Paris is the quintessential ‘great world city’ from which France has been ruled for a millennium. Its high status was assured before the Revolution as the city of the French court. In the 19th century it maintained this elevated status. Napoleon III’s Prefect of the Seine, Baron Haussmann, drove wide boulevards through the complex medieval city with its narrow winding streets. These boulevards visually linked great monuments like the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, making Paris an imperial stage set like no other. Paris ‘invented’ modern urban life. Take, for example its café culture, recorded in Impressionist paintings.
Beyond Paris, each French region is unique. The Seine Valley has Monet’s unforgettable Giverny. Normandy has its fine old ports, Gothic Rouen, its great Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, many lovely gardens and its fine cheese and cider. There are great royal and aristocratic châteaux in the Loire Valley. These include stately Chambord and Angers, exquisite, picturesque bridge-like Chenonceau, the royal castle of Chinon, pretty Azay-le-Rideau, classic Cheverny and Villandry with its magnificent restored gardens.
Burgundy gave birth to the medieval monastic Order of Cluny and the Cistercians. It has fine abbeys like Cluny and Fontenay. There are pilgrim churches such as Autun and Vézelay with fascinating Romanesque tympanum and capital sculptures. At the centre of the lovely city of Beaune is Nicholas Rolins’ marvellous Hôtel-Dieu, an intact Renaissance hospital topped by colourful roof tiles, and a great hall with beds for the sick. It also has Rogier van der Weyden’s masterpiece, the Last Judgement altarpiece.
In southwest France, on the southern slopes of the Massif Central, are exquisite villages like Conques. Beyond are red-brick Albi with its fortress-like cathedral and the great medieval city of Toulouse. To the west are the castles of the French crown and the English Plantagenets, facing each other aggressively across broad valleys. The Dordogne is famous for its magnificent Prehistoric caves like Lascaux. They display breathtaking images of all manner of animals. To the east, on the Mediterranean’s littoral, is Provence, with majestic Roman monuments like Arles’ and Orange’s theatres and Nimes’ amphitheatre and beautiful Maison Carré. Further east is the unforgettable Côte d’Azur, celebrated by great artists like Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse.
Discover the sunny paradise that is the South of France through the eyes of R L Stevenson, Dumas, Pagnol, Daudet, Scott Fitzgerald, Cocteau, and others, while also revelling in its artistic treasures. Read more
Visit medieval towns, Templar castles, pilgrim churches, local markets, Renaissance châteaux & gardens; in Dordogne’s picturesque valleys, view spectacular prehistoric cave paintings. Read more
Led by Stephen Ryan, this tour celebrates the lovely gardens, agricultural landscapes, delicious local produce, great monuments and exquisite, unspoilt small villages of Normandy and Brittany. Read more