Beginning in Nantes, the chic capital of the Loire-Atlantic region, CroisiEurope’s Loire Princess is the only river cruiser on France’s longest river. Arguably, France’s most scenic river too.
Constructed in 2014, this innovative 90-metre-long cabin riverboat, with a depth of just 0.8 of a metre below the water line, is powered by paddles. Through a combination of river-cruising and coach-trips, the five night cruise introduces guests to the charms of the Western Loire region: glorious chateau, delicate Muscadet wines, Nantes’ chequered history and CroisiEurope’s culinary take on the very best of French cuisine.
Although the Loire Princess has the look of a Mississippi paddle-steamer, this is an elegant riverboat that exudes French sophistication, particularly with superb cuisine.
The Captain, no less, takes our baggage as soon as we approach the Loire Princess. All hands are on deck for a very warm welcome. After a glance at our ticket, the Director of Entertainment guides us to our cabin and sets the air-conditioning to our personal requirements. All guests gather at 7pm for a welcome cocktail and canapés. In a glamorous ceremony, a cross between catwalk and disco, the crew are introduced. Even before the cocktail the lounge-bar is open. Unless you drink champagne and exclusive wines, the majority of drinks, including tea and coffee, are included in the cost.
On the upper deck in a clean white cabin, the beds – which pull together as a double or separate as singles – focus on picture window views of the Loire. Two chairs irresistibly await on the balcony.
Behind the bed there is a mini-desk and access to the wardrobe. There is plenty of room under the beds to slide cases away, once everything is unpacked. Emerging from the ceiling, a screen displays the day’s programme and menus. BBC World is one of the television channels available.
The shower is exceptionally spacious for a cruise ship. Many land-based hotels could learn much from both the simplicity of operation and the water pressure. Toiletries are CroisiEurope’s own brand.
An elegant restaurant, with panoramic river views, begins the day with a buffet breakfast, including the option to have guests’ eggs cooked to order. Waiters vigilantly top up coffee, orange juice and the buffet.
Three course lunches and dinners alternate with buffets. Hake on squid ink linguini vies with pork in a creamy sauce for dish of the voyage. A dark chocolate pudding with a soft soufflé centre is most guests’ favourite dessert.
Waiting staff don extra gold braid for the gala dinner. Beginning with a cappuccino-sized cup of intense mushroom soup, moving on to foie gras, veal and then reblochon cheese en croute, it is essentially a regional five course tasting menu. The drama of flaming Grand Marnier accompanying the baked Alaska draws a spectacular feast to a close.
Today, CHIC Nantes is France’s sixth most populous city. CroisiEurope’s classic tour guides passengers round a city that expanded rapidly in the 18th century, building a grand neo-classical opera house to show its interest in the arts. Nineteenth century affluence prompted the creation of the Passage Pommeraye, perhaps the world’s most beautiful shopping gallery. An evening cruise on the tranquil River Erdre, where boats are forbidden to create waves, shows where coopers and washerwomen once laboured.
Though the closure of Nantes’ shipyards in the 1980s brought hard times. Cruising downstream through the estuary’s art trail, the Loire Princess passes under St Nazaire’s vast bridge before mooring up for a tour of the shipyards now relocated in St Nazaire.
Cruise line business is booming, with order books full for the next eight years. Guests see how ships, some costing more than €1 bn, one hosting over 6,700 passengers and 2,100 crew, are constructed in sections. A visit to the Escal’Atlantic museum, also in St. Nazaire, exhibits the glamour of the liners that raced across the Atlantic before the era of air travel.
The Loire is synonymous with Muscadet, and after a tour of the surprisingly Italianate village of Clisson with its romantic chateau ruins, it is time for a wine tasting.
The centrepiece of the Angers excursion is the world’s largest tapestry dating from the 14th century. It took seven years to complete the 144 metres wide and 6 metres tall Tapestry of the Apocalypse which gives a remarkable insight into medieval beliefs of Heaven and Hell.
A full day excursion begins with the fairy tale Chateau d’Azay-Le-Rideau built on an island in the River Indre where a mirror moat reflects the grey slate roof and defensive conical towers. Lunch is served in the restaurant amongst the remarkable gardens of the chateau at Villandry. Each of the geometric gardens, curated by 10 gardeners, has a theme, including love, music and vegetables, recreating the style of the Renaissance.
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Other nice touches
Every cabin is equipped with two audio devices and a charger. On tours, guests can easily hear the guide’s commentary, usually in French and English. After dinner, entertainment is provided in the lounge bar, often dancing or live music. On return to the ship, after each excursion, guests are welcomed back on board with an iced soft drink.
CroisiEurope’s six-day Loire cruise onboard the MS Loire Princesse runs from April to October with prices from £1,487 per person for the cruise with all meals, drinks and port taxes.
The best bit
CroisiEurope’s guides are superb, entertaining experts across architecture, culture and history. Before our full day exploration of the Loire chateaux, Jean-Louis gave a presentation on to the history of the region, including some of the chateaux that we would not have time to visit.
He explained that until the arrival of Catherine de Medici, staircases were spiralled and not straight. Meals were only eaten with a knife. It was Catherine who introduced the civilising fork. But it is also suspected that she kept poison in a locked drawer to eliminate political rivals.
The final verdict
A gourmet cruise for foodies through one of France’s most dramatic regions. Although flocks of white waders serenely fly over the tranquil Loire, it is a region that has witnessed centuries of political intrigue from the Hundred Years War and on through the French Revolution.
In so many ways, the Loire Princess provides a true taste of France, over an unforgettable CRUISE.
Disclosure: Our cruise was sponsored by CroisiEurope.