Credit: Shutterstock

This Viking cruise brings you the ultimate Christmas cheer on the Seine

Author: John Wilmott

Published on:

On a memorable winter journey, John Wilmott enjoys fun and the festive spirit in Paris and Normandy

A leisurely trip along the Seine, travelling on a stylish and comfortable Viking ship, is always a pleasure. But when your journey takes place just before Christmas, it gets even better.

The French love Christmas, and on this eight-day 'Christmas on the Seine' journey, you’ll get to see many of Normandy’s most popular destinations, including Vernon and Rouen, without the crowds.

Get ready to enjoy the heady aromas of roasting chestnuts and candied fruits at bustling Christmas markets.

Despite the compulsion to buy everything I see at the beautifully decorated stalls, I’m pleased to report that this special journey is not just about scoring some great festive gifts for your friends and family.

There are plenty of cultural highlights to enjoy on the way too.

Related articles

In the footsteps of Richard the Lionheart

As I stood atop a steep mound among the ruins of Château Gaillard, I admired the same view witnessed by Richard the Lionheart, who ordered this castle to be built at the end of the 12th century.

The River Seine lay below, streaming past impressive chalk cliffs that gleamed bright white in the low winter sun.

Just 200 years before Richard I presided over Normandy, the Vikings had sailed up this river.

Today, the only Viking I could see was the Viking Fjorgyn, our lovely river ship, nestled against a grassy bank far beneath my feet

Scenic views await on the River Seine. Credit: Shutterstock

Richard the Lionheart had been introduced to me the previous evening in the small city of Rouen.

As I warmed my hands around a glass of vin chaud at the picturesque Christmas market outside the magnificent 12th-century cathedral, I recalled that earlier our guide had told us that the king was entombed inside.

Well, at least the ‘heart’ part of his name – his other remains are buried further south.

Paris puts on a special show for Christmas, with shops decked out in festive finery. Credit: Shutterstock

Paris magic

I had arrived in Paris in mid December, and soon joined my shipmates for dinner on the Viking Fjorgyn – but not before venturing on to the top deck to view the Eiffel Tower, gleaming in the moonlight, directly ahead of the ship’s city- centre mooring.

Suddenly the Tower put on a Christmas show of its own. For five minutes on the hour, hundreds of lights flickered up and down its 1,000ft iron skeleton. It’s a magical sight that you shouldn’t miss.

An introductory tour of Paris by coach the next morning had me wondering why it had been at least two decades since I last visited the French capital.

The Louvre, with its iconic pyramid, is just one of many cultural treats in store. Credit: Shutterstock

The formidable columns of the national parliament, the golden- domed tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides, the splendid Alexandre III bridge, a photo-stop at the Eiffel Tower – we enjoyed some of the city’s best sites from the warm comfort of a Viking coach.

On a walking interval in the city centre, our guide brought us up to date on the restoration of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral, before inviting us to browse a cute Christmas market - complete with a central display of fir trees and reindeer.

Before sailing late that evening, a superb trio of Parisian opera singers joined us in the Viking Fjorgyn’s lounge, getting us all in the mood for the adventures that awaited.

sweet treats await in the pretty riverside town of Vernon. Credit: Shutterstock

Celebrating the Resistance

Waking up in Vernon, a beautifully kept little town, a hearty breakfast set me up for a guided walk. Within a few steps of the ship were the classic half-timbered buildings of Normandy and I found myself reaching for my camera by instinct.

Vernon is known as ‘the town that liberated itself’. In 1944, rumours spread that US forces were on their way, but then the message came through that they would be bypassing Vernon.

So the Resistance decided to rid their town of the German occupiers themselves, and an intense battle ensued until British troops arrived.

Today, it’s a fabulous place to explore on foot and raise a glass to the brave men and women of the French Resistance.

The Gros Horloge, a 14th-century astrological clock, is just one treasure to be found in Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy

Wonderful Rouen

Normandy’s capital is a must-see on this trip, and though I had visited before, I found my way back to the Place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.

A modern church, dedicated to St Joan, stands there today – though I must admit that a classic Rouen house adorned with large teddy bears drew my attention from her dramatic story.

A final visit to the town’s Christmas market seemed appropriate, and as darkness fell, the decorated white wooden booths displayed their wares in a warm glow.

I joined the locals in choosing a few gifts, though I kept the chocolate goodies for myself!.

The Palace of Versailles is within easy reach of Paris. Credit: Shutterstock

The following morning we were back in Paris, with a full day and night to explore. Tempted though I was by the optional trips to Versailles and Montmartre, I decided to take the Métro into the city centre and enjoy a long, slow walk back.

Among the many attractions was France’s largest Christmas celebration. Near the Louvre and part funfair, part market, it was packed with families enjoying the ice rink, the Ferris wheel and stalls decked out with festive fare.

Another vin chaud was called for before I browsed the stalls selling stylish jewellery, candles, leather gifts, confectionery and soft toys.

A few of those soft toys were cuddly lions. But you don’t need the heart of Richard I to enjoy this delightful, gentle meander through Normandy in winter.

Most recent articles