The impressionist Seine
Swimming parties, regattas, guingettes… The Seine was a favourite source of inspiration for the Impressionists.
Like a serpent…
Sequana, "serpent-like"… The Seine owes its name to a Roman goddess who was worshipped at the source of the river, on the Langres Plateau, more than 2,000 years ago. And so it is: the river, which is 776 kilometres in length, presents a succession of meanders downstream of Paris, which snake through the Champagne region, the hillsides of the Ile de France and the Brie region. An alternation of wooded embankments, chalky hillsides, steep banks and flat banks.
Although the Seine flows down a gentle gradient (26 metres height difference between Paris and the sea), its flow rate can vary from 30 m3 per second in a dry year to 2,400 m3 per second, as was the case during the historic flood tide of 1910. During dry summers, the river may dry up as far as Châtillon-sur-Seine. The inauguration of the "Seine" barrage-reservoir in 1966 made it possible to regulate the river and its tributaries upstream of Paris. It restitutes the water at a maximum rate of 35 m3 per second and combines usefulness and enjoyment, mixing hydroelectric production with water sports, fishing and tourism.
En route to art and history
Taking a cruise on the Seine means Versailles! The fun and games start in Paris. Passing under the bridges of "Paris by night" is one of the highlights of our cruises after the visit to the chateau of Auvers-sur-Oise, the mecca of French painting and the first museum in the world to offer a "show trail" through the time of picnics on the grass, retro cafés and idling away the time on the beaches of Normandy.
Left bank, right bank… each port of call adds its touch of colour to the picture. Conflans-Sainte-Honorine is the boatmen's capital. Vernon invites you to dine with Claude Monet in his legendary home in Giverny, which inspired his "Water Lilies" series. Les Andelys and Chateau Gaillard awaken the memory of Richard the Lionheart, Duke of Normandy and King of England in the 12th century. Then comes Rouen, a city of art, known for the martyrdom of Joan of Arc who was burnt at the stake here. This means that the sea is not far. This is also the point where the abbey trail begins, which leads to Jumièges, a pearl of its kind, Caudebec-en-Caux, with its Seine maritime museum and its 15th century church.
While the pilots undertake their dextrous manoeuvres, all eyes are raised to admire three bridges, which are worth a word or two:
• The Brotonne bridge (1977) in Caudebec-en-Caux which holds the world record for the span of a concrete bridge.
• The Tancarville suspension bridge (1959) which has the longest span in Europe. Constructed in 1959, it was renovated in 1996-98 as the cables were starting to break. It is the key element in the economic activity of Le Havre and its region.
• The Normandie bridge (1995), nicknamed the "infancy of the computer" as it was computer technology that made it possible to calculate the data for the central span. It used to hold the world record of 856 metres, but Japan dethroned it in 1999 with an extra 34 metres.
These remarkable constructions have eclipsed the folklore surrounding the crossing of the Seine in steam-powered ferries and the "ferry cafés", which flourished on the banks for the greater pleasure of passengers.
But in Honfleur, the Impressionists take the limelight. The famous Ferme Saint Siméon that was frequented by Boudin, Monet, Bazille and Jongkind is only equalled by the Alabaster Coast, classed as a natural heritage site in the Pays de Caux, to the right, and the Côte Fleurie to the left, with its sandy beaches and low cliffs.