This tour begins in Paris and finishes in Bordeaux.
DAY 1 Tuesday
Depart 9am from our Paris meeting point, we’ll make our way via a brief orientation through the neighborhood of Montparnasse. This area is well known for its art and literary heritage and was one of the favourite neighborhoods for Josephine Baker. Enjoy a brief photo stop at the street sign named in her honour, see the music clubs and theatres along the Gaite including Bobino where she had her farewell concert, and the famed restaurants along Blvd Montparnasse, La Coupole, Café Select and more.
A bit of driving south will bring us to Sens, noted as the site of France’s first Gothic cathedral. There’s also a fine covered market and lovely 16th century colombage house.
Beaune, our base for these first evenings, is a gourmet’s and shopper’s delight! Dinner together is included this evening.
Dinner in France is a special meal, a nightly ‘event’ and not to be rushed. For some, dining will be somewhat later than you might normally be accustomed to at home, and we’ll probably be at table longer. It’s an ideal opportunity to enjoy conversations, reflect on sights seen, experiences had, and to discuss onward touring options with your guide-companion.
DAY 2 ND Wednesday
Beaune offers a wealth of delights! Nearly the entire town is centred on the wine industry, so there’s no shortage of places to taste and buy for those that wish it. Museums on offer here include the Hôtel-Dieu, a marvel of Burgundian-Flemish art, a Musée des Beaux-Arts and a Burgundy Wine Museum. Enjoy shopping in the old town or walking the 15th century town ramparts. Perhaps just sample one of the lovely sidewalk cafes, people watching and enjoying a drink amongst the locals. Local food specialties include a variety of dishes cooked ‘a la Bourguignonne’ – in Burgundy wine – including favorites coq au vin and boeuf Bourguignon. A leisurely day and evening to spend as you choose!
DAY 3 Thursday
Out into the local countryside this afternoon, the first vine was planted in this Burgundy region in Roman times. Sample some of this ‘local heritage’ for yourself on a vineyard tour. Just a stone’s throw away, we have over 2 dozen fine Burgundy wineries to choose from!
Later we will make our way to Moulins, founded in 990 and head of the Bourbon Duchy from 1327 to 1527. Today Moulins is brimming with signs of the times of those Dukes, wander through the cobbled streets of the historical quarter where timber-framed houses rub shoulders with grand period property.
Day 4 Friday
This morning, we have the remains of the Bourbons to discover in and around Moulins, there are cathedrals, former monasteries and several chateaux as options. A bit of driving this afternoon to take us into the Dordogne, traveling via a lovely national park and Les Jardin du Manoir d’Erignac.
Les Jardin du Manoir d’Erignac is a beautiful 18th century garden collection of over 300 topiary sculptures and about 50,000 yew, hornbeam, box and ivy mixed with colorful border plantings. Covering many hectares, the space is divided into roughly 5 main areas – the box labyrinth, the plant sculptures kingdom, manor French garden, Capucine’s gardens and the white garden with the flower meadow.
Sarlat, the capital of the Périgord Noir region of the Dordogne Valley, is our base for the next few days. See the old town, best explored on foot. Its exceptional ‘townscape’ reflects the riches of the early landowners and merchants who benefited from the wealth of the surrounding countryside. Nestled in a hillside, Sarlat-la-Caneda is a well-preserved mediaeval village full of narrow cobbled streets, ‘hidden’ courtyards, turrets and old stone buildings.
For those that want more opportunities to sample local libations, you won’t be disappointed! Sarlat is home to a local brewery using a mediaeval ale recipe, ‘Biere Artisanale De Sarlat,’ and a specialty winery shop of Chateau Lagrezette, Malbec vineyards.
The Périgord Noir hosts many wanting to breathe the fresh air of the great outdoors, it is home to dense forests of oak and pine and criss-crossed by the Dordogne and Vézère rivers. A rich region, here mediaeval castles blanket the hilltops and prehistoric caves feature some of the oldest known cave paintings in the world. There are exquisite local culinary specialties, the region is famous for foie gras, walnuts and black truffles. Also tempting the palette of local fare are dishes including goose, duck (confit de canard in particular!,) wild mushrooms, goat cheeses, river trout and semi-wild boar.
Dinner together is included this evening.
Day 5 Saturday
This morning we stay local to enjoy the weekly Sarlat Saturday morning market, this market dates back to mediaeval times and is famous throughout the region. Several streets of olde town fill with vendors with their colorful tents, many featuring the local culinary specialties. Meander the market as you choose, you can usually find foie gras, confit, fresh breads, cured meats, walnut cakes, cheeses, truffle and walnut oils, a selection of antiques, quirky gifts and other sundries.
Spoilt for choice this afternoon! Perhaps we might opt to go ‘truffle hunting’ (subject to availability) and there are several fortresses to discover, nearby and most famous are Castelnaud, focusing on the art of mediaeval warfare, and Beynac, clinging above the steep pretty stone village of the same name.
Day 6 Sunday
Rocamadour is our main visit for today, a town uniquely built integrated into a steep rocky wall. For centuries this place has been attracting Christian Pilgrims to its religious shrine. Numerous miraculous healings were attributed to the saintly remains of a hermit found here in 1166, prompting an influx of pilgrims and patronage of wealthy nobles and kings. This place is rich in historical significance, beautiful architecture, and most of all, spectacular views. On our culinary theme, Rocamadour is also famous for their local cheese.
Nearby are several lovely villages and local farm shops to meander. Martel, known as the ‘town of the seven towers’ , has a charming covered Place de la Halle (market square) featuring a detailed wooden roof. Carennac is officially classified as ‘one of the most beautiful villages of France’ and is home to an interesting priory and a small castle.
Day 7 Monday
This will be another day to remember as we explore deep into the Dordogne, placing particular emphasis on the breathtaking array of prehistoric sites and local food purveyors.
There are over 200 separate pre-historic sites! Many are concentrated around the vicinity of Les Eyzies, easy access to view a sampling of the astounding cave paintings.
Options in way of local food purveyors include a semi-wild boar farm walk, fruit based apéritifs distillery tour/tasting, visiting a goose/duck farm and, subject to availability, a private tour of ‘world of bees’ for a honey tasting.
Dinner together is included this evening.
Day 8 Tuesday
See the interesting Jardins de Marqueyssac, offering spectacular views over the chalky cliffs of the Dordogne Valley. Kleber Rossillon restored the gardens to their 17th Century character, full of uniquely trimmed boxwoods, and added some new features including an alley of santolina and rosemary. Since 1997, these gardens have been classified amongst the Notable Gardens of France. Guests can wander the hedge mazes and enjoy the pictureque views! Note that there are several steep inclines and uneven steps at this location.
Chateau des Milandes fell into ruin after the French Revolution but it was famously restored by the legendary dancer/singer/war hero/philanthropist Josephine Baker, where she lived with her 12 children from 1946 until the late 1960s. The chateau is one of the prettier of the chateaux in this area and is surrounded by an attractive garden. The exterior of the chateau has everything – turrets, pointy roofs, mullioned windows, stained glass, gargoyles – all put together in a beautifully harmonious way. The interior is maintained in the Art Deco style in which Josephine Baker decorated it. Inside there are exhibitions commemorating her life, including displays of famous stage costumes like the infamous banana skirt worn at ‘Folies Bergère’ in 1928 and others from her career appearances at ‘Olympia’ and the ‘Casino de Paris.’ Les Milandes also puts on birds of prey shows featuring falcons, hawks, owls and a white-headed American eagle so you can see these magnificent birds in action.
This afternoon we make our way into Bordeaux. Dinner together is included this evening.
Day 9 ND Wednesday
Bordeaux is the traditional seat of the Dukes of Aquitaine with a history stretching back 2000 years – it has seen Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Saracens at its gates. Called the “city of art and history,” about 1810 hectares of the city centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bordeaux is home to two world class art museums, several scenic bridges, a Roman arch, a lovely botantical garden, top shopping and amazing architecture. Cathedral of St André, which is comparable in size with Notre-Dame in Paris, dates to the 12th century. One of the many scenic squares is Place de la Comédie, on the site of the Roman forum, home to one of the finest theatres in Europe, built in 1780 and designed by the same architect as Chartres Cathedral and Palais Royal in Paris.
For those that wish to continue on the culinary/wine trail, there is Ecole du Vin in the centre of Bordeaux, the ‘school of wine’ where one can get acquainted with some of the local varieties. Another option is a half day excursion to the beach to sample fresh oysters. 30 miles south-west of Bordeaux lies the Bay of Arcachon, where most of France’s 130,000 ton annual oyster production is harvested. It’s a wonderful setting in which to enjoy them, with miles of sandy shoreline dotted with colourful oyster huts and boats. Here too is Europe’s highest sand dune, at 315 feet Dune du Pyla gives spectacular views over the water. What to do today? The choice is yours!
Day 10 Thursday
We couldn’t come to this region and not explore some of the famed Bordeaux vineyards! Today visit the rich grape growing countryside around Medoc and St Émillion. This town provides almost a perfect summary to our tour – medieval, narrow, cobbled streets, ancient ramparts, historical buildings, shopping and a chance to taste another local delicacy (in this case macaroons) and absorb life with a glass of fine wine beside you. Bliss!
Our tour finishes in Bordeaux this evening. Why not extend your stay independently? Bordeaux Wine Festival is 14 – 18 June, 2018
Oft imitated, never duplicated! This is an original SGT itinerary, property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT.