Soak up the atmosphere of your 12th century hotel
This small group tour provides many experiences our larger group tours to this area simply cannot. Soak up the atmosphere of your 12th century hotel, taste wine made from grapevines whose predecessors date all the way back to the first Elizabethan era, and journey through a genuine area of undiscovered France aboard the memorable Train des Gorges.
Our tour begins at St Pancras International, where we meet at Great Rail Journeys' dedicated Departure Office. From here our Tour Manager will escort us to the Eurostar service bound directly for Avignon. On the way a light meal and drinks will be served to our Standard Premier Class seats. On arrival in France we transfer by coach to the Drôme Valley, where our 12th century castle hotel, Château de Rochegude, awaits. On arrival we settle into our rooms ahead of a gastronomic welcome dinner consisting of four courses all served up in the hotel's impressive dining room.
Enjoy a leisurely morning familiarising yourself with your new, regal surroundings. After breakfast perhaps take a walk through the extensive grounds or relax in your room. This afternoon we make our way by coach to Tournon-Saint- Jeans where we join the heritage Train des Gorges for a steam-hauled journey through the forest-laden scenery of the Ardèche. The line has been running since 1891and travels through the inaccessible Gorges du Doux, a stretch of countryside comprised of the Ardèche mountains, fairytale woodland, gentle babbling waters and plentiful fruit orchards, scenes which have only ever been witnessed by people travelling along this exact rail route. Following our return trip, we return to Château de Rochegude by coach.
One of France's most recognisable landmarks, the impressive Pont du Gard stands 161 feet above the Gardon River, and spans 902 feet across it. This mighty aqueduct was built in about 50 AD, using solid blocks hewn from the nearby rock - with no mortar to hold them together. Originally the Pont du Gard was part of a 30-mile waterway, used to transport 4.4 million gallons of water from the River Eure to Nîmes every day. The mineral deposits on the aqueduct indicate that it was still being used in the 9th century, long after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Today we visit this famous landmark, where we have a guided tour as well as time to explore the site and its adjoining museum at leisure, before transferring to the town of Uzes for a three-course lunch. After lining our stomachs it's time for a visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a medieval village built on a hillside and overlooked by the ruins of an ancient château. The village is perhaps the most famous red wine producing village in the world and is surrounded almost completely by vineyards, with the River Rhône winding across the landscape.
We have the chance to taste the local tipple with a private tour and wine tasting at Château la Nerthe, a winery that dates back to 1560. Day 4 is at leisure for you to explore Château de Rochegude and the surrounding area further.
This morning we enjoy a guided walking tour of charming Avignon. The city is well known for the Pont St Bénezet, its famous broken bridge. All but four of its arches were washed away in a devastating flood in 1668 - and today the surviving arches have become an iconic symbol of the city, and the feature of a famous song. The city is also famous for the Palais des Papes - Palace of the Popes - which was the seat of the Papacy for six successive Popes during the 14th century after Pope Clement V escaped the violent chaos and corruption of Rome and moved to Avignon. We enjoy entrance to the palace during our tour as well as Rocher des Doms, a lush hilltop garden set on a rocky bluff overlooking the city. From here you get a glorious panorama of the old town's terracotta roofs. In the afternoon you have some free time to look around. Why not head to Les Halles, the city's vibrant market to savour the sights, smells and tastes of fresh Provençal produce? From there, art-lovers can happily while away a few hours in the wonderful Angladon Museum, home to Van Gogh's Railway Carriages which hangs alongside pieces by Picasso, Manet and Cézanne.
Our first excursion today takes us by coach to the town of Saint-Remèze, home to a lavender museum that gives us an in-depth portrait of the history, cultivation and distilling process involved in making all the lavender products available in the gift shop and café - we recommend tasting the lavender ice cream and lemonade. We also take a stroll through the aromatic gardens, where it's purple almost as far as the eye can see, during our guided tour. Next we visit the Ardèche Gorge, which is affectionately known as the grand Canyon of Europe to locals. It may not be on quite the same scale as it's American counterpart, but it's no less impressive for that; stretching for 30 kilometres from Vallon-Pontd'Arc to Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche. We take the scenic route to Saint-Martind'Ardèche itself, with stops along the way to admire the extraordinary views. Back at the hotel this evening we sit down to a final, farewell meal together.
Driving back to Avignon, we catch the Eurostar back to London St Pancras International, where our tour comes to an end.
An escorted experience and all travel arrangements
Characterful accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
This tour may be suitable for reduced mobility passengers, please call for further information.
Soak up the atmosphere of your 12th century hotel