Spend two nights in an elegant, charming Left Bank hotel with breakfast each morning. You are free to see Paris on your own if you have favorite places you want to return to, or you can let us be your guides and take you around to our favorite places. We have many, many, many!
Driving south from Paris, our first stop is the magnificent 13th Century cathedral of Chartres, known for its spectacular stained glass windows. We then enter the Loire Valley and visit Chambord Château, the first Renaissance château to be built in France and a masterpiece of 16th Century architecture. We spend the next five nights in a beautiful 16th Century manor house in the country village of Truyes in the heart of the Loire Valley. This is an ideal location from which we can visit several magnificent châteaux, stopping in medieval picturesque towns along the Indre, Loire, and Vienne rivers, and exploring ancient streets where our French guides tell us stories of the kings and queens who once walked there. The Loire Valley is also known for its many fine wines, and our explorations take us to several private wine tastings in the small caves only the local Tourangeaux know about. Our hosts are warm, charming, and add greatly to our experience.
After visiting the lovely Renaissance château Azay-le-Rideau, we have a guided walking tour of Chinon, steeped in history from the days when the Plantagenet King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had their largest castle here. We'll walk in the footsteps of Joan of Arc, who came here to try to convince the Dauphin Charles to take the French crown. On the way home we stop at a Chinon winery to taste the fine reds famous throughout the world.
This morning we visit the medieval town of Loches and its historic château where so much changed in France's history. Most exciting is the Donjon with its display of outrageous torture instruments. In the village of Loches we shop in the market for many varieties of local cheeses, hams and salami, olives, pâtés, French pastries, fruits, and wine. We then have an authentic gourmet French pique-nique. In the afternoon we visit the most famous château of the Loire Valley, Chenonceau. We round off the day with a visit to a fabulous Montlouis winery, where the owner joins us for a thorough tasting.
Today we take a scenic drive along the Loire River to one of the oldest châteaux, Langeais. This impressive fortress, surrounded by a moat, is furnished with medieval antiques and tapestries. The room where Anne de Bretagne and Charles VIII were married in the 15th Century is set up with wax figures in authentic costumes to make you think you are at the wedding. We have lunch in a charming creperie overlooking the river, and then visit an interesting troglodyte (underground) village. We can see many troglodyte houses built into the cliffs as we drive through the countryside. We'll stop for another wine tasting on the way home. Dinner tonight is a gourmet affair at a magnificent 16th Century château.
Today we visit the historic city of Tours, ancient capital of Touraine. We'll see the Basilica where Saint Martin was supposedly buried in the 4th Century and a tower built by Charlemagne when he was crowned in 815. We'll visit the markets where the best bargains are to be found, and we'll have lunch in a medieval square, Place Plumereau, surrounded by half-timbered houses. We return home to our manor's kitchen, where our host gives us a French cooking class. We'll enjoy our chef d'oeuvre for dinner.
After breakfast and good-byes, we leave Truyes and head northeast to the Champagne region. Here we see a different way of life, where champagne producers completely dominate small villages and where with the exception of perhaps flowers, champagne is king. Our first destination is the medieval town of Troyes. After checking into our lovely hotel in the heart of the historic center, we enjoy a guided walking tour of the ancient part of the town with its narrow cobblestone streets, half timbered houses and many old churches. After a toast to champagne, we enjoy a lovely dinner of local specialties.
Driving along the "Route touristique du Champagne," surrounded by rolling vineyards, we explore this enchanting region, touring large and small cellars and educating our palates to learn what makes Champagne's product so unique. In Epernay, Champagne's unofficial capital, we drive up the splendid Avenue de Champagne to visit a famous, traditional champagne cellar and, of course, have a tasting. We also visit the picturesque village of Hautvillers, where we pay homage to Dom Perignon, inventor of champagne, by visiting his 17th Century tomb. Next we take a barge ride on the Marne River, passing beautiful little villages so peaceful it's hard to imagine this was the center of some of the worst fighting in World War I. Our hotel for these two nights is in a tiny champagne village surrounded by vineyards and boasts a gastronomic restaurant. One evening, we enjoy a gourmet dinner in a beautiful 17th Century château.
Today we visit Reims, with its magnificent cathedral where the kings of France were crowned for centuries. We have a tour of Château Pommery, one of Champagne's oldest cellars, where barrels are still kept in the deep caves dug by the Romans for the same purpose. We later follow the Route du Champagne along beautiful rolling vineyards to the tiny village of Oeuilly, where we visit a family owned champagne winery with exquisitely fine products. Our final destination is a magnificent château, where we spend our last night. Our farewell dinner is fit for kings and queens. In the morning we are a short drive to the Paris CDG Airport for our return flight home.
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