The renowned River Seine curves its way elegantly through the French countryside, slicing Paris down the middle before joining the English Channel at Le Havre. As the second longest river in the country (after the Loire), it has been the conduit for centuries of historical events, the challenge for inspirational feats of engineering and muse for many a creative soul.
Today, the river can be explored on a modern-day barge holiday in France. It can be the most fulfilling and enjoyable way to discover not just scenic views, but also to immerse yourself in the river’s far-reaching history, from antiquity to World War II and beyond.
The Route of the Seine
When you look at it on a map, the origins of the river's name are obvious. The word derives from the Latin for "snake", which is the perfect description of its languorous 485-mile journey over a distance that, as the crow flies, measures far less. From its source in Burgundy, the river meanders down through Troyes, passes through Paris then loops and doubles back on itself through Normandy before emptying into the English Channel.
A Diverse History
The Seine is a vital resource, serving numerous electric and power stations and providing vast amounts of water to serve the Paris region, but its tumultuous history has been both dramatic and diverse.
Around 250 BC the Celts used it as a trade route to the Mediterranean. The Romans conquered, constructed and subsequently left in the Paris basin (leaving a magnificent legacy of temples, forums, palaces and an amphitheatre). Even the Vikings made strategic use of the waterway, using it to invade France by rowing more than 40,000 troops into Paris in longboats. Latterly it played an important role in World War II; the Allied Forces utilised numerous crossing sites, which culminated in the liberation of Paris.
The Elegance of Engineering on Display
In 1578, King Henry III commissioned construction of the most famous bridge over the Seine, which became known as Pont Neuf. It took more than three decades to complete its ambitious design, but its symmetrical arches that span from the Left Bank to the Right Bank, via the Île de la Cité have become a much-loved and recognised icon. Pont Neuf measures 232 metres and it was the first to include pedestrian pavements on either side, a fact that saw it evolve into a favourite meeting place – a tradition that continues today. Testament to its innovative engineering, the bridge is still in its original form, with no structural changes at all.
Attractions en Route
For those who traverse the route of the Seine on a barge holiday in France, the attractions en route and the journey itself form one and the same unforgettable experience. In Paris the banks of the river come under the jurisdiction of UNESCO, taking in views of such well-known landmarks as Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Grand Palais and, of course, the icing on the gateaux, the Eiffel Tower.
Beyond Paris, Vernon is a popular stopping off point on the itinerary of a barge holiday in France. The city is famous for its outstanding architecture, including the Gothic Notre-Dame church, the Town Hall and the many ancient wooden houses, including the whimsical House of Long Ago. Monet's hometown of Giverny is another highlight along the river’s route, with a shore excursion affording visitors the chance to see the artist's former house and the stunning flower and water gardens that were the inspiration for so many of his works.
Those mentioned above are just a few of the many delightful secrets of the Seine that can be discovered on a barge cruise in France. This delightful mode of travel is one of the very best ways to experience the diversity, culture and landscape of this historical waterway.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider for those looking for an all-inclusive, luxury barge holiday in France and other great destinations in Europe. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.