On this Northern France experience, you will explore the magnificent evolution of artistic and architectural styles by examining the stunning cathedrals and churches in and around Paris.
Since the Christianization of Europe in the 4th century, cathedrals have served both as centers of ecclesiastical authority and marvels of architectural genius and innovation. The resurgence of the Church as a central authority and increased overall prosperity led to the active construction and reconstruction of many truly awe-inspiring cathedrals.
Join Far Horizons on a captivating 12-day tour in Northern France and experience the birthplace of this architectural evolution from robust Romanesque to soaring Gothic architecture. Led by renowned Professor William R. Cook, popular lecturer for The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company), we will explore stunning sites in Chartres, Bourges, Vezelay, Amiens, Reims, and, of course, picturesque Paris. Steep yourself in the history and culture that gave rise to these monumental tributes to the heavens…
Of course, a sojourn through France must include that country’s exceptional food and drink! So along the way, experience sumptuous French cuisine along with luscious regional wines including the champagnes of Troyes and Soissons.
This trip is not to be missed! If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to get in touch.
Depart for Paris, France.
Arrive at Charles de Gaulle International airport and independent transfers to our hotel. For the next three nights, experience the Old World elegance of the Victoria Palace Hotel located in the heart of Paris. The afternoon is free to relax after our flight, perhaps replenishing ourselves with a coffee in one of the many cafés nearby. Once rested, enjoy our welcome dinner in an elegant local restaurant. (D)
Our exploration of the sanctuaries of France begins with the fascinating Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, a treasure of medieval architecture. This imposing Romanesque structure was discovered to be built over a chapel dating to the 5th century Merovingian dynasty, revealing the site’s long history as a place of worship. Next, we head to Musée National du Moyen-Âge: thermes et hôtel de Cluny, housing an important collection of medieval artifacts including tapestries, sculpture, manuscripts and stained glass.
This complex provides a unique glimpse into the civic architecture of medieval Paris, as it combines both Gothic and Renaissance elements. The afternoon will be spent walking through the historic section of Paris, with UNESCO World Heritage status, where we see iconic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, a masterpiece of French Gothic style. Built on a site that has been occupied since Roman times, this immense construction became a meeting place for the craftsmen’s guilds and a place of education renowned throughout Europe. The evening is free to savor la cuisine française on our own. (B/L)
Today begins with a visit to the inspiring Basilique Saint-Denis, the purported birthplace of Gothic architecture. The cathedral that once stood here, built circa 1143, was the first example of the ‘new style’ in Europe, but was massively damaged during the French Revolution. Restoration work conducted in the 19th century has exposed the authentic Gothic style of the choir and west front. Next we visit Sainte-Chappelle.
Consecrated in 1248, this aptly named ‘Holy Chapel’ was built to house Louis the IX’s collection of relics of Christ and boasts a colorful interior and impressive stain glass that brings the immensity of the heavens to earth. Move on to the intriguing Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Built on the outskirts of medieval Paris, this site once served as the burial place of Merovingian kings. After its foundation in the 6th century, this Benedictine abbey went on to become one of the richest in France. If available, enjoy a private tour of the restorative work being done by the American Friends for the Preservation of Saint Germain des Prés, our donation project. (B/L/D)
This morning we venture south of Paris, to Chartres. This picturesque town marks the point at which the Eure River divides into three branches, effectively speckling the town with bridges. We spend the day exploring the impressive Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, with UNESCO World Heritage designation. Built upon a site that once was a place of pagan worship, the cathedral is the first example of a ‘classic’ cathedral and is the high point of Gothic architecture in the region.
The majority of the original stained glass windows are still intact, and there have been only minor changes in the architecture since the early 13th century when it was completed. Many features, which first appeared in the Chartres Cathedral, were later developed to become hallmarks of the High Gothic style.
Long on the pilgrimage route, it is venerated for its famous relic, the Sancta Camisa, said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth. Once we have finished our explorations for the day, we overnight at the Le Grand Monarque Hotel and Spa for one night. Dinner tonight is on our own. (B/L)
Our drive from Chartres takes us to Bourges, a Royal City since the year 1100, and home to the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges. Completed in the 13th century, and once the northeastern corner of the Gallo-Roman walled city, the location of this sanctuary has been a place of Christian worship since the 3rd century.
Exemplifying a supreme form of Gothic art, this architectural masterpiece demonstrates the power of Christianity in medieval France. Supported by flying buttresses, the western façade is the largest of all the Gothic edifices in France. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, this structure is an important example in the evolution of Gothic architecture. After lunch, move on to Autun.
The Romanesque Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d’Autun was constructed in the 12th century in response to the large number of pilgrims passing through on their way to Santiago de Compostela. We continue on to Vézelay where we overnight at the Hotel de la Poste et Lion d’Or for one night. (B/L/D)
Rising on a rock from a deep valley, the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay, founded in 864, is a masterpiece of Romanesque art and architecture. Both this abbey church and the hill upon which it stands were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.
Gaining its fame for housing relics of Mary Magdalene, this site remains an important place of pilgrimage despite the exposure of its holy artifacts as fakes. Unlike its contemporaries, the subject of Vézelay’s tympanum, a decorative structure above the entrance, is the Pentecostal Mission of the Apostles.
This depiction of the events of the Pentecost serves as a spiritual defense of the Crusades and is a prime example of politics meeting religion in architecture. Continue to Montbard to visit the Abbaye de Fontaney, one of the oldest and most complete Cistern abbeys. This Romanesque structure was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1981. In the afternoon, we move on to Troyes, a charming medieval town that overlooks the picturesque River Seine, where we settle into the Hotel Mercure for two nights. We are in the heart of sparkling Champagne country and we gather this afternoon for a private tasting of luscious local wines. (B/L)
It became an important religious site for the early Celtic Church when the relics of the Irish saint, Columba, were moved here from Iona, Scotland’s remote western island and important medieval monastic center. Overnight in the Dunkeld House Hotel in Dunkeld, a country house hotel overlooking the River Tay. (B/D)
Located along the Seine, Troyes is home to the multifaceted Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Troyes. This complex has known many constructions, but work on its Gothic incarnation began in 1208 and continued into the 17th century. The cathedral is particularly well known for its striking stained glass dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
Lunch and the afternoon are on our own to explore Troyes’ lovely medieval old town featuring narrow, cobbled streets lined with colorful, half-timbered houses, mostly dating to the 16th century. We gather this evening for dinner in one of Troyes exceptional restaurants. (B/D)
We depart Troyes for Reims. A textile town in medieval times, wine production took over in the 15th century as the industry of choice and has remained a tradition; the town is currently home to many top champagne houses. The medieval roots of the city are far from lost, however, as the overwhelming Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims provides imposing evidence.
This cathedral, begun in 1211, was designed for royal coronations, which meant that no expense was spared in its decoration. Its ornate façade is a reflection of the intersection of religion, art and power. Although it was built in stages between the 13th and the 15th centuries, the structure has a unity of style that represents the height of the mature French Gothic style and has UNESCO World Heritage status.
A short distance away, at the south end of town, is the largest Romanesque church in France, the Basilique Saint-Remi de Reims. Founded in the 11th century, this building was constructed over the burial site of St. Remi, renowned for baptizing the King of the Franks, Clovis I, an act which lead to the conversion of the entire Frankish people. Our drive through the picturesque countryside takes us to Dizy and a family winery where we will be treated to a dining experience of cold French delicacies along with champagne, of course!
After lunch, we venture onto nearby Epernay and the Avenue de Champagne, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars, where the 17th-century method of producing sparkling wines using secondary fermentation in the bottle is still practiced. In nearby Soissons, we will enter the impressive Cathédrale Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais de Soissons.
The current edifice is the third constructed on this site; work began in 1176 but was not completed for another three centuries. In addition to architectural detail, the cathedral offers a wealth of stained glass and tapestries. Not to be missed is Rubens’ baroque painting ‘Adoration of the Shepherds.’ We overnight in Soissons at the Hotel des Francs for one night. (B/L)
We begin today in nearby Laon. Once a royal city, the surrounding woodlands were favored by kings for their superior hunting grounds. Here, we view the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon, built during the 12th and 13th centuries. It is one of the most important and stylistically unified examples of early Gothic architecture. Known for its imposing towers, the pointed arches in the luminous white interior show the way up to Heaven.
Next, we continue on to the ecclesiastical town of Noyon, located on the Oise Canal. Construction of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Noyon began around 1150 and is a fine example of transitional architectural style, from Romanesque to Gothic.
Move on to Amiens to begin our explorations of the compelling Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Erected between 1220 and 1270, this is the largest of all Gothic cathedrals and is the tallest religious building in France. Its western portals are famous for their elaborate sculptures, creations which have influenced church sculpture throughout Europe. During the 1990s, a laser cleaning process revealed that the western façade was originally painted with vibrant colors. Fortunately, lighting techniques were developed to project these colors with precision directly on the façade, recreating in a stunning display the edifice’s 13th century effect on churchgoers, which we will have the option of viewing later this evening. Overnight for one night at the Mercure Amiens Cathedrale Hotel. In the evening, return to Soissons. (B/L/D)
Travel west to Beauvais, home to the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais. Begun in 1225, this ambitious construction features the highest vault in Gothic architecture. Despite many structural complications, work on the cathedral continued sporadically well into the 16th century, but ultimately the structure was left in its current, unfinished state.
Église Notre-Dame de la Basse Œuvre, a small Romanesque church dating back to the second half of the 10th century stands to this day on the grounds originally allotted for the nave. We also explore the Église Saint-Étienne, built over its predecessor, which was destroyed in a fire in 1108.
The church was reconstructed in both Romanesque and Gothic styles. Next, we move to Rouen, an ancient capital of the Duchy of Normandy founded on a Roman settlement. Despite modernization, Rouen has maintained many medieval treasures in its ‘old’ district including half-timbered buildings and a clock (set in a Renaissance arch).
The glorious Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen springs up from 12th-century foundations, revealing soaring Gothic arches, intricate Flamboyant carving and two towers that flank the façade. A short distance away, we view Église Saint Maclou, considered one of the best examples of Flamboyant Gothic architecture in France; its construction began sometime after 1432 during the transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles.
Nearby we find the Abbaye Saint Ouen de Rouen, which has both Merovingian and Carolingian origins. Construction of the current structure began in 1318, work was slowed, however, by the Hundred Years War. The abbey church’s slow evolution is highlighted by the western façade, which dates to the 19th century and reflects a Neo-Gothic style. After our visit, we head back towards Paris and overnight near the airport for one night. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Transfer from the hotel to the airport for our departure home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for a mile or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging 3-4 miles of walking. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least half an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 30 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking for a mile or two every day. We feel that this preparation will increase your enjoyment of the trip. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.