France has a reputation for being like a haughty older sibling—you know, the smarter, more worldly, more sophisticated one. Though the arrogance of the French may be overstated, they do have good reason to be proud. French intellectual history is revered, the food and wine are legendary, and the art, architectural and fashion traditions have been setting trends for centuries. This is the country of Voltaire and Flaubert, foie gras and Merlot, Watteau and Manet, Chanel and Dior.
Romantic Paris is like a giant museum of French culture masquerading as a city. Streets are lined with beautiful mansions, sidewalk cafes and antique shops, and there seems to be a stunning Gothic church around every corner. Paris is also one of the world’s most refined cities, outfitted with haute couture boutiques, haute cuisine restaurants, and world-class art museums such as the Louvre and the Centre Georges Pompidou. And within a short drive of Paris are major sights such as Chartres Cathedral, Versailles Palace and Giverny, home to Monet’s house and gardens.
The regions of France are surprisingly diverse. Provence is Mediterranean, with ancient hill towns, olive trees, Roman ruins, open-air markets, modern art museums and a mild climate. Normandy looks more to the Atlantic, with the memories of William the Conqueror (as told in the Bayeux Tapestry) and D-Day, as well as half-timbered houses, apple orchards and the island monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel. In the Loire Valley, once the countryside playground of aristocrats, Renaissance chateaux punctuate the forests, fruit trees and white grape vines growing along the Loire River and its tributaries. The Rhone Valley is flavored by the red grape vineyards of Beaujolais and the gastronomy of Lyon. The French Riviera is a landscape of villas and orange groves climbing the steep hills above the rocky beaches that skirt the Mediterranean.
Our luxury France tours are private and highly personalized to individual interests. Our published tours include the urban delights of Paris, the castles of the Loire Valley, Normandy's chic resort towns and humbling war memorials, Lyon and its wonderful restaurants, historic Avignon and favorite Provencal villages, Nice and the glamorous Riviera, and the city of Bordeaux and the nearby wine region. We also recommend incorporating other destinations in France such as Strasbourg (one of France's greatest cities), the Atlantic Coast (Angouleme, La Rochelle, Cognac, Poitiers), Brittany (Nantes, Dinard, La Baule, St. Malo), the Basque Coast (Biarritz, Bayonne), the Champagne region (Amiens, Epernay, Reims), Languedoc-Roussillon province (Nimes, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Albi, Narbonne), the Rhone Country and Beaujolais, the Ardeche and Le Midi region, the Dordogne and Perigord (Cahors, Lascaux and its prehistoric sites, Rocamadour, Montauban, Perigueux for foie gras and truffles), and the Massif central area (Aubusson for tapestries, Limoges for porcelain, and the spa town of Vichy). We are happy to customize tours anywhere in France to suit individual travel interests.
Our tours emphasize the unique regional aspects of French cities and provinces: historical castles and farmhouses in the Loire Valley, Normandy and Brittany; winding alleys of old medieval and renaissance towns; spectacular museums featuring important French and international art collections; and local festivals and markets. Enjoy a variety of dining experiences and venues: quaint bistros and produce markets (for regional delicacies), rustic countryside inns and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Our expert guides in France emphasize regional variations as experienced through the landscapes, history, local arts and crafts, and cuisine. Our travelers experience the very best of France while tailoring each day to their interests.
Parisian neighborhoods (arrondissements) each possess a distinctive history and atmosphere. There are famous attractions (the Eiffel Tower, Hotel des Invalides and Napoleon's Tomb, the Pantheon and Centre Pompidou), historic neighborhoods like Le Marais (the old Jewish quarter), Ile de la Cite, Ile St-Louis (aristocratic mansions and antique shops) and excellent museums like Louvre, Picasso Museum, Carnavalet Museum (highlights Paris's history), the Musee d'Orsay (19th century French arts), Musee Rodin, and Musee Guimet (recommended for Asian art lovers). Visit ornate churches and basilicas (Notre-Dame, Saint Sulpice, Saint Chapelle), stroll through squares (Place des Vosges, Place Vendome) and gardens (Jardin des Tuileries, Bois de Boulogne, Jardin du Trocadero, Luxembourg Gardens). Visit the Latin Quarter (bookstores, the Sorbonne, medieval backstreets, and great boutiques), shop for antiques, browse picturesque streets lined with flower markets and patisseries. Explore colorful quarters like St-Germain and its famed cafes and brasseries. Visit haute couture showrooms and avant-garde designers' studios. Browse for vintage fabrics at flea markets (Vanves, Montreuil and Clignancourt). Discover artisans' ateliers and observe carpenters, gilders and ceramic makers at work. Shop for beautiful antiques under the arcade of the Palais Royal (Louvre des Antiquaires). Shop for porcelain and crystal on rue de Paradis, and for chocolate, teas and other delicacies at gourmet stores such as Fauchon and Laduree. Order custom embroidered linens, and shop for copper pots at noted Parisian housewares stores.
Paris often tends to overshadow its surroundings. Highly recommended excursions from Paris include royal palaces (Versailles, Fontainbleau and its famed forest), the village of Barbizon, riverside Auvers sur Oise (Van Gogh's resting place), romantic Chantilly (for lace, cream and stunning medieval manuscripts) and Chartres (Gothic cathedral and its stained glass windows). Other recommended trips include Reims and the surrounding Champagne region (wine tasting at local estates and cellars). Day trips from Paris can also be organized to Giverny, Rouen, D-Day sites, and the Loire Valley to visit its castles.
Our preferred luxury hotels in Paris include the Hotel Plaza Athenee, Four Seasons Hotel George V, and the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome.
Visitors to the Loire Valley are immersed in the fairytale-like atmosphere of magical castles, beautiful rivers, natural parks and forests, and quaint local villages. Visit some France's most spectacular chateaux (Amboise, Chambord, Blois, Azay-le-Rideau and Chenonceau)-masterful examples of turrets and moats, and gardens of elegant proportions. Visit open air and indoor markets selling some of France's freshest produces and artisanal food specialties (charcuterie, goat cheeses, pates and terrines, forestines (candies) and prunes stuffed with marzipan). Wonder at the sights of majestic cathedrals in the cities of Bourges and Chartres (both UNESCO World Heritage sites). Follow routes in the countryside, visiting wineries and enjoying degustations and tastings. One of the most exciting ways to see the Loire Valley is from a hot air balloon. In the summertime, private excursions (departing from Amboise or Tours), can be arranged. Upon request, we can also arrange for you to attend a workshop at Piverdie, France’s leading floral design school, in Angers.
Normandy is one of France's most charming provinces. Explore landscapes of rolling hills, half timbered houses, and endless beaches and rocky cliffs. Surrounded by historic cities and cultural wealth, listen to the echoes of past battles (the Norman Conquest at Bayeux, Joan of Arc in Rouen, Caen and the D-Day landing beaches). Follow the footsteps of artists. In Giverny, visit Monet's farmhouse and its gardens of water lilies. Explore the remains of a fortified castle (Chateau Gaillard) and dramatic monastic ruins (Jumieges Abbey). On the coast, visit picturesque seaports (Honfleur and Trouville) and the chic resort town of Deauville. In the Pays d'Auge, follow the routes of famous cheeses (Camembert, Livarot, Pont l'Eveque), impossibly delicious butter, and apple-based drinks (cider, Calvados and Pommeau). Taste excellent fish dishes and delicate shellfish (oysters, scallops), poultry, and delicious desserts (tarte tatin, bourdelots). On the border with Brittany, marvel at Mont Saint Michel emerging from the sea. The proximity to the coast makes the climate mild all year around. We suggest that you visit Normandy in spring (April, May) when the apple, pear, and cherry blossoms dot the landscape. Excursions by boat, hot-air balloon or bicycle can also be organized. Day trips from Normandy to the nearby British Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey (medieval hamlets, castles and megalithic tombs) can also be arranged.
Provence and the French Riviera (Cote d'Azur)
Provence-with its rustic stone farmhouses (mas), vineyards, silvery olive groves, lavender and wild herbs-scented hills, wonderful weekly markets, and ancient towns built into mountains-lives up to expectations as one of the most romantic and enjoyable travel destinations in the world. Our tours feauture Provence's most luxurious hotels, many of them Relais & Chateaux properties known for their exceptional cuisine. Tour Roman ruins (Arles, St Remy), medieval cities (Avignon) and cloisters (St-Trophime), hilltop villages in the Luberon Valley (Bonnieux, Lacoste, Menerbes, Gordes and the ocher-colored Roussillon), and wild natural parks (Camargue).Drive around the countryside and explore little villages (Fayence, Tourrettes, Seillans and Mougin), visit markets and shop for regional specialties (cheeses, olives, soaps, ceramics, baskets, and honey), vigorous wines, Provencal fabrics and French countryside antiques. Relax at outdoor cafes and snack on olives while sipping Pastis. Enjoy internationally acclaimed festivals (opera, music and jazz, as well as dance and theater).
On the French Riviera, stay at luxurious hotels with sweeping views over the Mediterranean and close proximity to local hill towns and villages balancing on rocky cliffs. Explore Eze, Vence, Grasse and St. Paul. Walk cobbled streets, visit ancient castles, walk along meadows carpeted with wildflowers, and admire olive groves and pine woods stretching to the shores.
Recommended luxury hotels in Provence include La Mirande, La Bastide de Marie, Oustau de Baumaniere, Four Seasons Provence, Villa Gallici, and Chateaux de la Chevre d'Or.