France Through the Ages
Discover the essence of France as you travel from Carcassonne to the châteaux of the Loire Valley, Mont-Saint-Michel, the D-Day beaches of Normandy, and Paris.
WHAT OUR TRAVELERS SAY
"France through the Ages" was a feast for the body, mind, and soul!”
Even though each of us has traveled to France on several occasions, taking "the road less traveled" on Smithsonian's "France through the Ages" tour was thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening. This was our first Smithsonian tour but assuredly will not be our last.”
This tour offered me a glorious buffet of France. Each day we got to sample new things and they were all wonderful. With my appetite fully whetted, I want to return and see more.”
I loved this tour of France. The trip lived up to all my expectations. My tour guide was exceptional.”
This trip was very well planned. It would have been difficult to get to all of these places on my own because we covered a lot of territory in a short time. You'd have to be an expert already to do this alone.”
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This 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.
Discover the essence of France—its rich history, culture, and scenic beauty—on this popular tour, featuring many World Heritage sites. From the southern regions of Languedoc and the Dordogne to the northern reaches of Normandy and Paris, appreciate much of what France offers in one amazing experience.
Southern Treasures: Explore the longest city walls in Europe in the medieval town of Carcassonne and enter the famous caves at Lascaux II in the Dordogne region.
Loire River Valley: Spend two days taking in the romantic landscapes of Fontevraud Abbey, Château de Chenonceau, and the Château Clos Luce.
Normandy: Visit the famed Mont St. Michel, stop in Bayeux for a visit to the Tapestry Museum, and commemorate World War II during visits to Pointe du Hoc among others.
Along the Seine: Stroll through Monet’s gardens at Giverny, which inspired many of his masterpieces, then conclude in Paris with a highlights tour.
Days 1 & 2 — Depart the U.S. for Toulouse, France
Upon arrival, enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for a welcome dinner and a briefing about the journey ahead. (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)
Days 5 & 6 — Sarlat, Lascaux II, Rocamadour, and Dordogne River
This morning 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 for a walking tour of this charming town. (2B,L,2D)
Day 7 — Le Dorat and Saumur
Leave the rugged, unspoiled countryside of the Dordogne region and travel north to the beautiful Loire Valley. Stop in the busy market town of Le Dorat for a typical country lunch at a local restaurant. From here travel to Saumur and your hotel, a converted 18th-century mansion on the banks of the Loire River. (B,L)
Day 8 — Saumur
This morning is at leisure to explore this charming town on your own. This afternoon visit Fontevraud Abbey, the original resting place of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and Richard the Lion Heart. (B,D)
Day 9 — Saumur and Chenonceau
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 du Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years. (B,L)
Day 10 — Mont St. Michel
Travel to 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 here to live and work. After a guided tour, enjoy free time to explore and have lunch on your own. 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 — Giverny and Paris
This morning visit the village of Giverny and 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 late this afternoon in Paris at your centrally located hotel near the Champs-Élysées. Dinner tonight is on your own in this culinary capital. (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.
This morning depart for the airport and your flights to the U.S. (B)