Grand ‘Tour de France’ by First Class rail
Prices starting from £1,395 per person
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Let the train take the strain on this classic Grand ‘Tour de France’. Experience the beauty of these fascinating and diverse French cities on this delightful 11 night/ 12 day tour. You begin at Lille, capital of Flanders, with its mix of Flemish and European style, culture and cuisine. Revel in the cobbled streets, quaint gabled architecture, beautiful buildings and colourful markets. Then head south and discover Lyon, France’s capital of gastronomy, with its famous restaurants and taverns serving typical Lyonnais cuisine. Enjoy the contrast between old and new as you explore the city’s historical sites. Your journey continues south to Marseille, named as a European Capital of Culture and France’s oldest city. This rich, pulsating port welcomes you with a feast of eclectic cuisines, smart shops, world music and cultural diversity. Wander along the coastal tracks that veer around sun-scorched coves and sandy beaches and perhaps venture to the pretty town of Cassis or the magnificent Calanques. You then travel west to Bordeaux on the French Atlantic coast, where you can explore the mix of neoclassical grandeur of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Old Town Centre and the riverfront area with a twist of modern innovation. Your final destination is the incomparable French capital, Paris, the most romantic of cities which boasts an abundance of iconic monuments, world-class museums, gastronomic restaurants and chic boutiques, all framed by elegant, tree-lined boulevards and the mesmeric river Seine.
11 night / 12 day holiday by First Class rail on daytime trains, including an overnight stay in Lille, 3 nights in Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux and an overnight stay in Paris, plus private taxi transfers in Paris from £1,395 per person (based on 2 people travelling together) in low season, November to February. Prices in mid season (March, July and August) or high season (April-June, September and October) will differ.
Day 1 – London to Lille
Your Grand ‘Tour de France’ begins as you enter stunningly restored St. Pancras International station. Take your time to appreciate the splendour of the magnificent glass roof, then sit back, relax and watch the countryside swish past as you travel by Eurostar to Lille at speeds of up to 186mph. Enjoy the light meal and drinks served on board in Standard Premier service (formerly 1st class). On arrival at Lille Europe station make your own way the short distance to your overnight hotel, the Hotel l’Hermitage Gantois (5 star), ideally located in the centre of Lille just a 5-minute walk from La Grande Place.
Lille boasts an attractive heritage, history and lifestyle through its main sites and monuments. These include the Palais Rihour, the Vieille Bourse, the Cathedral Notre-Dame de la Treille and the Hospice Comtesse, a reminder of the city’s Flemish past. The old town of Lille is a charming area to stroll around and admire the architectural diversity of the city and its pleasant shops. As you amble through the streets, you will see numerous iconic buildings from different periods and of all styles, including Flemish constructions like the old Stock Exchange, prestigious monuments and artistically influenced buildings. There is also so much culture to see in Lille, if you have time why not visit the Palace of Fine Arts, the 2nd largest museum in France or the Musee Hospice Comtesse, which contains the town’s museum.
Day 2 – Lille to Lyon
This morning after breakfast make your way back to Lille Europe station and head for the French TGV platforms to continue your journey by TGV south through France to Lyon. On arrival make your way to your hotel for the next 3 nights, the elegant, highly-rated Grand Hotel des Terreaux (4 star), ideally located between the river Rhône and the river Saône. This evening choose from a wide variety of high quality restaurants in France’s capital of gastronomy.
Days 3 and 4 – Lyon
Whilst in Lyon make sure you visit the Old Town and the Croix-Rousse quarter, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to uncover its narrow cobbled streets and trademark traboules, alleyways used by silk workers and, later on, the Resistance during World War II. Take the time to further explore Lyon, perhaps visit the huge 16th-century Gothic cathedral and astrological clock on Place St. Jean or take the funicular to the landmark Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, topped by twin turrets. Lyon has a number of interesting museums, including the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation, which provides a fascinating and poignant reminder of Lyon’s role during the Second World War.
Day 5 – Lyon to Marseille
This morning you return to Lyon Part-Dieu station to take the TGV service to Marseille, France’s oldest city and ideally surrounded by the sparkling Mediterranean. On arrival make your own way on foot or by taxi to your hotel for your 3 night stay, the stylish, highly-rated Grand Hotel Beauvau (4 star), a charming and elegant hotel located in the heart of Marseille on the fabulous Vieux Port.
Days 6 and 7 – Marseille
You have 2 full days on the Mediterranean. You might like to wander around the Vieux Port area, Marseille’s focal point since roughly 600 BC. Marvel at the quintessential French architecture along the quais (quaysides), overlooking the docks speckled with a mixture of fishing and pleasure boats. Marseille’s Panier (Old Town) is a warren of a district which winds up the hill to the north of the Vieux Port and claims to be the oldest urban quartier in France. The striking Byzantine architecture of the Notre-Dame-de-la Garde Cathedral is well worth a visit and offers excellent panoramic views along the coastline and out to sea.
You might like to venture further afield and explore more of this beautiful coastline by taking a trip to Cassis and the Calanques. Cassis is a small picture-postcard fishing village, home to the eponymous liqueur, which gives a kir its colour and sweetness. The Calanques are fjord-like limestone formations, famous for their crystal-clear waters and hidden beaches and grottos. In the evenings why not sample the famous Bouillabaisse (fish soup) over dinner at some of the fantastic seafood restaurants Marseille has to offer.
Day 8 – Marseille to Bordeaux
Savour your final morning in Marseille before making your way back to the Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles. Here you join the TGV service for the pleasant journey west to the Atlantic coast and the city of Bordeaux. As you arrive into Bordeaux station, make your way through the historic centre to your hotel for 3 nights the sumptuous and highly rated Grand Hotel de Bordeaux and Spa (5 star). This evening you might like to take a stroll through the old town before enjoying innovative seafood dishes served in the hotel’s restaurant, Le Pressoir d’Argent.
Days 9 and 10 – Bordeaux
You have 2 full days to discover the delights of Bordeaux. Perhaps start by exploring the UNESCO World Heritage old town, which is renowned as being “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of the 18th century. Growing gentrification has resulted in a blend of neoclassical grandeur and modern innovation, which has created a fascinating city. Explore the best of this transformation along the Riverfront, where once old warehouses have become jaunty bars and cafes. The Riverfront leads onto the impressive Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) and from here you can experience spectacular views across the river and quayside at dusk.
The Place de la Bourse marks the heart of the old town centre, from where you can take a stroll along the ancient streets, featuring a mixture of bistros, boutiques and vintage shops. The two best museums in the city are the Musée d’Aquitaine and Musée des Beaux Arts, which offer an insight into the history of Bordeaux and a star-studded collection of European art respectively. Alternatively you might like to relax in the Jardin Public, a beautiful park with a botanical garden and Natural History Museum framed by lovely honey-coloured 18th century townhouses
Day 11 – Bordeaux to Paris
This morning after breakfast make your way back to Bordeaux station for your First Class journey to Paris. You travel north on the superfast TGV before you arrive at the Gare de Lyon. Here you are met by your private taxi which transfers you in style directly to your overnight hotel, the stylish, highly-rated Hotel Le Mareuil (4 star), an eco-friendly hotel ideally located a short walk from the Canal Saint-Martin.
This evening you might like to explore Paris on foot and wend your way along the river Seine past Notre Dame, the charming Île St. Louis and onto the Rive Gauche. Perhaps soak up some culture with a visit to the treasures of the marvellous Louvre, including the Mona Lisa, feast on the impressionist spectacle at the Musée d’Orsay or revel in the inimitable Centre Pompidou. Alternatively seek out the quieter streets of the Marais or head for the city’s elegant stores and colourful markets. In the evenings you may prefer the welcome of one of Paris’ traditional, evocative brasseries for dinner.
Day 12 – Free time in Paris and homeward bound
After breakfast why not take a trip up the Eiffel Tower or along the river Seine aboard one of the Bâteaux Mouches (payable locally), alternatively wander among the classy streets and stylish shops of Paris’ 1st arrondissement.
Your private transfer to the Gare du Nord heralds the start of your journey home and time to bid au revoir to France’s capital city. Here you join the Eurostar service and head for home. Take time to reflect on the magnificent sights, sounds and tastes you have enjoyed on your Grand ‘Tour de France’, as you sit back and relax with a light meal and drinks before your arrival into London St Pancras.