La Grande France Tour

16 days from $7,389 pp twin share

  • Leisurely 3 night stays
  • Small group size with a maximum of 28 travellers
  • Genuinely inclusive, no additional on tour costs
  • Character hotels in superb locations
  • Designed for Australians & New Zealanders
  • Guaranteed group departures

Tour Overview

Five of France’s seductive regions… the graceful châteaux of the Loire Valley, the glorious Dordogne, the land of the Cathars in the Languedoc Roussillon, to ancient Provence and the stunning Côte d’Azur. Wonderful experiences…the Canal du Midi, the incredible caves of Gouffre de Padirac and afternoon tea in Rothschild’s luxuriant Villa Ephrussi.

 

Highlights

  • Stay 3 nights amongst the glorious chateaux of the Loire Valley, see mighty Chambord and visit elegant Chenonceau, the incredible Gardens of Villandry, Fontevraud Abbey and Da Vinci’s Clos de Luce 
  • Explore Amboise and Chinon, and visit the Palaeolithic rock paintings on the ccave site of Lascaux II and tragic Oradour-sur-Glane   
  • In the Dordogne, stay 3 nights in perfectly preserved Sarlat-la-Caneda, visit La Roque Gageac, cruise on the river Dordogne, explore ancient Rocamadour  and visit the incredible caves of Gouffre de Padirac  
  • Sleep for 3 nights in le Château des Ducs de Joyeuse in the Cathar countryside of Languedoc Roussillon, play pétanque, enjoy a wine tasting in the Chateau’s ancient chapel, visit Carcassonne, beautifully preserved Mirepoix  and intriguing Rennes-le-Chateau, and Castelnaudary before cruising down the Canal Du Midi
  • Stay 3 nights in Provence, relax in ancient Nimes, visit Aigues-Mortes set in the salt pans of the Camargue, Avignon and the Roman Pont du Gard, experience the Carriere des Lumiere sound and light show in Les Baux and enjoy dinner in St Remy
  • Visit the pretty harbour town of Cassis and enjoy a dramatic Calanques coastal cruise
  • Relax over 3 nights in the Cote d’Azur, explore Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo, plus visit a perfumery in Grasse
  • Visit exclusive Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat, enjoy afternoon tea in Villa Ephrussi – home of the Rothschild family, plus experience a farewell dinner in the artisan village of Saint Paul de Vence  
 
 
The La Grande France Tour is just one of many you can enjoy in France. Visit each destination page for more information for our other amazing tours! 

 

Message from the Mo

Don't just tick the big boxes

Too many people go to France and just ‘tick off’ the major sights. With limited time they brush the surface, and miss so many incredible sights. This totally unique tour captures the essence and vibrancy of five incredibly evocative French regions…. regions littered with wonderfully preserved cities and villages, incredible sites, and a proud heritage of culture, food and wine. That is why I designed this tour with necessary 3 night stops everywhere, plus I threw in a 2 nights stop in a 500 year old ‘chateau castle’ just for good measure!

Naturally I needed to ensure we have ample time in the famous cities and towns… but I also really wanted to seek out those other activities and sights, famous or not, which exude so much of that essence and style that has made these regions world famous.  For instance, have you heard of the ‘ghost city’ of Oradour-sur-Glane or the awesome caves of Gouffre de Padirac?  What about the picturesque fishing village of Cassis, on the Cote d’Azur, beside the stunning fjord like Calanques where we enjoy a morning cruise? Why would you bypass the Canal du Midi or the magnificent Villa Ephrussi, with its treasures and gorgeous gardens all set on a spectacular rocky headland over the Azure Coast. Really, how could you?

If you don’t take in these other, so special, visits, then you haven’t seen ‘La Grande France’. I say they are a ‘must’ as they are what Albatross travellers love so much.  At Albatross, we don’t just touch on regions, we explore them!
 

Tour Itinerary

Day 1: Paris to Tours in the Loire Valley

Your tour commences mid-morning in central Paris. After meeting your Tour Manager we board our coach and make 
our way south-west to the verdant Loire Valley where, during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Kings of France and their courtiers created their grand holiday palaces. What better way to be introduced to the wonderful Loire Valley than our afternoon stop at Chambord to view the magnificent château. This enormous château was created by King Francois I as a hunting lodge within the surrounding grounds, which consisted of over 5000 wooded hectares. Later we continue to our hotel in the centre of Tours where we spend the next three wonderful nights. This evening we enjoy a welcome drink before dinner in our hotel. 
 

 

Meals:
D
Hotel:
Clarion Hotel Château Belmont

Day 2: Tours in the Loire Valley

This morning we enjoy a visit to the magnificent Château Chenonceau, spanning the River Cher on a series of graceful arches. Possibly one of the most photographed of the Loire châteaux this was the former home of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Explore the stunning gardens and interior of the château. Later we stop to explore the charming riverside town of Amboise, on the banks of the River Loire, with its Royal Palace, where Leonardo da Vinci once lived as a guest of King Francois I. We have included a visit to da Vinci’s residence – Château du Clos Lucé. Here in the underground rooms you will see on display, forty machines designed by this amazing inventor. This evening will be free in the old town of Tours around Place Plumereau, to discover your own provincial bistro for dinner. 

 

Meals:
B

Day 3: Tours in the Loire Valley

Our first stop of the day will be to visit the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud. Built nearly 1000 years ago, this is the largest abbey in Western Europe. The romanesque abbey church with its royal tombs and the renaissance cloister, have all been beautifully restored and the complex is now a museum and cultural centre. Lunchtime will be spent exploring Chinon, with its massive castle looming over the narrow cobbled streets of this riverside town. In the afternoon we will visit the gardens of Château Villandry. Inspired by the classic gardens of the 16th and 18th century, different levels of the gardens include ponds, topiary, ornamental hedges and an extraordinary kitchen garden covering 12,500 square metres. Dinner tonight is in a local restaurant. 

Meals:
B
D

Day 4: Sarlat La Caneda in the Dordogne

This morning we make a poignant visit to the ‘ghost village’ of Oradour-sur-Glane. In June 1944, without apparent provocation, soldiers from the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division massacred all the inhabitants of this quiet, little village. The village was then destroyed. The village was never rebuilt and has been preserved as a memorial to this awful atrocity. We have included entrance with audio guides to the museum ‘Centre de la memoire d’Oradour’. Later we will continue to Lascaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its magnificent Palaeolithic cave paintings. Whilst the actual caves themselves are now closed to the public, we visit the nearby Lascaux II museum to see the superb replicas of the cave paintings found in the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery. As a finalé, we continue to the Dordogne Valley with its sleepy villages, medieval châteaux, meandering rivers and lush landscape that so epitomises French rural life. We stay the next three nights in the perfectly preserved Sarlat la Canéda, one of the most stunning towns in France. 
 
Meals:
B
D
Hotel:
Hotel de Selves

Day 5: Sarlat La Caneda in the Dordogne

A guide joins us for the whole day. First we explore the medieval, architectural time capsule village of Sarlat. Noted for its gourmet food, cheeses, Pâté and foie gras, Sarlat is also famous for its beautifully preserved old town with its café filled squares and delightful stone alleyways. In the afternoon we will drive to the nearby village of La Roc Gageac, set beside the pretty Dordogne River. Here we will board a barge and drift slowly down the River Dordogne past medieval castles. Later we visit the incredibly picturesque village of Domme. We have included a ride on the petit train up through the ramparts to the town square. You will have time at leisure to explore the sleepy village and enjoy the sweeping views across the Dordogne Valley. 

Meals:
B

Day 6: Sarlat La Caneda in the Dordogne

This morning we will visit the ‘pilgrimage town’ of Rocamadour. Incredibly picturesque, this town sits on a tributary of the Dordogne. High above the old town are churches and monastic buildings, whilst below is an old town dating back centuries, and which once welcomed those on the ‘Pilgrims Trail’. In the afternoon we change our focus from man’s creations to that of nature, as we enjoy a guided visit through the astounding caves of the ‘Gouffre de Padirac’. This 25 kilometre underground system boasts massive galleries and chambers. A visual feast and beautifully lit, we also experience a 500 metre boat ride inside the caves to emerge into the spectacular ‘Grand Dome’. Tonight, in Sarlat, we enjoy dinner in local restaurant. 
 
Meals:
B
D
Gouffre de Padirac
The astounding caves of the ‘Gouffre de Padirac ’are a natural wonder. Located in France’s Lot region the site is the most visited in the area. You descend 75 metres into a chasm, you can do it by elevator or by foot. From there you board a boat to follow a subterranean river for 500 metres through spectacular vaulted caves such as the Lac de la Pluie (lake of rain) where a 60 metre stalactite hangs from the ceiling, and the spectacular ‘Grand Dome’. Visually stunning, the extraordinary rock formations and vast rock galleries are beautifully lit. What an experience! 
 

Day 7: Chateau des ducs de Joyeuse in Couiza

Driving south we reach the town of Castelnaudary. After time to explore the picturesque old town, we then board a canal boat to enjoy an afternoon cruise down the famous Canal du Midi. Time to sit back and relax as we gently cruise along this age old canal past villages and through picturesque lines of trees. We now enter the land of the Cathars, in the lovely Languedoc Roussillon region. Here, in the village of Couiza 
we stay three nights in the wonderful 16th century, castle style, Château des Ducs de Joyeuse. Dinner is included in your château.
 
Meals:
B
D
Hotel:
Château des Ducs de Joyeuse

Day 8: Chateau des ducs de Joyeuse in Couiza

This morning we are joined by a local guide as we explore the ramparts and old town of Carcassonne. This medieval castle, with its gigantic double walled fortifications and 53 watchtowers, is the 2nd most visited site in France outside of Paris. Dating back to the 13th century, Carcassonne is an extraordinary timepiece and after our guided tour we have quality time to explore this magnificent castle city.  Mid-afternoon we return to our château hotel to relax and enjoy our delightful surroundings. Here we can try our hand at Pétanque (Boules), the traditional French village sport. Playing Pétanque in front of our 500 year old château – this is the real France at its very best! Dinner tonight will be in the village at the traditional bistro, Le Carnotzet.

Meals:
B
D

Day 9: Château des Ducs de Joyeuse in Couiza

A leisurely start today as we head across the vine covered hills to enjoy lunchtime in the perfectly preserved time capsule of Mirepoix. Without doubt this is one of the most beautiful medieval town squares in Europe, with its colourfully painted, half-timbered houses that date back to between the 13th and 15th centuries. Sitting atop centuries old wooden rafters carved at the ends with monsters, animals and gargoyles, these rows of shuttered houses provide shady covered walkways for cafés and shops.  In the afternoon we will visit the Bérenger Saunière Museum and Domain in the nearby hilltop village of Rennes-le-Château. This village and its church are famous for so many conspiracy theories surrounding the treasures of the Knights Templars, the secret location of the Holy Grail and even the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Early evening we will assemble in our Château’s old vaulted chapel to enjoy a tasting of the excellent local wines, before dinner.
 
Meals:
B
D

Day 10: Nimes in Provence

This morning we take a scenic drive past the dramatic, mountain perched, ruined Cathar castles of Puilaurens and Quéribus and then on to the outskirts of Béziers where we stop to marvel at the Ecluses de Fonserannes, a unique staircase of locks on the Canal du Midi. Created in the mid 19th century, and still working perfectly, these 7 wooden locks stretch over 300 metres and raise the leisure boats and cruisers up over 21 metres. An extraordinary engineering feat! Later we will drive into the famous Camargue region and enjoy a visit to Aigues-Mortes. The 13th century walls of this historical town form a striking contrast to the vast salines (salt flats) that encircle it. Take the chance to climb the ramparts and walk around the city. Later we continue to delightful Nimes where we stay three nights.
Meals:
B
D
Hotel:
Hotel Imperator

Day 11: Nimes in Provence

On our way to Avignon this morning, we have included a visit to walk across the spectacular Pont du Gard – an imposing 2000 year old Roman aqueduct which was built with giant stones weighing up to six tonnes. In a beautiful setting, this remarkable structure spans 200 metres between the craggy hillsides of the River Gard. We then visit the Papal City of Avignon for lunchtime. Your time is free to explore this historic town on the banks of the River Rhône, with its grand central square. Returning to Nimes mid afternoon, a local guide will join us for a walking tour of this remarkable city. Dating back to the bronze age, the central part is traffic free and right in the middle you will find the Maison Carrée Roman temple, and the giant Arena of Nimes – the best preserved amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. Your evening is free to discover your own little restaurant or bistro in Nimes old town. 
 
Meals:
B

Day 12: Nimes in Provence 

A leisurely morning in Nimes. Do as much or as little as you wish. Mid afternoon we journey to the crumbling castle and once deserted village of Les Baux to discover the craft shops and cafés scattered throughout the ruins. Set on the craggy hillside, this rejuvenated town is an extraordinary sight. We have also included entrance to enjoy a stunning audio visual art show – the Carriere des Lumiere. Inside an abandoned quarry you will have a totally unique sound and vision experience as classic works of art are projected as massive frescos all around you, onto the walls and ceilings. We then continue to the romantic town of St Remy to explore and enjoy a special Provencal dinner in a local restaurant.

Meals:
B
D

Day 13: Nice on the Cote d'Azur

First stop today will be in the old fishing village of Cassis, on the Côte d’Azur. From here we enjoy a morning cruise to explore some of the incredibly picturesque Calanques. These rugged inlets with steep cliffs tumbling into the crystal clear, azure waters are best viewed by boat. Lunchtime will be at leisure in the picturesque harbour of Cassis. Later we continue to Nice, nicknamed the ‘Queen of the Riviera’, where we stay the next three nights. Dinner tonight is included in the hotel’s beachfront local restaurant. 
 

 

Meals:
B
D
Hotel:
Hotel Beau Rivage
Calanques Cruise, Cote D' Azur

If the UNESCO World Heritage Organisation think the ‘Calanques’ are notable and worth eternal preservation then we reckon you should see them. These deep rugged inlets cover a length of 20 kms and a depth of up to 4 kms along the coast between Cassis and Marseille. Roots of plants and bushes are anchored into colourful rock faces, which tumble down into the crystal clear azure blue waters. Perfect for our spectacular afternoon cruise on the Côte d’Azur! Uniquely Albatross.

Day 14: Nice on the Cote d'Azur

First stop this morning will be in the hill town of Grasse where we will enjoy a visit to a local perfumery. Then, dropping down to the coast, we will stop in the extravagant sea-side resort of Cannes. Famous for its movie stars and the Cannes Film Festival, we have time to explore the old port town and ‘La Croisette’ – the seafront promenade lined with palm trees, up market boutiques, cafés and grand hotels. Late afternoon we have also included an excursion to Monaco. Following the scenic drive along the ‘Moyenne Corniche’ to the city of Monte Carlo we will see the Royal Palace before time in the old town to enjoy dinner at leisure.

Meals:
B
D

Day 15: Nice on the Cote d'Azur

Your morning is entirely free in the elegant resort town of Nice. Take time to stroll and shop amongst the winding streets and perhaps enjoy lunch in one of the attractive seaside restaurants. Nice also boasts a number of art museums. Make sure you visit the wonderful fresh food, local produce and flower markets which are amongst the best in France! In the afternoon we will visit Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat and the fabulous Villa Ephrussi – home of the Rothschild family. We have included a tour through this exceptional villa, perhaps the grandest on the Côte d’Azur, to see Béatrice Ephrussi’s grand apartments, tapestry and porcelain collections, and the magnificent gardens. We have also included afternoon tea in the restaurant, which boasts enormous views along the Azure Coast. As a finalé, we will drive in to the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes to the old town of St Paul de Vence. With its imposing ramparts, overlooking the Provençal countryside, the wonderful natural light attracted an artists’ colony. Soon they were followed by film directors and movie stars, then galleries and shops. We enjoy a farewell dinner in a local restaurant.

Meals:
B

Day 16: Nice on the Cote d'Azur

Your tour ends today after breakfast.  

Meals:
B

Incredible Value Inclusions

  • Fully escorted by our experienced Tour Manager
  • Travel in a first class air-conditioned touring coach
  • 15 nights specially selected hotel accommodation
  • Hotel porterage (1 bag per person)
  • Breakfast daily 
  • 11 dinners including welcome dinner, and 6 local restaurant dinners in Loire Valley, Dordogne, Couiza, St Remy, Nice and farewell dinner in St Paul de Vence 
  • Welcome drink Loire Valley
  • All excursions, scenic drives, sightseeing and entrances as described
  • Special Highlights - barge cruise Dordogne, cruises Canal du Midi and the Calanques, Villa Ephrussi afternoon tea
  • Local guides as described in the itinerary
  • Personal audio system whilst on tour
  • Albatross travel app
  • Free WiFi available on most coaches and at hotels
  • End of tour tips to Tour Manager and Driver, tips for local guides

Your Hotels

Clarion Hotel, Chateau Belmont

Clarion Hotel Château Belmont, Loire Valley - 3 nights

Located close to Tours old town, guests are welcomed by a grand building (we would rather not describe it as a château) set in 6 acres of manicured parklands. The hotel features a heated swimming pool, bar, restaurant and all rooms feature modern amenities amongst an elegant design. See www.châteaubelmont.com 

Hotel de Selves , Dordogne - 3 nights

This contemporary 4-star hotel is situated just a ten minute walk from the medieval district. The hotel is set around beautiful gardens, large terraces and a swimming pool, Guest rooms are decorated in a contemporary style and feature high quality services and offer modern comforts. 
 
Chateau des ducs Joyeuse, Couiza

Château des Ducs de Joyeuse, Couiza - 3 nights

 Dating back nearly 500 years this ‘castle château’ was built following the wedding and merging of two prominent families, the Voisin family and the Dukes of Joyeuse. Today it is an elegant castle hotel, with renaissance style furniture and a wonderful central courtyard where you can take breakfast. There is a medieval style restaurant and the old chapel has been turned into a wine cellar.  www.château-des-ducs.com/en

Hotel Imperator, Nimes

Hotel Imperator, Nimes - 3 nights

Set in the centre of Nimes, the Hotel Imperator is located in an art-deco building facing the Jardins de la Fontaine gardens. Perfectly located, the hotel offers modern amenities which you would expect from a 4-star hotel. 

Hotel Massena, Nice

Hotel Beau Rivage, Nice - 3 nights

This 4-star boutique hotel with a contemporary design is centrally located in the Old Town of Nice, just a stone’s throw from the sea and Promenade des Anglais and offers style, quality and warm, friendly service. The air conditioned guest rooms have modern ensuite bathrooms with amenities.

Tour Reviews

A wonderful well - paced holiday with many varied activities. Great group of travellers. Each new destination was an unexpected treasure!

Carolyn

Calanques, France

Tour Rating 5-Star

This tour had all the elements that make a successful holiday. First, the canvas of places and tourist sites we visited were splendid. Second, the people that make up the tour, they were an excellent group. Third, the coach driver, he was a thorough gentleman, good company and above all an excellent driver. Lastly, our Tour Manager was absolutely marvellous and defnitely a 'rare gem'. I have noticed the Albatross difference.

Robert

Chateau Chambord, France

Tour Rating 5-Star

Dates and Prices

Start Date End Date Price Per Person Guaranteed to Depart Availability
7 Jun 2017 22 Jun 2017 AUD $7,389 Sold Out
23 Aug 2017 7 Sep 2017 AUD $7,389 Space Limited - Call Now
13 Sep 2017 28 Sep 2017 AUD $7,389 Space Limited - Call Now
2 May 2018 17 May 2018 Space Available
16 May 2018 31 May 2018 Space Available
13 Jun 2018 28 Jun 2018 Space Available
18 Jul 2018 2 Aug 2018 Space Available
8 Aug 2018 23 Aug 2018 Space Available
22 Aug 2018 6 Sep 2018 Space Available
12 Sep 2018 27 Sep 2018 Space Available

No Additional 'On Tour' Costs

Over $100 value of extras per day are already included. There are no additional 'on tour' costs - even your end of tour tips are included!

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