This comprehensive trip will take you to several of the most beautiful places in France. Starting with Paris, it will then slowly unfold through the Loire valley, which hosts some of the most stunning castles in the world. After the grandiosity of the Loire we will visit the tranquil and incredibly charming Dordogne, its castles, and Medieval villages. En route we will stop in Bourges and visit its amazing cathedral. We will then make our way to the very South of France, and the enchanting Carcassonne. We will end our discovery journey in Barcelona, Spain.
Date: September 29 to October 9
Price 3,950 USD per person in double room
Paris! Land of iconic architecture, sidewalk cafés, world-class fashion, and the best croissants you have ever tasted. If you would like to arrive in Paris a day early, and have a little extra time to rest and explore, there is an early arrival option on Wednesday Sept. 28th. You will have the opportunity, with your extra time the following morning, to take an excursion to Versailles Palace, with its grand gardens, or Giverny, the spot where Monet painted his famous water lilies. Sleep in Paris.
The group will arrive in the “City of Light” in the afternoon of Sept. 29th. You’ll have the chance to meet up with fellow travelers and become acquainted with your surroundings, while taking a casual tour of this vibrant city. We’ll end our first night with a delicious welcome dinner. Sleep in Paris.
Paris shall be yours for the day. We will have a wonderful guided introduction to the major sights of the city, including the bold Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, the exquisitely detailed Notre Dame Cathedral, the ivory domed Sacré-Couer Basilica, and the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre, filled with its painters and other artisans. No introduction to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Louvre, home of the famous Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory of Samothrace. We will linger among the western world’s most important works of art in this vast palace, and work up an appetite for more Parisian delicacies in the evening. Sleep in Paris.
Today we will travel to the beautiful Loire Valley, the “Garden of France,” to discover a whole variety of amazing châteaux, lush gardens, and strikingly preserved historic villages. Our first stop on our way out of Paris will be Fontainebleau, which houses a richly ornamented royal palace, surrounded by gardens, a park, and forest filled with hiking trails. After Fontainebleau, we will make our way toward Tours, where we will visit the St-Gatien Cathedral, with its gothic spires, and relax at the Place Plumereau, the charming heart of old town.
If time and energy allow, we may make a trip to one of the nearby châteaux -- Villandry or Azay-le-Rideau. Sleep in Tours.
Today we will take an excursion to the two most famous châteaux in the Loire Valley: Chenonceau and Chambord. You’ll see why Chenonceau was fought over by kings and queens when you catch sight of its beautiful arches reflecting in the water of the river Cher. Three important women had their hand in making Chenonceau the beautiful sight that it is today -- Katherine Briçonnet, Diane de Poitiers, and Catherine de Médicis – giving Chenonceau the nickname the “ladies’ château.” Next, Chambord, the largest château in the Loire Valley, will captivate you with its elaborate roofline, its double helix staircase, and over 400 rooms. The imposing castle, shooting up more towers and chimneys than you can count, appears from the distance to be its own self-enclosed city. Ready for a snack? You have earned the right to as much baguette and brie as you like. Sleep in Tours.
Today we will travel south into the Dordogne region. Our first stop is Bourges, where we will have the chance to visit Saint-Etienne Cathedral, a 12th Century structure with massive towers, a beautiful rose window, and lovely gardens. Take a relaxing stroll in Bourges’ quaint historic center, home to 400 charming half-timbered buildings, and take in the town at a sidewalk café. Next we are off to Limoges, famous for its porcelain, which you can browse and purchase on Boulevard Louis Blanc (a.k.a., Porcelain Boulevard). Explore the two historical quarters, with their many shops, cafés, and churches, and enjoy dinner while people watching. Sleep in Limoges.
Today we continue south toward Sarlat-la-Canéda, a well-preserved medieval town in Dordogne. We’ll have a chance to visit Saint Sacerdos Cathedral, with its neighboring Jardin des Enfeus (the city’s first cemetery) and Lanterne des Morts (lantern of the dead). Explore the windy cobbled streets, and keep your eye out for a sample of some black truffles or foie gras, for which the area is known. From Sarlat we will head next to Rocamadour, an enchanting rocky cliff-side town and major point of importance on religious pilgrimages, due to its sanctuaries, relics, and tomb of the ancient St. Amadour. In case you missed out on a treat in Sarlat, in this town, you’ll want to keep your eye out for the town’s award winning goat cheese. Finally we head for Cahors, our home base for the next two nights. Cahors is in Malbec territory -- enjoy a glass with dinner! Sleep in Cahors.
Wake up in Cahors, and take a stroll back in time by heading through the city center, into the town’s golden medieval age. Enjoy the St-Étienne Cathedral, which boasts the largest cupolas in France and a holy relic, and take a walk across the 14th Century Valentré Bridge for a view of this city that is almost completely surrounded by water.
From Cahors we will take an excursion to the nearby breathtaking cliff-side village of Saint-Cirque-Lapopie, voted France’s favorite village in 2012. The charm of this medieval village may make you want to stay in France and become an artist. As a compromise you can take all the photos your heart desires. Sleep in Cahors.
Today we head further south to Toulouse (a.k.a. La “Ville Rose”), buzzing with energy and a cultural vibe that reveals our proximity to Spain. We’ll visit the Saint-Sernin Basilica, a Romanesque work of art in its own right, and the Couvent des Jacobins, whose church houses a relic of Saint Thomas Aquinas. We’ll also make our way to the Place du Capitole town square and the Old Quarter, lined with shops and cafés. For some quiet time, take a stroll along the peaceful Canal du Midi. Next, we are off to Carcassonne, a beautiful medieval city surrounded by a double-walled defense system and 53 towers. We will check out the city in the late afternoon and enjoy a French feast for dinner. Sleep in Carcassonne.
This morning we will take a tour of Carcassonne, with a special look at La Cité, the historic fortress. The fortress has a history that dates back over two and a half thousand years, and is one of the largest fortresses still standing in Europe. Beyond the important historical experience of Carcassonne, there is also plenty of shopping, and even a regular show of medieval jousting for entertainment! In the afternoon we will have a chance to sample wine from the region in a wine class with pairings. Sleep in Carcassonne.
Today we head to Barcelona for our final stop on our trip. We will visit Antoni Gaudi's still-unfinished Sagrada Familia, stroll the elegant Ramblas, and wander the narrow alleys of Barrio Gotico. Tonight you will experience Flamenco, the beautiful and sensual dance of Southern Spain! Sleep in Barcelona.
If you wish to stay in Barcelona a little longer, there is a trip extension option that will allow you to explore more of Barcelona’s architecture, its bustling streets, and beautiful beaches. Stay Sunday and Monday, and fly home Tuesday, Oct. 11th