Seaside Adventures in Étretat & Honfleur

Sunrise over Tauck’s ms Sapphire in Caudebec-en-Caux, France. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Friday, October 13, 2017

I’m a pretty organized person. I show up for events ten to fifteen minutes before they start. I’m never late. I also never forget to set an alarm to wake up, and typically rise at 6:30am every day on a river cruise. That seems early, but it’s really not: this way, when we have an early morning, I’m ready for it.

This morning, I woke up in my cozy stateroom aboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire and felt well-rested. Nobody who has ever woken up at 6:30am has ever been well-rested; you should wake up at that hour feeling like Louis XIV on a day when he feels fat.

I looked at my iPhone. Quarter to eight. We had to leave on our morning tour in 45 minutes, and I’d clearly forgotten to set my alarm.

Our adventures with Tauck on the coast of Normandy took us first to the seaside town of Etretat, France. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Now, I hate being rushed. I’m a terrible old man when it comes to my morning routine: I need breakfast and coffee or I’m going to be awful and cranky all day. And on a regular cruise, 45 minutes to shower, dress, round up all the stuff for my day, and have breakfast would have been a disaster. But again, I forgot where I was: with only 98 guests onboard the Sapphire, I waltzed into the Restaurant at 8:15am, got myself some food, sat down, had a coffee, and even had time to read the little news-snippet paper that’s printed out onboard before heading ashore.

Tauck is going to spoil me. I’m not used to being onboard a river cruise that carries less than 100 people – and I’m starting to really like it.

The Atlantic Ocean, as seen from the magnificent beaches of Etretat. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

On this, the fifth day of our Rendezvous on the Seine river cruise, we were off to explore two quaint, small towns on the Atlantic Ocean: Étretat and Honfleur. To get there, we’d need to do a little driving – just over 90 minutes, to be exact, from our docking location in Caudebec-en-Caux; a small commune on the Seine with a population of just over two thousand.

Ships can normally sail on to Le Havre, on the Atlantic, but a bridge (that has apparently been broken for much of the season) is limiting our progress. We’ve stopped here in Caudebec-en-Caux for the next three days and will conduct our touring by coach. It’s not a problem, but something you should be aware of (and, if anything, is like river cruising Portugal’s Douro River, where long coach rides are pretty much standard every day).

In Étretat, we were let loose on this pretty little town – and with an hour of free time, it was a relaxed visit that let guests roam about as they pleased.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I stayed and walked along the seaside promenade, where the Atlantic rolled forcefully in and crashed upon the pebbled beach and against the cliffs that are as picturesque and grandiose as the famous “White Cliffs of Dover” across the Channel.

Others chose to visit the local bakery, pulled in by the smell of freshly-baked bread that carried on down the streets for blocks.

I really liked that Tauck just left guests to discover Étretat on their own. It’s a nice counterpart to guided tours that, while informative, can sometimes result in information overload. There is something to be said for losing yourself among the streets of a place.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

On arrival in Honfleur, Tauck also gave guests the opportunity to wander the town and have lunch on their own. We were given three hours of free time – and twenty Euros apiece for lunch. Tauck’s reasoning is that you’ve paid for all of your meals on the river cruise, and if they’re taking you off of that cruise, they should be paying for your lunch.

Not every river cruise line does this; in fact, few do. And while €40 per couple isn’t going to let you eat like Napoleon, it should be more than enough to get a couple of very decent plats (as ‘main courses’ are called here) and a nice bottle of wine.

In Honfleur, guests were turned out on their own for lunch. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

With its rich maritime history…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Honfleur is a quaint and unassuming seaside town. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In Honfleur, seafood is the specialty – and right now, mussels are the big thing. People were out on the terraces that lined the inner harbour much like the cafes of Copenhagen, eating mussels by the bucketful and washing them down with white wine, the bottles of which condensed in the heat of the unseasonably warm autumn sun.

I’m not much of a mussels fan – oysters are more my deal – but I was sorely tempted after watching couples down them with happy abandon. In the end, I went for a more economical lunch: a croque monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich), avec frites (with fries) and a beer. Which, ironically, was from Belgium. Leffe is a great beer, but I wondered where the brewed-in-France Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc went to?

Time for lunch outdoors in Honfleur! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Either way, lunch and two beers came to €18.50. Service is included in France, but I let the waiter keep the extra euro-fifty, which used up the twenty Euro note Tauck had given me.

The sun was out and shining brightly as we arrived back at the ms Sapphire. It feels more like summer and less like fall outside. Jackets have only really been needed at night, with temperatures climbing above 15°C each day. The forecast calls for highs of 25°C (77°F for my American friends) in a few days.

Like Alaska, it can rain a lot here in Normandy – but that doesn’t mean that it always does.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire continues tomorrow as we visit the sobering D-Day Landing Sites of Normandy. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

From Paris to Normandy with Tauck

October 9, 2017ParisArrival in Paris; check-in to Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel.
October 10ParisTour of the Opera Garnier
October 11ParisTour of the Palace of Versailles; embark ms Sapphire
October 12RouenGuided tour of Rouen; evening chateau reception, dinner and music
October 13Caudebec-en-CauxVisits to Etretat and Honfleur
October 14Caudebec-en-CauxD-Day history in Normandy with visits to Omaha Beach, American Cemetery & the Arromanches Museum
October 15JumiegesVisit to Jumieges Abbey ruins
October 16Les AndelysChateau Gaillard tour; cider & calvados tasting; scenic cruising
October 17VernonGiverny and Monet home visit; farewell reception
October 18ParisDisembark ms Sapphire



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