10 things to expect on a River Cruise with Uniworld

Our Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel took us through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. It was one of the most stress-free holiday I can remember in a long time, with the Titan VIP airport transfer, daily escorted excursions and the attentive on board service. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, some delicious food and wine (we were in France!) and great company. If you’re thinking of taking a European river cruise, here’s what you can expect when you travel with Uniworld.

10 things to expect on a Uniworld Cruise

I hope you enjoy the video below about SS Catherine with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

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1. The ship is a floating luxury hotel

Having stayed before at a Red Carnation hotel (read my review of The Acorn Inn), the sister company of Uniworld Cruises, I knew that the SS Catherine would be something special. Both the Red Carnation Hotel Collection and the Uniworld ships are known for their opulent interiors, with antique furniture, sumptuous fabrics and gorgeous artworks that have been carefully selected to reflect the locality. Everywhere we found rich textiles, gilt furnishings, marble and mirrored tables and artworks that would not have been out of place in a major art gallery; think Joan Miro, David Hockney and Henry Moore.

The lounge on board SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The lounge on board SS Catherine

Matching the green and pink theme of the Van Gough lounge were delicate Murano glass wall lamps and in the lobby a Venetian glass horse sculpture, one of only two in the world, the other being in the palace of the Emperor of Japan.

Murano glass horse on SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Murano glass horse on SS Catherine

While the main Van Gough lounge was light and feminine, the Bar du Leopard at the back of the ship had the feel of a gentleman’s club, with an African theme in the wild animal paintings, leopard sculpture and leopard print furnishings. The Tollman family who own Uniworld Cruises are from South Africa, so I guessed that this was a reference to their African heritage.

Leopard Bar on SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Leopard Bar on SS Catherine

The staterooms were beautiful too, in a fresh white and green theme and felt much more like a boutique hotel room than a ship’s cabin, with their signature padded fabric wallcovering and Italian marble in the bathroom.

2. You’ll  receive attentive and personal service

To match the luxurious surroundings on board SS Catherine, we received 5 star service from all the Uniworld staff we met. Everyone we passed greeted us with a smile and a Good Morning and by the end of the cruise I swear that everyone knew us by name, and probably my favourite flavour of macarons too. We felt that we were not just another guest, but the most special guest on board, and I’m sure every one of the other guests felt the same.

Stateroom onboard SS Catherine with Uniworld Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Stateroom onboard SS Catherine with Uniworld

Each time we left our stateroom we returned to find it returned to its pristine state with bed made and towels carefully arranged. In the lounge and restaurant, a cup of coffee or glass of wine would barely be empty before a member of staff would check if we wanted another. We were even asked which were our favourite chocolates so that the jar in our room could be refilled with them each day.

Both Hotel Manager Yann and Cruise Manager Thierry were ever present around the ship to greet guests and check they had everything they required. And all of the service was given with such humour and cheerfulness so that we felt by the end that we were all part of one extended family. Of course it was rather a shock to come home and have to make my own beans on toast, but lovely to feel completely spoiled while I was on board.

3. Every detail is taken care of

I’ve come to realise that part of the luxury experience is to find that every little detail has been taken care of and we found this attention to detail permeated throughout the our cruise with Uniworld. As an example, our stateroom had plenty of wardrobe space including room under the bed for cases and a bathroom with two large drawers so that toiletries could be put out of sight. We found a metal water flask that could be filled from our carafe of water to take on excursions, rather than having to buy lots of environmentally unfriendly plastic bottles.

Stateroom on SS Catherine with Uniworld Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Stateroom on SS Catherine with Uniworld

On the lower floor was a laundry room to wash and iron clothes, ideal for me to smooth out the creases after unpacking, so that I could look smart at dinner. There was always somewhere around the ship to get a snack or cup of coffee, including a 24 hour self service area with coffee machines and biscuits. Lovely L’Occitane toiletries were provided in big, refillable bottles to avoid waste, but I found an welcome bottle of conditioner and lipsalve as well.

For excursions we had excellent Quietvox audio sets that enabled us to hear the guides through our own headset, allowing me to wander off and take photos while still hearing what the guide was telling us. I could go on about the numerous things that had been carefully chosen to give us a great holiday experience, but let’s just say that if you need it, Uniworld will probably have thought of it first.

4. Stress free transfers and excursions

We found that from the moment we left our front door, everything had been arranged to give a stress free start to our holiday. We especially enjoyed the VIP Titan Home Departure Service which is an additional benefit when you book your Uniworld Cruise through Titan Travel. All Titan guests get a free transfer between the airport and their home in one of Titan’s own vehicles and our car was duly outside our house to pick us up at 2.30am. As it was an early start to catch our 7am flight, I was thankful not to have to drive, but could doze all the way to the airport. On our return to Heathrow, the nice man with the Titan sign was there, waiting to drive us the 2 hours back to Bristol.

Titan VIP Home Delivery Service Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Titan VIP Home Delivery Service

Once we arrived at Lyon for the start of our cruise we were greeted by one of the Uniworld staff who took us to our coach to transfer to the ship. This experience of seamless logistics extended to Uniworld’s own luxury coaches which took us on all the excursions, with excellent English-speaking guides to bring the places we saw alive with their stories.

5. It’s an all-inclusive holiday

Uniworld Cruises originally introduced the all-inclusive concept as a result of customer feedback and it certainly made for a stress free holiday. From the moment you arrive at the airport to join your cruise, you really don’t need to spend a euro unless you want to buy a few souvenirs along the way (and who could resist buying some Valrhona chocolate when they visit the Cité du Chocolat in Tain-Hermitage?).

Visit to Tournan in Burgundy with Uniworld Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Visit to Tournan in Burgundy with Uniworld

So what does all-inclusive really mean on a Uniworld’s cruise?

To start it means that a choice of excursions are included in your cruise, normally a walking tour to see the sights, a gentle walker’s group who might take a slightly different route or be taken on a tourist train, and a Go Active option for those who enjoy hiking through vineyards or kayaking down the Rhone. The excursions normally took up half a day, allowing the other half of the day for exploring on our own or relaxing on board the SS Catherine.

The excursions normally included a little extra, such as a wine tasting, visit to a museum or castle, or a local experience. There were also some optional excursions which cost extra and we tried a couple of these which we really enjoyed, visiting the Château de Rully for a wine tasting, lunch and tour of the privately owned chateau, and a cookery lesson at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon.

Lunchtime options on board SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lunchtime options on board SS Catherine

All meals are covered on board and the excursions will generally bring you back to the ship for lunch so you only need to eat in a café if you want to soak up some local atmosphere. We were served really excellent wines, so no need to upgrade when you are served wine like ink. Practically all cocktails and spirits were covered too – unless you have a taste in 20 year old whiskey. Coffee, tea and all other hot drinks were available whenever we wanted them.

Cocktails on SS Catherine Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Cocktails on SS Catherine

Another feature of the all-inclusive package is that all gratuities for both staff and tour guides were covered, so no need to worry about tips at the end of the cruise. All of this meant that I felt a bit like the queen with hardly any need to carry cash which was a very relaxing feeling, although a bit of a shock to come back to the real world where everything has to be paid for.

6. Excursions that are an enriching experience

I mentioned that there were some optional excursions that were an additional charge but this didn’t mean that we felt short changed if we didn’t take them, since all the excursions were led by excellent local guides who gave us an insight into the local history and culture. One of my favourites was the village walk in the riverside town of Viviers which was so full of local charm that we could totally understand why it had been used to film some of the scenes in the film, Chocolat.

After the walk around the old streets and an organ recital in the Cathedral at the top of the hill, we ended up being welcomed into our guide Frances’ house in the old town, drinking rosé wine in her flower filled garden and hearing how her aunt had used the house to shelter fleeing Jews in the Second World War.

Visit to Viviers with Uniworld Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Visit to Viviers with Uniworld

Another highlight was the optional excursion to a cookery demonstration and lunch at the Institut Paul Bocuse, a cookery school founded by the famous chef who was born in Lyon and runs a 3 Michelin star restaurant there. As you can imagine the surroundings of the Institut were suitably elegant and on the first floor top chef Philippe, who normally ran a 3 Michelin star kitchen demonstrated how to make some of the local specialities such as Salade Lyonaise with lardons and poached egg on top, followed by the Pike quenelles with crayfish sauce and a delicious soft meringue desert in a nest of spun sugar.

Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon

While we didn’t exactly work hard, or have to do any of the washing up, it was fun to have a go at scooping up the perfectly formed quenelle or poaching the eggs for the salad. At the end of the demonstration we all sat down to a relaxed lunch with excellent wines and ate the dishes that we’d had a hand in cooking, although I’m not sure that we could take much credit for how delicious and perfectly cooked they were.

7. You can Go Active if you like

Uniworld is very much into promoting a healthy lifestyle, with fitness and wellbeing incorporated into the cruise. On some days there was a ‘Go Active’ excursion option such hiking through the vineyards or kayaking under the Pont d’Arc, the famous Roman Aqueduct near Avignon. Bikes were available for guests to use and while I was walking around the picturesque streets of Viviers, Guy was cycling beside the Rhone, discovering another castle of the opposite bank of the river.

Guy tries out the Uniworld bikes Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Guy tries out the Uniworld bikes

Of course for those who like to maintain their fitness routine on holiday, there was a gym and a particularly splendid pool next to The Leopard Bar where you could admire the wildlife mosaics while taking a dip.

Pool on board SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Pool on board SS Catherine

I also appreciated the healthy menu choices on offer with plenty of delicious options such as fruit smoothies, a salad selection and fresh fruit as well as a ‘Traveling Lite’ menu with recommended dishes that would be lower in calories.

Healthy fruit smoothies on SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Healthy fruit smoothies on SS Catherine

8. But you can also relax

There may have been plenty of activities on offer but our Uniworld Burgundy and Provence cruise was also about wellbeing and relaxation, with time to unwind and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the river. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the cruise we experienced rainy and cloudy days, but later on in the week the sun came out and we were able to bask the sunshine on deck.

SS Catherine on the Rhone near Tarascon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

SS Catherine on the Rhone near Tarascon

Depending on the level of the river and the number of bridges, the top deck is sometimes closed, to avoid guests being knocked out by a bridge that is only inches above their head. However on other stretches such as the one between Avignon and Tarascon, we had a few hours to enjoy the unspoiled river views and relax in the sunshine.

On top deck of SS Catherine with Uniworld Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

On top deck of SS Catherine with Uniworld

9. The fabulous food on board

The food served on board our Uniworld cruise was outstanding, with a buffet for breakfast and lunch although there were always some hot dishes available. In the evening we had waiter service with a good range of fish and meat dishes, a ‘Traveling lite’ menu and a vegetarian menu, so whatever your taste you would find something to enjoy. If all else failed and you really wanted a steak, the chef could usually make it for you.

Dinner on board SS Catherine Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner on board SS Catherine

Each evening before dinner, while having drinks in the lounge, the enthusiastic sommelier would tell us about the menu and the carefully selected wines that would accompany each dish. I enjoyed the local flavour of the menu, and if we’d heard from our guide about some local speciality such as Boeuf Bourguignon or Valrhona chocolate, we would invariably find it on the menu that evening, with accompanying local wines.

Dinner on SS Catherine with Uniworld Photo Heatheronhertravels

Dinner on SS Catherine with Uniworld

10. You’ll enjoy good company

We really enjoyed meeting some of the other guests on board, which was easy to do since the ship holds a maximum of 159 guests. At dinner there was a free seating arrangement which meant that rather than being allocated a table for the whole cruise, we were free to sit on our own or join other couples as we wished. We normally sat at a different table each night and  got to know many of the other guests over dinner.

The majority of guests on our cruise were American with a few couples from the UK and others from Canada, Australia and other English speaking countries. Most guests seemed to be aged between 50 and 80, although there were a few younger couples, and many had sailed with Uniworld before and were returning for a second or third cruise. We had a lot of fun comparing notes on the day’s activities and getting to know other couples over a few glasses of the excellent wine.

Dinner in the Leopard Lounge Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner in the Leopard Lounge

Who will enjoy a Uniworld cruise through Titan Travel?

We really enjoyed every moment of our Uniworld Burgundy and Provence Cruise and it was a bit hard to come back to reality after being so well taken care of. The cruise is more about cultural enrichment and relaxation than entertainment, and those aged 40+ will feel most at home. A Uniworld Cruise will suit the discerning traveller who is looking for a luxurious and stress free experience while discovering the local culture and cuisine. In the UK, Titan Travel is one of the best ways to book a Uniworld cruise since they provide some aditional perks, such as the VIP Home Departure Service.

Have you taken a river cruise through Uniworld or Titan Travel and if so what was your experience?

Travelling with Titan Travel and Uniworld Cruises

You can book your Uniworld Cruise through Titan Travel who specialise in escorted holidays and cruises. When you book through Titan Travel you enjoy their VIP Home Departure Service which is included in your holiday, to transfer from your home to your departure airport in one of Titan’s own vehicles.

Uniworld offer boutique river cruising on the rivers of Europe as well as other worldwide destinations. Like their sister company, Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the Uniworld ships feature luxurious furnishings and artworks with outstanding, personalised service.

Heather and Guy travelled on Uniworld’s Burgundy and Provence River Cruise through Titan Travel, on an 8 day cruise from Lyon to Avignon, from £2049 per person. As with all Uniworld cruises, the holiday is all-inclusive and covers meals and drinks on board, daily excursions, gratuities and airport transfers.

Thanks to Titan Travel and Uniworld for hosting our cruise.

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A weekend guide to Le Havre: delicious food and culture in Normandy

Most people in Britain think of Le Havre as a place to get off the ferry and drive straight on to their holiday in France. For the French however, it’s a sailor’s haven, a seaside resort for families and a gateway to the Alabaster Coast, with the translucent light so loved by the Impressionist painters. On my weekend in Le Havre I discovered there’s a lot more to this UNESCO World Heritage site than meets the eye and with daily ferries on the Portsmouth Le Havre crossing with Brittany Ferries, it’s ideal for a weekend break. Here’s my weekend guide to what you can see in Le Havre, France.

A weekend guide to le Havre Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arriving on Brittany Ferries to Le Havre

We arrived in Le Havre port on an overnight sailing with Brittany Ferries, having slept well in our cabin bunks, risen to a good breakfast and gone up on deck just as dawn was breaking. With flat-fronted post-war buildings lining the port, you won’t find much of the picturesque, since most of the town was destroyed by Allied bombing in the Second World War. The man awarded with the monumental and unenviable task of rebuilding Le Havre and rehousing the 80,000 people who had been made homeless, was architect Auguste Perret.

Arriving at Le Havre by ferry Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arriving at Le Havre on Brittany Ferries

The post-war architecture of Le Havre

Rather than try to reconstruct the town in the old style, the acres of rubble were replaced with a unified town plan, with the inhabitants being rehoused in new apartments, allocated based on the size of the houses they had lost. The approach was not universally popular since the people of Le Havre just wanted their old town back, even though the scale of the devastation made this impossible.

Hotel de Ville at Le Havre, France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel de Ville at Le Havre

Since there was no source of stone nearby, little petrol to transport materials and a minimal post-war budget, the options were limited. Perret’s solution earned him the name The Poet of Concrete. This flexible material could be easily transported and mixed on site, to create low rise apartment blocks that were harmonious, yet each subtly different in their colours, textures, classical columns and balcony design.

From the top of the Hôtel de Ville Le Havre, we were able to look out over the town and see how it had been rebuilt with ordered boulevards and everywhere rectangular apartment blocks. Perret’s modernist vision has now been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status, as an example of post-war town planning and the innovative use of concrete.

If you go: Enquire in the Hôtel de Ville (town hall) or Maison du Patrimoine (the Le Havre tourist information centre) at 181, rue de Paris, to check whether there are guided tours up the tower of the Hôtel de Ville, which are recommended for the 360 degree views over the town.

View from the town hall of Le Havre in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View from the town hall of Le Havre

The Church of St Joseph in Le Havre

As you come into Le Havre by ferry, the spire of St Joseph’s church rises 350 feet above the town, serving as a lighthouse for sailors to navigate into safe harbour. The church is one of main tourist attractions in Le Havre, a landmark building that Auguste Perret designed after the war, built on the site of earlier churches that had been destroyed.

Like the rest of Perret’s designs, St Joseph’s is a monument in concrete, the solid, square base not giving much away of what is inside. The exterior has an industrial feel, like a giant warehouse, but once inside, the interior is softened by the glow of the stained glass in geometric patterns.

St Joseph's Church in Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Joseph’s Church in Le Havre

Unusually the church is built on the square Greek cross, with the spire rising like a chimney above the central altar. Perret left the concrete structure unadorned, just as it came out of the moulds, but he commissioned the design of the stained glass from another artist, Marguerite Huré.

The 6500 pieces of stained glass rise in grades of colour getting paler until they end with white at the top of the spire. The impression is a harmonious whole but there are subtle variations of colour which change with the direction of the sun. To the east the lilac, green and gold represent the nativity, to the north the blue represents the Virgin Mary and to the south the orange and gold represent the victory of Christ triumphant.

Spire of St Joseph's Church in le Havre in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Spire of St Joseph’s Church in le Havre

Other than the stained glass there is little decoration, only the two statues of the Virgin and Saint Joseph that were brought from an earlier church. St Joseph’s church is austerely beautiful and unique. The stained glass colours reminded me, as I looked up the spire towards the sky, of a child’s kalaidascope with dots of colour forming ever changing patterns.

I remember my grandfather made one for my mother during the war with balls of coloured foil sweet wrappers. Perhaps Marguerite Huré had one too?  The church was completed after Perret’s death in 1957 and is dedicated to the victims of the bombings in Le Havre.

Read more about St Joseph’s Church, The symbol of Le Havre’s rebirth

If you go: St Joseph’s church, Bd François 1er, 76600 LE HAVRE. Free entry. Open daily 10:00-6:00pm except during services.

The Auguste Perret Show Flat in le Havre

To get a feel for the accommodation that was built to rehouse families after so much of the town had been destroyed in the war, visit Appartement Témoin Perret, the ‘Show Flat’ which is an example of one of the apartments that has been furnished as it would have been in the 1950s.

In order to maximise the limited space, at a time when the priority was to rehouse the largest number of people, Perret created an open plan layout with a living area off which all the other rooms flow. It was revolutionary that the bathroom was not outside in the yard and the kitchen was now in the heart of the home, boasting labour saving appliances such as a refrigerator, pressure cooker and vacuum cleaner.

The Auguste Peret Show Flat in Le Havre in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Auguste Peret Show Flat in Le Havre

If I was a modern woman of the 1950s, having lived through the war and the town laid to rubble, I think one of these flats might have looked like heaven to me! I’d be happy to move in myself, with the wooden floors, colourful rugs and warm oak furniture, reminiscent of the classic Scandinavian designs of the same era. I loved the way that even the wardrobes were filled with clothing from the period and the shelves stacked with crockery, as if the family had just popped out to do some shopping.

If you go: Auguste Perret Show Flat, Maison du patrimoine, 181 rue de Paris. Entry: 5 €, free for under 26 yrs and on 1st Saturday of every month. Open Weds, Sat, Sun for tours at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm and additional times in July/August.

Auguste Perret Show Flat in Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Auguste Perret Show Flat in Le Havre

Le Volcan in Le Havre

What Le Havre lost in its picturesque pre-war town, it has more than made up for in stunning modern architecture like Le Volcan, the Volcano shaped cultural centre by Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. We walked down the steps from the road to an open piazza below the level of the main town and through the library which was packed with families, teenagers and locals of all ages.

Le Volcan in Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Le Volcan in Le Havre

It’s not really a place you would think to go as a tourist, but walking through into the space below one of the two ‘volcanos’ we could see what an effective and clearly much loved venue this is. Orange and yellow chairs are grouped around casually, with book-cases for browsing, rooms to watch a DVD or listen to music and spaces to just hang out with your friends or people-watch from the upper level balconies. I think there are probably a few quiet corners if you just want a snooze too!

If you go: Le Volcan, 1 quai George V.  Free entry for the library, also musical and artistic events are held here.

Inside Le Volcan in Le Havre, Normady Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Inside Le Volcan in Le Havre

MUMA Modern art museum

One of my favourite things to do in Le Havre was the Musée Malraux of Modern Art or MUMA, a light and airy glass sided box that contains the largest collection of Impressionist paintings outside Paris. Start your visit on the quayside opposite the museum where you’ll find an information board telling you about the view that Monet painted from this very spot which he named “Impression, Sunrise” giving name to a whole movement of painting – Impressionism.

The MUMA Modern art museum in Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The MUMA Modern art museum in Le Havre

The art museum is a restful setting for the Impressionist paintings, many of them donations and legacies from major private art collections. Who needs Musee d’Orsay, when you can see the Monet lilies painted at Giverny, Renoir’s pretty Excursioniste with walking pole in hand, the elegant Degas ballerinas and artworks by Pissaro, Sisley and many others. I loved the colourful, flowing art of Raoul Dufy, who was born in Le Havre and the whole wall upstairs of Normandy cows and pastel sailing boats by Eugène Boudin who painted all along this coast.

Raoul Duffy paining at MUMA in Le Havre in Normandy Photo:heatheronhertravels.com

Raoul Duffy paining at MUMA in Le Havre

When MUMA was built in the 1960s it was quite unusual to have a café in a museum and it looked the perfect place to sit with a coffee to contemplate the boats passing by on the Seine estuary. If you love the Impressionists, there’s a whole trail along the coast of information signs at the places where key paintings were made. Pick up a leaflet at the Maison du Patrimoine visitor centre (181 rue de Paris) or download the iphone app here

If you go: MuMa André Malraux Museum of Modern Art,  Cost: 5€ , free for under 26 years and on 1st Saturday of month. Open daily except Tuesday 11am – 6pm. Arrive by bus Line 3 from the train station.

Maison de L’Armateur – the Shipowner’s mansion

In contrast to all all the modern architecture is the Maison de L’armateur or Ship Owner’s Mansion, an elegant 18th century house that faces the harbour. Built in 1790 by a leading Le Havre architect, it was later bought by a wealthy merchant, Martin Pierre Foache, to use as his offices as well as the winter residence of his family.

Maison L'Armateur, the Shipowner's mansion in Le Havre Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Maison L’Armateur, the Shipowner’s mansion in Le Havre

What makes the house unusual is the central glazed atrium illuminated by a glass skylight, off which the rooms of the house radiate on four floors. The mansion is elegantly furnished with wooden parquet flooring, marble fireplaces, pictures, furniture and objects of the period that show the lifestyle lived by a wealthy 18th century merchant.

The ground floor was used for storage, with the ship-owner’s office on the first floor, while upper floors were the living space of the shipowner’s family. From the upper floor rooms I could look out and imagine the merchant spending time with his family, while keeping one eye on his ships passing through the port from his window.

Maison l'Armateur, the Shipowner's mansion at Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Maison l’Armateur, the Shipowner’s mansion at Le Havre

If you go: Maison de l’Armateur, 3 Quai de l’Ile. Cost: €5, free under 26 yrs and 1st Saturday of month. Open: 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., except Weds from 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Guided tours Sat 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sun 11:00 a.m. Closed on Tuesdays, Wednesday mornings.

By the water in Le Havre

If you love the sea, there are plenty of places to walk close to the water in and around the port of Le Havre. Stroll along the Bassin de Commerce, the harbour front, cruise port, the marinas and the beach promenade which comes alive in summer with pop-up bars and restaurants. My sister also enjoyed a visit to Les Bains des Docks, a modern public baths and spa, with pools, sauna, jets and leisure facilities that sounded amazing.

View of Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Le Havre and Bassin de Commerce

On the cliffs at Etretat

A 40 minute drive north along the coast from Le Havre is the small seaside town of Etretat with a pebble beach. The white cliffs of the Alabaster coast extend at the edge of town, where you can get the famous views of the sea arch la falaise d’aval and the seascapes loved by the impressionist painters.

Cliffs arch at Etretat in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cliffs arch at Etretat

On the cliff tops where there’s a car park you can walk around the pretty chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde, with cow head gargoyles along one side that match the Normandy cows munching contentedly in the fields. The original chapel was destroyed in WW2 so what you see is a reconstruction built in the 1950s, and unfortunately wasn’t opened when we visited so I couldn’t look inside.

Chapel de Notre Dame at Etretat in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Chapel de Notre Dame at Etretat

From the chapel, paths lead along the cliff top and down to some of the hidden beaches under the cliffs that earn this the name of Alabaster coast. It was quite windy on the cliff top and I didn’t dare go much closer to the edge for fear of being blown over!

Cliffs at Etretat in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cliffs at Etretat

Behind the chapel is another monument known as L’Oiseau blanc that commemorates the transatlantic flight from Paris to New York in 1930 of Costes and Belmonte. They had been preceded in 1927 by Charles Linderberg who being the first (and American) is of course the one to be remembered. However there were six unsuccessful attempts before his and four of these disappeared into the Atlantic, never to be seen again.

On the cliffs at Etretat in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

On the cliffs at Etretat

After our wander along the cliff top we drove down to the small town of Etretat which was full of charming houses, bars and restaurants. There were just a few people strolling around and walking on the pebble beach but I imagine that it is packed in summer.

If you visit Etretat by car, you may like to also stop at Manoir de Cateuil at Valaine close by, a farm where they make cider, keep goats and sell cheese and goats milk ice cream as well as delicious chocolates which we tried – check the website for more information.

Beach at Etretat in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Beach at Etretat

If you go: Etretat is a 40 minute drive north from Le Havre on the D940 and there is a car park on top of the cliff. You can also take the No 24 bus from Le Havre which runs a few times a day.

Try the Normandy cuisine at Le Havre

If you’d like to try some of the traditional dishes of Normandy – often based on cheese, cream, cider and calvados, I can highly recommend Le Bouchon Normande in Le Havre where we had dinner one evening (77 Rue Louis Brindeau). The restaurant has a cheerful bistro atmosphere with a menu of homely dishes that use the best of the local ingredients from the nearby market and the surrounding region. There are a wide range of choices from soupe de poisson and terrine de campagne to escargot (snails), tête de veau (brains) and tripe if you really insist. And of course there will be at least one desert that includes the famous Normandy apples in one form or another.

The Sunday market at Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Sunday market at Le Havre

For food shopping in Le Havre, the covered market is open daily from 10am and well worth a visit to drool at the selection of ripe fromage, charcuterie and chocolat. On Sunday morning there’s also a street-market surrounding the market hall where we found even more delicious specialities like these Coeur de Neufchâtel heart shaped cheeses which the local ladies used to award to the soldiers and a sign of their favour. Since we were travelling home on Brittany Ferries there was no issue with space and we stocked up with a few delicacies of cheese, saucisson and Normandy cider to take back and enjoy.

Food in the Market at Le Havre in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Food in the Market at Le Havre

Normandy Cooking

For a real taste of Normandy, France we spent a morning at the country house outside Le Havre of Chef Régine who runs cookery classes as well as a “Chef Chez Vous” service where she will come and cook for your group or party.

Cookery class Chez Regine near Le Havre in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cookery class Chez Regine near Le Havre

Donning our chef’s hats we were able to try out some of the traditional dishes that Régine had recreated from the recipe books of Claud Monet who lived nearby at Giverny. Most delicious was the cheese soufflé made with gruyere, cream and nutmeg followed by the Chicken Honfleur with chicken poached in a creamy sauce of butter, wine and calvados with a scattering of piquant capers.

Cookery class and lunch near Le Havre in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cookery class and lunch near Le Havre

Lunch was served at a long table in Régine’s elegant conservatory clothed in vines and lemon trees, while we imagined ourselves to be living the rural French lifestyle that Monet might have enjoyed amidst his gardens at Giverny.

Apple tart with salt caramel sauce in Normandy Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Apple tart with salt caramel sauce

The piece de resistance was the Apple Giverny tart, a round of buttery shortbread topped with apple pieces cooked in butter and a most delicious salted butter caramel sauce. As you can tell those Normandy cows have a lot to answer for! We all came away vowing to recreate that desert and luckily Régine provided us with the recipe so I can share it with you.

Apple Giverny Tart
To make the caramel sauce mix in a saucepan 100g caster sugar and 3 soupspoons of water, add 100 salted butter cut in pieces and heat gently, adding 40cl cream slowly. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and cook gently until thickened. Serve with the apple tart made with a shortcrust base topped with small cubes of apple that have been gently cooked in butter with a sprinkling of vanilla sugar.

Chef Régine can be contacted through Chef Chez Vous

Heather and her sister at Le Havre in France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and her sister at Le Havre

Our weekend in Le Havre ended as we boarded the Portsmouth ferry late on Sunday afternoon for the sailing home, just as the sun was setting over the harbour. After a five hour crossing with a few drinks and a nice supper, we arrived back in Portsmouth later that evening. Our weekend with Brittany Ferries had proved that the channel ports like Le Havre are far more than a gateway to your holiday in France. They are weekend destinations in their own right, offering delicious food, fascinating history, impressionist art, refreshing walks by the sea and all in an easy hop across the channel. Who needs to fly?

Have you ever visited Le Havre and if so were you just passing through? Perhaps you’ll be tempted to go back and explore? Do let me know in the comments!

Read more about Le Havre and Brittany

Lines of Escape: A winter sun weekend in Le Havre
Mrs Ayla’s Adventure: A weekend discovering Le Havre
Heather on her travels: A Road trip through Brittany and Normandy
Heather on her travels: Gone fishing for crabs in Brittany

For more information

To plan your weekend break in Le Havre visit the Le Havre Tourisme website and follow them on social media: Twitter | Facebook| Instagram | Youtube

You can find more about the wider region on the Normandy Tourism website: Twitter| Facebook| Google+|YouTube | Pinterest

Plan your ferry to Le Havre with Brittany Ferries who sail from Portsmouth to Le Havre, Caen, St Malo, and from Poole to Cherbourg and from Plymouth to Roscoff and St Malo. Connect on Social Media | Twitter | FacebookPinterest | Youtube | Blog

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Read my weekend guide to le Havre: delicious food, impressionist art and walks by the sea

Where to stay in Le Havre

Novotel Le Havre Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Novotel Le Havre

We enjoyed a very comfortable stay at the 4 star Novotel which is a short distance from the ferry port and the train station. The 134 room hotel is modern in style and we had a spacious bedroom on the first floor with an extremely comfortable mattresses. There was a good breakfast buffet and a tram stop close by to reach the centre of town, although we could also have walked. Novtel Le Havre, 20 Cours La Fayette, Quai Colbert, 76600, Le Havre, France. Compare prices and book for hotels in Le Havre here

Leaving Le Havre on Brittany Ferries Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Leaving Le Havre on Brittany Ferries

Getting to le Havre on Brittany Ferries

Heather and Jillian travelled on Brittany Ferries who sail daily to Le Havre as well as a number of other ports in Brittany and Normandy. The ferries from Portsmouth sail daily in winter at 23.15 arriving at 8.00 the next morning and returns from Le Havre at 17.15 or 22.00 with more sailings in high season. Travelling as a foot passenger on the Le Havre Ferry with an en suite cabin both ways would cost around £100 per person or £140 per person if taking the car (based on 2 people sharing).

We sailed on board the Etretat, with a bar, lounge and small cinema as well as a self service restaurant with excellent food. Check the Brittany Ferries website for more information and to book your crossing.

Cabin on Brittany ferries Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cabin on Brittany ferries

Thanks to le Havre Tourism and Brittany Ferries who hosted Heather and her sister for a weekend break in Le Havre.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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A year in review – where Heather travelled in 2015

We’re in that lull between the feasting and celebration of Christmas and the fresh starts and new plans of New Year. It’s the quiet time when we can reflect and review the year that’s gone, the time to reminisce and consider what the year brought us: the adventures and challenges, the excitement of visiting new places, the holiday times we enjoyed with loved ones. Here’s a look back to the travels I enjoyed in 2015.

Where Heather travelled in 2015 Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

January – A cottage stay and fossil hunting in Devon and Dorset

The ammonite pavement at Lyme Regis Photo: Heatheronhertravels

The ammonite pavement at Lyme Regis

We started the year with a weekend at Red Doors Farm in Devon through Premier Cottages, a collection of 500 year old thatched cottages, set around a cobbled farmyard. My teenage son and friends made good use of the indoor swimming pool and proved that you’re never too old to feed the goats and chickens. We climbed up to the hill fort near the farm and enjoyed a bracing walk along the beach at Lyme Regis where we spotted fossils on the ammonite pavement that was revealed at low tide.

Read More: Fossil hunting and a weekend in the country at Red Doors Farm, Devon – video

February – A charity visit to India

Meeting sponsor children in India Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Meeting sponsor children in India

In February I flew with Jet Airways to India for a week that was off the tourist map, although I spent a little time exploring Bangalore at the beginning and end of the trip. My purpose was to visit a local charity that I support in Andhra Pradesh and see some of the projects that we had funded. Together with one of the charity trustees I was treated to Bollywood style dances in all the local schools, had endless cups of teas with the nuns who ran them, cut the ribbon on a new water purification plant and presented a womens’ tailoring class with their new sewing machines. It was a week that made me realise more than ever that when you give to those in need, you come away much richer from the experience.

Read More: 13 stories from my charity visit to India – going off the tourist trail

March – A weekend by the sea in St Mawes, Cornwall

St Mawes Harbour in Cornwall Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Mawes Harbour in Cornwall

We spent a weekend with friends at the magical Dreamcatchers house from St Mawes Retreats with a view over the Fal estuary in Cornwall. From the bedrooms we could see the tankers passing St Anthony’s lighthouse and the St Mawes ferry heading for Falmouth. We’d stayed at another St Mawes Retreats house before (read my review of Stargazers here) so we knew that we could expect gorgeous Designers Guild fabrics and luxurious furnishings, with sea views to die for. This time we wandered around the harbour and took the St Mawes ferry across the estuary for a Cornish pasty and ale pub lunch in the quaint streets of Falmouth.

Read More: Sea views and springtime in St Mawes – our weekend in Cornwall

April – Venice with the family

Gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice

I was lucky enought to win an apartment stay with Go with Oh through the Passports with Purpose fundraiser and decided to use it for a few days in Venice with my family. Although we visited a few tourist highlights like the Doge’s Palace, we found that the neighbourhoods away from St Mark’s square were much more enjoyable to wander around. We loved the modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim and saw Venice from the water on our boat tour with Walks of Italy when we climbed up the campenile of San Georgio Maggiore for views across the lagoon to San Marco. The only disappointment was the food, but hopefully you’ll do better than me with my tips on How to not eat badly in Venice.

Read More: Join me on our Venice boat tour – with Walks of Italy

April – A weekend in Wiltshire and a sunrise visit to Stonehenge

Stonehenge at Sunrise Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Stonehenge at Sunrise

I stayed at Sarum College inside the close of Salisbury Cathedral for the Social Travel Britain conference and part of the weekend included a walking tour of the cathedral, a private viewing of Magna Carta and a visit to Edward Heath’s old residence of Arundells. The highlight, though, was a sunrise visit to Stonehenge during which we were allowed to walk within the stone circle. This access is only allowed on special guided tours and most tourists can’t get up close to the stones, so it made the experience much more magical.

Read More: Sunrise at Stonehenge – inside the stone circle

May –  Lloret de Mar in Costa Brava, Spain

Seafront at Lloret de Mar Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Seafront at Lloret de Mar in Spain

Lloret de Mar is one of those coastal resorts on the Costa Brava coast of Spain that was built up in the 1960s as one of the first places to welcome mass tourism from the UK. I was there as a speaker at the TBEX conference but took some time out to explore the town and discover its history. While the Lloret de Mar of recent years has gained a reputation for 20-somethings looking for nightlife and older couples seeking a retirement in the sun, I enjoyed walking around the older squares and along the rocky coast path on the edge of town.

In the Museu del Mar, I discovered the connections to Cuba where many locals sailed to make their fortunes, returning to build the grand mansions on the seafront. I tasted the Daiquiri cocktails, another import from Cuba and now the favoured drink of Lloret de Mar, and I loved the restful Santa Clothilde gardens, planted in Italian Renaissance style, overlooking the sea.

Read More: Lloret de Mar – sun, sea and so much more…

June – A weekend in Copenhagen with my daughter

Heather and Sophie-Anne in Copenhagen Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and Sophie-Anne in Copenhagen

I’ve visited Copenhagen many times and in June I returned with my daughter for the opening of  the Absalon Hotel which had been newly renovated in Designers Guild furnishings. I was able to interview Tricia Guild, Creative Director of Designers Guild who was there to open the hotel, as well as trying out new restaurants and cocktails with my daughter. We also spent a couple of nights up the coast at the gorgeous spa hotel, Kurhotel Skodsborg where we wafted around the pools and jumped off the jetty to cool off after our sauna.

Read More: Like mother, like daughter – what we loved on our trip to Copenhagen

June – Alpine Sports Week in Wilder Kaiser, Austria

Mountain-biking in Wilder Kaiser, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mountain-biking in Wilder Kaiser, Austria

I love being in the mountains in summer so I jumped at the chance when I was invited to try out some of the outdoor activities on offer during Alpine Sports Week in the Wilder Kaiser region of Austria. During this week different mountain sports are on offer, from high rope walking to canyoning, mountain-biking to Via Ferrata and all for the knockdown price of €99 for 5 days of activities with expert guides. It was the perfect opportunity to try something different, since I’m a keen hiker but was able to test myself with the mountain-biking and high wire climbing in the Hornpark tree forest.

Read More: Heather goes e-mountain-biking in Wilder Kaiser, Austria – video

July – A week with the family in Zakynthos, Greece

Anadalis restaurant in Zakynthos, Greece

In July we made our annual visit to Zakynthos in Greece to visit my sister who runs two hotels there with her husband. We spent the week visiting different beaches, swimming, eating, sunbathing and catching up on family news. This summer my niece had returned to the island after training with a leading hotel group and had decided to get involved in the family business, opening a new Mediterranean restaurant in an idyllic setting by the sea. Anadalis, as it is called, is named after the old estate on which the hotel is built which once belonged to an aristocratic family with a house just a little way up the shore, but you’ll have to read to article to find out why the locals thought the old ruined mansion was haunted. If you visit Zakynthos I highly recommend that you book a table for dinner as the sun goes down over the bay.

Read More: Anadalis – a Mediterranean restaurant by the sea in Zakynthos, Greece

August – Our Azamara Greek Island Cruise

Azamara cruise to Mykonos in Greece Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Azamara cruise to Mykonos in Greece

Later in August we were back to the Greek islands again for a cruise with Azamara Club Cruises which took us from Athens to Santorini, Mykonos, Patmos, Kusadasi and finally to Istanbul where we ended our cruise. We absolutely loved the luxurious small ship cruise experience with Azamara Club Cruises where the spotlight is firmly on the destinations you visit, creating unique experiences like our magical evening concert among the ancient ruins of Ephesus as the sun went down.

Read More: Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise

September – A walking holiday in Austria with Headwater Holidays

View over Seefeld in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View over Seefeld in Austria with Headwater Holidays

September saw me back in Austria for a few days walking with Headwater Holidays who specialise in relaxing walking and cycling holidays. I was accompanied by my friend Julia for our annual walking trip which has become our tradition since we walked the Tour de Mont Blanc together. On the first day on the high slopes of the Gaistal valley I fell down a slope and hurt my ankle but using the Headwater walking guides we chose the less strenuous walks on subsequent days and enjoyed the rest of the holiday. We watched a rifleman’s parade in Seefeld and walked along a Mental Power trail, walked through the wild Leutasch Gorge and round the lakes above the picturesque town of Mittenwald with its painted houses. Each day brought different mountain scenery and things to see, confirming my love of the mountains in summer.

Read More: Hiking in Austria – the views from the cross at Seefelder Spitze

September – A gourmet visit to Luxembourg

View of the Petrusse Valley in Luxembourg

View of the Petrusse Valley in Luxembourg

In September we spent a few days in Luxembourg, a city and tiny country that’s full of surprises. While Luxembourg is known as a centre for international business, we found a charming and easily walkable city with great food, museums and a fascinating history, making it an ideal weekend break location. We also spent some time touring the Moselle wine region where the Moselle river forms the border with Germany, with many wineries to taste the delicious white wines the sparkling Cremant which was my favourite.

Read More: A gourmet walking tour of Luxembourg old town

November – The Christmas Markets of Heidelberg, Germany

Student Kisses in Heidelberg

Student Kisses in Heidelberg

At the end of November we spent a few day in Heidelberg, Germany to see the Christmas Markets and generally get into the festive spirit. We’d visited Heidelberg previously on a day trip from our Rhine River Cruise and were pleased that we could have more time to explore this picturesque and romantic town at our leisure. We took the river boat down to the Neurberg Abbey Christmas Market, climbed up to the castle, learned the history of the ancient university and student fraternities and ate plenty of hearty German food, delicious cakes and chocolates as well as drinking quite a few mugs of hot Glühwein.

Read More: A Food Lover’s Guide to Heidelberg, Germany

December – A weekend in Le Havre, France

Port of Le Havre in France

Port of Le Havre in France

My final trip of this year was a hop over the channel to le Havre with Brittany Ferries to discover what this channel port would offer for a weekend break. Most Brits drive through Le Havre on their way to their holidays in France but I discovered that there are many fascinating things to see here that make it worth stopping to visit the city and surrounding area. The city was reconstructed after heavy bombing in WW2 and the architecture of the new town (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) represents the modern designs of the 1950s. We visited a 1950s show flat which would have been allocated to those who lost their own houses in the bombing, as well as a gorgeous 18th century ship owner’s mansion. Another highlight was the MUMA modern art museum, a light and airy glass building with the largest collection of Impressionist paintings outside Paris, since painters such as Monet loved this part of the Normandy coast. I’ll be writing about my weekend in Le Havre very soon so stay tuned.

Reviewing the year was a fun way to remind myself of all the fun I had on my travels in 2015. There’s much more to come in 2016 and I wish you Happy Travels for the year to come.

Please note that many of the trips were hosted by the companies mentioned and you can find more details in the articles from each trip.

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Read about where Heather travelled in 2015

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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