What does your picture-perfect version of France look like? Does it feature a chocolate croissant and espresso in a Paris café within sight of the Eiffel Tower? Or perhaps the shores of Normandy, its beaches forever linked to heroism and sacrifice? Chateau-studded river valleys…wine country where a popped cork is the beginning of a perfect evening…the Mediterranean coast where ocean waves lap at the shore. Gate 1 Travel offers all these versions of France. No matter how you join us—on a classic escorted tour, an independent vacation, our “Fly & Drive” options, a relaxing river cruise, or even a rail vacation that combines Paris and another thrilling European capital—your France awaits you with Gate1.
Paris: France’s Cultural Centerpiece
It is said that all of France begins in Paris, the romantic city of splendid architecture, priceless art, towering monuments, and the graceful River Seine. The sweep of history is ever on display. The masterful Cathedral of Notre Dame harkens to the city’s medieval age, while the Arc de Triomphe celebrates the aspirations of Napoleon. And the city’s grande dame, the Eiffel Tower, stands regally above it all; the heart races at the mere glance of it.
With myriad delights, Paris beckons you to delve into its many neighborhoods at your own pace, following your interests. That’s why many of our itineraries provide you with ample time to explore on your own. Browse the history-soaked fine arts of the Musée d’Orsay—or go strictly modern at the Centre Pompidou. Write in your journal along the Left Bank or browse the boutiques of the Champs-Élysées. Plus, optional tours reveal the highlights of the Louvre, the splendor of Louis XIV’s Versailles Palace, and the City of Light by night, in all its floodlit finery.
Loire Valley and Normandy: Of Castles & Conquests
Southwest of Paris, a wonderland of more than 300 castles and carefully manicured gardens adorns the countryside of the Loire Valley. Kings and nobles built these fortresses as far back as the tenth century. Many of them—like Chambord, Chenonceau, Amboise—reflect the high ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. And speaking of high ideals, the Loire capital of Chartres is home to the greatest Gothic cathedral in all of France, a sight not to be missed. And discover the lovely cities of Tours, renowned for its Loire wines and elegant architecture.
Battles underpin the history of Normandy province, whether in Bayeaux, with its 230-foot Tapestry commemorating the great Norman Conquest of 1066, to the code-named beaches—Omaha and Utah among them—where Allied troops set in motion the beginning of the end of World War II. Mont St. Michel, too, though revered today for its abbey and monastery, was strategically built on a tidal island, leaving the island fortress unconquered for the entire Hundred Years War.
Saone & Rhone Valleys: Witness to History, Inspiration to Artists and Chefs
Inspiration is everywhere in France, as a visit to the Saone and Rhone Valleys reveals. Impressionist painters Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin found their muses in central France and the celebrated Riviera. The dreamy provinces of Burgundy, Lyonnais, and Provence with their meandering rivers, vineyard hills, and lavender fields, all gave rise to many of their masterpieces.
Some of the region’s greatest masterpieces are culinary. Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, is one of the centers of divine French cuisine. Dijon mustard was invented here, and internationally known chefs concoct ambrosia-like dishes in their restaurants. Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site city, is the other shining star of gastronomy, connected by the Saone and Rhone rivers to the wine-growing regions of Beaujolais to the north and Cotes du Rhone to the south.
The Rhone Valley’s love affair with wine became the fiscal lifeblood of the Popes of Avignon when they relocated the Holy See here and built the gargantuan Palais des Papes. They commandeered the wine-making tradition begun by the Romans here and commercialized it to bolster the local economy. Of course, wine isn’t the only legacy of the Romans in this historic corner of France: The vast Pont du Gard, a massive aqueduct built to transport water, still stands as a testament to their boundless ingenuity.
Southern France: Medieval Gems & Splendid Wine Capitals
The beauty of Mediterranean France seems boundless, too. Elegant Nice invites long strolls on its Promenade des Anglais. In medieval Carcassonne, cobbled streets lead you through a city frozen in time. And a timeless spell lingers over the market town of Lourdes, near the foothills of the Pyrenees. Here, in 1858, a miller’s daughter saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto, transforming the village into a pilgrimage setting. Even now, a nightly torch-lit procession to the grotto inspires all who witness it.
In the Bordeaux region, raising a glass is the sacred nightly ritual. The splendid city (which some say rivals Paris in its beauty) is best known for its full-bodied red wines, while nearby St. Emilion tempts with a Merlot-heavy blend of its own. Meanwhile, the city of Cognac has refined the art of making the prized brandy that bears its name.
Expand Your Discoveries Beyond France
As you see, Gate 1 offers a bounty of choices when it comes to exploring the beauty of France, all with prices easy on your travel budget. Stretch the value of your airfare even more by visiting some of its European neighbors. After all, you’ve already flown to Europe, right? Enrich your French discoveries by experiencing the crown jewel of The Netherlands, navigating the winding canals of Amsterdam in a glass-top boat. Revel in the timeless tapestry of culture in Belgium, from the Grand Palace of Brussels to the medieval lanes of Bruges. Tiny Luxembourg and richly historic Germany are also nearby. What’s more, you can transform your visit to France into a European adventure when you connect by Europe’s meticulous rail system to cities like London, Amsterdam and Barcelona; take the train farther afield to discover Venetian, Renaissance and ancient treasures of Italy in Venice, Florence and Rome.
Experience France in a Discovery Tours Small Group
If you’d like to discover France on a more intimate scale, gaining greater access to local cultures in the company of a small group, consider getting to the heart of Northern France on our Discovery Tours itinerary. Our sister company limits group sizes to just 22 travelers, opening doors to places and experiences larger groups must forego. You’ll sip the wines of the Loire Valley, witness the rocky majesty of Mont St. Michel, and reflect on the triumphs and tragedy of war in St. Malo and Normandy during unique events and activities tailored to your group size. Bookend your Northern France exploration with stays in glittering Paris and Louis XIV’s dazzling Versailles.
You might also head south, exploring France and Spain on a single journey. Experience the vineyard-laden countryside and preserved medieval cities of southern France, and uncover the iconic cities and famously stunning countryside Spain’s Basque region. Sample local wines in Spanish Rioja and French Bordeaux. Soak up artistic masterpieces from the Guggenheim in Bilbao to the Prado in Madrid. Marvel at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s stunning cathedral more than a century in the making. With delights as diverse as the breathtaking beaches of San Sebastian and the unforgettable walled city of Carcassonne, it’s a journey like no other.
No matter how you explore France with the Gate 1 family, you’re assured exemplary accommodations in central locations, a rich array of included features, and unmatched value. As the French would say, c’est magnifique.