The following itinerary describes a range of museums and private gardens which we plan to visit. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Menton - 2 nights
Day 1: Wednesday 7 May, Menton – Cap Moderne – Menton
- Tour commences at 2pm in the foyer of the Hotel Napoléon in Menton
- Introductory Meeting
- Eileen Gray villa E-1027 & Le Corbusier’s Cabanon
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 2pm in the foyer of the Hotel Napoléon in Menton. Note: private transfers from the airport to the hotel can be arranged through the hotel’s concierge, please contact ASA for further information.
For the next 2 nights we stay at the 4-star Hotel Napoléon, located just across the road from the beach and only a ten-minute gentle walk to the old town of Menton. The hotel’s private off-street courtyard is an exotic garden designed by Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières.
Following a short welcome meeting we transfer to Cap Moderne to view Le Corbusier’s Cabanon and the interior of Eileen Gray villa E-1027. Le Corbusier built his Cabanon on the land of a restaurateur friend, Thomas Rebutato. This tiny, wooden, 14-square holiday house was the only residence the architect ever designed for himself. Cabanon is the French diminutive for cabin, but also evokes the shepherd huts that can be found throughout the south of France, a clear reference to Le Corbusier’s love of nature. Le Corbusier at the time was master planning the city of Bogotá and work on his Marseille Unité d’Habitation, his vertical concrete garden city was coming to an end. He lived from time to time at the much-photographed modernist villa that his friend, the Anglo-Irish designer Eileen Gray, had already established here.
In 1924 Gray and Jean Badovici had begun working on this vacation house. L-shaped and flat-roofed with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spiral stairway to the guest room, E-1027 was both open and compact. Eileen spent three years designing the furniture and working with her partner Jean Badovici on the plans. This is considered to be Gray’s first major work, making indistinct the border between architecture and decoration, and highly personalized to be in accord with the lifestyle of its intended occupants. The name of the house, E-1027, is a code of designers’ names; ‘E’ stands for Eileen and the numbers are those of the alphabetical positions of their initials: ’10’ Jean, ‘2’ Badovici, ‘7’ Gray. The encoded name was Eileen Gray’s way of showing their relationship as lovers at the time when the house was built
This evening we enjoy a welcome meal at a local restaurant overlooking Menton’s Garavan Bay. (Overnight Menton) D
Day 2: Thursday 8 May, Menton – Cimiez – Menton
- Musée Matisse, Cimiez
- Salle des Mariages, Menton
- Jardin Exotique Val Rahmeh, Menton
This morning we drive to Cimiez, site of a small Roman city just outside Nice, which is famous for its museum devoted to France’s greatest modern painter, Henri Matisse; he lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954. We shall view paintings that span his career, from the very early Still Life with Books (1890) to his Rococo Armchair (1947) and Blue Nude (1952).
Menton occupies a natural amphitheatre dominated by Mount Agel and the Gorbio and St. Agnes Heights. Ruined fortresses clinging to its surrounding cliffs testify to the town’s deep, turbulent history. Here we shall encounter the work of the famous artist and film-maker Jean Cocteau. Cocteau redecorated the town hall’s Salle des mariages (marriage room) with frescoes and furnishings, all in the theme of ‘Love’.
We end the day with a visit to the sub-tropical botanical garden of May Sherwood Campbell. A guided tour will reveal its wonderful array of lush plantings. Its pond is enlivened with water hyacinths, water lilies, and papyrus. (Overnight Menton) B
Antibes – 3 nights
Day 3: Friday 9 May, Menton – Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat – Villefranche-sur-Mer – Beaulieu-sur-Mer – Menton
- Villa Ephrussi, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
- Chapelle Saint-Pierre by Jean Cocteau, Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Villa Grecque Kérylos, Beaulieu-sur-Mer
We spend today on Cap-Ferrat, a narrow peninsula extending far out to sea. Cap-Ferrat was one of the most fashionable resorts of the 20th century. In 1926, Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild chose a site here for her enormous villa and garden – Villa Île de France. We take a guided tour of the villa’s first floor that includes terracotta sculptures by Clodion, a Meissen China Room and a Tapestry Room whose furniture by Jacob is upholstered with Beauvais tapestries. We then tour the villa’s seven exquisite gardens, which include patios, waterfalls, ponds, floral borders, shady walks and rare species of trees. The garden ensemble comprises Florentine, Spanish, formal French and exotic gardens, as well as rose and rock gardens.
Our next visit is to the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, painted by Jean Cocteau at Villefranche-sur-Mer. The chapel’s feeling of simple, humble fervor echoes that of small Romanesque churches. Its decoration simultaneously represents St. Peter’s life, the village dear to Cocteau’s childhood, and the artist’s friendship with the fishermen to whom the chapel was dedicated.
After time at leisure for lunch in Villefranche-sur-Mer we visit the extraordinary Villa Kérylos. This unique re-creation of an ancient Greek dwelling, complete with wall decorations and furniture, was built by two great Hellenophiles, archaeologist and patron Théodore Reinach and the architect Emmanuel Pontremoli. They based the design on 2nd century BC noble houses on the Island of Delos. Everything inside, from the arrangement of rooms to the details of the décor, recreates the atmosphere of a luxurious Grecian villa. The villas garden grows typically Greek plants: olive trees and vines, pomegranate and carob trees, acanthus and myrtle, oleanders and irises, pine and cypress trees, palm trees and papyrus. (Overnight Antibes) B
Day 4: Saturday 10 May, Antibes – Saint-Paul-de-Vence – Vence – Menton
- Provençal Food Market, Cours Masséna, Antibes
- Château Grimaldi – Musée Picasso, Antibes
- The Maeght Foundation, Saint-Paul-de-Vence
- Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence
This morning we explore the port town of Antibes, which attracted many writers, such as Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Our walking tour includes a visit to Antibes’ Provençal food market. We also visit the Château Grimaldi that houses the Musée Picasso. Picasso used the castle as his studio for a time in 1946. It holds a fine collection of the master’s paintings and ceramics.
We next drive to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, built on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by ramparts overlooking the coast. Fortified in the 16th century, it began to attract artists such as Marc Chagall, who moved here in 1966 followed by a host of famous artists and writers drawn to the beauty of the surrounding area and its exceptional light.
After time at leisure for lunch and to explore the narrow, picturesque streets of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, we visit the Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation, which has an exceptional collection of 20th-century and contemporary artworks in all media. Painters and sculptors collaborated closely with Catalan architect Lluis Sert to create such elements as the Giacometti courtyard; the Miró labyrinth with sculptures and ceramics; mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat; a pool and stained glass window by Braque, and a Bury fountain. We shall enjoy works by artists such as Bonnard, Braque, Calder, Chagall, Giacometti, Léger, and Miró.
We return to Antibes via Vence, noted for Henri Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire. Matisse worked on this unique architectural masterpiece between 1948 and 1951, creating its plan and all its decoration, including stained glass windows, ceramics, stalls, stoup, cult objects and priestly ornaments. (Overnight Antibes) B
Day 5: Sunday 11 May, Antibes – Le Cannet – Grasse – Châteauneuf-Grasse – Antibes
- Musée Bonnard, Le Cannet
- Time at leisure in Grasse
- Jardin de la Villa Fort France, Châteauneuf-Grasse (private garden, by special appointment)
This morning we travel to the hillside suburb of Le Cannet to view the work of neo-impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) who was a founding member of group of artists called the Nabis, and later found inspiration from Fauve artists who worked in vibrant colours. Bonnard arrived in Le Cannet fresh from Paris in 1910 and lived in a seafront villa in the town with his wife, Martha, until his death in 1947. It was during this period that Bonnard painted his most important works, including several landscapes of St-Tropez, Antibes and other areas of the Riviera. Highlights include Nu de profil circa 1905 and La Salle à manger au Cannet, 1932.
We then travel to Grasse where there will be time at leisure to explore the town. Perched 350m above sea level, Grasse is renowned as the world’s perfume capital. Its thriving perfume industry dates back to the late 18th century, attracting skilled “noses” who have honed their craft in Grasse, distinguishing over 2,000 different scents. The town’s microclimate has fostered a flourishing flower farming industry, particularly for jasmine, a key perfume ingredient. Introduced to southern France by the Moors in the 16th century, Grasse now harvests an impressive 27 tonnes of jasmine annually. The historic quarter of Grasse is a captivating labyrinth of narrow, shaded streets, showcasing the town’s medieval and Renaissance architecture. As you wander through these streets, you will encounter various landmarks that trace the city’s development, including the Saracens Tower Square, remnants of 16th-century ramparts, and the former bishop’s palace, which now serves as the town hall. All of these streets converge at the magnificent Notre Dame du Puy Cathedral. Originally built between the 10th and 11th centuries and later modified in the 17th century with the addition of an immense bell tower, this Romanesque church is a treasure trove of art. Inside, you will find a splendid altarpiece by Louis Brea, paintings by Rubens and Fragonard, as well as exquisite stained-glass windows and statues.
Nearby is the garden of Villa Fort France. Its original owners, Lady Winifred Fortescue and her husband, Sir John, bought it in 1935. Lady Fortescue wrote of her struggles to create her home there entitled Perfume from Provence, illustrated by A.A. Milne. Her rose garden was expanded by Jeanne Gruniaux for the present owners, Pierre and Valérie de Courcel, who have added their own touches to create a lovely garden full of colourful annuals: Poppies, larkspur, love-in-the-mist and aquilegia plus a sweet pea hedge. (Overnight Antibes) B
Marseille – 2 nights
Day 6: Monday 12 May, Antibes – Opio – Mougins – Marseille
- La Casella, Opio (private garden, by special appointment)
- Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM), Mougins
Our first visit today is to the stylish garden of La Casella, located on the site of an old jasmine farm. Tom Parr, one of England’s leading designers, and Claus Scheinert, created this late 20th-century garden, combining Provençal, English and Italian styles. Parr evolved a series of flower-filled rooms of simple grandeur. Laurus nobilis has been sculpted into rows of obelisks and walls clipped from Italian cypress and yew. Old-fashioned roses form one of the garden’s terraces framed by lavender. The house, integrated with the garden, is coloured terracotta and planted with white wisteria.
We continue to the village of Mougins for a visit to MACM, the Mougins Museum of Classical Art. Opened in 2011, the museum has won several international awards and has loaned dozens of objects to museums and exhibitions around the world. The collection includes Roman, Greek and Egyptian sculpture, vases, coins, and jewellery, and the world’s largest private collection of ancient arms and armour. The ancient artworks are interspersed with paintings, drawings, and sculptures by artists such as Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Raoul Dufy, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Marc Quinn and Antony Gormley. The collection also includes works by artists who spent time in Mougins including Francis Bicabia, Jean Cocteauy and Pablo Picasso (who spent the final 12 years of his life in Mougins village).
Mid-afternoon we depart for the port city of Marseille, once a Greek settlement founded in 7th century BC. (Overnight Marseille) B
Day 7: Tuesday 13 May, Marseille
- Musée des Docks Romains
- Musée des Beaux Arts
- Afternoon at leisure
We begin with a short walking tour of Marseille. Dominated on one side by the old town, ‘Le Panier’, and on the other by the church of Notre-Dame de la Garde, our walk reveals the city’s ancient Greek and Roman origins. Marseille’s vocation as a trading port is illustrated with a visit to the Musée des Docks Romains which displays the remains of one of the few-known Roman commercial warehouses. Discovered in 1947, the museum contains 30 dolia or large ceramic containers, lying in situ, used in Roman times for agricultural purposes.
Nearby we also visit the recently renovated Musée des Beaux Arts in the 19th-century Palais Longchamp where the highlight is a fine collection of nineteenth century French art including works by Daubigny, Courbet, Corot and Millet. (Overnight Marseille) B
Aix-en-Provence - 3 nights
Day 8: Wednesday 14 May, Marseille – Aix-en-Provence
- Musée des Civilisations d’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MUCEM), Marseille
- Atelier Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence
- Orientation walk of Aix-en-Provence
We begin with a visit to the icon of modern Marseille – the Musée des Civilisations d’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MUCEM), designed by Algerian-born, Marseille-educated architect Rudy Ricciotti, and Roland Carta. The permanent collection charts the historical and cultural cross-fertilisation in the Mediterranean basin. The museum is linked by footbridge to the 13-century Fort St-Jean from which there are spectacular views of the Vieux Port and the surrounding area.
Following some time at leisure for lunch, we continue to Aix-en-Provence. Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral went to school in Aix, Marcel Pagnol attended its university, and it was Émile Zola’s home town. Zola and Cézanne enjoyed long excursions on which one would paint and the other would write. On arrival in Aix we visit the Atelier Cézanne which still has many of the objects Cézanne used as subjects for his still lifes: a table, a short ladder, a high easel, a potbelly stove, a sofa, a few chairs. A few locally decorated vases, a ginger jar and an olive pot, a fruit bowl, a plate, a glass, a bottle of rum, three skulls, and a little plaster cupid by François Duquesnoy are among the smaller objects in the atelier’s collection that all appear in his paintings. Our day ends with a guided orientation walk of Aix. (Overnight Aix-en-Provence) B
Day 9: Thursday 15 May, Aix-en-Provence – Valensole – Aix-en-Provence
- Clos de Villeneuve, Valensole (private garden, by special appointment)
- Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence
This morning we drive north of Aix to the Clos de Villeneuve, Valensole, a bastide (farm) constructed in the first half of the 18th century by Jean-Baptiste de Villeneuve, seigneur of Esclapon. His garden still occupies three terraces with seven water basins and fountains. The recent owner, André de Villeneuve created the present garden on the original terraces, around the original basins. Parterres planted in the tradition of the French formal garden, an alley of 100-year-old chestnut trees, a huge basin on the lowest terrace, and a view beyond to purple lavender plantations, form a magnificent ensemble. The garden is enlivened with colourful roses and richly aromatic sage, thyme and other Provençal herbs. There are fruit and olive trees at every level, and remarkable walls constructed of round stones from the Valensole Plateau. Alain Sauvat, long-time friend of André de Villeneuve and manager of the property, will show us the garden and host us for lunch.
In the afternoon we return to Aix for a tour of the Musée Granet whose collection includes works by Picasso, Léger, Matisse, Monet, Klee and Van Gogh. It also includes ten paintings by Cézanne including a Portrait of Madame Cézanne, a work in tribute to Delacroix, and a recent addition to the museum’s collections – the Portrait of Zola. The latter represents Zola at the age of 20 painted while they were both in Paris, intoxicated by literature and painting. (Overnight Aix-en-Provence) BL
Day 10: Friday 16 May, Aix-en-Provence – Cucuron – Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade – Aix-en-Provence
- Pavillon de Galon, Cucuron (private garden, by special appointment)
- Lunch at La Petite Maison de Cucuron, Cucuron
- Art and Architecture Tour, Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade
This morning we travel north to the Pavillon de Galon, a restored 18th-century hunting pavilion at the foot of the Luberon mountains, surrounded by vines, orchards, cherry and olive trees. Its gardens boast a colourful mix of lavender and clipped hedges.
We next drive to the well-preserved medieval village of Cucuron in the heart of the Luberon National Park. Here we enjoy lunch at Michelin-star chef Eric Sapet’s La Petite Maison de Cucuron, one of the finest restaurants in Provence. Located on the central square in the shade of hundred-year-old plane trees, it serves traditional Provençal dishes made with fresh market produce.
On our way back to Aix-en-Provence, we visit Château La Coste, the creation of Irish property magnate Patrick McKillen. Since 2008, the Château has invited artists and architects to create a work there. Jean Nouvel designed the estate’s chai de vinification (wine vault). In 2011 Tadao Ando designed the art centre surrounded by a shallow pool of water, on which Louise Bourgeois’ Crouching Spider perches. On a guided tour through wooded hilltops and valleys, alongside olive groves and vineyards, we discover many installations by Alexander Calder, Frank O. Gehry, Ai Weiwei, Andy Goldworthy, Paul Matisse, Tom Shannon, Jean Prouve, Sean Scully, Richard Serra, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Tunga, and others. We also visit its kitchen garden, conceived by the landscape designer Louis Benech. It consists of twelve equal-sized square plots of aromatic herbs, vegetables and flowers, and it is edged by an orchard of almond, peach, red plum, and cherry trees. The garden’s central plots are planted with perennials, perfumed roses, asparagus, artichokes, aubergines and tomatoes. (Overnight Aix-en-Provence) BL
Arles - 4 nights
Day 11: Saturday 17 May, Aix-en-Provence Lourmarin – Apt – Bonnieux – Arles
- Village of Lourmarin
- La Chabaude, Apt (private garden, by special appointment)
- Lunch at La Bergerie, Bonnieux
- Le Jardin de La Louve, Bonnieux (private garden, by special appointment)
Lourmarin is listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France. It has a castle, winding streets, great views and famous writers. Albert Camus, Nobel Prize winner, lived and wrote in Lourmarin, as did novelist and biographer Henri Bosco. Both men are buried in the cemetery. We will follow their footsteps through this charming village.
Mid-moring we cross the Luberon mountain range to La Chabaude, a beautiful stone manor near the market town of Apt. Its gardens, designed by owner and landscape architect Philippe Cottet, are a masterpiece which includes sculptural boxwoods, sycamore trees, towering topiaries and fragrant rosemary and lavender.
We continue through the Luberon range to the picturesque village of Bonnieux, set atop craggy cliffs. Here we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant followed by a visit to Jardin La Louve (‘She-Wolf Garden’). Fashion designer Nicole de Vésian began restoring her Provençal terrace garden on the lower fringe of this medieval village in 1987. She designed the house and garden in harmony with the natural surroundings. Since Nicole’s death in 1996, this tiny spot has become one of the most photographed gardens in the world. Louisa Jones’ book, Modern Design in Provence (2011), brought further fame to the garden. (Overnight Arles) B
Day 12: Sunday 18 May, Arles
- Theatre and Amphitheatre, Arles
- Saint-Trophime and its cloister, Arles
- Musée de l’Arles Antique, Arles
- Time at leisure with optional visit to LUMA Arles
This morning we take a guided walking tour of Arles. Provence takes its name from the fact that it was the first ‘province’ (provincia) of the Roman Empire outside Italy. Roman Arleate became a major city, was built to protect the vital estuary of the Rhône. This colonia was given a typical gridded street plan that can still be traced in the centre of the city. It had an important amphitheatre, which in the Middle Ages became a castle but is now used for bullfights, and a theatre, now used for festivals. Arles’ Basilica of Saint-Trophime has one of the finest Romanesque porticoes in Provence with a porch modelled on a Roman triumphal arch.
Following time at leisure for lunch we visit the splendid Musée de l’Arles Antique, whose rich collection of antiquities includes a wonderful sculpted head of Julius Caesar and a 31m-long Roman boat which was discovered in the Rhône.
The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to join an optional visit to LUMA Arles, an arts centre designed by Frank Gehry. The centre, which opened in 2021, features a stainless steel-clad tower with a twisting geometric structure – a glittering icon set within the Parc des Ateliers. (Overnight Arles) B
Day 13: Monday 19 May, Arles – Pont du Gard – Nîmes – Arles
- Pont du Gard
- Musée de la Romanité incl. the Mosaic of Pentheus, Nîmes
- Walking tour of Nîmes incl. the Maison Carrée and Les Arènes
This morning we visit the Pont du Gard, best preserved of all Roman aqueducts. The massive blocks from which it was fabricated have remained in place for two millennia despite the fact it is a dry stone construction (without mortar or cement).
On arrival in Nîmes we visit the iconic Musée de la Romanité which opened in 2018, opposite Les Arènes. This modern museum, designed by French-Brazilian architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, features exhibitions devoted to regional archaeology from the 7th century BC (Iron Age) to the Middle Ages and complemented by several 18th and 19th century collections. One of the highlights is a 35 metre-square mosaic among the best preserved in the world after those of Pompeii. Dating from the beginning of the 3rd century AD, it was discovered in 2006 during excavation work on Avenue Jean-Jaurès. Impressive not only by its size but also for its composition and colours, it shows the mythological story of Pentheus who was put to death by his own mother for defying Dionysus.
We then take a walking tour of the town centre to view the magnificent Roman Temple, the Maison Carrée, and the twin-tiered amphitheatre (Les Arènes) which is considered the best preserved in France. Built around 100 BC, the arena once seated 24,000 spectators. Following our guided walking tour we return to Arles for an evening at leisure. (Overnight Arles) B
Day 14: Tuesday 20 May, Arles – Eygalières – Noves – Saint-Rémy de Provence – Arles
- Mas Benoît, Eygalières (private garden, by special appointment)
- Atelier of Marc Nucera, Noves (by special appointment)
- Garden of Valrugues, Saint-Rémy de Provence (private garden, by special appointment)
We begin today with a visit to the private gardens of Mas Benoît in the foothills of the Alpilles. The garden surrounding a traditional Provençal farmhouse, or mas, lies on a low hill with a magnificent distant mountain backdrop. It is a leading example of contemporary Mediterranean landscape art, with lavender wedge, almond spiral, rock river and oak groves sculpted by Marc Nucera.
In Noves we are privileged to meet with Marc Nucera, renowned tree sculptor and ‘shaper’, at his atelier and experimental garden ‘Le Terrain’. Nucera sculpts living trees, favouring natives such as almonds, green and white oaks, and the remnants of cypress hedging often found on old farmsteads. He also gives new life to dead trees by turning them into furniture and sculptures.
We next make a visit with master landscape architect Dominique Lafourcade to one of her recent creations near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the garden of Valruges. “A garden is first and foremost a work of art, with the gardener playing the roles of architect, sculptor, musician and painter in turn. A garden should move visitors, setting all their senses aquiver” – Dominique Lafourcade. (Overnight Arles) BL
Florac - 3 nights
Day 15: Wednesday 21 May, Arles – Saint Etienne du Grès – Uzès – Florac
- Le Petit Fontanille, Saint Etienne du Grès (private garden, by special appointment)
- Wednesday market in the medieval village of Uzès
- Dinosaur footprints, St-Laurent-de-Trèves (time-permitting)
This morning we visit Le Petit Fontanille, the private garden of Mrs Anne Cox Chambers. Le Petit Fontanille is the work of several English garden designers: Peter Coates, Rosemary Verey, and, more recently, Tim Rees. The garden merges perfectly into the surrounding hills, woods and olive groves; its success lies in its combination of a profusion of native plants with exotics that are compatible with the climate.
From Saint Etienne du Grès we drive north-west from Arles to the pretty village of Uzès, home to one of the most colourful markets in the south of France. The Wednesday morning market specialises in regional products and specialties: creamy goat cheese, garlic olives, fragrant herbs, pots of thyme-flavoured honey, bread and even small jars of snail and shallot spread!
We continue to our friendly family hotel in the picturesque village of Florac at the very centre of the Cévennes National Park. Time-permitting we stop at the little hamlet of St-Laurent-de-Trèves, situated on a rocky outcrop with magnificent views. Dinosaur footprints have been discovered here, dating back 190 million years, to a time when the region was a limestone swamp. A short walk around the site reveals a number of footprints, which are amazingly clear.
Tonight we dine in the hotel restaurant, L’Adonis, where owner and chef Martial Paulet will serve dishes with the best local seasonal produce. The hotel is situated on the escarpments of the Causse Méjean close to the awesome Gorges du Tarn, Mont Lozère and Mont Aigoual. Robert Louis Stevenson became enamoured of this awesome region and spent much time wandering through it. (Overnight Florac) BLD
Day 16: Thursday 22 May, Florac — Mont Lozère — Finiels — Pont de Montvert — Florac
- Orientation walk in Florac
- Mont Lozère scenic drive
- Le Pont de Montvert
We spend the next two days exploring the Cévennes National Park in the company of local expert mountain guide Anne Nourry, Vice-President of the Association Sur Le Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson. The Cévennes is one of the wildest areas of France, with high mountains and deep gorges. Nineteenth-century travellers like Robert Louis Stevenson visited isolated villages that seemed locked in the past, with a tradition-bound, conservative culture.
Today’s program will combine coach touring with easy rambles through the countryside and to small, medieval villages. We shall be able to imagine the area as Robert Louis Stevenson saw it, with its wilderness scenery of rugged escarpments, deep valleys, small streams and a host of pretty wildflowers.
After an orientation walk in Florac, we take a scenic drive to the summit of Mont Lozère, the highest peak in the Cévennes National Park. It offers some stunning views of coniferous plantations and ‘broom’ scrub moorland. A short walk will enable us to view the Pic de Finiels which rises at 1699m. The distinct geological zones that make up the Cévennes National Park sustain different types of landscape, which have all been shaped by human activity. Mont Lozère is a granite massif scattered with typical reliefs called felsenmeer (‘block fields’). Water is omnipresent in springs, peat bogs and rivers. The bare crests are summer pastures for great flocks of sheep. Mont Lozère bears the signs of ancient human occupation: menhirs, Gallo-Roman vestiges, and so on.
Following lunch in the small village of Finiels, we drive to Le Pont de Montvert (870 metres in altitude), located at the base of the south-facing slopes of Mont Lozère. Le Pont de Montvert is a pretty granite village that is named for its hump-backed bridge (en dos d’âne) that spans in a single arch the swift-flowing Tarn. The bridge is guarded by a defensive tower. The bridge, where Robert Louis Stevenson stopped during his famous ‘travels with a Donkey’, is now a stop along the popular trail that follows his original route. (Overnight Florac) BLD
Day 17: Friday 23 May, Florac — Gorges du Tarn — Gorges de la Jonte — Florac
- Boat excursion, Gorges du Tarn
- Belvédère des Vautours (Vulture Lookout), Gorges de la Jonte
- Farewell Dinner
This morning we focus on the great Gorges du Tarn, an impressive canyon cut by the Tarn through the harsh limestone plateaux (causses) south of the Massif Central. We shall drive along the gorge and then take a small cruise down the Tarn as it winds through the most spectacular section of the valley. We cruise through Les Détroits, the most beautiful and narrowest section of the canyon, between towering vertical cliffs of 400 metres, and end at the Cirque des Baumes, where the gorge widens forming a magnificent amphitheatre.
Following a picnic lunch we travel to the western edge of the park, where the Gorges du Tarn meets the Gorges de la Jonte. Here we visit the Belvédère des Vautours, an interpretive centre and viewing point for the many Griffon and Black vultures that nest in the Gorge. National park officers will show us their nests as we watch individuals and groups perched on the dramatic gorge walls. Following a majestic aerial ballet performed by 30 or so vultures, we return to our hotel and enjoy a farewell meal. (Overnight Florac) BLD
Day 18: Saturday 24 May, Florac — Nîmes TGV Station
This morning we drive out of the Cévennes National Park along the scenic Corniche des Cévennes, past the village of Saint-Jean-du-Gard and on to Nîmes’ TGV station, where you will be able to take a train to your airport or next French destination. Our tour ends at Nîmes TGV station at approximately 1200hrs (midday). B