The South of France with Dr. T

A 9-day tour in May 2019, starting from Montpellier – 100 miles west of Marseille – an exploration of cities, coast, history, landscape, and architecture. Enjoy the corner of Southern France where the Pyrénées, the hills of the Massif Central, and the Mediterranean all come together – the regions of Languedoc, famed for its vines, and Roussillon, right on the border with Spain. A fresh tour with Dr. Andrew Thomson (‘Dr. T’) as our guide – including a coffee stop at his holiday home in a Languedoc village, and two nights in Marseille at the end. Includes visits to the Roquefort cheese factory, the beautiful Millau Viaduct (2004) spanning an entire valley, the vineyards of l’Hérault, a fortress town in the Pyrénées, a walk on a Roman road, and downtime beside the Mediterranean. Staying in hotels in the fast-growing student city of Montpellier, the small pleasure port of Collioure (pictured above), Sète, a busy port town, and ending with 2 nights in Marseille, this is a 9-day tour – ending in Marseille.

Sunday 12 May, Fly from the USA

You have several choices for your transatlantic flight. You can book Montpellier as part of your transatlantic flight and then take a taxi (at own expense) into town and the hotel. Or you can fly into Paris and then take the TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, or by (less frequent) direct TGV from Paris CDG airport. The train takes 3 hrs 15 mins, flights take around 1 hour 20 minutes. One advantage of taking the TGV is our hotel is across the street from the train station. When exiting the station, look to your right and you will see an intersection. Our hotel is on the corner across the street.

Monday 13 May, tour starts in Montpellier (2 nights)

Gather at 4 p.m. for Welcome and a walking tour of Montpellier city center by Dr. T before our meal: the Place de la Comédie, the Esplanade walk, and the pedestrian streets of the Old Town. Montpellier (metropolitan area population: 560,000) developed rapidly in the Middle Ages as a large trading city, sitting astride the route from Italy to Spain, and close to the Mediterranean (just 10 miles away). Occupied by Arabs for three decades in the 8th century, in the 13th and 14th centuries it was part of the Kingdom of Aragon. Its links to the east gave it a head-start as a center for medicine – by 1200 it was one of the top medical centers in Western Europe, alongside Bologna. In the 1960s it benefitted from its climate, good transport connections, and research background when companies like IBM and Honeywell were choosing sites to expand in Europe. Montpellier has doubled in population since 1970. Dinner and overnight in Hotel Oceana Le Métropole, Montpellier.

Tuesday 14 May,  Millau Viaduct, Roquefort

Drive 1 hour 30 minutes north to the Roquefort cheese factory, in the heart of the limestone country of the Causse de Larzac.  Then on 20 minutes to the 2004 Millau Viaduct – a beautiful bridge spanning an entire valley, designed by Sir Norman Foster (who also designed the glass dome atop the Berlin Reichstag). We’ll go first to a spot at the base of the tallest of the bridge supports – the world’s tallest, nearly the height of the Eiffel Tower.  Up to drive over the viaduct itself – snack lunch at a great viewpoint. 1-hour 15-minute drive back to Montpellier. Dinner in nearby restaurant, Tchou-Tchou, overnight in Hotel Oceana Le Métropole, Montpellier.

Wednesday 15 May,  Canal du Midi, Narbonne, Collioure (3 nights)

1-hour drive west to see part of the Canal du Midi – a 17th-century public works program to join the Mediterranean to the Atlantic: coffee by the Ecluses de Fonséranes, an impressive set of eight adjacent locks. On 30 minutes to the old Roman regional capital of Narbonne: short walking tour including the exposed Roman road visible below the main city square – you can walk on it! – and the unique cathedral with a stunning Gothic apse and choir. It is beautiful, but that is all there is – to build the Nave in the same style would have involved pulling down the adjacent city wall: in the Wars of Religion, they still needed the wall, so the cathedral project was stopped… for good! Break for snack lunch here. Drive 1 hour 30 minutes south to Collioure, a pretty pleasure port on the Mediterranean where the flat coastline has given way to the very first foothills of the Pyrénées. We are now in Roussillon – at times part of Spain until 1659. Dinner in nearby restaurant, La Frégate, overnight in La Casa Païral in Collioure.

Thursday 16 May, Pyrénées: the fortress town of Villefranche-sur-Conflent

1 hour 20 minute drive up into the Pyrénées for a guided visit to the impressive fortress town of Villefranche.  Fortified by the French engineer Vauban in the late 1600s to defend the new French border; great mountain setting.  We will walk inside the two-level ramparts, enjoy the stores and cafés in the town, with an option of a visit in a 4×4 right up the hill to another fort overlooking the town (with great views of the Pic de Canigou mountaintop). Time for lunch (plenty of choices) before heading back to Collioure. Dinner in nearby restaurant, La Can Pla, overnight in La Casa Païral in Collioure.

Friday 17 May, Elne & Ceret; the Mediterranean at Collioure

A short tour of the region in the morning: 40-minute drive west to the bustling small town of Céret, center of the fruit-growing region. Coffee, time for the Museum of Modern Art (designed to let in the Mediterranean light; interesting special exhibitions). Back to Collioure via the famous sculpted cloisters at Elne (13th century) – Lunch here in Elne at Le Cara-Sollunch. Then the afternoon is free to enjoy Collioure: follow the walking trail celebrating views painted by Matisse & Dérain, walk the paths in the old district of Mouré, go inside the Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Anges which doubled up as the lighthouse for the old port, walk out to the Museum of Modern Art on the cliff edge. Dinner on your own, overnight in La Casa Païral in Collioure.

Saturday 18 May, L’Hérault region: Pezenas, St Guilhem le Désert, Le Pouget, Sète (2 nights)

Drive 1 hour 40 minutes north to the market town of Pezenas in the Hérault county of Languedoc – famous for its huge Saturday market.  Time to enjoy the market, and find some lunch. Leave 2.30 p.m. for 40 minute drive to the pretty village of St Guilhem le Désert, tucked away in the gorges of the Hérault River – short guided walk in the narrow streets, including the Romanesque abbey and its cloisters: half of the cloisters were sold off in the early 20th century – they ended up forming the major part of The Cloisters in upper Manhattan! Then into the vineyard region of the Hérault Valley – coffee at Dr. T’s holiday home in the village of Le Pouget, and a short walk amongst the vines. After a 45-minute drive from here over the hills, we will arrive in Sète – a busy Mediterranean fishing & trade port.  Dinner in a restaurant close to the hotel, Le Petit Bistrot. Overnight in the Hotel Imperial in La Corniche part of the town, 400 yards from the sea.

Sunday 19 May, Aigues Mortes (Camargue); free time in Sète

Drive 1 hour east to the 13th-century walled town of Aigues-Mortes, a ‘new town’ built to give France access to the Mediterranean. It is on the edge of the Camargue, the Rhone Delta. Walk on the walls and/or climb the Tour de Constance, time for lunch in the Place St Louis, and a look inside the Church from which King Louis IX set off on the Crusades. Back to Sète for free time: boat ride, cafés along the harbor front, Musée de la Mer, Musée Paul Valéry. Dinner at La Palangrotte, overnight in the Hotel Imperial.

Monday 20 May, Pont du Gard, Nimes – Marseille (2 nights)

Drive 1 hour 20 minutes east to the Pont du Gard, the largest surviving Roman aqueduct in the world. Then into nearby Nimes for its fine Roman buildings and a break for lunch. Drive 1 hour 45 minutes to Marseille (across the border from Languedoc into Provence). In the early evening, we will take a short harbor front walk. Dinner and overnight in Hôtel La Résidence.

Tuesday 21 May, Marseille

Guided city walk a.m., including the ruins of the Greek port which are included in the grounds of the museum of the city’s history, and the quaysides which have been developed as a cultural center in recent years.  Early afternoon visit to the new (2013) Museum of European Cultures of the Mediterranean. Dinner nearby at La Brasserie du Port, overnight in the Hôtel La Résidence.

Wednesday 22 May, tour ends – fly/train out of Marseille

Choose to fly home or extend to Paris, Barcelona or elsewhere at own expense. There is a Metro station a short walk from the hotel, and the train station is the second stop from the station. You can take the train to Paris or Barcelona, or take the airport shuttle to the Marseille Airport (MRS).

NAMES ArrivalDeparture

Laurence Barker 13 May, DL 8580, 13:40 29 May, DL 8380, 9:40
Rheanolte & Annie Marie Le Barbour 13 May, Train, 11:45 22 May, Train, 9:06
Dale Fleishman & Ron Jenkins 13 May, DL8693, 9:30 23 May, DL8363, 9:40
Carrol Smith & Rebecca Marti 13 May, DL9299, 15:50(RM)  AF7680, 14:40(CS) 22 May, KLM1264, 6:30A(RM)  BA6609. 11:10 (CS}
Greg & Judy Parks 12 May, Train 22 May, IB8913, 625
Robert & Luisa Price 13 May, Train 22 May, BA353, 8:00A
Tom & Melissa, and Michael Mieras 13 May, Train, 2:00P Independent travel
Sally Pearson & Roz Zager 13 May, AF7680,  14:40 Independent travel
Suzanne Jackson & Rosemary Cahill 13 May, AF7680,  14:40 Independent travel
Dale & Patsy Meyers 13 May, AF 7688, 9:40A 22 May, AF 7663, 10:35A
Cheryl Wilson 13 May, Train 22 May, BA353, 8:00A