Chateau Gaillard & the Beauty of Independence

Les Andelys and Tauck’s ms Sapphire, as seen from the ruins of Chateau Gaillard. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Monday, October 16, 2017

When you take a river cruise, there are guided excursions offered every day. On some days, you can do up to three guided tours. Most people take advantage of these, for the simple reason that they’re there, they’re included, and they’ll show you something that you’ve probably never seen before.

There is another option open to you, however, and that is the choice to do whatever you please. That was the choice I made today in Les Andelys, France, as my river cruise aboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire enters the second-last day of our Rendezvous on the Seine river cruise.

The ms Sapphire sparkles on a gorgeous day in Les Andelys, France. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve always wanted to see the ruined medieval fortress of Chateau Gaillard, which sits perched high above Les Andelys. Tauck’s included tour for today – which featured a walking tour of Les Petit Andelys and a visit to a local cider farm – only stopped for a brief photo outside of the castle. That just wasn’t going to work for me.

Seeing that the Castle was an easy 15-minute walk from our picturesque docking location in Les Andelys, I stayed behind while the rest of the guests aboard the ms Sapphire departed for their morning adventure and had another cappuccino and browsed through Tauck’s Exotics brochure. It gave me all sorts of exotic ideas. Some day, I’m going to have to branch out into land trips.

Coffee finished, I grabbed a bottle of water (complimentary, of course) and my camera and set out into the unseasonable morning warmth (17°C at 10:00am) to explore Chateau Gaillard.

A quick walk through Les Andelys….Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…takes you up to…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…the road to…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Chateau Gaillard! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I learned about Chateau Gaillard when I was 13 years old. Ironically enough, it was from a 1995 computer game called The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time that I came to know about this National Historic Site of France. The time-travel epic, which also recreated Da Vinci’s studio in Italy and Chichen Itza in Mexico, set one of its narratives in a faithfully-recreated Chateau Gaillard at the time of Richard the Lionheart. It’s long been out-of-print, but you can still download it on Mac and PC at Good Old Games for a very modest $6.99 US. I’ve wanted to see the castle ever since.

Chateau Gaillard was built between 1196 and 1198 at the behest of Richard the Lionheart. Constructed in an almost-unheard of two years, the castle consisted of a keep, private residences, several cellars, and numerous towers clustered around advanced fortifications, an outer courtyard, and an inner courtyard. It also had latrines built into its walls that would send waste cascading down a chute near the wall, and fireplaces in the residences – the outlines of which are still visible to this day.

At Chateau Gaillard, you can glimpse the former splendor…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…of this imposing structure…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…built for King Richard the Lionheart. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

One year after the construction of Chateau Gaillard, Richard the Lionheard died. Things went well after that until 1203, when the French besieged the Castle. After five months, Philip Augustus decided he’d had enough. He launched a full-on assault of the castle in March of 1204, seizing it by sending soldiers in through the castle’s windows in a Monty Python-esque bit of planning.

Damaged heavily in the 1400’s during the Hundred Years War, the castle was ransacked for construction materials in the 1600’s by the monks of Les Andelys. It wasn’t until 1862 that Chateau Gaillard was declared a Historical Monument and protected from further destruction.

While there’s not much there today, it is a fascinating place to walk around. Admission to the inner keep can be obtained by paying the very small fee of €3.20 per person (free for children under seven) and a guided tour is just €4.50. The castle’s outer ramparts and walls (including the super-deep dry moat, which you can walk through) are accessible free-of-charge.

The outline of a former fireplace is still visible…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and you can even descend…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…into the former cellar. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The views from Chateau Gaillard are worth the visit alone. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After a brief walk through the pretty (but sleepy – don’t expect to find much open) town of Les Andelys, I reboarded the ms Sapphire and we set sail for Vernon, France.

The weather was abnormally nice out, with sunny skies and temperatures that pushed 25°C as the afternoon went on. It couldn’t have been nicer. Tauck Director Alex – who functions as a sort of Cruise Director onboard the Sapphire – came around to the upper deck to tell guests that it wasn’t necessary to attend the scheduled Disembarkation Talk at 2:30pm. A letter would be provided to guests outlining their flights and disembarkation times for Wednesday in Paris, and let them know to see him if they should have any questions.

Of course, Tauck provides guests with complimentary bicycles on its river cruises – a great way to tour independently in port! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I took Alex up on this and stayed up-top, reading a book on some of Paris’s most colourful historic figures while relieving the ship of a pint of Kronenbourg 1664. A day this nice is too good to spend indoors.

Once we arrived in Vernon, a massive selection of local seafood was set up on the Sun Deck. Massive oysters, prawns and snails were dutifully rolled out, paired exceptionally with a glass of champagne or whatever your heart desired.

Cruising through locks..Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…is always a fascinating sight. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

With gorgeous weather…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…it was tough to pull myself away from the ship’s upper decks! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Upon arrival in Vernon…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…a fresh seafood feast…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…is served on deck! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

With, of course, a champagne toast. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The seafood was so fresh it literally tasted like the sea; a combination of salty and savoury. Perhaps that’s why the French call seafood, “Fruits de mere” – the Fruit of the Sea. This is the second day Tauck has treated us to seafood so fresh that it will spoil you for anything else. I’m already hoping one last round of oysters from the French Atlantic coast makes its way to our dinner plates tomorrow.

A few evenings ago, I dined at Arthur’s for dinner and wanted to write about it today. This is one of my surprise favorite places to dine onboard. I’m usually a staunch main dining room guy when it comes to river cruises; I might eat at a specialty restaurant once or twice in a voyage. So far, however, I’ve dined at Arthur’s three times for lunch, and twice for dinner.

Located on Deck 3 aft, Arthur’s is a great secondary dining venue…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…for those looking for more casual fare. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The menu could be described as mainly American staples, like Caesar Salad and one heck of a delicious hamburger, but that’s not the main reason I go there. I go because I like the more quiet, intimate space that could pass for a trendy French brasserie. I also enjoy the views from the aft-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows that make this one of the best viewpoints on the ship, particularly during the evening hours as the last rays of light slip over the Seine.

Caesar Salad…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and pasta delights at Arthur’s. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

There is only one more day left on this trip – a visit to Claude Monet’s house at Giverny. I think the verdict is already in, though: this has been one fantastic river cruise, offering the perfect mix of history, culture, and free time that I’ve seen on the rivers. The pacing is just right. The activities are spot-on. And Tauck’s legendary service is most definitely alive and well.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire continues tomorrow, as we explore Giverny, France before our return to Paris. 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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