At the 2017 christening of SS Joie de Vivre, a ship specifically designed to cruise out of Paris, Uniworld founder Stanley Tollman said he’d considered cancelling its construction because of the terror attacks on the city. That would have been a mistake, he said – “Paris is resilient, and so are many travellers.
“SS Joie de Vivre had to built, as an homage to the City of Light.” Indeed, the ship’s first season was 90 per cent booked by the time it set sail on its first cruise in March.
Although river cruising in France saw a drop after a record season in 2015, newly released figures for 2017 show that business is booming – the goal of France’s navigation authority VNF is to reach 500,000 passengers by 2020.
“The growth potential remains high as only some 53 custom-built ships [110 or 135-metre long with a 143 average passenger capacity] are currently sailing on the Seine, the Rhône and Saône, the Loire and the Garonne,” Guillaume Dury, VNF’s director for development, told Seatrade.
“On the Rhine, nearly 100 river cruise ships visit Strasbourg each year and there is potential for growth along the Garonne, the Seine and the Rhine,” he added.
A new berth has recently been added in Lyon at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône. On the Seine, a new one will open at La Roche sur Guyon next month and an extension at Andelys is scheduled for 2019.
All the major river cruise companies now operate on France’s waterways: the Rhône and Saône in Provence; the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde estuary in Bordeaux; the Seine, from Paris to Normandy; and the French sections of the Rhine and Moselle. Croisi-Europe is the only line to cruise the shallow Loire, on its ‘paddle-wheeler’ Loire Princesse.
As one of the world’s most renowned gourmet destinations, France is the obvious place to run foodie-themed river cruises. Next year, APT’s popular ambassador, super-chef Luke Nguyen, is hosting a Grand Bordeaux cruise; Scenic has added Culinaire, a hands-on cooking school on its Provence and Bordeaux itineraries; Uniworld’s Connoisseur Collection sails in Provence, Bordeaux and on the Seine; and Tauck’s ‘Savoring France’ itineraries feature a seven-night Rhône cruise and Le Cordon Bleu cooking classes.