Cathedrals of France

Tour Northern France: Explore the magnificent evolution of artistic and architectural styles by examining the stunning cathedrals and churches in and around Paris.

with Professor William R. Cook



2020 dates TBD


11 Days



Why Take This Tour ?

  • Led by Dr. William Cook, lecturer for The Great Courses
  • Visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Enjoy three nights in the center of Paris
  • Limited to 14 participants


Cathedrals of France

(click to enlarge)

Daily Itinerary

Day 1: Depart the USA.
Day 2: Arrive Paris. Welcome Dinner.
Day 3: Abbaye Saint Martin des Champs, Musee de Cluny, Abbaye de Saint Germain de Pres.
Day 4: Saint Denis Basilica, Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle.
Day 5: Chartres Cathedral.
Day 6: Saint Etienne de Bourges and Saint Lazare d’Autun Cathedrals.
Day 7: Sainte Marie Madeleine de Vezelay Cathedral, Saint Pierre et Saint Paul de Troyes Cathedral.
Day 8: Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral, Saint Remi Basilica, Saint Gervais et Saint Protais de Soissons Cathedral.
Day 9: Notre Dame de Laon, Notre Dame d’Amiens, and Notre Dame de Noyon Cathedrals.
Day 10: Saint Pierre de Beauvais and Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedrals.
Day 11: Return to the USA.

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 11-day journey throughout 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, Amiens, Reims, and, of course, picturesque Paris. Steep yourself in the history and culture that gave rise to these monumental tributes to the heavens… This trip is not to be missed!

Tour Leader

Professor William R. CookWilliam R. Cook earned his B.A. from Wabash College, graduating cum laude. Shortly thereafter he received the Woodrow Wilson and the Herbert Lehman fellowships to study Medieval History at Cornell University where he completed his Ph.D. He is a lecturer for “The Great Courses” and is currently the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. His publications include Images of St. Francis of Assisi and Francis of Assisi: The Way of Poverty and Humility. He also currently edits and contributes to The Art of the Franciscan Order in Italy. Dr. Cook’s passion and enthusiasm for medieval art and architecture make him both an informed and lively trip leader.

Tour Itinerary

(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner

Notre Dame Cathedral ParisDay 1: Depart the USA.

Day 2: Arrive at Charles de Gaulle International airport and transfer to the Villa Beaumarchais located in the heart of Paris. This will be our home away from home for the next three nights. 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 at an elegant local restaurant. (D)

Abbaye Saint Germain des PresDay 3: Our exploration of the Cathedrals of France begins with he fascinating Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, a treasure of medieval architecture. This Romanesque structure was discovered to be built over a chapel dating to the 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. This complex provides a unique glimpse into the civic architecture of medieval Paris, as it combines both Gothic and Renaissance elements. The museum itself houses an important collection of medieval artifacts including tapestries, sculpture, manuscripts and stained glass. From the museum we move on to the intriguing Abbaye 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. The evening is free to savor la cuisine française on our own. (B/L)

Basilique Saint-Denis, Saint Denis BasilicaDay 4: 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.  Our journey continues at the iconic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris which embodies French Gothic style and was 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. A short walk takes us to 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. (B/L/D)

Chartres CathedralDay 5: 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 de Chartres, the high point of Gothic architecture in the region. Built upon a site that once was a place of pagan worship, the cathedral is the first example of a ‘classic’ cathedral. Its edifice possesses an incomparable vigor of design and execution, unlike the often over-developed structures constructed thenceforth. Many features which first appeared in the Chartres Cathedral, however, were later developed to become hallmarks of the High Gothic style. Once we have finished our explorations for the day, we overnight at the Le Grand Monarque for one night. Dinner tonight is on our own. (B/L)

Day 6: Today we travel to Bourges, home to the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges. Completed in the 13th century, the site of this cathedral has been a place of Christian worship since the 3rd century. The western façade of this cathedral 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.  This afternoon we 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 arriving in the vicinity, on their way to Santiago de Campostela. We continue on to Vézelay where we overnight at the Hotel de la Poste et Lion d’Or for one night. (B/L/D)

Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral of TroyesDay 7: 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.  We move on to Montbard to visit the Abbaye de Fontenay de Montbard. One of the oldest and most complete Cistercian 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 town of half-timbered, 16th-century houses that overlook the picturesque St. Jean district. 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. Troyes is also home to two beautiful churches. The first, the Église Saint-Nizier, dates to the 16th century and is built in both Gothic and Renaissance style. Its roof of glazed tiles, luminescent Gothic naves, and stained glass windows, make the site an interesting stop on our journey through Troyes. Next we explore the Gothic Basilique Saint-Urbain de Troyes. Building of the basilica began in the 8th century but, due to financial difficulties, continued into the 20th century. Finally, we settle into the Hotel Mercure in Troyes for one night. (B/L/D)

Reims CathedralDay 8: 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. 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. After this visit, we venture on to Soissons to explore 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 two nights. (B/L/D)

Day 9: We begin today with 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. The white stone interior gives the effect of resounding luminosity, hinting at a higher power. We move on to Amiens to begin our explorations of the compelling Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens. Built 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. In 1981 the cathedral was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and later, 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. 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. In the evening we return to Soissons for dinner on our own. (B/L)

Beauvais CathedralDay 10: Today we travel to Beauvais, greatly damaged during both world wars, the town is 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 east to Rouen, an ancient capital of the Duchy of Normandy founded as 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. Not far, 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, dating to the 19th century and reflecting a Neo-Gothic style. After our visit we head back towards Paris and overnight in the Hotel Mercure near the airport for one night. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)

Day 11: Transfer from the hotel to the airport for our departure back to the USA. (B)

Tour Cost

CALL (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotels; meals as noted; ground transportation; entry fees; and gratuities.

Single Supplement: CALL.  Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.

Cost does not include: Round trip international airfare to Paris, France; a separate $150.00 (per person) donation check; passport or visa fees; airport or departure taxes; beverages or food not included on regular menus; laundry; excess baggage charges; personal tips; email, telephone and fax charges; or other items of a personal nature.

Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.

Donation Checks: 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 projects and museums 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 write a check to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person.


A deposit of $750.00 is required along with your registration form. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent initial trip documents. Click here to download our Registration Form.

Cancellations and Refunds

Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $450.00 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. Registrants are strongly advised to buy travel insurance that includes trip cancellation.

Air Ticketing

International flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If you do not arrive or depart on the scheduled days, you are responsible for all transportation (including airport transfers) to join the group. 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.

Private Tours of Sites

The private tours of 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.

This Tour of France is limited to 14 participants