Southern France Sojourn: Culture, Castles, and Cusine, May 17- 27, 2017

Join me in southwestern France for a fantastic off-the-beaten-track tour of picturesque medieval villages, local markets, historic castles and churches, prehistoric cave paintings, beautiful rivers, and some of the best meals you’ve ever had! Our base is the lovingly restored 17th century Le Vieux Couvent, in the picturesque village of Frayssinet, about an hour and a half from Toulouse. We will visit places of great beauty, scenic and architectural interest, and religious, geological, and/or historical significance.  To see images from the 2016 trip click here.

The itinerary includes an outstanding variety of activities at a comfortable pace. Start each day with a sumptuous breakfast at 8am before setting out at 9am for the daily destination(s). Lunches are French-style picnics in suitably scenic locations, slightly less elaborate packed lunches, or on your own in a cafe of your choice. There is ample time to enjoy each destination fully: to explore, take in the sights, photograph, sketch or simply relax over a refreshing beverage at a sidewalk cafe. We return to our lodging in time to freshen up before our 6pm aperitif and 6:30pm dinner.

To best enjoy this trip, you need a spirit of adventure and a great sense of humor! You must also be fit enough to manage a good amount of walking, including stairs, occasional steep inclines, and uneven surfaces.

If you enjoy taking photos or sketching, you’ll find an endless supply of subject matter on this trip. There are also ample opportunities for improving your skills or developing new ones. Instruction in the field is always available, and we can make time to work on composition, light painting, night photography, post processing, and more.

Group size is limited to 12 participants. We must have 12 deposits by December 1, 2016 or the trip will be cancelled, so don’t hesitate to send in your application and deposit.

Excursion and activity highlights: 

Albí An important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, Albí has a remarkable cathedral. The adjacent Bishop’s Palace has a beautiful Renaissance garden, and houses the wonderful Musée Toulouse-Lautrec.

Cahors Renowned for its 12th-18th century buildings, narrow alleys, and unique fortified medieval bridge, the Pont de Valentre, Cahors is also famous for the remarkable stained glass windows in the cathedral and its market where you’ll find everything from homemade cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables and flowers to colorful fabrics, clothes and hats. Take a break from exploring and photographing to enjoy a cup of coffee with fresh pastries or savor a glass of the hearty local Malbec wine.

Beynac Castle is the 12th century fortress held by Richard the Lion Heart for a decade before he died of a gangrenous wound. This well-preserved castle is located on top of a sheer limestone cliff and boasts spectacular views of the Dordogne River from the turrets. The kitchen looks as though the soldiers simply vanished, leaving their sheathed swords at the ends of the tables. The village of Beynac, below the castle, was the site for the film Chocolat. After touring the castle and village, we’ll enjoy a delicious picnic beside the Dordogne River and then take a riverboat ride.

Souillac has another wonderful market with cheeses, flowers and an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and other local products. And, of course, there are plenty of narrow medieval streets, small squares, and colorful galleries and shops to explore.

Pech Merle is one of the few prehistoric cave systems still open to visitors. We’ll see an extensive array of extraordinary prehistoric cave paintings of horses, bison, mammoths, and aurocks, dating from 20,000 BC.

St Cirq Le Popie is a beautifully restored medieval village. Nestled on a hillside above the river, the village is famous for its river overlooks and the artists’ colony established by surrealist Andre Breton. The Rignault Museum hosts changing exhibits on the history and art of the area.

Sarlat This remarkably preserved yet thriving town lets you step back in time. Wander its picturesque, narrow, cobbled streets, lively squares, 15th and 16th century houses of beautiful ocher stone, and quaint shops featuring regional specialties and artisan wares. The Manoir de Gisson offers an excellent self-guided tour of this beautifully furnished 17th century bourgeois home.

Gouffre de Padirac is an underground chasm and cave system. We descend via elevator and stairs to the underground lake where a boatman poles us along the spectacularly lit bays. Then we are guided on a walk through a series of caverns with astonishing calcite formations.

Rocamadour Rising half way up a dramatic cliff face is one of the famous sites along the pilgrimage route of St. Jacques de Campostelle. Visitors come to Rocamadour for its religious importance, historical significance, beautiful architecture, and for the spectacular views over the Alzou Valley.

As time and interest allow, we will include visits to vineyards and tasting rooms, additional villages, chateaus, and scenic locations in this beautiful and unspoiled region of SW France.

What you will need:

• A sense of humor

• A desire to explore and learn

• Flexibility

• Willingness to experience new things

• An appreciation of good food and wine

Trip highlights:

• Stay in the unique Le Vieux Couvent

• Visit lovely medieval towns and villages

• Admire beautiful scenery and vineyards

• See 20,000-year-old cave paintings at Perch Merle

• Browse the picturesque market towns of Cahors, Sarlat, and Souillac

• Take a boat ride on an underground river through Gouffre Padirac Chasm

• Visit the 12th century Castle of Beynac

• Cruise along the scenic Dordogne River

• Savor wines, cheeses, pates, and other culinary delicacies of the region

• Individualized photography lessons with Bruce

• Revisit the highlights of each day with your companions over aperitifs in the garden or by the pool and then savor a delicious gourmet dinner.

What's included:

• Ten night’s lodging (single or shared occupancy)

• Daily breakfasts, eight lunches, and ten aperitifs

• Nine gourmet dinners

• Daily excursions to unique cultural and photographic sites

• Round trip transport to Toulouse International Airport

• Services of bilingual guides.

• Formal and informal photography instruction.

Price per person for room & board, round-trip airport transfer, excursions, and photography instruction is $3200. (One dinner and two lunches are excluded; some museum entrances or excursion fees may be additional) Airfare is NOT included. The tour begins and ends at the Toulouse International Airport. For ease of transfer to Le Vieux Couvent, please plan to arrive no later than May 16, 2017.