Discover the essence of France, peeling back layers of history and immersing yourself in local culture as you make your way through magnificent landscapes from the Dordogne to the Loire Valley, via Normandy and Paris, visiting six World Heritage sites along the way.
Immerse yourself in the richness of French culture, the breadth of its history and the beauty of its artistic and architectural treasures on a trip to five distinct regions of France. Explore the ramparts of Carcassonne and Albi and immerse yourself in prehistory among the cliffside villages of the Dordogne region; then venture to the sumptuous chateaux of the Loire. Retrace centuries of history in Normandy, visiting the medieval abbey of Mont Saint-Michel and the poignant sites of the Second World War along the coast. Immerse yourself in the review of the effervescent cities of Paris and Toulouse on guided tours, and discover the hospitality and gastronomy of provincial France.
- Loire: From your base in an 18th-century manor house in Saumur, discover a romantic landscape dotted with historic châteaux. Visit Château de Chenonceau, a Renaissance masterpiece that spans the Cher River; Château du Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years; and the World Heritage site of Fontevraud Abbey.
- Normandy: Climb the cobbled streets to the fortified abbey of Mont Saint-Michel and admire the famous Bayeux tapestry. Then discover the extraordinary events of D-Day by visiting Utah Beach, Sainte-Mère-Église, Pointe du Hoc, the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach and Le Mémorial museum in Caen.
Day 1 and 2 - Depart your country for Toulouse, France
Arrive in the charismatic university city of Toulouse and settle into your hotel. Take the afternoon to relax or stroll through the city center. Afterwards, gather for a welcome dinner and briefing on the journey ahead. (D)
Day 3 - Toulouse and Carcassonne
Visit the fortified town of Carcassonne, set on a hill overlooking the surrounding plains. Dotted with turrets and surrounded by ramparts, this fortified town, which dates back to the Romans, looks like something out of a fairy tale. Venture down its narrow streets, discovering the centuries of restoration that have earned the city World Heritage status. Return to Toulouse for an afternoon at leisure (B).
Day 4 - Albi and Sarlat
Head north today, stopping off in the historic city of Albi, known as the birthplace of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and also the center of the Cathars, a dissident religious sect that was targeted by the Crusaders in the 13th century. During your stay in this splendid pink city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, be sure to discover the treasures of the fortified Palais de la Berbie, home to Toulouse-Lautrec's precious creations, as well as the majestic Cathédrale Ste-Cécile, considered the largest brick cathedral in the world. Continue on to the rugged karst landscapes of the Dordogne river valley. Arrive in Sarlat-la-Canéda, a superb medieval city of half-timbered houses in ochre hues, and check into your downtown hotel (B, D).
Day 5 - Sarlat and Lascaux IV
This morning, visit the Lascaux IV International Rock Art Center, an exact replica of the original cave where prehistoric paintings were discovered by local teenagers in 1940. After lunch at a charming local inn, enjoy a private guided tour of Château des Milandes, a 15th-century château that was once the home of French-American artist Josephine Baker. Discover the life of this remarkable woman, who sang, danced and served in the French Resistance during the Second World War. Return to Sarlat in the late afternoon and evening at leisure (B, L).