Delight in the warmth of the season in France, beginning and ending in Paris, which is truly the “City of Light” at this time of year. As you cruise on a private Grand Circle river ship—our award-winning M/S Bizet—enjoy the convenience of unpacking just once, with ALL meals included, plus wine with dinner.
During your trip, you'll disembark to set off on included walking tours of Paris and Rouen, and you'll also visit Rouen's Christmas Market. And you'll experience exclusive Discovery Series events that bring memorable French holiday traditions to life, such as a Christmas concert at a Rouen cathedral, and lively French cooking and language lessons onboard. Plus, make the most of your included international airfare by joining our trip extensions in Paris and charming Aix-en-Provence, France. Joyeux Noel, indeed!
Depart today on your flight to Paris, France.
Arrive this morning or afternoon in Paris. You are met at the airport and transferred to your ship, the M/S Bizet. Please note: If you started your discoveries early with our pre-trip extension to Paris, you will meet up with the main group today.
Get acquainted with your Program Director and your fellow travelers this afternoon during a buffet lunch served onboard.
Attend a briefing about the ship and meet the crew this evening. Your Program Director will answer any questions you may have. Later, celebrate your arrival in France with a Welcome Drink and the Captain's Welcome Dinner.
After breakfast, enjoy an included panoramic tour introducing you to the classic highlights of Paris. View the Arc de Triomphe (commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and completed in 1836) standing at the end of the famed Champs Elysees at the large central roundabout where twelve elegant, tree-lined avenues converge. You'll also drive by the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Place de la Concorde.
After enjoying lunch aboard the ship, spend the afternoon making discoveries at your own pace.
Or, join an optional tour to Montmartre, one of the most famous districts in Paris. A lively area that has attracted artists since the 1800s, Montmartre is located on the Right Bank of the Seine, on the highest hill in Paris, crowned with the Sacre Coeur Basilica, which you’ll visit. Explore the romantic Montmartre hill area and the small streets that wind through it, perhaps capturing some of the ambiance from the time of Monet, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec. You’ll have free time for a stop at a cafe for a drink and some shopping. Please note: This tour features walking up and down cobblestone streets.
This evening, see the "City of Light" from a new perspective, if the weather—and the tide along the river—permits. Cruising along the Seine through the city, you'll enjoy the stately architecture and romantic icons from the vantage point of our boat as you dine. As the ship passes under its bridges, you'll see why the Seine is the ideal pathway to discovering the magic of Paris.
As you depart Paris this morning, get your camera ready as your ship passes La Roche Guyon, where Monet's close friend, the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, established a studio. Though known primarily for his portraits, Renoir also painted scenes of this beautiful area. As you cruise, admire the town's castle, built on the chalk cliffs overlooking the River Seine. This castle served as Rommel's general headquarters during World War II. You'll also enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series presentation about France's love of fromage—cheese. From chevre to brie and beyond, French cheeses are among the country's most beloved and delectable treasures.
You'll arrive in Vernon early this afternoon. With only 25,000 residents, Vernon retains the Old World charm that has endured since it was founded as a royal town in the ninth century. After lunch onboard, you'll have a bit of time to stroll around this lovely town.
Then you'll experience your next Discovery Series event. Celebrate with your fellow travelers—and make new friends—as you enjoy a Home-Hosted Visit at the home of a Vernon family.
Late this evening, your ship will set sail for Rouen.
Disembark in Rouen for a walking tour with a local guide this morning. Rouen is an important French commercial port city with a distinguished history dating to pre-Roman times. But it is more "infamous" as the city where Joan of Arc was imprisoned, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake in 1431. Here, you'll stroll through the Old Quarter, with its hundreds of timber-framed houses, and you'll also visit a Christmas Market. (Please note: Rouen's Christmas Market will not be open in time for our first two 2014 departures.)
After lunch onboard, gather at Rouen's Notre Dame Cathedral—a Gothic architectural treasure so inspirational to Monet—for a special Christmas concert. For at least six centuries, Choir Masters have trained students in liturgical music, some going on to become world-renowned conductors and composers. You'll revel in an inspiring concert of seasonal music here.
The rest of the afternoon will be yours to make your own discoveries. Then you'll enjoy dinner aboard the ship, which will remain docked in Rouen tonight.
Make your own discoveries in Rouen today. This was the capital of the Anglo-Norman dynasty that ruled England and large parts of what is now France from the eleventh to 15th centuries. You might like to return to Monet's beloved cathedral, visit one of the city's many excellent museums, or see the dramatic Place du Vieux Marche, a modern church dedicated to Joan of Arc. A bronze cross in the square marks the location of her death.
Or, join an optional half-day excursion to the Benedictine Abbey de St. Wandrille. Founded in the seventh century, the abbey has undergone two near-complete restorations, and today's building is mostly an 18th-century structure. Forty monks still call the abbey home, and invest the area with a real sense of calm and historic continuity. You can hear the monks sing Gregorian chants at morning Mass.
As you enjoy lunch onboard early this afternoon, your ship will set sail for Mantes La Jolie, arriving late this evening.
As you cruise, you'll enjoy two exclusive Discovery Series events. First, you'll learn how to speak—and cook—like a native during French language and cooking lessons. Then you'll hear about France’s many Christmas traditions, from Buche de Noel, the traditional cake in the shape of Yule log, to Le Reveillon, the long and festive Christmas Eve dinner.
You arrive in Mantes La Jolie early this morning. You may explore on your own here, being sure to visit its most beloved building, the Notre Dame Cathedral. Dating from the end of the twelfth century, Notre Dame replaced the church burned down by William the Conqueror in 1087, during a siege of the town that cost him his life.
Or, join an optional tour of the Palace of Versailles. This morning excursion to the palace includes a guided tour through its Grand Chambers, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Royal Chapel. You'll marvel at luminous decorations of marble, chased bronze, and gold leaf, with Rococo-style woodwork, and Italian-style painted ceilings—the home of 3,000 princes, ministers, and servants. Please note: To take advantage of this optional tour, you must purchase it in advance, prior to your departure. This tour features sustained walking and standing, and we could encounter crowds.
Early this afternoon, you'll enjoy lunch onboard and your ship will set sail for Paris. As you cruise, you'll enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series presentation about Monet and his work. Over the course of two years, Monet painted Rouen's Notre Dame Cathedral—which you visited on Day 5—more than 20 times, capturing how variations in light due to weather and time of day changed the image he saw before him.
As you near your arrival in Paris, you'll gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner. You'll arrive in the city late this evening, and your ship will remain docked here overnight.
Explore Paris at your own pace this morning, perhaps visiting the Musee d’Orsay, housed in a notable building and known for its collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and Art Nouveau works. In advance of the 1900 World's Fair, the architect Victor Laloux won a competition to build a new train station, which he gave a facade of a classic stone hotel, creating a structure that naturally integrated with its elegant neighborhood. The 1898 building served a number of purposes after 1940, when it was no longer suitable for modern trains. It was classified as a Historical Monument in 1976 and opened as a museum in 1986.
Or, join an optional tour to the renowned Louvre Museum. Your first glimpse of the Louvre will be the I.M. Pei-designed entrance, which created a great deal of controversy when it was built in 1989. Called the Pyramide du Louvre, the steel-rod, cable, and glass pyramids at the three main Louvre entrances are today considered fine examples of the blending of modern with classic architecture. The treasures inside the museum are world-famous, and the collection of sculptures and paintings by the Great Masters unrivaled. Stroll through gallery after gallery, marveling at works by the likes of Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Michelangelo. Please note: The Louvre is one of the most visited sites in France, so travelers should expect lines (even for groups with reservations) and crowds in front of key highlights.
Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Drink along with dinner aboard the ship.
After breakfast this morning, you are assisted to the airport for your return flight home. Or, begin your post-trip extension in Aix-en-Provence, France.