Please sign in to post.

Tour Review - Loire Valley/South of France May 6 - May 18th, 2018

We left home on 4/30/18,( six days before the start of the tour )and stayed in Paris. We flew Aer Lingus on the direct flight from Hartford (BDL) to Dublin and transferred to Paris CDG. The Rick Steves Paris guidebook enabled us to find a great place to stay in the Latin Quarter - the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles. https://www.hotel-grandes-ecoles.com/. The setting was beautiful - quiet yet convenient to everything. For dinner, we would often buy takeaway food and a bottle of wine and eat in the garden. On our first morning, we met a woman who stays at this hotel twice a year, and has been doing so for the past seven years. A couple of days later, we talked to another couple who had been coming to the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles for 20 years. Toward the end of our stay, we met a woman from Canada who had been coming to the hotel every year since she was a teenager - 40 years ago! She said: I have travelled all over the world, and this hotel is my favorite spot.

Tuesday was the May 1st holiday, so many attractions were closed in Paris. However, it didn’t matter much to us since we were still recovering from our overnight flight. There was a peaceful Mayday demonstration with plenty of attention from the Police Nationale. On the next day we purchased four-day museum passes at the Pantheon. We had been to most of the major museums before, so this time we spent 2-3 hours in each one. The Musee de l’Orangerie had an excellent exhibit on Monet’s work vis a vis Abstract Expressionism. It was good to be able to visit the Picasso Museum, which was closed for renovations on our last visit to Pairs. We enjoyed a return visit to the Rodin Museum, which had been partially closed the last time. A special find on this trip was the Musee Marmottan, which contains the world’s largest collection of Monet paintings including Impression Sunrise.. At the Louvre we met an Australian couple with whom we had an interesting cultural exchange conversation.

On Sunday May 6th we walked from our hotel to Gare Austerlitz and caught a train to Chartres. During the layover in Voves, we had the fun of meeting four of our tour members. There was some confusion about train travel from Paris to Chartres. Ordinarily there are frequent one hour direct trains from Gare Montparnasse to Chartres. I had been informed that work was being done at Gare Montparnasse on Sunday May 6th, and that alternate routes were available via Gare Austerlitz. The alternate routing took several hours including a lengthy layover in Voves. However, upon retrieving our tickets at Gare Austerlitz on May 5th, we were told that we could have travelled from Gare Montparnasse after all.

**The next section of this report covers the tour itself. I will copy the daily itinerary from the RS website and add my own comments**

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 1: Welcome to Chartres
We'll meet at 5 p.m. at our hotel for a short "bienvenue à Chartres" meeting. Then we'll take an orientation walk through our neighborhood, followed by time to get acquainted over dinner together at the Cafe Bleu. Sleep in Chartres (2 nights). Tour Hotel: Timhotel Chartres Cathedrale. Tour Guide: Patrick Vidal. Town Population: 39,000

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 2: Cathedral and Art of Chartres
We'll begin our day with a walking tour of Chartres' pedestrian-friendly, stream-straddling old town. Then we'll be treated to a scholar's tour of the famed cathedral of Chartres. One of the most impressive structures in all of Europe, it is also home to some of the world's finest medieval stained glass, and the veil of Mary. The rest of your day is free to explore the town, or to learn more about the art of creating stained glass.

The cathedral tour focused on the stained glass. Our guide, Malcolm Miller, was very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. Some of us wanted to hear more about the cathedral and its historical context. Most of the tour group went to the stained glass demo and tour of artworks. The modern stained glass works were the most appealing.
The highlight of our stay in Chartres was the fabulous light show that occurs every night from April to October. It is almost impossible to describe the artistic and technological genius that went in to the production of this show. Google *
Chartres en Lumieres** for more information.*https://www.chartresenlumieres.com/en/

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 3: Amboise, Chenonceau, and Chinon
This morning we'll say au revoir to Chartres and drive south to the Loire Valley, the land of a thousand châteaux. You'll have some free time in the charming town of Amboise, where you could visit the home of Leonardo da Vinci (even grab a little lunch there) and study working models of the Renaissance Man's cleverest inventions. This afternoon we'll visit the elegant, river-straddling Château de Chenonceau, where we'll learn about royal life in France, with free time to roam through the château's opulent interior and gardens. We'll continue on to castle-topped Chinon, where we'll have dinner together and sleep (2 nights). Tour Hotel: Hotel Diderot.. Town Population: 8,000

We had a couple of hours to visit the home of Leonardo da Vinci, and found it to be fascinating. As was often the case, we could have spent more time there (but such is life on an organized tour). The Chateau de Chenonceau was impressive, although a bit crowded due to the fact that it was a holiday.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 4: Villandry and the Loire
We'll spend our morning visiting the Château de Villandry, famous for its remarkable "themed" gardens, inspired by water, music, love, and more. It's a gardener and photographer's dream. Afterward, your guide and driver will take you on a little excursion around the Loire Valley, returning to Chinon in the afternoon. You'll be free for the rest of the day and evening to explore the town's ancient streets, tour the medieval castle, or sample the local wines.

The Chateau de VIllandry was beautiful. At the end of the day there was a wine-tasting at our hotel at which we learned a great deal about the significance of regional wine characteristics in France.. Chinon was quiet and peaceful, but there were enough nice restaurants to satisfy us.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 5: Oradour-sur-Glane and Sarlat
Our destination is the Dordogne, a sublime region of fortified hill towns, caves, and meandering streams. We'll have a countryside picnic en route, then stop for a thought-provoking walk through the WWII martyr village of Oradour-sur-Glane — frozen in time as a memorial since June 10, 1944, when its unarmed residents were senselessly gunned down by German troops. Our day will end with dinner together in the quintessential market town of Sarlat, where we'll sleep (3 nights). Tour Hotel: Hotel Montaigne. Town Population: 9,000

The tour bus stopped in the small village of Mortmartre for lunch. The mayor of the village gave us a tour (in French). Fortunately, she spoke slowly, so we could pretty much understand what she was saying. The village of Oradour sur Glane was a sobering reminder of the inhumanity of war. The decimated village was left intact, and a new village was constructed on a nearby hill. As you walked through the ruins, you could read signs describing the life of the village on the day before the massacre.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 6: Cave Art and Canoeing
Today begins with a chance to appreciate some of Europe's oldest art: the 13,000-year-old drawings of Rouffignac Cave. We'll hop aboard a subterranean train to marvel at engravings and drawings depicting bison, horses, woolly rhinoceros, and…mammoths. There are so many mammoths depicted that locals have nicknamed it "the cave of 100 mammoths." This afternoon (weather permitting), we'll canoe down the Dordogne River from Cénac to Beynac, gliding past medieval castles and villages. If the weather is hot, we may even stop for a swim along the way.

The cave drawings were excellent. A few tour members skipped the trip into the cave due to concerns over claustrophobia. The six mile canoe trip was fun. The river was crowded due to the fact that the weather had not been that good earlier in the week. We even had an adventure trying to get through one of the three bridges on the Dordogne.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 7: Market Day in Sarlat
Take a vacation from your vacation! You'll have the entire day to savor the colorful weekly market in one of France's most pedestrian-friendly towns. Rub shoulders with local shoppers, sample foie gras, and salivate over the famous black truffle as you shop for your fantasy picnic lunch. Today you can make it a tasty reality! Then stretch your legs with a countryside walk.

It was nice to have a day off without planned activities. Our guide organized a happy hour at the hotel, at which we presented our buddy introductions. We were instructed to find out something about our buddy on the previous day’s bus ride.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 8: Medieval Carcassonne
This morning we'll drive south, crossing the scenic valleys of the Lot and Tarn Rivers as we make our way to Europe's largest fortified city: delightfully medieval Carcassonne. After a walking tour of Carcassonne's fortified old town — La Cité — you'll be free to savor views from the stony ramparts and wander through the cobbled lanes. We'll regroup for dinner together. Cassoulet anyone? Sleep in Carcassonne (1 night). Tour Hotel: Hotel Montmorency. Town Population: 48,000 (although only a handful live in the old city)

We stopped for awhile near Toulouse to look at the river locks. In Carcassonne we heard a lively presentation by a local guide who represents himself as a medieval knight. This guide was in reality a medieval scholar who debunked many myths about that time period. For example, if a person in medieval times made it to adulthood by surviving childhood diseases, they could expect to live to around age 70.. The hotel was just outside the old city, so we only saw the main part of the town from a distance.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 9: On to Arles
This morning we'll drive east through the scenic Languedoc-Roussillon region. We'll stop at a winery en route to drink from the bounty of France's largest wine-producing region. Then we'll devote our afternoon to a walking tour of Arles. Your local guide will lace together stories of its impressive Roman Arena, Classical Theater, and Forum — and tales of Vincent van Gogh, who lived and painted in this neighborhood just over a century ago. Our day will end with dinner together. Sleep in Arles (2 nights). Tour Hotel: Hotel Calendal. Town Population: 53,000

The St. Cristol winery stop included a sumptuous lunch. We became fans of French rose wine, and have continued to purchase this type of wine at home. Arles was a fascinating town with a slightly gritty feel. It was interesting to learn that bullfighting took place in the ancient arena. One could sense a Northern African influence in the makeup of the local populace. We visited the site of the Van Gogh painting Night Cafe, but were told that the food is not very good. The group dinner in Arles was perhaps the best on on the tour.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 10: The Pont du Gard
We'll start our morning off visiting the majestic, astonishingly well-preserved Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. This engineering marvel helped supply millions of gallons of fresh water daily to one of the largest cities in Roman Gaul — 20 centuries ago! We'll visit both the aqueduct and its much younger museum. Your afternoon and evening will be free back in Arles for making your own discoveries.

The museum associated with Pont du Gard had some well-done exbiits on the construction of the bridge. During the afternoon, we went to the local Picasso Museum, saw a gladiator fight reenactment at the Arena, and visited the Amphitheatre.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 11: Les Baux to the French Riviera
This morning we'll drive to the hill town of Les Baux, and enjoy sweeping views of the Provençal countryside from atop the ruins of its medieval citadel. After lunch we'll head for the Riviera. Upon arrival in Nice, we'll check into our hotel before setting out on an orientation walk through the Italian-feeling Old City and seaside promenade. Afterward you'll be set free to explore and enjoy dinner on your own. Sleep in or near Nice (2 nights). Tour Hotel: Mercure Hotel Nice Marche Aux Fleurs. City Population: 344,000

Patrick had a surprise for us on the way to the village of Les Baux. The Carrieres des Lumieres is a multi-media show in a huge abandoned quarry. The show had two segments: Picasso’s art and Flower Power (featuring music from the sixties). In some ways reminiscent of the light show in Chartes, words fail to describe this display. We could have stayed for hours.. See the website:https://www.carrieres-lumieres.com/en/visit/opening-times-and-access

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 12: Nice
This morning we'll take a walking tour across Nice, starting with the busy Cours Saleya, the city's main market square since the Middle Ages. We'll then follow the narrow streets of the Italianate Old City to the spacious boulevards and shopping promenades of the city's newer side. Here, in the late 19th century, visitors from the north seeking the elixir of warm, fresh sea air created Europe's first tourism boom. Your afternoon will be free to wander through Nice's beautiful Chagall and Matisse Museums, prowl the promenades, or relax on the famous beach. This evening we'll enjoy a final dinner together, sharing travel memories and toasting new friends.

We enjoyed the tour by the very knowledgeable local guide. Patrick helped us navigate the bus system to travel to the Chagall museum. The final dinner was great, and the group gathered for one last time on the beach near the hotel.

Posted by
817 posts

Bob - looking forward to hearing more. This tour is on my list to do.

Thanks for the report.

Posted by
1017 posts

Day 13: Tour Over After Breakfast
Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. It's a breeze to reach Nice's airports by taxi, shuttle, or public transportation. For those staying longer, your guide will be happy to send you off in the right direction and help with any trip-planning needs. Au revoir et merci!

This was an outstanding tour. Our guide Patrick was funny and knowledgable and never became flustered. The tour group got along well, and there were many experienced European travelers. The weather was good (not too hot), and we only had a couple of rainy days. The itinerary included a mixture of small towns, larger towns and one medium-sized city. Strikes and holidays made transportation a bit complicated. For example, the tour ended on a major holiday weekend, with the result that train and airfares were ridiculously expensive on Monday 5/21. We returned from Nice to Paris on Sunday 5/20 to avoid these high fares. Our flight from Paris to Dublin on Tuesday 5/22 barely made it out of CDG because the air traffic controllers were beginning a strike day early.

We stayed for two extra nights in Nice, and visited the Mattsse Museum, Archeological Museum and the Modern/Contemporary Art Museum. Other tour members also stayed on in Nice, and it was nice to run into them as we walked around the city. Nice was a good place to unwind after the tour. We changed to the Hotel Durante from the tour hotel. The Durante was less expensive and was near the train station.
On Sunday May 20th we took a train from Nice to Paris. The time passed quickly because we were sitting across from a father and his son who had autism. One of our daughters works in the field of supporting children with autiism, so we had an interesting conversation.
We returned to the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles in Paris for the nights of 5/20 and 5/21. May 21st was another French holiday, but we enjoyed the eerie but peaceful feeling of wandering the empty streets of Paris on a Monday morning. We discovered the Parc Monceau, filled with Parisians relaxing on another holiday. On 5/22 we took the RER B train to CDG airport and flew to Dublin . The last night of our trip was at the Ophira B&B in Dun Laorghaire before flying home on Wednesday 5/23.

Posted by
1939 posts

Nice report, Bob! As my family and I took this tour several years ago, it was great to revisit some of my favorite places and activities. The Carriers-Lumieres was a happy and unplanned stop for us because something had gone sideways with the original plan for the day. Our fabulous guide, Mary, found this instead. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. I know the RS guides are pros at making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak. We loved the tour! Thank you for posting.

Posted by
1954 posts

Bob,
I really like the format of your trip report, posting the tour agenda and then the actual things you did on each day. Highlighting what you liked or didn't about each day. Easy to follow!

And, was interested to read you stayed 2 nights post-tour in Nice for the Matisse Museum and other sights. Did you by chance go to see his chapel in Vence? It is gorgeous and filled with his art - he designed it. I want to do this tour and have been trying to decide how much time I need see the Matisse sights and,other painters who lived and painted in the South of France - Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall. Do you have an opinion?

Posted by
4601 posts

Great report, Bob. This tour was on our short list for 2019, but we opted for Eastern France instead. Maybe 2020?

I love the format you devised, as well. Prepare for others to copy it, probably including me!

Posted by
1017 posts

Judy-

Your question is interesting as to exploring areas associated with artists in southern France. By the end of the tour, we did not feel like moving around a lot, so we just stayed in Nice. Matisse spend a good deal of time in Nice and the museum was worth visiting. Van Gogh lived all over the place, including Arles which was on the tour. Riding through the countryside on the tour bus gave us a sense of the light and landscapes that inspired Van Gogh. Picasso spent much of his later years in southern France, but on other trips we have found other locations to be meaningful in experiencing his work: the recently reopened Picasso museum in Paris, the Barcelona Picasso Museum and the Guernica painting at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid.

Posted by
2291 posts

Yet another compliment on your format! I'm surprised that I haven't seen that before.

And some new information - it had never occurred to me that the caves in the Dordogne could be claustrophobic.

Posted by
1954 posts

Bob,
Thanks for your response. I agree the Picasso Museum in Paris is a highlight, I saw it just this April and enjoyed very much the exhibit on the making of and promotion of his Guernica painting. Very interesting the demonstrations and political posters regarding it. They also had a huge replica of the painting in the Museum. I have yet to go to Spain - in the future!
We also saw the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris in April, a lovely house and collection of paintings. We saw the exhibit of Berthe Moriset's works. Our plan for this trip was to see the "smaller" sights and really enjoyed the smaller crowds too! Smaller sights = smaller crowds!!

Posted by
2809 posts

Bob, excellent report! Appreciate your unique format. I agree, easy to follow.

We took this amazing tour in 2013. Our tour guide was Toni Seymour. Her knowledge & passion made this our FAVORITE RS Tour. Every day was filled with unexpected surprises.

We added 5 days in Paris prior and 2 days post tour to enjoy Matisse and Chagall. This was truly an art appreciation tour- Paris to Nice.

Good point about concerns regarding Claustrophobia. One of our tour members chose to opt out of the cave tour.

Thanks for the memories. Well done!

Posted by
8248 posts

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this! I enjoyed reading it!

Posted by
4697 posts

Thanks, I enjoyed this a lot. We stayed at the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles on our first Paris visit 15 years ago and had breakfast every day at the Cafe Descartes just up the hill. Lovely hotel and well located. We've stayed in apartments on later visits but we should try the hotel again. And I agree that the Marmottan and Parc Monceau are great second-visit destinations. We visited most of the places you did in the first part of your tour and appreciated what you wrote about them, but Arles and the Riviera are still on our to-do list. I can't believe Malcolm Miller is still at it, he must have found some kind of miracle cure for aging.

This tour looks like a wonderful introduction to France outside Paris. We'll probably never take it because we've been to so many places it goes, but it's clearly well designed and I'm glad you had such a good time.

Posted by
2 posts

Bob,
Thanks for such a comprehensive recap. We really enjoyed being on the tour with Carolyn and you. It was fun to relive it for a few minutes through your post! Jamie

Posted by
1049 posts

What a great tour report. I hope you will do a scrapbook so we can see pictures to go along with your word descriptions.

Posted by
1017 posts

Jamie -

Thanks for your kind words.

Bob & Carolyn