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The Seine Music Festival presents a wide-ranging selection of the very best pieces by French composers, both sacred and secular. The repertoire ranges from the sixteenth century to the ‘Grand Siècle’ of the Sun-King, on through the French Romantics to the ‘Impressionists’, Debussy and Ravel, and finally to two twentieth century masters, Maurice Duruflé and Francis Poulenc.
Performances are in châteaux, churches and theatres beside the River Seine or a short drive away. All are historic buildings of charm or beauty, some of them seldom-visited architectural jewels. From the grand and splendid to small and charming, not to say decaying, these venues have been chosen to bring out the best in the performers and the music they play. Usually the music is of the same period as the building in which it is played and sometimes there are specific historical connections.
Shorter than the Rhône or the Loire, the Seine is nevertheless the greatest river of France. History has made it so, with the north of the country, and Paris in particular, emerging in the High Middle Ages as the political, economic, intellectual and cultural centre of gravity.
But geography had a part to play. Rising in Burgundy and flowing northwest through the Ile de France and Normandy, it is navigable for much of its course, and tidal below Rouen.
Scenically much of the Seine is exceedingly attractive, with sweeps of green pasture and orchards, clusters of beech, lines of poplar, low hills and high chalky cliffs. The name ‘Seine’ is thought to derive from the Celtic ‘squan’ meaning curve, and the most striking characteristic of the river course are those great winding loops which create narrow headlands and shelving promontories.
There are also stretches where travellers can feel transported into paintings by Pisarro, Monet, Sisley and Renoir. Several towns, trading posts, monasteries and castles grew above the banks of the Seine. A representative selection of these are explored during the cruise, which is an architectural as well as a musical journey.
Day 1, Sunday 3rd July
MS Viking Spirit is moored in Paris at the Quai de Grenelle, near the Eiffel Tower. You may embark from 4.00pm.
To join the festival, there is a choice between two Eurostar trains from London St Pancras to Paris. These are paired with trains on the last day – see Day 8 as well to make your choice. (Alternatively you are welcome to make your own arrangements for international travel – see Option 3.)
Option 1. Depart London St Pancras at 10.25am or Ashford at 10.55am. After arriving at Paris Gare du Nord at 1.47pm, you are collected by coach and set down near the Louvre for about two and a half hours of independent time. After rejoining the coach, you board the ship at c. 5.15pm.
Option 2. Depart London St Pancras at 12.29pm or Ebbsfleet at 12.45pm and arrive at Paris Gare du Nord at 3.50pm. You are then taken by coach directly to the ship, which you board at c. 4.45pm.
Train travel is in first class ‘standard premier’ and drinks and refreshments are served at your seat – continental breakfast on Option 1 and a cold snack on Option 2. These times are from the 2010 timetable – changes are likely.
Option 3. You can choose to make your own arrangements. There is a price reduction for this. You are welcome to join our transfers from the Gare du Nord, to meet in the centre of Paris or to go directly to the ship from 4.00pm.
After dinner, drive to the nearby Théâtre le Ranelagh. There has been a theatre on this site since 1755; Rameau, Bizet and Wagner are among the composers who attended performances of their music here. Re-built in 1894, the interior has magnificent, neo-Renaissance oak-carved panels and fine acoustics.
Concert: Mélodies Françaises
Day 2, Monday 4th July
Sail at 10.00am. There are morning lectures on music and architecture. Moor at Conflans-Sainte Honorine around 3.30pm.
Drive to the Château at Maisons-Laffitte, designed by François Mansart and built 1642–51 for the President of the Parlement and frequently visited by Bourbon kings. One of the finest accomplishments of French architecture, it combines classical perfection, variation of massing and dramatic roofscape, and is exceptionally complete and homogenous, both inside and out.
Concert: Baroque Chamber Music
Day 3, Tuesday 5th July
Giverny is on the river only two kilometres from Vernon. Here there is the choice between an out-of-hours visit to the Musée des Impressionismes and a visit to Monet’s garden before the day-trips arrive from Paris.
Concert: Impressionist Quartets
Return to the ship and sail downstream to Rouen, mooring at c. 8.30pm.
Disembark after dinner for a concert in the Abbatiale St Ouen, one of the masterpieces of late Gothic architecture in northern Europe.
Concert: Duruflé Requiem
Moor overnight in Rouen.
Day 4, Wednesday 6th July
A day in Rouen, capital of Normandy, architecturally and scenically one of the finest cities in France, boasting a celebrated cathedral and an impressive group of Late-Gothic churches. You can join a talk in one of the churches or explore the city independently – the mooring is within walking distance of the cathedral and quartier St-Maclou.
The cathedral is a showpiece of Gothic architecture, juxtaposing a rather quirky and beautifully detailed nave with a simplified, early thirteenth century choir, and reserving its more extravagant later medieval architecture for the west front that so mesmerised Monet. St Maclou presents the fifteenth century at its most jewel-like, while the church of Sainte Jeanne d’Arc, close to the site where she was burned at the stake, has a breathtaking display of sixteenth century stained glass.
The early evening concert is at the Espace du Moineau, built under Napoléon III as the Bossuet School and enlarged in the 1920s to house the seminary of the Rouen diocese.
Concert: Franco-Flemish Chansons
Moor at Rouen overnight.
Day 5, Thursday 7th July
Rouen, St Martin de Boscherville, Jumièges, St Wandrille
Drive from Rouen to the pretty village of St Martin de Boscherville. The stunning Romanesque church of St Georges is part of a monastic complex which includes a twelfth century chapter house and an eighteenth century formal garden.
Concert: Couperin’s Lamentations
After lunch there is an optional excursion to Jumièges and St Wandrille. The ruin of the once great abbey of Jumièges – monumental, roofless, sun-bleached and spare – is one of the seminal buildings of Romanesque Europe and particularly influential in England. Likewise ruinous, the most striking remains of the Benedictine Monastery of St Wandrille are the 13th-century choir and the 14th-century cloister walk.
Day 6, Friday 8th July
Sail in the early morning back to Vernon. There is the opportunity to return to Giverny for an extended visit of Monet’s Garden or the Musée des Impressionismes.
There is a short drive from the ship to the afternoon concert venue (which is repeated: the audience divides). The privately-owned Château de Bizy is a beautifully detailed nineteenth century reconstruction of a château of the 1740s, famed for its surviving eighteenth century stables and magnificent grounds.
Concert: Two Pianos
Also close by, La Roche-Guyon is a small town nestling between the Seine and the high chalk cliffs behind. A castle keep is perched on the clifftop, merely the topmost element of an extensive series of fortifications (developed further by Rommel in 1944) and of a grand residence which evolved between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Somewhat ramshackle inside, the Grand Salon has precious tapestries and its large windows look out towards the Seine.
Concert: Le Roi s’amuse
Day 7, Saturday 9th July
Sail in the early morning to Mantes-la-Jolie. The superb Gothic church of Notre-Dame is far and away the most impressive of the 12th-century galleried churches to survive in the Ile-de-France.
Continue upstream to Paris in the afternoon.
Concert: Machaut, Messe de Notre Dame
Moor in Paris overnight.
Day 8, Sunday 10th July
We have paired each of the trains for Day 8 with a particular train on Day 1. If your preference would be for a mixture of Options 1 and 2, we suggest you select Option 3, which is to make your own arrangements for international travel.
Option 1. Disembark at 9.30am, depart Paris Gare du Nord by Eurostar at 11.13am and arrive at London St Pancras at 12.29pm.
Option 2. Disembark at 9.45am and transfer by coach to the Louvre area for some free time in Paris. Leave for the Gare du Nord at 2.45pm to take the Eurostar at 4.13pm. Stop at Ebbsfleet at 5.18pm, arriving London St Pancras at 5.34pm.
Option 3. No trains. You may join either of our transfers to the Gare du Nord if you wish.
Pre-festival tours. If you join a pre-festival tour you return on the Option 1 train at 11.13am, arriving at London St Pancras at 12.29pm.