Rick Steves' Paris & the Heart of France, Day by Day
If the unforgettable sights of Paris, Normandy, and the Loire keep rising to the top of your travel dreams, have we got a tour for you! Stringing together an all-star collection of Rick's favorite places in and around the City of Light, our Paris & the Heart of France in 11 Days tour will bring you the very best of Paris along with its most stunning surroundings: the Loire Valley's exquisite châteaux, Brittany's half-timbered villages, Normandy's magical Mont St-Michel and stirring D-Day beaches, Monet's dreamy gardens at Giverny, the stained-glass wonders of Bourges Cathedral, and a medieval castle being built today in Burgundy — using lots of muscle and 13th-century technology. Let's go!
Day 1: Welcome to Paris
We'll meet at 5 p.m. at our hotel for a short "bienvenue à Paris" meeting. Then we'll take an orientation walk through our neighborhood, followed by time to get acquainted over dinner together.
Day 2: Historic Paris and Sainte-Chapelle
Let's begin where Paris did, on the Ile de la Cité. Your guide will lead a walking tour of the city's early history, including a pair of Europe's most significant medieval Gothic churches — the legendary and resilient Notre-Dame Cathedral and the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle — and a stroll through the bohemian Latin Quarter. This afternoon, armed with your Paris Museum Pass, you'll be free to explore more of Paris, including the world's greatest collection of Impressionist art — from Monet and Degas to Cézanne and Gauguin and more — at the Orsay Museum.
Day 3: Neighborhood Paris and the Louvre
This morning we'll take a more intimate look at Paris and what gives the French their joie de vivre with a promenade through one of your guide's favorite Parisian neighborhoods. Your walk will end with an orientation to the Louvre museum. With your smartphone in hand and the Rick Steves Audio Europe™ app, Rick's voice will guide you through timeless treasures including the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and hundreds more. Your afternoon is free to be inspired by Monet's incredible Water Lilies at the Orangerie, perplexed by whimsical water fountains and modern art at the Pompidou, or compelled to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, followed by a classy stroll along the Champs-Elysées.
Day 4: Medieval Guédelon and Bourges
Today we'll leave Paris and head for the Château de Guédelon — a medieval castle being built today using 13th-century materials and techniques. Local experts may give us a close-up look at masons cutting limestone, sheep being sheared, and blacksmiths at work. Then we'll drive past farms, forests, and vineyards to the overlooked town of Bourges. Once we arrive, we'll wander along the cobbled lanes and medieval half-timbered houses on a walking tour with a local guide. Our tour will culminate with a visit to Bourges' Cathédrale St-Etienne, where we'll learn how to read some of France's most remarkable and original medieval stained glass before having dinner together this evening.
Day 5: The Loire and Chambord
Today we'll head for the biggest and brightest of the Loire Valley châteaux — Chambord — where 365 fireplaces warmed royal hunting parties for more than 500 years. We'll have ample time to visit this magnificent château, its expansive grounds, and find some lunch. A bit farther up the road, our own Loire Valley accommodations will be every bit as French, but a little more down-to-earth. Dinner together tonight.
Day 6: Chenonceau and Amboise
This morning we'll visit the elegant, river-straddling, 16th-century Château de Chenonceau. We'll learn more about royal life in France and have plenty of free time to roam through the château's opulent interior and gardens. This afternoon you'll have time on your own in Amboise to find lunch and sightsee. You can choose to visit Leonardo da Vinci's home, Clos Lucé, and marvel at the working models of the Renaissance Man's cleverest inventions; tour Amboise's cliff-hanging castle; or wander the pleasant pedestrian-friendly streets.
Day 7: Brittany and Mont St-Michel
We'll depart the Loire Valley this morning and make a beeline to Brittany. We'll stop for lunch and a walk through a quintessential Breton town, where we'll learn about the Bretons' Celtic origins. Later this afternoon, we'll take a short drive to the timeless, picture-perfect island of Mont St-Michel. We'll arrive as the tourist tide recedes, ensuring a less crowded experience here. We'll share dinner together and stay on the Mont itself.
Day 8: Treasure of Bayeux
This morning we'll take a walking tour of Mont St-Michel's town and its towering abbey to learn about local legends, monastic life, and the far-reaching influences exerted by abbeys in French history. Then we'll drive into the heart of Normandy to study the 1,000-year-old Bayeux Tapestry — a 70-yard-long embroidered cartoon/work of art that brings to life William the Conqueror's victory over the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Day 9: Normandy's D-Day Beaches
We'll spend the day with a local expert who will give us a powerful tour of the Normandy beaches where, in June of 1944, the Allied D-Day landings took place by sea and air. We'll visit Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers scaled the cliffs in pre-dawn darkness, and the American Cemetery, where 10,000 stark white markers memorialize the Americans who gave their lives on the beaches below. We'll also visit the strategic town of Ste-Mère Eglise, the airborne drop site made famous by The Longest Day and Band of Brothers. We'll return to our Normandy home base in time for dinner on your own.
Day 10: Monet's Gardens at Giverny
We'll depart early this morning to visit Monet's beautifully preserved, masterpiece-inspiring gardens in the town of Giverny. In addition to the serene ponds made famous by Monet's paintings, we'll also see his house, studio, and Japanese garden. After free time for lunch, we'll make our way back to Paris and have a farewell feast together tonight, where we'll share travel memories and toast new friends. Salut!
Day 11: Tour Over After Breakfast
Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. It's a breeze to reach Paris' airports by taxi, shuttle, or public transportation. Your guide will help you with any post-tour planning, leaving you well prepared for the road ahead. Merci et au revoir!
Learn more about our Paris & the Heart of France in 11 Days tour!