- Explore in a small group of 8-16 travelers (average group size of 13)
- All land transportation
- Accommodations for 16 nights
- 30 meals—15 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 8 dinners
- 22 small group activities
- Services of a local O.A.T. Trip Experience Leader
- Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
- 5% Frequent Traveler Credit toward your next adventure
The smell of a freshly-baked croissant ... an outdoor café on a sun-drenched afternoon, a glass of wine in your hand ... the dreamlike whirls of an Impressionist painting ... the dazzling Eiffel Tower, lit up at night. France is many things to many people, and on this O.A.T. adventure you'll experience the many sides of La Republique. Beginning in Angers, gateway to the Loire Valley, you'll immerse yourself in French history and culture. Explore fairytale-like chateaux that conjure courtly duels, stroll the cobbled lanes of medieval hilltop towns and fortifications, and visit the setting of a World War II tragedy for a glimpse into a dark moment in France's history. Along the way, you'll do—and dine—as the French do: Venture to the countryside for a day on a rural farm, where you'll see how local specialties are produced, and eat your way through Lyon, France's culinary epicenter. Cap it all off in undeniably chic Paris, discovering the city as you've never seen it before.
And whenever you’d like, you’ll have the freedom to explore more of France on your own: Break off from the group for independent discoveries—like enjoying a bicycle ride along the banks of the Loire River—during free time. Bon voyage!
DAY 1 Fly to Nantes, France Afternoon/Evening: Depart the U.S. on an overnight flight to Nantes, France.
DAY 2 Arrive in Nantes • Transfer to Angers Destination: Angers Accommodations: Hotel de France or similar
Activity Note: Please be aware that rooms are often not available before 3pm at hotels throughout France. Travelers arriving on early flights may not be able to receive their room key until 3pm.
Morning: You'll arrive in Nantes this morning or this afternoon, depending on your specific flight arrangements. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport and you will transfer to your hotel in Angers via minibus—a drive of about 1.5 hours, depending on traffic. Here we'll be joined by travelers who took our optional New! Northern France: Fontainebleau, Bayeux & the Beaches of Normandy pre-trip extension.
Upon arrival in Angers, you will check in and receive your room assignments. We stay for the next four nights in a centrally-located hotel. Depending on where we stay, your hotel room will likely offer air conditioning, a minibar, wireless Internet, flat-screen television, and an en suite bathroom.
The remainder of your morning is free to relax and settle in after your overnight flight.
Lunch: On your own—ask your Trip Experience Leader for suggestions on where to dine.
Afternoon: Around 3pm, our small group will gather together for the first time for an orientation walk around the vicinity of our hotel. Your Trip Experience Leader will help you get acclimated to the area, and point out nearby ATMs and local markets. The timing of our orientation walk may change depending on your arrival time.
You'll then have a few hours of free time to begin getting acquainted with this medieval city. Angers is best known as the gateway to the Loire Valley, a fertile wine-growing region that was once the playground of the French nobility. This aristocratic legacy can still be seen today in the sumptuous châteaux that dot the landscape and have earned the Loire Valley a UNESCO World Heritage designation. But you don't have to leave Angers to glimpse a French castle—the city itself is home to Château d'Angers, a well-preserved medieval castle that features thick defensive walls, a moat, and 17 towers meant to ward off attacks. You can visit Château d'Angers during your free time while we're in Angers.
Around 6pm, we'll meet with our Trip Experience Leader for a Welcome Drink in the hotel. This is a great opportunity to get to know your fellow travelers, and to toast to the discoveries to come—with a glass of French wine, of course.
Dinner: On your own, whenever you'd like. Your Trip Experience Leader will be happy to provide recommendations.
Evening: Free for your own discoveries. Perhaps you'll take an evening stroll through the streets of Angers, or stop by a neighborhood bistro for a nightcap.
Freedom to Explore
Make the most of your explorations in Angers on these off-the-beaten path activities. These recommendations are designed by our team of local experts with women travelers in mind.
Lift your spirits at Carré Cointreau: Visit this 19th-century distillery, where you will learn how their world-renowned liquor is made, followed by a sophisticated tasting in the elegant on-site bar. How to get there: A 15- to 20-minute taxi ride, about $15 USD one way. Hours: 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Cost: Between $11-22 USD. Take a bicycle ride along the banks of the Loire: Get out in the open air and enjoy the peaceful scenery while cycling between the Mayenne and Sarthe rivers. You can also take an old-style ferry out to picturesque Saint Aubin Island. How to get there: Your Trip Experience Leader will help you reserve a bicycle. Hours: Available all year; Ferry service available from April-October. Cost: Electric Bike rentals from $17-$40 USD per day. The renowned wines of the Loire Valley are just steps away at Maison des Vin: Walk right in and discover the best wines of the Loire Valley, including those produced in the Anjou-Saumur region. How to get there: 15-minute walk from the hotel. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10:30am-1pm, 2:30pm-6.30pm. Cost: Free entrance.
DAY 3 Explore Angers Destination: Angers Meals included: B L D Accommodations: Hotel de France or similar
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 6:30am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Around 8:30am, we'll gather with our fellow travelers and Trip Experience Leader for a Welcome Briefing. During this conversation, our Trip Experience Leader will provide insight on the coming days' adventures, expectations, and safety proceedings, as well as answer any questions you may have.
Then, around 10:30am, we'll set off on a 2-hour walking tour of Angers in the company of a local guide. Today, Angers is a university town home to thousands of students, but its history stretches back more than 2,000 years. We'll learn about Angers's luminous past, first as the seat of the Plantagenet dynasty in the twelfth century and later as one of Europe's leading intellectual centers during the Renaissance, as we stroll the city's cobbled streets. This history is reflected in the city's architecture, which sports everything from medieval cathedrals and half-timbered houses to Art Deco buildings from the 20th century. After our walking tour finishes up we'll be ready for lunch.
Lunch: Around 12:30pm at a local restaurant, featuring dishes typical of the Loire Valley.
Afternoon: After 1:45pm, you're free to make your own discoveries in Angers. You might choose to delve into the history of Angers by exploring the city's chateau. Later, we'll engage in a short French language lesson led by our Trip Experience Leader before walking to a nearby restaurant for our Welcome Dinner.
Dinner: At a local restaurant, around 7pm. Our Welcome Dinner will feature an appetizer, entree, and dessert. This will be a great opportunity to continue getting to know your fellow travelers, and to toast to the journey ahead.
Evening: On your own—you are free to return to your room to rest before your explorations tomorrow. Or you you could have a drink at the brasserie located right next to our hotel that is open late.
DAY 4 Angers • Optional Balloon Ride over the Loire Valley • Boule de Fort demonstration OPTIONAL TOUR Destination: Angers Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel de France or similar
Early Morning: Travelers on our optional Balloon Ride over the Loire Valley will depart the hotel at around 5am, then transfer by motorcoach about an hour to the hot-air balloon site. Then, we'll spend about an hour in the air, taking in the dips and peaks of the verdant valley, the picturesque castles, and the peaceful flow of the Loire River.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring French and American options. If you chose to join our optional tour, coffee and pastry will be served before the balloon ride.
Morning: Enjoy a morning at leisure in Angers. Those on the optional tour will arrive back to our hotel around 9:30am.
Lunch: On your own in Angers, whenever you'd like.
Afternoon: Free to continue exploring Angers on your own after lunch.
At around 2pm, our entire small group will take an approximate twenty-minute bus ride to learn all about Boule de Fort, a beloved local game played exclusively in this region of France. We'll meet with some members of the local club for a demonstration of the sport. We'll also have a chance to play a practice game and share a drink with some club members to learn why this sport is so close to their hearts. We'll be back at our hotel by around 5pm.
Dinner: Around 7pm, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant, feature fresh local specialties.
Evening: Free to do as you'd like, perhaps with an evening stroll.
Balloon Ride over the Loire Valley - $320/person
Set off on a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise to witness the peaks and valleys of the verdant Loire Valley, nestled between the crystalline riverways of the Loire. Enjoy an included breakfast of coffee and pastry as you ride.
DAY 5 Angers • Home-Hosted Visit • Explore Loire Valley & Chateau de Villandry Destination: Angers Meals included: B L Accommodations: Hotel de France or similar
Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: This afternoon we'll venture into the home of a family in Angers, where we'll enjoy a Home-Hosted visit. This is a special opportunity afforded to us by our small group size and made by possible by the regional connections of our local Trip Experience Leaders. During our visit, you'll learn more about daily life in France from these residents, and take part in the customs and culinary traditions of the region. Read more about this experience below.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel, featuring French and American options.
Morning: We'll depart around 8am for a little over an hour's drive to the 16th-century Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley. Inhabited since the Middle Ages, it was home to notable figures such as Jean Le Breton, minister of Francis I; the Marquis de Castellane, ambassador of Louis XV; and Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon I. The grounds are especially famous for the elaborate Renaissance-era gardens. Upon our arrival at around 10am, we'll enjoy a 1-hour guided tour followed by some free time to explore the chateau and its lovely gardens on your own.
At about 12:30pm, we'll drive 15 minutes to a local restaurant in Berthenay.
Lunch: At a local restaurant in Berthenay around 12:45pm, featuring traditional regional cuisine.
Afternoon: Following lunch, we'll drive back to Angers, departing around 2pm and arriving at approximately 3:30pm. Enjoy 1.5 hours of free time to rest and relax, or perhaps you'd like to venture to the old town and continue exploring the many charms of Angers.
We'll reconvene at the hotel around 5pm, split into smaller groups, and set off by van for a short drive to the home of a local French family for a Home-Hosted Visit. During your time with your hosts, you'll learn what daily life is like in this part of western France and enjoy an apéro. Short for apéritif, l'apéro is a cherished social occasion where drinks are accompanied by various appetizers like crackers, pâtés, apple tart, charcuterie, and/or cheeses. The family we visit may live in freestanding house or apartment, and be located in the suburbs or a bit closer to the city center.
Because of our small group size, we’re given the chance to enter local homes and connect on a one-to-one level, and to even share a little with our hosts about who we are and what has brought us to France. This will be a great opportunity to ask them about life in Angers, any special customs they practice, and more.
We'll say au revoir to our hosts around 7pm, and take another short drive back to our hotel.
Dinner: On your own. Check with your Trip Experience Leader for suggestions. If you're not too hungry after our Home-Hosted Visit, you might like to try one of the many cafés in the old town, most of which offer lighter options. Thanks to the presence of a handful of universities, the city is home to around 40,000 students, and you might spot a number of them studying at one of the cozy, atmospheric cafés.
Evening: Free for your own discoveries. You may choose to retire early to your room, or explore the nightlife in Angers at a local wine bar.
DAY 6 Overland to Sarlat • Visit Oradour Destination: Sarlat Meals included: B L Accommodations: Hotel Le Renoir or similar
Activity Note: This will be a long transfer day. Our journey by bus from Angers to Sarlat will take about 7 hours, with stops along the way. Additionally, today's visit to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane may be an emotional experience for some travelers.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 6am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Around 8am, we'll check out of our hotel and board our bus. The next leg of our adventure takes us to Sarlat, in France's picturesque Dordogne region. We'll drive for about 4.5 hours this morning, taking in views of the sweeping countryside along the way. Then, we'll pause in Oradour, known in the French national consciousness as the setting of a World War II tragedy.
Lunch: At a local restaurant in Oradour around 12:15pm, featuring typical French dishes.
Afternoon: After lunch, we'll take a 5-minute walk to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. It was here on June 10, 1944—just four days after Allied troops stormed the beaches in Normandy—that a German SS company slaughtered all 642 residents of Oradour and destroyed the village. Today, the winding village lanes are dotted with husks of buildings and crumbling ruins; after the war, Charles de Gaulle ordered Oradour-sur-Glane to be left in its ruined state to commemorate the atrocity that took place here. As a result, the village seems stuck in time.
We'll spend a sobering 2 hours in Oradour-sur-Glane, learning about the history of the Nazis in wartime France and about the unthinkable horrors humans have inflicted upon one another. You'll have time to visit the exhibition center to listen to a commemorative narrative recounting the story of this French village that became the target of Nazi barbarism. You can also spend a little time walking through the village on your own.
Then, we'll board our bus and drive about another 2.5 hours to reach Sarlat, where we'll check in to our hotel around 6:30pm. Depending on where we stay, our hotel will likely be in Sarlat's historic city centre and will feature an on-site restaurant. Each of the hotel's rooms typically features a telephone, flat-screen television, wireless Internet, and en suite bathroom. We'll gather for an orientation walk around 7pm.
Dinner: On your own. Consult your Trip Experience Leader for dining options in the area. Most menus feature several dishes from duck and goose, which are regional classics in this part of France.
Evening: Free to do as you'd like. Perhaps you will begin exploring Sarlat with a nighttime stroll, or retire early to your room to write about the day's events in your travel journal.
DAY 7 Explore Sarlat • Commarque Castle Destination: Sarlat Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel Le Renoir or similar
Activity Note: For travelers on July and August departures, you will take part in a canoeing expedition instead of visiting Commarque Castle.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel around 7:30am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Right after breakfast around 9am, we'll head out of the hotel to meet up with a local guide in Sarlat. Then, we'll set off on a leisurely 1-hour walking tour through Sarlat's medieval old town. As we wander the narrow, maze-like lanes, our guide will share the story of the town's founding, which began as a Benedictine abbey in the ninth century. We'll stroll the Rue de la Republique, the main thoroughfare; pause outside the cathedral, which blends Roman, Gothic, and more recent architectural styles; and witness many more of Sarlat's medieval gems.
From 10am on, you're free to make your own discoveries in Sarlat. Perhaps you'll take the glass elevator up to the old Church Sainte-Marie’s bell tower, or simply meander along Sarlat's winding streets.
Lunch: On your own. Your Trip Experience Leader would be happy to provide suggestions for the best local fare.
Afternoon: Around 1:30pm, we'll reconvene with our Trip Experience Leader for an opportunity to experience the natural wonders of the Dordogne. We'll drive about 30 minutes outside of town to enjoy an archery lesson from a local archer. You'll go over the art of this sport, from posture and technique to safety and aim. As you perfect your bow-wielding skills, you can take in the fresh air of this idyllic countryside setting.
Our discoveries wrap up around 4:30pm. You'll have a couple of hours to rest or further explore Sarlat before we meet up once more around 7pm for 15-minute walk to a local restaurant.
Dinner: Around 7:15pm at a local restaurant in Sarlat, featuring regional cuisine.
Evening: Free for your own discoveries beginning at around 8:15pm—ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations on where to best take in Sarlat by night, or retire to your room.
DAY 8 Sarlat • Optional Rocamadour Tour • Controversial Topic: The unethical nature of foie gras production with farmer Isabelle OPTIONAL TOUR Destination: Sarlat Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel Le Renoir or similar
Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today's activities include a conversation surrounding the Controversial Topic of foie gras, a specialty food product popular in French cuisine. We’ll meet with local farmer, Isabelle, to learn about the history and production of the product and perhaps even sample it for ourselves. Read more about this activity below.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel around 7am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Today is free to explore Sarlat and the surrounding Dordogne on your own. If your visit falls on a Wednesday or Saturday, you may like to visit Sarlat's outdoor market.
Or, perhaps you will join our optional tour to Rocamadour. Meet at the bus at 8:30am for a 1.5 hour drive to the historic town of Rocamadour. Built into the side of a cliff, Rocamadour is an important pilgrimage site: The town was initially built on the site of a shrine to the Madonna known for its healing powers, and is a popular stop for the devout on the way to Spain's Santiago de Compostela. While its religious significance has earned Rocamadour UNESCO World Heritage status, its improbable cliffside location and picturesque homes have garnered it the top spot on a national list of favorite French villages.
Upon arrival, we'll walk down the way of the cross to the cliffside sanctuary that is home to the town's most famous religious icon, the Black Madonna. Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Louis IX all paid a visit to the Black Madonna to seek her blessing before undergoing long journeys.
Then, we'll meet Chantal, a local woman who restores old stained glass windows. For about 45 minutes, she'll give us a glimpse into this intricate craft and we'll have the chance to ask her any questions we may have. We'll then walk to a local spot for lunch.
Lunch: On your own, whenever you'd like. Travelers on the optional tour will have lunch at a local restaurant in Rocamadour, around noon.
Afternoon: Free for you to continue exploring Sarlat. For those on the optional tour, you'll have about an hour to stroll Rocamadour and its little shops at leisure, after which point we'll board our bus around 2:30pm and be back at our hotel in Sarlat at about 3:45pm.
Then, shortly before 6pm, our group will depart for a 15-minute ride to a local farm, where we’ll discuss the Controversial Topic of foie gras, a specialty food product popular in French cuisine. Foie gras is the fattened liver of a duck or goose, which is traditionally enlarged through artificial and—some say—inhumane practices. We’ll meet with the farmer, Isabelle, to learn about the history and production of the product, as well as its reputation around the world.
Around 14 weeks of age, ducks and geese used for the production of foie gras enter what’s called the “feeding phase” of production—meaning they are force fed through a process called “gavage.” Gavage involves feeding the birds much more than they would normally eat in the wild or even voluntarily. The food is administered through a funnel fitted with a long tube that forces the feed into the bird’s esophagus. This is a dangerous process, as the bird’s esophagus can easily be damaged, potentially resulting in severe injury or death. Researchers have even found evidence of inflammation in the walls of the esophagus in animals that appear to have “successful” feedings. Furthermore, these forced feedings enlarge the liver nearly ten times the normal size, having disastrous effects on the overall health and comfort of the birds. They often suffer from impaired liver function, which obstructs blood flow to the abdomen, making it difficult to breathe. In addition to obvious medical repercussions, animal rights activists argue that because the birds display “avoidance behavior”—meaning they try to avoid the feedings—this clearly indicates they are stressed, afraid, and uncomfortable.
Perhaps most controversial, though, is the fact there is an alternative method for production, which does not utilize gavage feeding. Instead, the birds are allowed to eat freely. However, this product is not considered foie gras according to the French legal definition of the delicacy. As such, it’s not regarded as highly or nearly as sought after.
Despite the controversy, French law maintains that foie gras is part of the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of the country. Those in favor of the practice also argue that the technique of gavage dates back as far as ancient Egypt, circa 2500 B.C. Egyptians frequently force fed birds to deliberately “fatten them up.” Still, the question remains: is this a draconian practice that should be banned, or is it a matter of cultural preservation?
We’ll speak with Isabelle for about 20 minutes before opening up the conversation to a Q&A. Take this time to ask any questions you may have. We’ll also explore the production facility as we talk, giving you ample time to learn about this culinary tradition and perhaps even sample foie gras if you’re so inclined.
Dinner: Around 7pm we’ll sit down for a traditional dinner at the farm.
Evening: At about 8:30pm, we’ll bid farewell to our host and head back to the hotel. The evening is free for your own discoveries. Consider venturing to a local bar to try one of the many varieties of local Bergerac wine.
Rocamadour - $180/person
This optional tour visits Rocamadour, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with its religious significance, the improbable cliffside location and picturesque homes of Rocamadour have garnered it the top spot on a national list of favorite French villages. Upon arrival, a local resident will take us on a walking tour of the town. Then, we'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, well return to our hotel in Sarlat by around 3:30pm.
DAY 9 Discover Albi • Overland transfer to Carcassonne Destination: Carcassonne Meals included: B L Accommodations: Hotel Le Donjon or similar
Activity Note: This will be a long transfer day, including about a 7-hour bus ride to reach Carcassonne, with stops along the way.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel around 6:30am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Around 8:30am, we'll board our bus with our luggage and begin our drive to Carcassonne, in southern France's Languedoc region. Our route will take us through the Parc Naturel Regional Des Causses du Quercy, an area of outstanding natural beauty known for its wooded, verdant valleys and ancient caves, which feature prehistoric wall paintings. About 30,000 people live within the park's confines in a series of quaint villages.
En route, we'll stop in Albi, a small town stretching along the Tarn River in Southern France, around 12:15pm. You'll enjoy a walking tour with your Trip Experience Leader along Albi's cobbled, medieval streets. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, Albi is well known for its red-hued architecture, including the Saint-Salvi Collegiate Church and its cloister as well as the Pont-Vieux over the Tarn.
Following our discoveries, we'll walk to a local restaurant for lunch.
Lunch: At a local restaurant around 1pm, featuring regional cuisine.
Afternoon: Around 2:15pm, you'll have a little over an hour of free time to explore more of Albi on your own.
Around 3:45pm, our small group will reconvene at the bus and drive about 2 hours south to Carcassonne. When we arrive, we'll check into our hotel. Depending on where we stay, our hotel should offer on-site amenities like a bar and restaurant. Each of the hotel's air-conditioned rooms typically includes a satellite TV, a safe, complimentary wireless Internet access, a minibar, and a private bath with a hair dryer. After some time to settle into your room, your Trip Experience Leader will lead a brief orientation walk around the hotel's vicinity around 7pm.
Dinner: On your own. You may wish to join your Trip Experience Leader at a local restaurant.
Evening: Free. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations, or retire early to your room in preparation for tomorrow's early start.
Freedom to Explore
Make the most of your explorations in Carcassonne on these off-the-beaten path activities. These recommendations are designed by our team of local experts with women travelers in mind.
Discover the austere beauty of Châteaux de Lastours when you walk there with your Trip Experience Leader: Perched at an altitude of almost 1,000 feet, the construction of these four 11th-century Cathar castles is quite a sight to behold. Walk in the footsteps of the lords of Cabaret, the former occupants of these remarkable structures, and take in the same views they enjoyed a thousand years ago. How to get there: A walk with your Trip Experience Leader, or a 30-minute taxi ride, about $20 USD one way. Hours: 10am-5pm, March; 10am-6pm, April; 9am-8pm, July-August. Cost: About $9 USD. Travel back in time at the School Museum: Featuring classroom resources from the 1880s to the 1960s, the School Museum is composed of five rooms, all containing items such as early projectors, antique desks, and dip pens. Learn about the French education system, and see what everyday life is like for French students. How to get there: A 10-minute taxi ride, about $5 USD one way. Hours: 10am-6pm, February-October. Cost: About $3.50 USD. Glimpse the dark side of the Middle Ages at The Museum of Inquisition: Learn about the prevalence of religious persecution during this period, and observe the tools and methods in which victims were tortured. The museum exists to denounce intolerance and fanaticism. How to get there: A 10-minute taxi ride, about $5 USD one way. Hours: 10am-6pm, September-June; 10am-8pm, July-August. Cost: About $11 USD. DAY 10 Carcassonne • Optional Toulouse tour Destination: Carcassonne Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel Le Donjon or similar
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 7am.
Morning: Enjoy a day at leisure in Carcassonne. Perhaps you'll enjoy a canal du midi boat trip or simply stroll the medieval cité and peruse the local shops and cafés.
Or, join our optional excursion to Toulouse, France's fourth-largest city and the capital of the southwestern Occitanie region.
Around 10am, we'll board our motorcoach for the drive of a little over an hour to Toulouse—also known as "La Ville Rose" ("The Pink City") for the terracotta-hued bricks used in many of its buildings. Upon arrival around 11:15am, we'll make our way through Marché Victor Hugo, the heart of Toulouse's gastronomic scene. You'll find stalls selling everything from meat and produce to street food and cheeses. We'll spend time exploring and hunting down culinary delights of the region.
Lunch: On your own today in Carcassonne. If you choose to join the optional tour, a picnic of specialties from the market will be provided.
Afternoon: At leisure in Carcassonne, or if you're on the optional tour, embark on a walking tour of Toulouse around 1pm.
As we stroll the lovely Quartier Vieux (Old Quarter) we'll see many of these rosy buildings firsthand. Our tour will take us past the imposing eleventh-century Basilica of St. Sernin and to the elegant Place du Capitole, lined with Toulouse's city hall and opera house.
When our walking tour concludes at around 2:30pm, you'll have about 1.5 hours of free time to explore more of Toulouse on your own. The city is home to a large university and is known for its friendly, laidback feel, so you are sure to encounter welcoming locals wherever you go.
Those travelers on the Toulouse tour will wrap up their discoveries around 3pm and make their way back to the hotel, arriving around 4:45pm. Take a couple of hours to relax before all travelers reunite for dinner after our day of discoveries.
Dinner: At a local restaurant around 6:45pm, featuring traditional French fare.
Evening: Free for you to make your own discoveries. You may choose to join your fellow travelers for a nightcap in the hotel bar.
DAY 11 Carcassonne • A Day in the Life of a French wine domaine OPTIONAL TOUR Destination: Carcassonne Meals included: B L Accommodations: Hotel Le Donjon or similar
Exclusive O.A.T. Activity: Today's discoveries feature A Day in the Life experience with a local winemaker, where we'll immerse ourselves in the time-honored traditions of a French vintners. Read more about this experience below.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 6:45am.
Morning: We’ll board a bus around 8:45am and begin our 15-minute drive to Pennautier, a village with just 2,500 residents. Our destination is Chateau Auzias, a boutique domaine (wine-producing territory) where we’ll enjoy a NEW A Day in the Life experience with local winemaker.
Upon arrival around 9am, we’ll be greeted by our community leader for the day: Bastien Perrenoud. Bastien hails from a family of French wine producers. He grew up in the vineyards of Burgundy before traveling to Chile and Argentina as a young man to study new wine-making techniques. While living and working in South America, he met his wife, Polly. Now in his mid-30s, Bastien was hired by the owners of Chateau Auzias to manage the domaine with a focus on sustainability. He now lives there full-time with Polly and their two young children.
The domaine spans almost 400 acres; we’ll tour a small portion of it with Bastien as he tells us more about the area and the wines that are produced here. Chateau Auzias is located in the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Unlike Burgundy and Bordeaux, which attract thousands of tourists annually with their big-name chateaux and high-dollar vintages, Languedoc is a true hidden gem. As the largest and most prolific wine producing region in France, Languedoc was once better known for its high quantity than its high quality. But in the 1990s, the region's bulk-bin reputation begin to shift when boutique wine-makers started to focus on capturing Languedoc's diverse terroir. While the region is still responsible for more than one-third of France's wine exports, it is also a haven for passionate producers like Bastien who are obsessed with authenticity. When in-the-know locals are thirsty for a glass of something exciting and full of character, they turn to Languedoc.
A number of varietals are produced in the region, but Chateau Auzias is focused on popularizing Cabardès. After learning about the domaine and Bastien’s specialized techniques, we’ll put our knowledge to the test in the vineyards. Depending on the season, we may help cut the grapes from the vines, tend to the soil, or assist with upkeep. If you’re not a natural-born vintner like Bastien, you might opt to sip a glass of wine and take in the rustic beauty of our surroundings instead.
Lunch: With the help of Bastien and other members of the community, we’ll begin preparing our grillade vigneronne (winemaker’s grill) around 12:45pm. This convivial meal is typical of the harvest season, when workers gather to celebrate a successful day in the vineyards. We’ll enjoy a similarly lively atmosphere as we dine on fresh produce and locally produced meat and indulge in wine from Chateau Auzias.
Afternoon: After lunch concludes around 2:30pm, we’ll return to the domaine to complete our education in viticulture. Working as a group, we’ll create our own special wine blend to take home. Our visit to the domaine concludes around 5pm. After returning to the hotel at approximately 5:15pm, the remainder of the afternoon is yours.
Dinner: On your own; ask your Trip Experience Leader to recommend options for local fare or a taste of home.
Evening: Free for you to make your own discoveries. You may choose to join your fellow travelers for a nightcap in the hotel bar.
Mediterranean Discovery - $170/person
Our full-day tour to charming Collioure takes you to discover France's Mediterranean (and Catalan-influenced) southern coast. We'll begin our day with a walking tour through Colloiure to see the town's highlights: the Château Royal, an imposing 800-year-old stone fortress, and the Quartier du Mouré, a neighborhood home to both local fisherman and upscale boutiques and art galleries. Collioure's ties to fine art are deep: Henri Matisse, André Derain, and Picasso, to name a few, spent time here to observe the town's coastal light. Our walking tour will conclude at an anchovy workshop, where you'll learn about a fishing tradition in Collioure that stretches back for centuries. At this family-owned shop, you'll see how anchovies are preserved and salted using traditional methods passed down through generations. After lunch on your own and some free time to explore, we'll return to Carcassone late this afternoon.
DAY 12 Visit Roman theater at Orange • Overland transfer to Lyon Destination: Lyon Meals included: B L Accommodations: Hotel Le Roosevelt or similar
Activity Note: This will be a lengthy travel day, with about a 7-hour bus ride and a stop in Orange on our way to Lyon.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 7:30am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: We'll check out of our hotel and board our bus around 8am to begin our overland transfer to Lyon. To break up our journey, we will stop in Orange for lunch and a visit to its ancient Roman theater. On our way to Orange, our Trip Experience Leader will talk about the Gallo-Roman period, as the town is home to a triumphal arch to honor the Roman Emperor Augustus in addition to Europe's best preserved Roman theater. First, we'll take a stroll through Orange's historic heart, which has the feel of a Provencal village, to enjoy our lunch.
Lunch: At 12:45pm in a local restaurant in Orange, featuring typical French cuisine.
Afternoon: After our lunch, we'll walk over to the Roman theater. Like the arch, it was built during the reign of Augustus in the 1st century AD, and could comfortably seat some 10,000 people to watch plays. The venue is still used to host an annual summer music and opera festival and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our small group will reconvene around 2:45pm to continue our transfer to Lyon, our home for the next three nights. When we arrive, around 5:30pm, we'll check into our hotel and receive our room assignments. Our hotel should be situated near the Place de la Republique in Lyon's city center. Each of the hotel's rooms will typically offer air conditioning, wireless Internet, a minibar, and an en suite bathroom. We can freshen up before meeting our Trip Experience Leader around 6:30pm for a brief orientation walk around the hotel's vicinity, during which he or she will point out nearby places of interest like the local market and ATM.
Dinner: On your own. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for the best Lyonnaise fare in the area. Known as a food capital of France (as you'll see during your tasting tour tomorrow), Lyon is full of gastronomical wonders. Perhaps you'll try soupe à l'oignon Lyonnaise, which is known internationally as "French onion soup" but was, in fact, first created in Lyon.
Evening: Free for your own discoveries. Perhaps you will explore the city during a nighttime stroll, or join fellow travelers in the hotel bar for a nightcap.
Freedom to Explore
Make the most of your explorations in Lyon on these off-the-beaten path activities. These recommendations are designed by our team of local experts with women travelers in mind.
Find solace in Parc de la Tête d'Or: With an area of 290 acres, this expansive green haven is the largest urban park in France. Mingle with locals while you explore the on-site zoo, lake, and numerous botanical gardens. How to get there: A 15-minute taxi ride, about $15 USD one way. Hours: 6:30am-10:30pm, April-October. Cost: Free. Discover the city from a different perspective on Le Vaporetto: This is a regular shuttle service that takes you along the Saône on a pleasant 30-minute boat ride that takes you from Old Lyon and its Renaissance facades to the cutting-edge architecture of the Confluence district. How to get there: About a 20-minute walk to Quai de Bondy Vaporetto stop Hours: Departs hourly, March-November, Saturday-Sunday; April-June, Wednesday-Sunday Cost: About $6 USD Have a good old time on Rue Auguste Comte: If you like browsing for antiques, rue August Comte in the 2nd arrondissment is internationally known for its antique shops. While not as many as in years past, the district still thrives with elegant shops specializing in antiques of all kinds, including musical instruments, art and photographs, gilded wood furnishings, and much more. How to get there: Metro ride to Rue Auguste Comte, about $4 USD. Hours: Vary by store. Cost: Free. DAY 13 Lyon • Local foods of Lyon tour Destination: Lyon Meals included: B L D Accommodations: Hotel Le Roosevelt or similar
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Lyon is known as France's culinary capital, so it is only fitting that we explore this delightful city through our stomachs. Around 9am, we'll embark on a 3-hour walking tour featuring samples of typical Lyonnaise fare with a local guide. Depending on where you stop on your tour, you'll be treated to a variety of sweet and savory options, including many varieties and preparations of saucisson (sausage). The city also has the good fortune of being surrounded by some of France's best wine-growing regions. Pair your nibbles with a glass of wine from the nearby Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône regions for a culinary match made in heaven.
Lunch: There's no better or more authentic way to experience Lyonnaise cuisine than a bouchon, so our food tour also includes a visit to one these convivial eateries that focus on simple, rich dishes using quality ingredients in a family-like atmosphere. We'll meet with the owner and learn a little history of bouchons in Lyon, which are a centuries-old Lyonnaise tradition, rooted in local workers seeking out warm, home-cooked meals in a friendly setting.
Afternoon: Free for you to make your own discoveries. Lyon stretches across two rivers—the Rhône and the Saône; strolling across the many elegant bridges that connect the city's banks is a great way to see the sights (and walk off the rich food). You might also like to visit the newly-opened Musée des Confluences, which is nestled at the very spot where the two rivers converge. The museum's futuristic exterior is a worthy attraction on its own, but the exhibits it houses—thematically organized around the Earth, eternity, societies, and species—are fantastically thought-provoking.
We'll reconvene with our travelers and Trip Experience Leader just before 7pm for dinner.
Dinner: Included at a local restaurant around 7pm.
Evening: Free. Ask your Trip Experience Leader for suggestions, or take an evening stroll to see the city's many monuments lit up.
DAY 14 Lyon "capital of the Resistance" walking tour Destination: Lyon Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel Le Roosevelt or similar
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 6:30am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: During the Second World War, Lyon played such a key role in the liberation of France from Nazi occupation, it was labeled "capital of the Resistance." Around 9am, we'll set off on a two-hour walking tour of the historic sites associated with the French resistance during Lyon's dark days of occupation and deportation. During our walk, you'll learn about some of the key figures and heroes of the period, like Resistance leader Jean Moulin; see where Resistance fighters gathered and where round-ups took place; and stroll through Lyon's traboules, the small, secret passageways used by Resistance fighters to escape the Gestapo and continue their clandestine battle for a free France.
Lunch: On your own at around noon. You can ask your Trip Experience Leader for dining options in the area.
Afternoon: Beginning at around 1:15pm, you have free time to explore Lyon on your own. Perhaps you'd like to enjoy the natural beauty and green spaces of Parc de la Tête d'Or, France's largest urban park. We'll meet up again in the lobby shortly before 7pm and walk to a nearby restaurant.
Dinner: Around 7pm in a local restaurant, featuring local specialties.
Evening: Free to do as you'd like for your last night in Lyon. For an after-dinner treat, you might like to seek out a tarte aux pralines (praline tart), a popular Lyonnaise dessert.
DAY 15 Transfer to Paris via high-speed train • Le Marais tour • Optional Evening Paris panoramic tour Destination: Paris Meals included: B Accommodations: Hotel Panache or similar
Activity Note: Luggage will be transferred from our hotel in Lyon to our hotel in Paris by special vendor. You will not have access to your luggage until we reach our Paris hotel. Timing throughout this day may vary due to train schedule and availability.
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: We'll check out of our hotel around 9am and drive about 30 minutes by bus to the Lyon train station. Here, we'll board a TGV—a high-speed French that can travel at speeds up to 200 miles per hour—to Paris. The TGV is the first high-speed train of its kind: It connects all of France's major arteries, and is even said to have inspired the Japanese shinkansen, or bullet train. Relax as you watch the French countryside whiz by through the window, and perhaps mingle with French locals onboard.
Lunch: On your own. Sandwiches and salads are available for purchase on the train.
Afternoon: We should arrive at Paris's Gare de Lyon station by about 12:30pm. Then, we'll take the Metro to Le Marais, where we'll set off on a one-hour walking tour along the cobblestone streets of this historic district in the heart of Paris. Originally built on marshland (‘marais’ in French), Le Marais is now home to an eclectic mix of trendy boutiques and elegant 17th-century private mansions. Then, at about 2pm, we'll walk over to the Place des Vosges, one of the oldest squares in Paris, for a visit to a Macaron Workshop. Here, one of the young French pastry chefs will assist us in creating these famous sweet Parisian delicacies with their rounded shells.
At about 4:30pm, we'll take the Metro to Place de la République, and have a brief vicinity walk on the way to our hotel, where you'll receive your room assignment and have some time to settle in. Typical rooms include wireless Internet access, TV, mini fridge, and private bath with hair dryer.
Dinner: On your own. Consider visiting a classic neighborhood bistro to dine on a quintessential Paris meal like steak-frites (steak and fries).
Evening: Free for to continue exploring Paris on your own. Or you can join an optional "Evening panoramic Paris tour," which will transport you past many of the city's most postcard-worthy sites—the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées and more. We'll also make a photo stop with a glass of sparkling wine before returning to our hotel by about 10:15pm.
Freedom to Explore
Make the most of your explorations in Paris on these off-the-beaten path activities. These recommendations are designed by our team of local experts with women travelers in mind.
Discover the hidden art world at 59 Rue de Rivoli: This is a wonderful opportunity to view contemporary art hidden in plain sight. In 1999 a collective of artists broke into this then-abandoned building and squatted here, spending the next several years fighting eviction with the support of the local art community. Now legalized by the city, it is home to some 20 permanent artists and their works. Known for its parties, exhibitions, and performances, as you walk through its six floors, you will be sure to notice the colorfully decorated stairwell walls. Visitors are free to walk through the studios and talk to the artists about their work in an eclectic mix of styles. There are also works on display in the ground floor gallery. How to go there: Metro ride to 59 Rue de Rivoli, about $4 USD Hours: 1pm-8pm, Tuesday-Sunday Cost: Free Wander the 62-acre gardens of Jardin du Luxembourg: Commissioned by Queen Marie de' Medici in 1612, the grounds feature a delightful mix of expertly-pruned greenery, impressive fountains, historical statues, a palace, an apple orchard, an apiary, and a number of flower gardens. Watch children sail wooden boats on the octagonal Grand Bassin pond while you take in the fresh garden air and witness hundreds of years of traditions. How to get there: A 15- to 20-minute taxi ride, about $25 USD one way. Hours: 8:15am-4:30pm, varies by season. Cost: Free. Come in out of the rain at Passages Couverts: The weather doesn't have to be inclement for you to visit one of the many shopping arcades that date back to the 19th century and criss-cross the center of Paris. The best known are Passage des Panoramas, Verdeau, and Joffrey. You can casually discover many quaint and unusual boutiques that offer rare books, coin and stamp collections, as well as clothes, and other items. At Le Bonheur des Dames, 8 passage Verdeau, you will find a unique shop specializing in embroidery with a large selection and some very interesting souvenirs. The owner, Nadine, and her assistants all speak English. And if you are exhausted from shopping, stop at Culottée Café, 26, galerie Montmartre, for a pleasant lunch. The name "Culottée" translates as "Gutsy," which is what the family of the proprietor, Marie-Helene, said to her when she told them she was quitting her full-time job to open a restaurant! How to get there: by Metro, about $4; or by taxi, about $12-17 USD, one way Hours: Vary by store, but generally 10am-6pm, Monday-Saturday, noon-6pm, Sunday Cost: Lunch at café, about $14 USD DAY 16 Explore Paris Destination: Paris Meals included: B D Accommodations: Hotel Panache or similar
Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning at 7am, featuring French and American options.
Morning: Around 9am this morning, we’ll meet in the lobby of our hotel and then hop on the Metro to enjoy a discovery walk through one of your Trip Experience Leader's favorite districts in Paris. After our walk, you'll have some free time here to explore this hidden gem on your own.
Lunch: On your own, whenever you'd like. If the day is nice, you might choose to picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower's watchful eye on the Champ de Mars.
Afternoon: The rest of the day is yours to explore Paris on your own. Everyone has their own vision of a perfect day in Paris—so enjoy a free day in the iconic capital to bring your vision to life. Maybe you'll stroll along the Left Bank, admiring the architecture and savoring the smell of freshly-baked croissants wafting out of boulangeries. Spend the day taking in masterpieces from the Renaissance to the 20th century and beyond at one of Paris's many world-class art museums. Or go antique shopping in the Marais, an upscale neighborhood known for its sophisticated denizens and shopping. Today, Paris is your oyster.
Dinner: At a local restaurant around 7pm. Our small group will enjoy a Farewell Dinner featuring regional specialties and, of course, French wine to toast to the discoveries we've made and experiences we've shared.
Evening: Spend your last night in Paris as you wish. Take an evening stroll to see the city's monuments lit up, or join your fellow travelers at the hotel bar for one final nightcap as you discuss highlights and favorite memories from your adventure.
DAY 17 Return to U.S. or begin post-trip extension Meals included: B Breakfast: Served buffet-style at the hotel beginning around 8:30am, with French and American options.
Morning: Depending on your specific flight arrangements, you will transfer to the airport sometime this morning for your flight home. Travelers taking our A Taste of Basque Country: Bilbao, Guernica & Beyond post-trip extensions will fly to Bilbao this morning.