15 days, from Wednesday, May 8, to Wednesday, May 22, 2018
A leisurely coach tour inspired by the course of the Loire River, descending from the heights of the spectacular (but extinct) volcanoes of Auvergne in south-central France, to the Atlantic Ocean near the historic seaport of Nantes, capital of Brittany. Most of the Loire Valley is one huge and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site, a veritable “Garden of France”, boasting countless picturesque villages and medieval towns, fairytale castles, fine wines, and exciting episodes of French and indeed world history such as the Hundred Years’ War. This tour features comfortable 3- and 4-star hotels, excellent food and wine, and will be escorted by historian Jacques R. Pauwels, PhD, who will lecture on the history of the land.
Evening departure from Toronto via Montreal to Lyons with Air Canada.
Late morning arrival at Lyons Airport, where a private coach will be waiting for us. We motor into France’s Massif Central or Central Mountain Range and pause in Le Puy-en-Velay, a magnificent old town dramatically nestled in the huge crater of an extinct volcano. For many centuries, Le Puy was the starting point of one of the four roads used by medieval pilgrims to cross France on their way to Santiago de Compostela, a fact that is reflected architecturally by the Cathedral and another ancient church known of Saint 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 continue further south to the picturesque village of Meyrueis, situated in the foothills of the Cévennes Mountains. Accommodation for three nights in the traditionally French, family-run three-star Hotel Mont Aigoual. Dinner in the restaurant of our hotel.
Today we explore the Gorges du Tarn, a kind of French version of the Grand Canyon, smaller, of course, but just as scenic and photogenic, and dotted with picturesque villages and castles. In the town of Sainte-Énimie, it will hopefully be possible to enjoy an optional boat tour on the river Tarn. If the weather collaborates, this may also be a perfect day for a picnic! This evening, dinner again in the restaurant of our hotel.
Departure after breakfast. We enjoy superb scenery as we motor through the heartland of mountainous Auvergne, known for its many extinct volcanoes, a landscape recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The most famous of these volcanoes is the nearly 1,500-meter-high Puy-de-Dome which - weather conditions permitting! – we will ascend (by train) to inspect the impressive remains of a Roman temple and enjoy even more spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area! Then we leave the highlands of Auvergne and descend into the valley of the Loire, arriving in late afternoon in the ancient town of Nevers. Dinner and overnight in the four-star/first-class Hotel Mercure Pont de Loire, situated on the banks of the great river and within walking distance of the old town. (Please note that a limited number of rooms with a view of the Loire are available on a first-come-first-served basis at a supplement of $40 per person for two nights.)
This morning is free for individual exploring in the old town of Nevers. Some of us will want to visit the convent church of Saint Gildard, featuring the tomb of Saint Bernadette, of Lourdes fame, who died here in 1925 and whose incorrupt body is enshrined in a glass and bronze casket. Also worth a visit are the early-medieval Saint-Cyr Cathedral with its modern stained-glass windows; the baroque Sainte-Marie Chapel on Place Carnot; the Ducal Palace, claimed to be the earliest off all Loire chateaux; the bridge across the Loire River, offering great views of the city; and the Musée de la Faïence et des Beaux-Arts, a fine museum of glazed earthenware, a Nevers specialty since the 16th century. In the afternoon, excursion along the banks of the Loire to the nearby town of La Charité for a visit to the Church of Sainte-Croix-Notre-Dame, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. No group dinner this evening.
Departure from Nevers after breakfast. We follow the Loire River northward to the pretty town of Sancerre, perched on top of a vineyard-covered hill rising steeply from the Loire lowland. Sancerre, where sauvignon blanc is king, is of course one of the most highly regarded separate appellations within the big family of Loire Valley wines. After a degustation, free time for lunch. In the afternoon we continue into the long stretch of the Loire Valley that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its heartland is the province of Touraine, a,k.a. the “Garden of France”. Overnight in a 3- or 4-star Hotel Hampton by Hilton in the region’s capital city, Tours, also nestled on the banks of the great river. Dinner in the hotel or nearby restaurant.
Morning walking tour of the historical centre of Tours, with sights such as the Gothic Cathedral, the remains of the huge Romanesque Basilica of Saint Martin, and the medieval district around Place Plumereau. Afterwards there will still be time to explore the beautiful Wednesday morning flower market in the lively Halles district! Rest of the day at leisure.
Full-day excursion into the surrounding countryside. We start with a visit to the Chateau of Chenonceau, built like a bridge across the River Cher, arguably the most impressive of all castles and palaces in this area, deservedly known as the Chateaux Country. On to the pretty old town of Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life, for visits to the Clos Lucé, his residence, now a Leonardo museum, and the royal chateau, where he lies buried in a small chapel. Also free time to explore the picturesque town on your own. Return to Tours via the wine village of Vouvray, where, if time permits, we may stop for a tasting. Today, group lunch OR dinner in a typical restaurant.
Another day in the Garden of France. In Villandry, we visit the superb gardens of the local chateau, then we continue to Ussé to view the village’s romantic castle, inspiration for the story of “Sleeping Beauty” as well as Walt Disney’s fairytale castle. On to the Monastery of Fontevraud, final resting place of English monarchs of the Plantagenet Dynasty, including Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard Lionheart. Return to Tours via the medieval town of Chinon, whose mighty medieval fortress witnessed a dramatic episode in the life of Joan of Arc.
Departure from Tours after breakfast. We motor westward to Angers, capital of the historical province of Anjou. Visit to the massive moated castle, dating back to the 14th century, symbol of the city; it houses the world-famous Apocalypse series of tapestries, one of the world’s finest surviving medieval works of art. Late afternoon arrival in the town of Nantes, situated near the mouth of the Loire, just across the border of the province of Brittany. Accommodation for three nights in the centrally located superior-tourist class/three-star Hotel Ibis Styles. Dinner in the hotel or in a nearby restaurant.
After breakfast, transfer to Paris CDG Airport (115km) in time for the 1PM departure of Air Canada’s non-stop flight to Toronto.
- Flights from Toronto to Lyons (via Montreal) back (non-stop) from Paris CDG, with Air Canada, including carriage of one suitcase; - Accommodation based on double occupancy in superior tourist-class (3-star) hotels; the single room supplement is $795, but only a limited number of single rooms are available!); - Breakfast daily and a total of eight 3-course dinners (or full lunches); - Overland transportation by private coach; - All visits and sightseeing as outlined in the itinerary, including admission to museums and monuments mentioned.
- All items of a personal nature. - Beverages with dinners, and meals other than those outlined above. - A gratuity of 30 Euros for the coach driver. - Travel Insurance, available upon request.
March 08 - 19, 2024
March 13 - 24, 2024
$4,895 based on double occupancy
March 20 - 28, 2024
Land only: $2,869 per person based on double occupancy