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Loire to the South of France trip report

We took the Loire to the South of France tour this past summer. The tour was a lot of fun, with visits to more Chateaus than you can shake a stick at, spectacular Roman sites, cave paintings, and great food everywhere! What follows isn't a detailed trip summary but rather some musings, commentary, as well as a few things we wish we had known in advance.

The canoe trip seems to give rise to a number of concerns on the forum and on the tour people were a bit nervous before we went on the river, but there is nothing to worry about! The canoes are easy to paddle, didn't seem prone to tipping (nobody did in our group), and were dry. It was a pleasant paddle and very enjoyable watching the scenery go by. If you aren't careful you can splash water inside with the paddles, but nobody got wet enough to want/need to change any clothes. People were worried about taking cameras, but, again, no mishaps, and there is a waterproof barrel to put them in. I've heard you you are supposed to have shoes that stay on your feet and not loose flip-flops, but the canoe company didn't enforce the rule. Most people on our trip did bring a pair of water-type shoes; also useful in Nice if you go to the beach which is quite rocky. The one tricky part was when the canoe company guide had us beach the canoes since you need to beach and launch on your own. The one-person kayaks are a different story, they seem designed to let water in as part of a self-bailing feature.

The light show in Chartres was quite nice on the cathedral. It is about 10 minutes long and repeats for as long as you care to watch, so don't worry about missing it if you're not there for the start. There were other sights lit thru town, but the cathedral was the most impressive. It would be a good idea to practice taking nite photos with your camera so you know how to find the right settings.

In his books Rick encourages an independent travel spirit and taking ownership of your time and experiences. The tour gave life to this. There was a good mix of guided walks and free time on this tour. Several times we'd be given admission to an attraction (museum, castle, etc) and an orientation talk. Then it was "we've rented the audioguide for you, see it at your pace and then explore the town, get lunch, see you at the bus in 3 hours." Since the tour itinerary is in the catalog, spending some time at home before the trip with the guidebook and other resources (online, other guidebooks, etc) could be preferable to realizing "ok, we've finished the attraction, what now?" In other words, really plan for the independent part of the travel.

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341 posts

Continuing in that vein, here are 2 suggestions where it might be worth making plans in advance of the tour. In small French towns just about everything is closed on Sunday, and at least in Chartres most shops on Monday as well. I suggest arriving in Chartes on Sunday around 4pm or so; no sense getting there much earlier because just about everything except the churches are closed. On Monday you have a tour of the town and the delightful Cathedral; the tour is done around lunch, then the rest of the day is free. Chartres isn't that big a town, and with the shops mostly closed there isn't that much left to visit after the Cathedral so much of the afternoon felt wasted. The train station is nearby; if doing the trip again we'd lookup before the tour somewhere an hour or less by train and go. These are just contingency plans; short-haul train tickets can be bought when you're at the station, so if you find Chartres hopping on Monday then just stay, if not you already have done the research to figure out something else to do with your afternoon.

The 2nd suggestion is to rent a car in Sarlat for Saturday. There is nothing scheduled for the tour bus that day (we were told the law requires a rest day for the driver). There is a fantastic market that fills the town that you will go explore, but realistically you can see all of it twice in a few hours. The town just isn't that big. Even Rick's France book doesn't suggest spending a full day in Sarlat, but you will on this tour. Frankly, we grew bored. If you plan in advance you could rent a car for the day. I think you can make reservations to see some of the other caves in the area, and the RS guidebook has lots of ideas for other places in the region to visit. I bet that once on the tour you could even find another couple to join with you and split the cost if you were so inclined.

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One highlight was a winery visit and lunch. The talk was very informative, you'll probably learn something new even if you think you know wine! The lunch was nice as well. And we really enjoyed the commentary on the bus from the guide. People say "why take a guided tour, we have the book" but I think that if you tried to transcribe all the information we got from our guide during the tour it would exceed by a factor of 10x the information you'll find in any guide book about the history of the areas we visited, the stories of how the buildings came to be, etc. And you can't ask questions to a book.

On the way from Sarlat to Carcassonne the lunch stop was to ride a barge on a canal. Everyone was told to buy food for their lunch on market day in Sarlat, and people ate well! In fact the food was so good that we don't have much memory of the canal itself or the lock we went thru, so take the time to look up occasionally!

We got a few good photo tips on the tour. One was to take pictures of the signs at the entrance to churches, museums, etc. You can always delete these later, but they are great for labeling the other photos you take inside. Another tip tht was passed along was to spend a little time before the trip searching Google Images for pictures of places you are going. As a casual photographer I seldom get that "iconic" shot. I'm not just looking to try to replicate them, but if I'm going to be somewhere anyway why not go a few extra yards and get the angle that I might not have realized?

Posted by
9933 posts

Terrific report, Bill! This tour is on my list. Good to know about Sarlat and I really want to see that light show at Chartres.

I laughed about your lunch on the barge! Sounds like our glass of wine and appetizers on a hotel terrace in Florence. 18 bottles of wine later we had drunk/eaten our fill of wine collected along the way at the AutoGrilles and food goodies collected at the Mercado and no one was going anywhere for dinner.

Sounds like you had fun.

Posted by
1783 posts

Hi Bill, nice trip report. We took this tour in May and enjoyed it very much. Chartres was a great place to start and the light show was wonderful. It rained the day we were scheduled to do the canoe trip so we did a covered boat ride in the beautiful village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain (where the movie Chocolat was filmed). Nice trip, slower paced than some other RS tours. Glad you had a good time too!

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855 posts

We've taken 5 RS tours and this is the next on the list. Glad to read your report and I think it will help us out.

We always have a list of "possibilities" for our free time and then sometimes something else comes up but at least we have ideas.

Thanks for the report!

Posted by
33 posts

I took this tour in 2011 when it started in Paris. I read the itinerary very carefully to determine my wardrobe. I felt the Arles portion could be dropped and maybe Aixen Provence added. We did the cave art and canoe rides the same day. I layered my clothes for the cave portion and then put on some shorts and a pair of aqua shoes for the canoe ride. I purchased a pair of aqua shoes from a well known eastern on-line store in Maine (I would mention the name but I don't know if RS website would allow this). They were perfect, I also wore them at the breach in Nice, France. You really have to read the itinerary well and all of the other information on that tour's web page to plan your wardrobe. Also check the weather daily.

When we got to Sarlat, I was ready for a break. I wish we stayed at another hotel while in Carcassone, I didn't care for the hotel. After the attractions are over, I was glad for the breaks. I took a second tour with a lot of down time in the afternoon. I was glad for this after getting up early and doing a lot of walking. I can't wait for my next RS T.

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119 posts

Hey, Mimi,
We took this France tour a few years ago. It started in Paris then. We loved this tour.
Anyway, we are pretty sure we will be at the Denver meeting Dec. 22. in case you can come.

Posted by
260 posts

We have signed up for this tour (Sept. 20- Oct 2). Sounds like a delightful trip. It's strange but I notice that not one section on this tour says "filling fast" as do so many of the other tours. We've actually been to a few of the places on this trip before, but it's a lovely itinerary, in my opinion! We're hoping to visit Vienna (on our own) prior to the start of the tour. Can't wait for Sept!

Posted by
31530 posts

Bill G,

Thanks for posting the detailed report. I also took that tour a few years ago when it started in Paris and it was a great tour! Reading your post brought back some wonderful memories.

I used the day in Sarlat to wander about and get photos, to relax a bit and also to take care of some "housekeeping" such as laundry.

Just curious, was this the winery that you visited - (that was another great memory - the lunch they served was incredible!).

Posted by
876 posts

I took the Loire to the South of France tour this past September, and it was absolutely lovely.

Ken, Chateau des Hospitaliers was the winery my group went to, and, yes, the lunch there was truly marvelous!