11 days
Level 2 - Moderate

French History by Rail European short tour

French History by Rail offers participants an unforgettable journey through French history based in Paris. On this educational tour, based on Ina Caro's famous book of the same title, we live for almost three weeks in one of the central arrondissements of Paris. Using charming Paris apartments as a base, we live as the locals do, enjoying the charms of Parisian life. We have time to enjoy the bustle of daily Parisian life, with morning coffee at the local boulangerie and visits to the local markets. In the evening there is, of course, time to explore while visiting local cafes and charming restaurants.

From this base, we come together each day as a small group to journey by rail to the beautiful mediaeval city centres of France. While here, we experience short tours in such historic and scenic cities as Caen, Chartres, Rouen, Tours, and Avignon.  Riding the train is a great way to reach out into the history of this fascinating country.

Tour Itinerary

Exploring French History by Rail enables both couples and single travellers to journey with like-minded individuals. A couple of hours is all it takes to arrive in the heart of some of these magnificent cities. This gives us many hours to join a local guide for a walking tour of the city. We return towards the end of each day on a fast train back into Paris ready for another adventure the following day. On most days, the program provides us with the evening free to explore Paris.

Our start time each day is usually after the morning rush when we meet up with the program leader. Exploring French History by Rail includes just two overnight stays outside of Paris, in Tours and Avignon. This program is limited to a maximum of fifteen people. Let the history of France come alive on this extraordinary cultural tour!

For more details, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.

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Tour Notes
  • We recommend that overnight bags be used for the visits to Avignon and Tours.
  • Sole use Studio apartment incurs an additional fee.
  • Twin bedded rooms are not available in our Paris Apts (only double beds) you have the option of sharing a 2 Bedroom Apt at additional cost*
  • Single supplement based on 2 bedroom apartment sharing one bathroom.
  • Our apartments in Paris will be available for the duration of the stay.

PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Overview: Arrive Paris and make our own way to our accommodation. We settle in to our apartments and meet in the early evening for a briefing followed by our welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodation: We will be based in a Paris apartment located in a central arrondissement. Our apartments will be available for the duration of the tour.

Overview: Prehistory to the 5th century – the Celts settle in Paris in the Marais area and on the Île de la Cité – followed by the Romans:

Today we begin our tour with a guided walking tour of the Île de la Cité, including a visit to the Archaeological Crypt and a visit to the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Here we discover remnants of buildings and monuments from the 3rd century including two Gallo-Roman rooms heated by hypocaust. After free time for lunch we travel by Metro to the great Cathedral of St Denis to learn about its place in the history of French architecture and to see the magnificent Royal Tombs.

Overview: A glimpse of Parisian daily life in one of the oldest quarters of Paris and an overview of the centuries:

The market in the Marais area is our morning activity. Here we can stock up for our apartment needs with vegetables, fruit, cheeses, wines or anything necessary or unnecessary-but-desired!

In the afternoon we will enjoy a guided walk of the area including the beautiful Place des Vosges with its connections with the great King Henri IV and famous characters such as Mme de Sévigné and Victor Hugo.

Overview: The 11th century – and the 20th!

An early start as we meet for our journey to the city of Caen in Normandy by rail. Here we discover the 11th century with a visit to the Abbey of William the Conqueror and see his simple, black marble tomb. A leap to the 20th century takes us to the thought-provoking Memorial Museum with its dedication to the events of WWII.

Overview: Middle Ages and religious architecture:

Today we meet at Montparnasse Station for a full-day visit to Chartres where we will have a guided tour of France’s first High Gothic Cathedral with its magnificent stained glass windows.

Back in Paris, in the evening, we hope to complete this era of history at a concert in the Ste Chapelle of Louis IX. (If we are lucky, the sun will light up the glorious stained glass windows of this exquisite chapel.)

Overview: Coronations of the Kings –Joan of Arc and Art Deco development post WWI:

Our full-day tour today takes us by TGV (fast train) to the city of Reims, site of the coronation of most of the French Kings. It was here that Joan of Arc brought Louis VII to be crowned after the tide of the 100 Years War was turned. During our guided walking tour of the city, we will visit the Cathedral, learn of its history and admire its stained glass including a modern series of windows by Marc Chagall. We will also learn about the city’s post-WWI Art Deco redevelopment.

Overview: Today we have a free morning for shopping and other domestic chores, before we enjoy a leisurely cruise on the Seine followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

Overview: Papal Schism – machinations of political and religious life in the 14th century:

The TGV will take us south to Avignon for an overnight stay. On arrival we will have a guided tour of the city including a visit to the Popes’ Palace.

Accommodation: We will be staying at the Cloitre St Louis hotel (or similar) for 1 night.

Overview: The morning is free to explore Avignon and maybe visit the Pont D’Avignon or the mighty Cathedral on the Rock before we return on the TGV to Paris.

Accommodation: We will be based in a Paris apartment located in a central arrondissement.

Overview: Time to catch our breath with a free day in Paris to explore on our own. Our Tour Leader will have some suggestions to assist those who want a ‘planned day’.

Overview: Development of Château architecture – 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

We travel on the TGV through the French countryside to the city of Tours in the Loire Valley. On arrival our guide will take us on a walking tour of the city including the delightful Place Plumereau with its half-timbered houses and a visit to the Musée du Compagnonnage (Museum of the Guilds). We overnight in the city and enjoy dinner in our hotel.

Accommodation: We will be staying at the Hotel Grand (or similar).

Overview: Loire Valley – ‘Valley of the Kings’:

Where better to explore the development of castle architecture than the Valley of the Kings! Our guided tour will take us to the three glorious (and very different châteaux) of Chinon (Joan of Arc connection), Villandry (with its glorious gardens) and the delightful island château of Aizay le Rideau (one of the earliest French châteaux which seems to rise directly out of the water).

Accommodation: We will be staying at the Hotel Grand (or similar).

Overview: A free morning in Tours to explore before we return to Paris on the TGV.

Accommodation: We will be based in a Paris apartment located in a central arrondissement.

Overview: Renaissance ideas come back from Italy:

Today we meet at the Gare De Lyon to travel by rail to Fontainebleau Château, built by François I but with connections to Napoleon. We can explore the château and gardens in our own time with an audio guide.

Overview: Normans, Joan of Arc and Monet:

Today gives us an intriguing juxtaposition of historical periods. We travel to the Norman capital of Rouen to visit the Cathedral much painted by Monet and to see the contrasting modern Joan of Arc memorial church, marking the place where this French heroine was burnt at the stake by the English. There will be time to explore the delightful streets and squares with their half-timbered houses.

Overview: Vaux-le-Vicomte 17th century – Inspiration for Versailles:

A bus will take us to the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, regarded as the inspiration for the great Versailles of Louis XIV. Built by his minister, Fouquet, (and the cause of Fouquet’s downfall!), designed by the great architect Le Brun and with magnificent gardens (regarded as the very first ‘French Garden’) created by Le Nôtre, this château is a gem to visit. The fountains usually play on Saturday so we will cross our fingers…

Overview: The Revolution:

We begin the day with a guided Revolutionary Walk to discover the sites and haunts of the plotting and scheming which led up to that event in 1789. The afternoon is free for continued personal exploration on the Left bank (Panthéon, St Étienne etc).

Overview: Louvre moves out of Paris!

In December 2012, the industrial city of Lens became home to an innovative renovation of one of its old coal mining sites – a satellite of the Paris Louvre. This ultra-modern glass and steel complex houses a wealth of exhibits from the core displays of the Louvre – on medium or long-term basis. We will take the TGV for the day to be amongst the first visitors to enjoy this experience.

Overview: Monet and Impressionism:

We continue our ‘artistic’ theme, but this time in the outdoors as we travel to Giverny to visit the delightful house and garden of the great Impressionist painter, Claude Monet.

Overview: The New Paris and the Second Empire:

Our morning visit is to the Musée Jaquemart André – an elegant late 19th century house with outstanding 16th – 18th century European and Italian Renaissance art, sculpture and furniture. In the afternoon we visit the magnificent Palais Garnier, home of Paris Ballet and Opera, for a guided tour and the chance to enjoy the work of Marc Chagall once more with the painted ceiling of the auditorium.

We enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

Overview: Our tour concludes today after breakfast.

Explore Paris and journey by rail to regions and great cities to learn about their historical significance and influence on France.
Free time shopping for fresh food at open-air markets and savour the local cuisine and culture.
Enjoy overnight stays in the historic cities of Avignon in Provence and Tours in the Loire Valley.
Experience everyday life as the Parisians do, from our apartment.
Explore the newly opened Louvre Museum Extension in the city of Lens.

What’s included in our Tour

  • Detailed Tour Information Booklet.
  • Service charges and gratuities.
  • Applicable entry fees and services of local English-speaking guides.
  • Services of specialist tour leader for the duration of the tour.
  • 17 nights apartment accommodation in Paris, offering double share rooms.
  • 3 breakfasts and 4 dinners.
  • All travel on the TGV and metropolitan trains as listed in the itinerary.
  • 3 nights hotel accommodation offering twin share rooms.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • International airfares and departure taxes.
  • Comprehensive travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature such as telephone calls and laundry.
France map
History of France by Rail
Avignon, France
pont de Bir-Hakeim pont de passy
France cooking and eating

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