Now for my impression of Monet... discovering the art of a perfect cruise down the Seine
- The SS Joie de Vivre sails down the Seine from Normandy to French capital Paris
- It takes passengers off the beaten track and they can discover a world of art?
- One of the stops is Rouen, where Claude Monet spent time painting the cathedral?
Staring up at the soaring towers of Rouen cathedral through tall windows thrown open to give a clear view, I was awed by the challenge before me.
On the very spot where Claude Monet spent months working on more than 30 paintings of the same scene, I was nervously poising my paintbrush trying to create my own impression of the Gothic facade he painted at different times of the day as the seasons changed in the 1890s.
The father of Impressionism was more focused on capturing the light falling on the cathedral than on the edifice itself, and the project gave him nightmares.
Beautiful flowers and plants adorn the home that was once home to Monet in the village of Giverny?
But by day, he had a saucy distraction. He shared his first-floor studio with a lingerie shop’s fitting room, with just a screen between them. After Monet moved out, a peephole was found in the screen – so our tutor, local artist Patricia Rinski D’Argence, told us.
Our private class, with my very own painstakingly produced souvenir watercolour to take home, was the perfect preparation for our visit, two days later, to Monet’s garden at Giverny, where he created his even more famous water lilies series of paintings.
Finding my inner artist was one of the special activities on the inaugural cruise on SS Joie de Vivre, christened in Paris this spring.
In a week, sailing the Seine from Paris to Normandy, we had adventures ashore that took us off the beaten track. We had a peek at the king’s private toilets at the Palace of Versailles, an inspection of the Eiffel Tower’s machine room, a tour backstage at Opera Garnier in Paris, and a sneak preview of a Picasso exhibition in Rouen. Wherever our guides took us, there was never a queue.
Joie de Vivre is the latest addition to the Uniworld line. Its vessels are crafted to the highest specification, down to the last curl of the elegant wrought-iron and brass balustrades in the marble atrium. Designer Toni Tollman, of the family-run Travel Corporation that owns Uniworld, has gone for the look and feel of a Parisian grand hotel and the quality of a luxury yacht. Inspiration for the grand staircase came from the Plaza Athenee hotel. The smart red-and-white lounge, Salon Toulouse, mixes sumptuously upholstered banquettes with polished walnut and beautifully made glass and metal fittings.
Caroline Hendrie shows off her own masterpiece of Rouen Cathedral?
In addition to the more formal Le Pigalle main restaurant, there is the witty and charming Le Bistrot, which could have been lifted straight from 1950s Montmartre. At a table with a checked tablecloth at lunchtime, I was served very French onion soup and confit of duck by a waiter in a long white apron.
In the evening, Claude’s nightclub takes over Club L’Esprit wellness centre. A dancefloor rolls over the swimming pool, twinkly lights come on and a jazz band strikes up in the corner. One night I watched a screening of Amelie – the whimsical film set in Paris – with constantly replenished champagne cocktails.
New for the Uniworld river cruise line is La Cave du Vin, a show kitchen and private dining room where, for an extra fee, you can have a go at some of the favourite recipes of Bea Tollman, president and founder of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection.
A dozen of us put on chefs’ hats and, fuelled with champagne, chopped and stirred under the guidance of Dutch chef Robbert Westendorp.?
My task was to arrange overlapping slices of apple in a spiral for the Normandy tart finale to our six-course dinner.?
Most of the work was done by Robbert and his invisible kitchen elves, and we feasted on Mrs Tollman’s chicken liver paté, fish soup, pear sorbet, roasted beef tenderloin with potato gratin and cheeses and biscuits, each course matched with a fine wine.
Claude Monet spent months working on more than 30 paintings of the same scene of Rouen Cathedral?
Between gourmet meals, there were opportunities to work off a few calories.?
Early morning yoga in Club L’Esprit sharpened my appetite for the lavish breakfast buffet, but afterwards I joined two guided bike rides, one rather hairy through the rush hour past the Eiffel Tower, and a gentler one from our mooring in Caudebec-en-Caux to the village of Villequier, where Victor Hugo holidayed in the 1830s and 1840s.?
The handsome mansion he used now houses a museum about his life and work.
Back on board, it was time for an aperitif before lunch. Watching families of ducks swimming in and out of the reeds under weeping willows almost touching the sun-dappled river, as I sipped a glass of kir, not for the first time that week my heart was filled with joie de vivre.
GETTING THERE... ?
Uniworld’s eight-day Paris & Normandy river cruise starts from ￡2,399pp, including full board on SS Joie de Vivre, unlimited beverages on-board, excursions and transfers. Visit uniworld.com or call 0808 281 1125.?
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