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RS Loire Valley to the South of France-Part 5

This is day’s 10-13-and the final section of my post of our RS tour in May. I’m trying to post the tour as seen and experienced through my eyes;

Day 10 The Pont du Gard

For some, including my wife, the Pont du Gard was what the group had come to see on this tour. It’s a 10-minute walk from the parking lot to get to the bridge, and it is impressive, especially when you think of the engineering feat to build it 2000 years ago. But other than that, when you’re at the bridge, all you do is walk across and take photos at the top of the hill, at the bottom of the hill, beside the river and then you’re done. For me, what was more impressive was the museum. The museum not only had displays of how the Pont was built but also went into detail of how plumbing was used in the Roman homes of the time. The Romans even had their own Utility service and stamped their pipes with a logo. If I had known how interesting it was, I would have devoted less time at the bridge and more time in the museum. I only had 1 hour and could have easily used another hour.
Back to Arles and a free afternoon. My wife and I caught a train and headed to Avignon to visit the Palais des Papes, this was the headquarters for the Catholic Church from 1309-1377. Your entry comes with an audio/video tour. The inside of the Palais is barren, but you’re given a tablet that describes the history and when you point the tablet in the various areas, an image comes up that shows what it would have looked like when it was occupied. It added a new dimension to an audio tour. I think we spent about 4 hours in Avignon and made it back to Arles in time to meet our group for dinner. The train from Arles to Avignon leaves every half hour or so and it’s simple to buy tickets and navigate.

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Day 11 Les Baux to the French Riviera

It wasn’t part of the scheduled tour, but as a bonus we went to see Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux. Spectacular. I’d never heard of it before, but when it was announced that we were going there was a buzz on the bus. This year’s theme is Van Gough with his paintings beamed onto the walls of a limestone quarry. I’ve tried to describe it to friends, but you really need to see it. After that we spent about 3 hours in Les Baux which in my mind was 2 and a half hours too many. It’s a hilltop village with castle ruins. It was sooo windy, apparently this is the place where the Mistral Winds got their reputation. I thought I was going to get blown off the hill as I was climbing around the castle ruins. After Les Baux, it was off to Nice for our final stop on the tour. We checked into our hotel and had the evening free to eat and wander. I was amused because the Champions League Soccer Final was being played this evening. I’m a big sports fan and me and another guy from the tour set off to find a sports bar to watch. One thing I discovered is if you’re expecting a North American style sports bar in France with multiple TV’s…you’re not going to find it; I wish I could post a photo. The best we found was an outdoor patio where the bar had rolled out one mid-size TV for a crowd of about 200 to sit around and watch. We ended up back at our own hotel bar which also had 1 small TV with the game on.

Day 12 Nice

A tour of Nice in the morning with a local guide. It’s a beautiful city and the coastline is spectacular. Like most European beaches we’ve been to; don’t expect sand, it’s just a lot of palm sized flat rocks. My style of travel is go-go-go, get 6 or 7 hours of sleep and then go again, but today my wife and I enjoyed a relaxing day taking in the views and window shopping (our guide Virginie calls it window licking) at stores with 40,000 Euro watches and 25,000 Euro purses. Happily (thankfully) my wife restrained herself.

Day 13 Tour Over.

We had breakfast together with our new friends; and I mean that literally. I’m somewhat introverted, but my wife is a social butterfly and she’s still in touch with a couple of people from the tour, and we’ve both become Facebook friends with a few of them. My wife and I spent an extra couple of days in Nice before taking a train back to Paris for our flight home. A few other people stayed for an extra day or two as well and so we got together for the next two nights for dinners.

This was our first bus tour of any kind and so I have nothing to compare it to. If there is one thing that stood out for me, it was the quality of our guide Virginie More and how she educated us during the 2-4 hours of bus travel each day. I’m not good at sitting still and I was very concerned about the time on the bus, however the lesson we learned about French language and culture on those bus rides added a new and unexpected dimension to the tour that I wouldn’t have got by doing a trip alone. If I had one complaint, it is that I would have liked more time in a few of the sites, however that was not a common complaint among the group. All in all, loved the tour, loved France and now planning is underway for our next adventure-which is Scotland, and we’ll be doing it on our own. But will I do another RS tour in the future? Absolutely.

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4453 posts

Allan, thank you for posting your reactions, positive and negative. I like that when you didn't care for a place or activity, you said why you didn't like it.

And I agree the best things about RS tours are the guides and the folks you meet on the tours. We're still in touch with people we met on tours years ago. And RS guides are top notch. We've taken 14 RS tours, with 12 different guides, and would happily sign up for a tour with all but one or two of them. As you suggested, there's a bigger range in the local guides, from outstanding to a few who were disappointing.

Thanks again for posting.

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219 posts

Thank you, thank you, thank you Allan for this great series review! As I said previously, after the Eastern France tour we took in August, I’ve been seriously considering your tour. Sounds like a great one.

Posted by
8009 posts

Allan, what a lovely end to your tour! I’ve enjoyed all your reports and am happy you had a great time. Thanks for taking the time to post! Things like your comment on Pont du Gard and spending more time in the museum are very helpful!

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700 posts

Allan,

Thank you for taking all the time to complete these reports- greatly appreciated. Really adds to the web site!

Travel safe,

One Fast Bob

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3642 posts

Allan, again I really appreciate your posts of your RS trip!

We had the opposite experience at Pont du Gard when we were there on our own. We had reserved canoes (had our hotel receptionist make the reservations), but when we arrived by bus, they weren’t there. So we had extra time at Pont du Gard until the next bus would head back to Avignon. We spent a lot of time at that museum (as a couple of former engineers, we loved it, too!), walked across the bridge a few times, waded in the river and enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the shade with a nice view of the bridge.

I had considered having us stay in Arles but booked us at Avignon, so we had better connections to day trips - Luberon villages/lavender field, Pont du Gard and Nimes, and it was faster from Paris.

Your trip report covering several places we have stayed really helped me see what we missed by traveling on our own and also the advantages we experienced doing our own itinerary. I agree that RS tours are a fantastic way to see Europe, and we would consider taking another in the future.

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1172 posts

Allan, again Thank You so much for your trip report. The Loire tour is definitely on my bucket list for 2021. I like that you mentioned the good and not so good and why. That really helps in the planning. Sure wish I could pass on the canoe trip and find a trail horse to ride along the river bank instead.
I went on my first RS tour in May—South of Italy—and loved it. The guides, tour mates and total experience were fantastic.

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6 posts

Great report, Allan!
I've been trying to decide whether to do this tour, or use it as a template to travel on our own. I'm 71 and my husband is 77. We are active--play golf and pickleball--but steps play havoc with our knees. Since I enjoy the planning, and have been doing it since a 1969 Europe on $5 a day adventure (where we actually toured Chartres Cathedral with Malcolm Miller!), I'm now leaning toward a copy cat trip that we can do at our own pace. I know what you mean about wishing for an extra hour or two here and there. I've often thought that on river cruises.
As we will be traveling by train, I thought we might stay in Tours which is way easier to get to and from, and take a day tour to Chambord and Clemonceau. Then visit Amboise on our own. I had thought about adding a tour to Villandry and a winery...from your post, I'm reconsidering that. I thought we'd do Sarlat for the market, and now plan to look into the Lascaux Cave, and perhaps a cruise along the river that includes a visit to Beynac. Part of the reason for the trip is I've always wanted to see Carcassonne, and I expect spending the night inside the walls will be every bit as magical as it was to sleep at Mont St-Michel. From there we'll go to Arles and/or Avignon--I'm one of those who is looking forward to seeing Pont du Gard. Finally, we may end up in Marseilles, and fly home from there. I'd be interested in any thoughts you have on timing--May vs September/October, or anything else you might suggest.
Thank you, Kathy

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1003 posts

Thanks for the comprehensive report. We took this tour in 2018 and really enjoyed it. I like to say that you go on one these tours to experience Europe, but you also learn a great deal about America from your fellow travelers. On our last tour (Village Italy April-May 2019) we met a couple before the tour started, and got along so well that we are planning a trip with them next year.

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1676 posts

Hi Kathy;

We did the tour the last 2 weeks of May and for the most part, the weather was fine. A bit cool that we required jackets in the morning and evenings from Sarlat and north but wore shorts in the afternoon. Having said that, when we got back to Paris the first weekend in June they were having a heat wave.

I didn't pay close attention to trains but from what I understand, trains in the Dordogne region (Sarlat, Beynac and Lascaux) would be challenging. Our guide did arrange a driver for us to Lascaux and I believe the name of the husband/wife team is in the RS book.

Villandry was my favourite of the 3 chateaus in the Loire that we visited-because of the gardens. However they will not be in full bloom yet if you go when we did.

I did say my least favourite part of the trip was lack of time in some spots, but I wouldn't consider that a deal breaker for taking the RS trip; it was still outstanding. We've made 4 trips to Europe in the past 5 years, by cruise, RS tours and on our own, and all have advantages and disadvantages and I suspect we'll continue to use all 3 methods.

Yes, yes, yes to Carcassonne, just not during the day. It's worth the effort to get up early to see the sunrise outside of the walls.

As for your knees, I'm thinking the only place I could see it being a real problem is the occasional hotel, Pont du Gard-if you decide on a hike. The walk to the Pont is all flat. Beynac is a steep hill town, but very pretty. The Palais de Papes in Avignon also has a lot of steps, but very interesting.

If you're in the Arles/Avignon region, a trip to see http://www.carrieres-lumieres.com/ will be a hi-lite of the trip.

I envy how active you are in your 70's and I hope I can match you when I reach that age.

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6 posts

Allan,
Thanks so much for your reply. I just got home from two cortisone shots, so hopefully the knees will be good again!
We like to travel from September to May to avoid crowds. I found a great site with photos of the gardens at villandry by season. It is amazing to see how they change. Here is the link: https://www.chateauvillandry.fr/en/explore/the-garden/season-after-season/?cat_id=30
I know that train travel will be limiting, but we don't do well driving in Europe, and the inconvenience of the trains beats a divorce! I have found that the day tours available from Get Your Guide and Viator, and others can be a good way to get to out of the way places.
That's interesting about the steps. When I was in the sign-up process for the tour, I got the message about cheerfully carrying my bag up 5 flights of stairs, and the possibility of happily going down the hall to the bathroom... I'm afraid either of those would be tough to manage. I think I will call the RS office and inquire further. We've always used his books as guides, and usually stay in the hotels he recommends. So I know the style of travel would suit us. The one thing that didn't sound so good to us was the kayaking, but I noticed you said that about half the group passed on that.
Thanks again for the great posts...it is really helpful to have commentary on each part of the tour.
Kathy

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1676 posts

Kathy;
My wife has reminded me that I'm not the average traveler when it comes to walking, climbing, stairs, hills, etc. and I'm willing to go from dawn to dusk without stopping. She's warned me to be careful of any advice I give on the physical efforts of the tour because I tend to downplay the effort required. I'll try and break it down into facts only so you and your knees can decide what is best;

Day 1 and 2 Chartres hotel has an elevator. Walking tour on day 2 will include stairs to the lower part of town and a hill climb up a street back to the top. By the way, all hotels rooms on trip had their own bathroom.

Day 3 and 4 B and B in Chinon. Possibility of being on the 3rd floor. Amboise, long walk to Da Vinci house. reasonably flat terrain, stairs in the home. All 3 Chateaus have stairs to tour inside. You tour them on your own, no guided tour.

Day 5-7 Sarlat. Steep stairs at hotel, no elevator. I'm told this hotel is not the usual one used for the tour. Walks are minimal and no real hills or stairs.

Day 8 Carcassone. I don't recall an elevator, but hotel is 2 floors. a slight slope from the hotel to Carcassonne entrance. Long walk with guide after dinner out the walls and down a moderate sloped street to see sunset.

Day 9 and 10. Arles hotel. See my tour Part 4 for description of hotel challenge. Arles tour is mainly flat. Pont Du Gard will be hilly but can be avoided. Les Baux is a steep hilled town.

Day 11-13 Nice hotel has elevator. Long walk to Old Town, but flat. Stair climb on city walking tour but an elevator is an option. About half our tour chose that method.

Hope this helps. You seem used to trains and finding day tours and going your own pace. Nothing wrong with that option either.

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6 posts

Allan,
I figured there would definitely be stairs in the chateaux, and walks up and downhill. My kids used to accuse me of forced marches--but when you're paying for 5 people, you want to make each day count! We are a bit more relaxed these days.
I have booked the tour, and we are looking forward to it! I called the office and was assured all hotel rooms are ensuite, and I know we can opt out if something is too much.

Those monthly photos of the gardens at Villandry were helpful. We opted for early June in hopes of seeing more flowers.
Thanks so much to you (and your wife!) for all the help. I will post when we return.
Kathy

Posted by
116 posts

Thank you for your great report. We signed up for this tour starting April 26. We prefer cool over hot weather so picked the spring. Can’t wait

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4453 posts

I think we're going to sign up for this tour in 2021. There's a tiny chance we can take it in 2020, but really not likely.

The shared bathroom problem: I think there are only two RS hotels that threaten shared bathrooms, and then not always. The first time we stayed at the Stechelberg hotel in the Lauterbrunnen Valley my DH and I shared a bathroom with a couple of male German tourists. Everyone was thoughtful and polite, and we had no trouble. Some of our tour mates in the annex shared bathrooms with other tour mates, and the only problem was scheduling showers: morning vs evening.

The second time we took this tour, DH and I had a private bath! Which surprised me greatly; I didn't even know that hotel had en suite bathrooms.

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1676 posts

We have fond memories of a restaurant in Carcassone. We had the best
Cassoulet ever! (Maison du Cassoulet).

We had a group meal featuring cassoulet at a restaurant in Carcassonne but I can't recall the name of the place. I'll be honest, the most disappointing thing about France for me was the food. I found it very bland and that included the cassoulet. The only meal that I truly enjoyed in my 16 days was in Nice at Lu Fran Calin in Old Town. It was the best lasagna I've ever had. On the positive side, I lost 6 pounds in those 16 days.

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627 posts

I'll try and break it down into facts only so you and your knees can decide what is best;

Day 1 and 2 Chartres hotel has an elevator. Walking tour on day 2 will include stairs to the lower part of town and a hill climb up a street back to the top. By the way, all hotels rooms on trip had their own bathroom.
etc...

while this can be used as a general guide to what the hotels and itinerary on a RS tour are like, they can use different hotels year to year and even in the same season. And the guides (RS and local) have some flexibility so the walks may not be the same tour to tour.

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1676 posts

We signed up for this tour starting April 26.

Patty, I'm excited for you. I was just commenting on my Part 1 post to another person who is going next Spring, that I still read the tour reviews from other people who took the tour after me, because I'm curious of what they thought. Everyone loved it, but everyone had different reasons. I can't wait to read about your Wow moment.

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116 posts

We used to do fall tours when working but since retiring have picked spring. We went to Scandinavia in August due to daylight hours. It worked out well. We’re combining this tour with Portugal. Can’t wait