese bridge. Many of his paintings were produced here.
As we sailed on, a local artist provided a canvas, acrylic paints, and guidance so guests could create and take home their impressionist “masterpieces.”
Lovely Rouen and a Historic Chateau
Rouen is a historic, medieval community that, despite German bombing, retains its old-world streets and charm. The city center includes a large astronomic clock from 1527 and the 800-year-old Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame.
They’re in sharp contrast to the modern, imaginative Church of Saint Joan of Arc. Completed in 1979, it’s located in the market square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
A historic castle ruin was a highlight of our river-cruise visit to Les Andelys. Chateau Gaillard was built in 1197 by King Richard the Lionheart of England. But the King of France, Philip II, laid siege and took it back in 1204. It fell into ruins in the 16th century. Afterward, we visited a local farm that produced fresh pressed cider and aged brandy. Samples were encouraged.
A Memorable Tauck River Cruise Stop: the D-Day Beaches
Traveling by comfortable bus from the mouth of the Seine to the D-Day beaches of Normandy took about 90 minutes.
On June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied troops, American, Canadian, and British, stormed the heavily fortified beaches to begin the successful liberation of France from the Nazis. Numerous shell craters and the remains of Germany’s heavily armed bunkers are still in evidence near the beaches as stark reminders of heavy casualties on both sides.
The tour concentrated on Omaha Beach, where U.S. Army Rangers had to scale 100-foot (30m) cliffs to rout the enemy. Several poignant memorials are close by, including the 172-acre American Cemetery with the graves of more than 9,000 U.S. troops. It was an emotional day.
On the way back to the river for our cruise’s return to Paris, Tauck had a surprise treat for us – lunch at the 18th-century Chateau La Cheneviere. Its Michelin-starred restaurant, La Botaniste, served all guests a delightful three-course meal – smoked salmon appetizer, chicken main, and caramelized apple cake for dessert.
We’ve toured with Tauck in the past and always found it an ideal choice for history-rich, small-ship river cruises like this. With decades of experience, they know the local scene and, with their contacts, can provide the very best English-speaking guides. With four Tauck support staff on board and fewer than 100 guests, Tauck is unique and passionate about its mission.