11 Day Sample France Itinerary
This itinerary is brought to you by EF Educational Tours (2006). This itinerary is not my own, and I have no affiliation with EF Tours.
When I was a French-speaking, hormonal teen, I had the opportunity to go to France on a class trip. Boy was I ecstatic! I could not stop dreaming about 1) cute French boys, 2) how great it will be to speak French in France, 3) baguettes, 4) crepes, 5) wine, and 6) the Eiffel Tour. The benefits of going on an organized class trip-everything was planned out and tickets were pre-purchased for us-no waiting in line! The downfall of going on an organized class trip-we woke up early in the morning (often 5 or 6 am, or so I remember…) and went to bed late (often 11 pm or later… again… or so I remember…) and it was exhausting! There was so much to a) see, b) learn, and my favorite c) eat. This trip was extraordinary, packed with museums, châteaux, opera, and tours galore, but my poor teenage self had the hardest time trying to journal, and trying to keep track of everything we did. It’s now been a decade later, and I have no clue what I have even seen and experienced in France, because we did SO MUCH.
However, I was lucky enough to find my old EF Educational Tours Itinerary, and while matching that to my memorabilia and photos, I was able to figure out most of everything that we a) saw, b) learned, and c) ate. So here is that itinerary, my photos, my memories and insights to 11 (ish) days in France.
Overnight flight to France.
How that really counts as a full day on the itinerary, I am unsure, but I can tell you that I did not sleep the night before, and my parents were nice enough to drive me out to the airport at 4:00 am, because even though it was an overnight flight, you gotta love layovers and all the flights that get you to THE FLIGHT.
Day 2: Paris
Arrival in Paris. Meet with bilingual tour guide.
Walking tour of Paris. Visit the chic Opéra district and the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, famous for its haute couture boutiques. Stroll the Place de la Concorde, the city’s largest public square, built to honor Louis XV, where the guillotine was located. Continue through the geometric gardens of the Tuileries, making your way to the Place Vendôme, a vast square surrounded by 17th century façades. Pass the Ritz hotel, a favorite by Ernest Hemingway.
Visit the Louvre. Built to defend the city in the 13th century, the Louvre safeguards some of the world’s greatest art collections. Enter through I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid, constructed in 1989 to discover priceless antiquities from Asia, Greece, and Rome. Iconic European paintings include the Mona Lisa.
Our tour guide’s name was Jamil and he was hilarious. Getting on the bus in the morning, meant Jamil singing to us “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey.”
When we arrived in Paris, it was around 8:00 am, closer to 1:00 am our time-meaning a full day of sightseeing, and some major jet lag. We took the R.E.R. (French Metro) from our hotel to downtown and began our walking tour. This was my first taste of Europe, and let me tell you, holy cow do I love the architecture. Buildings are so detailed and ornate, it blows my mind. After walking around what was previously described in the brochure above, we made our way to the Louvre. We spent about four hours here before burning out (again, jet lag).
I would definitely not recommend doing the Louvre your first day in Paris, if at all possible. I love art museums, but I was so exhausted I felt I could not truly appreciate the Louvre, nor do I remember most of it.
From what I do remember though, the ceilings were magnificent. Amazing paintings were on display, including the tiny Mona Lisa behind a foot of glass, on a wall all by itself, and 23857235 people trying to take pictures of it. I was truly fascinated by the sculptures, and loved looking at the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Now people either love or hate the glass pyramid, but I loved it! You could take an elevator inside and it was so amazing! I loved looking at the contrast between the modern pyramid and the architecture that was the Louvre itself.
Now we finally decided we had suffered enough, because after all, if you spent 30 seconds looking at every single piece of artwork inside this museum, it would take you three months to see everything. And unfortunately, nobody has time for that. So we wandered out to the Arc de Triomph Jeune and out to the Jardins des Tuileries. The gardens were beautiful! After walking around, we found ice cream from a vendor, and then took a nap along some fountains.
Now I’m not 100% sure, but I think we took a boat tour on the Seine this evening. The company we used was Bateaux Parisiens and we met at the bottom of the Eiffel Tour. This was one of my favorite activities in Paris. You were able to see all the monuments from a different perspective, and they were all lit up. Did you know the Eiffel Tour glitters at night? Now you do! It was so magnificent!
I cannot recommend an evening boat tour on the Seine, enough. Remember to bring a jacket and your camera, but don’t forget to look with your eyeballs too. Sometimes we miss out on the beauty of things because we are glued to our lenses, or worse, Snapchat.
Day 3: Paris
Guided sightseeing of Paris. Discover the Arc de Triomphe which commemorates Napoleon’s Grand Armeé, to the île de la Cité, birthplace of Paris. Drive down the Champs-Élysées to the Place de la Concord. Next, stop at the Eiffel Tour to marvel at the 6,000-ton centerpiece for the 1889 World’s Fair.
Visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. Built between 1163 and 1361 over the remains of an ancient Roan temple, Napoleon crowned himself emperor here in 1804. Step inside to admire the stained-glass rose windows and vaulted ceilings.
Guided visit to Versailles. Visit the elaborate palace of Louis XIV, where court was held in the most lavish style imaginable. At one point, 1,000 nobles were attended by 4000 servants inside the palace. Stroll the elegantly landscaped gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, tour the state apartments of the King, walk through the Hall of Mirrors and admire the ornate décor of the state apartments of the Queen.
Traffic was crazy around the Arc de Triomphe, and I cannot even fathom how everyone can drive around like that without getting in an accident. However, the Arc itself is so grand; I wish we could have been able to see it up close, without all the cars. The trees lining the Champs-Élysées were picture perfect.
We then were able to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tour, watching the city from a bird’s eye perspective. But we wanted to do something that no one, out of the millions of visitors had experienced before. So what did we do? We licked it. We even video-taped ourselves licking it. Smartest move? Probably not.
My favorite thing in any city is to find a church or building from which you can find a bird’s eye perspective of the city. The Eiffel Tour is your building to do this in.
After identifying all the landmarks from the top, we made our way back down to visit Notre Dame. The cathedral is beautiful with stained glass and vaulted ceilings, and all the gothic architecture that just wows me. Next up was Versailles! This palace is incredible. Although at the time, (2007), there was restoration being done on the outside, it was still magnificent! The details were to die for, with gold, and mirrors and ceilings that made you drool. The Hall of Mirrors was astounding, to know that mirrors represented wealth, and to walk into this part of the château, really put things into perspective. Furthermore, the gardens were lush and colorful, filled with a variety of flowers and perfectly trimmed hedges. Definitely a must-see!
To end our day, we went to Zara Opera. However, that’s according to my tickets and receipts, and I can’t tell you much else about it! Sorry! What I can tell you though, is that a ham and cheese baguette sandwich is something that I still drool over today! Anytime you see them with a street vendor, eat them!
Day 4: Loire Valley
Transfer via Chartres. In Chartres, visit Europe’s grandest 13th century Gothic cathedral, boasting the world’s finest stained-glass windows.
Visit to Chambord. Next stop is Chambord, the largest of all the Loire Valley châteaux. It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci helped with the castle’s design. View the stunning double-staircase that ascends through the center of the interior.
Overnight in the Loire Valley.
Unfortunately, here’s where things start to get blurry, with the travel and amount of châteaux that we visited, they started to blur together. So I apologize that the next couple days are vague from my standpoint. What I do remember though was how impressed I was at Chambord. The grounds were beautiful and green and the castle itself was huge. The staircase that was supposedly inspired by Leonardo de Vinci was something that I won’t forget. Two spiral flights of stairs wound independently around a central column. If two people take separate flights of stairs, they see each other, but never meet! We tested the hypothesis and it’s true! This staircase was magnificent and truly a memorable part of the castle.
Day 5: Loire Valley
Guided visit to Amboise. Inspired by the architecture from Northern Italy, Charles VIII commissioned Amboise. Working to emulate the majestic gardens of Italy, he brought gardener Pacello de Mercogliano to France to design a suitable garden for the king. Although the chateau was partially destroyed during the French Revolution, the medieval grandeur of the home of Louis XI, Louis XII, François I and Leonardo de Vinci is still apparent.
Visit to Château de Chenonceau. The Playground of the Kings includes a visit to the most romantic château in the region: Chenonceau. Beginning in the 1500’s, Catherine Bohier, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis, an extraordinary succession of women had a strong hand in the design of the castle.
Wine cellar presentation. Learn about the wine-making industry for which the Loire Valley is renowned during a wine cellar presentation.
Visit to les habitations troglodytiques. See how thousands of years of evolution created these subterranean hollows. Originally used as living spaces in the 11th and 12th centuries, these maze-like grottos are used as wine cellars, chapels, bakeries and shops. Dinner will be enjoyed inside one of these medieval dwellings.
At Amboise, the gardens were at least three times the size of the château, so it was clear how important the gardens were for the king. There is also a bust of Leonardo de Vinci present in the middle of the gardens close to the Louis XII wing of the castle.
At Chenonceau, each woman who influenced the castle had her own garden and the designs were breathtaking. With each and every castle that we visited, it became harder and harder to pick a favorite. The gardens itself were such intricate pieces of work, while the grandeur of the castles were sophisticated and ornate as well.
We took a break from visiting the castles, and finally were able to learn about wine. Visiting a wine cellar, there was so much to learn, but as a young teen, I didn’t really value this experience. Instead, all the punks I was with were purchasing wine “for their parents” (because you can at 16 in most of Europe) ready to sneak off and drink it at the hotel. After the wine tour, we visited these caves for dinner and later a discotheque. It was fun to dance and afterwards I was graced with my first drop of alcohol, wine from the Loire Valley.
Day 6: Loire Valley and St. Malo
Visit to Mont-St-Michel. Tour the breathtaking monastery of Mont-St-Michel. Perched high on a granite rock, this 8th century abbey is surrounded by water at high tide and quicksand at low tide.
Tour director-led sightseeing of St. Malo. Pirates once set sail from this rocky island. Learn how the town’s seamen fought Barbary pirates and swindled English, Dutch and Spanish merchants. Explore the town’s narrow streets, tall granite homes and medieval ramparts.
Mont-St-Michel seems to be famous on Pinterest, and it’s understandable why. When it’s high tide, it’s unreachable! It was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 and it’s incredible. Unfortunately, something happened and we were not able to tour Mont-St-Michel, but were able to drive past. St. Malo was a neat medieval town, which commercialized pirates, but was fun to wander around in, and of course find gelato.
Day 7: St. Malo and Normandy
Transfer to the beaches of Normandy. Stand on the actual beaches that witnessed the horrors of D-Day. The battles that took place here became the largest seaborne invasion in history.
Visit to Caen Memorial: Museum of Peace. Pay tribute to WWII troops who fought on the beaches of Normandy. You’ll watch a short film about the D-Day invasion, followed by a slide show on WWII. A third audio-visual presentation recounts the wars in Korea, Afghanistan, and Vietnam and the quest for world peace. Tour the museum and see displays depicting pre-WWII Europe and trace the events leading to the outbreak of the war.
Overnight in the Normandy region.
Normandy was a haunting experience. It was humbling to walk among the ruins of the bunkers and pits, and think of all those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The sides of the cliffs near the ocean still have barbed wire surrounding them, and crumbled concrete is strewn along the grass. But be forewarned that your technology doesn’t quite act right here, shutting off, or batteries dying. The Memorial was well-done, the films were very informative, and the museum had great displays. This is an emotional day. Seeing the white crosses lined up for what seemed like a mile, really puts into perspective all those lives that were lost for the better of our world.
Day 8: Normandy Region and Paris
Transfer via Rouen. Travel through Rouen, known as the City of a Hundred Spires because of its many churches. It was here that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake during the Hundred Years War. Rouen’s enormous Notre Dame Cathedral was a favorite subject of Claude Monet.
Return to Paris. On the return to Paris, there will be a stop at Giverny, where you’ll tour Claude Monet’s house and gardens.
There is a metal stake that stands where Joan of Arc was burned. We visited a number of churches, which have blurred together, similar to the castles. However, the original Notre Dame Church here, was astounding, in the gothic styled architecture and the stained glass inside the church. Restorations were being done on the front of this building as well.
After leaving Rouen, we stopped in Giverny. This was my favorite. Giverny is where Claude Monet had his gardens and inspiring water lilies for many of his paintings. This garden is spectacular, and truly, should not be missed.
Do everything you can to see Claude Monet’s Gardens at the Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been! I’m always telling friends to visit when in Paris!
Day 9: Paris and French Riviera
TGV to French Riviera. Board the “fast train” to the French Riviera.
Arrival in Nice. Arrive in Nice, Queen of the Riviera.
Tour director-led sightseeing of Nice. Acquaint yourself with the palm trees and promenades of this exclusive seaside resort. Walk in the footsteps of the rich and famous as you stroll through the Vieille Ville past whitewashed villas, and down the Promenade des Anglais. This spectacular scenery has inspired artists such as Renoir, Matisse, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
The bullet train was an awesome experience, because who doesn’t want to spend half the time it takes to get to your destination? The train travels at an average of 200 mph, getting you to Nice in about 5 hours. In Nice, we took advantage of a topless beach, and played in the ocean. It is beautiful here, definitely something to inspire artists by. I think this is where we were finally able to indulge in crepes as well.
If you have the time and money, come to the South of France and visit Nice. It’s always nice to view a country from the North and from the South, and with extra time, the East and the West. Each region is always so distinct, and it’s great to compare the bustling city of Paris, to the beach towns in Nice.
Day 10: French Riviera
Excursion to Grasse. With its pink villas and waving palm trees, Grasse has become home to perfume distilleries since the 16th century. Here you’ll have a guided tour of a perfume factory to learn how to create, extract, and produce essences.
Tour director-led sightseeing of St. Paul de Vence. Journey to the rustic hill town of St. Paul de Vence. Admire breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Alpes-Maritimes as you stroll along the 16th century ramparts encircling the town. Browse boutiques and galleries in this popular enclave for artists.
In Grasse we were able to visit the Fragonard Parfumeur to learn how perfume was made. In the end we were also able to purchase our own, which I still have some today. The perfume is in a concentrated batch, and is so delectable. We followed this tour up with a tour of Confiserie Florian, and were able to try loads of candy covered in chocolate samples. So delicious! In one of these towns we stopped at a farmers market, and I had the sweetest peach, I have ever had. Take advantage of fresh produce, you won’t ever forget it!
Day 11: Home
So tell me, what did you do differently when you went to France? What did I miss out on? What do you feel that you missed out on? What listed here helps you get excited for your trip?