Paris’s monumental architecture reflects the city’s diverse and interesting history together with its political and cultural status. Among the most important mediaeval buildings are the Cathedral of Notre Dame, begun in 1163; the nearby Sainte-Chapelle, a magnificent 13th – century Gothic structure; and the Louvre, once a royal palace. Later historic buildings include les Invalides, built as a soldiers’ home by Louis XIV and now housing Napoleon’s tomb; and the Place de la Concorde, laid out in the 18th century. During the mid-19th century Paris was redesigned by Baron Georges Haussmann, and several grandiose projects were undertaken to emphasise the city’s significance. The Arc de Triomphe, the Opéra, the Place de l’Opéra, the Place de l’Étoile (now Place Charles de Gaulle), and many of the broad avenues with their imposing perspectives date from this time. Among the city’s better known thoroughfares are the Rue de Rivoli, Rue de la Paix, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Avenue de l’Opéra, Boulevard des Italiens, Boulevard du Montparnasse, and the Champs Elysées. Modern day Parisians are still proud of their city’s grandeur reflected by the integration of modern constructions such as the Tour Eiffel, the Pompidou Centre, the Louvre Pyramid and the Arche de la Défense with the great architecture of the past.
Normandy, with its diversity of landscape and rich heritage, derived its name from the Viking Norsemen, who made Rouen their capital. After the conquest of Britain it became part of the Plantagenet Empire, and is now regarded as a typically French region of apple orchards, contented cows, cider and pungent cheeses. Normandy’s peaceful pastoral landscape belies its historic conquests and devastating experiences during World War II. From Normandy you can explore the adjacent regions of Picardy and the World War I sites of the Valley of the Somme.
Its rugged shores washed by the Atlantic, Brittany has a strong Celtic heritage. It is a wild seafaring peninsula dotted with mysterious standing stones, dolmans and cromlechs; Carnac being as old as Stonehenge. Bretons have their own language and cuisine, the kingdom of Brittany not becoming part of France until the 15th century. The gentle scenery of the southern Breton coastline contrasts with the rugged grandeur of the north and in order for you to experience both aspects we recommend a stay at Trégastel in the north and Guidel in the south.
From Trégastel, you can take in the dramatic coastal land formations of the Côte de Granit Rose and, from Guidel, explore the prehistoric heritage of the region, the coastal scenery and the artist villages made famous by Gauguin, and also experience Brittany’s mediaeval cities, its castles, cuisine and wine.
The rolling countryside of Champagne creates ideal conditions for the production of champagne which is traditionally associated with celebratory joyous occasions and companionship. Reims is the region’s capital and its world famous Gothic cathedral has long been the place of French coronations such as when Joan of Arc crowned the Dauphin. Nearby is Epernay with its chalk caves and world renowned champagne cellars, Here you can learn about the methode champenoise and taste the champagne.
Once a strongly independent Duchy – the rival of the kingdom of France – Burgundy now considers itself to be the heart of France and is one of its richest provinces. Canals criss-cross this region of vineyards, excellent food, Romanesque architecture, and mediaeval villages.
Within Burgundy experience Vézelay, an important centre of mediaeval religious faith and pilgrimage, from which Richard The Lionheart commenced his crusade, with outstanding Romanesque architecture and Beaune with its 14th century ramparts and encircling boulevards, together with the Hôtel-Dieu, a mediaeval hospice with superb geometric multi-coloured Burgundian roof tiles. In the Burgundian capital of Dijon, a rich cultural centre with a renowned university, learn about the city’s mustard and gingerbread production as well as viewing the great art treasures that are housed in the Palais des Ducs and be sure to sample some of the local wines.
Bordered by the Rhône in the west, the Mediterranean in the south, olive groves to the north, and the Alps to the east, Provence has long attracted invaders from the Carthaginians, to the Romans, Saracens and a horde of northern European visitors seeking warmer climes. Here you can explore its culture, rich artistic tradition, prosperous agricultural economy and its ancient heritage dating back to Phoenician, Greek and Roman times. An excellent example of this prestigious heritage is the Roman and medieval village of St Remy de Provence famed for Nostradamus and Vincent Van Gogh.
The Bordeaux region has long been famed for its trade and wine production. Historically linked with the English crown and the 100 Years Wars, the city is now France’s thriving fifth largest city surrounded by acres of rolling vineyards dotted with world renowned wine chateaux.
This quintessentially rural region of France is rich in Romanesque architecture and national parks. It has experienced a turbulent history, dating back to Roman times, including the greatest battle of French history when Charles Martel halted the Arab invasion of France in 732. Control has oscillated between England and France but it now enjoys a strong cultural influence through its cultural heritage and ancient university.
This border region between Limousin and Auvergne represents the steep climb from the verdant plains of the west to the volcanic springs, deep thermal lakes and dramatic peaks of the Monts Dore and the Monts du Cantal. This is a region of deep cut valleys, medieval towns and fortresses, cheese producing mountain villages and a fast disappearing way of life.
This stretch of coastline located on the Mediterranean, in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon dominated by the hinterland of the Pyrenees, was the first to be settled by the Romans but has historically been influenced by Spain. Here the Romanesque and Catalan influences can be witnessed as well as the rich heritage of the area.We recommend a visit to Villefranche-de-Conflent with the remains of an 11th century fortress and spectacular gorge, and to experience the terrain of the Pyrenees on a narrow gauge railway, Le Petite Train Jaune, which travels through gorges through towering viaducts into Cerdagne.
The Poitou region is renowned for its fiercely independent nature. Richelieu took La Rochelle by siege in 1628 during the Religious Wars and La Vendée rebelled against Paris during the Revolution. We advise a stay close to the mouth of the Loire, on the island of Noirmoutier as a base to explore this green and historic region. From a base in Noirmoutier you can explore the countryside and historic cities of Poitou, La Vendée and the Lower Loire Valley and experience the verdant canals of Venise Verte (Green Venice), historic Nantes and the Island of Noirmoutier with its tiny capital and market.
For centuries this region of France has seen French and German conflict for sovereignty. This resolved conflict has resulted in strong Germanic influences in a tranquil region of pastel-coloured villages, vineyards and fortified towns. Bordered by the Rhine, Alsace is a fertile area between the mountains of the Vosges and the Black Forest in Germany. Strasbourg, the capital city is often known as the crossroads of Europe. It has a 16th century centre and a fine red-stone mediaeval cathedral as well as a charming quarter – Petite France – criss-crossed by bridges and canals. It is now the seat of the European Parliament.
The Jura Mountains are part of the fiercely independent Franche-Comté region whose history includes being part of the Duchy of Burgundy and a province of the Holy Roman Empire, before it was finally annexed as part of France by Louis XIV. The name ‘Jura’ comes from the Gallic word for ‘forest’. It is a region of woodlands, cascading waterfalls, grottoes and peaceful lakes surrounded by mountain peaks.
Loire Valley, Valençay
The Loire Valley has long been the hunting region and playground of the French aristocracy with many fine châteaux along the River Loire and its tributaries. Valençay is a pretty village surrounded by vineyards and dominated by a massive 16th century castle. While here you can learn about the golden age of The Loire Valley as you experience some of the magnificent towns, royal residences, and châteaux which make this one of France’s most visited regions, and sample some of the local produce of this wine region.
French Alps, Grand Bornand
This region of awe-inspiring mountains and valleys, with Europe’s highest peak – Mont Blanc, in winter attracts the elite of international skiers to its Alpine resorts. In Spring or Autumn, when our programs operate, we will discover a region of thick forests, rivers abounding in salmon and trout, roaring waterfalls and blue lakes reflecting their mountain surroundings. Visit remarkable old towns like Annecy with its canal-side houses and its jewel of a lake, Chambery – the ancient capital of the Dukes of Savoy, or the lakeside water-source – Evian. Our village of Grand Bornand is in the Department of Haute Savoie, which became French as recently as 1860. This quintessential Alpine village has an old world, European charm with typical wooden chalets and balconies festooned with flowers. From reblochen cheese-making to the traditional homes, throughout our stay we will find signs of the local culture which is inextricably linked with the environment.
The Department of Haute-Loire lies where the volcanic peaks of the Massif Central meet the Valley of the Rhône. Its succession of vast basalt plateaux and deeply cut gorges provides the source for both the Ardèche and the Loire Rivers. The geography of this region has produced a fiercely independent and patriotic people. Although the Department capital Puy en Velay – once a stop on the mediaeval pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela – is devoutly catholic, the area around the village of Tence, by historical quirk, is one of France’s most vehemently protestant. The region was also one of the bastions of the French Wartime Resistance and it is still largely undiscovered. Experience the authentic charm and character of the village of Tence, rich in tumultuous history since 970 with its market established in the time of Henri IV.
Aveyron’s position at the juncture of the regions of the Auvergne, Quercy and Languedoc is, to a large extent, responsible for the richness of great mediaeval towns and cities which can be visited here. This was an area of great religious tumult in the Middle Ages, as testified by the grim events in and around Albi, as Pope Innocent III determined to suppress the Albigensian heresy. The dramatically situated fortified village of Cordes was built by the Counts of Toulouse as a defensive refuge during Simon de Montfort’s crusade against the Albigensian heretics. The region also benefited from the pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela so that Conques could boast perhaps the richest ecclesiastical treasury outside Rome. The richness of mediaeval trade routes can also be seen in the fine architecture of Cahors. The village of Najac itself is a remarkable little town on a dramatic site in the Aveyron gorges. Its mediaeval houses climb steep slopes and straggle along the summit of a narrow ridge. On the highest point stand the proud ruins of the 13th century castle, the earlier one again suffering at the hands of the zealous de Montfort.
The Department of Pyrénees-Atlantiques is also the land of the Basques. This unique, homogeneous race of people, who live partly in France and partly over the Spanish border, has succeeded in preserving its unity, customs and language. They live largely by fishing and mountain farming in this dramatically scenic corner of Europe where the Pyrénees meet the Atlantic Ocean. At fete times, they express their emotions in dancing, singing and improvising poetry. The national game of pelota is played and watched with passionate interest. The region’s fine coastal resorts became highly fashionable in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as Biarritz gained favour with Empress Eugenie, Queen Victoria and Edward VII but much of the region’s beauty lies in its quintessentially Basque villages, such as Sare, with its half timbered houses and typical Basque architecture.
For more details about possible tours of France or to arrange a bespoke adventure, please get in touch with us.