It may be the oldest Parisian cliché in the book, but a cruise on the Seine at night has lost none of its mystery and charm…
For anyone on holiday to France and visiting Paris, the cruise on the River Seine is the standard experience that has been done and re-done a million times over. The internet is literally plastered with images and videos of the experience nowadays and to many it may seem like the ultimate tourist trap.
But there’s no denying the allure of Paris and there’s no doubt, in my opinion, that the nicest way to see Paris is in the good old Bateau Mouche.
We arrived in the evening as the sun was due to set on a cold but mostly cloudless late winter’s day. The main departure point is at the Port de la Conférence right beside the Pont de l’Alma. The 8:30pm departure is one of the few that’s guaranteed throughout the year. Normally, departures are every twenty minutes, but it’s dependent on the crowd that gathers beforehand and unless there are at least 50 people, there will be no boat. During the high season, this is certainly not a problem, but in low season, you’d need to be prepared for the eventuality that only the guaranteed sailings will depart; which are at 11:00, 14:30, 17:30 and 20:30.We got there a good ten minutes before the departure time in case there was a big crowd. As we waited on the well-appointed pontoon, we were afforded an intimate view of one of the boats docked alongside, where preparations being made in the dining room of one of the plush bateaux-mouches that offer the package of eating while you float. We had decided against that option as it means that if you’re concentrating on eating, then you might end up missing some of the best bits of the tour.
We were vastly outnumbered by what seemed to be a series of large but good-natured groups of Chinese students, along with their sanguine adult minders. The time came to depart and we all shuffled onto the bateau that was smaller than the dining version but was still more than large enough to take the two of us and the hundreds of oriental youths.
At any given time, Paris is busy. It’s the most densely-populated capital in Europe by some margin and it’s always full of hustle and bustle. But it’s extraordinary how many of its prime landmarks you can see from the river that runs through it and it’s also a wonderful feeling to view these buildings gliding along, with the drone of the engine and the multi-lingual recorded commentary drowning out the sound of the traffic completely. The sky was a perfect: the glow of the setting sun and the rising moon highlighting the edges of the sparse clouds. The bateaux mouches all have floodlights attached to the sides so that each bit you pass is lit up magically, adding to the drama of arriving at each beautiful building and bridge in turn: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Pont Neuf, Notre Dame Cathedral….Towards the end of the run, we arrived at what is the star attraction, however. There is something ethereally elegant about the Eiffel Tower at night and when you emerge from under the Pont d’Iéna and find yourself almost right under its feet, looking up at its sparkling form, it’s impossible not to smile and catch your breath. The feeling swept amongst the others on the boat like a wildfire. The level of chattering and laughing rose like a flock of starlings as people jostled one another with smiles on their faces to get a good picture of Paris’ symbolic monument. Even the Chinese group leader who had been so absorbed in his game of Candy Crush that he missed all the other highlights, was moved to put his pad aside and take a look.
We arrived back at the Quai d’Alma pontoon just under an hour later. The cool winter air could do nothing to quell the fuzzy warm feeling inside that the river-view night-time cruise of the City of Light gives you. In this age of all information, all images and and all experiences being available in some format through the internet at all times, it’s very reassuring to realise that some real-life experiences are still well worth doing.
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Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com) flies direct to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle several times a day from both Cork and Dublin. Fares start at € each way including all taxes and charges.
For bookings on Bateaux Mouches, visit www.bateaux-mouches.fr.
For general information on Paris, transport and things to see, visit the excellent multilingual official information site www.parisinfo.com.