Special ValueThis tour is specially designed for a small group of 16 to 24 Smithsonian travelers and offers outstanding travel value. Prices include airfare, airline taxes, fuel surcharges, and departure fees.Overview
Discover the essence of French history as well as the richness of the culture and scenic beauty as you tour many World Heritage sites. Explore the fortified medieval town of Carcassonne and the market town of Albi, including the museum showcasing works of Toulouse-Lautrec. In the breathtaking Dordogne, known for its rugged countryside and lovely villages, enter the famous caves at Lascaux II and visit the pilgrimage site of Rocamadour.
Travel to the fabled Loire River Valley, a World Heritage site, where you’ll tour Fontevraud Abbey, the original resting place of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and Richard the Lion Heart. You’ll also visit the romantic Chateau de Chenonceau and the Chateau Clos Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years. Farther north, highlights include the dramatic Gothic abbey of Mont St. Michel and the town of Bayeux with its famous medieval tapestry, as well as Normandy’s D-Day landing beaches and the Memorial Museum at Caen. In Giverny, stroll through the gardens that inspired Monet’s Impressionist masterpieces, then conclude in Paris with a city highlights tour.Don't forget to check out our photo slide show to glimpse the excitement of this special program!
View photos by clicking "Next Photo" at top of page!Itinerary
Days 1-2 — Depart the U.S. for Toulouse
Upon arrival, enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for a welcome dinner. (D)Day 3 — Toulouse and Carcassonne
Travel to Carcassonne
to tour this quintessential medieval town with the longest city walls in Europe. Sitting atop a hill overlooking vast green plains that stretch to the Pyrénées, Carcassonne boasts battlements and ramparts dating to the 1st-century Romans. Return to Toulouse for an afternoon at leisure. (B)Day 4 — Albi and Sarlat
Hometown of Belle Epoque artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the historic market town of Albi was built with rose-colored bricks that cast a warm glow over the city’s medieval streets and ramparts. Tour the town, including the Palais de la Berbie, an ancient fortress that houses a museum devoted to the works of Toulouse-Lautrec. After visiting the huge 13th-century Cathédrale Ste-Cécile, continue to the rugged unspoiled countryside of the Périgord region and the Dordogne Valley. Travel to Sarlat-la-Canéda, one of France’s prettiest villages and one of Europe’s best preserved medieval gems, with more registered historic sites than anywhere else on the continent. (B,D)Day 5-6 — Sarlat, Lascaux II, Rocamadour, and Dordogne River
Tour the caves at Lascaux II, a fascinating reproduction of the original prehistoric cave paintings found nearby. After lunch at a charming local inn, visit to Château des Milandes, the former residence of Josephine Baker, before returning to Sarlat. Dinner is at the hotel this evening. The next morning is at leisure to explore this lovely town, then travel to Rocamadour, a revered pilgrimage site and medieval village that clings almost impossibly to a sheer limestone cliff. Enjoy a walking tour and lunch on your own here, then take a leisurely cruise along the Dordogne River, life-blood of this fertile region and redolent with history. As you pass cliff-top castles and fortified medieval towns, the history of Aquitaine truly comes to mind, particularly the 12th-century reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Return to Sarlat this evening. (2B,L,2D)Day 7-8 — Saumur
Leave the rugged, unspoiled countryside of the Dordogne region, and travel north to the Loire Valley
. Enjoy lunch in the small market town of LeDorat on the way to Saumur, your base in the Loire Valley. The next morning is at leisure to explore this charming town, situated on the banks of the Loire River. In the afternoon, enjoy a special visit to Fontevraud Abbey, original resting place of Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry II of England, and Richard the Lion Heart. (2B,L,D)Day 9 — Saumur and Chenonceaux
Here in the Loire Valley's châteaux region, England battled for control of France, Joan of Arc triumphed, and a great opulence reigned during the 16th century. Today, you’ll tour Chenonceau, the Renaissance masterpiece, considered one of the most romantic châteaux of all. After lunch at La Cave in Montlouis, visit Château Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years. (B,L)Day 10 — Mont St. Michel
Travel into historic Normandy and make your way to the pilgrimage site of Mont St. Michel
, Normandy’s famed abbey that sits atop a 264-foot high rock formation at the edge of the sea. With a history equal to its dramatic setting, the abbey was constructed of granite which was hauled stone by stone from Brittany over a period of 500 years, from 1017 to 1521. Over the centuries, it was a hotbed of French nationalism and religion, and recently monks have returned to live and work here again. After a guided tour, enjoy free time to explore the small town surrounding the abbey. Early this evening, arrive in Crépon at your rustic 13th-century hostelry, the restored 35-room farmhouse Ferme de la Rançonniere, where you will dine on traditional regional cuisine. (B,D)Day 11 — Bayeux and Caen
Miraculously, medieval Bayeux was spared from wartime bombing and was the first town to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy. Stop in Bayeux to see the city’s highlight—the Tapestry Museum, home to the 1,000-year-old Bayeux Tapestry depicting the exploits of William the Conqueror. Travel north to commemorate World War II at the British Cemetery, then continue to Caen to visit the Memorial Museum devoted to “history for peace.” Time permitting, you may visit Arromanches late this afternoon. (B,D)Day 12 — D-Day Landing Beaches
A poignant, inspiring day features the sites where Allied forces overcame overwhelming odds to alter the course of World War II. Visit Pointe du Hoc, where American Rangers scaled towering cliffs to establish a beachhead; Utah Beach; and Ste-Mère-Eglise, where the 82nd Airborne Division successfully parachuted on June 5, 1944. End the day at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in Colleville. With its endless rows of white marble crosses and Stars of David, this moving site honors nearly 10,000 soldiers who are buried here. (B,L,D)Day 13 — Honfleur, Giverny, and Paris
As you head to Paris
today, visit the picturesque port town of Honfleur, featuring colorful houses with slate-covered frontages. Continue to the village of Giverny to visit the home and gardens of Impressionist artist Claude Monet. Walk amid his gardens to see the familiar lily pond and Japanese footbridge of his paintings, and see his home, now restored to its original design. Arrive this evening in Paris at your well-located hotel near the Champs Elysees. (B)Day 14 — Paris
A city tour of Paris provides an enchanting finale to your journey through France. View sites that bear historic and artistic significance, then the rest of the day is free to do as you wish before gathering for your farewell dinner. (B,D)Day 15 — Paris and the U.S.
Depart Paris for the U.S. (B)