Two of our French trips are architectural. In the first, we witness the birth of the Gothic, a new and eloquent architectural form that emerged in northern France in the mid 12th century, and took the medieval world by storm. Over five days, we trace its origins in the abbey of St Denis, as well as celebrating several of its masterpieces, at Chartres, Amiens, Beauvais and Reims cathedrals.
Then, in the Loire valley, we explore the finest collection of châteaux ever built. Here, the architecture was much more heterogeneous, mixing Late-Gothic forms with Renaissance embellishments. But that has not dented its impact on subsequent generations of builders, nor its fairy-tale effect on the French landscape.
In Normandy and Anjou we look at the revolutionary changes in religious and political life that took place in the 10th-12th centuries. Feudalism, castle-building, and the consolidation of church power created tools of conquest and control that sustained two remarkable dynasties and changed the course of European history. The Bayeux Tapestry, and Fontevraud Abbey – final resting place of Henry II and Richard the Lionheart – are among the many highlights.
Our fourth trip has a 20th-century theme. Using Nice as a springboard, we celebrate the impact of the Cote d’Azur on a generation of modern artists, in a series of magnificent site-specific works and first-class museums. Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Bonnard and Léger all have starring roles.