Joie de vivre: Viking River Cruises’ Paris and the Heart of Normandy

Linda Fasteson

Sipping a Kir Royale on the Sun Deck of the Viking Fjorgen while taking in the view of the Eiffel Tower is about as relaxing a way to see the “Iron Lady”  as it gets. By night, it’s the place to be when the Eiffel Tower’s lights twinkle on the hour.

A quarter-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty given by the United States in 1889 to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution is on the Pont de Grenelle, just behind where the ship is docked. It faces in the direction of its full-size counterpart in New York, a gift of friendship from the people of France three years earlier on the centenary of American independence. 

Here, in the heart of Paris, the stage is set for a cruise along the Seine, an adventure in French history, art, food, drink and culture with links to our own. The Viking Fjorgyn cruises to Normandy, site of the largest invasion force in human history and the World War II battles to liberate France. 

Along the way the ship stops for visits to charming villages with half-timbered houses, grand chateaux, France’s tallest Gothic cathedral, inspirational landscapes made famous by world-renowned artists, the ultimate palace, an illustrious hilltop fortress overlooking the Seine and more. It is a splendid way to travel in comfort, whether for a first trip to the region or to revisit and explore in greater depth.

The ship

The Viking Fjorgen, named for the Norse Goddess of the Earth, and its sister ships are purpose-built for navigating the Seine with customized hulls and eco-friendly hybrid engines. Simply unpack once and enjoy the services, convenience and smooth ride aboard this luxuriously appointed floating hotel. 

Travel while you sleep, dine, are entertained or simply enjoy the view. Discover how much you can see and do in a day with ease when everything is taken care of for you.

Is this trip for you?

Although river cruises are not for those seeking Broadway-style extravaganzas, onboard entertainment and enrichment is plentiful. It includes French music through the years by talented area vocalists, an onboard pianist, and classes on the French language, cooking, art and cheeses. 

An excursion is included in every port. Optional tours are offered to broaden what guests can see and do. These also offer unique options to those with special interests or those who want to to explore the culture in greater depth, perhaps with an excursion to the countryside or a culinary experience. You can be as busy as you choose to be, simply relax and enjoy the amenities of the ship or take a stroll in the port area.

While both French and traditional favorites are served throughout the cruise, the Taste of France dinner is an extravaganza of the country’s culinary specialties. House wine, beer and soft drinks are complimentary with lunch and dinner. The optional Silver Spirits package includes cocktails, premium wine and specialty beverages.

Pre- and post-trips are offered to Oxford and Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle. Or opt for for a culinary experience. Adding extended time in Paris is a good options for starting your cruise without jet lag or adding in whatever else you might like to do t the end.

It all begins in Paris

On the first full day in Paris the included morning panoramic tour takes guests by motorcoach past the major landmarks like the Champs Élysées, Arc de Triumph, Louvre, and Latin Quarter . There are photo stops as well as some free time in the Left Bank for a coffee or to explore. The full day tour adds highlights of the Louvre’s treasures, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo and masterpieces by artists like Botticelli, Titian, and Raphael.

An afternoon goes by metro and a funicular to the bohemian Montmartre, inspiration for the likes of Dali, Modigliani, Monet, Picasso, and van Gogh. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the view from the Basilica of Sacré Coeur, the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. 

For a local experience beyond the iconic, The Flavors of Paris is a guided tour through Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a district is known as the city’s intellectual and literary heart and soul and for its  literary, legendary and lively café scene. Stroll through a 17th century medieval passageway past some of Paris’ oldest restaurants. Taste some of France’s top sweet and savory specialties in some of the finest food shops and cafés. This is top choice, particularly for the repeat traveler or food bon vivant. 

The cruise begins

The ship departs for a leisurely morning walk in the charming little village of La Roche-Guyon. Climb to the 12th century keep atop the hill, if you like, for the view overlooking a loop in the Seine. The elegant 18th century residence known as Château de La Roche-Guyon took on many architectural styles over the centuries. It was Rommel’s headquarters during part of World War II.

Then it’s off to Vernon’s half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets. This local shopping hub known as the gateway to Normandy was founded by the Viking Rollo in the 9th century.

From April to November the afternoon is spent in Giverny exploring Master of Impressionism Claude Monet’s home, gardens and ponds. This colorful site served as inspiration for much of his work, including his renowned and much-loved waterlily paintings.

Other months the motorcoach heads  to Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh spent his final months, painting prolifically. See his room at Auberge Ravoux, and subjects of his paintings, such as the Church of Auvers and the wheat fields, en route to the burial site shares with his brother, Theo.

Alternatively, remain after a tour of Roche-Guyon and the 12th century castle for a workshop in a private room to learn about French chateau life and “les arts de la table,” the art of setting a table.


Cruise along the Seine past chalk cliffs to Rouen, known for Notre Dame Cathedral, subject of a series of paintings by Claude Monet, and as the site where Joan of Arc was imprisoned, tried and burned at the stake. Between the two sites is a beautiful medieval astronomical clock in a Renaissance arch by a Gothic belfry.

The cathedral is the tallest in France and took so long to build —over 800 years—that it is in Gothic, Flamboyant and Renaissance styles. The Tour de Beurre, Butter Tower, was financed in part with indulgences granted by the Pope allowing butter consumption during Lent. Richard the Lionheart’s heart is buried here.

Two optional tours are also offered. Picturesque Honfleur on Foot heads to the 17th century harbor town favored by artists. Explore shops and art galleries as you stroll the Old Town’s narrow streets. A memorial plaque honors Samuel de Champlain, who sailed from here in 1603 and founded  the city of Quebec in what was then known as New France. 

The Rouen Farm and Countryside tour travels to Domaine Duclos Fougeray, a rustic working farm and apple orchard where award-winning cider, pommeau and calvados, the region’s apple brandy, are produced. Watch an English Sheepdog round up the flock and learn about the symbiotic relationship between the sheep and the orchard. This captivating tour culminates in one of the 18th century  buildings with samples of their products paired with local favorites like homemade apple tarts and Norman cheeses. 

Normandy Beaches

There are two 11 hour options here. The US Tour commemorates the D-Day landings in June 1944 by visiting World War II's Omaha Beach, the Caen Memorial Museum, which focuses on the Battle of Normandy events that led to liberation, and the American Military Cemetery. The seemingly endless rows of white crosses and stars of David at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which is high on a cliff over Omaha Beach, are stark and stirring reminders of the nearly 10,000 American lives lost in this invasion and its operations.  

The Commonwealth tour includes memorials to two conquests. It begins with a visit the medieval city of Bayeux to see the Bayeux Tapestry, an 230 foot long embroidered depiction of William of Normandy’s invasion of England in 1066. 

It continues to the beaches of the D-Day Allied landings and the Juno Beach Center, which honors the Canadian role in World War II. The Pegasus Museum then brings to life the the British 6th Airborne Division’s glider landing and capture of the strategic Pegasus Bridge in the first moments of the Allied invasion. The tour ends with visits to the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian cemetery and British cemetery at Ranville.  

Les Andelys

Enjoy a leisurely morning cruise to the small town of Les Andelys, known for the remains of its imposing castle, Château Gaillard. It was built high on a cliff overlooking the Seine in 1196 by Richard the Lionheart of England, Duke of Normandy. The strongest and most renowned castle of its time, it was key to defending Normandy against France and during the Wars of Religion. Philip II of France captured it following Richard's death after an eight month siege. His men entered through the latrine. 

Henry IV had much of it demolished at the end of the 16th century. He allowed nearby monks to take stones to repair their abbey. 

Paris (Le Pecq)

The ship stops in Le Pecq, about 10 miles west of Paris, for a tour of Château de Malmaison, where Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte spent his final days in France before his exile. His wife, Josephine, bought it, against his wishes, while he was fighting in the Egyptian Campaign and turned the run-down estate into an opulent one with elaborate gardens. She lived there after their divorce and he returned to it after his defeat at Waterloo.

Like the first day in Paris, this one offers additional options for those who want to include as much as possible in their day. 

There is an optional excursion to the Palace of Versailles, home to French royalty and a UNESCO World Heritage site. What began as a hunting lodge was enlarged by each of the kings who occupied it and became, through great extravagance, the palace standard by which all others continue to be measured. The tour includes the glittering Hall of Mirrors, site of the signing of the treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. Its final royal residents, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, the “Sun King” and last king of France, were guillotined on charges of treason and counterrevolution.

By night an optional panoramic tour is offered past the City of Light’s gloriously illuminated major monuments and sites, culminating at the Eiffel Tower. It is a grand finale to this exceptional trip.

Linda Fasteson

Sipping a Kir Royale on the Sun Deck of the Viking Fjorgen while taking in the view of the Eiffel Tower is about as relaxing a way to see the “Iron Lady”  as it gets. 

Linda Fasteson

Famous French music throughout the years delights guests aboard the Viking Fjorgen.

Linda Fasteson

A full range of French specialties are served with style for the Taste of France dinner. 

Linda Fasteson

Sample the best of French specialties. like these macarons at Richart when you opt for Viking Cruises'Flavors of Paris excursion. 

Linda Fasteson

Sample the best of French specialties, like these chocolates at Richart when you opt for Viking Cruises' Flavors of Paris excursion. 

Linda Fasteson

Sample the best of French specialties. like thesesweets and this decadent hot chocolate at Paul when you opt for Viking Cruises' Flavors of Paris excursion. 

Linda Fasteson

Sample the best of French specialties. like the tapenades, olive oils, vinegars and pates at Maison Brémond Epicerie Fine and Confiserie, when you opt for Viking Cruises' Flavors of Paris excursion. 

Linda Fasteson

The Dôme des Invalides houses the tomb of Napoleon I and sheltered Allied pilots during World War II. 

Linda Fasteson

The Fountains of the Seas and Rivers and the Luxor Egyptian Obelisk add to the grandeur at Paris' Place de la Concorde.

Linda Fasteson

A tour goes to Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh spent his final months painting local landscapes and places like the Church of Auvers..

Linda Fasteson

The Chateau de la Roche-Guyon served as Rommel's headquarters during part of World War II.

Linda Fasteson

Rouen is best known for Notre-Dame Cathedral, the tallest cathedral in France, and as the city where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake 

Linda Fasteson

The Rouen Farm & Countrtyside excursion visits Domaine Duclos Fougeray, a rustic farm and apple orchard with 18th century buildings. Award-winning cider, pommeau and calvados, the region's appple brandy, are produced here.

Linda Fasteson

The Rouen Farm & Countrtyside excursion visits Domaine Duclos Fougeray, which produces award-winning cider, pommeau and calvados, the region's appple brandy.

Linda Fasteson

A replica of the Bayeaux tapestry is in the museum that houses the actual embroidered depiction of William of Normandy's conquest of England. in 1066. 

Linda Fasteson

The Viking Fjorgen docks in Les Andelys where Richard the Lionheart built Chateau Gaillard, the strongest and most renowned castle of its time, high on a cliff in 1196.

Linda Fasteson

Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife, Josephine, entertained lavishly at Malmaison. 

Linda Fasteson

Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife, Josephine, purchased Malmaison while he was in Egypt.

Linda Fasteson

Linda Fasteson is an award-winning food and travel writer whose favorite travel souvenirs are foods, wines and memories shared with friends and family. Her cultural and culinary adventures have taken her down through the cobwebs of medieval passageways to little-known wine cellars and up to palatial alpine banquets. She shops local markets, travels country roads, and goes behind the scenes with fo...(Read More)

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