Day 1 - Saturday, October 16: Flight from Toronto
Late evening departure from Toronto to Barcelona, with Air Canada. Dinner and a light breakfast will be served on board.
Day 2 - Sunday, October 17: Seu d’Urgell in the Pyrenees
Arrival around noon in Barcelona. A private coach will be waiting to take us north into the Pyrenees mountains. Arrival in the picturesque Catalan town of Seu d’Urgell, where we check into one of Spain’s famous state-owned hotels known as “paradors” (https://www.parador.es/en/paradores/parador-de-la-seu-durgell). Check in, and free time to settle in. How about a swim in the hotel’s indoor pool before our leisurely early-evening walk through the town’s quaint old quarter and dinner in the hotel’s restaurant?
Day 3 - Monday, October 18: Andorra
After breakfast, visit Seu d’Urgell’s Cathedral and beautiful cloister. Then we motor high into the Pyrenees to visit the miniature state of Andorra, whose twin sovereigns are the French president and the bishop of Seu d’Urgell! In recent decades, Andorra, formerly a sleepy mountain village, has metamorphosed into a booming city – and duty-free shopping paradise! Return to Seu in late afternoon and opportunity to check out the annual Pyrenees cheese fair being held in the town! No group dinner this evening.
Day 4 - Tuesday, October 19: Sort, Pont de Sert and Bagnères de Luchon
Today, breathtaking mountain scenery awaits us as we motor via the towns of Sort into the valley of the Noguera Pallresa, allegedly the most powerful river in the Pyrenees, and through a wild limestone gorge, the Congost de Collegats, to Pobla de Segur. We continue to Pont de Sert and, if time permits, take a sidetrip into the Boi Valley, famous for its Romanesque churches, collectively classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On to the mountain resort of Vielha in the Aran Valley, for a mid-afternoon coffee break before crossing into France. Arrival in time for dinner in Bagnères de Luchon, an attractive spa situated in a valley surrounded by majestic Pyrenean mountain peaks! Ever since Roman times, the local hot water springs have served as a magnet to visitors, including celebrities such as Flaubert, Bismarck, and Matahari. Accommodation in the 3-star/superior-tourist class Hotel Panoramic, located on the main street, and dinner in the hotel (https://www.hotelpanoramic.fr/en).
Day 5 - Wednesday, October 20: The Pyrenees
A day of sightseeing in the spectacular Pyrenees, the highlight being the summit of the formidable Col du Tourmalet (alt. 2,115m), the highest paved pass in this mountain range, often featured in the prestigious Tour de France bicycle race. Return to Bagnères de Luchon in mid-afternoon and time to explore the town on your own, shop, visit the thermal springs, or take a cable car to the Superbagnères mountain peak (and famous ski station) overlooking the town from an altitude of over 2,200 meter above sea level. No group dinner this evening.
Day 6 - Thursday, October 21: Toulousse and Cahors
Departure after breakfast. We motor north and visit Saint Bertrand de Comminges, a quaint medieval borough and formerly an important sanctuary along one of the four traditional pilgrims’ roads to Compostela that crisscrossed France, namely the Via Tolosana or “Toulouse Road.” Visit to the unusual Romanesque church and cloisters. We are now in the French province of Languedoc, in many ways the heartland of Occitania and our next stop is in its capital, the vibrant “pink city” of Toulouse. Time for lunch and a leisurely sightseeing tour by little train, with highlights such as Place du Capitole, the scenic banks of the Garonne, the Canal du Midi, the 16th-century Pont Neuf, and two superb architectural creations from the Middle Ages, the Romanesque Basilica St. Sernin, possibly the most beautiful pilgrimage church on the road to Compostela, and the Gothic Church of the Jacobins, i.e. the Dominicans, which contains the tomb of the famous Dominican scholar, St. Thomas Aquinas. In the afternoon we continue north into the small but very pretty neighbouring Occitanian province of Quercy. Our destination is the capital, Cahors, spectacularly situated on a meander of the river Lot. Accommodation in the centrally located superior tourist-class/3-star Hotel La Chartreuse (http://www.hotel-la-chartreuse.com) and dinner of regional specialties in its restaurant.
Day 7 - Friday, October 22: Cahors
Morning sightseeing tour of Cahors, where the major attractions are the ancient quarter around the cathedral, the Fontaine des Chartreux, a spring that used to be a place of worship to the Celts who lived here in Antiquity, and above all the impressive fortified, and perfectly preserved, medieval bridge, the Pont Valentré, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most photographed monuments in France! Afternoon free to shop and/or explore the town on your own.
Day 8 - Saturday, October 23: Perigord
Excursion into the wonderful neighbouring province of Périgord, the highlight being a visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lascaux, home of the world’s most famous prehistoric cave paintings, estimated to be about 17,000 years old and mostly depicting large animals hunted by stone-age humans. Because the cave itself is not open to the public, we visit a high-quality, identical reproduction (https://archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/en). We also tour the very scenic Périgord stretch of the Dordogne river valley, with pretty villages such as Beynac and Domme, and visit the gardens of the Château of Marqueyssac, with their amazing topiaries (https://marqueyssac.com/?lang=en), as well as the very attractive old town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, bursting with shops selling local delicacies. Return to Cahors in late afternoon.
Day 9 - Sunday, October 24: Dordogne River Valley
Excursion into the eastern, Quercy stretch of the Dordogne river valley, sprinkled with castles and pretty villages such as Souillac, La Treyne, Belcastel, Creysse, Carennac, and Castelnau; many pundits believe this region to be the most picturesque in all of France! We return to Cahors VIA a rugged Causse, a limestone “agro-pastoral cultural landscape” classified as a UNESCO site (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1153), via the towns of Gramat and Labastide-Murat, birthplace of Joachim Murat, one of Napoleon’s generals and his brother-in-law.
Day 10 - Monday, October 25: Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
This morning we tour the Lot river valley(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUs-5rTDZTQ), with as highlight a visit to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, perched on a rock overlooking tall white cliffs, a village that may claim to be one of the prettiest in all of France! (https://www.tourisme-lot.com/en/the-must-sees/the-most-beautiful-villages-of-the-lot/saint-cirq-lapopie-majestic-standing-high-above-the-lot-valley). Afternoon at leisure in Cahors. Dinner in the hotel.
Day 11 - Tuesday, October 26: Rocamadour
Departure from Cahors after breakfast. We motor to Villefranche-de-Rouergue, one of the many fortified towns that were built in this area in the Middle Ages, many of them during the Hundred Years’ War. On to Conques, arguably the prettiest of all towns and villages along the roads to Santiago de Compostela in France! The major attraction here is the magnificent Romanesque Abbey Church of Ste. Foy, featuring fine sculptures, a cloister, and a sumptuous collection of relics and other treasures, most famously the 10th-century statue-reliquary of the church’s patron, Ste. Foy, herself. In the afternoon we motor via Figeac and Gramat to Rocamadour, another medieval sanctuary on the Compostela Road, clinging precariously to a rocky cliff which rises dramatically from the floor of a verdant river valley. Dinner of regional specialties, and overnight in the Imagebest hotel in the village, the Beau-Site (https://www.beausite-rocamadour.com/en).
Day 12 - Wednesday, October 27: Rocamadour
Morning sightseeing in Rocamadour, with attractions such as the Chapel of the Black Madonna, the Cave of the Hermit, the Sword of Roland, the amazing panorama from the castle walls, etc. Rest of the day free to shop and/or explore on your own.
Day 13 - Thursday, October 28: Rousillon and Perpigan
Departure from Rocamadour after breakfast. We motor south to the world-famous medieval town of Carcassonne, still surrounded by its mighty walls and fortifications, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will have time there for sightseeing as well as lunch. In the afternoon, we continue into French Catalonia, a.k.a Rousillon, a small but picturesque region tucked away between the mountains of the Pyrenees and the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Late afternoon arrival in the regional capital, Perpignan, where we will stay for two nights in the centrally-located 4-star Hotel Mercure. (https://all.accor.com/hotel/1160/index.en.shtml?dateIn=&nights=&compositions=1&stayplus=false#origin=mercure).
Day 14 - Friday, October 29: Perpignan
Morning walking tour of Perpignan’s picturesque old town, followed by a leisurely exploration of the rugged but beautiful Côte Vermeille, or “Ruby Coast,” similar to Spain’s famous Costa Brava just south of the border, and dotted with resorts such as Argelès, a favourite haunt of painters such as Picasso and Matisse. Return to our hotel in mid-afternoon, and free time to relax before our final group dinner in a typical restaurant.
Day 15 - Saturday, October 30: Return flight to Toronto
After breakfast, short transfer to Barcelona Airport in time for the return flight to Toronto with Air Canada, departing around noon and arriving in the late afternoon.