What makes the perfect holiday? Top notch service with a touch of pampering, plenty of time for fun and relaxation and of course, the chance to visit new and exciting places. These are the hallmarks of any great trip.
Add an exciting itinerary with culturally immersive tours, gourmet cuisine and the finest wines, and there’s little doubt that a trip of this calibre will rank high on any travel bucket list.
If you’re like me, you want a holiday that incorporates all of those elements. So, it was with delight that I packed my bags for just such a trip – an unforgettable cruise with Scenic down the River Seine, in France.
The ship for my journey was the Scenic Gem, a 110 metre-long luxury vessel that was purpose-built for France’s iconic river. Launched in 2014, the Gem is more like a boutique hotel on water.
Its mix of suites provide a unique range of accommodation choices, with most offering a private balcony. Even staterooms without a balcony offered ample luxury, space, and best of all, value for money.
For a close-up look at the luxury accommodations on board, read my Scenic Gem suite and stateroom review here.
But let’s face it, on a European river cruise, most of your time will be spent away from your cabin, no matter how comfy and stylish it may be. What really sets Scenic apart, is its gourmet food, and immersive tours on shore.
The cruise line has grasped that French joie de vivre and it shows in everything they do. Whether it was the food, the service – both on and off the ship – or the enriching shore excursions, the passion was evident across the board.
On-board lounge & bar
Expertly designed, every space on Scenic Gem has a purpose, yet it never feels cramped or crowded. That goes for the dining and lounge areas too. And guests can enjoy the complimentary beverages and cuisine in a number of locations.
The main restaurant on board, Crystal Dining is where passengers will enjoy breakfast, lunch and most dinners. The open feel of the dining room provides an air of sophistication, while the open seating arrangement allows passengers to dine at the table of their choice.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, with a wide selection of hot entrees, salads, meats, cheeses, breads and pastries available.
Dinner is typically a three course menu. As always, complimentary wine is available with every meal.
Outside France, Scenic ships feature the specialty Italian restaurant, Portobellos but on Gem, the finest French cuisine is served and the dining venue is known as L’Amour.
Like Portobellos, L’Amour guests benefit from an exclusive front-of-the-ship dining space that is elegant and intimate. Everyone is invited to dine at L’Amour where a five-course menu is paired with the finest wines.
My menu included caramelised goat cheese and stuffed zucchini roll, onion soup or cheese soup, veal ragout, an onion tarte, mussels in white wine sauce and duck breast marinated in cider and served on green pea puree.
Table La Rive
The most intimate dining venue, Table La Rive, is reserved for passengers booked in a Diamond Deck Suite. The six-course degustation experience is limited to just 10-12 guests per night with wine-matching of every course.
My Table La Rive experience was out of this world, with excellent service to match the artful cuisine.
Just a sample of the highlights on my evening’s menu were the parfait of artichoke with crispy Bayonne ham as an hors d’oeuvre (served with a Crozes Hermitage Blanc wine); medallions of veal on meaux mustard sauce with gratinated potato and ragout of asparagus (served with a glass of Gigondas Vieilles Vignes).
For in-between meal times when you’re feeling a bit peckish, River Café offers a great selection of hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and desserts.
Located next to the Panorama Lounge and Bar, River Café is the ideal place to relax and watch the world go by. Find a quiet nook as you enjoy your snack, or meet up with new friends for a chat.
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The Seine is perhaps best known for its many Paris side attractions but this famous French waterway extends far beyond the City of Light with its arteries and banks showcasing some of the country’s most picturesque landscapes and historical landmarks.
Like a glittering metallic trophy of the Seine, we were welcomed to Port de Grenelle, with beautiful Eiffel Tower views. Boarding Scenic Gem at this lovely Left Bank port, it seemed like the perfect place in which to kick off our Scenic Gem journey.
Leaving port, the Paris skyline was laid out before us, with the Eiffel Tower growing more distant, as the urban lights gave way to the quiet French countryside.
After a sumptuous three-course dinner in the Crystal Dining Restaurant, guests congregated in the Panorama Lounge and Bar for a night cap, anxious for the world class Scenic tours that lie ahead.
Scenic offers a number of ways to enjoy a destination, with immersive tour options that include Freechoice, Sundowner and Enrich events. With Scenic, there’s also plenty of opportunity for independent exploration, both with their state-of-the-art personal touring device, the Tailormade, and with things like e-bikes.
On the Seine river cruise, Scenic offers an excellent selection of Freechoice tours in every city. Included in the fare, Freechoice tours highlight the history and culture of the local area. A tour of the Château de Chantilly near Poissy showcased the beautiful grounds and ornate architecture of what is now a fine art gallery and museum.
Later that evening, Scenic hosted us at one of their exclusive Enrich experiences. These cultural events take guests into the private rooms of local chateaus and castles, for an experience other travellers can only dream of.
On this night, we enjoyed a classical concert at Chateau La Rouche Guyon, a giant stone fortress that overlooks a quaint French town.
Perhaps my favourite tour was of Monet’s house and gardens, in the little town of Giverny. Docking nearby in the town of Vernon, guests had two tour options – take the provided coach to the historic house, which included a full tour of the home, gardens and local shops, or, to explore the area independently on a Scenic e-bike, making your own way to the Monet house via the local bike trails.
Scenic makes independent exploration fun and easy with their Tailormade GPS devices. Found in every cabin, the Tailormade is your personal guide on shore, with maps, tours with audio, and information on local attractions.
A walking tour of the historic city of Rouen was another highlight. The medieval era cobblestone streets lead to such attractions as the centuries old Gothic cathedral, the 600-year-old city clock tower, and the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
For those with an interest in slightly more modern history, Scenic’s Freechoice tour options in Normandy showcase the histories of both World Wars, with local battlefields, allied cemeteries and coastal towns making up a full day of French sightseeing. Learn about the allied invasion of Normandy and witness the solemn beauty at the American Cemetery.
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