Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions can only be curbed by the implementation of virtuous and ecological transport.
The electrification of transport is a long-term solution to curb damage to the environment.
This is why, in order to be in line with the new projects on the Seine and to meet the expectations of its customers as well as the ecological challenges of the years to come, we have launched a vast project to modernize the entire our fleet of cruise boats in the Seine.
The first boat to benefit from this modernization will be the Rocca II, a 1963 boat, which will thus be completely renovated and which will benefit from 100% electric propulsion.
Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf company was established in 1959 by its founder Emile Azam. Having previously been the licence holder in the 1950s of a boat-building brand (Rocca) on the banks of the Marne at Varenne Saint-Hilaire, he embarked on the Parisian adventure.
The company's first location in Paris was at the foot of the Louvre Museum, at the Quai du Louvre, on the right bank of the Seine. A wooden passenger boat, the Symoun, which had capacity for 30 people and which had previously operated on the Marne, was put into service from April to September, and offered 30 minute cruises on the Seine, without commentary.
The construction of an initial 50-seat cruise boat made of steel was started in Concarneau in 1960: the Rocca I. But Emile Azam very soon realised that this boat was already proving too small. Therefore in 1962, a new boat with capacity for 112 people, called Rocca 2, was delivered by Chantiers de Concarneau. In 1964 the Rocca was sold in order to finance the construction of the Rocca 3, and following that the Rocca 4 arrived in 1966.
In 1967 the company's operations were transferred from the Quai du Louvre to the Square du Vert Galant on the Île de la Cité. This move was made necessary by the construction of the Georges Pompidou expressway. A 25m jetty was then built in Concarneau to host the three boats in the fleet.
In 1970 Emile Azam brought his nephew, Eric Levavasseur, who was then 16 years old, into the company. The Rocca 5 was added to the existing fleet of cruise boats. Eric then invited his brother Xavier to join him in 1977.
The number of people booking cruises continued to increase. In 1980 the Hydraseine, a 250-seat boat, was built at the Chantiers du Trait, near Rouen. This new, more spacious boat meant that evening events could be arranged (150 to 200 a year). The 25-metre jetty was becoming too small: in 1982 its surface area was doubled and it also then hosted a bar.
At the same time, thematic cruises and lunch cruises in restaurants along the banks of the Marne were made available to customers and in one year alone over 10,000 customers booked these new cruises. With the development of these new products, acquisition of a new boat with 150 seats became necessary: the Vert Galant, which was bought in 1985.
Demand was such that in 1989, on the occasion of the bi-centenary of the Revolution, the company decided to build a boat with 350 seats, named Europa, the first fully uncovered boat on the Seine; the boat was built by Les Chantiers de la Haute Seine at Villeneuve le Roi.
Tastes were changing and customers wanted to enjoy the sun: a terrace was built on the roof of the Hydraseine, which also increased its capacity from 250 to 350 seats. The company would eventually sell the Rocca 3 to the boats of the Erdre, and the Rocca 5 would be moved on to the Marne at the Port de Nogent. It still operated there in the context of organised cruises with stopovers from Nogent-sur-Marne to Joinville-le-Pont, sailing around the iles de Perreux and Bry, in the "guingettes" (open-air cafes) region of yesteryear: a sort of return to its roots.
The construction of a boat with 550 places, which would be called the Parisis, was undertaken and was built by the Chantiers de la Haute Seine; the boat started operating in spring 1994. Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf then had capacity to accommodate 1,250 customer places/hour via the three larger boats, supplemented by the Rocca 2, as a back-up boat, and the Vert Galant, a multi-purpose boat used for events and cruises.
Faced with increasing competition from boats used for entertainment/receptions, the company decided to include daily catering in its services. It invested in galleys on the Vert Galant.
Sales continued to grow and a new company was needed to manage this aspect: Les Croisières du Pont Neuf was created. This new structure helped to enlarge the sales team, an essential element for this new development.
The results were not long in coming: 15,000 meals were served during the first year of operation. In this year, 1998, it became clear that the requests for entertainment and events could no longer be satisfied. Another site was undoubtedly needed. In addition, Parisian tourism was continuing to grow: more and more coaches were converging at major tourist sites, near the heart of the city. With traffic and parking becoming increasingly thorny issues, the city took controlling measures. The Bercy coach parking facility, the largest in Europe, was created, alongside the Palais Omnisports and what would become Bercy Village. We were witnessing major development in the east of Paris.
Once again the company took the plunge and continued with new investments. In 1999 the elements came together with the creation of Marina de Bercy.
Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf started up a new boat company: The company Bercy Navigation was formed in association with Luc Devillers for the construction of a new restaurant boat with 250 seats, the Grand Pavois, and a 60m-long jetty, the Emile pier. The Grand Pavois was modern and revolutionary in its design: it was powered by a hybrid mix of fuel/electricity. The pier had a bar, a conference room, a terrace with 200 seats, a parking area and a terrace platform and beach for 150 people.
The boat Vert Galant, a restaurant boat already operating at Pont-Neuf with 100 seats, joined the Port de Bercy; the Rocca 4, a 112-seat passenger boat, was refitted into a 50-seat entertainment/reception boat and completed the fleet at the Marina de Bercy in order to better satisfy customer demand.
Sadly, 1999 was not just about satisfaction and hope: the company's patriarch and founder, Emile Azam, passed away in that year. With his passing, a new page of history was turned for Les Vedettes. His nephew Eric Levavasseur was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors, with Xavier, his brother, supporting him. The company remained strictly a family affair, as it always had been, with no external shareholders: brothers, sister, parents, uncles and aunts continued to share the ownership of the business. Alongside them a solid and enduring team ensured day-to-day operations, with a sense of family/teamwork spirit not found very often. The adventure continued. Work was undertaken to enlarge and totally renovate the pier of the port of Pont Neuf and completed end of 1999 / start of 2000.
In order to optimise its commercial development, Bercy Navigation, which operated the Marina de Bercy brand, opened up its capital to the Divercity / Cityrama group, a world leader in operating the "sightseeing bus". The association between the two groups would make it possible to create new combined products for visiting Paris, such as circuits from the Eiffel Tower, with stops at Notre-Dame and the Louvre, offered by Bateaux Parisiens under the combined brand of "Navicity".
In order to offer an wider range of boat cruises and discoveries in and around Paris, Vedettes du Pont Neuf bought the leading Parisian company of cruises on the Saint Martin Canal, the Ourcq Canal and the Marne, Canauxrama, at the end of 2007. It is now a complete fleet of 12 boats, of all sizes and capacities, which criss-cross all the waterways of Ile de France in the summer months, in search of authentic and exotic experiences, whether cultural or purely for leisure.
Every year, more than 80,000 people discover the mysteries and charm of the Canal Saint Martin, its locks, its swing and lift bridges, the famous Bastille vault (the underground part of the Canal Saint Martin which is only accessible by boat), and the new districts of La Villette, which have recently been renovated and extended. Numerous theme cruises have been created, Guinguette spirit on the Marne, on the Canal Saint Denis to the Stade de France for the big events...
In 2016, the "historic" family gave way to a new team led by Ghislain de Richecour, a key player in Parisian tourism for over 20 years and also founder of the company France Tourisme, a real change of era took place rapidly: digitisation, targeted marketing, modernisation and greening of the fleet of boats, the Parisis and the Marcel Carné were completely modernised and repowered in 2018, with the creation of panoramic, modular and air-conditioned event spaces.
New projects have been launched, with the first 100% electric pleasure boat in Paris, the Rocca II, which will be launched in 2021, and the entire fleet being progressively transformed to meet the latest environmental and safety standards; by 2024, all the boats will have been converted to a soft propulsion system (electric or hybrid) and zero non-recyclable waste.
Thanks to the multiplicity of these new possibilities and to Vedettes du Pont Neuf, cruising in Paris is entering a new era where the unique experience and sensations allow you to travel to discover history, new sensations, sharing (gastronomy and French art of living) and a total change of scenery, in the time of only a few hours from the very centre of Paris. Authenticity is the new watchword for these atypical routes, often unknown to the most demanding Parisians.
The adventure continues.
Left: Vaimalama Chaves, Miss France 2019
Right: Clémence Botino, Miss France 2020
Middle: Ghislain de Richecour, founder of the company France Tourisme
More than fifty years have gone by. Tourism has grown steadily. The banks of the Seine are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bridges are illuminated, Paris has strengthened its image as the City of Light.
Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf has continued to invest. The company has been developed and organised, and it has a bright future.
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