By: Sara Beth Bowen, Senior Travel Consultant
Bienvenue! Welcome to France!
Traveling on the country roads (and some motorways) is a wonderful way to see parts of a country that you might not be totally aware of, unless you are a history buff of the area you are visiting. The itinerary, Country Roads of France with Insight Vacations, sounded interesting to us, as we wished to learn more about France and perhaps gain more insight in to their culture. Instead of spending one night in most places, we usually stayed two. And in Avignon, we spent 3 nights in a very spacious hotel with very carrying personnel—a welcomed treat about half way through our trip! As always, Insight’s hotel choices were superb.
Our tour featured a loop, starting in Paris and ending in Paris. We were welcomed with dinner at a very quaint and intimate restaurant in the Latin Quarter and then were treated with a short night-time drive on the Seine River, seeing many of the famous sights in Paris like Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
We actually met our Tour Director, Frederic, the next morning at breakfast as we readied ourselves to head through the Champagne area. We stopped in Troyes and had a brief tour of the medieval part of the city. The outgoing French people there were preparing for the Tour de France, which would have the crowds viewing the cyclists on days 6 and 7 of their race. Also, as in many of the cities/towns of France, there was a beautiful old carousel in the town center, entertaining the many children and parents out enjoying the pleasant weather.
We ventured on to Chablis, where we experienced our first of many wine-tasting and vintner’s expertise story of the local wine. Moving on through the Burgundy area, we reached Dijon. Many of our fellow travelers took an optional tour to Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, but we decided to spend our morning at leisure exploring the lovely city of Dijon. We opted for the optional excursion to a small working vineyard that evening to explore his hillside farm near the village of Fixin, and then touring the cellar and having a taste of his fine wines in the courtyard. His wife prepared a meal for us, which I think was the best of the whole trip. We also met his daughters, one of whom will be taking over the family business since he will be retiring soon.
Chamonix and the French Alps! Spectacular! Our hotel balcony faced the snow-covered mountains with a fantastic night-time view of the bright moon over us, and then when we awoke we were awe-struck by the amazing sunrise over the mountains.
Many of us went to the top of Mont Blanc while there and viewed the panoramic vista of the ski resort nestled in the mountains.
After descending from the Alps, we headed toward Grenoble, stopping in the charming lakeside town of Annecy. We spent a wonderful afternoon on a cruise around the lake. From Grenoble, we traveled the Route Napoleon to make our way to the French Riviera. We settled in to our hotel near the sea in Nice. The next day we explored the Riviera by touring Monaco, as they were busily preparing for the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo to be held the following weekend we were there. We also stopped for an optional tour of Eze which holds a grand view of the Riviera from the high hillside and cliffs of the Mediterranean. Several of our fellow travelers opted for a night-time visit to the Casino in Monte Carlo.
Leaving the azure waters of the Mediterranean was somewhat depressing, but driving into Provence lifted our spirits. We spent the morning in the medieval village of St-Paul-de-Vence, home to many artists and craftsmen throughout the ages, for example, Marc Chagall, who is laid to rest there.
On our way to Avignon, we drove through the sun-filled landscapes that inspired so many of the Impressionist artists. Although the lavender wasn’t blooming (happens in late summer), we could imagine the purple majesty of the fields. Along the way, we stopped in Aix-en-Provence for lunch and then continued to the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pope for wine-tasting. Later we arrived in Avignon for our stay of 3 nights.
Based in Avignon, we spent most of a day in Arles, where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted for a year with his friend, Gauguin. After a break in their friendship, he spent time in the asylum hospital. The town is full of Roman ruins; but the amphitheater and the theater are probably the most spectacular. On our return to Avignon, we went to the Pont du Gard—the famous Roman aqueduct, which was originally about 17 miles long, carrying the water supply to the area. Back in Avignon, we had leisure time to explore the medieval part of the city with the fortified papal palace.
After departing Provence, we traveled to the Languedoc region and enjoyed walking through the medieval fortified town of Carcasonne, with its complete set of ramparts and keep.
Next we arrived in Albi, the birthplace of Toulouse Latrec, where we ventured to the cathedral and museum of an extensive display of Latrec’s famous posters and drawings.
The following day we were in Rocamadour, famous for the chapels built into the mountainside, a stopping place for pilgrims on their way to Spain.
Later we arrived in Sarlat-la-Caneda in the idyllic Dordogne area.
While there, we visited the nearby Lascaux II, where the world-famous prehistoric cave paintings have been painstakingly reproduced—the real paintings are not open to the public in order to preserve them. What an amazing story these tell about our predecessors. We spent a beautiful leisurely cruise on the Dordogne River in the late afternoon before returning to Sarlat.
The last leg of our tour returned us to Paris. We had a scenic drive to view the city’s important monuments and then had a great time at a world-famous cabaret. We chose to do the optional excursion on our last day in Paris to Claude Monet’s inspiring gardens and home in Giverny.
Later in the afternoon, we had a scenic Seine River cruise and ended our tour time together at our celebration dinner. Where? At a sidewalk café on the Seine across from Notre Dame!
As always, we made new friends on the tour from all over the world, but especially in France! We visited 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and discovered that we now know more about France and her people—just what we wanted from this tour!
Sara Beth Bowen
Senior Travel Consultant
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