Spend 16 splendid days savoring the western regions of France. Meet with a master cheesemaker in Le Marais, bake amidst Les Batignolles, and recline in the vineyards of the Loire Valley. You'll traverse the "Route des Chateaux” in the Médoc, then cruise down the Gironde estuary to sample all the riversides of the Bordeaux region before a relaxing end to your trip in the seaside resort town of Arcachon.

Highlights

  • Create classic cuisine in a French cooking class
  • Tour the artists’ haven of Montmartre
  • Lunch in the vineyards of the Loire Valley
  • Taste the wines of the right bank in St. Emilion and Pomerol
  • Climb up the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Bienvenue à Paris! Paris
Day 2 Full Day in Le Marais: Cheese Shop, Museums, & Market Paris
Day 3 Explore Palais Royal & Afternoon at Galerie Vivienne Paris
Day 4 French Cooking Class in Les Batignolles Paris
Day 5 Montmartre & the Eiffel Tower Paris
Day 6 Train from Paris to Amboise & Afternoon with Da Vinci Amboise
Day 7 Organic Wine & Lunch in the Vineyards Amboise
Day 8 Bike Tour & Château de Chenonceau Amboise
Day 9 Caves & Castles of the Western Loire Valley Amboise
Day 10 Amboise to Bordeaux & Luxurious Dinner Bordeaux
Day 11 Wine Tasting in the Médoc Bordeaux
Day 12 Cruise Down the Gironde Bordeaux
Day 13 Wine Tasting in St. Emilion & Pomerol Bordeaux
Day 14 Private Transfer from Bordeaux to Arcachon Arcachon
Day 15 Dune du Pilat Climb Arcachon
Day 16 Au Revoir, France  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Bienvenue à Paris!

The City of Lights at dusk
The City of Lights at dusk

Bonjour and welcome to Paris! Your adventure begins with your first taste of French hospitality when a chauffeur picks you up from the airport and shuttles you into the city for a personal welcome at your hotel. Spend the day exploring the neighborhood around your hotel, with personalized suggestions by your local specialist. 

After your customized self-guided walking tour, take a load off at a picturesque sidewalk cafe, where you can enjoy an aperitif before heading to a well-recommended restaurant. You could order a perfect steak frites at a timeless cafe or try a trendy bistronomy spot, where up-and-coming chefs serve exciting haute cuisine in a fun and approachable way. Think fusion flavors and reinvented French classics paired with expertly mixed craft cocktails or brilliantly selected natural wines. Walk your meal off along the resplendent Seine or stroll the Champs de Mars under the twinkle of the Eiffel Tower as you drink in the romance of the City of Lights.

Day 2: Full Day in Le Marais: Cheese Shop, Museums, & Market

Catching up with friends
Catching up with friends

You'll spend today like a local in the hip neighborhood of Le Marais. This neighborhood has played an important part in French history since the 13th Century when the Order of the Temple constructed a fortified church, an edifice that inspired the construction of a number of beautiful religious buildings and churches, and later, the epicenter of the Parisian Jewish community.  Get to know the district by foot after you enjoy a classic breakfast of cafe au lait and a buttered tartine or, of course, a perfect croissant. Alongside centuries-old synagogues, you'll find high-end fashion boutiques, dining hotspots, art galleries, and LGBT run businesses.

Stroll to the Haut-Marais, or Upper Marais, a section of the neighborhood that has transformed from former working-class factories to chic shops and galleries. There you'll meet a Maître Fromager, or Master Cheesemaker, at a renowned local cheese shop. With expert guidance, you'll learn about the cheese maturation process and taste selected cheeses from different regions paired thoughtfully with complimenting wines. After, you'll meet your local guide for a two-hour private walking tour through Le Marais's lively streets and hear tales of the magnificent 17th-century mansions that once dominated the district.

The afternoon is yours for further discovery; visit the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), which boasts an incredible selection of work by premiere and emerging photographers, or opt for the funky Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, a museum devoted to hunting and taxidermy, filled to the brim with curiosities. Explore the neighborhood's stylish boutiques and hidden gardens and when you're feeling peckish, pop over to Rue des Rosiers for a warm kosher pastry or wait in a quick-moving line for an iconic falafel sandwich. If you're hungry for something more, sample international specialties at the Marche des Enfants Rouges or stop in at a wine bar to wind down the day.

Day 3: Explore Palais Royal & Afternoon at Galerie Vivienne

Galerie Vivienne
Galerie Vivienne

Today you'll head to the swanky First Arrondissement for a day full of delicacies. After breakfast, explore the Palais Royal, which once served as the personal residence for Cardinal Richelieu. Its gardens are now a favorite spot for Parisians and fashionists to relax among picturesque arcades, Buren columns, and Bury sphere fountains.

Then, head to the Galerie Vivienne — one of the city's famed covered passageways, lined with beautiful mosaic-tiled floors and topped with a glass ceiling — for an exceptional lunch and wine tasting in an atmospheric 19th-century Parisian wine cellar. After lunch, explore the Galerie and other covered passages, such as the Passage des Panoramas or the Galerie Vero-Dodat; these gorgeous arcades were originally designed to help the Parisian bourgeoisie avoid getting muddy in the streets while they shopped. Peruse their pretty boutiques or simply wander their corridors, admiring the architecture.

Day 4: French Cooking Class in Les Batignolles

Traditional French seafood dish
Traditional French seafood dish

Today, you'll delve deeper into the city's food culture as you learn how to create classic French cuisine. In the morning, head out to the lively and authentic Parisian district of Les Batignolles in the 17th Arrondissement for a hands-on cooking class.

Your Paris-born host will first take you to the market down the lovely Rue de Levis to buy fresh produce that will serve as your ingredients for the day. Take your wares back to your host's kitchen, in her quintessentially Parisian Haussmann-style apartment, where you'll learn the secrets of creating delicious, accessible French food. Finish your lesson by enjoying the fruits of your labor over lunch and listening to your teacher's stories about living in this hip neighborhood.

In the afternoon, immerse yourself like a local with some retail therapy in the area's boho-chic boutiques or take a stroll in the charming Square des Batignolles.

Day 5: Montmartre & the Eiffel Tower

Beautiful afternoon light in front of the Eiffel Tower
Beautiful afternoon light in front of the Eiffel Tower

After breakfast, follow your guide to where the artists once lived: Montmartre. Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, and more called this neighborhood home in the early 20th century. It's one of the true must-see neighborhoods of Paris, offering a romantic glimpse into an era when raucous cabarets, bohemian soirées, and unbridled creativity were the norm. Stroll the streets that give the area its now-village atmosphere and sip wine at a cafe to take it all in.

In the evening, meet with your private guide for an exploration of the Iron Lady herself with skip-the-line tickets, giving you the most time to visit both floors and take in the incredible views from the top. End the day with dinner with a view of the sparkling Eiffel Tower lights.

Day 6: Train from Paris to Amboise & Afternoon with Da Vinci

Chateau du Clos Luce, where da Vinci spent his last years
Chateau du Clos Luce, where da Vinci spent his last years

After breakfast, you will be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the train station. Next stop: the Loire Valley. Your journey will take an hour thanks to the high-speed train. Your personal driver will then pick you up and escort you to the fairytale beauty of Amboise.

As you approach the stately town, you will be dazzled by the majesty of the Royal Castle of Amboise, on the banks of the lush Loire River. The castle, constructed in the 15th century, was once home to French kings, and the structure has come to symbolize the epoch's à la Française luxury architecture.  

After checking in at your hotel in the old town, visit the Château du Clos Lucé, where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life. You can tour the interior, imagining the master at work, then head to Leonardo's Garden, a unique open-air museum where you can play with educational installations modeled on Da Vinci's feats of engineering. Walk around the grounds, inspired by Leonardo's paintings, and relax by the pond, surrounded by bountiful flora and fauna.

Plan your trip to France
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Day 7: Organic Wine & Lunch in the Vineyards

10th-century Saumur Castle
10th-century Saumur Castle

A local wine specialist will pick you up at your hotel this morning for a day among the grapevines. Together, you'll drive to Bourgueil, a region renowned for its amazing red wines. Here you'll learn about the region's appellation vineyards and organic horticultural techniques. 

Make the most of the idyllic scenery with a picnic in the vineyards. Or enjoy lunch in a farm-restaurant, where you'll be treated to the best of local produce and a smattering of specialties: rillettes, and locally produced smoked fish and goat cheeses, all complimented with the area's fantastic wines.

After lunch, it's time for another round of wine tasting: this time, underground! You'll discover the area's unique troglodyte cellars, carved into the rocks along the Loire River; the stone setting is perfect for sampling the area's for light and fruity red varietals. 

Day 8: Bike Tour & Château de Chenonceau

Biking near Chenonceau Castle
Biking near Chenonceau Castle

Spend your today gliding through the countryside. You'll begin the morning with a guided bike tour on the Loire à Velo paths in the beautiful countryside. You'll continue riding along the Loire River, then explore the area around Chenonceau Castle, built on a bridge over the Cher River.

Also known as the "Ladies Castle," Château de Chenonceau was built by a number of women over the centuries. The first chateau was built on this location in the 12th and 13th centuries, although it was burned down in the 14th century. Only the medieval dungeon—Tour des Marque—remains from this construction. 

The chateau in its current form was built between 1513 and 1517 by Thomas Bohier and his wife Catherine Briçonnet, who oversaw and directed most of the construction. Since then, there has been a long and dramatic line of women who have owned, loved, repaired, expanded on, and restored the chateau. It's so well-loved, in fact, that it's the second-most visited chateau in France, after Versailles. 

Travel back in time to the Renaissance as you navigate the castle's corridors and furnished rooms, then stroll the grounds of the gardens (keep your eyes peeled for the resident donkeys and wild geese). 

In the late afternoon, it's time to see the Loire Valley from a different perspective: aboard a hot air balloon. You'll take to the skies on a once in a lifetime flight, with sunset views of the region's castles, vineyards, and enchanting landscapes. 

Day 9: Caves & Castles of the Western Loire Valley

Saumur Castle in the city of Saumur
Saumur Castle in the city of Saumur

Spend today exploring the western Loire Valley, with its unique Tuffeau stone castles and troglodytic caves. During a two-hour private tour, your guide will show you how workers extracted the stone from the caves and developed a mushroom-growing culture in the 19th century as you learn about life in the caves more than a century ago. You'll also taste sparkling wine in Saumur, where the wine culture dates back to the sixth century.

Visit the Chinon Castle in the afternoon, an 11th-century fortress overlooking the Vienne River. You'll then finish your day with an hour-long cruise onboard a toue, a traditional wooden boat, through the countryside.

Day 10: Amboise to Bordeaux & Luxurious Dinner

Historic city center in Bordeaux
Historic city center in Bordeaux

Catch a chauffeur to the train station to take the train south for two hours towards the world capital of wine—the famed Bordeaux region, 80 miles (130 km) away.

Spend the afternoon strolling the city at your leisure. Visit the former Royal Square, now known as the Place de la Bourse, with the Fountain of Three Graces and water mirror at its center. Stop at the gothic 15th-century St. André Cathedral and neighboring Tour Pey-Berland to take in the history, then find a bakery to enjoy a sweet cannelé.

In the evening, enjoy another quintessential Bordeaux tradition. In this region of wine and gastronomy, l'apéritif (the pre-dinner drink) is an unmissable Rendez-Vous, and the perfect way to start your visit to Bordeaux. 

To wrap up the evening, head to one of Bordeaux's elegant restaurants. Feast on a dinner of local delicacies, such as duck breast fillet stuffed with foie gras, then follow up with the Arcachon Basin's famed oysters paired with a glass of chilled Entre-Deux-Mers. Savor desserts, each prettier than the last, as you take in the city's resplendent atmosphere. When it comes to food and wine, Bordeaux is a lady who knows how to host.

Day 11: Wine Tasting in the Médoc

The vineyards of Medoc
The vineyards of Medoc

Take a five-hour tour of the famed “Route des Chateaux” in the Médoc region today. This peninsula starts just outside Bordeaux, running past the Pointe de Grave in the north and ending at the Atlantic Ocean. This is where the original name of the region comes from; loosely translated, “méd” means in the middle of, and “oc” means oceans or bodies of water, and the Médoc is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde estuary. More importantly, the Médoc is an important wine appellation and home to all the Bordeaux wines classified as Cru Bourgeois—in other words, heaven for wine aficionados. 

There are eight different major AOC wines (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlèe) produced in this sub-region of the Bordeaux wine area. You’ll enjoy a full day of tastings at spots such as St. Estèphe, Margaux, or Pauillac, with instructive sessions about the grading system of Cru Bourgeois. Stop for a picnic lunch at a family-owned estate, then finish up the day with a visit to a barrel-maker working with the region’s French oak before you return to your hotel in the late afternoon.

Day 12: Cruise Down the Gironde

Historic town of Blaye
Historic town of Blaye

Start your day with a small group visit to the Cité du Vin in the city center, where you'll follow immersive exhibits about wine culture through the ages. Once you've finished up indoors, board a guided cruise through the Gironde estuary to discover the wines and heritage of the Haute-Gironde.

On the boat, you'll pass the fortified towns of Blaye and Bourg, stopping for lunch at a Côtes de Bourg estate with the winemaker himself. The astonishingly well-preserved citadel of Blaye has survived countless sieges since the 5th century and contains 1.2 km of ramparts, four bastions, moats, and underground passages. Thanks to its historic importance, it's a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site—and also home to the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux wine appellation.

Day 13: Wine Tasting in St. Emilion & Pomerol

Ripe merlot grapes in Gironde
Ripe merlot grapes in Gironde

Head out after breakfast to discover the prestigious wines of the right bank, on the eastern side of Bordeaux. This region is known for its Merlot grapes, which are turned into world-famous wines. 

You'll start at a Grand Cru chateau in St. Emilion, where you'll enjoy demonstrations on the winemaking process, from the vine to the bottle, along with tastings. Visit the village of St. Emilion itself next, classified as a UNESCO's World Heritage Site. Saint-Emilion is a typical sleepy French village dating back to medieval times, known for its cobblestone streets and 12th-century underground church, and you'll enjoy lunch in the village.

Continue to Pomerol, a smaller appellation with no grading system, for additional tastings and insight into what makes the soil and resulting wines here so special. You'll return to your lodging in the late afternoon for a leisurely evening.

Day 14: Private Transfer from Bordeaux to Arcachon

Cap Ferret lighthouse in Arcachon Bay
Cap Ferret lighthouse in Arcachon Bay

Transfer to Arcachon after breakfast with your private driver. You'll pass elegant Atlantic and Basque-style villas on your way to this seaside resort town, where you'll soak in the ocean-atmosphere and slower pace of life. It started out as a weekend destination for Bordeaux's residents but has become one of France's most popular seaside destinations.

Along with the beaches, scope out the vibrant markets of the town center and the Belle Epoque architecture of the “ville d'hiver” (winter town). The villas of this part of town reflect the "mode Pittoresque" that was popular at the time, blending neoclassical, neo-gothic, old-colonial and Swiss chalet styles

Arcachon is also especially known for its oysters, best enjoyed with a glass of white wine and sea view.

Day 15: Dune du Pilat Climb

Dune du Pilat
Dune du Pilat

Head out to Europe's highest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat. You'll walk through a pine forest to the stairs that will lead you to the top of the 100-meter-high dune to take in the dual views of the forest and Atlantic Ocean. The Dune du Pilat was formed 4,000 years ago and is continually reshaped by the wind.

The afternoon is up to you. Rent a bike and ride along the coast to the sand beach at Les Mouleaux or explore the Arcachon city center. Just make sure you're ready by sunset for an elegant seafood dinner on the ocean.

Day 16: Au Revoir, France

French Riviera by night
French Riviera by night

After breakfast, take a private car or train transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. A bientôt!


Map

Map of Luxury Food and Wine Tour: Paris, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, & Arcachon  - 16 Days
Map of Luxury Food and Wine Tour: Paris, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, & Arcachon - 16 Days