Please sign in to post.

Better late than never: Loire to the South of France Tour Report

Tour Report: Loire to the South of France, May 1 – 13, 2022

I'm going to follow the same format I used for my 2019 France tours. The first installment will be a general overview, while later installments will get more specific, probably going day by day.

Our guide was Arnaud Servignat. He has been a guide for RSE for years, and leads a number of tours in France. Our bus driver was Philippe, also French, who had worked with Arnaud before. This was the first South of France tour to run since 2019, and it showed, with a few hiccoughs and rough spots. It is a good tour, and we enjoyed it. This was our 15th RSE tour.

The tour members: Our group consisted of 26 people, mostly retired, mostly couples. There were 11 couples, and four single women, two of whom were traveling together. The age range was from the mid 40s or so to 80. Most people were probably in their 60s. Stan and I were not the oldest, but we took second place!

Over half the people were educators, attorneys, or CPAs, but we also had one dentist, several IT people, and a few who said they worked “in finance.” Two couples had never been on a Rick Steves tour; everyone else was an enthusiastic veteran.

We were delighted to discover that we knew one of the other couples, who had been on our Eastern France tour in 2019. The husband had been my “buddy” on that tour, and he claimed me again this time.

Packing: Stan and I each took an Appenzell backpack (23L) and one personal item. My personal item was a smallish cross-body bag I got as a premium for renewing our Sierra Club membership. Stan carries an older laptop bag, without the laptop. His Appenzell and laptop case each weighed in at 10 pounds. My Appenzell was 11 pounds, and my shoulder bag was 6.

Here's what I packed:
• 3 pairs of slacks, including one very light, loosely cut linen blend, and 2 heavier cotton blend pants, one black, one light beige.
• 6 tops, 4 long sleeved, one of which I only wore once, and two short sleeved. One top was very heavy, the others were more lightweight. Mixed colors, but all went with my neutral pants.
• one cardigan
• one very light jacket
• one windbreaker
• 2 bras
• 3 pairs of underpants
• 4 pairs of socks, 2 white, 2 black
• 2 pairs of shoes
• 1 set of “comfy clothes,” including a tee shirt and a pair of light jersey pants. These were my sleep clothes, as well as my lounging-around-the-room clothes.
• 1 hat – a straw fedora I bought in Paris the week before the tour began.

Also in my bags were toiletries for both of us, our 3-1-1 bag, my supplements, useful odds and ends such as tweezers and a tiny sewing kit, my journal, and all the paperwork we would need. I also had a tablet and, for the first time, a cell phone. I missed my bluetooth keyboard for my tablet, but several of the keys (like a, m, n, r, and s) had quit working, and evidently cannot be repaired. I found this out too late to replace it.

Stan carried all his clothes: 3 pairs of slacks (one dark, 2 light,) 4 shirts (3 short sleeved, 1 long,) 2 knit shirts which he wore when he needed an extra layer or as his sleep shirt, 2 pairs of shoes, undies, socks, comfy lounge pants, a jacket, his supplements, plus the maps and guidebooks. He also brought one cap. He bought 2 more caps in Europe, but one of them was inadvertently left on the plane on the way home.

Hotels: I had promised myself I would pay closer attention to the hotels this time, since that's what most people ask about. I did make a few notes, but not as detailed as I had planned.

For the most part, the hotels were typical RS hotels: small, centrally located, quirkily laid out, with a wide range of room sizes and amenities. The exceptions, as usual, were the first and last hotels, which were business class. All were acceptable, and all served a good breakfast, some better than others, of course.

Oops, out of room. And time, for now. More later.

Posted by
4231 posts

I hope your challenges at home are getting sorted out Jane. Instead of impatiently waiting for your next installment, I'll anxiously wait.

Posted by
6363 posts

Thanks, Allan. One of our vehicles has been repaired, which helps. The family matters are pending, but we'll get there.

I'll try to slip in another installment or two this afternoon or evening.

Posted by
2856 posts

Jane, Thanks so much for starting your trip report. I especially like your packing list. 17 lb total huh? Wow! I'm struggling to cut below 22 lbs total.
Can't wait for the rest of your report. Hope you add what you did during your free time. I need a few ideas.
Bet it’s exciting to see old tour mates and have the same tour buddy. How fun!
Kathy

Posted by
4853 posts

You know you're a Rick Steves Tour veteran when...

...you have the same buddy on another tour another year!

Impressive job on the packing. Looking forward to your installments, Jane!

Posted by
14157 posts

"You know you're a Rick Steves Tour veteran when...

...you have the same buddy on another tour another year!"

Too funny!!!!

Jane, great start to your TR. Take your time...you know we'll be here!

And....Stan and his caps! Maybe you should read the thread on the Apple Air tags! Install one in his hat so if he gets too far away he'll get a notification!

Posted by
3807 posts

I'm enjoying reading your trip report.
Thanks for posting this.
Many here really enjoy packing lists, so thanks for including that.
Will watch for more chapters.

Posted by
6363 posts

CWsocial and Horsewoofie: When we took our first RSE tour in 2009, we were terrified by the statement that we were limited to one carry-on size bag. What would the consequences be if we didn't make it? Would they throw us off the tour? So we went down to close to bare bones, and brought pretty much what we list here. In fact, 2 of the pants and possibly one of the shirts that I packed this time, I brought on that 2009 trip. The third pair of pants I brought that year fell apart on our 2018 Best of Europe trip, and were left behind. The black ones this time? Replacements, same brand, color, and size!

And what would have happened had we not managed the small bag? Nothing, of course. In the first place, it was a city tour, so no having to juggle the bags every couple of days. And in the second place, one of our tourmates, an extremely elegant woman from New York, showed up with huge bags, and they let her stay on the tour! And yes, she looked amazing, every single day.

And I have something to say later in the report about those original pants and shirt.

Oh, and I definitely will talk about free time, particularly what we ate on our own. The tour meals were good, but the ones we found on our own were usually better.

Now, back to work!

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing:

Most of the breakfasts were buffet style, but this is not as common now as it used to be, because of Covid precautions. Stan and I stayed in at least 2 hotels this trip, (not on the tours,) where breakfast was served by staff. I think most of the tour hotels had elevators; I'm not sure about air conditioning (we almost never use it.)

I'll add comments about the individual hotels as I go through the daily reports. I will say that my least favorite hotels were the two business class ones. As I noted in previous reports, business class hotels seem to prioritize the public areas, rather than the rooms, and in general the reception staff are less likely to speak French (or Italian, or whatever the local language is.)

I do speak some French. It's strictly utilitarian – no long deep conversations about philosophy or the state of the world. But it's not bad, and I appreciated the fact that at every store, bus or train station, museum, and almost every hotel and restaurant, the staff seemed delighted with my efforts and responded in kind. That added to my enjoyment, and of course meant I could improve my language skills in real life situations. By the time we left France three weeks later, I was doing pretty well.

Bus: The bus was comfortable, with plenty of seats for people to be able to spread out. The seats were somewhat narrower than others we've had on RSE tours, but they were fine. There was no wifi on the bus; I didn't notice charging outlets, either. I think this was the tour where nobody was allowed to sit in the front row seats, including the guide.
Arnaud tried to enforce mask wearing on the bus, but there were a few people who had to be reminded several times. (Grrrr.)

Philippe kept the dashboard cooler stocked with water, both still and sparkling. We paid only €1 per bottle, which was very reasonable. He kept a list of our names, and we just made a mark when we took a bottle. The last bus day, we settled up.

Per EU regulations, we had rest stops every couple of hours. The rules are for the benefit of the drivers, but we profit from them. The rest stops were always at Auto-grills or the equivalent, with clean (free) bathrooms, and plenty of snacks and beverages available. Some of them had hot food as well, which is often quite good.

I think from here I'll switch to day-by-day. I may throw in a sidebar or two every now and then, as the spirit moves me or a topic seems to raise questions.

Chartres, pre-tour: Chartres is easy to get to from Paris. The train usually takes less than an hour to get there, and you do not need to buy your tickets ahead of time.

The tour hotel, Campanile City Centre, is an easy walk from the train station. Unfotunately, the weekend our tour began, the main train line between Paris and Chartres was closed down for repairs, making the journey clumsy and time consuming for some of our tour mates. Stan and I went a few days early, so were not affected by the closure.

We arrived in Chartres the Thursday afternoon before the Sunday tour start, and found plenty to fill our time.

As usual, we didn't spend our pre-tour days at the tour hotel. Instead, we stayed at a lovely B & B that had been recommended on this Forum, Les ConvivHôtes, 10 Rue du Pot Vert. It's located well away from the city center, down near the river in a quiet, charming neighborhood. Hostess Sylvie, who lives on the premises, was delightful. She spoke a little English, but not very much. There are three guest rooms, and a well-equipped shared kitchen. Our room was comfortable, with lots of personal and thoughtful touches. And the breakfasts were among the best we had on the trip. Silvie shopped at a local organic coop, so we had lovely breads and cheeses, as well as plenty of fruit. Cereals were also available, as were coffee and tea, yogurt, and juice.

Posted by
55 posts

Jane, I'm curious if your packing list includes the clothes you are wearing, or if you in fact have another top, bottom, pair of shoes, etc. that is not on that list. I'm trying to get down to the bare bones, too.

Thanks!
Ricka

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing:

Sylvie had a bulletin board in the common area, with names of local restaurants, and notes of interesting events. She also had city maps for us.

We had arrived in Chartres about 2:00, and by the time we found our B&B and got settled in, it was too late for lunch but too early for dinner. So we headed up into town to find something light to tide us over.

When I say “up into town,” I mean up. The city center seems to be on a plateau, and it's a steep walk down to the river, where our room was. And of course, an equally steep walk back up. After a couple of days, that trek was easy (well easier,) but it was a bit challenging at first. It didn't help that Stan had something wrong with one of his knees for much of the trip, especially early on.

But we headed up into town. We finally shared a good turkey sandwich from a kebab place near the train station. We tried to explore the center a bit, but Stan's knee was swollen, so we bought an elastic bandage, a bottle of wine, and a corkscrew, and headed back to our room for an early night.

The next morning, after a great breakfast, (four kinds of breads!) we explored the neighborhood, then walked up (UP!) to the Cathedral. Wow. I now have a new favorite Cathedral. The carvings around the doors, the stained glass windows... Magnificent. My favorite thing was the stone carvings around the choir, depicting the lives of Mary and Jesus in incredible detail.

We found a good lunch at L'Etabli, a sandwich and crepe place at 3 Place Maurice Cazalis. Stan had one of their specialty Croque Monsieur sandwiches, and I had a great salad. I love those big French salads, full of surprising ingredients. This one had scallops and smoked salmon, in addition to the greens, tomatoes, and whatever else they packed in there.

After lunch we headed to Musée du Vitrail, the stained glass museum. Yes, the tour would be going there as well, but we've found that we almost always want more time, especially at museums and churches. The stained glass museum was very good, with excellent explanations of some of the windows in the Cathedral. We spent most of the afternoon there. There was also a special exhibit of very modern stained glass art by a Japanese priest, whose name I didn't write down.

We went to the recommended Café Bleu for a break – rosé and sparkling water – then went back to the room to rest before dinner. We're being very careful today, both of us (especially poor Stan) having knee issues.

We found dinner at one of the neighborhood restaurants our hostess had recommended: L'Estocade at 1 Rue de la Porte Guillaume. Excellent food. Stan had an asparagus and smoked salmon starter, duck breast, and chocolate mousse. I had a crab and shrimp starter, with baked pollock for a main. We both had great amuse-bouches, aperitifs, and good rosé.

[You have probably noticed that my most detailed notes are about food. Deal with it. :-) ]

The next morning, after a good breakfast with local cheeses, we walked to the nearby St Pietre Church, with the most beautiful flying buttresses we have ever seen, and wonderful stained glass windows. From there, we went to the Center, since Silvie had told us that Saturday was market day. We checked out the fruit and vegetable market, then the flower market a few blocks away.

I was hoping to join one of the English language tours of the Cathedral, so we wandered over there. But a sign was up: no tours in English. Back to the commercial area, where we found good sandwiches and beer at an Italian specialty shop, whose name I neglected to write down. We picnicked on the Cathedral grounds, joining many school groups doing the same thing. After swinging by the flower market to pick up a hostess gift, we went back to our room to rest (Stan) and catch up on emails (me.)

Posted by
6363 posts

Ricka, the list includes what we were wearing. I did wear my heaviest shirt and pants on the plane, first to lighten the load a bit, and secondly because I am always way too cold on airplanes.

Oh, I neglected to mention a cashmere scarf I brought along. It came in very handy a number of times.

Posted by
6363 posts

Break for dinner. If Stan wants to watch another episode of "Monday Night Travel" tonight (we got way behind while we were gone) I may not post another installment until tomorrow.

Posted by
2454 posts

I am looking forward to the rest of your report, Jane.

Posted by
531 posts

Thanks, Jane, this is very helpful!

Do people still follow the 311 rule when traveling within or leaving the US? I've had TSA pre-check for several years now and nobody ever checks my liquids...and I only do carry on. However, I know on the way back, it can be tricky, as other countries are do check for liquids.

Posted by
531 posts

Jane, I'm loving all the food details! Keep it coming!

Posted by
6363 posts

Jill, yes, 311 is still a thing. One of our tourmates this summer had her bag gone through at security, and was given a second bag for excess items. Her travel partner had to take the second bag, since each traveler is only allowed one.

And at the Nice airport, I saw a similar situation. A traveler had loose bottles of cosmetics in her carry on. The security officer pulled them all out, set aside the ones that were over 3 ounces, and give her a plastic bag for the others.

Posted by
6363 posts

Thanks, Jill. I was surprised, and more than a little embarrassed, when I reread my notes and realized how much emphasis I put on food! Of course, spending over a month and a half in France and Italy? Food rules!

Posted by
94 posts

Jane, so far a great trip report and don’t worry about the food. It’s part of the experience of travel, and an important one for me. We are off to Sicily next March followed by Paris and the heart of France. So any tips and great finds from Paris will be greatly accepted.

I visited Chartres in 1972 and 73 and have loved that cathedral ever since. But I am having trouble convincing my wife a visit is worthwhile. Any suggestion on how to help convince her will me much appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by
6363 posts

Snowball, would she consider a day trip to Chartres from Paris? The Cathedral itself is worth the train trip. Prep her with a look at Malcolm Miller's book: "Chartres Cathedral: Medieval Masterpieces in Stained Glass and Sculpture." Your local library may have a copy.

Where are you staying in Paris? We were staying in the 5th this year instead of the 7th, and enjoyed new neighborhoods, sights, and a restaurant or two.

If I don't get back to you in a couple of days with some Paris suggestions, remind me, please.

Posted by
6363 posts

Allan, it started while we were there. I missed it, but Stan went with one of our new friends, and said it was fantastic. Had I done my research as well as I should have, I would have realized how exceptional it was.

Posted by
6363 posts

After our break, we went back to town so I could go to Mass at the Cathedral. We dropped into Café Bleu to grab a table for Stan while I went to church. After the service we stayed at the Bleu for dinner. Snails and a hamburger for Stan; duck paté and lamb for me. Surprisingly, the hamburger was overcooked, but everything else was delicious.

This was supposed to be the first night of Chartres en Lumiéres, when over 20 monuments and other sights are lit up with accompanying music, but we were cold and tired, so we wimped out. The tour starts tomorrow!

Day 1, Sunday: Up early, sorry to leave Sylvie but excited about beginning our first RS tour since 2019. We settled our bill (€216 for three nights!), shouldered our bags, and walked (slowly) up the hill to the Campanile Chartres Centre. The hotel is between the train station and the Cathedral, very convenient location. In fact, I think you can actually see the hotel from the station.

It was too early to check in, so we left our bags headed off to investigate a demonstration we saw gathering as we made our way to the hotel. It's May 1, Labor Day, and we followed the sound of loudspeakers to find a gathering of mixed leftist groups, and a lot of police. We stayed close enough to hear the speakers, but far enough back to not be considered part of the rally. It was pretty interesting, but I had noticed one of the police officers had been staring at us the entire time. Discretion being the better part of valor, we left and headed to the center for coffee and hot chocolate.

It's a beautiful morning, and the squares are full of people drinking coffee and enjoying the sun. This is where we were surprised by our former tour mates Carol and Clyde, who recognized us from 3 years ago. They had arrived the day before, and were staying at the tour hotel. Stan and I found an open bakery, where we bought a jambon beurre, something I've always wanted to try. We took the sandwich and some bottled water to the Cathedral grounds, where we enjoyed our picnic.

Back to the hotel to check into room 108. The room was large, with a big comfy bed and a big window that opened onto a bar and patio area below. I recently checked the reviews of this tour on the RS website, and was surprised to see that one of our members hated this hotel, calling it “horrible” and “worse than a Motel 6” and “not creaky, charming, historic or well located” That surprised me, so I went back and checked my notes. I had described the room as “Very clean, and austere.” Aha. No coffee maker, no cups or glasses, 2 towels, no extra blankets. He was right about a lack of charm; evidently the hotel had taken advantage of the pandemic to completely update and remodel. But it wasn't horrible. One of my least favorite hotels, but not bad.

4:45 - time to go meet our guide Arnaud and show our CDC cards. At this point, we did not have to show a negative test, just our vaccination record. Arnaud welcomed us with wine, water, and snacks. He relayed his pandemic story. It was eye-opening, in terms of what Europeans went through during and after lockdown. Loss of job, 6 months or so of government income subsidy. He ended up driving a truck for a laundry service, until he was injured and had to have surgery. Then just when RSE tours were starting up again, he got Covid.

After the meeting, the group headed out for an orientation walk. I enjoyed this, because even though we had been in Chartres for 3 days by then, Arnaud took us to a few places we hadn't seen, and gave context and background to some sights we had seen but not appreciated. And then to the first group dinner at ... Café Bleu!

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing. By the way, I can't help but notice that this is my 5000th post. No wonder I never get anything done!

The dinner was very good, with asparagus soup, and huge roasted chicken breast with potatoes , followed by a chocolate brownie-ish cake with caramel and raspberry sauce. I don't eat sweets, but evidently the brownie was a hit. Several of us though thought the potatoes were the star. I think they were similar to Hasselback potatoes, but with a cream sauce instead of butter. Outstanding.

Day 2, Monday: The hotel breakfast was okay; I think we had been spoiled by our B&B hostess and her organic and artisanal offerings. There was bread, cheese, ham, yogurt, some fruit, and machine juice and coffee. I'm pretty sure it was served buffet style.

Then it was off with the group the the Cathedral, to meet famed historian Malcolm Miller. He's 88 now, and asked to be allowed to sit down during his presentation. He also said his age gave him the right to talk as long as he wanted, so he did!

It was a great presentation. The man has spent decades studying the Cathedral, its windows and its sculptures. He went into great detail describing and explaining a few of the windows and some of the sculptures, especially those on the outside of the building. I had skimmed his book (our B&B had a copy,) so I was already familiar with the basics of what he had to say, but he added plenty of details that brought the building to life.

We were free for lunch on our own. Stan and I found a tiny hole in the wall place called La Musardine, 24 Rue Noel Ballay. Definitely unpretentious, but the food was good and cheap. We had very good veal shanks with mashed potatoes and a small salad. The meat was fatty, but meltingly tender.

Back to the hotel to meet local guide Felicité and tour the stained glass museum. She was great; this was one of the highlights of the tour for me. Even though Stan and I had already been to the museum, everything she showed us was new to us, and her explanations of how the work was done, how to tell if a window had been repaired or redone, were excellent. Definitely a Wow experience.

Stan and I walked around town later, hoping to see the inside of St Aignin Church, which is supposed to be spectacular, but it was closed. We had dinner at Café Serpente. We both chose salads (those wonderful French salads!) and enjoyed a good rosé. Then back to the room to pack; we're moving on tomorrow.

Day 3, Tuesday: After breakfast we gathered to go to the bus, where we met our driver, Philippe. Our destination today is Chinon, but we stopped for a long lunch break in Amboise. Stan and I had spent some time there on the Heart of France tour in 2019, so we skipped the Leonardo House. Instead, we just wandered around the tiny town, stopping at a bakery for a sandwich (love those bakery sandwiches!) the joining some tourmates for a drink at a bar on the main drag.

Back on the bus, we were off to Chateau Chenonceau. I had opted out of visiting this chateau on the previous tour, and enjoyed seeing it this time. We had enough time there to explore the it thoroughly, and even to wander the grounds a bit. I will admit that I'm not a big castle/palace/chateau/stately homes fan, but I did like this one.

On to Chinon, to the Hotel Diderot. This may have been my favorite hotel on the tour. It's a short trek off the main street, tucked away and private. The rooms circle a combined garden bursting with roses and parking lot. The owners – French husband and American wife - are charming; they have been restoring the hotel for some time now. Our room was up one flight of stairs, quiet and dark, with a window opening onto the garden.

Posted by
6363 posts

Tammy, I'm not sure. Is that one of the TV shows, or a Monday Night Travel? I can skim it later and let you know.

Edit to add: I just checked Arnaud's page in the Guide Intervew section, and the description includes this:

He's been featured as a local expert in Rick's TV shows, and also in our Tour Experience video

so it may well be the same person.

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing.

We had our second group dinner that evening, and it was a doozy, at Au Chapeau Rouge. The guidebook says this place “offers a traditional and elegant gastronomique experience...” You can say that again. Fancy place settings; hot and cold running waiters, swapping out said place settings... The food was elegant, as well: I had fish mousse and sea bream tartare. Stan had rabbit, and a chocolate praline dessert. Wine was not included at this meal, but a couple of our table mates bought several bottles for us to share.

We lingered at dinner quite a while, so were ready to wander the back lanes back to the hotel afterward. We bought a bottle of the local cabernet franc at the hotel bar, and retired to our cosy and peaceful room.

Day 4, Wednesday: Lovely breakfast at the hotel. Fresh local ingredients, including yogurt, a selection of goat cheeses, breads, cured meats, and homemade jams. This was served family style, with the hotel staff bringing platters and baskets of the foods. They also brought pitchers of hot tea and coffee. We could have all we wanted, even though it wasn't a buffet. I found the younger goat cheese and honey to be a wonderful combination.

After breakfast, the group visited nearby Chateau Villandry. The Chateau was nicely furnished, with great views from the keep, but the star was the garden. Or gardens. The 10 acre Italianate Renaissance garden was wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the beautifully laid out and maintained vegetable, herb, and fruit gardens. There were also interesting water features, and elaborate walking paths. A nice way to spend a morning.

From there, we went to yet another castle, Chateau Azay le Rideau. (This area is just full of chateaux.) A number of us found this chateau confusing, even bewildering. The rooms are laid out seemingly willy-nilly, and the signs are not clear. I kept running into a couple of friends – the same ones – as we tried to make our way through the castle. It was interesting, though; I was particularly struck by the architectural elements of the interiors. Some of the rooms themselves seemed almost avant-garde in their design.

We were free for lunch after visiting the Chateau but before returning to Chinon. We found a great lunch very near the Chateau at La Credence, 15-17 Rue Balzac. Wow. I just looked it up to verify the address, and Restaurant Guru says “If you have never tasted French cuisine, come to this restaurant.” The handwritten menu was full of items we had never heard of, but tried anyway. I had an amazing poached egg florentine with smoked trout, and Stan had “hampe de boeuf,” which turned out to be perfectly prepared skirt steak. We enjoyed a carafe of the house wine, and were almost late meeting up with the group as Stan luxuriated in a decadent dessert. Bliss. This probably ties for the best meal we had in France.

The group went back to the hotel, where our host Jean-Pierre led a lengthy and informative wine tasting, featuring 5 wines of the region. We learned about the wine making tradition of the area, and why Chinon wines are better than wines from anywhere else in France. He also provided plenty of bread and pork rillettes (local pork, cooked, shredded, and packed similarly to paté or confit) to accompany the wines.

After the big lunch and generous snacks at the wine tasting, we did not want dinner. Instead, we took a leisurely walk through town, returning down the river path. A peaceful and romantic way to end a good day. We leave Chinon tomorrow, which is a pity. We would love to have had more time to explore the town.

Posted by
3294 posts

One of the many good points you make is that a guide really can enhance your appreciation of whatever it is you are looking at!

Keep writing!

Posted by
9768 posts

Awwww I went to stay with Jamie and Jean-Pierre in Chinon in April! (I had participated in their crowd funding during the early part of the pandemic). It is such a lovely, special place !

I am very much enjoying your trip report Jane !

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing:

Day 5, Thursday: Another good breakfast at the Diderot, then back in the bus. Our eventual destination is Sarlat, but we had a couple of stops along the way. At the tiny village of Mortemart, we explored the area while Arnaud and Philippe prepared us a picnic lunch. They had shopped for the ingredients while we were exploring Azay yesterday. Arnaud had promised us a real French picnic. There were several kinds of cheese, several kinds of sausages, (including andouille, which is not like what we get here; it's more innards based. Better than the andouillette I had in Paris a few years ago, though.) There was bread, of course, a green salad, tomatoes, and fruits. And to drink water, two kinds of wine (I didn't know they allowed boxed wine in France!), juice, and soft drinks.

This was a pleasant interlude, and an almost surreal lead-in to our next stop, Oradour-sur-Glane. Rick always likes to include something thought provoking, even shocking on his tours. Battlefields, cemeteries, war memorials. This went beyond any of those; I'd put it in the same category as concentration camps.

The brief story: on June 10, 1944, elements of the German army arrived at the peaceful, bucolic village of Oradour-sur-Glane in the Dordogne region of France. For some unspecified reason, perhaps to avenge some of their officers, perhaps in response to D-Day, the entire village of over 600 people was destroyed. Men, women, children, rounded up; many were tortured, all but two or three individuals were shot or burned to death. The women and children were locked in the burning church, and anyone who tried to escape was shot.

This is one of the most horrific things I have ever seen. Certainly the worst thing I have seen since Auschwitz. Arnaud acted as our local guide, and he broke down while describing what happened in the church. He was not the only grown man crying that day.

The entire town is now a monument and memorial to the dead, to the epitome of man's inhumanity to man. There is a plaque on the outside wall of the church, positioned behind a stark crucifix. Here's my rough translation:

THE CHURCH OF ORADOUR SUR GLANE
SILENCE
Here hundreds of women and children
were massacred by the Nazis.
You who pass by here, take note.
You who believe, say a prayer
For the victims and their families.
In the town ruins remain standing
Behind Christ on the cross
In the bosom of Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette
Come to me you who suffer, says Christ
Let it be according to your word, says the Virgin
REST IN PEACE
MAY THEY REST IN PEACE
BECAUSE THEY LIVE IN ETERNITY

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing, still day 5.

We arrived in Sarlat that afternoon, and checked into the Hotel Montaigne. This is another hotel that had been renovated during the pandemic, and the renovations were still ongoing. Our room was trés moderne: the bathroom mirror operated by touch. You could get three different levels of light by simply touching the mirror. (One of our tourmates found this hilarious when I told her. At every hotel thereafter, she asked if I had a touchscreen mirror.) We had a corner room, which meant we had windows on two different walls. One looked out on the main street and a huge parking lot, but the other faced a green belt on the edge of town.

When the group gathered for dinner, Arnaud told us that one of our members had tested positive for Covid, and that he and his wife would no longer be part of the tour. They were traveling with friends, who did stay on the tour. This day is not going well.

We did collect ourselves, and went to dinner at Le Regent. The food was very good: foie gras, salad, and duck confit. I don't remember the dessert, but one of the wait staff brought me a lovely fruit plate when I declined the sweet. That pleased me very much.

Nobody was in much of a mood to do much that evening. I had a chance to visit with the wife of the Covid patient for a few minutes. He was doing well, with symptoms that he thought heralded an allergy attack. She slipped away as the rest of the group wandered in.

Day 6, Friday: Breakfast at the hotel was good, but all my notes say is “Fruit! Lots of fruit!”

After breakfast we boarded the bus to Rouffignac where we would see the cave paintings in the Grotte de Rouffignac. These were amazing, and we had a wonderful local guide, Frédéric. These were more drawings than paintings, simple monochrome outlines, but the skill level was sophisticated. Our guide gave us a lot to think about. He didn't pose these thoughts as questions, but as observations to be pondered. For example: the drawings were in a place that was very difficult to access, far from the cave entrance (we got there on a tiny train,) and many of them were drawn or painted higher up that anyone could reach without some kind of mechanical aid: a ladder or scaffold.

He also noted the quality of the art, very realistic and skillful, showing some details of the animals' anatomy that were unknown to scientists until very recently. And every image was done confidently. There were no starts and stops, no practice sketches.

This was another wow moment, and our guide was key.

After visiting the cave, we went to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, where we had free time to explore and find lunch. Stan and I headed immediately for the National Museum of Prehistory, Musée National de Préhistoire. A great museum, another wow. This museum deserves multiple visits, and way more than the one triangle Rick gives it.

It's very well laid out, with hundreds of well displayed artifact assemblages. And there were wonderful short films showing how tools and other items were made and used. Very well done.

The museum was closing for lunch, so we couldn't stay as long as we would have liked. But we found lunch at a small café nearby, whose name I don't have. I had an omelette aux cépes (porcini mushrooms, evidently,) which Arnaud said he had been craving for months, and now cépe season was here. Stan had a pasta dish. Both were good, but I wasn't as crazy about the omelette as Arnaud had suggested.

This was also the day some of our people opted to take a canoe trip down the Dordogne, so our next stop was to drop them off. Stan and I had decided to decline, and I've regretted it ever since.

Posted by
2856 posts

Jane, love your trip report. I’m making notes on my itinerary and calendar for restaurants and things to do. Thanks so much for such a thorough report.

Your report on Oradour left me speechless. It made me think of what’s happening to Ukraine and the inhumanity of war.

Question: why did you and Stan decline the canoe trip? I don’t swim and have a healthy fear of water over my head. But I convinced myself I must paddle down the river so I don’t regret missing the experience.
Kathy

Posted by
6363 posts

Kathy, we were tired and cranky, and remembered that when we kayak on our small, peaceful city lake, we always end up with wet feet and butts.

I almost jumped into the group at the last minute, and wish I had. Stan probably wouldn't have gone, because his knee was still bad and he was in pain, but that wouldn't have mattered; I could have gone without him and he wouldn't have minded at all.

I say, do it! The folks who went had a great time.

Posted by
448 posts

Jane, I am really enjoying your trip report! I just concluded this very tour, in fact I am sitting in the Nice airport. I am looking forward to reading more soon.

Posted by
2454 posts

Great report. I feel like I am there with you. I am now tempted to do this tour despite having visited many of the places on the tour on my own. I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Posted by
6363 posts

Mary, we have never found any place where we were satisfied with "one and done." There's almost always something you want to revisit, and always something you didn't have time for or didn't even know about.

And on the tours, you can almost always opt out of activities and go do something on your own. The exception would be if it was a travel day, stopping at something while en route to a new destination.

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing, still day 6:

Those of us who didn't canoe were given a special treat: a visit to Chateau des Milandes, Josephine Baker's home! That was good, as well. I knew, of course, that she lived in France, but I didn't know she had a chateau. For a while, at least. Evidently she kept adopting children and giving money away, until finally she could no longer afford to keep the chateau.

After we gathered the canoe people, we went back to Sarlat, stopping along the way for a group photo. Stan and I went for a walk through the town, and ended up at Brasserie Costa, 9 Place de la Liberté, for dinner.

I had foie gras (we're in the heart of foie gras country here, in case you can't tell) and roast chicken, and Stan had a good seafood salad. Or vice versa; we ended up splitting everything anyway. And it was all good. We returned to the hotel late, having spent a fair amount of time at the restaurant chatting with some tour friends.

Day 7, Saturday: A free day! I think we're all ready for one. The big attraction in Sarlat on Saturdays is the huge market that takes up a good part of the town, stretching for blocks and spilling over into side streets and squares. And that's where we headed.

It was something to see. Booths selling everything you can imagine, and some things you can't! There was food, of course, lots of it. Fruit, vegetables, some meat and fish, and several booths with cooked food. Those booths were very popular with the locals, I noticed. Some sold rather exotic dishes, Middle Eastern or North African flavors.

There were many booths selling clothes. I looked at some linen pants, because the ones I brought were on their last legs (so to speak,) but I didn't find any I wanted. Stan bought a cap and a belt – he always buys a cap and a belt.

We went by the Cathedral for me to check Mass times, and returned after a coffee and ice cream break to tour the Cathedral. Part of it is quite old, although as is common, it has been remodeled, renovated, and added onto many times over the centuries. There were some very interesting side chapels that were worth a longer look.

We still had a good part of the day ahead of us, so we did the city walking tour from Rick's book. Along the way we ran into tourmates who were picnicking on the cathedral grounds, enjoying some treats they had bought at the market. We joined them for a quick snack (Stan knew how to use the can opener to get into their foie gras,) then continued our tour.

Back to the hotel. Stan took a nap, but I was restless, so I headed back into town. I wandered around the less commercial part of town, looking for an interesting place for dinner. We leave Sarlat tomorrow, and want to have a lovely evening. This is a nice town, the kind of place you think about retiring to. I did find a restaurant that was tucked away into a tiny area off one of the main squares. The menu was somewhat different from most of the other places I looked at, but still focussed on local specialties. I made a reservation, then went back to get Stan.

It was still too early for dinner, so we found a bar on Place Liberté, wine for me and a spritz (or two) for him. And that's when asked “Where was that hat shop we passed this morning?” Yes, another cap. I told him how to get there, and ordered another wine.

Posted by
6363 posts

Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. I'm already past the point of wondering why on earth I ever started this thing, but the end is in sight! Not today, though, but I'm hopeful for tomorrow.

Although at least one person has sent me a PM, asking when I'm going to do a report of our second RSE tour this year, Best of South Italy. Groan!

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing, still day 7:

Dinner was at La Cour des Poetes, and tied with La Credence in Azay for the best meal we had during the tour. 11 Rue Alberic Cahuet. We both had foie gras for starters (we're leaving tomorrow! When will we get another chance at foie gras?) but we chose different preparations. Mine was absolutely perfect. I think it must have been cooked sous vide to just below serving temp, and then quickly seared. No trace of pink, but sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

We followed that with grilled prawns for Stan, and duck confit (yes, again!) for me. House rosé went with everything. Then I had goat cheese and he had a chocolate confection that was a cross between a cake and a tart. We ambled back to the hotel, enjoying the lovely evening and the beautiful town.

Day 8, Sunday: A travel day. Our destination is Carcassonne, but we made several stops along the way. We stopped at several lovely view sites (photo ops), and spent a little time at an old canal, a remnant of the former canal navigation system. Arnaud, who lives on a boat, knows quite a bit about boating in general, and gave us some interesting information. None of us had known about the canal network in France. A day where you learn something new is always a good day!

We stopped for lunch at an Autogrill. The food wasn't bad. I had quiche and a small salad, and Stan had good local sausages.

Carcassonne, Hotel Montmorency. This hotel is definitely different! Very modern; our room was decorated in what I can only describe as “pumpkin orange.” The room was small, but clean, and being on the ground floor opened onto a lovely patio. This did present a problem for us, because the hedge and fence surrounding the hotel had gaps. We weren't worried about safety while we were out on the patio or awake in the room, but we had to lock up tight when we were sleeping. This probably isn't a problem for most people, but we didn't feel safe having the windows or door open while we were sleeping.

I mentioned to Stan when we first saw this that perhaps we should offer to trade rooms with someone on the higher floor who didn't want open windows, but we didn't follow through. Arnaud told me the next day that we would have been perfectly safe with the windows or door open, but I wouldn't have felt safe. A minor point, I feel petty mentioning it. But I do think it is a valid point.

Once we had all settled in, the group headed up into the beautiful old town of Carcassonne. We met local guide Martine, who showed us around. She was enthusiastic and entertaining, but we were disappointed with her presentation. Neither Stan nor I felt like we learned much about the city itself, the Cathars, or the history of the region.

During our free time we wandered the old city, enjoying the sights. Stan's leg was bad again, so we found a bar (quelle surprise!) and at least half of our tourmates, who had found it before we did. Our group dinner was at Le Patio, and it was superb. I think this may have been the best group dinner we had on the tour. The main course was cassoulet, and it was outstanding. By the time we left the restaurant, the town had pretty much emptied of tourists, and we had a beautiful stroll before returning to the hotel.

Day 9, Monday: Carcassonne was our only one-night stop, so today is another travel day. On to Arles. But first we had a first-rate stop at a winery, Domaine Guinand, Saint Christol. This was not a tasting, it was a full -blown tour, and it was a dandy. Our hostess took us to the vineyard, showed us where the wine was pressed and aged, and gave us wonderful information about the wine making process. As it happens, she was not confident of her English, so Arnaud did a great simultaneous translation job.

Posted by
4231 posts

I loved a lot about that tour and Oradour-sur-Glane is the one stop that I still get emotional about. It's my first real experience with evil. Many people on our tour were shaken, and my wife wishes we hadn't gone, but I think it's one of those necessary stops and I'm glad it's part of the tour. Good on Rick Steves for including it.

Posted by
6363 posts

Allan, I think you are absolutely right. And as I was trying to write that section, I had to stop several times, because I kept tearing up.

We've seen a number of things on RSE tours that are very affecting; Verdun, for example. Flanders Fields, Normandy. Dachau. But Oradour-sur-Glane is beyond explanation, beyond understanding. It was so damned personal.

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing, still day 9:

After the tour we tasted several wines, which were good. (It was at this point, however, that I evidently swirled my cabernet blend a bit too enthusiastically, and managed to streak one side of my white cotton jacket a beautiful wine red.) After the wine tasting, we were guided to tables that had been set up under the trees, for a very nice lunch. We had “bull soup,” which was a tasty, meaty stew; and 2 very good local cheeses. And wine, of course.

We bought a bottle of one of the lighter reds, and two souvenir wine glasses. Quite a few people bought wine, but since this winery doesn't ship to the US, nobody bought more than a couple of bottles. We asked why they didn't ship to the US, and were not surprised to find out it's because every state has its own regulations. Their output is small, and they can sell all they want in Europe.

After this pleasant (if messy) interlude, we got back on the bus, pointed toward Arles. Instead of going directly to the hotel, we stopped first at the Ancient History Museum: Musée Départmental Arles Antique, for a guided tour with local guide Nina. This is a wonderful museum, and Nina did a great job hitting the high points. The museum itself is built on the site of a Roman arena, and is full of Roman artifacts, including sarcophagi, sculptures, household items, and an amazing cargo ship that had been found in the local river.

After the museum, Nina led us on a guided walking tour of the city center, pointing out areas of interest, museums, and suggesting places we might want to relax for a drink or a meal in the Place du Forum.

For her last act, she led us up the hill to our hotel, Le Calendal. For some reason, on this stop we did not have to carry our own luggage to the hotel; it was delivered for us. The staff tried to match bags with rooms, with mixed success. We ended up with a bag belonging to someone who had the same (very common) last name as ours. We called a staff member to send the bag on to its rightful owner, but we were visited several more times by staff wanting to know if we had any bags that weren't ours, and peering around the room to check. That was puzzling, and a bit disconcerting.

But the room! This was my favorite room of the entire tour. It was very big, light and airy. It had a couple of comfortable chairs that were perfect for those of us who like to sit up straight, and two couches. Two couches! We did have trouble getting wifi set up; in fact, several of us had to go down to the lobby and public lounge area to get a signal. But once we set up our devices, we had no more trouble.

After settling in, Stan and I headed to the center, a walk of maybe ½ kilometer? It was a pleasant walk, downhill with lots to see along the way. We met up with one of our frequent companions from the tour, one of the single women, and found dinner at Café L'Apostrophe, 7 Place du Forum. It wasn't bad, but not particularly good, either. I had avocado tartine (rather like avocado toast, I presume, never having had that,) and Stan had fish and chips. And of course, we had to sample the local wine.

A number of other tourmates joined us, and we ambled back to our hotel, uphill this time. Oh, I put my poor white jacket in the sink to soak overnight with what I hoped was an effective stain remover. (Spoiler alert: It worked!)

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing:

Day 10, Tuesday: After breakfast, it was back on the tour bus, destination Pont du Gard. Pont du Gard is an amazing structure, one of the highest and best preserved of the Roman aqueducts. It's much bigger than it looks in photos, and is beautiful. Our local guide gave us a good introduction to the structure as we walked toward it, and then offered to take people up and across. Here's my second regret: Stan and I decided not to. It was a steep climb up, and then back down, and we thought it would be like climbing the bell tower at a church to see this view. Nope, this was a “had we but known” moment. We had our “whisper” radios on, and could hear what the guide was saying as the group crossed the bridge. It wasn't just walking across and taking photos; she elaborated on the structure itself, pointing out elements of engineering mastery. We were not the only ones who regretted the decision not to cross on the top; we did cross on the lower level, and were able to enjoy the view of the river and countryside, though.

We also had time to go the the museum there. This was another mixed experience; what we could see of the exhibits was wonderful, but it was so dark it was hard to read the explanations, and it was overrun with groups of schoolkids grabbing the best viewing spots. We did manage to watch a wonderful video that showed how the aqueduct was (probably) built. It reminded us of two Great Courses videos we have: “Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From Catapult to the Pantheon,” and “Understanding the World's Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity.” Both are well worth your time. The presenter, Stephen Ressler, is delightful.

After returning to Arles, we found lunch at Cocorrico, just a block or so from the hotel. 33 Rue Porte de Laure. Stan had a menú with excellent sea bream, and I had a local sausage plate with wonderful tapenade.

After lunch we headed back to the center to the Museon Arlaten, the Arlaten Folk Museum. This was wonderful. Oddly, they wouldn't accept the museum passes the tour members had been given, but we wanted to see this so we paid the admission price. The museum has been extensively renovated, and is chock full of dioramas; artifacts from everyday life in the region, including tools, clothing, furniture, household utensils, and much much more. We only had a couple of hours there, and could have stayed much longer.

On the way back to the hotel to meet the group, we did manage to dive into the beautiful St. Trophine church, a 12th century wonder, known for its carved façade, and the tapestries in the nave.

Another group dinner tonight, this one at Le Plaza, 6-18 Rue Truchet. For some reason, my only notes say “good not great dinner.” Huh. I must have been tired.

Then back to the hotel to pack; we're moving on tomorrow. Before going on, I must say that this was a town that we could easily have stayed busy in for at least another couple of days. Stan and I stayed pretty busy, but missed all the Van Gogh and most of the Roman sights. This would be a great spot for a 3 night stay.

Day 11, Wednesday: After breakfast, we all headed to the bus, parked a couple of blocks away. We did carry our luggage this time, and nobody had any trouble that I could see. Yes, it was downhill all the way, but frankly, I find downhill much harder than up.

On our way, we stopped at the Carriéres (quarry) de Lumiéres for a sound and light show actually inside the quarry. You'll have to get a review of this from someone else, I'm afraid. Flashing lights and videos that look like the floor and walls are actually moving? No, sorry. I spent the entire time facing a wall, with my eyes closed. I did peek every once in a while, but when the floor started undulating, I slammed shut again. Most people seemed to enjoy it; several of our group listed it as their wow moment in their tour reviews.

Our next stop: Les Baux.

Posted by
6363 posts

Continuing, still day 11:

Les Baux is very interesting, especially the upper portion, the castle ruins, or “dead town.” The site dates from the 10th century, but was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. It is huge, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore, each the remains of some part of the citadel, including shops, workshops, and living areas. I will say that the terrain is very rough, with lots of steps and stones. This is the one place on the tour where I would have appreciated a walking stick.

The lower town is mostly filled with tourist tat, but there are some interesting things to see. Many of the buildings date from the 14th century, and are worth looking at. And some of the shops have local crafts and specialty food items. It is, however, very very crowded. We did find a good lunch at La Reine Jeanne, near the entrance to the lower town. I had a very nice fish soup with a traditional rouille sauce, garlicky and rich, to stir into the thin but tasty soup. Stan had a huge (and very good) charcuterie platter.

After lunch, on to Nice. We said goodbye to our driver Philippe, and checked into the Hotel Mercure. Our room was tiny, but had an even tinier patio that extended out over the roof of a neighboring restaurant.

Arnaud took us out for a brief orientation walk, and made arrangements with the folks who are flying home Saturday to get their covid tests tomorrow. Stan and I continued walking around the neighborhood, then found dinner at La Claire Fontaine, on the Central Place Rossetti, a pretty square with a big fountain. The food varied wildly (we ended up eating here twice.) On our first visit, Stan had a great daube (a stew, rather like pot roast) with gnocchi, and I had a passable seafood salad. Out for another walk, this time along the walkway just above the beach. This is a lovely walk. Yes, it's crowded, but you have the beach, the Mediterranean right there, there's a lovely breeze off the water; this is nice way to relax and unwind.

Day 12, Thursday. Breakfast was fine; I noted a particularly good local cheese. After breakfast we had time for a walk before meeting the group for our guided walk. Local guide Agnes was excellent. She showed us around “old Nice,” took us to the market, even took us into the cathedral, where she lectured us on the structure and art. Very well done.

Lunch on our own; for some reason we returned to La Claire Fontaine. Stan had a pizza, I had a salade niçoise. We spent most of the rest of the day just walking, mostly along the beach front. We also checked out the tram ride to the airport; we're leaving tomorrow. It's an easy tram ride, but I'm glad we took a dry run first.

That night was our farewell dinner, and it was at the restaurant over which our patio jutted. (I missed the name.) The food was good; I had fish and stuffed vegetables, Stan had soup and veal – he had ordered duck, but evidently the avian flu is a major problem in France, and duck was not available. Arnaud said he had been told that the foie gras we had been enjoying was going to be the last of it for a while. We got back to our room late; the farewell dinners always stretch out a long time as people say their goodbyes.

Day 13, Friday: The tour is over after breakfast; we said goodbye to Arnaud and our friends. Oh, good news, all 16 people who took their covid tests this morning were negative! Stan and I had a late afternoon flight, so we went early to the airport and had lunch and drinks there.

That was it for the tour; I'll post a bit more to share some observations, opinions, and suggestions. Later today, probably, but possibly tomorrow.

Posted by
2856 posts

Great tour report Jane!

Arles question for you: Day 10, free time. I plan to go to Camargue to go horseback riding in the afternoon, either by myself or if anyone wants to go. Travel + ride I'm guessing will be 4+ hours. Is there time? Posted itinerary doesn't list group dinner, so maybe I don't care if I miss it? I'd rather see the horses and flamingoes. I'm hoping our guide will help me organize taxi or other transportation.
Thanks for all your suggestions. Between yours and Allan's from 2019, I have lots of notes!

Kathy

Posted by
4231 posts

Thank you Jane, your descriptions gave me memories of my tour, but as I'd hoped some of your opinions were so different than mine. As a person who can be awkward in groups, I find it valuable to know how other's think so I can try and fit in better.

I hope you don't find this insulting, but you also gave me an insight on how travel may be for us when we're older. Your decisions to skip the top of Pont du Gard and trouble with the darkness of the museum was a good reminder to think of the order of where we go and not leave some of the tougher locations until it may be too late. Sometimes I can be clueless to how much I bounce from place to place while travelling. One question that came up on my trip report of the Loire tour was how strenuous it was including climbing stairs in hotels. I reported back how easy it was. But my wife reminded me that I'm not normal (I think she meant in a nice way) and I need to be careful on how I advise people on activity levels. I had to go back and be a little more clinical in my observations. Having said that, I'm glad you and Stan are still active and were taking so many extracurricular walks during the tour.

One question, where would you rank this tour compared to all of your RS tours?

Posted by
6363 posts

Kathy, we did have a group dinner that day, but even before that there was plenty of free time. My notes show we went to lunch, then went back to the hotel, then down to the center, then to the museum until shortly before it closed at 6:00, and somewhere in there we visited the St Trophine church. So we probably had at least 5 or 6 hours free before the group dinner. And that wasn't on our itinerary either, but the guides have a lot of leeway.

Frankly, if I were you, given your interests, I'd risk missing the dinner. You'll be back in plenty of time to find your own dinner, and you will have had an unforgettable day.

Posted by
6363 posts

Allan, not insulted at all. We are in our mid-70s, after all.

This year was unusual for us, in several ways. Stan had had some mysterious affliction late winter and early spring that limited his physical activity drastically. I ended up taking over most (all) of our home and other duties, so neglected my usual exercise regimen. As a result, neither of us was in our usual tour shape. Then he came down with something else that limited his activity level again. He could walk, but tired easily and had a lot of discomfort in one of his knees.

I've had what my yoga teacher calls "cranky knees" for years, but my only problem is walking downhill or down steps. I did back off a bit more than usual this time, because Stan felt so bad about not being as strong as usual. On previous tours, when he took an afternoon nap I would go out for a walk. I didn't do as much of that this time, mostly to spare his feelings.

We're hoping this is all temporary, and we've both vowed to not be that out of condition again.

My personal benchmark is this: if there ever comes a time when we can't keep up with the guide, no more RS tours.

Advising people on activity levels is always fraught. We've been on tours that we thought were a piece of cake, then heard tourmates complain about the unreasonable hills, steps, or distances. On the other hand, we've been on a couple of tours with folks who were bounding around Rome or the Cinque Terre like gazelles, when the rest of us were looking for a place to rest. This tour was the first time that we made of point of backing off on our activity level.

The South Italy tour that followed 10 days later was even more problematic, with lots of stairs and steep hills. Lots. But interestingly enough, ever since we've been home, I find I have no trouble walking down hills, and very little trouble on stairs. Hmmm.. So walking 5 to 8 miles a day, with many stairs and steep hills is the answer? Maybe so. I'm back walking every day, and trying to make sure there's at least one hill. I haven't upped the distance over about 2 miles yet. I'm waiting for triple digit temperatures to go away for that.

Now, in terms of where I'd rank this tour? I'm thinking about that. Not one of the top 2 or 3. I'll address that more later, when I have some comments and critiques to make.

Posted by
3290 posts

Hi Jane,
Enjoying your report and glad Allan asked that question as I'm a bit curious as well. I also wanted to say congratulations on your 5,000 post which this trip report maybe helped you accomplish! See you do accomplish things on this forum (from your previous comment how you don't get things done because of this forum). Anyways, I love your trip reports, thank you for taking the time to do them!

Posted by
6363 posts

EP, we split the 10 days between Venice and Rome.

Posted by
118 posts

Packing: I’ve no worries about packing light even with Oct. being our favorite time of the year to travel – which means that the weather can be all over the place & still packing light isn’t an issue. I wear boots on the plane to avoid packing them & they are so perfect when it rains but also a fun change in footwear. I only wear comfortable. My boots are well broken in & flat. Make sure you have comfortable shoes – no hurting feet – no new shoes. I wear / carry heavy outerwear on the plane. When we went to Paris I carried a pretty duffel bag & a backpack on the plane & that was all of my luggage. I like clothes that I can roll up - tights with reversible skirts & boots in the evening for me – I never wear heels anyway – I don’t wear much jewelry anyway & husband likes to buy me necklaces on trips – scarves keep my neck warm & are a pretty fashion accessory & easy to pack. I have very pretty / very comfortable walking shoes by Alegria & only had a pair of them & my boots for Paris & that was plenty. I keep my feet comfortable by switching shoes each day. I like long flowing skorts (look like a skirt but fit like pants) made of polyester – no wrinkles – comfy, in navy. Navy’s a basic color easy to mix & match with as I don’t do white (how do people keep it clean) & I don’t do black as I think everything shows up on it & navy is prettier. Our trip to Italy was longer than the Paris trip & I packed a 3rd pair of shoes – (husband let me put them in his suitcase) really comfortable, upscale blue tennis-type shoes but looking back still 2 pairs of shoes is plenty. Italy was HOT even in Oct. & some of us ladies happened upon an open market & bought lightweight clothes (in Italy!) FUN & inexpensive & am still wearing / enjoying these clothes! For Italy I used a suitcase on wheels we had already that I had to check. I like having my stuff with me on the plane. It was a challenge to pull the wheeled suitcase on cobblestone & up bridges in Venice – oh well – it’s Venice! This Oct. our trip is to Germany & Austria. I bought a RS on wheels suitcase that will fit in the overhead & a netted beach bag so I can see rather than root around for my stuff I want on the plane. Years ago I bought a little RS bag that hangs & is for personal items. I’ll pack 1-2 purses in my beach bag to carry during the day. ‘Love’ my small, leather, brown with colorful designs purse I’ve had for years. It has a place on one side for my phone & a separate place for my glasses. I’ll wear that side against my body. I bought a medium size purse in Italy, in black, that I will probably pack to use as a day bag sometimes since the other purse is small – but love having a place for glasses & phone! Do not carry a big purse all day as your shoulder will hurt (the voice of experience). Often the day bag / backpack RS promotes was not allowed in museums even if worn on the shoulder rather than the back. We live in the mountains so I know that layers are vital for being comfortable. Wear layers on the plane. Pack layers to be comfortable. Happy travels!

Posted by
118 posts

Oh we’ve never had to use a Laundromat – I have 2 sets of underwear – 1 to wear & 1 to wash. I have lightweight clothes that if I need to wash a top in the sink I can – footies / socks- 1 to wear & 1 to wash – have an inside clothes line that we have used & tiny sheets of detergent when you add water they dissolve – husband is self sufficient with his stuff.

Posted by
6363 posts

One of the reasons I like doing trip reports, and I do like it, no matter how much I may b!tch and moan, is that it reminds me what a good time I had. That sounds like a joke, but it's true. It's a chance to step back and review the entire tour, taking a closer look at each of the elements.

When I do a trip report, I use my trip notes, first of all, but I'll also review the tour itinerary, see what notes or messages I exchanged with friends while we were on tour, and even check out our tourmates reviews. That can be revealing, and surprising.

This was a good tour. It was well thought out, and the execution went pretty smoothly. There were a few rough spots, which I believe were because of our guide and driver being out of practice. For example, there were several times when it turned out the road we were taking was closed, or had changed its direction. In one case, the bus couldn't get down a particular road because the trees lining the road hadn't been trimmed in three years!

I've mentioned my favorite hotel, and my favorite meals, both group meals and those we found on our own. I would love to have spent more time in Chinon and Arles. I would have added Chartres to that list, if we hadn't spent 3 days on our own there before the tour began. Funny, but a couple of the tour reviews said Arles and Chartres were a waste of time, and suggested RSE find other places.

I also thought all of the local guides were excellent, except the one we had in Carcassonne. Again, another tour member said the only good guide was Malcolm Miller in Chartres. Local guides add so much to a tour.

What else? Allan asked how I would rank this tour, among the 16 we have taken. That's a hard one. We have never had a RSE tour that we didn't like. My 3 favorites have been Eastern France, Village Italy, and Best of Florence. The Florence tour was the first RS tour we ever took, and we didn't think we would like taking a tour. Instead, we were blown away by the tour, the guide, the free time, the variety of places we visited, the local guides ... in short, pretty much everything. Stan would probably include Best of Europe, and the Belgium and Holland tour among his favorites. We have had guides we didn't care for; one I thought was not competent, and another blurred the rules to the extent that caused problems on the tour. (Losing tour members because you don't do buddy checks is inexcusable.)

So I would say I have 3 favorite tours, and then 13 others that I really liked a lot. So much that we've been coming back for more every year since 2009.

What would I do differently? I've mentioned the canoe trip and Pont du Gard. Other than that, I can't think of anything right now. As I told Allan, we should have been in better shape. That would have made things more pleasant overall.

Packing? As it turned out I only wore my cardigan and one of the long sleeved tops one time each. I don't regret bringing them though, because weather is unpredictable. Both those items were heavily used on our France tours in 2019.

I did end up discarding the two well worn pair of pants, as well as the top that I had been wearing from the start. Each of these items was probably at least 25 or 30 years old, and showed it. The heavier pair of pants I had to mend four times while we were traveling this time.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts; if so I'll add more notes later. Please feel free to ask more questions; that will help spur my memory, and make me look more deeply into what we did.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Posted by
531 posts

Jane, Thanks for the warning about the hotel who brings your bag to your room. I really don't like the idea of someone else handling my bag like that. Given all the mix-ups, I'm hoping they discontinue this.

Posted by
6363 posts

Jill, we had never heard of anyone but us or the bus driver handling our bags, but this year it happened once on the South of France tour, and twice on the South Italy tour.

I'm thinking it's in response to all the complaints from people who don't like carrying their bags, especially uphill. I suspect they're just trying it out. We'll see.

Posted by
2454 posts

Thanks for the wonderful tour report, Jane. I will have to up my game now with my trip reports. I generally just do the facts but you brought a nice personal touch to yours and I felt like I was traveling with you.

Posted by
6363 posts

Thank you, Mary. I'm always envious of people who can do succinct trip reports, which I can seldom pull off.

Posted by
9768 posts

Jane, you are so insightful and generous with your thoughts and reflections, and such a good writer. Your trip reports are an absolute pleasure to read. Thank you.

I am sorry that both you and Stan have had these health issues the past few months. Hope you will only continue getting back your strength.

Posted by
6363 posts

Kim, thank you. I do enjoy doing them, and hope to do my South Italy one this coming week. The ones I really want to do are the time Stan and I spent on our own before, between, and after the tours. We had a couple of great days in Paris (only 2 days, so we didn't try to call you,) and wonderful longer stays in Venice, Siena, and Bologna. I'll try to sneak those reports in, if Stan continues to not complain about my hogging the computer!

And we are doing better, thank you. Stan is so optimistic about his health, that it was his idea we sign up for three RSE tours next year! I strongly suspect that one of them will be cancelled!

Posted by
6363 posts

Tammy, I haven't forgotten you. Thank you for your kind words. What fun it was getting together in Paris! Let's do it again next year.

Posted by
104 posts

Jane,
I very much enjoyed reading about this tour! I've signed up for next May and am really looking forward to it. It will be my 13th tour.
I did the Paris and Heart of France tour several years ago - and it's probably in my top 4. Every tour has something special. Thanks again for such a detailed report.

Posted by
6363 posts

Two more things occur to me.

All group meals except one (the dinner in Chinon) included wine. I don't know if this is usual for this tour; the guides do have some leeway.

OTC medications: When we did our first RSE tour (Best of Florence, 2009) I had to buy some aspirin, and was gobsmacked by the price. Since then, I have always made it a point to bring plenty of whatever OTC medications I think we might need. This year still caught me short. Stan was having so much trouble that he quickly depleted my store of acetaminophen, and put a major dent in my aspirin supply. We did have to replenish the acetaminophen, and yes, you have to get it at a pharmacy; and yes, it is way more expensive than it is here in the States. Take note.

Posted by
4853 posts

Jane, thank you for sharing the story of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which is even more poignant on the 4th of July, celebrating our freedoms.

Posted by
584 posts

I am Very late to this trip report party which I have just now read. Sooo many thanks Jane for another great report of a tour I hope to take in the not too distant future. You make these reports so very entertaining and thoughtful. Utterly charmed by it all.

Posted by
6363 posts

Luv2Travel, thank you. I'm hoping to post my South Italy trip report later this week; have you done one? I'd love to get your take on the tour.

CWsocial, thank you very much. I still can't think about Oradour-sur-Glane without choking up or crying.

Posted by
6363 posts

Hi, Tammy. We've been talking about the Portugal and the Basque Country tours for years, so we signed up for those. We also, in what was probably a misguided burst of optimism, signed up for the Andalucía tour.

Have you signed up for any yet?

Posted by
14157 posts

Jane, just catching up on your TR! What a fun time you all had. I loved Arles as well! I love towns that have a combination of history layered to see.

I also never would have been able to sleep with the window/door open in your Carcassonne hotel. Nope not happening. 2nd floor (American counting) yes, 1st/ground, no.

Posted by
6363 posts

Pam, that's the way we felt. We're definitely open window people, but no. We definitely should have offered to swap with someone on the upper floor who wasn't a window person.

Posted by
40 posts

Jane, thank you for taking the time for such a richly detailed trip report, both this France trip and southern Italy are tours we hope to go on next year. You provided many valuable insights on the trip itself as well as the other sights, the food, the people, the logistics, and the efforts required to reach many of the places. When reading about a tour on the RSE forum it is hard to decide if some of the activities are ones I want to do based on the reviews, but your detailed report provides so much more information and gives a much more complete view of the entire trip.

These trip reports are such a joy to read, except I keep adding tours to my wish list! We went on our first Rick Steves tour this year, it was to Portugal and we really enjoyed it. It will not be our last. Hope you enjoy visiting Portugal as well.

Posted by
6363 posts

BMills, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I know what you mean about needing more information about the tours. I know some people gave mastered the succinct trip report, but I’m hopeless.

We are planning to do the Portugal tour next (2023) fall, and I’ve already started reading about the country. Everyone we know who has done this tour has loved it, do we’re excited to be going ourselves.

Do you have any books or movies you’d suggest to help us prepare?

Posted by
40 posts

Hi Jane, sorry, I do not have any additional books or movies to recommend on Portugal. I did not have time for any extra research on Portugal except to read Rick’s guidebook almost cover to cover. We had wanted to go on this tour in fall when the vineyards would be in their beautiful fall foliage but I was unable to get time off. Instead I had off the first two weeks of April for my vacation (husband is retired so schedules are a bit easier now). We were on the waitlist for an April trip and in February we were able to join, but I just did not have extra time for additional research.

We have traveled independently using Rick’s guidebooks for years, but felt his Portugal trip would better cover the history and sights than trying to go by ourselves. We were glad we joined the tour. Words of advice, the streets and sidewalks can be very slippery, the black and white stones become like ice with any trace of moisture or grit. We never fell but were quite careful (as a nurse I kept wondering how many fractured wrists occurred from falling on these surfaces each year! Hazard of my occupation I guess) And there are hills and steps in many of the cities and towns, again often with rather slippery and uneven walkways. I don't have knee issues but at times my knees ached walking on these hills and steps. I hope you two do well on this trip next year. Overall the hotel rooms and bathrooms were spacious, the meals were very good, and the people warm and friendly.

Posted by
6363 posts

BMills, thanks for the tip about the slippery streets. We found that a problem in Matera, on our South Italy tour. I guess it's time for me to find grippy shoes for next year.

I do have Rick's Portugal book, and have started reading it. I also have ordered a book on the history of Portugal from the library. We won't be able to go until the fall, but it's never to early to start prep!

Posted by
40 posts

Jane, yes one can never start reading about a country and your trip too early! Regarding shoes, I have been wearing NurseMates shoes, the ones I get are called Meredith, in black, goes with my selected dark pants for travel although other colors are available. Can be found on Amazon. But more importantly they have a great non slip bottom, and I have safely navigated the uneven, slippery, sometimes wet streets and sidewalks of many European towns and cities. They are also great when there is also a bit of grit or sand. I have found them comfortable for lots of walking, once broken in, (are a bit stiff at first) easy to slip off at the airport, yet fitted enough with no slippage at the heel. I got them very wet once in Paris and also Venice during a down pour but dried overnight with just a bit of help from the hairdryer. I have stopped taking an extra pair of shoes when traveling. Since we do not do extensive hiking, but city walks, museum visits, etc, I have not needed heavier shoes for distance walking, but am far more concerned with falling and these have worked very well. This is just one suggestion of the many, many, many posts regarding shoes on this forum. I have read many, but so far these have worked well for me for years.

Posted by
40 posts

Jane, I was also wondering, what books did you read to prepare for your France and South Italy trips? Did you also find good books to buy at the visitor centers of some of the places you visited? Cathedral or caves or aqueduct? Or had you read others at home and did not need to purchase additional books? I feel I should do more preparation for our next trips.

Posted by
6363 posts

BMills, the only books we bought on the trip were Malcolm Miller's book about the Chartres Cathedral, and a book at the Sansevero Chapel about the chapel and its artwork.

Pre-tour we read Rick's guidebooks, of course, but also others that I will check on and get back to you. I know we read quite a few things about Venice. We also watched (or re-watched) a couple of Great Courses. The Guide to Essential Italy was very good, especially the section on Rome.

I'm short on time today, but I'll get back later or tomorrow with some more suggestions. Oh, have you found the section on the Forum dealing with books and films? I'll post the link as soon as I find it.

Edit to add: Here it is. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/books-movies

Posted by
40 posts

Thank you Jane, this is most helpful. We also have all those same Great Courses you mentioned plus the course on The Cathedral by Professor William Cook. I need to go back and watch a number of those.

Posted by
6363 posts

Check out the ones on engineering with Stephen Ressler. He is fantastic. We have "Understanding the World's Greatest Structures," and "Understanding Greek and Roman Technology."

Posted by
6363 posts

BMills, I looked at your shoes. I'm not sure about the styles, but I love the price, and they have my size! I usually buy SAS because they are well made, have my size, and are made in the USof A. I wear an 11 Wide, which is not easy to find.