Road Trip Through Western France: Paris, Normandy, Brittany, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, & More - 15 Days
- Walk through the gilded halls of Versailles
- Go underground in the Paris Catacombs
- Visit Mont-Saint-Michel, the abbey on an island
- Follow the footsteps of Leonardo Da Vinci
- Haggle with vendors for your lunch at an 18th century market
|Day 1||Welcome to France! Arrive in Paris & Evening Eiffel Tower Tour||Paris|
|Day 2||Pastry Tour of Le Marais & Afternoon at the Louvre||Paris|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Versailles||Paris|
|Day 4||Ile de la Cité & Paris Catacombs||Paris|
|Day 5||Drive from Paris to Honfleur||Honfleur|
|Day 6||Tour of Pays d'Auge & Drive to Bayeux||Bayeux|
|Day 7||Tour of D-Day Sites||Bayeux|
|Day 8||Day Trip to Mont-Saint-Michel||Bayeux|
|Day 9||Bayeux to Tours, Châteaux, & Wine||Tours|
|Day 10||Day Trip to Châteaus de Chambord & Chenonceau||Tours|
|Day 11||Retrace History with Leonardo Da Vinci||Tours|
|Day 12||Drive to Bordeaux & Luxurious Dinner||Bordeaux|
|Day 13||Morning Market Visit & Bordeaux Bike Tour||Bordeaux|
|Day 14||Oyster Tasting & Wine in St. Emilion||Bordeaux|
|Day 15||Au Revoir, France|
Day 1: Welcome to France! Arrive in Paris & Evening Eiffel Tower Tour
Welcome to Paris, the City of Lights! This elegant capital boasts centuries of history, art, fashion and, of course, romance. 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 heading out to explore the streets near your accommodation before dinner.
Paris is alive and thriving with activity, day and night. It's the perfect city to indulge in a little shopping, with department stores like Lafayette and Printemps housing some of the best local designers around, and small boutique shops offering unique high-quality wares.
Colorful boulevards and historic monuments invite visitors to stroll through the downtown, while narrow alleys and cozy cafes create a romantic atmosphere. For art lovers, spending time at Paris' smaller museums is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as the city has one of the most impressive art collections in the world. Alternatively, lazing around in the parks or at a sidewalk cafe on a sunny day is simply blissful.
After settling into your hotel, head out for your first look at the city. Spend some time walking around downtown and enjoying the sights. In the evening, meet with your private guide for a 3.5-hour exploration of the Trocadero Esplanade and Eiffel Tower. Start at the Trocadero to see its statues, monuments, and city views. Continue to 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.
Day 2: Pastry Tour of Le Marais & Afternoon at the Louvre
Eating pastries and enjoying art is synonymous with French culture, and you'll get to do plenty of both today. Start your day with a tour of the Le Marais neighborhood with a hyper-local guide (a neighborhood resident, in fact!) to explore the secret cafes and taste the best baked goods in the city. Spend two hours sampling crépes, crème brûlée, pain au chocolat, espresso, chocolates, macarons, and more.
Visit the city's oldest food market, the Marché des Enfants Rouges, and try your hand at haggling for your favorite treat. As you walk, learn about world-famous pastry chefs: Poîlane, Jean-Paul Hévin, Jacques Genin, Pierre Hermé, and others.
In the afternoon, it's time to explore the Louvre, the world's largest art museum. Skip the lines and head right to the classics, as well as your personal favorites. Get up close to Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, then get some fresh air at the Tuileries Garden. In the evening, explore the Champs Elysees and the majestic Arc de Triomphe.
Day 3: Day Trip to Versailles
In the morning, head outside of the big city to the resplendent Versaille Estate. Take the train there, then head directly inside with your skip-the-line access to spend a few hours exploring the palace and grounds. Travel back in time as you discover what life was like living in the splendor of the court of the kings and queens of France. Your historian guide will walk you from hall to gilded hall, pointing out ornately painted ceilings, the Hall of Mirrors, and the private royal quarters.
After touring the castle head outside to the manicured gardens and lawns, where a dazzling display of flowers and exotic plants delight visitors of all ages.
Enjoy lunch near the castle, then take the train back to Paris for a free afternoon in the city. Shop, enjoy the fresh air in one of the city's parks or explore one of the city's many art museums.
Day 4: Ile de la Cité & Paris Catacombs
Spend the morning exploring the heart of Paris: the Ile de la Cité, located on an island in the middle of the Seine River. Start the tour at the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral, a 12th-century masterpiece of architecture and home of the infamous Hunchback. Unfortunately, due to the April 2019 fire, the cathedral is closed until further notice for repairs and restoration. But even from the outside, the building's grandeur and history inspire a sense of awe.
From here cross over the Seine to explore the northern edge of the vibrant Latin Quarter, including Paris's oldest streets. End your tour with a visit to the iconic Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, whose colorful history includes acting as a meeting place for the greatest Beatnik minds in Europe and hosting generations of weary writers among its bookshelves in exchange for a day's work.
In the afternoon head underground to discover the city's shadowy depths and explore its darkest secrets. Hidden deep inside within the maze of underground tunnels you'll find spine-tingling discoveries: millions of skeletons arranged in bizarre configurations, hidden doors, and more. This tour will peel back the layers of the Catacombs to reveal bone-chilling tales of murder, massacre, revolution, and a few ghost stories to boot!
Day 5: Drive from Paris to Honfleur
Say goodbye to the city of lights this morning and drive 2.5 hours to the harbor city of Honfleur, 124 miles (200 km) away.
A long-time favorite with painters such as Monet, Honfleur has a reputation as Normandy's most charming port town and is a popular destination for Parisian families.
Here, time seems to have stopped several centuries ago. Stroll through the town center to see medieval churches, particularly St. Catherine's Church. Renaissance design is present throughout the city, as the 16th century was a prosperous time for the region. In more recent memory, the village served as a hub for artists, when Monet and his painter friends gathered here to meet at the St. Simeon Farm.
It's hard not to love the rugged maritime charm of the Vieux Bassin (old harbor), which immerses you in Normandy's seafaring history. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Honfleur was one of France's most important ports, and some of the earliest French expeditions to Brazil and Newfoundland began here.
After a tour of the town, spend some time exploring on your own. Enjoy lunch in one of the town's many seafood restaurants, then spend the afternoon shopping or visiting art galleries.
Day 6: Tour of Pays d'Auge & Drive to Bayeux
Spend the day exploring Pays d'Auge, one of Normandy's most scenic regions. Drive through rolling hills and postcard-perfect villages to visit a local cheese and cider producer and sample traditional Normandy cheese, pommeau, and calvados brandy.
From here, head to your first stop of the day: a little fishing village on the Cote Fleurie coast. This town once attracted impressionist painters thanks to its climate and remarkable peaceful atmosphere. These days, this stretch of coast is home to several high-end beach communities, such as Deauville and Trouville. Extravagant villas line the sandy beaches, while horse racetrack, golf courses, casinos, art galleries, and more offer visitors plenty of options.
In the afternoon, head back onto countryside roads, where hedgerows line idyllic pastures, and apple orchards dot the hills. Follow the winding roads as you pass by horse farms and stately manor homes, finally reaching the village of Beuvron-en-Auge—a typical Normandy village with restored half-timbered homes, a historic inn, and a plethora of cider makers.
End the day drive with a drive along the Atlantic Coast towards the city of Bayeux, a 1.5-hour (60 miles/ 93 km) drive.
As the first town to be liberated after D-Day and one of the only places to have emerged from WWII nearly unscathed, Bayeux retains much of its old architecture.
Day 7: Tour of D-Day Sites
Today is a full day to discover the powerful legacy of D-Day on Normandy's landscape, as well as its effect on the world. Your local specialist, an expert on the Battle of Normandy and the five landing areas (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno), will walk you through an emotional day. You'll navigate famous scenes of war, memorialized by the films "The Longest Day" from Darryl Zanuck or "Saving Private Ryan" from Steven Spielberg.
Pay tribute to the armed forces who fought to end the war on this day as you visit Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and D-Day Experience (an interactive 3D movie theater which chronicles the day's events.) At the end of the 8-hour tour, return to Bayeux.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 8: Day Trip to Mont-Saint-Michel
Spend the day exploring Mont-Saint-Michel. The iconic abbey sits on an island in the middle of a huge bay, where Europe's biggest tides create a natural moat. Mont-Saint-Michel gets its start in 708 CE, when the Archangel St. Michel ordered Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, to build a sanctuary on this location.
In the 10th century, the monastery was replaced by a Benedictine abbey that welcomed pilgrims who came to worship the archangel. Construction on the building continued until the French Revolution in 1791 when the abbey became a prison. It wasn't until 1864 that Mont-Saint-Michel was added to the French List of Historic Monuments and restored for visitors.
Head across the causeway to the castle on foot, or catch a ride with a horse-drawn wagon for a scenic approach. If the tide is out, walk across the sand with a trained guide to the base of the fortifications like the pilgrims used to (the quicksands make it dangerous to cross alone.) Your guide will walk you through the main building, pointing out the history of various rooms and halls. Mont-Saint-Michel is remarkably well-preserved, with huge fireplaces still showing signs of soot from centuries of use.
After exploring the castle and the surrounding gardens, head downhill to the town where you'll find souvenir shops, cafes, and art galleries. You can expect lots of walking today on steep staircases and wet sand, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a jacket for the brisk ocean breeze.
Day 9: Bayeux to Tours, Châteaux, & Wine
Leave Normandy behind today and head toward inland France. Your destination is the Loire Valley, located a 2.5-hour (180 miles/ 290 km) drive away.
Arrive and check in to your hotel in Tours, then meet up with your private guide for a walking tour of the city. Tours was once the capital of the Kingdom of France, and its old town is one of the oldest preserved urban areas in Europe. Romanesque and Renaissance façades, half-timbered houses, and shops line the streets. In the city center, Place Plumereau is full of locals and visitors enjoying the ambiance and watching the world go by.
Explore the city on your walking tour to see some of the city's biggest sights, like Les Halles, Place du Grand Marché, the Church Sainte Croix, Place de Chateauneuf, Church Saint Pierre, and more.
In the afternoon, enjoy the Loire Valley on your own.
Visit a few of the many magnificent castles in the Loire Valley. With over 300 unique chateaus, the Loire Valley castles are as diverse as they are numerous. Tour the Azay-le Rideau, which seemingly floats on the river Indre, see Cande where Edward Prince of Wales married Wallis Simpson, and stroll through the gardens of Villandry and Chaumont-sur-Loire. A few of the chateaus, like Le Grand Pressigny and Oiron, house museums and galleries.
From Nantes to Sancerre, the Loire Valley vineyards stretch along the river of the same name. Follow it along the longest wine route in France as you visit villages, gardens, and royal abbeys in a landscape of hills and plains. Hidden behind each renowned wine district is a famous Loire chateau: Chenonceau, Chambord, Brissac, Saumur, and Chinon. More than one thousand vineyards are open to the public, including 400 specially accredited wine cellars, where you can meet the winemakers and taste their unique Loire Valley wines. From massive wine cellars to wine-tasting walks in the vineyards, there's no shortage of ways to experience the valley.
Day 10: Day Trip to Châteaus de Chambord & Chenonceau
Take the grand double spiral staircase to the second floor to see the royal apartments of François I and Louis XIV. During its heyday, the chateau and nearby forests were used for royal hunts and other pleasure activities. Continue up to the terraces, where views of the surrounding landscape offer a glimpse into the charmed lives of the castle's royals. From here you can also get a good look at the roofing and chimneys of the chateau, which rises magnificently above the wide moat.
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 Versaille.
After the full day, return to your hotel in Tours.
Day 11: Retrace History with Leonardo Da Vinci
Take the road towards Amboise to visit two jewels of the Renaissance period: Clos Lucé and the Chateau of Amboise, both famous for their connections with Leonardo da Vinci.
Your first stop is Château of Clos Lucé, where da Vinci spent his final years. Travel through 800 years of history and discover the many facets of da Vinci's passions, from painting and inventing, to philosophy and engineering. Da Vinci's work is so influential on the world that 500 years after his death, his ideas are still inspiring new generations of thinkers. As you walk through the building and learn about its history, you might experience a strange feeling that da Vinci himself just passed through the door ahead of you.
In the afternoon, continue to see the Royal Chateau of Amboise, a residence for French kings from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Over the years, numerous literary figures, artists, and great thinkers of the time were invited to spend time at the chateau. Leonardo's tomb is preserved here, tucked among the luxurious halls. Spend the afternoon exploring the chateau's wide balconies, terraced gardens, and grounds as you imagine the resplendent lifestyle of the former French aristocracy.
Return to Tours in the evening.
Day 12: Drive to Bordeaux & Luxurious Dinner
Take the road south for two hours this morning as you drive towards the world capital of wine—the famed Bordeaux region, 80 miles (130 km) away. After checking in to your hotel, head to the city center to meet up with your private guide for a guided tour of the Musée d'Aquitaine.
Delve into the history and legacy of France as you explore the enormous collection of documents, works of art, and artifacts from the Aquitaine region. Brush up on your history as you stroll through the museum, then visit the burial place of one of France's most famed authors and philosophers—Michel de Montaigne.
After your visit to the museum, 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. In respect of the tradition, you'll visit with a local guide who will share his passion for wine tasting, adding salted and sweet cannelés and other surprises.
Enjoy 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.
To wrap up the evening, head to one of Bordeaux's most elegant restaurants. Savor desserts, each prettier than the last, as you take in the resplendent atmosphere. When it comes to food and wine, Bordeaux is a lady who knows how to host.
Day 13: Morning Market Visit & Bordeaux Bike Tour
In the morning, meet your guide for a guided tour of the Marché of Capucins, locally known as the 'les Capus.' It's the region's oldest farmer's market and dates back to the 18th century. Browse the market stalls, which sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to cured meats, cheeses, fresh-baked bread, and this morning's seafood catch. Your guide will help you navigate the maze of stalls and vendors as you rub elbows with the local chefs out for their morning shopping.
Although the market is full of mouth-watering smells and flavors, it's the characters who may just delight you most: from big-mustached vegetable vendors with weathered hands to fishermen in berets and, of course, the daily shoppers.
In the afternoon, explore the city by bike with a local guide. Ride along the quays, enjoying beautiful views of the city. Continue through the heart of the historic town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Most of the historic parts of the city are closed to traffic, which makes biking an ideal way to see everything. See the Grand Théâtre, frequented by the National Orchestra and National Ballet of Bordeaux. Visit the Esplanade des Quinconces—a retreat from the busy shopping streets of the center—then head to the water to see the classical buildings of Place de la Bourse. Rivaling Paris architecture and prestige, Bordeaux's architecture will make you fall in love with France all over again.
Cross the bridge to the other side of the Garonne River to see the 18th-century docks, visit the city's top highlights, and test out your new-found knowledge trying to win a bottle of wine by answering pop quiz questions correctly. At the end of your 6-mile (10 km) ride, stop for a well-deserved snack of the region's delicacies.
Day 14: Oyster Tasting & Wine in St. Emilion
Start your morning off by meeting your guide for a private tasting tour of the famed Arcachon oysters. Head to the quiet seaside resort of Arcachon to learn about oyster farming from the best in the business and sample just-picked oysters, fresh from the ocean. Your guide will explain the tricks of the trade and culinary traditions, and even self-proclaimed oyster denouncers may find themselves pleasantly surprised by the delicious crustaceans.
In the afternoon, discover the prestigious wines of the right bank during a guided afternoon in St. Emilion. You'll explore the village, as well as two châteaux: a beautiful family-run estate, and a Great Classified Growth estate. This region is known for its Merlot grapes, which are turned into world-famous wines.
Your first stop is the family-run estate, which exudes intimacy and authentic family values passed down from generation to generation. Visit the vineyards, the traditional vat room, and cellar of this intimate estate before learning the steps of a proper tasting. Train your nose to identify the wine's aromas and learn the tips and tricks to taste like a pro.
From here, continue to a Great Classified Growth estate, which overlooks the Saint-Emilion vineyards. Here, you'll enjoy demonstrations on the winemaking process, from the vine to the bottle. Round out your visit by enjoying an aperitif of fresh bread and local cheese paired with a glass of wine.
End the day with a guided tour of the village of Saint Emilion, classified as a UNESCO's World Heritage Site. Saint-Emilion is a typical sleepy French village dating back to medieval times and is surrounded by vineyards that bear its name.
In the evening, return to Bordeaux.
Day 15: Au Revoir, France
After breakfast, take a private car or train transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. A bientôt!