The following itinerary lists a range of site visits which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but some require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. Furthermore a number of the sites have not confirmed their opening hours for 2016. Therefore the daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight/ferry schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunch and evening meals as indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Paris - 5 nights
Day 1: Friday 3 June, Paris – Passy – Paris
- Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
- Shakespeare and Co. (optional)
- Short Coach Tour of Paris
- Maison de Balzac, Passy
- Welcome Evening Meal at Restaurant Le Procope
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred from the Charles de Gaulle Airport to the Citadines Apart’hotel located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. For travellers arriving independently, private transfers may be arranged on request.
After an early morning arrival we begin our tour of Paris, “the city of cities” as Victor Hugo called it. It is hard to imagine Paris without the cathedral of Notre-Dame, standing proud and beautiful on the Ile de la Cité. But when Victor Hugo sat down to write a novel in 1829 the building was rapidly becoming a crumbling ruin. Gothic cathedrals were out of fashion in France and no-one cared to spend time or money repairing the desecration wrought by the French Revolution. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published in 1831, but its tale of Quasimodo and the lovely gypsy Esmeralda is set in 1482. The cathedral is Quasimodo’s home: “the cathedral was not only company for him, it was the universe; nay, more, it was Nature itself. He never dreamed that there were other hedgerows than the stained-glass windows in perpetual bloom; other shade than that of the stone foliage always budding… other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; or other oceans than Paris roaring at their feet.” Hugo’s novel was a best-seller, and it saved the cathedral by igniting a movement for the preservation of historic buildings. You will have free time in the afternoon to explore the cathedral or climb to the top to admire the gargoyles, and see the views from the towers that Quasimodo enjoyed and hear the bells that he rang daily.
You might also like to make a stop at Shakespeare and Co., which began as a bookshop on the Left Bank in 1919. Run by Sylvia Beach, an American, it soon became a popular gathering place for literary ex-pats. Sylvia lent books and money, allowed impoverished writers to stay, and promoted their works. James Joyce’s Ulysses was published by her in 1922. Henry Miller called the shop “a wonderland of books”, Hemingway wrote of it fondly in A Moveable Feast and Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin dropped in often. Sylvia’s original bookshop closed in 1940, but the right to use the name and idea was given to George Whitman (great grandson of Walt). Today the shop is run by his daughter Sylvia. We will join the lists of literary visitors who call in to check out the latest English language books for sale.
Following some time at leisure for lunch, we embark on a short coach orientation tour of Paris which takes us to Passy in the 16th arrondissement, on the Right Bank. Balzac bought a house on a hilltop in Passy, and worked there, wearing the robe of a monk, on his Human Comedy. In the museum we will see Balzac’s desk which caves-in in the centre from the constant pressure of his heavy arm, his splendid turquoise cane, his coffee pot and other items. You can look out the window from one great writer’s home to a spot tragically associated with another of the French ‘Greats’. Across the road is what was once the residence of Dr Blanche, the doctor who took in Guy de Maupassant, gone quite mad from tertiary syphilis and in need of confinement in a straight-jacket. Surely a fine literary vantage point with which to end our day?
We say ‘Bienvenue’ over dinner at one of the most literary of all Parisian restaurants, Le Procope. First opened in 1686, it is one of the oldest dining establishments in the world. It is said to have introduced coffee to the Parisians and is famed for its sorbet. Voltaire’s regular table is on display (he drank 40 cups of coffee a day), but other regulars included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin (said to have revised the US Constitution at one of its tables), Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Diderot, Longfellow, Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, George Sand, as well as leaders of the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat.’
English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, loved to dine in Paris and wrote a poem about returning to the same cafe to eat bouillabaisse:
“I wonder if the house still there is?
Yes, here the lamp is, as before;
The smiling red-cheeked écaillere is
Still opening oysters at the door.
Is Terré still alive and able?
I recollect his droll grimace:
He’d come and smile before your table
And hoped you liked your Bouillabaisse.”
(Overnight Paris) D
Day 2: Saturday 4 June, Paris – Villebon – Illiers-Combray – Chartres – Paris
- Château de Villebon
- La Maison de Tante Léonie, Illiers-Combray
- The Pré-Catelan Garden, Illiers-Combray
- Chartres Cathedral
Marcel Proust was a novelist, critic and essayist, best known for his monumental In Search of Lost Time, a seven volume novel of over 3000 pages and with more than 2000 characters. It is a book about the rediscovery of the past through random stimulations in the present. Its style recreates the psychological processes of memory. Today we follow Proust to his birthplace of Illiers-Combray to see the landscapes and houses which inspired this great work.
We begin with the Château de Villebon, residence of his character the Duc de Guermantes (Proust calls it Château de Guermantes). It was built in 1391 and is a medieval jewel of a castle, with crenulated towers, a moat and working drawbridge, and lovely formal gardens. It is privately owned, but the owners will show us around.
There is a local delicacy called a Madeleine. Shaped like a scallop shell, this little cake was originally made for pilgrims on the route to Compostela. However, Madeleines are now one of the most famous ‘literary’ foods of all time, thanks to Proust. At the beginning of Swann’s Way (the opening novel of In Search of Lost Time) the narrator eats a madeleine dipped into lime tea: “And all at once the memory appeared to me … The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday morning in Combray my aunt Léonie would give to me after dipping it in her tea.” We will visit the ‘Maison de Tante Léonie’, restored to exactly as described in those famous opening pages. Fiction has shaped its present reality. We will also sample madeleines and, as we do so, create wonderful new memories for ourselves! The nearby Pré-Catalan Garden is the Parc de Tonsonville of the novel. It was designed by Proust’s uncle who was a horticulturist – we shall enjoy a stroll in this romantic spot.
In the late afternoon we return to Paris, making a brief stop to visit Chartres Cathedral, considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and displaying an exceptional array of original 13th century stained glass windows. Since at least the 12th century the cathedral has been an important destination for travellers – and remains so to this day, attracting large numbers of Christian pilgrims, many of whom come to venerate its famous relic, the Sancta Camisa, said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth. (Overnight Paris) BL
Day 3: Sunday 5 June, Paris – Le Port-Marly – Saint-Germain-en-Laye – Paris
- Château de Monte-Cristo, Le Port-Marly
- Lunch at Pavillon Henri IV, Saint-Germain-en-laye
Our tour began with Alexandre Dumas, a man who shamelessly plagiarised and borrowed and paid collaborators to write his books for him. On encountering his son in a Paris street one day, Dumas senior asked Dumas junior, “Have you read my latest book?, to which his son replied, “No, have you?” Yet none of his collaborators ever made it on their own. Dumas always added his own special magic and his brilliance as a story-teller. He also added magic to his house, the Château de Monte-Cristo, named after his best-selling book. It was his “paradise on earth” and he spent a fortune on it. Too big a fortune, for only 2 years later he had to sell it to pay the debts. Here he wrote Adventures with my Pets which includes tales about his pet vulture; here he began his monumental Grand Dictionary of Cuisine; here he entertained Hugo, George Sand and his many mistresses (who he sometimes shared with his son).
We then enjoy lunch with a panoramic view over Paris at the regal Pavillon Henri IV in nearby Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The Sun King Louis XIV was born in one of the salons of the Pavillon and it has long been a favorite meeting place for aristocrats, artists and writers as well as important financial and political figures. Famous guests of the Pavillon Henri IV, which was converted into a hotel-restaurant in the mid 19th century, include Georges Sand, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Alphonse Daudet. Here, Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and Offenbach composed some of the music to his famous operettas.
The remain of the afternoon will be at leisure. (Overnight Paris) BL
Day 4: Monday 6 June, Paris
- Musée du Moyen Age – Hôtel de Cluny
- In the steps of Hemingway: walking tour
- Panthéon: tomb of Emile Zola, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas
- Jardin du Luxembourg: statue of George Sand
- Time at leisure
We begin our day with a visit to the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages. The museum houses six tapestries which are considered some of the finest works of art from the medieval period. These feature a lady and a unicorn and are the subject of modern American novelist Tracy Chevalier’s delightful book The Lady and the Unicorn. The tapestries have been interpreted in many ways – we will discuss our own interpretations when we go to see them.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”, wrote Hemingway in his memoir A Moveable Feast about his years there in the 1920s. Hemingway describes Paris’s bars and cafes, its literary visitors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. We will walk in his footsteps to see his favourite places in the city where, according to Oscar Wilde, good Americans go when they die. We also visit the Panthéon, in the heart of the Latin Quarter, and pay our respects to the tombs of France’s illustrious philosophers and writers, from Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.
Our morning’s program concludes with a short stop at the Jardin du Luxembourg to view the lovely statue of writer George Sand by French sculptor François-Léon Sicard (1862-1934). Nearby are also Rodin’s bust of Stendhal and a bust or Flaubert by French sculptor and painter Jean-Baptiste Clesinger (1814-1883). The rest of the day is at leisure. (Overnight Paris) B
Day 5: Tuesday 7 June, Paris
- Walking tour: Palais Royal and La Comédie-Française
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we explore the charming Palais Royal area with its lovely covered arcades, secluded gardens and elegant royal square. The Palais Royal was originally known as the Palais Cardinal for it was the residence of Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII’s prime minister, and in the 1640s it briefly housed a young Louis XIV. Nowadays, the Palais Royal shelters numerous designer fashion shops, art galleries and antique shops.
Our walk takes in the Comédie-Française, founded in 1680 during the reign of Louis XIV and the world’s oldest national theatre. The Comédie-Française bases its repertoire around the works of the classic playwrights such as Molière, Racine and Corneille, though contemporary and even non French works have been staged here in recent years. Molière in fact never played in this theater, having died before it was built, but because the Comédie-Française was an outgrowth of his old troupe and his plays have always been the most frequently performed, it is known as the House of Molière. The armchair in which he was carried home after his fatal attack in 1673 is displayed in a glass case in the upper lobby. Molière’s last home was at 40 Rue de Richelieu.
On our walk we shall also hear of Henry James, Colette, who lived at No. 9 rue de Beaujolais, Jean Cocteau, who at the end of 1940 moved to No. 36 rue de Montpensier, around the corner from his friend Colette, and Rachel, the great actress of the Comédie-Française.
The afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to explore the nearby Musée d’Orsay, housed in a former railway station and best known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. One painting in the collection, Lola de Valence by Manet has lines by poet Charles Baudelaire engraved into its frame. Baudelaire and Manet were both infatuated with Lola, a tavern dancer. (Overnight Paris) B
Villers-Cotterêts - 2 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 8 June, Paris – Père Lachaise – Château-Thierry – Villers-Cotterêts
- Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
- In the steps of Dumas: walking tour of Villers-Cotterêts incl. the Musée Alexandre Dumas
- Musée Jean de la Fontaine, Château-Thierry
This morning we depart Paris to see one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. Père Lachaise is the resting place of scores of great writers. Mark Twain described it as “a solemn city of winding streets and miniature marble temples and mansions of the dead gleaming white from a wilderness of foliage and fresh flowers. Not every city is so well peopled as this”. The site takes its name from Père François de la Chaise, confessor to Louis IV, who lived in a house on the site of the chapel. We will search out the graves of Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Proust, American novelist Richard Wright, Beaumarchais (whose plays are best known today as the operas The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro), Sarah Bernhardt, Nerval, Jean de Brunhoff (creator of Babar the Elephant), Colette, Daudet, La Fontaine, Molière, Alfred de Musset, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and medieval lovers Abélard and Héloise. Famous artists are also buried there (Delacroix, Géricault, Seurat, Ingres, Pissarro, Doré), and there are composers, singers, dancers and a great roll call of France’s famous sons and daughters.
We begin our afternoon tour by getting to know one of the most colourful personalities of French literature – Alexandre Dumas. He was born in 1802 in the village of Villers-Cotterêts. The village was also his penultimate resting place – his body was later moved to the Panthéon in Paris. The Dumas Museum there, which we will visit, covers not only the famous author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, but also his father General Dumas (whose legendary strength inspired Porthos, one of the musketeers) and his son, Alexandre Dumas Fils, author of The Lady of the Camellias (later turned into the popular opera La Traviata). Dumas manuscripts, letters, portraits and first editions are on display.
In nearby Château-Thierry, in the Champagne district, is a museum for Jean de la Fontaine, writer of fables, who was born there in 1621. His study, where he wrote fables based on Aesop and with talking animals as the main characters, is on display, along with multiple readings of his fables through paintings and drawings. There is also a charming 18th century garden.
Dumas loved food and actually wrote a cookbook, so we will enjoy a group evening meal in his honour in Villers-Cotterêts. (Overnight Villers-Cotterêts) BD
Day 7: Thursday 9 June, Villers-Cotterêts – Charleville-Mézières – Juniville – Villers-Cotterêts
- Musée Arthur Rimbaud and Maison des Ailleurs, Charleville-Mézières
- Rimbaud’s Grave, Charleville-Mézières
- Musée Verlaine, Juniville
Arthur Rimbaud is the bad-boy genius of French poetry. He wrote stunningly inventive poems and remains one of the most discussed and influential of all French poets, but he wrote all his poems before turning 21, then walked away from literature for good. He was born in Charleville and is buried there. We will visit the Rimbaud Museum, learn about his scandalous affair with Paul Verlaine (who tried to shoot him!), and see the statue the town has erected in his honour. Rimbaud rarely bathed and delighted in flicking the lice from his hair at passing priests, however, the town has now forgiven him his unruly behaviour. The museum is housed in a delightful water-mill and we will also visit Rimbaud’s childhood home, the place which inspired his greatest poem Le Bateau Ivre.
When Paul Verlaine fell in love with Rimbaud, he left his wife and son to follow his lover in a life of wandering and drinking. After two years in prison for trying to shoot his lover, Verlaine moved to Juniville where he worked as a teacher. Today the museum there records his life as a symbolist poet, an absinthe drinker and his important work as an editor. Verlaine’s life might have been out of control, but his poetry is unsurpassed in its ability to capture moods and nuances of perception. (Overnight Villers-Cotterêts) BD
Rouen - 3 nights
Day 8: Friday 10 June, Villers-Cotterêts – Villers-Bretonneux – Amiens – Rouen
- Musée Franco-Australien and WWI Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux
- Walking tour of Amiens and cathedral
- Maison de Jules Vernes, Amiens
This part of France will forever be associated with the horrors of World War I, so graphically evoked by war poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas. The little village of Villers-Bretonneux became famous when it was captured by the Germans in 1918, then recaptured by Australian troops the following day. We will visit the Australian Memorial Museum there, as we remember the poets inspired by similar battles.
Jules Verne, author of Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, lived for nearly two decades in Amiens, “a sober civilized town whose society is cordial and cultured”. There is a museum in his former home which recreates his study and holds a huge collection of his books. His couch once provided comfort for many famous ‘derrières’ – among them, those of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Georges Sand (who helped inspire one of his novels). Verne is buried in the local cemetery.
Amiens, the delightful capital of Picardy, has a cathedral which art critic John Ruskin called “unsurpassable” and which inspired Proust. It is the birthplace of Choderlos de Laclos who wrote the best-selling Dangerous Liaisons. We will enjoy a walking tour of the city and cathedral.
We will spend the next few nights in Rouen, another wonderful cathedral city. (Overnight Rouen) BD
Day 9: Saturday 11 June, Rouen
- Walking tour of Rouen
- Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
- Musée Flaubert et d’Histoire de la Medecine, Rouen
This morning we take a walking tour of Rouen, a city packed with historical and literary sites. Joan of Arc was burned there by the English (as Jane Austen wrote, “they shouldn’t have done it, but they did”), diarist John Evelyn visited and described its bridge and cathedral, Guy de Maupassant wrote of it in his brilliant story Ball of Fat, Shakespeare set part of Henry V there, and it was the birthplace in 1606 of Pierre Corneille, founder of French dramatic tragedy.
We also visit Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, established in 1801 by Napoléon and holding one of the largest art collections in France. Its Impressionist collection is particularly impressive. This art movement, originally denigrated by the critics, was publicly supported by novelist Émile Zola, who was a close friend of Cézanne and Manet. Géricault was a native of Rouen, and we see some of his works there, along with those of Fragonard, Boucher, Monet, David, Degas, Renoir and Sisley.
The man many regard as the greatest French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, was also born in Rouen. His father was surgeon at the Rouen Hospital and the family lived in an apartment attached to the hospital, now a Museum of Flaubert and Medical History, which we will visit this afternoon. Young Gustave loved to see the corpses in the morgue, or climb a tree so he could watch his father amputate limbs and listen to the screams of the poor patients. Medical details fill his novels, so he clearly never forgot these experiences. Flaubert’s statue stands in the town – we will see this and the cathedral, setting of a memorable scene when Madame Bovary meets her lover there, and inspiration for his story The Legend of St Julien the Hospitaller. (Overnight Rouen) BD
Day 10: Sunday 12 June, Rouen – Varengeville-sur-Mer – Croisset – Petit Couronne – Rouen
- Le Bois des Moutiers, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Church & Sailors’ Cemetery, Varengeville-sur-Mer
- Flaubert Pavilion, Croisset
- Musée Pierre Corneille, Petit Couronne
Le Bois des Moutiers has been in the hands of the Mallet family since 1898. They asked young architect Edwin Lutyens (later Sir Edwin) to modify the house. The gardens are the work of Gertrude Jekyll, author of over 15 books on gardening (and whose surname was used in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – her brother was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson). There are lovely rare trees, superb rhododendrons and magnolias, and a fascinating bog garden. In the house there is a Burne-Jones tapestry to admire.
Varengeville-sur-Mer is a commune perched atop limestone cliffs on the Normandy coast. Surrealist writers André Breton and Louis Aragon both spent time writing in Varengeville. The views and scenery also attracted many artists – Monet often painted in the area and Georges Braque designed the stained-glass windows in the local sailor’s church. This part of the coast was well known to Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley and Ernest Dowson, and Alexandre Dumas died in nearby Dieppe which we can see from the sailor’s cemetery which we visit.
In the afternoon we drive to the village of Croisset, on the outskirts of Rouen, where we find Flaubert’s pavilion, the only surviving part of his country residence. According to legend, Abbé Prévost wrote Manon Lescaut in the Benedictine house that was once on the site. Flaubert didn’t write in the pavilion, but he entertained friends Turgenev, Zola and De Maupassant there and, in the ‘shouting ground’ next to it, he declaimed the words he found so hard to write, to see if they sounded good. He loved to watch the moonlight on the Seine from this spot. This little pavilion is now a museum, containing his stuffed parrot (the one that features in his story A Simple Heart and which inspired Julian Barnes’ novel Flaubert’s Parrot).
Nearby in Petit Couronne we visit the weekend home of Corneille, bought by his father in 1608. Although the house has been extensively restored, it still faithfully evokes life in a country house in 17th century France.
From Petit Couronne we transfer back to Rouen where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Rouen) BL
Bayeux - 2 nights
Day 11: Monday 13 June, Rouen – Le Havre – Honfleur – Bayeux
- Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux, Le Havre
- Walking tour of Old Honfleur, incl. Old Harbour and St Catherine Church
It was trains that made it possible for artists to travel easily to the coasts of France, and the first portable tubes of paint which made it possible for them to spend hours painting ‘en plein-air’ when they got there. At the harbours and beaches of Normandy and Brittany they could paint gorgeous pictures of women under parasols, children playing, boats and waves. These works, unappreciated at the time, are now amongst the most treasured paintings in the world.
This morning we leave Rouen for Le Havre situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine on the English Channel. Here we visit the André Malraux Modern Art Museum which contains the second most extensive collection of Impressionist paintings in France. There are paintings by Monet and other artists who lived and worked in Normandy including Corot, Boudin (with the largest collection of his works in the world), Delacroix, Courbet, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Gauguin, Sisley, Pissarro, Sérusier and Vuillard. More modern art is also well represented with works by artists such as Matisse, Marquet, Dufy, Van Dongen, Léger, Von Jawlensky and De Staël.
Honfleur was a major defensive port in the 15th century and today is one of Normandy’s most appealing harbours. Charles Baudelaire, the radical French poet who wrote of loneliness and decay, was very happy in Honfleur when he lived there in 1859 with his mother. Proust drew on the place, and other harbour towns along the coast, to create his fictional Balbec for In Search of Lost Time. The seascape painter Eugène Boudin was born in Honfleur in 1824 and is renowned not only for his lovely paintings of sea and sky, but also for having ‘discovered’ the young Monet. We will take a guided walk around this charming harbour town before going on to Bayeux. (Overnight Bayeux) B
Day 12: Tuesday 14 June, Bayeux – D-Day landing sites – Bayeux
- Juno Beach
- The Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches
- Omaha Beach US Sector
- Tilly-sur-Seulles Cemetery
- Bayeux Tapestry Museum
- Walking tour of Bayeux, incl. the Cathedral and the Old Town
This morning, accompanied by our local guide, we tour the coast and beaches that were the sites of the Normandy Invasion landings of World War II. We visit Juno Beach, one of the five designated landing areas of the Normandy Invasion, which was assaulted and taken from defending German troops on June 6, 1944 by units of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, and Omaha Beach, where thousands of Americans were killed during the invasion’s first day.
We also drive to Arromanches, where the remnants of the prefabricated ‘Mulberry’ harbour, a remarkable feat of engineering and ingenuity, can still be seen.
These sites were vitally important in changing the course of the war. They are also sites of literary importance. Great and minor poets fought and died at the French beaches, and tried to write of the horrors they saw there and around the French countryside in two terrible wars. We will read some of their writings as we visit the sites of the famous landings.
Bayeux was the first town to be liberated by the Allies in 1944. Today it is most famous for its tapestry, an extraordinary piece of story-telling in comic strip form. The 230 foot long piece, commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, was inspired by manuscript scrolls. It tells the story of King Harold’s defeat at the Battle of Hastings. Wry comments on its borders, Latin inscriptions and vivid illustrations from one end to the other, make the tapestry a most entertaining ‘read’. We will also enjoy a guided walking tour of the town, with stops at a lace-making academy and at the cathedral. Novelist Muriel Barbery, author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog was born in Bayeux. (Overnight Bayeux) B
St Helier, Jersey - 1 night
Day 13: Wednesday 15 June, Bayeux – Saint-Malo – Jersey
- Saint-Malo Remparts
- Ferry Saint-Malo – Jersey
- Group dinner with guest lecturer Rod McLoughlin, Pomme d’Or Hotel, Jersey
Saint-Malo has named a street after the writer and diplomat, Vicomte de Chateaubriand, founder of the French Romantic Movement, who was born in the town in 1768. He spent his childhood happily exploring the port and later left from that same port for America in 1791, the first of his major voyages. Chateaubriand wanted St Malo to be his final resting place and was buried on a small island just off the coast (which can now be reached by causeway). His grave attracted Victor Hugo, Stendhal and Flaubert, all wanting to pay homage. After arriving in Saint-Malo, via a photo-stop at Mont Saint-Michel, time-permitting we will tour the ramparts & enjoy lunch in the old city, before catching our ferry to Jersey.
Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, was once under the control of Brittany. Today it is a dependency of the British Crown, but not part of the United Kingdom. It was the birthplace of the ‘Jersey Lily’, Lily Langtry – Oscar Wilde once said he would rather have discovered Lily Langtry than have discovered America! Anthony Trollope visited Jersey to investigate postal delivery problems there. To solve the problem of erratic mail-boats, Trollope suggested that a ‘letter receiving pillar’ could be useful, and so the pillar post-box was born. George Eliot also visited, as did John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Thomas Hardy. Victor Hugo went there in 1851 to begin his long exile from France.
Jersey’s Cultural Development Officer Rod McLoughlin will join us for dinner to tell us about the allure the island has had for writers over the centuries. (Overnight Jersey) BD
St Peter Port, Guernsey - 2 nights
Day 14: Thursday 16 June, Jersey – Guernsey
- Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Jersey
- Literary tour of Jersey
- Flight Jersey – Guernsey
Gerald Durrell, renowned naturalist and author, founded the Jersey Zoo in 1959, so that rare animals could be bred and returned to the wild. Durrell introduced himself to readers in My Family and Other Animals, published in 1956, and went on to write tales of his animal collecting expeditions in The Drunken Forest, A Zoo in my Luggage and a number of other books. He wrote of Jersey Zoo in The Stationary Ark. We will visit the zoo, now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and meet with conservationist Dr Lee Durrell, the author’s widow and co-author of The Amateur Naturalist.
After a literary coach tour around parts of the island, we leave for Guernsey, representative of the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy. (Overnight Guernsey) BL
Day 15: Friday 17 June, Guernsey
- Literary tour of Guernsey: sites associated with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
- Guernsey Book Club
Guernsey is smaller than Jersey, but has attracted its share of writers too. Desmond Bagley, thriller writer, was a resident there, and Victor Hugo spent 15 years in exile there (with his mistress). Local poet Georges Métivier wrote in the island’s Norman language, Guernesiais; Henry and Francis Fowler, of Fowler’s Modern English Usage lived in Guernsey; and G. B. Edwards’ The Book of Ebenezer le Page gives insights into Guernsey life in the 20th century. But today we concentrate on the popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. The book is set during the Nazi occupation of the island and our tour will take in St Peter’s Port, the cliffs where Elizabeth walked with her German lover, a German bunker and the parish of St Martins where many of the characters lived. We will also have the chance to meet with local residents in a book club to discuss the novel and the joys of reading in general. (Overnight Guernsey) BD
Saint-Malo - 1 night
Day 16: Saturday 18 June, Guernsey – Saint-Malo
- Hauteville House, Guernsey
- Ferry Guernsey – Saint-Malo
His exile began on Jersey, but most of his banishment from his beloved France was spent by Victor Hugo on Guernsey. In 1856 he purchased Hauteville House, overlooking the sea. Hugo put his boundless imagination to work on the house, converting, furnishing and improving. We can admire his sumptuous wall coverings, figurines, mirrors and antiques. Hugo’s son Charles called the home “a veritable three-story autograph, a poem in several rooms”. It was in this house that Hugo wrote poetry, his masterpiece Les Misérables, and also Toilers of the Sea which he dedicated to “this corner of old Norman land where resides the noble little people of the sea, to the Island of Guernsey, severe and yet gentle.” Even when exile was finally over, Hugo still returned for visits. There is a Victor Hugo Trail which highlights 40 sites on the island connected with his time there.
In the early afternoon, we catch the ferry back to France and enjoy dinner together this evening in Saint-Malo. (Overnight Saint-Malo) BD
Saumur - 1 night
Day 17: Sunday 19 June, Saint-Malo – Saumur
- Walking tour of Saumur
- Time at leisure
This morning we drive to Saumur, the home of Eugénie Grandet, heroine of Balzac’s novel of that name. Balzac himself only visited the town once, but after he set his story there, a tourist industry grew up around the novel, with quotes in guidebooks and a ‘house of Eugénie Grandet’ being shown to visitors. Balzac portrays the inhabitants as obsessed with money – “everyone knew to a sou just how much profit a sunbeam or a timely shower would bring him”, and creates one of literature’s greatest portrayals of a miser in Monsieur Grandet. In spite of Balzac’s negativity about the place, Saumur has many charms – a fairytale chateau, handsome townhouses, a famous cavalry museum, and the best sparkling wines outside of Champagne. We will explore Eugénie’s town at leisure. (Overnight Saumur) BD
Pouligny-Notre-Dame - 2 nights
Day 18: Monday 20 June, Saumur – Saché – Epineuil-le-Fleuriel – Pouligny-Notre-Dame
- Château de Saché
- Maison-École Alain Fournier, Epineuil-le-Fleuriel
The Château de Saché in the Indres Valley, was the property of Jean de Margonne, lover of Balzac’s mother and father of her son Henri. De Margonne welcomed young Honoré to the delightful chateau whenever he wanted to visit, and the place became the setting for several of the novels in Balzac’s majestic Human Comedy, his collection of about 100 linked stories and novels which attempts to reflect every aspect of French society of the time. He often returned to stay as an adult, to “replenish’ his brain, escape the debt collectors who regularly came to call, and to write novels. Le Père Goriot and Le Lys dans la Vallée were both written at Saché. “I grew to love its silence, its great wizened trees, and that mysterious aura that pervades its solitary vale”, he wrote.
Today the building contains an excellent museum to Balzac, displaying the writing desk on which so many tormented characters were created, and his simple bed (which did not give him much rest – he wrote for about 16 hours per day!).
After lunch, we drive to Épineuil-le-Fleuriel and go to school. This is no ordinary school, but the school attended by novelist Alain-Fournier, whose book Le Grand Meaulnes, published in 1913, is a haunting tale of the passage from adolescence to adulthood of two schoolfriends. Rich in evocation of rural life and landscape, this novel has been highly influential, inspiring John Fowles’ The Magus, several movie versions, a popsong, and a symphony. (Overnight Pouligny-Notre-Dame) BLD
Day 19: Tuesday 21 June, Pouligny-Notre-Dame – Nohant – Gargilesse – Pouligny-Notre-Dame
- Maison de George Sand, Nohant
- Château de Sarzay (exterior)
- Gargilesse village, incl George Sand’s Cottage
- Piano concert by Mr. Cyril Huvé at his private concert hall in Chassignoles (to be confirmed 2016)
George Sand (Amandine Aurore Dupin) is the most celebrated French female novelist of the 19thC. She was famed not only for her writings, but for her love affairs (with poet Alfred de Musset, and with the composer Chopin) and for her radical political ideas. Today we visit her beloved Nohant, and explore the small château she inherited from her grandmother where she did most of her writing. Here she entertained literary and artistic friends, Balzac, Flaubert, Turgenev, Liszt and Delacroix. The local community loved her for her good works, and she loved the place in return, using it as a setting in her works, putting on plays in the theatre she had specially built, and eventually being placed to rest in the local cemetery.
George Sand’s many literary admirers have visited Nohant in her honour. Edith Wharton came with Henry James on their Motor-Flight through France and named their car ‘George’ after her. Matthew Arnold visited to research an essay on her.
We will spend the day following in her footsteps in this lovely part of France – we visit the local church, see the enchanting Château de Sarzay, one of the most photographed medieval castles in the country and setting for Sand’s novel Le Meunier d’Angibault. Then we go on to Gargilesse, another of the ‘most beautiful villages of France’ and the location of a house bought for George Sand by her lover Alexandre Manceau. She often spent time there so as to have privacy, long walks in the countryside and inspiration. She wrote of it in 1859 in Walks Around a Village. Restored by her daughter, it still has its “two small bleached rooms with lime, ceiled out of rough wood, furnished with beds of wild cherry tree and large chairs braided with straw” that she loved. It is now a small museum.
Our day ends with a special visit to renowned French pianist Cyril Huvé’s private concert hall, where he will perform a piece by Chopin for us. (Overnight Pouligny-Notre-Dame) BLD
Augerville-la-Rivière - 2 nights
Day 20: Wednesday 22 June, Pouligny-Notre-Dame – Aubigny–sur-Nère – Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye – Augerville-la-Rivière
- Château-Musée Colette, Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye
This morning, we depart George Sand’s country and travel to Aubigny-sur-Nère, where we stop for lunch and a chance to stroll around this charming town of half-timbered houses, also known as the “City of Stuart” for its historic links to Scotland.
This afternoon we visit another birthplace, but of a very different sort of writer. Colette was one of the most popular French novelists of the early 20th century. She began as the respectable daughter of a tax collector, but later she broke away from conventionality and appeared virtually nude on stage, mixed with poets and transvestites, took many lovers and described Bohemian Paris in her novels. She was born in 1873 in the village of Château de St-Sauveur and there is a museum there about her life and works. She re-names the village Montigny-en-Fresnois in her Claudine novels.
We will dine and stay the night in Château d’Augerville, once residence to King Charles VII’s finance minister. (Overnight Augerville-la-Rivière) BLD
Day 21: Thursday 23 June, Augerville-la-Rivière – Vaux-le-Vicomte – Grez-sur-Loing – Augerville-la-Rivière
- Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
- Hotel Chevillon, Grez-sur-Loing
- Evening Farewell Meal
Fouquet, chief finance minister to Louis IV, challenged his architect to create the most sumptuous palace of the day. The result, Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, is one of the greatest of the French chateaux, and its gardens, designed by Le Nôtre, are superb. Writers such as De la Fontaine, Corneille and dramatist Paul Scarron were entertained there, and one of Molière’s plays had its premiere in the private theatre. But the estate led to Fouquet’s downfall. He was arrested by a captain of the Musketeers named D’Artagnan, and the king confiscated the magnificent place for himself. Fouquet’s trial lasted three years and ended with his imprisonment. In prison Eustache Dauger, the man now identified as ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’, acted as his manservant. Fouquet is a pivotal character in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Vicomte of Bragelonne, and Dumas portrays the mysterious man in the iron mask as the King’s twin brother.
Next, we travel through Fontainebleau’s spectacular forest the setting of which has attracted artists over the years. These are now known as the ‘Barbizon School of Painters’ and include Corot, Rousseau, Millet and Daubigny. We will drive through the forest that inspired them, and call in at Grez-sur-Loing.
In 1876 a young Scot came to stay there at the local Chevillon Inn. Ever impulsive, he could not wait to go round by the door, but instead leaped through a French window, and there encountered a woman called Fanny Osborne. The man was Robert Louis Stevenson, and after a long courtship (and her divorce), he was finally able to make her his wife. Stevenson loved France and travelled its rivers in a canoe, the subject of his An Inland Voyage (he moored the canoe at the bottom of the garden in Grez), then through its mountains on a donkey which resulted in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. The Hotel Chevillon still attracts artists today and we hope to enjoy afternoon tea, just as Stevenson and Fanny did. (Overnight Augerville-la-Rivière) BD
Day 22: Friday 24 June, Augerville-la-Rivière – Paris CDG
- Transfer to Paris CDG airport
All good things must come to an end! Our tour ends with a coach transfer to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport where we must all say “Au Revoir”. B