The Best of Southwestern France!
Gay Group Tour of France — HIGHLIGHTS
- The Dordogne Valley, just oozing the essence of “France” with a raft of bastides (fortified villages), medieval castles, a meandering river, and arguably the country’s best cuisine.
- Artwork at world-famous prehistoric sights: the caves of Lascaux II and Pech Merle.
- Not just synonymous with the historic worldwide wine trade, Bordeaux with its very handsome city center — the world’s largest UNESCO-listed urban area.
- The charming village of St-Emilion, home to some of the world’s most famous Bordeaux wines.
- Albi’s mighty medieval cathedral and the city’s museum with works of native son Toulouse-Lautrec.
- Stunning hilltop medieval villages like Rocamadour with cliff-face sanctuaries and St-Cirq-Lapopie riddled with cobbled lanes, flower-filled alleys, and pretty views.
- Toulouse, “La Ville Rose” – or The Pink City –with its red-brick buildings, southern passion, lively student atmosphere, buzzy markets, and stately architecture.
- Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Fascinating and lively food markets with delicacies such as foie gras, truffles, walnuts, cheeses, and fine wines.
- Download Detailed Itinerary
Beginning in Bordeaux, ending in Toulouse, and passing a myriad of wonderful sights (and restaurants!) along the way, our newest tour in France covers the best of the southwest! Cuisine, architecture, history, scenic beauty, fine wines — it’s all here!
Bordeaux isn’t just a world-famous wine; it’s also a very handsome and sophisticated city along the banks of the Garonne River. Here you’ll admire some extremely elegant 18th-century architecture in the historic city center, which has been smartly revitalized over the past decade including the riverside quays, wonderful for strolling. Indeed, the city center is a site with pride of place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and we explore it on foot taking in a plethora of impressive attractions: buildings, monuments, fountains, quays, churches, and the old quarter. Bonus: Our tour coincides with the bi-annual Bordeaux Wine Festival at which you can taste wines from dozens of producers who set up pavilions along the quays.
Wine enthusiasts will certainly be familiar with the St-Emilion appellation. This tidy, charming, and well-heeled town has been producing Bordeaux wines for over a thousand years. Vineyards creep right up to the town’s walls, and we’ll stop at one to taste what it has on offer as well as stroll the pretty streets of the village.
The Dordogne River Valley is an irresistible blend of natural and man-made beauty. Farmland and orchards; fields of sunflowers; the meandering river; castles on the cliffs above; numerous charming towns; open-air food markets; and arguably France’s best cuisine all come together in an intoxicating harmony. Sarlat, with its cobblestone lanes, beautiful buildings, and numerous shops, restaurants, and cafés, is our picturesque home base as we explore the area. Some of the attractions we take in during these days include the impressive Castlenaud-la-Chapelle (a prominent stronghold during the Hundred Years’ War); the “Suspended Gardens” of Marquessac high above the river; and the Château des Millandes (where American-born singer/dancer Josephine Baker lived).
Close to the Dordogne is an area rich in prehistoric cave art. We’ll enjoy the region’s — in fact, the world’s — most famous prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux. Discovered in 1940 this extraordinary collection of cave art painted by Cro-Magnon man was open to the public for just 15 years before it had to be closed in order to keep it from deteriorating. Lascaux II is the stunningly accurate replication of the original 15,000-year-old paintings we’re permitted to see. (Note: At the time of itinerary planning a new site is being constructed that will include what’s seen at Lascaux II as well as a great deal more of the original site. We may see this depending on the timing of its opening.)
The historic town of Rocamadour in its dramatically steep rock-face setting is quite the sight to behold. Once one of Europe’s top medieval-era pilgrimage stops on the route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain most visitors today (us included) are not climbing the stairs on their knees but come to admire the few ancient chapels and wonderful views of the village cut into the sheer limestone cliffs and out over the countryside.
South of the Dordogne Valley is yet another beautiful — and often overlooked — valley, that of the Lot River, which meanders through some striking scenery. We stop in at the postcard-pretty and spectacularly sited village of St-Cirq-Lapopie sitting up above the river with its galleries, shops, and lovely views. Local residents have been ardent in preserving the medieval look of the town. Nearby is the Grotte du Pech Merle, a remarkable cave with prehistoric paintings — certainly rivaling those in the Lascaux area — of mammoths, bison, horses, plus a Cro-Magnon footprint.
Not far from Toulouse is the enjoyable river city of Albi, its attractive traffic-free center done in brick and half-timbered buildings. Here we find its mighty, towering Gothic cathedral, almost fortress-like in appearance, with a greatly ornate interior. Next door is the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum containing the world’s largest collection of the artist’s paintings, posters, and sketches.
With its buzzy markets, stately architecture, beautiful old quarter, cracking cultural scene, and heaving university population the red-brick city of Toulouse (dubbed La Ville Rose or The Pink City) is one of France’s liveliest provincial cities — yet it’s greatly overlooked. But not by us . . . we’ll see it as a lovely finale to a lovely trip!