LOUNGING on top deck, sipping bubbly as we sail down the Seine, I felt like royalty — King Richard the Lionheart to be exact.
The English Monarch, who ruled this part of France 800 years ago, would have cruised down the same stretch of river, just not in such style.
I was aboard MS A-Rosa Viva, a ship fit for a king, complete with a spacious sun deck, whirlpool, spa and even a putting green.
Setting sail from Paris, the friendly staff, after taking my bags, showed me to my fantastic cabin.
It’s here where I would spend much of the trip, double doors thrown wide, watching the fields and villages of Normandy pass by.
The first night was the quietest and best to enjoy the all-inclusive food and drink on board. I indulged at the all-you-can-eat buffet, complete with a huge selection of soft and alcoholic drinks.
There is a huge choice of hot and cold dishes, plus live cooking stations.
The beauty of sailing with A-Rosa is that they offer flexible dining, so you can eat at any time during opening hours.
King Richard once had a meal so good that he knighted the cook on the spot. I had to stick with compliments to the chef.
Next day we sailed into Rouen, passing under Mathilde Bridge, where Joan of Arc’s ashes were thrown after her brutal death at the stake.
Steeped in history, I joined the informative tour of the city’s medieval streets.
King Richard’s heart is buried here, entombed at Notre-Dame Cathedral in a metal box. The remains were recently tested and confirmed to be those of the crusader.
The Cathedral, the inspiration for Claude Monet, then wowed us after dinner. It was just a short walk from our riverside, city-centre mooring to its impressive evening light display.
Breakfast is a hot and cold buffet, again with live cooking stations. There is also a delicious Rye bread baked onboard which you can buy at the end of the cruise.
Early the next morning we disembarked for an hour-long coach ride to Le Havre, a major port, then on to Etretat.
This tiny town is dwarfed either side by flowing white chalk cliffs and is famous for the Porte d’Aval arch and L’Aiguille (The Needle) — a pillar rising up from the seas below.
We rejoined the ship at Caudebec-en-Caux for the night, where we enjoyed a speciality dining experience.
For a small supplement you get to dine in a separate restaurant with waiter service and a delicious multi-course menu.
It was an early start for ebike cycling around the surrounding countryside before a coach ride to two more stunning coastal towns, Honfleur and Deauville.
Deauville has a sandy beach as far as the eye can see, and is home to the Deauville American Film Festival which has attraced A-listers including Sean Connery, who played King Richard in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves.
While Honfleur is less grand, its shops are better for picking up souvenirs for friends and family.
Close to D-Day landing sites, you can take tours of key battlefields, which are included in Shearing’s Normandy cruise packages for 2019 to mark the 75th anniversary.
Back on board, I nodded off to the soothing sound of the Seine as we sailed to our final port, Les Andelys.
Before catching the Eurostar home (a return ticket is included in the booking) there was just enough time to see King Richard’s favourite Castle, Chateau Gaillard. The military leader boasted he could hold the castle “were the walls made of butter”.
But, sadly, he didn’t get to enjoy his home for long — as a butter- fingered Frenchman fired off an arrow which killed him.
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Unlike King Richard, who couldn’t speak a lick of English, home still has my heart.
But after a long weekend of fantastic food and wine, Normandy certainly stole my stomach.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: A seven- night all-inclusive Paris & The Seine Valley To Normandy river cruise aboard MS A-Rosa Viva in September 2019 is from £1,584pp based on two sharing including return Eurostar from London St Pancras, two excursions plus the services of a dedicated Shearings Cruise Manager on board.
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