Tauck on the Seine: Paris, Pampering and Passion
We’ve been writing about cruising — ocean, river, and expedition — for more than 20 years. Our Tauck cruise on the Seine had the most all-inclusive features we’ve ever enjoyed.
Tauck, the Connecticut-based international travel company, has been in business since 1925 and clearly knows how to pamper its guests. As soon as we cleared customs at the Paris airport we saw a Tauck driver with our names. He greeted us, put our luggage in the trunk of a BMW and skillfully drove us to our waiting riverboat on the Seine. This complimentary transfer was just part of the Tauck experience. As we soon learned, no extra money is ever needed. Accommodation, all meals, all drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), all gratuities, and all tours are included in the base fare. On one walking tour, they even gave each guest 20 Euros for lunch.
Our Seine transportation for eight days, Swiss Sapphire, is one of several riverboats owned and operated by Tauck’s European partner, Scylla. This Swiss company hires all the crew except the Tauck cruise director and the three Tauck tour directors. Though built to fit under bridges and through locks, the ship’s public spaces are unusually generous: Swiss Sapphire holds a maximum of just 98 passengers, mostly in 225- and 300-square-foot cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open to reveal French balconies.
Our room had a king-size bed facing the windows, excellent lighting including bedside reading lights, great temperature control, a large TV with U.S. channels, as well as a fridge, coffee maker, and safe. The large bathroom includes a wide sink, L’Occitane toiletries, and a generously sized shower with both overhead rain and traditional nozzles. Several guests did tell us they missed a makeup mirror in their bathrooms.
Our itinerary was well planned as a preview of a very busy 2024 in France. Paris is host for the Summer Olympics and Normandy in the north will be commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of American and other Allied troops landed on heavily fortified beaches to begin the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.
Great cuisine has always been a priority for Tauck and we were very impressed by the high quality and creativity of the food coming from the small galley on Swiss Sapphire. Bulgarian-trained Executive Chef Krasimir Marinov and his team constantly delighted us with dishes like fresh scallops, smoked duck breast, Arctic halibut, and a surf & turf consisting of 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 chef also served small portions of local French specialties — oysters, snails, and frog legs — plus, of course, local cheeses and charcuterie.
Tauck often includes a special, exclusive dinner on its European river cruises and our unique 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.
Rouen was just one of the medieval communities we visited as we made our way north along the Seine. Its complex astronomic clock dates to 1527. That, and the 800 year old Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, are 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 for heresy in 1431.
Our touring 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, plus, of course, its special treasures: Venus de Milo and the surprisingly tiny Mona Lisa.
As we traveled downstream from Paris, we also stopped in Giverny where Tauck arranged a private early-opening tour of impressionist painter Claude Monet’s charming house and water garden with its famous Japanese bridge. Many of his paintings were produced here. As we sailed on, a local painter provided material and guidance so guests could create and take home their own impressionist “masterpieces.”
A castle ruin was a highlight of our 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 stood for 300 years before falling into ruins. After walking through that history, we visited a local farm that produced fresh-pressed cider and aged brandy. Of course, samples were encouraged.
Traveling by comfortable bus from the mouth of the Seine to the beaches of Normandy took us about 90 minutes. On June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied troops, American, Canadian, and British, stormed the fortifications on these 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 as stark reminders of heavy casualties on both sides. The tour concentrated on Omaha Beach, where US Army Rangers had to scale 30-meter (100-foot) 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. soldiers. It was an emotional day.
On the way back to our riverboat (and return trip 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 of us a delightful three-course meal — smoked salmon appetizer, chicken main, and caramelized apple cake for dessert.
Tauck is an ideal choice for a history-rich tour like this. Boasting decades of experience, they know the local scene and can provide the very best English-speaking guides. The experience, shaped by four Tauck support staff on board serving fewer than 100 guests, is unique. Tauck is passionate about its mission and takes its “all-inclusive” policy very seriously. As Cruise Director Lindsey Burgess told us: “We want to give guests an authentic and thorough local experience without any worries. You’ll be taken care of. You’ll be safe.”