Artistic and Architectural France Cathedral Tour
On this Northern France travel package, you will explore the magnificent evolution of artistic and architectural styles by examining the stunning cathedrals and churches in and around Paris. Keep reading more about this exceptional tour, but we’d also like to invite you to explore our other Historical and Cultural Tours in Europe and our Historical and Cultural Tours in Africa.
with Professor William R. Cook
August 19 – 30, 2023
Why Take This Incredible Tour in Northern France?
- Led by Dr. William R. Cook, lecturer for The Great Courses
- Visit eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Enjoy three nights in the center of Paris
- Private tour of the Cathedral in Chartres
- Experience a behind-the-scenes view of preservation work at Saint-Germain-des-Prés church
- Private Champagne Tasting
- Limited to 14 participants
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France Travel Package Itinerary
Day 1: Fly to Paris.
Day 2: Arrive Paris.
Day 3: Abbey Saint Martin des Champs. Walking tour of Paris.
Day 4: Basilica St. Denis. Sainte-Chapelle, Church of Saint Germain des Prés
Day 5: Chartres Cathedral.
Day 6: Cathedral of Bourges. Autun Cathedral. Overnight Vezelay.
Day 7: Vezelay Cathedral. St. Pere Monastery. Abbey of Fontenay of Montbard. Champagne tasting.
Day 8: Cathedral of St. Pierre and St. Paul. St. Urbain Basilica.
Day 9: Notre Dame in Reims. Basilica of St. Remi. Soissons Cathedral. Champagne winery lunch.
Day 10: Laon Cathedral. Amiens Cathedral. Noyon Cathedral.
Day 11: Beauvais Cathedral. Rouen Cathedral.
Day 12: Fly back to the USA.
Come with us on an exquisite historical tour of France
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.
Your France Cathedrals Tour Leader
William 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.
“Any trip with Dr. Cook is excellent’ – Susan Seabold,
“Our expectations were to have an experience similar to what Dr. Cook presented in his Great Courses series. This trip far exceeded our expectations. We learned a lot more medieval and Christian history than expected.
“Dr. Cook was also far more engaging than we could have hoped. Not only does he love to teach, but he was genuinely interested in what our experiences were and how we perceived things. This was a wonderful trip mostly because Bill Cook is a work of art himself. The trip was stunningly good.” – Jeff Koester
“Bill Cook is a treasure, brilliant, intensively in love with his subject, and a superb communicator” – Howard Gradet
France Cathedrals Tour Itinerary
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Travel to France
Departure from the USA on an overnight flight bound for Paris, France.
Day 2: Arrive in France and Stay in Villa Beaumarchais
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 Villa Beaumarchais 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)
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 in the Hotel Mercure near the airport for one night. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Day 12: Travel Back to the USA
Transfer from the hotel to the airport for our departure back to the USA. (B)
12-day France Historical Tour Cost
$9,995.00 (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotels; meals as noted; ground transportation; entry fees; and gratuities.
Single Supplement: $1,195.00. 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; necessary vaccines or tests; 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 per person 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 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. Insurance recommended by Far Horizons can be reviewed by clicking HERE.
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