Take the back roads of western France to discover a splendor of highlights and hidden gems on this three-week adventure. Start in Paris, where you'll climb the Eiffel Tower and visit Versailles. Head to the northern coasts and see the most beautiful spots of Brittany and Normandy. Go south to the Loire Valley to live the fairy tale life surrounded by castles and vineyards, and activate your taste buds as you savor cognac and wine amid the country's most famous vineyards and medieval villages.


  • Hit the major sites of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, and Versailles
  • Explore the gems of the north as you drive through Giverny, Rouen, and Honfleur
  • Discover the ocean, castles, and vineyards from Brittany to the Loire Valley
  • Taste wine, cognac, and oysters among the vineyards from Cognac to Bordeaux

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Paris, Climb the Eiffel Tower Paris
Day 2 Visit the Louvre, Paris City Tour Paris
Day 3 Château de Versailles Tour Paris
Day 4 Explore Montmartre & the Paris Catacombs Paris
Day 5 Drive to Rouen via Giverny Rouen
Day 6 Walking Tour of Rouen, Drive to Honfleur Honfleur
Day 7 Discover the Pays d'Auge Honfleur
Day 8 Drive to Bayeux, City Tour & Bayeux Tapestry Bayeux
Day 9 Visit the D-Day Landing Beaches Bayeux
Day 10 Day Trip to Mont-Saint-Michel Bayeux
Day 11 Drive to Saint-Malo Saint-Malo
Day 12 Crêpe Workshop, Cruise the Chausey Archipelago Saint-Malo
Day 13 Drive to Tours, City Walking Tour Tours
Day 14 Visit the Château de Chambord & Château de Chenonceau Tours
Day 15 Visit Château du Clos Lucé & Château d'Amboise Tours
Day 16 Drive to Cognac Cognac
Day 17 Visit the Vineyards of Cognac Cognac
Day 18 Transfer to Bordeaux, Afternoon Gastronomy Tour Bordeaux
Day 19 Morning Market Tour, Discover Bordeaux by Bike Bordeaux
Day 20 Day Trip to Arcachon & Saint-Émilion Bordeaux
Day 21 Depart Bordeaux  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Paris, Climb the Eiffel Tower

Guided tour from the Trocadero to the summit of the Eiffel Tower:
The Eiffel Tower

Welcome to Paris! Upon arrival, you'll be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel by private car. Take some time to settle in and relax before discovering the city. This afternoon, you'll have a rendez-vous with the Iron Lady. Meet your guide at the Trocadero esplanade with its statues, monuments, and beautiful views of the Eiffel Tower. With your "skip the line" tickets, you'll climb the tower and learn about the symbolic monument's stories, facts, and secrets. You'll visit the two floors and, at the summit, enjoy fantastic views over the "City of Light."

Day 2: Visit the Louvre, Paris City Tour

The treasures of the Louvre and the very heart of Paris
The Louvre at the very heart of Paris

From glass to stone, see the famous pyramid and where it all began. You'll start your day with a private guided tour of the Louvre with privileged access. Skip the lines and enter the museum through an entrance unknown to the public. Then, enjoy your visit as you discover the secrets hidden behind the stories of the masterpieces that inhabit this prestigious museum. Admire the most iconic works of art and appreciate the outstanding collections. Roam through the alleys and explore this ancient royal palace and its sumptuous architecture. 

In the afternoon, travel back in time to medieval Paris at Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Conciergerie. Your expert guide will take you on a journey from Notre-Dame cathedral and the birth of Gothic art to the majesty and magnificence of the royal Sainte-Chapelle. This experience is a must for those looking to discover the true beginnings of Paris. You'll have the chance to discover the city's first royal palace, the Conciergerie, which became a prison during the French Revolution, and the place where Marie Antoinette and thousands of unfortunate others spent their final days.

Day 3: Château de Versailles Tour

A slice of Versailles
A glimpse of Versailles

In the morning, your private guide will come to meet you at your hotel and whisk you 45 minutes west to discover the Palace of Versailles and its beautiful gardens. Versailles is more than a French château, it's a domain encompassing over 1,976 acres (800 ha). Get ready to witness an elegant explosion of gold, crystal, and luxury. While discovering the world's most lavish residence, you'll start with a visit to the palace, where you'll pass through the Hall of Mirrors. While used for luxurious ceremonies such as masked balls in the 1700s, it's also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.

After the palace, explore the grounds, as the gardens which surround the palace on three sides are one of the jewels of the Versailles estate. Wander these stunning gardens, and you'll find fountains, statues, and colonnades. Continue on to the Estate of Trianon, which includes the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. Marie Antoinette was Austrian and often missed her homeland, so this little estate was built for her as a retreat. You'll see the Queen's hamlet, the gardens and where she and her children spent time. Accompanied by your guide, you'll return to Paris at the end.

Day 4: Explore Montmartre & the Paris Catacombs

Sacré Coeur
Climb to the hilltop basilica of Sacré-Coeur

Meet your guide in front of the famous Moulin Rouge Cabaret today and start a walking tour of Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur to discover this beautiful and artistic district. As one of the authentic must-see neighborhoods of Paris, Montmartre offers a romantic glimpse into an era when raucous cabarets, bohemian soirées, and unbridled creativity were the norm. You will be transported back to those days by learning things like the naughty origins of the Moulin Rouge, the majesty of the Sacré-Coeur basilica, and the secret addresses of the Impressionists.

During your tour of this village within a city, you'll also track down great food locales, tiny trendy boutiques, and a bird's-eye view of Paris that you've got to see to believe. After Montmartre, perched on its hill, descent to the underground of Paris with a guided tour of the Catacombs. Plumb the shadowy depths of Paris as you venture within a maze of underground tunnels to find a spine-tingling discovery, millions of skeletons arranged in bizarre and enigmatic configurations. Peel back the layers of the Catacombs to learn the bone-chilling tales of murder, massacre, revolution, and a few ghost stories.

Day 5: Drive to Rouen via Giverny

Famous lily pond in Giverny
The famous lily pond of Giverny

This morning, your private driver will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the rental car agency to pick up your vehicle. Your road trip adventure begins as you say au revoir to the "city of lights" and move on to the "Town of Flowers" in the tiny country village of Giverny, a place of pilgrimage for Impressionism devotees. Claude Monet lived here from 1883 until he died in 1926, in a rambling house surrounded by flower-filled gardens that are now the immensely popular Maison et Jardins de Claude Monet

Following this, you'll arrive in Rouen in the afternoon and check in to your accommodation in the city center. With its soaring Gothic cathedral, beautifully restored medieval quarter, imposing ancient churches, excellent museums, and vibrant cultural life, Rouen is one of Normandy's most attractive and historically rich destinations.


Day 6: Walking Tour of Rouen, Drive to Honfleur

Discover the city of Rouen and take the road to the coast
Discover the city of Rouen and take the road to the coast

Start your day with a guided walking tour of the city of Rouen. Explore the rich history of Haute-Normandie's capital city, dating back to the Middle Ages. Rouen was once home to the Exchequer of Normandy and the great Anglo-Norman dynasties, rulers of both French and English territories for four centuries. Walk the streets filled with history, peruse the Seine River, and discover the site of Joan of Arc's execution.Despite extensive damage during World War II, the city retains its charm. It is now home to many museums, such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts and one of the most famous examples of medieval civic architecture, the Palais de Justice. This tour offers both a journey back in time and an authentic experience within the everyday life of the Rouennais. In the afternoon, make the one-hour drive to the Atlantic coast and your base for the next two nights in the charming harbor city of Honfleur


Day 7: Discover the Pays d'Auge

The colorful harborfront at Honfleur

Meet your guide in Honfleur, where time seems to have stopped several centuries ago. The incredibly varied architecture will take you right into the Middle Ages, with the remains of its fortifications and the great church of Sainte-Catherine. From here, head west for a full-day excursion to discover Normandy's Pays d'Auge. Wind through the beautiful countryside and picturesque villages to visit a local producer who will share Normandy cheeses, apple cider, and calvados brandy. Follow the coastline of Côte Fleurie to visit the fishing villages that attracted the Impressionist painters, such as Deauville and Trouville.

As you continue along the coast, you'll see gorgeous villas overlooking the fine sandy beaches and admire the changing light as you reach the Côte de Grace coastline. Turn inland, heading south, and follow the winding roads with countless apple orchards, for which Normandy is famous. Pass horse farms, manor houses, and farmhouses built of stone or half-timbers before reaching the most picturesque village of Beuvron-en-Auge. Spend time here wandering its quaint streets before returning to Honfleur.

Day 8: Drive to Bayeux, City Tour & Bayeux Tapestry

Bayeux's canals

This morning head west to the coast of Normandy to reach Bayeux and meet your guide in the center of town for a walking tour. Admire the medieval architecture of Notre-Dame and the lace and porcelain that made the richness of Bayeux. Located next to the Bayeux Cathedral, the Museum of Art and History Baron Gerard (MAHB) will take you on a journey through the history of European art.

At the end of this tour, you will visit the world-renowned Museum of the Tapestry to discover the Bayeaux Tapestry, which is almost 1,000 years old. Learn the history of how William, Duke of Normandy became William the Conqueror, King of England. After lunch, you'll have the rest of the day free to explore this medieval town, and the best thing to do is to wander and discover its architectural details, such as its water wheels and half-timbered construction. Don't miss its open-air markets which are a real spectacle!

Day 9: Visit the D-Day Landing Beaches

Travel back in time on the landing beaches
Travel back in time to the landing beaches

Join your guide for a full-day excursion to visit the D-Day landing beaches. You'll cover a large area today, stopping to visit all major sites in the US sector. Discover the extraordinary actions of the paratroopers in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and the Airborne Museum. Visit Utah Beach, where the US 4th Division landed, and learn about the war (from the German occupation to the French Resistance) and many different soldiers' war stories.

After a quick stop at the German Cemetery, visit Pointe du Hoc. This German battery attacked by the US Rangers will put you amid the atmosphere as you see the beach and the cliffs while hearing about the bunkers and the bomb craters. Make a stop at the best-known beach of Omaha, which is 4 miles (6 km) long, and visit its heartbreaking US cemetery for yet another perspective of the beach looking from above. You'll have time at the end to either stay longer at the cemetery or enter the visitor center before returning to Bayeux at the end of the day.
Plan your trip to France
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 10: Day Trip to Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont St Michel
The island abbey of Mont-Sainte-Michel

Today, head southwest to discover Mont-Saint-Michel, a granite island in the middle of a massive bay under the influence of Europe's biggest tides. In 708 AD, legend has it the archangel Saint Michael ordered the construction of an abbey on this spot. The abbey has evolved through time into a multistoried, awe-inspiring edifice. Upon entering, a tour takes you through the cloister, refectory, and several other rooms before moving into the heart of the abbey. After your visit, wander the narrow circular streets which lead to the ramparts for stunning views, and enjoy lunch in one of the quaint restaurants.

Day 11: Drive to Saint-Malo

Beach in Saint Hernot on the Crozon, Brittany
The cliffs of Saint-Hernot on the Crozon, Brittany

Leave Normandy today to discover a new area along the coast, Brittany. Your journey will lead you to Saint-Malo, a two-hour drive away. After you check in to your new hotel, meet your guide for a walking tour of the Old Town, with its meandering cobblestone streets and impressive surrounding fortifications. Despite being devastated by World War II bombings, the city still bears many traces of the Middle Ages. The walled port city rose from the ashes and boasts a rich regional tradition and distinctive Breton architecture in its ancient gray stone buildings.

Follow the maze of narrow streets that have their own exciting stories, such as "Dancing Cat Street" or "Pelicot Street," one of the tiniest where some houses date back to the 16th century and, by a miracle, weren't destroyed during World War II. When your tour is finished, the pretty islands of Le Grand Bé and Le Petit Bé can be visited on foot at low tide, with the Fort National reachable from Saint-Malo's longest beach, the Grande Plage.

Day 12: Crêpe Workshop, Cruise the Chausey Archipelago

Cruise through the unspoiled nature of the Chausey Archipelago

The best way to discover a region is by learning about its gastronomy. Today, meet your chef in his kitchen and enjoy a crêpe-making class. Learn the technique of cooking this typically French pancake, focusing on the quality of the ingredients. Roll up your sleeves, and prepare for a hands-on cooking experience. Hear about the origins of buckwheat, a vital component of the galette, and master the art of creating the perfect batter. After your crepes are done, sit down for lunch and savor the flavors of your hard work. Enjoy a traditional Breton cider alongside your meal to feel like a true local!

In the afternoon, take a boat from Saint-Malo and cruise through the pristine nature of Europe's largest archipelago. Les îles Chausey, located off the coast of the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, are comprised of the main island of Grand-Île and 365 islets at low tide and 52 at high tide. The area was formerly exploited for its granite to construct Mont-Saint-Michel, rebuild Saint-Malo, and pave the streets of Paris. It benefits from favorable conditions as an ornithological reserve and constitutes one of the main seabird colonies in France. If you're lucky, dolphins may be seen during the crossing and come to swim alongside the boat.

Day 13: Drive to Tours, City Walking Tour

A typical evening in Tours

Today's drive takes you four hours southeast to the Loire Valley, which has some of France's most beautiful landscapes and castles. You'll be heading to Tours, once the capital of the Kingdom of France. Once you've arrived and checked in to your hotel, meet with your guide for a city walking tour. Explore the Old Town, one of Europe's largest conserved urban areas that's rich with history and character.

Beautiful Romanesque and Renaissance facades and half-timbered houses line the lively streets leading to Place Plumereau, where you can sit among the local Touraine residents and watch the world go by. During your walking tour, you will pass by some city attractions like Les Halles, Place du Grand Marché, the church of Sainte-Croix, Place de Chateauneuf, and Saint-Pierre Church.

Day 14: Visit the Château de Chambord & Château de Chenonceau

Reflections at the Château de Chenonceau

On a private group tour today, you'll visit two of the most important castles in the Loire Valley. Your first stop is Château de Chambord, a French-Renaissance fortress dating back to the early 16th century and the largest of the Loire Valley châteaux, with 440 rooms. This extravagant castle is one of France's most famous and recognizable landmarks. Take the grand double spiral staircase to the second floor to see the royal apartments of François I and Louis XIV. Continue up to the terraces, where you'll find views of the surrounding gardens, forests, and moats.

Stop for lunch, then continue to Château de Chenonceau, which spans across the Cher River with a history defined by a nearly uninterrupted succession of women. The structure in its current form was built between 1513 and 1517 by Thomas Bohier and his wife, Catherine Briçonnet. Since then, a long line of women, including Queen Catherine de Medici and patron of the arts Louise Dupin have owned and restored the château. It's so well-loved that it's the second-most visited château in France, after Versaille. After a look inside, stroll the castle's park to find the labyrinth, the Diane garden, and its many fountains.

Day 15: Visit Château du Clos Lucé & Château d'Amboise

The riverside Château d'Amboise

Take the road toward Amboise and visit two gems of the Renaissance period famous for their connection with Leonardo da Vinci. Start by traveling through 800 years of history at the Château du Clos Lucé. Da Vinci left Italy for good when François I generously him the title of "Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King," which allowed him to paint and draw at his leisure while living in this country manor house. Today, the château is devoted to highlighting the life and work of da Vinci. 

After lunch, visit the neighboring Château d'Amboise, a residence for French kings from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Its destiny is inextricably linked to the history of France. Numerous literary figures and artists were invited here, including da Vinci. This royal château is the ultimate expression of French-style luxury. From its balconies, roofs, and terraced gardens, take in the Loire landscape and delight in what the kings enjoyed.

Day 16: Drive to Cognac

Cognac countryside
The Roman amphitheater in Saintes

Leave the Loire Valley and head two hours southwest to Cognac. But first, stop in Saintes. Take in the distinct and particular history of the city. Once the Roman capital of the Aquitaine Region, today you can stop for a tour of the Roman amphitheater. Like many amphitheaters in the Roman Empire, it was built outside town at the Vallon des Arènes. Its function was to seat spectators who watched violent and bloodthirsty events such as gladiatorial combats and wild animal hunts. Today, the remains give an excellent idea of what Roman-occupied Europe looked like at its peak. 

Next, head to Cognac, known worldwide for the double-distilled spirit that bears its name and on which the local economy thrives. Visit the famous cognac houses, a picturesque stop even if you are not a fan of the local drink. On the left bank of the Charente, you can find the castle where King François I was born in 1494. Wander the cobbled streets of old Cognac, discover the redeveloped downtown, and stop for some local treats at the finest indoor market in the region. 

Day 17: Visit the Vineyards of Cognac

Napoleon Cognac
Sprawling vineyards in Cognac

Meet your specialist guide today and spend the morning discovering the treasures and vineyards of Cognac. Take the "off-the-beaten-track" route toward Grande Champagne vineyards, where the best Premiere Cru cognacs are produced. You'll learn about the passion and secrets of the families who have created the liquor of the gods for generations. Finish it off with a visit to a traditional barrel factory. After lunch, head toward the Gironde Estuary for a guided tour of the ancient fortified towns of Blaye and Bourg.

The astonishingly well-preserved Citadelle de Blaye was largely protected despite being under siege sixteen times between the fifth and 16th centuries. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it includes existing ramparts, four bastions, dry moats, and underground passages between the defense lines. Continue down to the estuary to Bourg. Built in Roman times, fortified by the English, and visited by several kings such as Louis XIV, this charming town compliments its neighbor. On top of the rocky outcrop, you will find medieval walls and alleyways which trickle down the harbor.

Day 18: Drive to Bordeaux, Afternoon Gastronomy Tour

Bordeaux's location along the Garonne River
Bordeaux's location along the Garonne River
It's just a short two-hour drive southwest to Bordeaux. When you arrive, check in to your hotel and enjoy a private guided tour of the Musée d'Aquitaine to discover Bordeaux's rich history from antiquity to modern times. Your guide will delve into the heritage and legacy of France, and you'll learn all about the region's development. After your visit, meet in the city center to enjoy l'aperitif. Your oenophile guide will share their passion during a tasting, including wine, salted and sweet cannelés, and other surprises.

After lunch, the Foie Gras Monblanc canning boutique welcomes you to discover its products, such as its specialty, duck breast fillet stuffed with foie gras. You'll learn how foie gras is transformed from its raw form into one of France's most famous gourmet exports. Then, take a short break with a small plate of Arcachon Basin oysters and a glass of Entre-Deux-Mers wine. Finally, have dinner in one of Bordeaux's finest restaurants. In a setting with breathtaking views, enjoy traditional dishes while discovering the reason for the local saying "Bordeaux is an old lady who knows how to host."

Day 19: Morning Market Tour, Discover Bordeaux by Bike

Capucin's market in Bordeaux
Fresh seafood at the Marché des Capucins

In the morning, meet your guide for a tour of the Marché des Capucins, Bordeaux's prominent farmer's market dating from the 18th century. Feast on fresh local fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses, bread, and pastries. Your guide will help you navigate the stalls and vendors, rubbing elbows with local chefs doing their morning shopping. In addition to superb quality food, this market is full of exciting characters, from vendors with enormous mustaches and earth-weathered hands to characterful blokes in berets. It is a treat for all the senses and an authentic French experience.

This afternoon, tour the city by bike, which is an ideal way to traverse its pedestrian and bicycle-friendly center. During the 6-mile (10 km) ride, you'll cross the bridge to the other side of the Garonne River and enjoy stunning views of the 18th-century quais (docks). Bordeaux's neoclassical architecture has made it the world's largest urban UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy the Esplanade des Quinconces, a retreat from the busy shopping streets, and see the Water Mirror reflecting the elegant and classical buildings of Place de la Bourse. Finally, stop for a well-deserved drink and toast a memorable day in Bordeaux.

Day 20: Day Trip to Arcachon & Saint-Émilion

The village of St Emilion
The village of Saint-Émilion

In the morning, meet your guide for a visit to the beautiful seaside resort of Arcachon to experience an authentic oyster tasting. Freshly picked from the shores of the Atlantic by a professional oyster farmer, you'll learn to appreciate their natural taste and how they have become a prominent feature of French cuisine. Discover the traditions and tricks of the trade— even those who dislike the crustacean may find themselves pleasantly surprised!

This afternoon, learn about the prestigious wines of the Bordeaux region's "Right Bank" during a guided tour of the vineyards of Saint-Émilion. While visiting two esteemed wine estates, you'll stroll the vineyards, see the traditional vat room, and descend to the famous cellars. Learn the steps of proper tasting and educate your nose to identify the wine's aromas against a scenic backdrop of Saint-Emilion's vineyards. Afterward, take a tour of the UNESCO-listed village of Saint-Émilion, a typical charming French town dating back to medieval times.

Day 21: Depart Bordeaux

Home Sweet Home !
Au revoir Bordeaux!

Your epic French adventure draws to a close today. Savor a final morning in Bordeaux, then drive to the airport and drop off your rental car before catching a flight to your next destination. Bon voyage!

More Great France Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to France? Check out these other France itineraries, explore different ways to spend 21 days in France, or discover the best time to visit France.


Map of Explore France's Western Route- 21 Days
Map of Explore France's Western Route- 21 Days