In the second part of his French canals odyssey, Howard Walker cruises up the lazy River Seine and explores the suburbs of Paris
A stop in Honfleur
Honfleur is every bit as magical as I remember when I came here by car 30 years ago. Yes it’s touristy, yes it’s packed in the summer, yes the restaurants and cafés lining the Vieux Bassin are pricy and generally mediocre.
But the town itself, with its towering wood and slate houses packed tight around the picture-postcard harbour is still a feast for the eyes.
The fast-flowing tidal section of the Seine rushes 68 miles from Honfleur all the way to Rouen. With nowhere to stop along the way, and plaisanciers – leisure boaters – prohibited from running at night, you have to do the trip in one go.
For us that meant locking out on to the river at 8am, punching against the ebb for an hour or so, then getting the big push for the remaining eight and a half hours.
It was a long day. But after a week of big open water, it was relaxing to be meandering along the river.
Well, not that relaxing when huge ocean-going freighters come barrelling up behind pushing roller-coaster bow wakes. Then the river starts to feel pretty narrow.
There’s a newish port de plaisance here with fuel, super-friendly staff and an adjoining boatyard where yachties heading to the Med can get their sticks removed and strapped on-deck.
The only downside is that the marina is a fairly long hike from the city, which you’ll want to see.
It’s here where Joan of Arc was flambéed at the stake back in 1431 and the magnificent Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen, which dates back to the 11th century, soars above the skyline of the old town.
We spent the best part of a week soaking into the city, de-salting the boat and prepping for friends joining us for the cruise into Paris.