- Taste regional treats like Norman cheeses, Breton crepes, and Vouvray wines
- Get your fill of WWII history while visiting D-Day's most important sites
- Drive around Brittany's Gulf of Morbihan with dozens of islands and beaches
- Tour stunning former residences of French kings and Leonardo Da Vinci
- Check off Parisian highlights like the Eiffel Tower, Seine, and Louvre Museum
|Day 1||Arrive in Paris - City Tour - Transfer to Bayeux||Bayeux|
|Day 2||Tour of Normandy's Landing Beaches||Bayeux|
|Day 3||Tour of Honfleur & Pays d'Auge||Bayeux|
|Day 4||Tour of Mont Saint Michel - Drive to Saint-Malo||Bayeux|
|Days 5-6||Explore Brittany||Saint-Malo|
|Day 7||Drive from Saint-Malo to Tours, via Rennes||Tours|
|Day 8||Tour of the West Loire Valley||Tours|
|Day 9||Drive from Tours to Amboise||Amboise|
|Day 10||Tour of Chambord & Chenonceau||Paris|
|Day 11||Free Day in the Loire Valley||Amboise|
|Day 12||Train from Tours to Paris - Explore the City||Paris|
|Day 13||Canal Saint-Martin Food Tour - Le Louvre Museum Tour||Paris|
|Day 14||Depart Paris|
Day 1: Arrive in Paris - City Tour - Transfer to Bayeux
Welcome to Paris! You'll arrive in the morning in time for a half-day sightseeing tour in the nation's capital—great for first-timers.
During this small-group excursion, your guide will show you the city's most breathtaking sights during a friendly, informative, and exciting walking tour. Hear fascinating stories, facts, and local tips that will tap you into the majesty of Parisian life culminating with an hour-long cruise down the Seine for views of the Eiffel Tower.
Following the tour, you'll be transferred to the rail station for your train journey to the Normandy region. From here, you'll take a short drive to Bayeux for your overnight. An attractive and historic town, Bayeux makes an ideal base for exploring Normandy.
With two cross-Channel invasions—almost 900 years apart—Bayeux offers a front-row seat at defining moments in western history. The dramatic story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 is told in 58 vivid scenes by the world-famous and quite astonishing Bayeux Tapestry, embroidered just a few years after William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, became William the Conqueror, King of England.
Meanwhile, on June 6th, 1944—also known as D-Day—roughly 160,000 Allied troops, supported by almost 7,000 naval vessels, stormed ashore along the coast just north of town. Bayeux was the first French town to be liberated (on the morning of June 7th) and is one of the few places in Calvados to have survived WWII practically unscathed.
History aside, the town is crammed with beautiful 13th- to 18th-century buildings, including a fine gothic cathedral. Over the next few days, in your spare time, you can explore the cobbled, medieval streets offering great cafés and restaurants.
Day 2: Tour of Normandy's Landing Beaches
This morning, you'll be picked up by your guide for a tour of Normandy's landing sites during D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, and the brave soldiers who fought for freedom in 1944.
You’ll first head to Pointe du Hoc, a stunning place of natural beauty scarred by heavy aerial and naval bombardment. Walk the lunar landscapes that underscore the infamous feat carried out by U.S. Rangers who scaled the 100-foot cliffs to boot out the enemy, thus securing this imposing strongpoint.
Then head to Normandy's coastal battlefield grounds for a tour of Omaha Beach, one of two landing areas where Americans lost many lives. You'll also visit the American cemetery in Colleville, a site stretching 170 acres housing 9,387 tombs.
Following the tour, return to Bayeaux where you'll have the rest of the evening to explore on your own.
Day 3: Tour of Honfleur & Pays d'Auge
Today, you'll discover one of the more traditional areas of Normandy called Pays d'Auge during a full-day tour. Your guide will take you through the beautiful countryside with its rolling hills and picturesque villages to visit a local producer for samples of Normandy cheeses, delicious apple cider, and pommeau (apple cider with brandy).
You'll also stop along the Cote Fleurie coast to visit a few small fishing villages that once attracted impressionist painters. These villages, such as Deauville and Trouville, have since become famous and fancy beach communities. Get a glimpse of gorgeous villas overlooking the fine sand beach as well as nearby horse race tracks, golf courses, gambling casinos, and art galleries in the area.
Your next stop is along the Cote de Grace coast, at the mouth of the river Seine, where the changing light and natural beauty will likely impress. The best location is Honfleur where time seems to have stopped several centuries ago. The town's incredibly varied architecture will take you right into Middle Ages and Renaissance eras with the remains of its fortifications and extraordinary church.
Honfleur later became an artist colony where Monet and his painter friends used to meet here around the Saint Simeon Farm. You will have some free time to explore the town's special atmosphere where you can have lunch and browse the many restaurants and shops.
Back on the winding country roads, you will discover more of the region's hinterland, with its beautiful hills and pastures covered by apple trees as you pass by many horse farms, manor houses, and farmhouses built from stone. You'll also stop at the picturesque Norman village called Beuvron-en-Auge where you can check out half-timbered houses, lovingly restored.
Following the tour, you'll return to Bayeux for the evening.
Day 4: Tour of Mont Saint Michel - Drive to Saint-Malo
This morning, after breakfast in Bayeux, you'll drive to Mont Saint Michel for a half-day tour.
Situated in the middle of a large bay, this granitic island oozes with history and is one of the most popular places to visit in France. The first monastery was replaced by a benedictine abbey in the 10th century, where the monks prayed and welcomed pilgrims coming to adorn the archangel in order to earn their right to go to heaven. The monks never stopped adding new building constructions century after century until they were chased away by the French Revolution in 1791. This magnificent abbey then became a prison!
In 1864, Mont Saint Michel was added on the list of French Historic Monuments and restored before opening itself to visitors. Your guide will take you to the top where there is a breathtaking view that is well worth the number of steps to arrive. He or she will also let you understand the symbolism of the architecture as you visit the different rooms, one more incredible than the other. If lucky, you might even meet one of the monks of the new community who settled here a few years ago and hear their Gregorian Chants vibrating in the church at the time of the mass.
Your guide will also take you through the narrow cobbled streets around the village with granite or half-timbered houses. You can also wander along the top of the fortification wall, built during the Hundred Years War when Mont Saint Michel became a medieval castle.
At the end of the tour, you'll drive to Saint-Malo in the Brittany region, located in the northwest part of France. Saint-Malo is a historic French port in Brittany on the Channel coast; to get there, travel along a coastal road that crosses Cancale, the capital of oysters, for a fun afternoon snack. Sit back and enjoy some bivalves while taking in some of France's most impressive coastline.
Upon arrival at Saint-Malo, you'll have time to explore the town on your own. Consider a self-guided walking tour around the ramparts for the most essential activity in town. With magnificent views of the sea and the city just below, you should count a good hour to make the complete tour. Also check out the Chateau de Saint-Malo, built between the 15th and 18th centuries, as well as the Town Hall and the Museum of History of Saint-Malo, before dining on hearty Breton crêpes.
Days 5-6: Explore Brittany
Over the next few days, you'll have free time to explore Brittany region on your own. With its wild, dramatic coastline, incredibly varied landscapes, charming islands, and medieval towns with proud traditions and culinary treasures, there's plenty to see and do.
Consider spending time in the Gulf of Morbihan situated in the crook of Brittany's southern coastline, a haven of around 40 islands, beaches, oyster beds, and birdlife. Its shallow waters form a breathtakingly beautiful inland sea. Some islands are barely sandy specks of land, while others harbor communities of fishermen, farmers, and artistic types seduced by the island lifestyle.
Further inland lies the handsome town of Josselin, well-known for its huge castle, medieval contours, and scenic riverine perch on the River Oust. For more ancient charm, the picture-postcard town of Rochefort-en-Terre is well worth a day's exploration to fully soak up its historic flavors.
Other areas of interest include Finistere in the far western part of Brittany. This department offers seaside resorts, beaches, and coves as well as historical and architectural goodies. Here, you'll find Quimper, the oldest of the Breton cities, dominated by the huge, gothic Cathédrale St-Corentin. This is where you'll find the liveliest cafés in pretty, half-timbered buildings along with shops selling the earthenware pottery bearing local folk designs.
Another idea is Douarnenez, an attractive town on the coast with no fewer than four harbors where you can soak up the unique atmosphere of its narrow streets with craft workshops and fishermen’s cottages. Then fill your lungs with sea air and enjoy the walk to a beautiful bay called Plomarch. The surrounding area is full of colorful quaysides that were once buzzing with the activities of fishing boats and canning factories, which are now lined with cafés and restaurant terraces.
You can also visit Nantes. Spirited and innovative, this artsy city has a history of reinventing itself. By the 18th century Nantes was France's foremost port, and in the 19th century—following the abolition of slavery—it became an industrial center centered around shipbuilding. Today, Nantes enjoys a thriving student and cultural hub.
Day 7: Drive from Saint-Malo to Tours, via Rennes
Today you'll make the scenic drive to the city of Tours in the Loire Valley at your own pace. En route, make a stop in Brittany's capital called Rennes for lunch break. Brittany's vibrant capital sits at the junction of highways linking northwestern France's major cities. Get out and walk around its elaborate and stately center with a medieval quarter that's fun to get lost in, followed by a midday meal at one of Rennes's great restaurants.
Upon arrival in Tours, you'll have the rest of the day to hit the streets on your own. Brimming with charm and character, the city will delight you with its picturesque architecture and authenticity. Like its neighbors—Orléans, Blois, and Amboise—Tours is set on the banks of Europe's untamed Loire River. These small cities reflect the history of the kings of France and still have a very close bond with the Loire, which was for a long time France's main economic artery.
A good place to start is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, an excellent fine-arts museum in a beautiful 18th-century archbishop’s palace featuring paintings, sculpture, furniture, and art the 14th to 20th centuries.
Day 8: Tour of the West Loire Valley
After breakfast at your hotel in Tours, you'll make your way to the meeting point for today's small-group guided tour.
This fun excursion starts with a visit to the Château de Villandry and its remarkable gardens where your guide will share thrilling historical anecdotes. With its unique furnishings, décor, and atmosphere, Villandry is a living testimony of French heritage. Henri Carvallo, the current owner, is following in the footsteps of his ancestors by both preserving this unique heritage site and opening it up for visitors to enjoy. You'll visit the interiors and Villandry’s maze, or labyrinth, formed of hornbeam hedges, known as charmilles, based on the designs of Renaissance gardens, in which the labyrinth was a crucial element.
Then, learn everything about Loire Valley wines by visiting two wine estates of the Vouvray Appellation, well-known for its sparkling and white wines. For lunch, you'll take part in a French Art de Vivre experience away from the crowds with a restful picnic break in an intimate family-owned château where the owners still live today.
Following this full-day excursion, return to Tours for the evening.
Day 9: Drive from Tours to Amboise
After breakfast in Tours, you'll make the road trip journey to Amboise—another charming home base for exploring the Loire Valley countryside and châteaux. Nestling on the left bank of the river, Amboise has kept traces of its royal past and is a great town for walking.
Upon arrival, you'll check into your accommodations and take the rest of the day to explore on your own. Start by heading to the Royal Château of Amboise, where the young future François Ist grew up alongside his mother and sister. The chateau is also where Leonardo Da Vinci is buried in the chapel. During a visit, you can see the chapel, the chateau, and the gardens with terraces overlooking the Loire Valley, which are cleverly illuminated after dark.
In the evening, have fun sampling the town's outstanding dining options.
Day 10: Tour of Chambord & Chenonceau
This morning, you'll join a guided excursion that visits two of the Loire Valley's most prestigious castles in one great day: the impressive Château de Chambord and stunning Château de Chenonceau.
Start with Chambord, which has an estate and national game reserve as large as Paris. The chateau itself is a unique monument by its architecture and proportions, and it is said that Leonardo da Vinci likely took part in the conception of the project. With more than 400 rooms and a double spiral staircase, Chambord is a highlight of the Loire Valley.
Next is Chenonceau, one of the most famous monuments in the Loire Valley thanks to its two-story gallery standing over the Loire River. The castle and its gardens are extremely well-preserved and provide the perfect place to learn more about France during Renaissance times.
During the tour, you'll learn about the intimate secrets of the French kings. Enjoy off-the-crowd panoramic views thanks to your local guide, benefit from a wealth of thrilling genuine details and funny anecdotes and make the most of this exciting day. One of the highlights will definitely be a restful lunch away from tourist groups in a beautiful privately-owned chateau still inhabited by the family.
Following the tour, you'll return to Amboise for the evening.
Day 11: Free Day in the Loire Valley
Today is at leisure for you to discover more key sites in the Loire Valley at your own pace.
A good option is to visit Chaumont sur Loire, built around the year 1000 to keep watch over the border between the counties of Blois and Anjou. In 1465, Louis XI had the château burned and razed to the ground, but it was rebuilt just a few years later in Renaissance style, with sculpted decor becoming the major feature of its outer façades. Make sure the check out the stables, considered at the end of the 19th century to be the most luxurious in Europe. Case in point: The saddle room contains harnesses made by Hermès.
Another great site is the Royal Château of Blois, which offers a true panoramic survey of art and history of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. As a former residence of seven kings and 10 queens of France, you'll truly get a feel for the power and daily life at court in the Renaissance, as can be seen from the royal apartments, which have been furnished and embellished with magnificent polychromatic decors. The chateau is also filled with more than 35,000 works so there's plenty to see.
You should also consider the Château de Cheverny, a stately structure that has been in the same family for more than six centuries. Open to the public since 1922, visitors can experience everything from the botanical park to the magnificent interiors, and even the kennels.
Day 12: Train from Tours to Paris - Explore the City
Before departing Amboise, make sure to visit Chateau du Clos-Lucé and discover the fascinating home where Leonardo da Vinci lived more than 500 years ago. During this visit, you will appreciate the amazing gifts of the Italian genius and admire all his creations and main inventions. You can also take a nice walk in the picturesque green park where Leonardo da Vinci used to observe nature and organize magnificent parties for his good friend, King Francis 1st.
At the designated time you'll return your rental car and transfer to the TGV station in Tours for the journey back to Paris. Upon arrival, you'll be transferred to your hotel where you can spend the rest of the day in the city however you see fit!
Day 13: Canal Saint-Martin Food Tour - Le Louvre Museum Tour
Make sure to save some room at breakfast today before you embark on a gourmet Parisian food tour (3 hours).
This delicious odyssey focuses on picturesque neighborhoods that will open your senses to a whole new world of French culture. It's packed with inspiring locales and tastings along the way, while a personable expert fills you in on each mouth-watering product.
While the tour hones in on Canal Saint-Martin, you'll also get a glimpse of Le Marais and Le Temple while sampling scrumptious delicacies from the city's top artisanal producers and markets. The itinerary also includes an offbeat cheese and wine tasting with passionate French connoisseurs.
Following the tour, you'll have some free time before you meet your guide for a two-hour excursion inside Le Louvre Museum. Once a royal palace—and now the largest museum in the world—the Louvre hides in its walls centuries of secrets, vile crimes, and mysterious masterpieces.
From here you can spend the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring Paris however you'd like.
Day 14: Depart Paris
It's time to say goodbye to France! At the designated time you'll be picked up from your hotel by a private driver and transferred to the airport for your departure home or next destination. Au revoir!
Looking for more coastal trips in Europe? Check out kimkim's guide to Europe's best rugged coastlines.