February 14th 2020

France has long been a Wayfarers' favorite destination - and no wonder

A long and tumultuous history has left modern day France with a magnificent array of towns and cities, castles, churches, and art.

And yet it's possible to be well away from the crowds in these less-traveled spots where we love to walk.

Tiny market towns conceal ancient treasures, and small, family-run restaurants punch above their weight when it comes to serving delicious food and wines. The climate is kindly too, particularly in spring and fall.

The hugely diverse regions - barrenly beautiful Brittany and serene Normandy next-door, to lush Burgundy and historic, scented Provence offer such variety.

Our French Walks menu offers colorful, enigmatic Basque culture in the Pays Basque; a distinct Germanic flavour in Alsace or the richness of the history of Burgundy.

The Dordogne is quite simply quintessential France. And as if all of that is not enough, our local French Walks team, professionals who have worked with us for many years and live in the areas we visit, really make each Walk an unmatchable experience!

Even our well-travelled Wayfarers will find new reasons to marvel at these familiar and well-loved regions.


Pays Basque - Biarritz coast

Pays basque

The elegant northern Basque

The Basque Country of Spain is just half of a wonderful story. Across the border into France and there's a well-kept secret - the Pays Basque.

While the two regions are joined by a fierce loyalty over their autonomous, slightly mysterious identity the Pays Basque is proud of its unique heritage.

Once the base of a hardy - and highly successful - whaling fleet, the seaside resort of Biarritz has been a favourite beach getaway for the wealthy and influential since Napoléon III and his Spanish-born wife Eugénie arrived during the mid-19th century.

Its elegant villas sitting high above the town and spectacular beaches still evoke the glamor of la belle epoque.

These days Biarritz is a mecca for surfers - and those who love a little high-end shopping!

Just a few miles along the coast, St Jean de Luz has a much more raffish air.

A charming small harbor and tuna fishing port, 400 years ago this was the lair of the Basque corsairs - essentially pirates with a royal warrant - who plundered the enemies of France at sea.

This golden age provided this tiny town with a multitude of fine, typically Basque buildings. It found its place in the history books thanks to the hugely politically important marriage of King Louis XIV of France to the King of Spain's daughter, Maria Theresa, which took place in the cathedral in June 1660.

Basque influence really comes to the fore in the sublime cuisine here in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Scarlet chillies from Espelette - thousands can be seen drying outside people's homes - salted hams, wonderful seafood, Txakolina, a lightly effervescent, dry white wine and Basque tapas, or pintxos, are on every menu.

And a there's an awful lot of chocolate too. This region was where chocolatiers perfected their art during the 17th century and yes, we get to try some!

Walk highlights

  • Visit a chocolate museum and taste the wares
  • Discover the unique Basque culture
  • Nip over into Spain and stay in an historic fortress
  • Dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant
  • Stand at the peak of La Rhune mountain in the Pyrenees and spot the wild ponies of this region


Alsace - Riquewihr

Alsace

A marvelous mix of French and German influence

Once upon a time, there was a place that wasn't quite French, and it wasn't quite German. Yes, Alsace is unique. A real cultural exception, where today's France rubs up against modern Germany and where half the population still speak the Alsatian dialect. (Fun fact: Alsatian is still spoken by some Amish people in Indiana!)

It's a destination often over-looked by travellers in search of more glamourous locales. But their loss is our gain. It makes for magnificent walking and exploring; a world unto itself with deep rooted history, beautiful villages, and a unique hearty cuisine that is hard to resist. And the wonderful Alsatian wine is nothing like you get back home.

With colorful buildings, sumptuous bouquets and baskets of flowers decorating the scenic streets, the little towns of Alsace look like they are plucked right out of a fairy tale.

Situated on the famed "Route des Vins", between vineyards and mountains, Ribeauvillé is one of the most spellbinding villages in Europe.

Among many spectacular castles dotting the hills nearby, Haut Koenigsbourg is a must-visit.

This colossal fortified castle first built during the 12th century looms over the countryside from its rocky spur.

Step over the threshold and you are back in the Middle Ages. No wonder it was the inspiration for the terrifying Minas Tirith Citadel in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

Although Alsace is accustomed to conflict, it's crucial position sandwiched between two great powers came to a head just 75 years ago, when the Germans picked this sleepy region as the epicenter of their final major offensive of World War 2.

It was here that in February 1945 the Battle of the Colmar Pocket was the last to be fought on French soil before the allied victory in Europe was declared in May. Poignant reminders exist in the form of simple memorials along the trails we follow.

Walk highlights

  • Enjoy a vibrant mix of French and German culture
  • Taste the fine Alsatian cuisine and local wines
  • Learn about the military history from the First and Second World Wars in this strategically vital region
  • Discover Strasbourg
  • Walk in vineyard-covered hills and wander high in the Vosges mountains


The Dordogne - La Roque-Gageac

The Dordogne

The best of rural France

The Dordogne is the quintessential French river with deep gorges, bold rapids and peaceful meanders enveloped by medieval villages and imposing fortresses.

And it's this river that created such picture-perfect countryside, carving its way through the land over millions of years.

The Dordogne owes some of its immense allure to its limestone geology. In the river valley are insurmountable rocky cliffs, while the landscape is also chiselled with caves that sheltered the prehistoric humans and their celebrated stone-age wall paintings, including those at Lascaux.

During the region's violent medieval period the Dordogne River was also a strategic boundary, which has left the region with a wonderful set of castles on rocky roosts above the valley - it's said there are 1001 of them.

It tops the charts for cliff-top villages too, like Domme and Beynac, with its 12th century fortress and views to die for. Imagine dining, as dusk falls, in a restaurant at La Roque-Gageac, built right into the cliff-side.

The amazing suspended Gardens of Marqueyssac feature hundreds of different trees and pruned boxwoods create shaded paths and mazes.

The river also brings a kindly climate which produces a natural larder for the most French of cuisine. Think truffles and duck, walnuts and cheeses, strawberries and mushrooms...the world's best goose foie gras. Delicious.

Walk highlights

  • See world renowned prehistoric cave art
  • Quintessential French cuisine to enjoy and wines to taste
  • Stroll around elegant chateaux and graceful gardens
  • Visit medieval towns, castles, cave-dwellings and bastides along the way


Provence - Roussillon

Provence

A feast for the senses

Just saying Provence conjures up a scene of summer, of air filled with the scent of lavender, thyme and tangy aroma of freshly-pressed olive oil to the soundtrack of the chirping of cicadas.

The trail around the villages and châteaux of the Luberon will lead us to Lourmarin with its 14th century castle, where we stay in a former mill dating from the 1700s.

Roussillon and its flaming ochre quarries, Gordes, the village of the quaint dry-stone huts called bories, and the emerald pool that is the mysterious source of the River Sorgue are all on our way.

This countryside is absolutely beautiful with incredible, often unexpected variety. Farms, vineyards, orchards and woods give way to the drama of the gorges, alongside massive cliffs.

Walk highlights

  • Experience the scents, tastes and colors that say: This is Provence
  • Vineyards, olive groves, and almonds
  • Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Gordes, Menerbes, Fontaine de Vaucluse
  • Exceptional Provencal dining and Luberon wine tasting
  • Marvel at dramatic limestone gorges


Brittany - Mont Saint-Michel

Brittany and Normandy

Pause and remember

Rolling apple orchards in bloom, wildflowers in the meadows and the sparkle of the sea are never far away as our Walk in Brittany and Normandy takes us on the trail in some of France's most peaceful countryside.

But, just a couple of generations ago, these fields and beaches were the scene of the pitched battles that signalled the beginning of the end of World War 2.

We pause to remember the struggle and sacrifice of the US and allied troops who landed on the sweeping Normandy beaches on D-Day in 1944. In the sleepy village of Ste-Mère-Eglise, not far away, a white parachute canopy still hangs suspended from the church tower, signifying the day this became the first place in France to be liberated from the occupying German troops - and where paratrooper John Steel found his place in history when his 'chute got caught and he dangled there as battle raged beneath.

Another battle, 900 years earlier, is commemorated in the extraordinary Bayeux tapestry, a work of art marking the French Normans' conquest of England.

Walk highlights

  • Overnight stay in Mont St Michel and tour of the famous abbey
  • Sample calvados, apple cider and ice cream
  • Day-long tour of D-Day sites and US cemetery
  • See the Bayeux tapestry


Burgundy -Approaching Chateau du Clos de Vougeot

Burgundy

Walking in wine country

Burgundy has been at the heart of France and French history since the Middle Ages.

Lush, rolling countryside shelters lively medieval villages and towns and magnificent chateaux.

The imposing granite Morven hills, forests, lakes and valleys and mile upon mile of vineyards producing grapes for those world-famous vintage wines await discovery.

Walk highlights

  • See some of France's most beautiful villages.
  • Enjoy wine tasting in the cellars of world-famous domaines.
  • Explore the ruins of the great Benedictine abbey at Tournus.
  • Visit the lovely Chateau of Commarin and be greeted by the current owner, a direct descendant of the Dukes of Burgundy.


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