Imagine floating through France as people line the river banks and assemble on bridges to wave and snap photos of something they’ve not seen on this river: a “hotel” boat carrying passengers from Europe and North America.
Indeed, as we make our way up the Loire River, we are as much a spectacle to the people and places we are passing as they are to us. “I’ve never seen a boat like this arrive in Ancenis,” our tour guide told us yesterday, as Loire Princesse docked within steps of a castle that has been standing here for more than 1,000 years. “It is a moving experience.”
The Loire Princesse is the first “hotel” cruiser to offer itineraries on the Loire River. While other passenger boats may ply the Loire, none offer — or have offered — overnight accommodations on board that allow for weeklong excursions along the river.
As our paddle-wheeler pushes upstream, I’m reminded of the Tour de France, with spectators lining the roads to encourage cyclists muscling their way uphill. The crowds are nowhere near as thick as they are for the world’s premiere cycling event, but the French are out in numbers, cheering us on as we make our way (slowly, I might add) up the shallow Loire.
Today, we reached as far up the river as we’re going, tying up alongside in Bouchemaine. As we approached the dock, a band greeted us from the shoreline. Trumpets and tubas blared to a steady drumbeat. People alongside the banks snapped photos, as they have done all along the river, and once we were docked, dozens approached the ship to see if they might have a look inside the vessel. The people who live along the Loire have never seen anything like Loire Princesse.
Those of us on board are not unlike Lewis & Clark, the explorers who found their way across America to the Pacific Coast in the early 1800s. We are pioneering a new path for river cruisers, going where none before us have gone. And the French? They are applauding us all along the way.
My walk after we docked was nothing short of glorious.
I followed a path along the river for a couple of miles, passing scenes worthy of postcards – châteaux overlooking the river, beautiful little fishing boats tied up in the tall grass at the shoreline. The river had the feel of an estuary in the south of the United States, except all along its banks, French was being spoken, and I was experiencing the joie de vivre.
When I felt I had walked far enough, I journeyed inland to make my way back through the villages, past churches and more châteaux. I had put in more than four miles when my walk came to an end. I felt euphoric and exhilarated, a good day to be alive and in France.
The ability to get out and walk (or bike) is one of the things that I like most about river cruising. While tours are offered every day, you can still tailor your experience to your liking. I desperately needed some rigorous activity, and the walk along the Loire provided that.
Talk with a Cruise Specialists today to learn which lines are doing the Loire Valley and how you can get ready to go!