RS Loire/South of France June/July 2014

Hi Everyone,

I just returned from the RS Loire/South of France tour about one week ago. I have a few things you may want to take note of for your tour, since this won't be included/published in the tour evaluation questions page.

1). Canoeing: if you go in the Spring/Summer/early Fall, you will have a good chance to go canoeing. However, what wasn't mentioned in the tour preparation documents was that you should bring a change of clothes specifically for this activity. Although it should have occurred to me beforehand, it didn't so I wanted to let you all know. Canoeing was fit in between two small village stops in the Dordogne region. People obviously wanted to be dressed appropriately for walking around the town. Then they got in the canoes but every single member who canoed said their butts got wet (from dripping canoe paddles, etc.). But, then, they had to get out of the canoes and go for a quick visit to a viewpoint/chateau above the town and get back on the bus, still wet. Most people who had gone canoeing had brought a change of clothes, but a few people hadn't and they had to stand around in wet clothes until we got back to the hotel.

2) The Pont du Gard : the very top has been opened for people to walk across! This is brand new. Our tour guide told us the top (which is covered) has been closed for a long time to visitors. However, you can walk up either side of the aqueduct for great views. As we were coming back down, there was a guide at the opening who let us walk across for 4 euro. We mentioned to the guide that we were told it had been closed and she said they just reopened it on July 7th. It takes no more than 10 minutes and as I said, almost all of it has a top, so there's not much to see, but it was fun anyways.

3). There seemed to be a little less walking/somewhat less strenuous on this tour compared to the others I've taken. Other tour members had the same thought. One member brought his GPS so I'm waiting for his data to confirm this. :)

4) A few hotels had a spa plus with the Mediterranean Sea, you may want to bring a swimsuit. I didn't end up partaking, but some people did. In Nice, there are rocks and then the drop off is quick. Getting into the water isn't hard but some people found the angle tough to crawl back up because the rocks were swirling around them -go with the tide/waves!

5) The evening light show in Chartres is really cool! However, it doesn't start until sundown (around 10:30 in the mid-summer) so you may want to consider taking a quick nap and then going out to see all the buildings (they go for about 2 hours, until 12:30 am) if you are an early-to-bed person.

6) In Arles, The Van Gogh Foundation actually has 9 Van Gogh paintings right now (they usually don't have any).. I think this ends in August 2014 but it was a fun little museum to visit.

7). The weather was unpredictable. For instance in Chartres, it would be sunny, then start sprinkling 20 minutes later then downpour for 5 minutes, then get sunny again. This would repeat about 8-10 times during the afternoon. I don't know if this is typical or not, but you may want to bring a small umbrella or lightweight rain jacket. I will say overall we had great weather!

If I think of anything else, I will let you know.

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
226 posts

Thank you for this report on your experiences. I think this is exactly the type of feedback folks are looking for in order to gather info about tours they may be thinking about taking next year!

Posted by Nancy
Beaverton, Oregon
264 posts

Gretchen,
Thank you so much for posting your report. We're going on this tour in September and I've taken into account every one of your tips. If you think of anything else, I'd be most interested. Merci!

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
1627 posts

My thanks as well! I may be looking at this one down the line.

Posted by Gretchen
Andover, MA, USA
419 posts

I should add re: Pont du Gard - I don't know if they will continue allowing people across or if it was for a special reason. I would say, the timing just happened to work out, so you may get there and you still may not have time to do it, even if it is open. As I stated, we were already on our way back down when the local guide just happened to be ready to go through. We only had about 20 more minutes left before having to get on the bus, so we just made it through and then back to the bus in time. But, we didn't have time to walk through the little museum area etc. hopefully, you will have some time to do it, if you'd like.

Posted by Mimi
Morrison, CO, USA
460 posts

Thanks for the information! We have done 5 RS tours and this one is on the bucket list. Hopefully soon!

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
552 posts

Thanks for posting this, Gretchen. I'm going on this tour in September and am grateful for your tips.

One question: If you brought a change of clothes for the canoeing, where would you have the opportunity to actually change?

Second question (I lied): Did you have any problem with your stuff while canoeing? Was picture-taking easy enough or was it a bit worrisome with all the water? Kind of a silly question, I suppose, but I'm wondering if it's even worth taking a camera on the river. I haven't been on a canoe since I was about 12, and I only remember a ton of splashing.

Posted by Gretchen
Andover, MA, USA
419 posts

Hi Teresa,

I should say I was one of the few people who didn't actually end up canoeing. :( It had been raining/pouring ALL day and since I didn't have any other clothes, I decided to skip it (I didn't want it to keep raining and get completely soaked -of course, it stopped raining just in time for the canoers, but by then it was too late for me). Instead I went on a boat ride (which was covered) and went in some of the same area of the river as the canoes. This was actually pretty fun! :). However to answer your question, there is a small room at the canoe start point where you can change before getting your life jacket. Then, after about 1 1/2 hours or so, the bus will pick you up at the canoe landing (there is nothing there - the bus just waits for you by the side of a bridge). Then you can probably pull the curtains on the bus and change (some of our tour members did this). It seemed to work fine for the people who had brought along a change of clothes. In terms of taking pictures, the river was fairly calm so I think you could take some photos, but I don't think many people did this - it was quite a long trip 1 1/2 - 2 hours of canoeing. It wasn't super wet in the canoes as far as I know. I'm sure it also depends on your partner too - are they likely to repeatedly splash you?

I hope this helps. :)

Posted by gremlincat2
16 posts

I was a tour member with Gretchen and I thought I could shed more insight.. I did the canoeing on the Dordogne and yes you can
take pictures on the river.. it is slow moving and shallow in some places. I did not think ahead and bring a change of clothing so I was wet when we as a group met up and did another stop with the tour members. Thank goodness I had a rain coat and extra hoodie to wrap around me so I wouldnt get the bus seat wet.The canoe company provides a waterproof container for you to have in the canoe to store things you dont want to get wet. if you get the kayak oars you will get wetter than if you use the canoe oars. bring shoes that are waterproof. I had teva's and they were perfect. I even wore them on walks with the group when we had rain.

A wonderful tour, I highly recommend it.

Debbie

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA
103 posts

Hi Gretchen,
Happy to see you had a wonderful trip!

For our May canoe day our tour guide suggested we bring a change of clothes and anyone considering it did that. We also had been dealing with the rains. Those that went canoeing didn't do the view point. The non-canoers did the view point with the bus driver. But our canoeing was ppd from morning to later afternoon because of the hard morning rains.

Our departure point had a small outdoor room to change, too. The riverbank landing was next to a recreational field area where there were bathrooms. I guess it depends on the river currents as to where you get off or where the bus driver/guide decide is best that day.

Thanks for all the updates.

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
552 posts

I'm curious what you ladies did with your free time in Nice. On the one full day there, I'm hoping to get to the Chagall Museum after the walking tour is done. I'll have another day there on my own because I don't fly out till the day after the tour ends. I was thinking of training to Monaco, but I'm wondering if I'll actually want to spend more time in Nice just wandering around (e.g., browse-shopping, the Promenades). Even though I'd quite like to see Monaco, I'm not immovably wedded to the idea (in fact, I'm a teensy bit intimidated by it!); my only absolute must-do is the Chagall Museum.

Any thoughts/suggestions? Did any of you go out to Monaco? Did you wish you had more time in Nice? Less time?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4517 posts

Teresa: I haven't taken the RS tour, as I went on my own. But I'm not sure why you're intimidated by Monaco, unless it's Rick's describing it as a sort of gated community where people will spit on you for not being a multi-millionaire. I know he didn't actually say that, but he sure gives that impression. (He seems to have a similar reaction to Cannes, while I found that away from a very small glamor zone, it's actually quite workaday and not fancy at all.)

Visiting Monaco is no harder or more intimidating than visiting anywhere else in the area. I actually preferred it to Nice (it was certainly cleaner), and enjoyed the aquarium and the Prince's car collection (they are emphatic that it's not a "car museum"), as well as the Jardin Exotique. I got a €3 all day bus pass, which was much handier than I expected (Monaco may be very small, but it's hilly, and the sections of interest to me would have involved a lot of walking to connect).

But you don't have to decide in advance whether you want to stay in Nice or day trip to Monaco. Trains (under €5 each way) go between them twice an hour and buses (€1.50) go between them 4 times an hour, so you can decide at the spur of the moment, and you can stay in Monaco as long or as short as you want (so if you go and hate it, you can just go right back).

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
575 posts

Hi Teresa, I did the May 18 tour. We arrived in Nice in time for a dinner on our own then walked down the promenade. The next morning there was a two hour walking tour which my friend and I skipped. We took the bus to Monaco (easy, 30 min ride), visited the palace and church, walked around the beautiful gardens, sat on a bench over-looking the yachts, did some shopping, had lunch, and took the bus back. Most things did not open until 10 a.m. We spent about 6 hours in Monaco and got back in time for the farewell dinner. Note - some of our tour members stayed an extra day and did Monaco the day the tour ended. We had several rainy days and did not do the canoe trip (the guide replaced it with a covered boat ride). This tour did have a slightly slower pace than others I've taken but we did a lot of walking on our own, especially in Carcassonne and Sarlat. Hope you enjoy the tour!

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1167 posts

Teresa - If you like Impressionist art, you can take the bus to Cagnes sur Mer from Nice and visit Renoir's home and garden, where he lived and worked. It was an easy bus ride and I loved visiting the place where Renoir lived toward the end of his life. It was not crowded when I visited in July a few years ago and it's a wonderful way to spend a half day.

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
552 posts

Thanks, Donna and Grier. Good to know that approx. 6 hours in Monaco isn't a ridiculous amount of time. And I will totally do some research on Renoir's home. That sounds amazing!

Posted by Gretchen
Andover, MA, USA
419 posts

Hi Teresa,

In Nice, we had the afternoon to ourselves, after the walking tour. I (and some of the others I was on tour with), went to lunch immediately. We had lunch at a restaurant on the beach itself, just below where the elevator goes up to the overlook of the city (the "chateau"). The food was delicious!! I think it was called Castel Plage or something like that. Then, we went up the elevator/stairs to check out the overlook. We came down and just wandered around the downtown some more. I did talk to one tour member later that evening who went to the Chagall museum, but she didn't like it as much as she had hoped. She said she is really drawn to all the color in Chagall's work, but lots of the stuff in the museum were black/white sketches - not what she had expected. Some people did stay and take the bus to Monaco the next day and I think it went fine.

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
552 posts

Thanks, Gretchen. Interesting about the Chagall museum. Even if it may be a tad disappointing, I'll still go because I know I would regret not going.

Posted by Alan
Folsom
22 posts

We enjoyed this tour even though it rained nearly every day. We did not canoe, and the barge ride, very short and pretty much a waste of time, was a soaker. The Chagall Museum in Nice was fabulous, with large very colorful canvases. Black and white? Maybe a few, but this is a great small museum. We rented a car in Nice, drove to the village of Lourmarin in Provence where we stayed at a flat we rented through VRBO. Spent a great week using this beautiful village as home base for day trips, drinking in the afternnons at the local cafe, eating some terrific food, visiting markets. Our feeling is 2 weeks is just too short a time given the lenght of the flight, hassles of travel, etc., so a week after a RS tour, or at laest a long weekend, has become our MO. Do it if you can!

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA
103 posts

Went down to the beach and ate lunch at restaurant right there, Very nice! It's directly across street from the hotel used for tour. After a few lounged on the beach and some of us did the Promenade walk, and then the market area for gifts.
Others went to Chagall Musuem, some shopped, a couple went to a harbor marina a few towns away, and a few went to Monaco the next day.

Posted by NanZ
2 posts

Specific reply to Alan: "Our feeling is 2 weeks is just too short a time given the lenght of the flight, hassles of travel, etc., so a week after a RS tour, or at laest a long weekend, has become our MO. Do it if you can!" Thanks for this marvelous advice. I'm a 2013 tour alum, and this tour is my favorite of my 3 Rick Steves tours. Still, I left it feeling that I hadn't experienced enough of Provence (for example, Aix; wine country of Gigondas, Chateauneuf du Pape, Rasteau; Nimes). I'm wondering how much I could do without a car and where to stay. I'm thinking day trips centered on one location. I'm looking at returning for 2-3 weeks for exploring/experiencing just Provence.

Posted by Alan
Folsom
22 posts

To visit the small towns and villages of Provence you really do need a car. Although we saw buses, they were far and few between. Places like Fort Boux were relatively off the beaten path. The only car hassle we had, and it was a minor one, was getting into Aix (traffic). Without a car you are unlikely to see such delightful small places such as Cuceron, Lacoste, Bonnieux, Ansious, etc. One of our future trips, after Spain 2015, probably Ireland 2016, will be Eastern France, picking up a car in Marsielle and heading back to Provence. Looking back, as much as we did, we barely scratched the surface. Provence is a magical place.

Posted by Alan
Folsom
22 posts

Oh, and we would return to Lourmarin. A delightful and well located town. It's flat, which means a lot at the end of a day hiking, as many small towns are "up". It has very pleasant cafe's for enjoying a glass of wine and watching the world stroll by, with their dogs. Has a few nice restaurants, a great pizza place, and a legendary market.

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
552 posts

Got the tour hotel list the other day (one of the most exciting days of the year!). Have you stayed in any of these?

Hotel le Calendal (Arles)
Hotel Montmorency (Carcassonne)
Hotel Montaigne (Sarlat)

They all look pretty nice. Considering bringing a pair of shorts so I can sit by the pool at the Montmorency and dangle my feet in the water!

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
226 posts

For Teresa: Took this tour 2012. Took Nice tour in Feb this year. I would suggest you take a look at the Nice (Riviera) tour itinerary and see what places were visited as day trips with Nice as the base and see what interests you. I loved all the small(er) museums we visited. I have been to the Chagall Museum twice and loved it both times; his art is beautifully displayed. We found it fairly easy to use local transportation to get around the area.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
487 posts

NanZ, in response to your question about seeing things without a car... Two of the spots you mention [Aix, Nimes] are fair-sized towns with easy public transit so you wouldn't need a car there. We spent 3 days in Montpellier and 3 more in Avignon in May 2014, and took a fun day trip to Nimes; we picked Mpl to stay because DD had spent 6 weeks there the previous summer and wanted to show me all her favorite places, but if I were doing it again I'd stay in Nimes. We also splurged our next-to-last day with an all-day tour through Provence Panorama; our trip took us to several different locations including Pont du Gard, St Remy, Baux, Orange, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but there are a number of other routes that they offer. So you might be able to do a lot of the sightseeing you want via public transit and then do a tour or two to get some other spots that are harder to reach without a car. And I warmly recommend Provence Panorama based on our experience; only the two of us on the tour, and a great guide.

Posted by Laura
Williamstown, MA
153 posts

We loved Nice and loved the Chagall museum. It is very specific (it features many of his biblical canvases) but it was actually designed by the artist - how neat is that? It was a fun public bus ride from the center of town.

We particularly enjoyed the Italo-Franco flavor of Nice and it's one of the few places my husband says he'd like to go back to. Many other museums etc. we didn't get a chance to visit. And the city was just really fun! Our R. Steves hotel was nothing to write home about, but very convenient (a chain hotel, tiny rooms, but right on the waterfront). If we go back in future I think I'd look for a B&B or apt. since being right on the water wouldn't be as big a priority.

Posted by Brad
Delaware
1 posts

I'm the "guy with a GPS" Rachel mentions in #3. I can confirm that this tour had less walking than our previous tours! Here's a break down of the total distances we've walked during group activities on our five tours. Since some tours were longer than others, I'll also throw in the average distance walked per day.

  • Heart of Belgium and Holland (total 33 km, average 3.3 km/day)
  • Eastern Europe (40 km, 2.6 km/day)
  • Scandinavia (36 km, 2.8 km/day)
  • Rome (22 km, 3.6 km/day)
  • Loire/South of France (15 km, 1.3 km/day)

In response to the inquiries about canoeing:

  • I took lots of photos while floating down the river. It's very calm. The canoe company provides you with a waterproof container, which I tossed my camera in when I wasn't taking photos.
  • Gretchen's right about small facilities to change in. We just stepped away from the group and changed behind a bus/shed/column rather than waiting our turn. Our group were the only people at the put-in and take-out spots.
  • We didn't get wet. :) I think it was Debbie who mentioned the kayak oars may get you wetter. We chose traditional, single-end canoe paddles.

Overall, we had a great time on the tour. I'll eventually get our experiences, photos, etc. posted on my website, but life has me busy right now!

Posted by Terri
Colbert, WA, USA
27 posts

Brad,
Had a chance to check out your website. To say that I was impressed is an understatement. I just wish you had taken and reported on every RS tour. Your trip reports provide an EXCELLENT documentation of what to expect on RS tours. I am debating between The Best of Eastern France and the Athens and Greece tours for 2015. Wish you had been on those tours and reported because I know I would definitely have a compete picture of what each of those tours offered. Once again, amazing website and reports! How you did not win any of the scrapbook contests is beyond me!