France, from Paris to Nice – Part 2

France, from Paris to Nice – Part 2

We’re in the middle of our 3-week trek through France and on the 4th day of our “Paris & the South of France,” Rick Steves tour. My friend and fellow traveler, Bonnie Davis and I arrived in Paris on Sept. 2 and spent our first evening in the medieval city of Chartres before heading off to Auray, in the Brittany region to explore the northwest including Normandy before embarking on our Rick Steves tour.

Part 2 begins with our travel to the Loire Valley, then on to the Dordogne, Carcassonne, Provence and ending in the French Riviera. Follow along through the photos and captions.

Au revoir Paris, Bonjour Amboise along with our bus driver Phillip and our large and comfy motor coach as we make our way south to the Loire Valley and ultimately to Nice. But for now, we are spending the next two nights in Chinon and day tripping through Amboise and later Chenonceau. Sept. 11, 2012
This is Clos Lucé, but when Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Amboise at the age of 64 in 1516, it was called Chateau du Cloux in the Loire Valley. Leonardo da Vinci accepted an invitation from French King Francois I  to live and work in France from 1516 to 1519. In return, the artist became the king’s sage and mentor. In his three years at Amboise, until his death in 1519, Leonardo planned the draining of marshes, a new city, a vast canal and, perhaps, the château of Chambord. Sept. 11, 2012
A house in Amboise built alongside the mountainside. Amboise, a small quaint town that lays claim to housing Leonardo da Vinci for a few years, was a pleasant place for a stroll and a light lunch…even in the rain. Sept. 11, 2012
The Clock Tower on a quaint and rainy street in Amboise. Sept. 11, 2012
A street leading to the castle in Amboise. Sept. 11, 2012
The Loire Valley, considered the land of a thousand chateaus, includes this one…the Chateau de Chenonceau, considered the toast of the Loire. This 16th century Renaissance palace arches over the Cher River. Sept. 11, 2012
Two girls and the Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley of France. Where’s the wine so we can celebrate our new acquisition? I wish! In 1547, King Henry II gave the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who added the arched bridge across the river to access the hunting grounds. Sept. 11, 2012
This is the magnificent tree-lined canopied entryway that leads to the Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Sept. 11, 2012
The Chateau de Chenonceau, with its three moats, two bridges, a round tower and beautiful interior tapestries, is considered the toast of the Loire. Sept. 11, 2012
The gorgeous tapestries inside the Chateau de Chenonceau, the 16th century Renaissance palace in the Loire Valley. Sept. 11, 2012
Back in Chinon, our wonderful French guide Patrick Vidal (in the red jacket) is taking us for a walk through our home base of Chinon before we . Sept. 11, 2012
Our last day in Chinon included visiting our second of three chateaus, the Chateau de Villandry, famous for its extensive and remarkable 10-acre Renaissance themed gardens. It is the last of the large castles to have been built on the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance and finished in 1536. I’m not much of a gardener but I loved the elaborate geometric patterns and meticulously maintained garden. Sept. 12, 2012
The sculpted garden of the Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley. Sept. 12, 2012
Inside Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley. Sept. 12, 2012
Our third and last chateau visit during our last day in Chinon is Azay-le-Rideau. This charming 16th century chateau is the fairy-tale castle of the Loire Valley. The building is a prime example of an early Renaissance chateau. Built from 1518 to 1527 by a filthy-rich banker, Giles Berthelot who was treasurer to the king of France. The structure has a delightfully feminine touch because while often away on work, his wife, Philippe, supervised the construction. King Francois I took note and paid it the ultimate compliment…he seized it causing its owners to flee. Sept 12, 2012
The interior of the Azay-le-Rideau chateau in the Loire Valley. Sept. 12, 2012
The interior of the Azay-le-Rideau chateau in the Loire Valley. Sept. 12, 2012
Bonnie and I enjoying lunch at a small cafe in the Loire Valley. Sept. 12, 2012
On our way to Sarlat in the Dordogne area, we stopped at the quaint village of Mortemart to enjoy an outdoor picnic at its medieval market. These are tour members pitching in to set up the food for the picnic. Sept. 13, 2012
Bonnie also pitching in and Phillip, our bus driver, also lending a hand to prepare an outdoor picnic at the medieval market in Mortemart. Sept. 13, 2012
Loving this red gate and all the red trim, plus the red car passing by just in the nick of time in the quaint village of Mortemart just across the street from the medieval market where our tour group had its outdoor picnic. Sept. 13, 2012
The church in the village of Mortemart. Sept. 13, 2012
Inside the village church of Mortemart. Sept. 13, 2012
Medieval stone archway in the village of Mortemart. Sept. 13, 2012
After our picnic lunch in the medieval market of Mortemart, we continued our through the Dordogne until Orator-sur Glane. Known as Village-des martyrs, the town was machine-tuned and burn down on June 10,1944 by the Nazi troops. Sept. 13, 2012
The women and children of the Orator-sur-Glane, known as Village des Martyrs, where they were tear-gases by the Nazis and machine-gunned. Plaques mark the place where the town’s men were group and executed. the town was then set on fire. Today, the ghost town, left untouched for more than 60 years, greets every pilgrim who enters with only one English word: Remember. Sept. 13, 2012
Remember. Orator-sur-Glane, known as Village des Martyrs, where the people of the village were machine-gunned and the village was burned down on June 10, 1944 by Nazi troops. Sept. 13, 2012
Our home base in the Dordogne, the Hotel Montaigne in Sarlat. Everything about the medieval city of Sarlat with its cobblestone alleyways and its houses with gold frontages makes old stone lovers like me very happy. And, the hotel is a short walk into Starlet’s historic center. Sept. 13, 2012
Along with visiting the 13,000-year-old drawings of the Rouffignac Cave, we also took a canoe trip, where we had to do our own paddling, down the Dordogne River. For the cave tour, we hopped on a subterranean train to see the engravings and drawings depicting bison, horses, wooly rhinoceros and mammoths. Physically, the people were Cro-Magnons who were fully developed Homo sapiens. They did not live in the cold and difficult to access caverns they painted but instead lived in the shallow cliffside caves. As for the canoe-ing, let’s just say the weather was great and the scenery was gorgeous but the struggle to keep the canoe moving in the correct direction was work that Bonnie and I were not quite prepared for. I only wish I had photos of us trying to make sure we stayed in the center of the river, even though we still veered off to the sides. I must say, it was an exhausting, exasperating but exhilarating experience with breathtakingly beautiful views. The photo shows some of the area we canoed which was from Cenac to Beynac. Sept. 14, 2012
The beautiful views of the Dordogne River and the La Roque-Gageac village. Sept. 14, 2012
The village of La Roque-Gageac is perched above the Dordogne River which is where we stopped to eat lunch before beginning our canoe-ing adventure down the Dordogne River. Sept. 14, 2012
Just had to include this beauty of the Dordogne River. Sept. 14, 2012
The pretty village of Beynac, which is where the canoeing adventure came to an exhilarating halt,  spreads along the northern bank of the Dordogne river, and up the hill behind, reaching the castle that stands poised above the village and river. The narrow lanes wind up through the traditional Dordogne white and yellow stone buildings. Sept. 14, 2012
Our Rick Steves tour group outside of the Chateau de Beynac which sits high on a rocky promontory above the Dordogne River. It is a heavily fortified château dating from the 12th century but modified, strengthened and altered many times since. Sept. 14, 2012
Today was not only Market Day in Sarlat, but it was also a free day to do whatever we wanted to do. Bonnie had arranged a day tour of Du Pech Merle, a prehistoric cave art, a visit to the quaint town of St. Cirq Lapopie, and a stop over at the medieval bridge of Port Valentre. Sept. 15, 2012
The medieval bridge of Port Valentine was built in 1308 to keep the English out of Cahors. Sept. 15, 2012
Scarlet, with its ancient street peppered with golden cobblestone lanes just sucked me in. It’s pedestrian friendly and extremely quaint. Sept. 15, 2012
Foie gras, a spread made from the liver of a fattened duck, is sold at a number of shops in Sarlat. This cute statue is dedicated to the ducks that make the foie gras possible. Sept. 15, 2012
The charm of Sarlat. Sept. 15, 2012
The charm of Sarlat. Sept. 15, 2012
The best part of the beautiful Dordogne region for me was Sarlat and staying at the Hotel Montaigne. Here Bonnie and I are enjoying a dinner outdoors in Sarlat with fellow Rick Steve tour members. Seated between Bonnie and I is Grace Payne and smiling across from us is Julia Henry, enjoying good food and good company during our last night in Sarlat. Sept. 15, 2012
After dinner we took an evening stroll through Sarlat, which along with many regions in France, was celebration Heritage Day (Journeys du Patrimonie). Scarlet was beautifully lit up by candlelight and warm street lights. Sept. 15, 2012
Leaving Sarlat tugged at my heart, but taking a barge ride on the Canal du Midi for a floating picnic lunch was the epitome of how to spend a laid back Sunday. There are more than 5,000 miles of canals that meander throughout France. Completed in 1681, this sleepy 155 mile canal connects France’s mediterranean and Atlantic coasts and runs right by Carcassonne, our destination for tonight. Sept. 16, 2012
Our group chowing down our sandwiches during our picnic lunch aboard a barge gliding down the Canal du Midi. Sept. 16, 2012
My buddy, Mary McGeough. Part of the Rick Steves tour fun is that we each pick a buddy who makes sure that we’re present. Sept. 16, 2012
The fortified old town of Carcassonne’s medieval walls and La Cite is impressive from the distance. The true beauty of Carcassonne is at night. We had dinner together enjoying a bowl of cassoulet. It is an old Roman concoction of duck, pork, sausage and white beans. After dinner we walked to a bridge with views of the magical walled city as it glowed in the dark, all while sipping on sparkling wine. Sept. 16, 2012
We had dinner together enjoying a bowl of cassoulet. It is an old Roman concoction of duck, pork, sausage and white beans. After dinner we walked to a bridge with views of the magical walled city as it glowed in the dark, all while sipping on sparkling wine. Sept. 16, 2012
This turned out to be my dream day in France. A vineyard tour and wine tasting on the family-run vineyard of the St. Cristal Chateau Des Hospitalizers, in France’s Languedoc region, was a mesmerizing stop on our way to the Pont du Gard and ultimately ending the day in Arles. This is our lunch spread with Patrick Vidal (in the striped shirt to the right) all the different delicacies and standing next to him was our hostess and owner of the vineyard, Sylviane with her husband Serge. Sept. 17, 2012
Grapes from the family-run vineyard of the St. Cristal Chateau Des Hospitalizers run by Serge and Sylviane. Sylviane took us on a tour of the winery as the grapes were being harvested.
The food was delicious, the company was enjoyable and the atmosphere was magical. The family run winery, St. Cristal Chateau Des Hospitalizers, is run by Serge and Sylvan. We sat outside and ate Sylviane’s spread of ten or more different dishes as we drank, free flowing, 2011 Sangiovese Syrah. This was an exceptional day. Sept. 17, 2012
I look like I was photoshopped into this picture…but I wasn’t. It was a sunny day and I was standing in the shade of the gleaming and impressive Pont du Gard, the well-preserved and majestic Roman aqueduct, a stop on our way to Arles. Through the ancient world, aqueducts heralded the greatness of Rome. Built in about 19 B.C. as the critical link of a 30-mile canal that, by dropping one inch for every 350 feet, supplied nine million gallons of water per day to Nimes, one of ancient Europe’s largest cities. Though most of the aqueduct is on or below the ground, at Pont du Gard it spans a canyon on a massive bridge. Sept. 17, 2012
We left our home base of Arles this morning to visit Les Baux-de-Provence. It is actually two sites in one, the castle ruins perched on a hilltop and a medieval, albeit touristy, village below. In the 11th century, Les Baux was a powerhouse in southern France, controlling about 80 towns. This long, narrow cobblestone street is part of the entryway to Les Baux village and the ancient looking window structure is called the Post Tenebras Lux window. Sept. 18, 2012
Les Baux-de-Provence village is long, narrow cobblestone streets between grey-stone Medieval buildings. Sept. 18, 2012
Les Baux-de-Provence the medieval castle ruins perched on a hilltop. Sept. 18, 2012
Les Baux-de-Provence the medieval castle ruins perched on a hilltop. The painting shows what the castle looked like during its hayday. Sept. 18, 2012
Me by the rocked and loaded trebushe at the hilltop medieval castle ruins of Les Baux-de-Provence. Sept. 18, 2012
Bonnie and I enjoying our lunch of fresh fish and vegetables at a restaurant in the Les-Baux village. Sept. 18, 2012
Back in Arles for an afternoon walking tour. Maybe it was the presence of Vincent Van Gogh, who left a chunk of his ear in the late 1800s when he settled in Arles or the presence of the Roman ruins including the Arena, Classical Theater and Forum. But Arle with its less touristy feel was warm and quite welcoming. So, we start our walking tour at St. Trephine church with its beautiful Romanesque entrance. Sept. 18, 2012
Close up of the …Sept. 18, 2012
Our group listening to our city guide inside the St. Trephine Church. Sept. 18, 2012
The Plaza Republic in the heart of Arle is the the town Hall, the Cathedral of Saint-Trophime, the chapel of St. Anne and the 4th century Roman obelisk, erected in the center of the Place de la République, in front of the town hall. Sept. 18, 2012
Ruins at the Roman theatre in Arles. Sept. 18, 2012
Ruins at the Roman theatre in Arles. Sept. 18, 2012
The exterior of the Roman arena ruins in Arles. Built in 90 AD, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Sept. 18, 2012
The interior of the Roman arena ruins in Arles. Sept. 18, 2012
The remnants of a Roman Forum column in a lively cafe-lined square in Arles. Sept. 18, 2012
One of the best parts of Arles were these easels of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings that mark the places inspired by the artist. This is Van Gogh’s painting involving Arles’ arena. In the winter of 1888, Van Gogh came to the conclusion that he could no longer live and paint in Paris so he moved to Arles. Sept. 18, 2012
This courtyard with its yellow arches was home to the hospital Vincent Van Gogh checked himself into in Arles. It surrounds a flowery courtyard the artist loved and painted called “The Asylum Garden,” at Arles in 1889. Sept. 18, 2012
The yellow cafe under the starry night sky “Cafe la Nuit” in Vincent Van Gogh’s painting (with the easel as a reference) dated 1888. Sept. 18, 2012Sept. 18, 2012
Me at the draw bridge from another one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, “The Langlois Bridge,” painted in 1888 in Arles. Sept. 19, 2012
Our Rick Steves tour group photo taken at the ancient history museum in Arles (one of our last stops as we make our way to Nice) with our guide Patrick Vidal (to the left end) and bus driver Philip (crouched in from), include Harold and Joan Bachman, Diane Chiarantano, Ross McLeod, Karen and Laurence Cram, joan Elcheson, Pamela and Robert Flagella, Penny Harrington, Julia Henry, Carol and Ivan Hoyt, Doris Jay, Cary Seiden, Maureen McCusker, Mary McGeough, Adrienne Millard, Glenn and Katherine Mores, Grace payne, Philip and Robin Pestone, Mary Quinn-Valladolid, janet and Richard Swaisgood, Bonnie Davis and me. Sept. 19, 2012
It was market day at Saint Remy, another quaint town over run with tourists on this beautiful day. Entering through the archway is the old town. , where we enjoyed lunch at an outdoor cafe and listened to live music on the streets Sept. 19, 2012
A square in Saint Remy with shops and other vendors. Sept. 19, 2012
A pretoria of colorful spices for sale at Saint Remy’s market day. Sept. 19, 2012
Good music playing in a small square at Saint Remy where we made a quick stop for lunch on our way to Nice. Sept. 19, 2012
Ah, Nice! As part of the French Riviera and France’s 5th largest city, Nice has a cosmopolitan small historical town feel to it. Traveling in September meant gorgeous weather for walking around and exploring this diamond by the Mediterranean. Sept. 20, 2012
Its market day in Nice and I absolutely love the fresh outdoor markets. Thankfully, our group is staying in Old Nice…which offers a French-Italian cultural blend. We stayed at the Hotel Mercure Marche aux Fleurs across from the azure Mediterranean beach with an upstairs bedroom loft in our room. Sept. 20, 2012
The streets of old Nice. Sept. 20, 2012
The streets of old Nice. Sept. 20, 2012
The streets of old Nice. Sept. 20, 2012
The streets of old Nice. Sept. 20, 2012
And, there’s nothing more glowing than Nice’s Massena square with its trams, the water fountain with the glowing statue of Apollo and the colorful buddhas…seven resin statues by Spaniard jaume Pensa on steel rods changing colors and lighting up the city. Sept. 20, 2012
And, there’s nothing more glowing than Nice’s Massena square with its trams, the water fountain with the glowing statue of Apollo and the seven colorful buddha resin statues by Spaniard jaume Pensa on steel rods changing colors and lighting up the city. I just loved watching the buddha statues change colors. Sept. 20, 2012
The sumptuous view of the Mediterranean as we make our way to Eze-le-Village and Monaco. Sept. 21, 2012
Eze-le-Village is basically a high above the Mediterranean sea, exotic garden, commercial town that offers shops, steep cobbled lanes and magnificent views. We walked up many stairs to the Chateau Eza for these stunning views. Sept. 21, 2012
Although there were no car races taking place in Monaco, the main draw for me was the scenery and the American actress Grace Kelly who married Prince Albert Rainier and made Monaco her home. She is buried here at the Cathedral of Monaco, next to her husband. This is also the same cathedral where they married. Sept. 21, 2012
Inside the Cathedral of Monaco where Princess Grace married Prince Albert Rainier and is now buried next to him. Sept. 21, 2012
American actress Grace Kelly married Prince Albert Rainier in this church and now the two are buried next to one another. This is the tomb of Princess Grace inside the Cathedral of Monaco. Sept. 21, 2012
It’s called the Rock of Monaco and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the port. In the foreground is the Prince’s Palace. In 1297, the Rock was seized by François Grimaldi, a member of the House of Grimaldi. The Grimaldis made the old fortress their residence and have ruled the country for more than 700 years. Sept. 21, 2012
The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is the official residence of the Prince of Monaco. Built in 1191 as a Genoese fortress, during its long and often dramatic history it has been bombarded and besieged by many foreign powers. Since the end of the 13th century, it has been the stronghold and home of the Grimaldi family who first captured it in 1297. Sept. 21, 2012
A gate entryway to and from the Prince’s Palace on the Rock in Monaco leads to a street with stunning harbor views and city landscape views of Monte Carlo. Sept. 21, 2012
The stunning views of Monte Carlo and the harbor. Sept. 21, 2012
More Monte Carlo views. Sept. 21, 2012
The infamous Monte Carlo casinos. Sept. 21, 2012
There’s probably nothing more distinguishable and Paris-related than the Eiffel Tower. We ended our Rick Steves tour of “Paris & the South of France,” said our good-byes and well wishes to tour mates, our guide Patrick Vidal and our bus driver Philip then Bonnie and I flew to Paris. Sept. 22, 2012
Before leaving for this trip, we made reservations to do the one thing neither of us has done, we made reservations to take that ride up the Eiffel Tower and view the amazing city of Paris just before dark. This is just a small portion of Paris just before sunset from the observatory deck of the Eiffel Tower. Sept. 22, 2012
The beautifully lit iconic Parisian symbol is just the best way to put an exclamatory mark on this trip! Sept. 22, 2012