France- Sarlat la Caneda, Dordogne River Valley, Loire Valley and Normandy
Fly in/out: Paris, France (CDG)
Recommended ages: 5th grade and up
Ball Park Price: $2,000/per person for 4 travellers (airfare not included)
Best Season: April-October
DAY ONE & TWO: Fly to Paris via Air Canada. Pick up rental car (request automatic!) from Hertz (right in airport) at Charles De Gaulle Airport. (CDG) Drive approximately 5 hours south to Sarlat-la-Caneda. Check in at Les Cordeliers Bed and Breakfast.
DAY THREE: Enjoy Sarlat Market (Wednesday and Saturdays) with extensive choices of things to eat and buy. Begin “Cave Day” and head to Rouffignac Caves, where a small train takes you deep underground to view hundreds of exquisitely preserved cave drawings. Then, reservations at Font de Gaume followed by Gouffre de Padirac.
DAY FOUR: Spend a full day canoeing on the Dordogne River-a wonderful scenic trip canoeing along the cliffs, passing by village of La Madeleine and Les Eyzies Village. Stop at Le Bournat village and restaurant.
DAY FIVE: Leave Sarlat in the a.m. and drive to Loire Valley region. Along the way, visit Oradour-Sur-Glane museum and village, a burnt village from the Nazis left untouched since 1944 as a memorial- a memorable experience and poignant history lesson. Visit Amboise Royal Chateau and go to sound and light show in the evening. Check in at Hotel Manoir les Minimes.
DAY SIX – EIGHT: Spend two days and explore the Loire Valley and chateaus, castles and manors in this order: Chenonceau, Chambord, Chateaux d’ Usse, Villandry, Clos Luce, d’Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, Chinon, Cheverny, Chaumont. Take a hot air balloon ride at sunset overlooking the Loire Valley.
DAY NINE: Spend the day on the Mont Saint-Michel and visit parish, abbey and museums. Understand the tide schedule to drive and park on Mont. Check in hotel located on Mont St-Michel property for one night at Auberge St. Pierre.
DAY TEN: Leave Mont St-Michel in morning after tides and go straight to Bayeux Museum that houses the Bayeux tapestries. Visit Notre Dame Cathedral in Bayeux. Check in at Chateau de Damigny and have dinner.
DAY TWELVE: Drive back to Paris (See France Part 2)
- Our first stop at Sarlat-La-Caneda, capital of Perigord Noir is famous for its fifteenth and sixteenth century houses with their flat stone roofs. We enjoyed staying at Les Cordeliers as our base for our “Cave Day” and “Canoe Day.” This cave filled region with paintings on the walls of the cave interiors, opens your eyes to learning about our earliest ancestors. We enjoyed the outdoors on our canoe day taking in the lovely views of the banks of the Dordogne. Prepare to go swimming.
- Our second portion of the trip took us through the castles and chateaus through the Loire Valley. This area features some of the most majestic castles that are nestled close together. Many of the landmarks are rich in history and art. The three full days in this beautiful area allowed us to leisurely visit 3-4 historical sites a day including stops at restaurants inside the chateaus.
- Our last section of our trip took us to the Northern part of France to Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy Beaches and the Bayeux Tapestries. Mont Saint-Michel was a step back in time to a medieval city. The Bayeux tapestries showcase medieval embroidery depicting the Norman Conquest of England in the year 1066. The Normandy beach tour was definitely the most moving part of our journey.
- Of all the caves we visited, we enjoyed Font de Gaume the best. The cave contains prehistoric cave painting and engravings dating back thousands of years.
- Our favorite stop in the Loire Valley was Chateau de Chenonceau. A 16th century castle built over the River Cher has a beautiful exterior but also a meticulously restored interior. The kids felt like they were living in the castle. You can visit the abundant number of rooms in under an hour and enjoy a small boat ride on River Cher.
- Our tour through Normandy beaches was led by Victory Tours marketed as “one man-one van” company. The private tour (max 8 people) was led by Roel who is a history buff of the area and a wonderful educator. Our kids remained curious and interested the whole tour.
Places to stay
- Les Cordeliers is a bed and breakfast overlooking the beautiful square of the Petite Rigaudie in the famous medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda. Enjoy a wonderful breakfast each day and access to the kitchen for snacks is a plus.
- We stayed in a charming luxury hotel situated in the middle of the Loire Valley.
- We spent one night “on the rock” at Mont St-Michel to fully take in the views. Beware, no air conditioning but well worth it. This hotel is on the main road leading to Mont. St-Michel.
- Our last stay was at the Chateau de Damigny perfectly situated near Bayeux and Normandy Beaches. This privately owned and quaint castle with fabulous gardens, bicycles, and wonderful cuisine. Our host provided amazing dinners!
- There are countless cafes, bistros and restaurants to choose from for the vast number of tourists France receives annually. We relied on the Michelin guides to help us select our top picks for each area we visited.
- The 6 course meals offered by Chateau de Damigny were delicious.
- Our last stop in Honfleur, we enjoyed an off the beaten path restaurant L’Endroit.
- Make sure your rental car is an automatic and has a new GPS system loaded. It was key in helping us navigate this trip. Gas is pretty expensive in France so keep that in mind for the budget.
- Exploring the caves in Dordogne was fascinating but the local tour guides spoke broken English and lines can be long. Alternatively because they limit the amount of tickets for sale daily, consider hiring a guide for your cave day. The Cave Connection is a reputable guide for exploring the prehistoric caves.
- Be sensitive to air temperatures when scheduling an expensive hot air balloon ride. Although the views over the Loire Valley by hot air balloon were spectacular, keep in mind that the balloons are operated by fire so if you go on a hot day it will get very hot.
A valid passport is required for all U.S. citizens and foreign national entering France. Make sure that the Passport is valid for at least 6 months before expiring. Visas are not required for citizens of the United States but double check with the French embassy before departing.