Last year, CroisiEurope began sailing on the Loire River with the 96-passenger Loire Princesse. // © 2016 CroisiEurope
Feature image (above): The Loire, the longest river in France, is also the most difficult to navigate because of its unpredictable water levels. // © 2016 CroisiEurope
As the largest European river cruise line with 40-plus ships, Strasbourg, France-based CroisiEurope has a vast net of itineraries connecting major European destinations year-round. If clients want to cruise to Venice, Italy’s Carnival festival in February, CroisiEurope is there. If they’d like to see Seville, Spain, and dance the flamenco, they can sail in Andalusia. The company offers cruises on the Garonne, Danube, Rhine, Seine, Rhone, Gaudalquivir, Douro and Po rivers and on the canals in France.
And last year, using a groundbreaking new ship design, CroisiEurope opened up weeklong cruises on the Loire River, a waterway so perfect for river cruising that cruise lines have been looking at it for decades but that was formerly believed to be unable to support extended regular service. CroisiEurope’s Loire Princesse was the prototype, the first ship with staterooms to sail the river. The design was so successful that the company is producing similar ships for cruising other rivers where water levels fluctuate widely.
The Loire Valley is a European fairytale come to life, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that embodies the romantic vision of the continent. Centuries of royalty built its turreted chateaus and cathedrals, set in a dramatic landscape along the banks. The Loire has just about everything: wonderful wines, a famous culinary tradition, medieval towns and cities and ancient families in a pageant of colorful history.
The only reason the longest river in France isn’t crammed with ships is that it is also the most difficult to navigate with its unpredictable water levels. The 96-passenger Loire Princesse, CroisiEurope’s solution, is propelled by two side paddlewheels and pump jets, and the design for the shallow waters of the Loire uses aluminum rather than steel for its superstructure, removing tons of weight. With a draft of only 31.5 inches, the ship can sail the Loire between Angers (Bouchemaine) and Saint-Nazaire, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.
The ship is filled with soft, warm colors from Missoni Home in the spacious dining room and lounge as well as in the accommodations. Thirty of the 48 staterooms on two decks have balconies with chairs and small tables; the others have windows. The size of accommodations ranges from 140 to 165 square feet, with twin or double beds, all positioned to face the views. Wi-Fi access is free, and the company offers a complimentary Samsung Galaxy Tablet for guest use. Note that there is no elevator on the ship.
Cruising with CroisiEurope is truly an authentically European experience. For instance, it offers a buffet of hot and cold selections for breakfast, but lunch and dinner are both three-course set menus, with classic French cuisine that continually receives high praise, as does the service. The cruise fare includes unlimited complimentary onboard beverages, including beer, fine wine, spirits, bottled mineral water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and tea. Let the company know ahead if clients have dietary limitations so it can accommodate their needs. All meals are open seating.
The destination is the focus of a CroisiEurope cruise, and the company does an exceptional job of providing shore excursions, which are now included in the cruise fare. For example, passengers on the Loire can take a guided walking tour of Nantes, once the capital of Brittany and still Celtic in flavor as a colorful center of culture and education. In addition to its rich history, the birthplace of author Jules Verne has Les Machines de Lile, a fantasy park of mechanical creatures. Guests also gravitate to Nantes’ phenomenal chocolates.
During the cruise, passengers can also explore the Muscadet Wine Route, fueled by tastings of the fruity white wine. In Angers, they can see the amazing set of Apocalypse tapestries and visit the Cadre Noir in the town of Saumur, where the National Riding School builds on the relationship between humans and horses. Shore excursions will take clients to Loire’s archetypal castles, such as Chateau d’Usse, which inspired Charles Perrault’s fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty,” and the dreamy Renaissance Chateau Azay-le-Rideau castle.
The company’s guides interpret onboard between ports as well as on land. In the evenings, guests gravitate to the lounge and its dance floor and to the popular sundeck and its lounges and couches grouped around tables.
French and English are the onboard languages and, unusual in river cruising, children are welcome.
Loire Princesse sails eight-day roundtrip cruises from Nantes, calling in Ancenis, Bouchemaine and Angers as centers for exploring the region.