This tasty collection of French treats begins in the cozy, historic town of Chartres — an easy train ride from Paris. Then, with your expert Rick Steves guide, you'll wind your way south, savoring the perfectly preserved châteaux of the Loire, prehistoric caves and traditional markets of the Dordogne, the medieval city of Carcassonne, the Roman Pont du Gard, and a French Riviera finale in Nice. Great as these sights are, they're just the lyrics — the culture of France provides the melody you'll never forget. Join us for Loire to the South of France in 13 Days.
You'll get all this!
- A small, friendly group of 24-28 people — half the size of most tour groups
- Full-time services of a professional Rick Steves guide and local experts who will make the fascinating history, art and culture of France come alive for you
- All tours and admissions — at no extra cost — covering at least 18 group sightseeing events • Chartres orientation tour • Chartres Cathedral tour • Amboise visit • Chenonceau Château • Villandry Château and Gardens orientation • Loire wine tasting • Oradour-sur-Glane • Rouffignac prehistoric cave tour • Dordogne canoe trip (weather permitting) • Sarlat walking tour • Canal du Midi barge trip (when available) • Carcassonne walking tour • Languedoc wine tasting • Pont du Gard and museum visit • Arles walking tour • Arles museum pass allowing entry to most sights • Les Baux visit • Nice walking tour...and more
- All group transportation from Chartres to Nice
- 12 nights accommodations in memorable, centrally-located hotels
- All breakfasts and half your dinners
- All tips for guides and driver
- Free stuff including Rick Steves' France guidebook, French phrase book, moneybelt and earplugs
- Guaranteed tour price, locked in the moment you make your deposit
- Optional single supplements — this tour has a limited number of private rooms for solo travelers for an additional fee
- Tour alum discount of $50 for each tour you've taken prior to 2014
- 50% discount on a consulting appointment with our in-house experts to assist with your pre- or post-tour travel plans
- Flexibility should you need to transfer, or cancel/interrupt your tour
- Fine print: You are responsible for the cost of your drinks and free-time sightseeing. See our Tour Conditions Agreement for important details regarding everything listed above
Daily Activity Key
- Light = 2-4 miles of mostly level walking throughout the day.
- Moderate = 2-6 miles walking throughout the day with some hills and stairs.
- Strenuous = 2-8 miles walking throughout the day with lots of hills, stairs and uneven terrain.
Day 1: Welcome to Chartres
We'll meet at around 5 p.m. at our hotel for a short bienvenue à Chartres meeting. Then we'll take an orientation walk through our neighborhood, followed by time to get acquainted over dinner together. Sleep in Chartres (2 nights). No bus. Walking: light.
Day 2: Cathedral and Art of Chartres
We'll begin our day with a walking tour of Chartres' pedestrian-friendly, stream-straddling old town. Then we'll be treated to a scholar's tour of the famed Cathedral of Chartres. One of the most impressive structures in all of Europe, it is also home to some of the world's finest medieval stained glass, and the veil of Mary. The rest of your day is free to explore the town, or to learn more about the art of creating stained glass. No bus. Walking: moderate.
Day 3: Amboise, Chenonceau and Chinon
This morning we'll say au revoir to Chartres and drive south to the Loire Valley, the land of a thousand châteaux. You'll have some free time in the charming town of Amboise, where you could visit the home of Leonardo da Vinci (even grab a little lunch there) and study working models of the Renaissance Man's cleverest inventions. This afternoon we'll visit the elegant, river-straddling Château de Chenonceau, where we'll learn about royal life in France, with free time to roam through the château's opulent interior and gardens. We'll continue on to castle-topped Chinon where we'll have dinner together and sleep (2 nights). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 4: Villandry and the Loire
We'll spend our morning visiting the Château de Villandry, famous for its remarkable "themed" gardens, inspired by water, music, love and more. It's a gardener and photographer's dream. Afterward, your guide and driver will take you on a little excursion around the Loire Valley, returning to Chinon in the afternoon. You'll be free for the rest of the day and evening to explore the town's ancient streets, tour the medieval castle or sample the local wines. Bus: 2 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 5: Oradour-sur-Glane and Sarlat
Our destination is the Dordogne, a sublime region of fortified hill towns, caves and meandering streams. We'll have a countryside picnic en route, then stop for a thought-provoking walk through the WWII martyr village of Oradour-sur-Glane — frozen in time as a memorial since June 10, 1944, when its unarmed residents were senselessly gunned down by German troops. Our day will end with dinner together in the quintessential market town of Sarlat, where we'll sleep (3 nights). Bus: 6 hrs. Walking: light.
Day 6: Cave Art and Canoeing
Today begins with a chance to appreciate some of Europe's oldest art: the 13,000-year-old drawings of Rouffignac Cave. We'll hop aboard a subterranean train to marvel at engravings and drawings depicting bison, horses, woolly rhinoceros and...mammoths. There are so many mammoths depicted locals have nicknamed it "the cave of 100 mammoths." This afternoon (weather permitting), we'll canoe down the Dordogne River from Cénac to Beynac, gliding past medieval castles and villages. If the weather is hot, we may even stop for a swim along the way. Bus: 3 hrs. Walking: strenuous.
Day 7: Market Day in Sarlat
Take a vacation from your vacation! You'll have the entire day to savor the colorful weekly market in one of France's most pedestrian-friendly towns. Rub shoulders with local shoppers, sample foie gras and salivate over the famous black truffle as you shop for your fantasy picnic lunch. Today you can make it a tasty reality! Then stretch your legs with a countryside walk. No bus. Walking: light to strenuous (your choice).
Day 8: Medieval Carcassonne
This morning we'll drive south, crossing the scenic valleys of the Lot and Tarn Rivers. At the Canal du Midi we'll transfer to a canal barge (when available) for a floating picnic lunch, and a relaxing taste of the more than 5,000 miles of canals that meander throughout France. Our bus will then whisk us off to Europe's largest fortified city: delightfully medieval Carcassonne. After a walking tour of Carcassonne's fortified old town — La Cité — you'll be free to savor views from the stony ramparts, wander through the cobbled lanes, and maybe sample a steamy bowl of cassoulet with a glass of vin rouge. Sleep in Carcassonne (1 night). Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 9: The Pont du Gard
This morning we'll drive east, stopping at an eco-friendly, family-run vineyard. We'll learn exactly what that entails as we linger for lunch and an educational tasting of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Our next stop is the majestic, astonishingly well-preserved Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. This engineering marvel helped supply millions of gallons of fresh water daily to one of the largest cities in Roman Gaul — 20 centuries ago! We'll visit the aqueduct and its much younger museum. Our day will end in nearby Arles, where we'll have dinner together and sleep (2 nights). Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 10: All day in Arles
We'll start our morning off with a walking tour of Arles. Your local guide will lace together stories of its impressive Roman Arena, Classical Theater and Forum Square — and tales of Vincent van Gogh, who lived and painted in this neighborhood just over a century ago. Your afternoon and evening will be free for making your own discoveries here. Bus 1 hr. Walking: moderate.
Day 11: Les Baux to the French Riviera
This morning we'll drive to the hill town of Les Baux, and enjoy sweeping views of the Provencal countryside from atop the ruins of its medieval citadel. After lunch we'll head for the Riviera. Upon arrival in Nice, we'll check into our hotel before setting out on an orientation walk through the Italian-feeling Old City and seaside promenade. Afterward you'll be set free to explore and enjoy dinner on your own. Sleep in Nice (2 nights). Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 12: Nice
This morning we'll take a walking tour across Nice, starting with the busy Cours Saleya, the city's main market square since the Middle Ages. We'll then follow the narrow streets of the Italianate Old City to the spacious boulevards and shopping promenades of the city's newer side. Here, in the late 19th century, visitors from the north seeking the elixir of warm, fresh sea air, created Europe's first tourism boom. Your afternoon will be free to wander through Nice's beautiful Chagall and Matisse Museums, prowl the promenades, or relax on the famous beach. This evening we'll enjoy a final dinner together, sharing travel memories and toasting new friends. Salut! No bus. Walking: strenuous.
Day 13: Tour Over After Breakfast
For those staying longer, your guide will be happy to send you off in the right direction and help with any trip planning needs. Au revoir et merci!
Itinerary specifics subject to change.
Rick Steves tours are physically active!
This is an integral, essential part of the Rick Steves tour experience. On our Loire to the South of France in 13 Days tour — among other things — you'll need to happily...
- Carry/roll your luggage over uneven pavement (several blocks possible) and up stairways to reach your hotel; then up several flights of stairs to reach your room.
- Be on your feet, walking and standing for up to three hours, indoors and outdoors, in all weather conditions.
- Sleep with street noise and no (or weak) air conditioning.
- After orientation and transportation lessons, be able to navigate towns and cities on your own.
We've put together some specific information on what you should know about this tour before you go. You'll also find more general information about "Getting Ready for Your Tour" on our Tour FAQ.
Sightseeing On Your Own
If you plan to arrive early into Chartres, please be advised that we will be visiting all of the city's major sights as a group. Therefore, you may want to consider spending your pre-tour time in Paris or another European destination. Please see Rick Steves' France guidebook for Paris sightseeing suggestions. If you arrive into Chartres with a few hours to spare before your tour starts, you can get over your jet lag by taking a walk through the medieval city center or try out a few words of French at a local café.
Most tour members arrive a day or two before the tour begins — and those who don't, wish they had. This allows you ample time to get over jet lag and make the most of the first few days of the tour.
There is more than one way to get to and from your tour. We recommend talking to your travel agent about "open jaw" airline tickets (flying into and out of different cities). It's easiest to fly into Paris, a 50-minute train ride to Chartres, and home from Nice. Paris and Nice are transportation hubs, making travel before or after your tour quite easy. Another popular option is to book a roundtrip ticket in and out of Paris and take the train (6 hours) back to Paris on the day the tour ends, spending at least one night in Paris before flying back to the states.
Flying within Europe can be reasonable. Ask your travel agent or check Rick's list of European budget airlines. For links to helpful rail and air websites, go to www.ricksteves.com/plan/links and look under "Transportation."
Read Rick's Guide to Eurail Passes and decide if your travel plans merit a rail pass (or contact our Rail Department for advice at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425/771-8303 ext. 214).
Prior to your tour departure, you will receive detailed directions on how to get from the airport to your first tour hotel, as well as contact information for your first and last hotels in case you wish to book pre- or post-tour hotel accommodations.
If you need more information about additional European travel or for specific questions about your tour, contact the Tour Department at 425/608-4217 or email email@example.com.
See a chart with monthly rain and temperature information for this tour.
While it is important to pack light, there are some items we'd like you to consider including when packing for this tour. While in the region of Dordogne, we will be visiting a pre-historic cave. Regardless of the outside temperature, the average temperature inside the cave is 55°; long pants and long sleeves (or a jacket) are suggested.
For ideas on what to pack, check Rick's Packing List and our Women's Packing List.
Tour Guide Raves
"Rolinka was absolutely exceptional. She was enthusiastic, well-organized, fun, knowledgeable, kind and caring. Her number one priority was to make sure everyone on the tour had a great experience. She went above and beyond every step of the way, arranging things that were not even required by the itinerary. If you happen to have Rolinka as your tour guide in the future, consider yourself very lucky."
— Marshall in Portland, OR
"Arnaud was a wonderful guide. He had a wonderful background in French history and culture. He was entertaining, efficient and accessible and had the most delicious sense of humor. I can't think of anything more to say about him except that he was delightful."
— Suzanne in Albuquerque, NM
Favorite tour memories from recent alums:
"There were so many! The caves at Rouffignac being genuine 13,000-year-old paintings; canoeing down the Dordogne realizing that this was the boundary between England and France during the Hundred Years War and that Beynac (château/fortress) sheltered Richard the Lionhearted; group dinners...so much delicious food, wine and fabulous company; the wine tasting conducted by Loren at Hotel Diderot; the market experiences in Sarlat, Antibes and Nice; the Pont du Gard and accompanying museum; Hotel Dieu where van Gogh was hospitalized in Arles; our tour and meal at the winery, Château des Hospitaliers. The houses built into/out of the limestone cliffs, the French people, the picnics and did I mention the food and wine?"
— Teresa in Redmond, WA
"I couldn't possibly pick just one 'wow' moment. There were several moments that stand out: the lovely gardens at Villandry, the cave paintings at Rouffignac, canoeing down the Dordogne River, Carcassone, the winery tour and lunch and Les Baux."
— Carol in Bellevue, WA
"The valley of the Dordogne River was magical — cave paintings, medieval castles and enchanting villages."
— Barbara in Columbia, SC
To see more comments on Rick Steves' tours, read through our tour member reviews.
Videos & More
This region is rich in history, art and culture. To help you get the most from your trip, we've put together this collection of travel resources from Rick's TV shows, radio interviews and articles, as well as recommended books, films and music.
Rick Steves' TV Clips & Shows
(For more Rick Steves' TV clips on this region, visit Rick on YouTube.)
- La Grande Vadrouille (1966)
- Jean de Florette (1986)
- My Father's Glory (1990)
- Ronin (1998)
- Chocolat (2000)
- La Vie en Rose (2007)
Rick Steves' Radio Interviews
(For more radio interviews on this region, see Rick's Audio Europe™ files for iPod, PC & MP3.)
Rick Steves Audio Europe™
- Pop: Francis Cabrel, Maurice Chevalier, Johnny Hallyday, Phoenix, Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet
- Cabaret: Charles Aznavour
- Movie Soundtracks: French Kiss, Gigi, Amélie
Rick Steves' Articles
(For more articles on this region, see Rick's Best Destinations.)
- Inspector Maigret — Georges Simenon
- Birdsong — Sebastian Faulks
- Les Misérables; — Victor Hugo