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  • Fly-drive touring holiday of the historic south-west of France

    La Reserve

    La Reserve

    La Reserve

    Hotel de la Cite

    Hotel de la Cite

    Hotel de la Cite

    Hotel de la Cite

    Relais des Chartreuses

    Relais des Chartreuses

    Relais des Chartreuses

    Fly-drive touring holiday of the historic south-west of France

    10 nights and 11 days
    As the title suggests, this is a touring holiday that offers an opportunity to explore the rich history that the modern day southwest of France has inherited. From Albi to Carcassonne, on to Le Boulou and then back to Toulouse, this is a fascinating tour for lovers of history and architecture, giving a true sense of the region’s historic backdrop.

    Click here to download a pdf with information about some of our suggested French touring holidays.

    Fly to Toulouse and collect your hire car before embarking on your touring holiday; start near Albi with a three night stay in the tranquil setting of La Réserve , its grounds bordering the River Tarn. Famous as the home of Toulouse-Lautrec and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the episcopal city of Albi is a must-see, its brick cathedral the largest of its type worldwide and the Berbie Palace home to over 1,000 artistic works by its most famous son. Drive south to the mediaeval fortress of Carcassonne, perhaps taking a detour via the pink city of Toulouse, so named for the rose-tinted hue of its palatial public buildings, or across the dramatic landscapes of the Montagne Noire. As a self-drive touring holiday, you are free to indulge your whims and visit the region’s sights at will. Your second hotel, Hôtel de la Cité, enjoys a privileged position within the very heart of Carcassonne’s mediaeval walls, where your two-night stay allows you to uncover the delights of this attractive citadel. And finally, enjoy your drive through Cathar country and the vine-clad vistas of the Côtes du Roussillon, towards the Spanish frontier south of Perpignan to your rural hideaway, Relais des Chartreuses which is nestled deep in the foothills of the Albères. From here, you’re within easy striking distance of Picasso’s beloved Céret, at the heart of the Tech Valley, beautiful Collioure, and the coastal villages along the Côte Vermeille. During your five night stay you might cross the border into northern Catalonia too and discover the individuality of Figueres, with its eccentric Dalí Museum and mediaeval Girona, not to mention the charms of the Costa Brava. Your return flight will depart from Toulouse.

    Prices for this fly-drive tour from £1960 per person

    What's included:
    - Three nights’ bed and breakfast at La Réserve near Albi
    - Two 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
    - Scheduled return flights with British Airways (London to Toulouse)
    - Group A car hire for the duration of your holiday

    Fly-drive touring holiday of the historic south-west of France

    Day-by-Day Itinerary

    Arrive in Toulouse and drive northeast to Albi

    Follow the path of the River Tarn from Toulouse, past the Gaillac vineyards, to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Albi. Built around the centre-point of its red brick medieval cathedral, Saint Cecilia’s, Albi has a formidable and historical façade on approach. The cathedral itself is open to the public, with interesting stone and wood interior decorations, and an extensive mural on its exterior western wall depicting the Last Judgement. Next door sits the Bishop’s Palace, home to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, dedicated to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a famous post-impressionist iconographer. From outside the cathedral, head west to the piazza, which offers beautiful views over the Tarn, or head past the museum to find the thousand old bridge. Relatively untouched by commercial tourism, Albi is the ideal destination for those looking to seek out the best of French history. Your hotel, La Réserve, is situated on the banks of the river Tarn, just a short distance from the Gaillac vineyards. Visit the nearby village of Cahuzac-sur-Vère and the Domaine des Tres Cantous to try the local Vin d’Autan and Vin de Voile, or simply tour the fortified fairy-tale villages that punctuate the Gaillac landscape. Track down the characteristic dry, sweet wines, such as Mauzac, Ondenc, Muscadelle, Sauvignon, and Loin de L’Oeil to get the most out of this particular stop on the tour. The Maison des Vins de Gaillac offers tasting sessions that cover the wide variety of grapes that flourish in the Gaillac clime. Travelling a little further afield will bring you to Carmaux, and old mining town where tours are available that take you 350 metres below ground, or to Rodez, the home of the Viaduc du Viaur, designed by Gustave Eiffel, or to hilltop Cordes-sur-Ciel, the golden houses of which disappear above the clouds in the right weather.

    Drive from Albi to Carcassonne

    From Albi you can choose to drive directly south through the colourful Castres to see the houses built on the edge of its river, or through the vast history of Toulouse, to Carcassonne with its towering walls and crowning fortress. The Gallo-Roman upper town, La Cité, on the walls of which sits your hotel, Hôtel de la Cité, is an overtly important centre in France’s history, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Walk along the city walls, past the castle’s amphitheatre, the basilica, and its 53 watchtowers, before making your way into the 12th century Château Comtal to view its archaeological exhibits and tour its inner ramparts. For a more intimate, private experience of the region’s châteaux, drive south to the Cathar Castles, particularly the Château de Peyrepertuse. The lower Carcassonne town subverts its title as a city, instead offering a peaceful, somewhat sleepy atmosphere, with a central square that holds a weekly market and a number of small cafés. From Place Carnot, walk further out into the town centre to discover the quaint individual stores that sell unique gifts, or La Ferme, which sells fine food and wines. To seek out more lively bars, restaurants, and shops visit the nearby towns of Béziers and Narbonne. The Canal du Midi is perfect for a long afternoon stroll, or book a boat trip one afternoon to intensify the atmosphere of Carcassonne from the water. Languedoc-Roussillon’s reputation for excellent wine-making is internationally renowned, and until recently it was the largest wine-making region. Beyond the walls of La Cité lie Minervois, to the north, and Corbières, to the south. If wine-tasting appeals, head into one of the many château dotted around the countryside of these two regions. The Château Canet is the perfect spot to try some of the Muscat wines so typical of the Minervois region, as well as the olives from its three olive groves. Château Rives-Blanques in Cépie produces wines made available all over the world that you are encouraged by your warm hosts to taste on your visit. The less visited area of Saint Chinian, situated at the foothills of the Black Mountains and in the Parc Naturel Regional du Haut Languedoc, is worth a visit, known as it is for high quality produce; perhaps stop off at the Château de Combebelle.

    Drive from Carcassonne to Le Boulou

    Early on day six, head into Le Boulou and your hotel, the Relais des Chartreuses, in French Catalonia. A historic town 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, Saint Anthony’s Chapel, and the Quadrangular Tower. Explore 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. Recognised to be a Source de Bien-être, Le Boulou is also known for its thermal mineral water, the benefits of which can be reaped at the Chaîne Thermale du Soleil. Nearby Collioure offers golden sandy beaches and clear blue water, as well as the narrow alleyways and winding streets of old French towns, and a castle that remains popular with artists today. The Museum of Modern Arts in Céret pays homage to the entourage of famous names who have stayed in the city: Picasso, Braque, Gris, and Matisse among many, many more. 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 Lodge of the Sea, the Palais de Députation, or the Castillet, if you venture this way during your stay. Across the Spanish border sits Figueres, and the Dali Museum, a remarkable building before you even enter the front doors. 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. For a more active day out, why not hike along the river-ways of the Vallespir Valley or up the Albères Massif, to appreciate the wonderfully green views across the Catalan landscape. Alternatively, check in at the Association les Ecuries du Mas Linas to make use of their horse-riding routes. This varied and impressive landscape is home to a number of local companies that offer exciting experiences such as canyoning.

    Depart from Toulouse

    After getting your fill of the Catalan landscape, head back to Toulouse for your return flight to the UK.

    Driving times for this touring holiday:
    Toulouse to Albi: 1 hour
    Albi to Carcassonne: 1 hour 45 minutes
    Carcassonne to Le Boulou: 1 hour 20 minutes
    Le Boulou to Toulouse: 2 hours 15 minutes

    Historic Tour of Southwest v2

    Hotel Information

    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.

    La Réserve
    A family run hotel with a good reputation for comfort, service and cuisine, La Réserve occupies a low building constructed in the style of the region in its own parkland and grounds bordering the river Tarn. A short distance from the cathedral city of Albi, La Réserve offers comfortable, charming accommodation, furnished with traditional, period pieces of furniture with a cosy, homely feel. A 4-star member of Relais and Châteaux, the hotel makes an interesting place to stay for exploring the countryside around Albi, the Gaillac vineyards and the attractive valley of the Aveyron. La Réserve has just 22 rooms and suites, all with private bathroom, air conditioning, telephone and television. There is an outdoor swimming pool and a gourmet restaurant, serving specialities of the region. The rooms at La Réserve have views of the park, the swimming pool or the river.
    Find out more here.

    Hôtel de la Cité
    The 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 bathroom, 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 lawns 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 Chartreuses
    Le Boulou
    The 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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  • France

    Find out more about France

    France FAST FACTS


    Main airports are in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon, with scheduled and low cost airlines flying into the country from all over the UK.
    Euro (£1 = Euro 1.24)
    Roughly 600 miles wide and 700 miles long
    66 million
    Average temperature
    Varies dramatically, from about 8 degrees in winter in Brittany to 26 degrees in summer in Corsica, with snow on the Alps and Pyrenees year-round


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