Imagine floating through France as people line the river banks and assemble on bridges to wave and snap photos of something they’ve not seen on this river: a “hotel” boat carrying passengers from Europe and North America.
Indeed, as we make our way up the Loire River, we are as much a spectacle to the people and places we are passing as they are to us. “I’ve never seen a boat like this arrive in Ancenis,” our tour guide told us yesterday, as Loire Princesse docked within steps of a castle that has been standing here for more than 1,000 years. “It is a moving experience.”
The Loire Princesse is the first “hotel” cruiser to offer itineraries on the Loire River. While other passenger boats may ply the Loire, none offer — or have offered — overnight accommodations on board that allow for weeklong excursions along the river.
As our paddle-wheeler pushes upstream, I’m reminded of the Tour de France, with spectators lining the roads to encourage cyclists muscling their way uphill. The crowds are nowhere near as thick as they are for the world’s premiere cycling event, but the French are out in numbers, cheering us on as we make our way (slowly, I might add) up the shallow Loire. To learn more about how the Loire Princesse manages to navigate waters with depths that can be as little as two feet, see my video in Loire Princesse: Day 3, Ancenis & Muscadet.
As I write these words, I am sitting in my stateroom, with the curtains to my balcony drawn back. The balcony door frames scenes of spectacular spring beauty. I slide open the door occasionally to step out onto the balcony to breathe in the fresh air. This morning birds were chirping, trees were budding and blooming, and the water reflected the morning sky, an inspiring start to a new day.
Those of us on board are not unlike Lewis & Clark, the explorers who found their way across America to the Pacific Coast in the early 1800s. We are pioneering a new path for river cruisers, going where none before us have gone. And the French? They are applauding us all along the way.