Compass Blog

Notes on a Grand France Tour

Europe Destination Expert, Kerstin Sowden, visits Paris, Caen, Provence, Riviera and Monaco on a France Tour. “Lunch at a local square in Avignon surpassed all experiences on this trip – especially the lingering memory of what is the most divine quiche I’ve ever had.” Points of Interest: The Louvre Museum, Palace of Versailles, Hotel du Louvre, Festival of Lights in Lyon, Pont du Gard & Villages of Provence Visitors generally spend about 15 seconds viewing the Mona Lisa. I spent 15 minutes - at least. The Grand France tour starts off in Paris at the Louvre Museum. As an introduction to the museum and its maze of artistic and cultural worlds, I did a private-guided tour. The Kensington guide was deeply knowledgeable and understood my enthusiasm for art. He led me to all the works I’ve admired since I opened my first art history book. Art enthusiast or not, do not miss the opportunity to visit this historical landmark. I highly recommend a full-day, private-guided tour to appreciate the head-spinningly rich and complex collections - particularly on a first visit. Try and avoid peak times if you want to experience the works without having to rub shoulders with other tourists. A trip to the Palace of Versailles should be included in any Paris tour. It is only 20km southwest of the city and even if you can only spare a half-day, it is completely worth visiting this national monument. The palace is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18thcentury French art. The gardens need ample time to fully appreciate - flower beds, fountains, the Orangerie, Canal and statues. Kensington offers a day trip to Versailles, from Paris, to see the palace in the morning and enjoy the gardens in the afternoon with lunch. Caen is well-known for its long and complex history, specifically as a key site of the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War. A full day tour starts at the memorial for peace, followed by a visit to U.S. and Canadian cemeteries and finally to the beaches. It was a haunting but humbling experience. I stood on the beach imagining a continuous assault of Allied troops rolling in with the waves.  Behind me, a grandfather walked beside his son between the rows of crosses, telling stories and remembering who he had lost. I found the light in Lyon. An originally religious festival and uniquely Lyonnaise tradition, The Festival of Lights takes place annually on December 8th for four days. Through a combination of lighting, video and audio attractions, the town’s outstanding architectural heritage comes to life.  The festival draws over 4 million tourists (thankfully, not all at once!) and I was fortunate to be one of them. Best of all, it is free and open to all! The quiche arrived with a side salad and a glass of red wine. The fork melted through the flaky crust revealing a divine smell. It was the best quiche I’ve ever had and I found it in an open air restaurant in a quaint square of the Old Town in Avignon.  Perfect for curing the exhaustion from hours spent shopping for family and friends in the Christmas Markets. I poured another glass of wine and watched the world go by - undeniably my favourite Kensington Moment on this Grand France Tour. If you like what you read, check our France Tours or contact us here. While you're at it, become our fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Kerstin Sowden, Western Europe Expert, was born and raised in Toronto but her family roots in England and a steady infatuation for the Royal Family make her a Brit at heart. Her travels started in Asia and South Pacific and when she got to Australia, she decided to stay for a year. Now she focuses her passion and research towards Western Europe, specifically Italy, Spain, England and now France. When she heads out on the road, she’s looking for awe-inspiring experiences; exploring the hills on L’Uberon, enjoying a flamenco show in Barcelona and admiring David in Florence. Travel Tip: Try any dish at Memmo, a quaint family run restaurant in the heart of Rome – it’s a traditional, culinary treat that is sure to appease.

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