Journey to the Heart of France

September 24 - October 8, 2018

Day 1 - Monday, September 24th, 2018

Overnight Flight to Paris, France

Depart Albuquerque on American Airlines at 11:55A and arrive in Paris at CDG at 9:40am the next morning. 

Day 2 - Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Paris - Sarlat

Overnight in Sarlat – Hotel La Hoirie or similar (L, D)

 

After our overnight flight, we will arrive at CDG airport in Paris at 9:40am.  Once we gather our luggage, we will take a chartered bus to Sarlat.  We will stop for lunch along the way. 

Sarlat

Sarlat-la-Canéda is an essential place to visit for any fans of architecture. Its medieval old town is the perfect place to wander around with its maze of picturesque narrow streets and Gothic and Renaissance mansions.  The end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453 led to the construction of lovely urban buildings in the Dordogne, and Sarlat was especially favored: when the English handed the region back to the French king, he rewarded loyal townspeople here with royal privileges. Before long, a new merchant class sprang up, building sublime stone mansions in the latest French Renaissance style.

Day 3 - Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Rocamadour - Padirac

Overnight in Sarlat – Hotel La Hoirie or similar (B, L)

 

Today we will enjoy an early visit to the Sarlat farmer's market to see a collection of regional vendors.  Afterward, we will drive to Padirac for a guided visit to the underground caves at Gouffre de Padirac. The Gouffre de Padirac is an amazing cave system containing an underground river and gorge and a huge cavern. Underground lakes and pools and stalactite formations all add to its appeal but somehow it is the sheer size of the caverns that is really astonishing.  It is the most visited cave system in the whole of France and the number one tourist attraction of the Midi-Pyrenees region.  After lunch we will proceed to Rocamadour for a visit of this charming village.

 

Rocamadour

A medieval village that seems to defy the laws of gravity, Rocamadour surges out of a cliff 1,500 feet above the Alzou River gorge—an awe-inspiring sight that makes this one of the most-visited tourist spots in France. Rocamadour got its name after the thousand-year-old body of St. Amadour was discovered "quite whole" in 1166. Legend has it that Amadour was actually a publican named Zacheus, who entertained Jesus in his home and, after the crucifixion, came to Gaul, eventually establishing a private chapel in the cliff here. In any case, his saintly remains soon began working miracles, and the sanctuary that housed them began attracting pilgrims who’d ascend the 216 steps to the church on their knees. Making the climb on foot is a sufficient reminder of the medieval penchant for agonizing penance; today two elevators lift weary souls.  After our tour of the village we will head back to Sarlat for the night.

Day 4 - Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Dordogne Valley

Overnight in Sarlat – Hotel La Hoirie or similar (B, L)

 

Today after breakfast we will drive again through the Dordogne valley to La Roque Gageac for a guided boat ride on a “Gabarre” or traditional riverboat.  After our riverboat tour we will proceed to Domme where we will have a unique guided tour on a little train that takes you around the city.  After our tour we will have lunch and head to Beynac for a guided visit of the castle.

Domme

Domme retains part of its original fortified walls and the gateways into the town. The ramparts are extremely thick and there remain three of the original doors.  The Porte des Tours is perhaps the most impressive, with its round towers, but the Porte de la Combe and the Porte del Bos are both very pretty and accessible by walking down lovely streets lined with a mixed array of houses and cottages built from honey-colored stone distinctive to this region.  The towers of the Porte des Tours were converted into prisons in 1307 when the king arrested the Knights Templers, and it is still possible to see the engraved crucifixes they carved whilst they were imprisoned. The prison is open throughout the year.  We will have a guided visit of the village on a touristic little train before lunch and then we will continue on to Beynac. 

 

Beynac

The pretty village of Beynac spreads along the northern bank of the Dordogne River, and up the hill behind, reaching the castle that stands poised above the village and river. The narrow lanes wind up through the traditional Dordogne white and yellow stone buildings.  On the rivers edge you get some lovely views with the river, often full of canoes, a long stretch of wonderful stone houses and rising above the village the imposing chateau of Beynac.  After our visit of the castle and the village, we will return to Sarlat for the night.

Day 5 - Friday, September 28th, 2018

Sarlat - Pech Merle - St. Cirq Lapopie - Cahors

Overnight in Cahors – Hotel La Chartreuse or similar (B)

Pech Merle Cave

After breakfast we will head out for another extraordinary day as we venture out for a guided tour of authentic prehistoric paintings that are over 20,000 years old! Exceptional works of art including hundreds of representations of mammoths, bison, horses and aurochs are preserved on the walls at the Pech Merle cave. These figures are in their original natural setting and are a breathtaking site with a fascinating geological history.  

 

Saint Cirq Lapopie

After our guided tour of the Peche Merle Cave, we will continue our drive to Saint Cirq Lapopie for a visit of the village.  This spectacular medieval town, with thirteen listed historic buildings, is one of the most spectacular villages in France. Perched on a cliff three hundred feet above the river Lot, it is considered one of the most important sites in the Lot Valley.  The village was divided among several feudal dynasties in the Middle Ages whose dominant families were the Lapopies, the Gourdons and the Cardaillacs. As a result, several castles and fortified houses were built, each ever stronger, dominating the feudal village.  In the streets, open arcades of shops preserve the memory of craft activities that created the wealth of St. Cirq. These custodians of ancestral practices are a delight to rediscover - potters, wood turners, ironworkers, carpenters, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, stonemasons, jewelers, milliners, and embroiderers can all be found in their workshops or at nearby craft fairs.  After our stroll through the town, we will continue to Cahors for the night.

Day 6 - Saturday, September 29th, 2018

Cahors

Overnight in Cahors – Hotel La Chartreuse or similar (B)

 

After breakfast we will enjoy a guided city tour of Cahors and the Valentré Bridge.  As one of the oldest wine producing areas of France, lush vineyards dot the area.  After our city tour, we will continue to a local winery for wine tasting and a guided tour.  The rest of the afternoon is free to explore Cahors.  

Cahors

Cahors is strategically situated in a loop of the curvaceous river Lot, surrounded by hills.  It was in this advantageous spot that the ancient tribe of the Cadurci decided to settle in about 800BC.  The Romans, predictably, marched their legions over the land more than two thousand years ago, and it was they who planted the first vineyards in the first century AD.  The heyday for this glorious old town came in the fourteenth century, when a local boy, Jacques Dueze, became Pope John XXII, and set up his seat at the papal palace in Avignon.

Valentré Bridge

The most famous landmark in the city of Cahors is the Valentré Bridge (Pont Valentré). Work began on the bridge over the River Lot in 1308 and its famous towers were built like a fortress so that the locals could attack invaders from above.  The Valentré Bridge took some 70 years to complete and gave rise to a local legend involving a deal with the devil.  It is also considered the most photographed landmark in France outside of Paris.  The rest of the day will be free for you to explore.  Cahors really is an enchanting old town. With its ancient quarters and medieval bridge, cobbled streets, secret gardens and leafy boulevards, wonderful cafes, restaurants and relaxed street life.  It has it all. 

Day 7 - Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Rodez

Overnight in Rodez – Hostellerie de Fontanges or similar (B, L)

 

After breakfast and check out we will travel to the old city of Rodez and its 16th century cathedral.  The cathedral is a superb illustration of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Renaissance and Classical.  After lunch, we will visit the Pierre Soulages Museum.  Then we will head to Marcillac for a guided tour of a winery and wine tasting.

 

Rodez

Rodez is a true gem hidden away in the rural, mountainous Aveyron department. The route there, and indeed the whole surrounding area, is countryside and hillsides. Then, Rodez is revealed with its small city verve. It features lovely cafes, quaint shopping, and eye-catching architecture. That's not to mention breathtaking, red sandstone Gothic cathedral that dominates the Old Town. 

 

Pierre Soulages Museum

Rodez is also the birthplace of Pierre Soulages, a leading figure in abstract art and likely the most renowned French contemporary artist in the world.  With exhibits in some 90 museums, he has created more than 1,500 works of art and held countless exhibitions around the world.  The Pierre Soulages Museum holds paintings representing all of his work, from post-war oil paintings to his phase of work called Outrenoir. After our visit to Rodez we will continue our drive to Marcillac.

Marcillac

The monks of Conques first developed the vineyard of Marcillac more than 1000 years ago. It counts today about 500 acres of vineyards and fifteen points of production, with about fifty wine growers. Marcillac is isolated from the established winegrowing regions within France, but it is an up-and-coming area that is producing some increasingly respected wines.  After our visit to the winery and wine tasting we will proceed to our accommodations in the Rodez area for the night.

Day 8 - Monday, October 1st, 2018

North Aveyron - Conques

Overnight in Rodez – Hostellerie de Fontanges or similar (B, L)

 

Today we drive to Conques for a guided visit to the 10th century abbey.  The Conques Abbey was built in the 10th - 12th centuries, and the church and cloisters have an international and deserved reputation for their artistic merit. During the afternoon we will have a surprise excursion!

Day 9 - Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

South Aveyron - Millau – Roquefort

Overnight in Rodez – Hostellerie de Fontanges or similar (B, L)

 

Today after breakfast we will drive to Roquefort for a guided tour of the famous cheese caves and cheese tasting.  After lunch, we will enjoy a tour through “Les Gorges du Tarn”.  The Tarn Gorges are dramatic gorges that follow the course of the Tarn River and are among the deepest gorges to be found anywhere in Europe. These extremely picturesque gorges offer several great vantage points from where to enjoy their beauty.  After our tour of the area and the village of Millau, we will head to St. Enimie before heading back to our accommodations in Rodez. 

 

Roquefort 

Roquefort is located in the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park and clings to the side of the Combalou Rock.  Roquefort may seem peaceful, but it's also an industrial village; around a thousand people work to ripen the famous Roquefort cheese. Tradition dates back to a thousand years, and the secret is well kept at the depths of its natural caves. After our tour we will have lunch before heading to St. Enimie. 

Millau

Millau is a pretty little town nestled down in a valley with steep cliffs and impressive rock outcrops surrounding it on all sides. Now, of course, the spectacular bridge dominates many of the city views, imposing a somewhat surreal backdrop to Millau.  The oldest part of the city is in and around the Place du Maréchal-Foch, which still retains some arcades from the medieval period.

St. Enimie

Sainte Enimie is an extraordinary medieval village of stonewalls and slate roofs tucked into a notch at the top of the gorgeous Tarn Gorges, a base for nature and river sports.  The village is very compact, with the central part running down the hillside from the old monastery to the curved row of buildings across the bottom, lined with terrace cafés and restaurants and handy shops. The old village is all cobblestone streets, stonewalls, dark gray slate roofs and lovely little squares.  After our tour, we will head back to our accommodations in Rodez. 

Day 10 - Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Albi - Carcassonne

Overnight in Carcassonne – Hotel Ibis Centre or similar (B)

 

Albi Cathedral

After breakfast, we will drive to Albi to see the historical 13th century Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia.  The cathedral stands prominently in the city of Albi and is believed to be one of the largest brick buildings in the world. With windows placed high up between the buttresses, entrances guarded by a moat, and extremely thick walls around the base to deter siege, the cathedral has the appearance of a fortress. The massive buttresses of the church have been compressed into the structure, functioning also as piers separating the chapels lining the nave, giving the Albi Cathedral a distinctive appearance from most Gothic cathedrals.

 

On the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2010, the cathedral, palace and the nearby streets represent a unique ensemble of southern French Gothic architecture but with notable additions from elsewhere. For example, the decorative campaigns in the complex span the centuries and illustrate Catalan, Renaissance and Flemish styles that once flourished in the region.

Toulouse Lautrec Museum

After our visit of the cathedral, we will have a guided tour of the Toulouse Lautrec Museum that is dedicated mainly to the work of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who was born near Albi. The museum houses over a thousand works by Toulouse-Lautrec, the largest collection in the world.  Afterwards, we will proceed to Carcassonne for our accommodations for the night.

Day 11 - Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Carcassonne

Overnight in Carcassonne – Hotel Ibis Centre or similar (B, L)

 

This morning we begin with a guided tour of the magnificent fortified medieval town of Carcassonne.  We will venture through the old town, the “remparts” and the Contal castle.  After lunch, you may enjoy an optional guided cruise on the Canal du Midi crossing two locks.

 

Canal du Midi

This astounding 220-mile network of navigable waterways linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean through 328 structures (locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, etc.) is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering. Built between 1667 and 1694, it paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. The care that its creator, Pierre-Paul Riquet, took in the design and the way it blends with its surroundings turned a technical achievement into a work of art. This canal is defined by its beauty, lined with plane trees and crossed by pretty arched bridges. The Mediterranean weather and pace of life is relaxed and lulls you into unwinding as we meander gently downstream.

Day 12 - Friday, October 5th, 2018

Cathar Castles - Montpelier

Overnight in Montpelier - Mercure Montpelier or similar (B, L)

 

Today after breakfast we will explore two extraordinary Cathar castles; Lastours and Cucugnan.  We will then head to Fontfroide for a guided tour of the abbey before proceeding to Montpelier for the night.

Cathars

The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the 11th century, their origins are something of a mystery though there are reasons to believe their ideas came from Persia or the Byzantine Empire, by way of the Balkans and Northern Italy.  Records from the Roman Catholic Church mention them under various names and in various places.  Catholic theologians debated with themselves for centuries whether Cathars were Christian heretics or whether they were Christians at all.  The question is apparently still open. Roman Catholics still refer to Cathar belief as "the Great Heresy" though the official Catholic position is that Catharism is not Christian at all.

 

The Cathar view of the Catholic Church was as bleak as the Catholic Church's view of the Cathar Church. On the Cathar side it manifested itself in ridiculing Catholic doctrine and practices, and characterizing the Catholic Church as the "Church of Wolves". Catholics accused Cathars of heresy or apostasy and said they belonged to the "Synagogue of Satan". The Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved unsuccessful, there was only one option left - a crusade – the Albigensian Crusade.

 

The war against the Cathars of the Languedoc continued for two generations. In the later phases the Kings of France would take over as leaders of the crusade, which thus became a Royal Crusade.  From 1208, a war of terror was waged against the indigenous population of the Languedoc and their rulers.  During this period, an estimated half-million Languedoc men, women and children were massacred, Catholics as well as Cathars. The Crusaders killed the locals indiscriminately.

Lastours

The first spot we will visit will be the four castles on a rocky spur above the village of Lastours. Isolated by the deep valleys of the Orbeil and Grésilhou rivers, the site belonged to the lords of Cabaret, mentioned for the first time in 1067 during the Middle Ages. Their wealth came mainly from the exploitation of iron mines. This is a fantastic destination for lovers of history and those interested in geology or Mediterranean fauna and flora. Archaeological excavations have been carried out around Cabaret Castle - where a village once stood - during the last two decades, exposing a large number of interesting 13th century relics. The houses in the village ran down the steep slope to the river, and were abandoned hastily during the Albigensian Crusade, explaining the large number of artifacts.

Cucugnan

We will then continue on to Cucugnan for a guided visit of the village and Queribus Castle. In the 13th century, during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, the Lord of Cucugnan participated in the Cathar resistance before he was forced to submit to King Louis IX. In 1495, the Spanish invaders destroyed Cucugnan and a new village grew up around the ruined medieval site. The Château de Quéribus, which sits 1.3 miles southeast of Cucugnan, is a notable historical monument and is sometimes regarded as the last stronghold of the followers of the Cathar faith after their defeat at Montségur in 1244.  Quéribus was originally built to defend the border between France and Aragon.  After lunch, we will proceed to Fontfroide for a guided tour of the abbey.

 

Fontfroide Abbey

Surrounded by trees such as cypress, box tree and pine, this quiet abbey’s origins go back to the end of the 11th century. Having originally followed Benedictine rule, Fontfroide finally adopted the Cistercian order in the middle of the 12th century. As early as the beginning of the 13th century, Fontfroide had set up eight subsidiary abbeys.  During the Crusade against the Albigensians, Fontfroide rose as a powerful stronghold of Catholic orthodoxy confronting the Cathar religion, which it fought against virulently. Two monks of Fontfroide stand out particularly at that time: Pierre de Castelnau and Raoul, who were appointed Papal Legates by Innocent III.  After our visit we will head back to Montpelier for the night.

Day 13 - Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Montpelier

Overnight in Montpelier - Mercure Centre Comedie or similar (B)

 

Today we will have a full day to enjoy Montpelier with a guided tour of this wonderful city.  We will spend time meandering throughout the historical center and visit the University of Montpelier; the oldest medical university in the world.  The afternoon is free to see the rest of the city at your own pace.  Be sure to enjoy the many boulevards lined with shady trees, cafés, and antique stores including the large, car-free central square from the 1700’s.  Some other notable sites include the 14th century Cathedral and a visit to the Musée Fabre with its vast collection of 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century works (including an entire floor devoted to the gorgeous paintings of Pierre Soulages).

Day 14 - Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Paris

Overnight in Paris - Mercure Montmartre or similar (B)

 

Today we will take the Train á Grande Vitesse (High Speed Train) back to Paris.  Enjoy the splendors of the "City of Lights" with a free afternoon and evening to see the sites.  

Day 15 - Monday, October 8th, 2018

Paris - USA

After breakfast we will be taken to CDG airport for our return flight home at 11:35AM.   We will arrive in Albuquerque at 5:05PM.  Welcome home!

PRICING INCLUDING INTERNATIONAL AIR:

 

Price per person based on double occupancy: $6,320.00

 

Single supplement: $6,995.00

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FRANCE 2018

ITINERARY

 

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France Itinerary

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