Tailormade tour Gardens and vineyards at the heart of France self-drive tour France

7 nights/8 days

Champagne • Burgundy • Berry • Loire Valley

An enchanting self-drive touring holiday which combines some of the best-loved vineyards and wine producing regions of France with some of its most beautiful gardens, both well-known and elusive. Start in Calais before journeying southwards through the varied scenery and vegetation at the heart of France and include a visit to the magical gardens of the Prieure d’Orsan.
Holiday price guide

Available year-round subject to the opening period of the hotels, from about £1,980 per person.

Luxury self-drive tailormade touring holiday to the gardens and vineyards at the heart of France

Highlights

Epernay • Visit Reims • Visit Troyes • Visit Dijon • Cote d’Or vineyards • Cote de Beaune vineyards • Visit the gardens of the Prieure d’Orsan • Visit le Marais in Bourges • Visit Saumur • Amboise • Visit Chateau Cheverny • Visit Chateau Chenonceau • Visit Chateau d Villandry • Vineyard visits • Visit Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau • Go to a Son-el-Lumiere • Chinon

Day by day

Today, your self-drive touring holiday of the gardens and vineyards at the heart of France starts with your drive from Calais to the Champagne region. What you can fit in today once you arrive will depend on how early you leave Folkestone. The drive from Calais to Epernay is about 3 hours. You spend two nights in the Champagne region.

You have a whole day to explore the Champagne region. From your base in Epernay, you have the champagne houses of Epernay on your doorstep. Further north, there is Reims, although you may want to visit here on the first day. Venture into the nearby countryside to see the Aisne and Marne Valleys, which see the vineyards thrive, before viewing and tasting the produce of this landscape in one of the hundreds of underground chalky wine cellars in either Épernay or Reims. These Gallo-Roman cellars notably belong to champagne firms of international repute, such as Moët et Chandon and Mercier. Champagne Tribaut, a family-run business that supplies companies such as Krug and Taittinger, opens their cellars and vineyards to guests for tours and wine-tasting sessions. This intimate, homely experience lets the visitor see an alternative side of wine-growing to large scale production. Equally, just across the Marne Valley, you can find the vineyards that produce Pinot Noir, or head southwards through the Côte des Blancs to taste the local mineral-packed Chardonnay. Aside from vineyards and galleries, Reims offers a wealth of impressive architecture and culture, from the Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame with its wine-grower carvings, and the Palais du Tau, to the floral delights of Nanteuil-la-Forêt.

Your drive today from door to door is about 3 hours, but you may want to stop for sightseeing along the route. Troyes and Dijon are obvious places of interest. In Dijon visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts, for a short tour of its many tombs and ancient structures, and see the statue of Bareuzai the wine grower, on the Rue des Forges, who acts as a guiding spirit for the whole of Dijon. Your destination for today is the wine village of Gilly-les-Citeaux where you spend two nights.

The Burgundy region is best known for its Pinot Noir red wines, and Chardonnay white wines; however, Gilly-les-Cîteaux is perfectly suited for an exploration of all the wines Burgundy has to offer. The closest vineyard to the Château de Gilly is the relatively small vineyard of Vougeot, though the neighbouring, more recently cultivated vineyard of Clos de Vougeot is home to the produce of 70 wine growers. From here visitors can explore the Christian Clerget estate and the Château de Clos, which has four huge 12th Century winepresses, and taste the wine produced there. In nearby Chenôve, the Cuverie des ducs de Bourgogne houses two 13th Century winepresses, for visitors to view. Marsannay-la-Côte produces a selection of rosé wines that are obtained after a short maceration of Pinot Noir grapes. These wines can be tasted at the Domaine Regis Bouvier and the Château de Marsannay. However, the most famous of the Côte de Nuits wines is Chambertin, produced in Gevrey-Chambertin, a village very close to Gilly-lés-Cîteaux. When sitting down for a meal, partake in the tradition of drinking a kir before your meal, as this blend of crème de cassis and white wine, produced locally, is the perfect start to a delicious evening. Venture further out to visit the famous Chablis or take a tour of the white wine vineyards and cellars on the hillside village of Montagny-lés-Buxy.

Today you are heading for the very centre of France in the region of Berry, and to the beautiful garden of the Prieure d’Orsan, near Bourges. This garden is the main focus of the day and should be visited. The priory, which dates from 1107 when it was founded by Robert d’Arbrissel (who also founded the Abbey of Fontevraud, burial place of Richard the Lionheart and numerous other Plantagenets including Eleanor of Aquitaine), is now delightfully restored, as are the gardens, inspired by the mediaeval monastic gardens that would have been here for years after the founding of the priory. The gardens have come to the interest of the British public recent years due to being featured in Monty Don’s recent BBC Two programme on French gardens and deserve to be visited almost more than any other garden in France. The gardens are situated between the priory buildings and are divided into individual areas of intense interest: there are vines, fruit trees, a flourishing kitchen garden, a maze, lavender beds and wild flower meadows. It is an artistic creation that resembles a tapestry yet where organic crop rotation is practised. The thought and the care that goes into the attention to detail is spectacular. It is a truly wondrous place. The gardens are peaceful, the birdsong is vibrant and butterflies abound. You can also walk on the grass! We also recommend a trip into the surreal, but magnificent city of Bourges, with its charming medieval streets and fantastic cathedral. In the centre of Bourges lies the Marais, an area set aside for locals to cultivate their own gardens, veined with canals perfect for the small wooden boats that residents use to navigate them. The Marais is so large that it has led to Bourges being named one of France’s greenest cities. Springtime in Bourges and the International Ecological Film Festival are two festivals, among others, not to be missed in spring and summer. Just north of Bourges, La Borne is a village famous for its stoneware and ceramics. The Centre for Contemporary Ceramics offers a valuable insight into the Berry way of life. A little off the most direct route to your stop for the night is the wine-village of Sancerre, again another recommended stopping off point. The Domaines Vacheron and Henri Bourgeois are owned by two of the oldest and best reputed wine-making families in the area. To pick up more information about the wines of the area, visit the Maison de Sancerre in the old town and take the interactive tour, which culminates in a wine tasting. Nearby is Chavignol, home of the Crottin de Chavignon, a versatile goat’s cheese that goes well with the local wine. You spend one night in the village of Romorantin-Lanthenay, chosen for its strategic position at the end of a long day and for the hotel with a superb restaurant.

Today you are on the doorstep of the Loire Valley, known as the Garden of France, and you should start to enjoy the rolling, fertile landscape with its orchards and vineyards as well as the magnificence of its abundant chateaux and their gardens. It is worth heading north first to visit the Chateau de Cheverny, home to the same family for 600 years. Many treasures can be found at Cheverny including a 17th century Gobelin tapestry on display in the Arms room and a Louis XIV chest of drawers in the Boulle style. The park contains four distinct gardens: a tulip garden, a pleasure garden, a maze and a vegetable garden. From here you can go further north to Amboise. Amboise, on the banks of the river Loire, is home to the Chateau d’Amboise, a 15th century residence of Charles VIII and where you will find the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci. Nearby is the Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo Da Vinci lived. In the grounds are displays of working models of this designs. South of Amboise is the Château de Chenonceau, known sometimes at the ‘Ladies Castle’ due to its string of female owners, such as Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, and not to be missed. This château offers an extensive art gallery and a collection of exquisite Flemish tapestries, as well as wine-tasting opportunities. The gardens have lawn and wide flower beds, spectacularly colourful in summer. Your stop for two nights is south of Chinon.

From your base south of Chinon, you have a full day to explore this part of the Loire Valley. Chinon itself runs along the bank of the river Vienne, at the base of a rocky hill atop which sits the Chinon Fortresse Royale. The fortress dates from the 10th Century and has been repeatedly tied in to the legend of King Arthur. Inside, however, puts a modern twist on the history of the town with its high-tech, interactive facilities. Wine, art and history tours are also available in Chinon; or, if something a little different, visit the Musée de la Poire Tapée de Rivarennes (Pressed Pear Museum). Nearby, there are numerous beautiful châteaux, available for wine-tasting and exploring, such as the Château de Montgeoffrey, or dine on food grown on the estate at the Château de Rivau. The Chinon area specialises in Chinon Blanc wines grown from Chenin Blanc grapes or Pineau-de-Loire. For Loire Valley red wines or rosés, head to Bourgueil and Saint-Nicholas-de-Bourgueil for a wine-tasting tour, both less than half an hour from Chinon. Another two famous chateaux are reached easily from Chinon: Azay-le-Rideaux and Villandry. Villandry in particular has magnificent gardens, with numerous box and parterres in a classical French style. Azay-le-Rideau is built on an island in the Indre River, under the patronage of King Francois I. It combines French tradition and Italian innovation and typifies the style of architecture that developed in the 16th century.

Leave the hotel after breakfast and drive back to Calais for your return Eurotunnel crossing.

Holiday price guide Prices from £1,980 per person based on two people sharing a double or twin room.

Holiday Code FRSD07

Luxury self-drive tailormade touring holiday to the gardens and vineyards at the heart of France

Holiday price guide Prices from £1,980 per person based on two people sharing a double or twin room.

Holiday Code FRSD07

Our prices include ● Eurotunnel return crossing from Folkestone to Calais for car and passengers
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Classic double room at La Briqueterie near Épernay
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Tradition double room at the Château de Gilly in Gilly-lés-Cîteaux
● 1 night’s bed and breakfast in a Standard double room at the Grand Hotel du Lion d'Or, Romorantin-Lanthenay
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Classic double room in the chateau at the Château de Marçay near Chinon
● Concierge service and Expressions Holidays regional helpful hints

Our prices do not include ● Early check-in or late check-out at any hotels (although we can arrange this on request at additional cost)
● Any other services not mentioned above, such as transfers and meals except breakfast at hotels
● Personal holiday insurance. This is essential and cover should be in place from when you book the holiday.
● Local tourist tax, usually between Euros 1 and 3 per person per night, and payable locally to the hotel

Additional information Driving times
Calais to Épernay 3 hours
Épernay to Gilly-lés-Cîteaux 2 hours 50 minutes
Gilly-lés-Cîteaux to Romorantin-Lanthenay 5 hours
Romorantin-Lanthenay to Chinon 1 hour 30 minutes
Chinon to Calais 5 hours 10 minutes

Luxury self-drive tailormade touring holiday to the gardens and vineyards at the heart of France

Highlights of Burgundy

Cultural highlights include Burgundy wines and marcs, local wine festivals, the Beaujolais vineyards, and the Romanesque architecture.

Climate of Burgundy

Average air temperatures in centigrade: Jan: 6.1, Feb: 5.9, Mar: 10.3, Apr: 15.3, May: 15.8, Jun: 23.8, Jul: 25.8, Aug: 26.1, Sep: 21.2, Oct: 15.5, Nov: 9.1, Dec: 6.2. Source: Direction de la Meteorologique de France.

Luxury self-drive tailormade touring holiday to the gardens and vineyards at the heart of France

Highlights of Champagne

Champagne cellar visits in Reims, Epernay and in vineyards along the Aube; the old town of Charleville Mezieres, capital of the Ardennes department; Charles de Gaulle's country residence and burial site, Colombey les Deux Eglises; Reims, with one of the finest medieval cathedrals in France, once the coronation place of French kings, now with one of the best son-et-lumieres in France; Reims' magnificent Roman triumphal arch; Lac du Der, the biggest reservoir in Europe, one of the most important migration routes for Europe's waterfowl, sheltering vast flocks of cranes, passing through in their thousands in spring and autumn; the fortified hill town of Langres, ‘Carcassonne of the North’ - minus the crowds; la foret d'Orient near Troyes and Montagne de Reims, both Regional Natural Parks; river trips along the Seine, the Marne, and the Aube; the 13th century gothic cathedral of Troyes, with its spectacular stained glass windows; autumn wine festivals.

Travel around the Champagne region

The Champagne region is reached very easily from the UK by air and rail. With the most extensive rail network in Western Europe, France is a great country to explore by train. The nationally owned SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer) runs fast, efficient services between the main towns. Buses cover the rural areas, but services can be rather sporadic, with departures often at awkward times. To visit Champagne's cellars - the main reason for being here - by far the best option is to rent a car.

Luxury self-drive tailormade touring holiday to the gardens and vineyards at the heart of France

Highlights of the Loire Valley

Cultural highlights include wines and wine vinegars, wild mushrooms - (visit the mushroom museum), the Troglodyte caves, and local art exhibitions.

Festivals in the Loire Valley

Son et Lumiere in the chateaux in the summer months. Summer festival in Chinon in August.

Climate of the Loire Valley

Average air temperatures in Centigrade: Jan: 7.8, Feb: 6.8, Mar: 10.3, Apr: 16.1, May: 16.4, Jun: 23.6, Jul: 25.8, Aug: 24.5, Sep: 21.1, Oct: 16.2, Nov: 11.2, Dec: 7.0. Source: Direction de la Meteorologique de France.

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