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. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Villers-Cotterêts - 2 nights
Day 1: Saturday 8 June, Paris – Villers-Cotterêts
- Morning transfer Paris CDG Airport Hotel to Villers-Cotterêts
- Welcome Meeting
- Orientation walking tour of Villers-Cotterêts
- Musée Alexandre Dumas, Villers-Cotterêts
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: Please meet your group leaders at the Novotel Paris Roissy CDG Convention at 10.00am.
After an early morning arrival in Paris, we begin our 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 with great pomp and ceremony to the Panthéon in Paris.
Delightful Villers-Cotterêts is an important place in the history of the French language. It was there in 1539 that an Ordinance was signed which discontinued the use of Latin as the language for official French documents, and instead insisted that French must be used. We will enjoy a walking tour of the town – see the exterior of the house in which Dumas was born, and visit the cemetery and St Nicholas Church.
The Dumas Museum, 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.
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) D
Day 2: Sunday 9 June, Villers-Cotterêts – Juniville – Charleville-Mézières – Longpont – Villers-Cotterêts
- Musée Verlaine, Juniville
- Musée Rimbaud & Maison des Ailleurs, Charleville-Mézières
- Dinner at Restaurant Hôtel de L’Abbaye, Longpont
We set off this morning for Juniville. When poet Paul Verlaine fell in love with Arthur 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 Rimbaud, Verlaine moved to Juniville in the 1880s, where he worked as a teacher. Today the Verlaine museum (once the village inn) 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.
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-Mézières and is buried there. We will visit the Rimbaud Museum, learn about his scandalous affair with Verlaine (and the infamous shooting), 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 his unruly behaviour. The museum is housed in a delightful water-mill and we will also visit Rimbaud’s nearby childhood home, the place which inspired his greatest poem Le Bateau Ivre.
There will be time to stroll into the magnificent Place Ducale, a model of Louis XIII urban planning.
Before returning to Villers-Cotterêts, we will enjoy dinner at the historic Hôtel de l’Abbaye in Longpont. (Overnight Villers-Cotterêts) BLD
Amiens – 1 night
Day 3: Monday 10 June, Villers-Cotterêts – Amiens
- Maison de Jules Vernes, Amiens
- Guided walking tour of Old Amiens and Amiens Cathedral
- Time at leisure
This morning we head to Amiens, capital of Picardy. 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’ – those of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Georges Sand (who helped inspire one of his novels). Verne is buried in the local cemetery.
After lunch we will take a guided tour of Amien’s Gothic cathedral, a building which art critic John Ruskin called “unsurpassable” and which inspired Proust. Amiens 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. There will then be time at leisure to view some of the many historic monuments of the city. (Overnight Amiens) B
Rouen – 3 nights
Day 4: Tuesday 11 June, Amiens – Villers-Bretonneux – Lyons-la-Forêt – Vascoeuil – Ry – Rouen
- Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux
- Time at leisure in Lyons-la-Forêt
- Château de Vascoeuil: home of French historian, Jules Michelet. Guided tour and light lunch
- Walking tour of Ry village: in the footsteps of Madame Bovary
This Somme region 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 National Memorial there, as we remember the poets inspired by similar battles.
The Forêt de Lyons was once the hunting ground of the Dukes of Normandy. The country town of Lyons-la-Forêt has an 18th-century covered market and charming half-timbered houses. Composer Maurice Ravel stayed there many times and loved the place. It has twice been a setting for filmed versions of Madame Bovary and is officially one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’.
The small Château de Vascoeuil has superb formal gardens and a sculpture park. Author Jules Michelet wrote a huge history of France and was the first historian to use and define the French translation of the term ‘renaissance’ – he detested the Middle Ages and celebrated the Renaissance as an era of dynamism and culture. The château has a Jules Michelet Museum, which we will visit to learn more about this influential writer. We will also explore the sculpture park.
We then travel on to the delightful village of Ry, a farming village north-east of Rouen. The village of Yonville, where Emma Bovary feels so cramped and frustrated in Flaubert’s great novel, was almost certainly based on Ry. Situated in the Crevon Valley, Ry has many historic buildings which we will admire on a short walk around the village.
We then transfer to Rouen, the superb cathedral city which will be our base for the next three nights. (Overnight Rouen) BL
Day 5: Wednesday 12 June, Rouen – Veules-les-Roses – Tourville-sur-Arques – Rouen
- Guided walking tour of Rouen including the Cathedral & Flaubert Statue
- Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
- Time at leisure in Veules-les-Roses
- Château de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques: birthplace of Guy de Maupassant. Guided tour of the château and gardens followed by dinner.
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. There’s a wonderful walrus-moustached statue of Flaubert who was also born in Rouen – Julian Barnes writes comically of it in his book Flaubert’s Parrot.
The Cathedral, depicted in a series of over thirty paintings by Claude Monet, has many literary associations. The stained-glass window of St Julian the Hospitaler inspired one of Flaubert’s short stories, while a low-relief stone sculpture inspired the scene where Salomé dances in his story of Hérodias. Ruskin wrote of it as an example of stunning design in The Seven Lamps of Architecture. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary meets her lover in the Cathedral.
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 Normandy village of Veules-les-Roses has attracted artists over the centuries – Paul Meurice, Samuel Peploe, Étienne Mélingues and Ilya Repin are just some of those who came here to paint. Writers have also visited – Alexandre Dumas fils, Jules Michelet, Alexis Bouvier and Émile Bergerat are some of them, and there is a monument to Victor Hugo who, in 1882, hosted a party for all the children of the village.
Our last and very special visit of the day is to Château de Miromesnil, birthplace of one of the greatest short story writers of all time, Guy de Maupassant. The château has gorgeously wooded gardens, an historic potager (vegetable garden), 17th–century brick walls, a 250-year old cedar tree, and a notable collection of clematis. After enjoying a guided tour of the park, we will enter the 16th-century château, see items that belonged to the Miromesnil family and Guy de Maupassant, born there in 1850. A three-course dinner in the chateau will bring our memorable day to an end. (Overnight Rouen) BD
Day 6: Thursday 13 June, Rouen
- Pavillon Flaubert: the remains of Flaubert’s family home in the hamlet of Croisset
- Maison de Pierre Corneille à Petit-Couronne
- Musée Flaubert et d’histoire de la médecine
- Dinner at La Couronne
The man many regard as the greatest French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, was born in Rouen.
In the morning 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 Guy 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 a stuffed parrot (possibly 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. There will be time to stroll in the playwright’s charming garden before we drive back to Rouen.
Flaubert’s father was surgeon at the Rouen Hospital and, at the time of Gustave’s birth, the family lived in an apartment attached to the hospital, now a Museum of Flaubert and Medical History. 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. We will explore the museum, seek out the contending parrot for inspiration for Loulou, the parrot of his utterly beautiful A Simple Heart, and enjoy the museum’s small garden.
Dinner tonight promises to be a very special gastronomic experience. The restaurant of La Couronne is where cookbook writer Julia Child ate her first meal in France in 1948. The food was so good that she decided to spend the rest of her life sharing the wonders of French cuisine with the world. (Overnight Rouen) BD
Honfleur – 2 nights
Day 7: Friday 14 June, Rouen – Rives-en-Seine – Étretat – Honfleur
- Musée Victor Hugo (Maison Villequier), Rives-en-Seine
- Time at leisure in Étretat
- Le Clos Lupin, Étretat
- La Guillette, Maupassant’s house in Étretat: exterior tour of the house & afternoon tea
When novelist and critic André Gide was asked to name the greatest 19th century poet, he gave a famed response: ‘Victor Hugo – alas!’. Gide did not like Hugo as a man, but the poetry sent him into raptures. This morning we visit the manor house at Villequier, once home to the Vacquerie family of wealthy shipowners. In 1843 Hugo’s daughter Léopoldine married Charles Vacquerie. Six months later the young couple tragically drowned in a boating accident and Hugo was devastated. The spot is now marked by a statue of Hugo, with a line from his poem A Villequier which speaks movingly of his loss. The couple were buried in the village churchyard, as were Hugo’s long-suffering wife Adèle and his other daughter. The manor house is now an excellent museum, furnished in the style of the period and with many items connected with the life of this extraordinary man.
The beach of Étretat is familiar to anyone who loves French art. Its chalk cliffs form three natural arches and a pointed formation called The Needle (this area is called the Alabaster Coast). They were painted by Eugène Boudin, Charles Daubigny, Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. Guy de Maupassant spent most of his childhood at Étretat and, on one memorable day, he rescued from the water an Englishman named Algernon Swinburne – the two writers became friends. This relationship resulted in his short story The Englishman at Étretat. Maurice Leblanc’s 1909 novel The Hollow Needle features these rocks prominently. When a TV series was made of Leblanc’s Lupin novels, much of the filming was done in this area. There will be time after lunch for a promenade along this famous beach.
Gentleman thief and detective Arsène Lupin, who features in 17 novels and 39 novellas by Maurice Leblanc, is the French equivalent to Sherlock Holmes. Le Clos Arsène Museum in Étretat is in Leblanc’s former half-timbered home, and it displays items associated with Lupin. Today it is one of the most visited writers’ houses in France. Growing in the garden are lupins, originally planted by the author in honour of his own creation.
La Guillette was once the home of Guy de Maupassant. He loved it. The land was originally acquired by his mother, Laure, and it was in this house that he wrote his first novel, A Life, which was his filial tribute to her. He adored the garden there and planted strawberries, apple trees and poplars. We will enjoy afternoon tea in the loved gardens of this brilliant writer.
Our base for the next two nights is the charming town of Honfleur. Honfleur was a major defensive port in the 15th century and today has one of Normandy’s most appealing harbours. (Overnight Honfleur) B
Day 8: Saturday 15 June, Honfleur – Le Havre – Honfleur
- Literary walking tour of Honfleur
- Musée Eugène Boudin, Honfleur
- Le Pavillon de la Reine, Équemauville
- MuMa – Musée d’art moderne André Malraux, Le Havre
- Dinner at Le Manoir des Impressionistes
We begin the day by exploring this picturesque town. 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. Flaubert also used it as a setting in his fiction. We will see the church of Sainte-Cathérine, the largest wooden church in France, as well as the port’s defences and trading warehouses, and the quaint shops and houses.
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. The Boudin Museum documents the appeal of the place to Boudin and to Courbet, Sisley, Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Jongkind and Cézanne, who all came to paint.
The Pavillon de la Reine is located on the hillside overlooking the city of Honfleur and the estuary of the Seine, in the town of Équemauville. Built for Louis XVI and the Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1786, this magnificent residence later became the abode of local writer Lucie Delarue-Mardrus during the 20th century. We shall visit the interior of the house with the owner and enjoy a buffet lunch.
At nearby Le Havre is the André Malraux Modern Art Museum. Our guided tour will focus on the paintings of Boudin and the French Impressionists. The gallery was named for the Minister of Culture at the time it was opened in 1961. It has a flexible exhibition space, in harmony with its marine setting (it faces the sea).
Appropriately, after our art-filled day, dinner will be enjoyed at Le Manoir des Impressionistes, an 18th century manor house facing the sea at the gates of Honfleur. (Overnight Honfleur) BLD
Bayeux – 2 nights
Day 9: Sunday 16 June, Honfleur – Deauville – Cabourg – Beuvron-en-Auge – Bayeux
- Time at leisure to stroll along the Promenade des Planches de Deauville
- Villa du Temps retrouvé (Villa of Time Found): dedicated to the imagination of Marcel Proust & the Belle Époque era, Cabourg
Normandy’s Côte Fleurie is Proust territory, for this was where he set memorable scenes in his great In Search of Lost Time, a novel in seven volumes. Deauville is one of the most prestigious seaside resorts in France and in Proust’s day, it was the holiday destination for the fashionable and rich. It’s the location for Ian Fleming’s casino in Casino Royale, Fitzgerald mentions it in The Great Gatsby (Tom and Daisy honeymooned there), it was the birthplace of Coco Chanel’s career in clothes design, the first act of Noel Coward’s Private Lives is set in Deauville and it has been used as the setting for many movies. The Prix de Deauville for songs and books is awarded annually. The Deauville Promenade des Planches was the place to be seen! We may not be dressed like Chanel or her clients, but we too will stroll the famous promenade.
When Marcel Proust visited, he went on from Deauville to Cabourg, which becomes the fictional ‘Balbec’ of his writings. It’s a terrain of precise social observation and yet also a dream destination. Proust stayed at Cabourg’s Grand Hotel (today it serves its guests obligatory madeleines in Proust’s honour), and guests can order a ‘cocktail Proust’ in the evening. It’s on the beach at Cabourg that Proust’s character Marcel meets Albertine with her “laughing eyes”. Today the town no longer attracts the rich and titled, but its topography has changed little since Proust used the place for his novel.
In Cabourg we will visit the Villa du Temps retrouvé (Villa of Time Found), an innovative museum which tells the story of the Belle Époque era. It is located in an elegant family villa built in the 1860s and allows visitors to learn the early history of the town, step back in time to its Edwardian age, and to follow in the footsteps of Proust, one of the greatest of 20th century novelists.
Beuvron-en-Auge is an archetypal Norman village, with its half-timbered houses, 18th century inn, and its shops and stalls of local produce. It is on the Norman Cider Route and holds a cider festival every autumn. This is another of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’ – not surprising that artist David Hockney has chosen to live here. There will be time to explore this charming village before we make our way to Bayeux. (Overnight Bayeux) B
Day 10: Monday 17 June, Bayeux
- Walking tour of Bayeux
- Bayeux Tapestry Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
Bayeux was the first town to be liberated by the Allies in 1944 as it is only 7km from the coast of the English Channel. The Aure River flows through the town, which has many picturesque streets. We will have a guided tour of the town in the morning, with stops at lace-making establishments and at the cathedral.
Today Bayeux 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’.
Novelist Muriel Barbery, author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, was born in Bayeux.
The afternoon will be at leisure to explore this most attractive town. (Overnight Bayeux) B
Vitré – 2 nights
Day 11: Tuesday 18 June, Bayeux – Granville – Fougères – Vitré
- Musée Christian Dior, set in his seaside childhood home, Granville
- Morning tea in La Rose du Rocher Salon de Thé, Granville
- Musée d’Art Moderne Richard Anacréon: a collection of paintings, graphic works and books from the early 20th century
- Guided literary walking tour of Fougères: in the footsteps of Victor Hugo, Juliette Drouet & Honoré de Balzac
The art of dress design reached a peak with Christian Dior. The Belle Époque villa ‘Les Rhumbs’, perched on the cliffs at Granville, was his childhood home and is the only museum in France dedicated to a couturier. We will visit the museum, enjoy morning tea or coffee in its Rose Salon, and will learn more about how the son of a fertilizer manufacturer came to found one of the iconic fashion houses of the world.
The Richard Anacréon Museum of Modern Art is in Granville. Most of the works it presents are from the early 20th century – Picasso, Cocteau, Utrillo, Jacob, Genet and Vlaminck. Anacréon was a Parisian collector of art and books, and was a friend to many of the artists of his day.
The town of Fougères in Brittany has a castle more than a thousand years old (it was founded in 1020), cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. It is officially ‘a town of art and history’ and has many literary connections. Juliette Drouet, Victor Hugo’s most faithful mistress (who he once said was far lovelier than Shakespeare’s Juliet) was born in the town. Today there is a local cultural centre named after her. Poet Théophile Briant was also born in Fougères, as was children’s writer Yak Rivais. The writer Chateaubriand visited his sister in winter (but was not impressed by Fougère’s social life), Balzac visited in 1828 and as a result wrote his novel Les Chouans, and Victor Hugo stayed there with Juliette in 1836. Our guide will take us on a short walking tour in the footsteps of these writers.
We travel on to Vitré, one of the most impressive medieval towns in Brittany. It will be our base for two nights. (Overnight Vitré) B
Day 12: Wednesday 19 June, Vitré – Combourg – Bazouges-la-Pérouse – Vitré
- Morning walking tour of Vitré: in the footsteps of Marquise de Sévigné
- Château de Combourg, medieval fortress and birthplace of François-René de Chateaubriand: guided tour and light lunch
- Château la Ballue, Bazouges-la-Pérouse, a popular spot for writers including Victor Hugo: Guided tour of the gardens & afternoon tea
In The Hunchback of Notre Dame Victor Hugo praised the Vitré as a “Gothic city entire, complete, homogenous”. It is situated on the slopes of the Vilaine river valley, and with its castle, ramparts, ancient streets and religious heritage, is a perfect example of a French town of five hundred years ago. Claude-Étienne Savary, orientalist and translator of the Koran, was born in the town. This morning we will take a guided walk which will show us some of the architectural and historical treasures of Vitré.
The Château du Combourg is a medieval castle perched on a small hill by the beautifully named Lac Tranquille. In 1761 the family of writer François-René de Chateaubriand acquired the property and it was here that he spent his childhood. In his memoirs, he wrote “I became what I am in the woods of Combourg”, and the castle has come to be seen as the birthplace of Romanticism in France. In the 1870s the castle was restored by the prominent architect Viollet-le-Duc, and it remains in private hands today. Chateaubriand was hugely influential in the 19th century. He saw himself as the greatest lover, the greatest writer and the greatest philosopher and was not only a writer, but a diplomat, historian and politician (he also gave his name to a Chateaubriand steak). This will be a special opportunity to see the home that meant so much to him.
Built in 1620 and restored several times, secluded Château de la Ballue is a small gem, something out of a fairy-tale. We will explore its elegant formal gardens with owner Marie-Françoise Mathon, and will partake of afternoon tea there as well. Through its history, many literary guests have enjoyed the comforts of the house and grounds – Hugo, Balzac, Chateaubriand, and Musset.
As we journey back to Vitré we will stop briefly to admire the Château des Rochers Sévigné, 17th century home to the Marquise de Sévigné (1626 – 1696), famed for the letters she wrote during the time of Louis XIV. She had many happy visits here and wrote letters to her daughter, the Comtesse de Grignan, from its rooms. (Overnight Vitré) BL
La Châtre – 3 nights
Day 13: Thursday 20 June, Vitré – Saché – La Châtre
- Château de Saché: writers house museum dedicated to Honoré de Balzac
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 his delightful château whenever Balzac 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 enthused. 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!)
The town of La Châtre is right in the centre of France, in the beautiful valley of the Indre river. This is George Sand country – she was born in the area, loved it and she made it the setting of many of her novels. The town has a museum dedicated to her life and writings in its old fortress tower (once the local prison). We will take a walk through the heart of the town, seeing medieval buildings, ancient churches, and places associated with this great French woman writer. (Overnight La Châtre) BL
Day 14: Friday 21 June, La Châtre – Nohant – Montipouret – Épineuil-le-Fleuriel – La Châtre
- Église Saint-Martin de Vic, Nohant: tour of 12th-century frescoes
- Maison de George Sand, Nohant
- Picnic lunch at Moulin d’Angibault, Montipouret, Montipouret. Sand wrote Le Meunier d’Angibault in 1844 after visiting the mill
- Maison École du Grand Meaulnes, Épineuil-le-Fleuriel: home of Alain Fournier from 1891-1898 and where he set his novel Le Grand Meaulnes
- Evening at leisure with option to visit the Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire, La Châtre
George Sand (Amandine Aurore Dupin) is the most celebrated French female novelist of the 19th century. 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 will follow in her footsteps around this beautiful part of France.
The church of Saint-Martin de Vic has beautifully preserved Romanesque frescoes from the 12th century. Abandoned during the French Revolution, the church was whitewashed inside, which hid the art on the walls until the frescoes were discovered in 1849. George Sand intervened by getting the appropriate government ministry involved and asking her friend, writer Prosper Mérimée, to write a pamphlet which would see the church listed as an important historic monument.
Next we visit her beloved Nohant, and explore the small château she inherited from her grandmother. 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. Inside one can see Chopin’s piano, a table set for her prestigious dinner guests, and the puppet theatre where she put on plays with her son. There will be time to stroll in her enchanting garden and visit her grave.
Our ‘pique-nique’ for lunch will be eaten in the grounds of the Angibault water mill, setting for Sand’s novel Le Meunier d’Angibault.
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 school friends. Rich in evocation of rural life and landscape, this novel has been highly influential, inspiring John Fowles’ The Magus, several movie versions, a pop song, and a symphony. (Overnight La Châtre) BL
Day 15: Saturday 22 June, La Châtre – Boussac-Bourg – Crozant – Gargilesse-Dampierre – Chassignolles – La Châtre
- Château de Boussac, Boussac-Bourg: George Sand’s holiday place; part of her novel Jeanne is set here
- La Vallée des Peintres, a 4km walk in the valley around Crozant: in the footsteps of Impressionist painters including Claude Monet & Armand Guillaumin (incl. picnic lunch)
- Walking tour of Gargilesse-Dampierre including a visit to George Sand’s Villa Algira
- Piano concert by Cyril Huvé in Chassignoles
- Dinner at a local restaurant in La Châtre
The Château du Boussac, near Limousin, was constructed in the 14th century. The castle had many treasures hidden away in its rooms and in 1841 writer Prosper Mérimée discovered the incredible ‘Lady and the Unicorn’ tapestries in one of its rooms. They were suffering from damp and rats. His friend George Sand drew public attention to the plight of the tapestries in 1844 and wrote about them in her novel Jeanne. As a result, they were moved, repaired, and eventually placed in the Cluny Museum in Paris, where they are a major attraction.
The village of Crozant is on the river Creuse and its delightful scenery inspired many artists in the 19th century. There were so many that the ‘Crozant School’ was named for the group, and today there is a Painters’ Walk in their footsteps. Armand Guillaumin, Pierre Ernest Ballue, Ernst Josephson, Alfred Smith, Fernand Maillaud, Clémentine Ballot and Solange Christauflour were members of the group. We’ll do a part of the walk and see the landscapes that so attracted them.
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, swims in the river, 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 music by Chopin for us on a grand piano dating from Chopin’s time. (Overnight La Châtre) BLD
Fontainebleau – 1 night
Day 16: Sunday 23 June, La Châtre – Bourges – Saint Sauveur-en-Puisaye – Fontainebleau
- Walking tour of Bourges
- Maison de Colette, Saint Sauveur-en-Puisaye
This morning we travel to the gorgeous city of Bourges, capital of the Cher department. It is dominated by its great Gothic cathedral with 13th century stained-glass windows. A guided tour will take us through the medieval streets, part of a sixty-five hectare district of half-timbered houses and fine town-houses. Sadly, as it is a Sunday, the cathedral will be closed for services.
This afternoon we visit the birthplace of Colette, 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 we will visit her home there. She never quite recovered from leaving this beloved house and in her writing tried to recapture the lost paradise of her childhood. She re-named the village Montigny-en-Fresnois in her scandalous Claudine novels.
We travel on to Fontainebleau, where we will be based for one night. (Overnight Fontainebleau) B
Saint-Germain-en-Laye – 3 nights
Day 17: Monday 24 June, Fontainebleau – Milly-la-Forêt – Draveil – Bièvres – Saint-Germain-en-Laye
- Saint-Blaise des Simples Chapel, Milly-la-Forêt, resting place of Jean Cocteau (subject to restoration works being completed by 2024)
- Maison de Jean Cocteau, Milly-la-Forêt
- Maison d’Alphonse Daudet, Draveil
- Château des Roches: Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo
Artist, writer, filmmaker, designer and critic Jean Cocteau was one of the foremost creatives of the surrealist, avant-garde and Dadaist movements and was hugely influential in the early 20th century. In 1947 he settled in the village of Milly-la-Forêt in the forest of Fontainebleau. With him was his lover, actor Jean Marais, later replaced in his life by Edouard Dermit. Cocteau bought an old house and the last seventeen years of his life were spent there. Today it is an excellent museum, which we will visit. We will also see the Saint-Blaise des Simples chapel, once part of a leper colony. It was decorated in 1959 by Jean Cocteau who created pictures of the herbs used to treat lepers – aconite, valerian, mint and buttercup. Cocteau was buried within the chapel.
After lunch we get to know a writer from the South of France, one who always regretted that he needed to live in the north of the country for his work. Alphonse Daudet was a bestselling writer of the 19th century, although not widely read today. His Letters from a Windmill remains a classic of French literature. His home in the Champrosay district, where he welcomed fellow writers (Zola and de Goncourt) and artists (Renoir, Monet and Cézanne) is now a residence for artists from around the world. Since 1994 it has also been a residence for French-speaking storytellers.
In the village of Marigny Brizay, a place with wine-making traditions stretching back to the 12th century, is the Château des Roches. When phylloxera struck in the 19th century, the vineyard was producing hybrid vines, which proved crucially important when traditional vines around the country were being ravaged by the virus. At one time the manor belonged to patron of the arts Bertin l’Ainé and his guests included Liszt, Chateaubriand, Berlioz and Ingres. Victor Hugo would get the stagecoach from his Paris home to come and relax at Bertin’s home. His wanderings in the valley resulted in several poems. “Here the soul contemplates, listens, adores”, he wrote happily. Hugo’s letters, engravings, photographs and books are on display. On his visits he rented a room for his mistress Juliette at a nearby hamlet. (Overnight Overnight Saint Germain-en-Laye) B
Day 18: Tuesday 25 June, Saint-Germain-en-Laye – Villebon – Illiers-Combray – Saint-Germain-en-Laye
- Château de Villebon: the setting for Guermantes castle in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
- Musée Marcel Proust: Maison de Tante Léonie, Illiers-Combray
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 and see the landscapes and houses which inspired this great work. Proust was born in Paris, but it was the small town of Illiers in north central France, where he spent childhood holidays, that is now ‘Proust Country’. He called it Combray. In fact, so famous did he make Illiers, that the town changed its name to Illiers-Combray in honour of the fictional name he bestowed upon it.
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 crennellated 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.” You will sample a delicious madeleine with your lunch, in honour of this famous scene and perhaps you will create wonderful memories for yourselves?
The nearby Pré-Catalan Garden is the Parc de Tonsonville of Proust’s novel. It was designed by Proust’s uncle who was a horticulturist – we shall enjoy a stroll in this romantic and very pretty spot.
Our last Proustian visit of the day will be to the ‘Maison de Tante Léonie’, the house where young Proust stayed as a boy and which he describes so accurately. It has been restored to exactly as described in his opening pages – fiction has shaped its present reality. The museum also displays manuscripts, letters, photographs and other items of Proustian memorabilia.
We stay for the last nights of our tour at the superb Pavillon Henri IV in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, with panoramic views of Paris. This charming neoclassical building, now a boutique hotel, is all that remains of a vast château, birthplace of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Alexandre Dumas was very fond of the Pavillon Henri IV and wrote much of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo there. Many other celebrities stayed as well – Liszt, Pasteur, Sarah Bernhardt, Offenbach (who composed on his visits), George Sand, Daudet, Zola, Hugo and King George V. (Overnight Saint Germain-en-Laye) BL
Day 19: Wednesday 26 June, Saint-Germain-en-Laye – Médan – Le Port-Marly – Saint-Germain-en-Laye
- Maison d’Émile Zola, Médan
- Château de Médan: home of Maurice Maeterlinck including buffet lunch
- Château de Monte-Cristo, Le Port-Marly: built as a residence for Alexandre Dumas
- Farewell Meal
Émile Zola (1840 – 1902) was the greatest writer in the French school of naturalism. Friend and supporter of many of the Impressionists, he also bravely supported Alfred Dreyfus and was probably murdered as a result.
This morning we visit his home at Médan. Thanks to the enormous success of his novel Drunkard, Zola was able to purchase the house in 1878. It was within its walls that he wrote many of the novels of his great Rougon-Macquart series, including the brilliant Germinal, The Earth and Nana. It was near the train that could take him to Paris, or bring his literary friends on visits. In 1880 he and some of those friends published Les Soirées de Médan, a collection of realistic stories about the Franco-Prussian War. The star of the collection was Maupassant’s Boule de Suif (Ball of Fat) and Zola was astonished that his young protégé had surpassed them all.
Médan’s château was painted by Paul Cézanne, a close boyhood friend of Zola’s. He was one of Zola’s first visitors and in 1879 he borrowed Zola’s rowing boat, Nana, and did much of the painting mid-river. A passer-by, unimpressed by what he saw as an amateur effort, asked Cézanne if he was “trying (his) hand at painting?” The Château de Médan is in private hands, but we will enjoy a tour of the house and grounds, and a buffet lunch.
Our tour began with Alexandre Dumas, a man who shamelessly plagiarised and borrowed and paid collaborators to write parts of 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). It is a truly delightful building and grounds, and a fabulous last literary visit of our tour. (Overnight Saint Germain-en-Laye) BLD
Day 20: Thursday 27 June, Saint-Germain-en-Laye; Tour ends
- Tour concludes in the morning
- At leisure/Check out
Saint-Germain-en-Laye is today virtually a suburb of Paris, but used to be a separate town. Its royal connections are fascinating – after England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, King James II of England saw out his exile here and is buried in the parish church. Today it looks peaceful and pretty with its tree-lined streets, but in the Occupation it was headquarters to the German army.
In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to the Paris CDG Airport. B