Days 1-4: We meet at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and together take the RER train into downtown Paris. We drop off our luggage at the hostel, located in a fabulous neighborhood between the famous Boulevard Saint Germain des Prés and the rue Monge. Off we go to explore the city! We are based on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter just a short walk from the Seine River and Notre Dame.
Jean knows Paris very well and can lead you around to all her favorite places. Or you can explore on your own and meet us for dinner. All breakfasts, lunches and dinners are included in the tour price, or we can give you "lunch money" if you prefer to go off on your own.
The following is a sample of the sights we can see during our four days in Paris:
- Notre Dame Cathedral, including a climb up the tower (just like the Hunchback) to look at the view of the city from the roof
- La Conciergerie--the prison where Marie Antoinette spent her last days before going to the guillotine
- L'Eglise Sainte Chapelle, built by Louis IX to show off the relics he brought back from the Crusade-has magnificent original 12th century stained glass windows
- La Tour Eiffel--of course you'll want to climb instead of taking the elevator!
- An evening bateau mouche ride on the Seine
- The Musée du Louvre--visit the highlights
- The Musée d'Orsay--more French Impressionists than you've ever seen
- The Musée Rodin--his Parisian palatial home filled with his sculptures
- Les Invalides--Napoleon's tomb and the Musée de l'Armée, complete with replica of the room where Napoleon died
- L'Arc de Triomphe--climb to the top for a fabulous view
- Walk along the Champs Elysées and do some window shopping
- Visit Montmartre--the hill at the north of Paris with the Basilica Sacré Cœur and la Place du Tertre (great souvenir shopping)
- L'Eglise Saint Germain des Prés, the oldest church in Paris
- Le Panthéon, modeled after the Roman version containing tombs of famous Frenchmen
- Excursion by train to Versailles to see the palace of Louis XIV
- Walk through the medieval Latin Quarter; visit the Musée Cluny, built on top of Roman baths
- Visit a local French graduate student (friend of ours) and have him show us around his neighborhood (the 5th Arrondissement)
- Musée Picasso, hundreds of original works by Picasso, housed in a gorgeous Renaissance mansion in Le Marais, a beautiful neighborhood north of the Seine
We will have Paris museum passes, included in the tour price, so we will have many wonderful sights to choose from.
Day 5: Today we drive south out of Paris, through Orleans, Chateauroux, and Limoges, into the Aquitaine region of Southwest France and the Dordogne River Valley. We arrive at our destination, the idyllic medieval village of Rocamadour, where our home for the next four days is a beautiful country inn on a sheep farm. By the time we arrive we'll be ready for a swim in the pool, followed by dinner and then a walk in the moonlight. If there is no moon, the stars are so bright you'll feel like you are in a planetarium.
Day 6: This morning we visit the amazing village of Rocamadour, built into the side of a mountain back in the 7th century. We'll explore this fascinating village and hear of legends such as how King Arthur's sword came to be stuck in a rock (you can see it!), the Black Madonna, to whom pilgrims have come here to pray for a thousand years; Saint Amadour, whose body was miraculously preserved for six hundred years; the 1,200 year old bell that rings whenever a sailor is saved from a shipwreck, and lots more. We'll walk the same ancient steps that many famous pilgrims walked before us: the King of England, Henry II Plantagenet (husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine), his chancellor Thomas à Becket, his granddaughter Blanche of Castille, her son, the King of France, Louis IX, and thousands more.
After lunch we visit the third largest cave in Europe, the Gouffre de Padirac, where we take a boat ride on an underground lake and see some spectacular stalactites and stalagmites.
Day 7: Today we take a beautiful drive through the Quercy Valley to visit the fascinating Pech Merle Cave. Open to the public since 1924, this exceptional site contains nearly 500 prehistoric paintings and engravings on the walls dating from the Final Perigordian period to the Middle Magdalenian. We'll see clearly defined pictures of horses, mammoths, bison, ibex, fish, and something rare: humans, all dating back 20,000 years.
We leave the prehistoric world to have lunch in one of the prettiest villages in all France: St. Cirq la Popie. This picturesque hilltop village is a delight to explore, with its winding medieval streets, its vistas looking out over the valley, tiny craft shops, a beautiful little medieval church, and of couse a castle. We return to our sheep farm in time for a swim before dinner.
Day 8: This morning we drive to another beautiful little medieval town, Sarlat. This town of twisting cobblestone streets, 14th century houses and no cars is so picturesque it is often used as a movie set. Once we were visiting while they were making The Three Musketeers, and the streets were full of costumed knights, ladies, and horses!
After lunch we visit my favorite castle in all France: Château Beynac. This was the setting for the recent movie Timeline, which is a great introduction to the architecture of ancient French castles. Beynac was an important fortress during the time when Richard the Lionheart was fighting the French in this region, and half the castles of the Dordogne were French and the other half English. Before the end of this tour you will know many stories about Richard the Lionheart, his parents Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine, his brother the bad King John of Robinhood fame, and lots of true French history come to life.
After our castle adventure we take a barge ride on the Dordogne River in the lovely little village of La Roque Gageac. When we return to Rocamadour at the end of the day, if the wind is right, you have the option of taking a balloon ride over the Alzou Gorge and neighboring countryside. If you have never tried this, it is truly a magical experience you will never forget!
Day 9: After breakfast we pack up the vans, say a sad Adieu to our wonderful hosts, and drive north to the Loire Valley. Our next destination is an equally beautiful and charming country manor house in the tiny village of Truyes, right in the heart of château country. Our hosts, Christian and Linda, are former sommelier and chef for the famous Parisian chef Alain Ducasse, so here you are in for a real treat! Dinner tonight will be wonderful, and Christian will explain to the adults the outstanding wines for which the Loire Valley is famous. This region is also famous for its wonderful cheeses, its fruits and vegetables (everything will be ripe!), and its fabulous desserts. You won't go to bed hungry after six courses.
Day 10: This morning we visit the wonderful market of Amboise, the royal château, and Le Clos Lucé, the villa King François I loaned to his friend Leonardo da Vinci, where he spent the last three years of his life. In the beautiful park outside Leonardo's house is a magical wonderland where many of the 16th century drawings Leonardo had made have been turned into real machines that actually work! Did you know that Leonardo designed an airplane 400 years before the Wright Brothers?
After a French picnic lunch with delicious cheese, bread, and pastries we got in the market, we'll visit the most famous château in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau. This magnificent structure was the work of two rival women in the 16th century-Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers. Catherine was the wife of King Henry II and Diane was his mistriss. Each lived in this château at a different time and tried to make it the most beautiful building in the world. While the teenagers go back to Truyes for a swim, the adults can go for a Montlouis wine tasting tour. We'll have another wonderful dinner tonight by Christian and Linda.
Day 11: The Loire Valley is also known for its many caves. The rock in this region, called tuffeau, is very soft and easily carved, so men were living in caves and using them for growing mushrooms and storing wine for over 1,000 years. This morning we visit a very interesting "troglodyte" (underground) village, where people and animals all lived in caves underground up until 50 years ago.
Next we visit the historic village of Chinon, once home to the largest castle in Europe during the reign of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th century. Also in Chinon is a famous cave where Queen Radegonde and a religious hermit lived in the 6th century. We'll see this cave at the top of the hill, then visit the ruins of the castle of Henry and Eleanor, and then walk down the castle road into the little village. Here we can follow the footsteps of Joan of Arc, who came to Chinon in 1423 to beg Charles to accept the crown of France. You will learn this story, and you will always remember Joan when you see where she first stepped down from her horse upon entering the town; where she prayed in the church which is still standing; and the room where Charles called a meeting of all the lords of the region to raise the money for Joan's army. It's a great story!
We return to Truyes for an entertaining French cooking class by our host, Linda. We'll have time for a swim before dinner.
Day 12: On our last day we leave the Loire Valley and drive north toward the region of Brie, made famous by its wonderful cheeses. We'll visit a cheese farm to see how the cheese is still made in the traditional way, and have a farewell dinner in the lovely town of Coulommiers. Our last night is spent at a charming bed and breakfast, where our wonderful friendly hosts will make you practice your French because they don't speak any English!
Day 13: In the morning Annie will make us a wonderful French breakfast with home made bread, croissants, jams, and three kinds of Brie! We leave Brie and drive to the Charles de Gaulle Airport for the return flight.
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