Royal River Cruising with CroisiEurope: Part 1
MS Loire Princesse
What floats your boat, then? In my case, it could
have been less than a metre of fast-flowing French river water, under the
beautifully-flat bottom of the unique, paddlewheel-powered MS Loire Princesse.
luxurious, gleaming white Princesse was specially built by family-owned CroisiEurope to cope with the
tricky, often critically-shallow waters of the Loire; and is the largest vessel
able to tackle the navigable stretch as far upstream as the village of
Bouchemaine, near Angers.
the Princesse for the appropriately-named Royal River cruise, relishing eight
days of indulgence as we explored some of the gorgeous chateaux with regal links
along the Val de Loire, with the occasional, almost -obligatory wine tasting to
prolong the pampered feeling.
for the Princesse is the historic, quirky city of Nantes,
which has a handy airport only about 15-20 minutes by road from the boat’s
usual mooring at Quai de la Fosse, close to the centre. Doubly handy for me, as
my wife and I flew in from Manchester on a
Flybe turboprop, which dropped us
into Nantes in nice time on a Thursday afternoon to reach the boat and allow us
time to settle in and explore.
experience back in Manchester was also helped by leaving my car in the secure
APH Park and Ride compound, arranged by the team at I
Love Airport Parking, which saved the stress of tackling
horrendous early morning traffic around the three bustling terminals.
airport is tiny and cluttered by comparison and can be bothersome to fly out
of, but arriving was painless and a pre-booked taxi to the boat saved a lot of
messing, although if you only have hand luggage, public transport is cheap and
easy to use, with a tram stop right outside the Quai.
Once at the
pontoon where the Princesse was moored, we were greeted by smartly-uniformed
crewman Tony (an always-smiling, always-helpful matelot from Hungary who had worked in Manchester for
a few years!) and he insisted on carrying all our baggage aboard - the sort of
care and attention we became used to over the next week.
The sleek river cruiser can carry up to 96 passengers and has 48 outside-facing cabins on two decks, with ours featuring a small private balcony reached by sliding glass doors. We found it a great vantage point to take in the constantly-changing views if we weren’t already relaxing on the top sundeck; and it gave us stunning riverside vistas to wake up to, or to relax with after a long lunch.
When we had
unpacked and settled in on our first evening, we gathered in the comfortable
lounge bar to meet the crew over a welcoming cocktail, before heading for the
first of our memorable dinners.
memorable they were, with everyone I spoke to singing the kitchen’s praises and
being genuinely surprised at how chef Sebastien Boss and his brigade managed to
produce such a variety of top-notch dishes and have everybody served with
perfect timing and precision, thanks also to a front of house staff which would
have been a credit to any high-end restaurant.
fact that we were in the land of haute cuisine and most of the passengers were
French, food was always going to be in focus, but few of us realised the
standard for single-sitting dining with a set menu could be so high. Just one
early example was a Lyon-style lunchtime salad with a poached egg, all served
within minutes and all with perfectly-cooked eggs with a runny yolk, which is
one heck of an achievement.
excellent food was such a feature that any attempt at being on a diet was a
non-starter, with aromatic fresh-baked bread and croissants every morning being
my immediate undoing, without even starting on the rest of the buffet or wide
choice of cooked-to-order items.
A three-course lunch at 12.30 followed any morning excursion or activity, then there was the eagerly-anticipated dinner at 7.30pm, both with complementary wines or beer and with barista-style coffee to end with; and with an open, free bar also serving drinks from 10am. All drinks, except for champagne and wines from the boat’s special list, were included, and the ‘house’ choices were more than acceptable - the local 2016 Rosé de Loire was a delicious and refreshing accompaniment to most meals, we found!
Our verdict was shared by all I spoke to on a broadly English-speaking corner of the dining room, where there was a heady mix of half a dozen Brits, a couple of Americans, an Antipodean cocktail of Aussies and New Zealanders, and a party of Norwegians. We shared a table with an English couple on a week-long break and two charming Kiwi sisters on an extended trip to Europe, and we all gave our hosts CroisiEurope and their crew an unqualified vote of approval.
dinner and a socialising nightcap over, we called it a night and didn’t feel
the need to operate the retractable TV which folded down from the ceiling of
our spotless cabin (except to check the weather), or even the free WiFi, but
watched the stars for a while as Captain Sandro Amand started the engines, cast
off and started the first leg of our cruise by heading downriver to the port of
buffs, this is famous as a major base for German U-boats during the Second
World War, and scene of the legendary ‘Greatest Raid of All’ in 1942, when the
Royal Navy and Army commandos attacked and disabled a vital drydock, earning
To wake up
and find we were moored in the dock basin within yards of the enormous concrete
U-boat pens built by the Germans was an unexpected reward, followed by a trip
inside the pens to the Escal’Atlantic museum, which explores the historic ocean
liner experience, with the accent on the Blue Riband-earning Normandie, built
in Saint-Nazaire in the 1930s and at one time the largest and fastest ship
Next on the
agenda was a visit to the city’s gigantic major shipyard, where some of the
largest cruise ships in the world are still being built - the QM2 and Royal
Caribbean’s 230,000-tonne Symphony of the Seas were built here, and the
finishing touches were being put to Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge, with its
‘magic carpet’ outside balcony and on-board ‘villas’ with hot tubs and private
vessels catering for many thousands of passengers are in stunning contrast to
the Loire Princesse, which was also built in a Saint-Nazaire yard, but after
returning to the Princesse for a laid-back lunch of parma ham fagottini, duck
confit with saute potatoes and tomatoes, fruits melba, coffee and a digestif,
before relaxing on the sundeck - the top deck of just three - and spending the
sunny afternoon gently sailing back towards Nantes with glass in hand, I know
which I prefer.
offer 6-day and 8-day Loire cruises from £1,166 pp and £1,522 pp respectively.
Price includes all meals and drinks, onboard entertainment and port fees. Call
CroisiEurope on 020 8328 1281 or visit www.croisieurope.co.uk
operates flights to Nantes from Birmingham, Manchester and Southampton, with
fares starting from £29.99 one way including taxes and charges. Book at www.flybe.com
Silver travel Advisor recommends CroisiEurope