Here’s one I feel well placed to discuss.
I’ve spent time living overlooking both these beautiful rivers: In my twenties, on a houseboat in Richmond and more recently, a riverside country home in a village near Fontainebleau.
I cannot recommend living on the river, just outside the city centre, highly enough.
So let’s look at the neighbourhoods and the quirks and joys of these two beautiful rivers.
Both La Seine and The Thames boast brilliant bridges.
An example of a famous bridge from the Thames would perhaps be Tower bridge.
This bastion of a bridge, as well as being mighty impressive, has history behind it. Built between 1886 and 1894, Tower Bridge traverses the Thames right near the infamous Tower of London, where many a traitor perished.
It is a combined bascule and suspension bridge, meaning a section of the bridge can be lifted up using counter weights to allow taller boats clearance.
Tower bridge has become one of the London landmarks that stands as an iconic symbol of the city.
It is a bridge that has inspired many an action movie maker, from the 1999 Bond film, ‘The World is not Enough’ to the very first ‘Mission Impossible’ with Tom Cruise and Lara Croft: ‘Tomb Raider’.
This all feels very imposing, action packed and powerful. What La Seine lacks in power play, she makes up for many times over in Breath-catching Beauty.
This bridge in the very heart of the city leads you onto one of the islands cocooned in the middle of the Seine, Île-de-la-Cité.
It’s name, Le Pont au Change, refers back to a time when the location was used to exchange monnies and silverware between the Cité and the Chatêlet.
Despite official offices such as the Tribunal de Commerce de Paris, le Cour d’Appel and la Préfecture de Police all being located just over this bridge, the enveloping atmosphere is about as far away from administration as you could get!
Parisian bridges with their lustrous light have inspired Artists for centuries.
Similarly, tourists and young couples have felt compelled to lock their love on to the bars of this bridge, writing a sentimental note or date on a padlock that they leave on it.
This sadly resulted in a part of the bridge falling into the Seine and requiring repair, so is no longer encouraged. However, it stands testament to the special way these romantic bridges move people.
There is something wonderfully carefree about drinking overlooking the water. This activity comes into its own in the summer.
La Seine and the Thames offer quite different drinking cultures and possibilities. Let’s take a look!
One of my favourite Seine spots for a summer apéro is Peniche le Marcounet.
Incredibly popular, but retaining a laid back atmosphere, thanks to the outdoor air, ample room for everyone and great live music.
If you want to see who’s playing on a certain day, it’s here.
The boat is located pretty centurally, just down the steps from Pont Marie, so it’s an easy spot to meet friends.
Turning our attention to London, I feel that I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention Riverside Pubs.
Here’s one of the absolute best in West London, located on the Lower Mall – my favourite Hammersmith haunt!
Rather like our last spot, it’s a fairly easy location for friends to meet, just a hop on from Earls Court, Fulham and of course Hammersmith, ( yes, I’m afraid even from the closest tube station it’s a ten minute walk.. London logistics ).
The Blue Anchor is a good place to watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race. Publican and punters alike are friendly and the food is in the Gastropub game.
Boats have often inspired artistic endeavours.
On La Seine, just across the river from Notre Dame, we find a unique floating theatre with a very special atmosphere.
Here you’ll find everything: Often One (Wo)Man shows, or Stand Up but also other smaller theatre productions.
The theatre itself is downstairs in the underbelly of the boat. Meanwhile the luminous deck, pictured here, with window panelling and views across to Notre Dame, is where you can enjoy a romantic, pre-show dinner in the restaurant.
La Nouvelle Seine actually serves as clever word play, the French word for Stage being ‘une Scène’.
Fringing the frontiers of the intellectual 5th arrondissement, there are plenty of plays to make you think and debate over dinner.
As we’re a mere stone’s throw away from Shakespeare and Company, there are also certain Anglophone actors treading the boards.
I’m cheating a little bit with my London proposition, as the barge is currently located in little Venice, Warwick Avenue on the canals.
The exact address is :
The Puppet Theatre Barge is fun for little and larger people alike, but you’ll especially appreciate it if you have your Brood, Godchildren, Nieces or Nephews in tow.
The Puppet Theatre Barge has been entertaining its young audience for thirty years now, creating a magical world from the second they step onto the gangplank.
Later this Summer they’ll be showing ‘The Three Little Pigs and Captain Grimey and The Insect Circus, the later is a show without words using techniques from Victorian trick marionettes.
Perhaps all this talk of the wonders on the waters of La Seine or the Thames is making you think that you might like to live on one of them?
Amazingly there are great opportunities for those who love boats to live, sometimes reasonably affordably, on these two magnificent rivers.
If you’ve ever walked past the Port de l’Arsenal at Bastille and taken a moment to admire the myriad of domestic dwellings then read on.
Certain central addresses for houseboats could lead us to imagine that living on the Seine in the heart of Paris is the preserve of the wealthy.
Seine Plus are the first estate agents specialising in selling and renting boats.
The agency was founded 40 years ago by two friends, both living on boats with their families at the time, they saw a gap in the market.
Today, they are the oldest and most successful specialists in floating homes and river living in France.
The nice thing about having a little extra help is that Nathalie Desbonnets, founder of Seine Plus will tell you everything you need to know in terms of the workings, the voies navigables de france ( French waterways ) as well as info regarding the Port de Paris and other private ports.
Well accompanied, things quickly seem less overwhelming.
Hopping over to London town, if you’re dead set on your dream, are young and enjoy camping and a free-wheeling way of life, you may be interested in Continuous Cruising.
In brief, as a continuous cruiser you must move your boat on every 14 days and not stay at the same mooring. You are required to be clearly navigating a course of 20 miles, rather than simply shuttling back and forth between a couple of spots.
Find out more about it here.
Burst the Banks
We would be ignoring the elephant in the room if we talked about La Seine and the Thames without mentioning flooding.
Living near or on the river you become more sensitive to the rise and fall of water levels. A lot of this is normal, mundane and becomes as natural a part of your daily routine as the changing light.
Sometimes things get a little more out of hand.
This picture was taken in 2016 when La Seine suffered severe flooding, known as ‘la grande crue’.
On July 2nd 2016 the Louvre closed its doors in order to evacuate priceless Artworks to safety, away from the rising waters.
The ‘crue’ of 1910 was infamously bad. Climate change means we may see more extreme weather and water heights along the river in the years to come.
A few years back in London I used to park my car on a river road near Twickenham bridge, where there was free parking.
I remember one day, things ran on and I stayed in central London longer than expected. I came back to find my car nearly two foot deep in river water.
Even as the water went back down I was left, rather unceremoniously, scooping muddy water out of the footwells with empty bottles.
I suppose this particular anecdote is a cautionary tale about parking, as well as how surprisingly quickly river levels can rise at certain times of year.
The wonderful thing about living on the river is that the sense of community is akin to a small village hamlet.
Things get tight knit fast and barriers are broken down quickly for several reasons:
Firstly, you often have to climb over the roof of somebody else’s home, after the gangplank to get into your boat. You’ll see immediately if they’re home and might pop in for a quick chat, if you see they’re not doing anything, or at the very least wave.
Secondly, we have the challenges that pull neighbours together. We’ve already spoken about flooding episodes. These can leave boats hazardously moored and prey to strong currents. In storms too things can get quite scary as the boat rocks and you see gigantic branches whizzing past your window.
Thirdly, things go wrong more often once you step of land; Namely, plumbing and electricity. Certain problems can be snipped in the bud with proper maintenance and upkeep, others are simply a result of mother nature and the fact that you’re choosing to live on the water.
Either way, you’ll need a practical, roll up your sleeves and muck in attitude. If you are very attached to your privacy and cannot imagine showering at your neighbour’s home, or indeed eating and spending an evening with only halogen torch lights for electricity before you get reconnected the next morning, then baptism into boating life might be a shock.
It is encouraging to see both Paris and London invest in the banks of their rivers making them agreable and inviting places.
La Seine boasts Paris Plage every Summer.
This concept, essentially involving them shipping in several tonnes of sand, is sweet for a few reasons:
It relaxes Parisians as temperatures mount, you may be pacing the banks of the Seine trying to get somewhere, once you’ve walked past parasols and palm trees your stress has most likely taken a backseat.
Pop up beaches were originally imagined for those not going away on holiday. The rhythm the French year jam-packed with holidays, occasionally specifying what you should be doing in their titles; (les vacances de ski, les vacances d’été), can seem unfair if you’re feeling like the only one without the budget for Instagram worthy holidays.
At the cultural bastion that is the Southbank the Underbelly festival runs proudly from April until late September in 2019.
This Multi Arts Offering is stronger than ever in its 11th year and remains London’s original pop up festival.
The accessible culture offered here can be enjoyed by all the family. In classically British Summer tradition they are sponsored by Pimms and Gordon’s Gin!
Details and tickets can be found here.