8 nights and 9 daysJourney first by train to Carcassonne, then Perpignan and enjoy the freedom to explore that is granted by renting a hire car. Make the most of the warmer weather, changing landscapes and mingling cultural influences from both French and Spanish sides of the border. Staying at only two hotels in between, this is a relaxed and leisurely tour that matches the pace of life of these warmer regions of France.Click here to download a pdf with information about some of our suggested French touring holidays.Depart London just before 7am for the Eurostar journey to Lille Europe, where you change to the TGV departing for Narbonne to arrive just after 5pm. From here, connect to a local train, taking just 30 minutes, to Carcassonne, where the Hôtel de la Cité enjoys a privileged position within the mediaeval citadel walls. Here you’ll spend a few days discovering the delights of this popular city and the surrounding region of Languedoc-Roussillon, perhaps taking the train to the pink city of Toulouse, so named for the rose-tinted hue of its palatial public buildings. The second part of your southwestern itinerary takes you to the Relais des Chartreuses, located deep into the heart of French Catalonia just a stone’s throw from the Franco-Spanish frontier. Take the train back to Narbonne and change for Perpignan (alternatively, there is a direct train late-afternoon).On arrival, you’ll pick up your hire car and drive the 30-minute journey to your hotel, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees, overlooking the Vallespir Valley. From here, you’re within striking distance of Picasso’s beloved Céret, at the heart of the Tech Valley, beautiful Collioure, and the coastal villages along the Côte Vermeille. Return to Perpignan, where your lunchtime TGV whisks you up to Lille, arriving just before 8pm (earlier trains are available but involve a change). Your homebound Eurostar arrives in London just after 9pm.
PRICESPrices for this touring holiday from £1890 per personWhat's included:- Three nights’ bed and breakfast at the Hôtel de la Cité in Carcassonne- Five nights’ bed and breakfast at the Relais des Chartreuses in Le Boulou, near Perpignan- Eurostar 2nd class London to Lille return, then TGV Lille to Narbonne/local train to Carcassonne and TGV Perpignan to Lille, 2nd class and a group A hire-car for 5 daysClick the tabs above to view our suggested day-by-day touring itinerary and to find out more about the hotels featured.Click here to find out more about how our self-drive touring holidays work or click here to download a pdf with information about some of our suggested French touring holidays.
Day-by-Day ItineraryDAYS ONE TO THREE:Travel to Carcassonne from London and stay for three nightsThe approach to Carcassonne is as formidable and imposing as it is breath-taking. The Gallo-Roman medieval upper town, known as La Cité, has become synonymous with French history, particularly in this area. The Hôtel de la Cité is perched on one of La Cité’s enormous outer walls, a position that affords it some of the best views in Carcassonne across the rolling green countryside of Languedoc. 53 watchtowers also line the walls, which can be explored on foot, as can the 12th century Château Comtal, and its inner ramparts and archaeological exhibits. The amphitheatre, the Théâtre Jean Deschamps, just inside the walls of La Cité and therefore with the high stone walls and turrets as the stage’s backdrop, is not to be missed and is still used for performances today. The cavernous Basilique Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Celse rises above the city walls, with its captivating and unusual shape and circular stained-glass window. Down in the newer, lower part of the city, the sleepy atmosphere typical of rural French villages is retained. The Place Carnot hosts a weekly food market, which is the ideal place to pick up some samples of the local specialities, while quaint individual shops can be found dotted around the other city streets. For a more military insight into the legacy of the fortress, perhaps visit La Musée de la Torture de Carcassonne, or, for something a little more cheery, the Museum of Chivalry, Arms, and Archery, or the Museum of the Middle Ages, all popular spots for history enthusiasts. For a different viewpoint on the city, perhaps take a canal boat ride along the Canal du Midi, lasting either half a day or a whole day, or simply wander along its banks. If transportation can be arranged, it is worth venturing out into the Minervois and Corbières vineyards, situated north and south of Carcassonne respectively, to try the somewhat experimental fruity reds and muscat wines that the area is known for. However, some vineyards closer to the city walls can be accessed on foot or by bicycle.DAYS FOUR TO EIGHT: Travel south to Le Boulou and stay for five nightsLeave medieval France for French Catalonia. Your next stop on this touring holiday is the Relais des Chartreuses in Le Boulou. Of entirely different proportions to Carcassonne, Le Boulou’s quaint but beautiful historic charm comes in the form of its 832kg iron bell, dating back to 1436, the Saint Anthony’s Chapel, and the Quadrangular Tower. Explore these monuments and the origins of the town in Le Cellera, the oldest part of Le Boulou, or embark on the 10km trial that takes you through the history and geography of the Battle of Le Boulou. Having received the title of ‘Source de Bien-être,’ Le Boulou is known for its thermal mineral water, the benefits of which can be reaped at the Chaîne Thermale du Soleil. Nearby Collioure offers the golden sandy beaches and clear blue water typical of the Mediterranean coast, as well as the narrow alleyways and winding streets of old French towns, and the Château Royal de Collioure, which remains consistently popular with passing artists. Thanks to the favour of Matisse and Derain, Collioure quickly gained the name of ‘Birthplace of Fauvism’ in the 20th century, though the likes of Picasso and Dufy have also stayed here. To see the Catalan artistic attraction continued, visit Céret, and its Museum of Modern Arts, which pays homage to Picasso, Braque, Gris, and Matisse, among others, who have stayed in the town. The renowned Palace of the Kings of Majorca in Perpignan only scratches the surface of the historical and architectural delights available in the town. Do not neglect the Palais de Députation, the Castillet, or the exotic arched windows of the Catalan houses if you venture this way during your stay. Across the Spanish border sits the Dali Museum in Figueres, a remarkable building before you even enter the front doors. Use your final few days in Le Boulou to explore the rebellious legacy of the Cathar Country, from which Le Boulou is only a short distance. The Château de Peyrepertuse is the most dramatic of the Cathar Castles, built on the varying platforms of a jagged mountain top, and thus often struck by lightning during summer storms. But before you reach the crowning glory of the Cathar legacy, spend a few hours in the other castles, such as the Château de Quéribus, Château de Puivert, and Château d’Aguilar, all built into the rock faces of the Pre-Pyrenees Mountains. To really finish off your experience of French Catalonia, be sure to try the local delicacies: meatballs, dried sausages, sauces for fish and chicken, and Collioure anchovies. Famous wines include Muscat, Rivesaltes, Banyuls, and Maury, and can be tried alongside the Catalan cuisine in the local restaurants and bars.DAY NINE:Return to Perpignan for your return journey to LondonLeave Le Boulou after spending one last relaxing night in the Relais des Chartreuses. Return your hire car before catching your return train from Perpignan to Lille, and then on to London.
Below is some information regarding each of the hotels featured in this touring itinerary. Alternative hotels are available in some destinations - please contact us for full details.Hôtel de la CitéCarcassonneThe Hôtel de la Cité occupies a privileged position on the site of a former episcopal palace within the mediaeval walled city of Carcassonne. The building’s original features such as beamed ceilings, wooden panelling and floral tapestries have been preserved and enhanced by fine fabrics and hand crafted furniture from local workshops. The emphasis is on traditional style matched by contemporary comfort. All bedrooms have private bathrooms, sound proofing, air conditioning, telephone, television and video. The Hôtel de la Cité has an excellent gourmet restaurant with a Michelin star, La Barbacane, located in the heart of the hotel, with high Gothic ceilings. There is also a library bar for relaxation with live piano music in the evenings on occasion. Outside is a heated swimming pool and gardens of lawn and flower beds. Unique and luxurious, elegant and traditional, the Hôtel de la Cité is well worth a visit.Find out more here.Relais des ChartreusesLe BoulouThe Relais des Chartreuses near Le Boulou is an unexpected hidden gem nestled deep in the foothills of the Albères, perfectly situated for exploring the many delights of Catalonia, north and south of the France-Spain border. Overlooking the surrounding hills of the Vallespir Valley, the hotel is set in 5,000 square metres of tranquil parkland, complete with outdoor swimming pool. The Relais des Chartreuses is within striking distance of Perpignan and the artist haunts of Céret, Collioure and Figueres, beloved by Picasso, Matisse and Dalí respectively. This 17th-century Catalan farmhouse has been lovingly renovated and refurbished to offer stylish and contemporary accommodation of three-star standard. The 14 rooms are decorated in a subtle, neutral colour palette and are accentuated by fine regional and Louis XV and XVI furnishings, whilst the former dovecote in the garden has been converted into a beautiful suite. Dinner is an intimate and tasty affair, with a simple yet appealing seasonal menu offering Mediterranean-inspired cuisine using the freshest local produce and accompanied by some of the finest Languedocian vintages. There is also a wellness centre within the grounds of the Relais des Chartreuses, offering beauty treatments and massages. A short drive from the French coastal resorts of Collioure, Banyuls-sur-Mer, Argèles-sur-Mer and Port-Vendres and close enough for a day’s excursion to the Spanish seaside villages of Cadaqués, Roses and Empuriabrava or the fascinating towns of Figueres and Girona, the Relais des Chartreuses near Le Boulou offers a convenient and most attractive base for exploring the region.Find out more here.
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