Day 1 - Thursday, May 10:
Evening departure from Toronto to Paris, with Air France. An aperitif (also Champagne!), dinner and a light breakfast will be served on board.
Day 2 - Friday, May 11:
Transfer along a southbound expressway to Bourges, the beautiful ancient capital of Berry Province, located in the geographical centre of France and check into the centrally-located superior tourist-class Hotel Christina
. In late afternoon or early evening, leisurely walking tour of the old town, focusing on the wonderful St. Etienne Cathedral followed by a welcome dinner in a restaurant of the old town.
Day 3 - Saturday, May 12:
Morning excursion to the 12th-century Priory of Notre Dame d’Orsan
and its marvellous medieval garden, restored on the basis of the monks’ manuscripts and illuminations. Return to Bourges, and the rest of the day is free to shop or explore the old town on your own. Your options here include visits to the Palace of Jacques Coeur
, opulent Gothic residence of a famous 15th-century merchant and politician and/or some of the city’s fine museum such as the Berry Museum and the Museum of Decorative Arts
. No group dinner this evening.
Day 4 - Sunday, May 13:
This morning we motor south to Vichy, one of the most prestigious spas in France, but also residence of the collaborator-regime of Marshal Pétain during WWII. Tour of the parks, fine hotels and villas, etc., and free time for lunch. In the afternoon we continue to the city of Clermont-Ferrand, capital of the province of Auvergne, known in France as the “city of tires” since it is the home of one of the country’s most famous corporations, Michelin! Dinner and overnight in the centrally-located Holiday Inn.
Day 5 - Monday, May 14:
Morning walking tour of Clermont-Ferrand, with focus on the historical city centre and its two impressive ancient sanctuaries, the Gothic Cathedral and the Romanesque Basilica of Notre Dame du Port, the latter one of the architectural jewels along the pilgrims’ roads to Compostela within France, collectively classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
; other places of interest include Place de la Victoire, with the statue of Pope Urban II, who launched the first crusade here in 1095, the picturesque district surrounding the St. Pierre Market, and the Renaissance-style Amboise Fountain. The afternoon is free to shop and/or explore the city on your own. No group dinner this evening.
Day 6 - Tuesday, May 15:
Full-day excursion into the Regional Park of the Volcanoes of Auvergne, with as absolute highlight a trip (by train) to the top (at 1,465m) of the Puy-de-Dome, where (weather conditions permitting!) we will enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the city of Clermont-Ferrand at your feet and many volcanoes in the distance
! Our tour will also include some or all of the following: the spa of Mont Dore; the fortified town of Besse-en-Chandesse; lakes such as those of Chambon and Pavin; the Romanesque monastery of Orcival; and the cheese-producing centre of St. Nectaire. A hearty lunch of regional culinary specialties is also included! Return to our hotel in late afternoon.
Day 7 - Wednesday, May 16:
Today we visit two of France’s finest examples of Romanesque art and architecture, the Basilica of St. Julien in Brioude and the Abbey Church of St. Robert in the village of Chaise-Dieu. Then we continue via the fortress of Polignac to Le Puy-en-Velay, a beautiful old town dramatically nestled in the huge crater of an extinct volcano. Le Puy was the starting point of one of the four roads used by pilgrims to cross France on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Accommodation at the centrally-located Hotel Ibis Styles
, this evening’s dinner will likely feature a famous local specialty, green lentils (lentilles du Puy).
Day 8 - Thursday, May 17:
Morning sightseeing in Le Puy, with the highlight of our visit being the unusual and extremely interesting Cathedral
, perched on top of a hill dominating the town and famous for its Black Madonna as well as spectacular architecture. Afterwards we explore the quaint, labyrinthine old town, and it will also be possible to climb to the sanctuary known as St. Michael of the Needle
, situated on top of a very steep, 80m-high rock of volcanic origin and related to other famous sanctuaries devoted to the Archangel, such as the Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy and Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. In the afternoon we motor south, cross from Auvergne into the region of Gévaudan, and enter the amazing Gorges du Tarn, a kind of French version of the Grand Canyon! Dinner and overnight in Hotel Relais du Moulin
in the very pretty town of Ste Énimie.
Day 9 - Friday, May 18:
Today is free to relax and enjoy the sights of Ste Énimie and the Gorges du Tarn. A leisurely walk to explore the town and the scenic banks of the Tarn (and take lots of pictures) is de rigueur, but it will likely also be possible to rent a bicycle and/or enjoy a kayak trip on the river. If the weather cooperates, this may also be a perfect day for a picnic! This evening, dinner again in the restaurant of our hotel.
Day 10 - Saturday, May 19:
Leisurely excursion into the Cévennes, an isolated and rugged mountain chain punctuated by peaks such as the Mont Aigoual and Mont Lozère and littered with picturesque towns and villages such as Meyrueis and Florac. Return to Ste Énimie in late afternoon. No group dinner this evening.
Day 11 - Sunday, May 20:
Departure from Ste Énimie after breakfast. We enjoy more of the superb scenery of the Gorges du Tarn as we make our west westward to the city of Millau and into yet another isolated and little-known province of France, Rouergue. Just outside Millau, we stop to admire a marvel of French engineering, but designed in collaboration with the English architect Sir Norman Foster: the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world, rising as high as 343 metres (1,125 ft) above its base of the structure. Onto Estaing, a town boasting a huge chateau as well as a Gothic bridge. Following the rugged valley of the Lot, predictably known in French as the Gorges du Lot, we arrive in the picturesque old town of Entraygues-sur-Truyère, situated amidst a forest, vineyard, and orchard-covered hills at the confluence of the rivers Truyère and Lot. Dinner and overnight in the excellent 3-star hotel La Rivière
Day 12 - Monday, May 21:
After a leisurely breakfast, we head for nearby (25km) 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. After our tour of the town, there will be plenty of time to explore on your own, take pictures, even have lunch. In the afternoon we return to Entraygues, and rest of the day at leisure. No group dinner this evening.
Day 13 - Tuesday, May 22:
Departure after breakfast. We motor to Peyrusse-le-Roc, once an important and prosperous centre of silver and lead mining and a military stronghold, but now a medieval ghost town with ruins of a castle, churches, city walls, and houses of the long-departed residents. Onto the quaint Villefranche-de-Rouergue for a little shopping and time for lunch. In the afternoon, scenic drive through yet another river valley, the Gorges de l’Aveyron, before our arrival in Cordes-sur-Ciel, one of the best preserved and most beautiful medieval towns in all of France, perched high on a hill overlooking the vineyards of the Languedoc area. Accommodation in the 3-star Hotel La Métairie
. No group dinner this evening.
Day 14 - Wednesday, May 23:
Morning visit to Cordes-sur-Ciel, with its ancient city walls and gates, medieval and Renaissance houses, churches, covered market, and of course wonderful views of the surrounding countryside! Afterwards there will be ample time for exploring on your own, visiting museums, taking pictures and shopping. In the afternoon, you may want to stay in Cordes, or you may want to join our side trip to nearby Albi, cradle of the mysterious medieval heresy whose members were known as Cathars or “Albigensians,” for a visit to the magnificent and fascinating, fortress-like red brick Cathedral. Return to our hotel and an “Au Revoir”dinner at the restaurant of our hotel.
Day 15 - Thursday, May 24:
After breakfast, transfer to Toulouse Airport in time for the return flight to Toronto, via Paris CDG Airport, arriving in late afternoon.