For centuries, travellers have been seduced by the blend of medieval and modern cultures found in the French regions of Burgundy, Provence and the Riviera. From the inspiring birth of Romanesque art and architecture at Cluny and Vézelay to the Dukes of Burgundy and the popes in Avignon, the extraordinary histories and landscapes of southern France continued to inspire great art all the way through to Van Gogh, Bonnard and Picasso.
Our 16-day tour begins in Burgundy, a region renowned for its charming villages and vineyards, superlative wines and majestic Romanesque architecture. Following the Rhône River south from Lyon to the Côte d’Azur, we admire fine Roman ruins like the Pont du Gard, enjoy excellent regional cuisine, visit exceptional regional art galleries and enjoy the exuberant atmosphere and colour of the French Riviera.
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Medieval Art & Architecture
Survey the best of medieval art and architecture, from the sturdy new style developed by Romanesque masons to the birth of the Gothic in Avignon.
Admire Burgundian refinement at Dijon’s Musée des Beaux-Arts and Beaune’s Hôtel-Dieu and appreciate post-Impressionists and modernists at Arles’ Fondation Vincent van Gogh and at Vence’s Fondation Maeght.
Roman Ruins & Archaeology
Explore more than 300 years of well-preserved Roman Gaul history in southern France at sites like the Gallo-Roman Museum in Lyon and the aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, now a World Heritage site.
Fine Food and Wine
Savour the storied traditions of France’s premier gastronomic regions and their modern reinterpretations, from fine wines in Burgundy’s historic vineyards to haute cuisine on the Riviera.
The landscapes of southern France influenced generations of artists: from the rich, earthy colours and contours of Arles to the watery azures of the Riviera, we see the imprint of these places in the art of Van Gogh and Cocteau, in Cézanne and Chagall – and many more.
Days 1–5: Arrive Dijon; tour Cluny, Vézelay and Autun. Visit Beaune’s Hôtel Dieu, home to Rogier van der Weyden’s Last Judgement, and Dijon’s Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy.
Days 6–8: Tour Lyon’s Roman ruins, enjoy contemporary Lyonnais art and cuisine.
Days 9–11:Explore the papal palace in Avignon, the Roman ruins of Nîmes and the extraordinary Pont du Gard, and walk in Van Gogh’s footsteps in Arles.
Days 12–16:Travel to Antibes via Cézanne’s Aix-en-Provence. Discover the glittering Côte d’Azur at the turn of the 20th century, from the grand villas of the wealthy to museums dedicated to Chagall and Matisse.
The tour starts at 2.00pm, May 27, the Genoa International Airport.
The tour finishes after breakfast on June 11 at the Royal Antibes Hotel.
Saturday 27 May – Arrival
We will meet in the arrivals hall at Geneva International Airport and travel together to our hotel in Dijon. There is time to check in and freshen up before dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Dijon (D)
Sunday 28 May – Dijon and the Dukes of Burgundy
The Dukes of Burgundy were among the most sophisticated, powerful and rich men in medieval Europe. At its greatest extent, their territory was larger than the Kingdom of France – indeed, they appropriated large parts of France by playing the French and English off each other in the Hundred Years War. After a talk, this morning we visit their Palace of the Dukes, Dijon’s Museum of Fine Art, the Romanesque crypt of Saint-Benigne cathedral and the church of Notre-Dame. Overnight Dijon (B)
Monday 29 May – Vézelay and the Magdalene
The transferral of relics and the pilgrims who swarmed to see them were key parts of the medieval economy. This morning we visit Vézelay Abbey, which preserved an important shrine to Mary Magdalene, thought to have ended her days in southern France. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the basilica is a masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque. At nearby Saulieu we admire the range of Romanesque sculpture, a combination of piety and fantastical imagination, and we enjoy a tasting of the local white wine. Overnight Dijon (B, WT)
Tuesday 30 May – Romanesque Autun, Burgundian Beaune
We spend the morning in Autun, where we admire the fine Romanesque sculpture of St-Lazare Cathedral, among the world’s best. We then transfer to Beaune, home to the medieval architecture of the Hôtel-Dieu. This medieval hospital contains Rogier van der Weyden’s Beaune altarpiece, the rich colours and intense emotions of its Last Judgement challenging European painters for many generations. At Notre-Dame, we admire 15th-century tapestries on the life of the Virgin, before returning to Dijon. Overnight Dijon (B, WT)
Wednesday 31 May – Benedictines at Cluny & Berzé-la-Ville
We depart Dijon for Lyon today, travelling first to the Cluny Abbey, which was the headquarters of the Benedictine order that dominated medieval pilgrim routes. It was also the world’s largest church until the expansion of St Peter’s in Rome and its architecture was enormously influential. We trace it from its magnificent remains in Lyon to the intimate dimensions of the 11th-century Chapelle des Moines at Berzé-la-Ville, perhaps the private retreat of the abbot. Overnight Lyon (B, L)
Thursday 1 June – Roman Lyon
Lyon (Lugdunum) was the thriving capital of Roman Gaul and the birthplace of the emperors Claudius and Caracalla. This morning we have a guided visit of Lyon’s Roman ruins and the Gallo-Roman Museum, which has a fine collection of archaeological finds from the area, including jewellery, mosaics and everyday objects. The afternoon is at leisure to explore the city’s numerous museums. Overnight Lyon (B)
Friday 2 June – Fine Art & Contemporary Murals
We begin the day with a guided walking tour and visit to Lyon’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a diverse collection of antiquities, objets d’art, and an excellent collection of painting and sculpture, from Impressionism to Léger, Picasso and Bacon. After free time for lunch, we continue to the silk-weavers’ district, Les Canuts, viewing the Roman theatre and some of the playful contemporary murals dotting the town. Tonight, we enjoy dinner in a celebrated restaurant, which upholds the traditional cuisine of the region. Overnight Lyon (B, D)
Saturday 3 June – The Mighty Rhône
In pre-modern Europe, rivers were key to the development of cities, allowing easy movement of people and goods. Lyon boasted an excellent location between two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône – the latter one of Europe’s most important waterways for trade. As we transfer to Avignon, we admire the tranquil scenery of the river and hills alongside it. We pause for a wine-tasting in Tain-l’Hermitage, followed by lunch by the Rhône. Overnight Avignon (B, WT, L)
Sunday 4 June – The Popes in Avignon
By the early 14th century, Rome was unsafe: prone to malaria and ruled by scheming feudal families angling for the papal throne. After a deadlocked conclave in 1305, the newly elected Frenchman Clement V refused to move to Rome, and a succession of seven popes ruled “in exile” from Avignon until 1377. This morning we visit the vast Palais des Papes, the Pont d’Avignon (made famous by the song), 14th-century ramparts and Musée du Petit Palais. Overnight Avignon (B)
Monday 5 June – Van Gogh in Arles
Today we head to Arles, famed for an exceptional Roman and medieval heritage. Arles is one of the most important centres of Provençal culture, proud of its past yet vibrantly modern. We survey its ancient history at the amphitheatre and encounter its great modern admirer: Van Gogh produced many of his greatest works here. What he loved was not the culture or history, but the brilliance of light. After our guided visit of the Fondation Vincent van Gogh and St Trophime, which so inspired him, we return to Avignon for a group dinner. Overnight Avignon (B, D)
Tuesday 6 June – Roman Nîmes and the Pont du Gard
Like Lyon, Nîmes too boasts outstanding Roman remains and this morning we explore the sites for which the town is justifiably renowned. The magnificent Roman temple Maison Carrée is considered the purest and best preserved of all Roman temples. Other impressive sites we visit include the amphitheatre and the Jardins de la Fontaine, the 18th-century parklands with the remains of a Roman tower and temple. In the afternoon we continue to the astonishing Pont du Gard, the highest of the elevated Roman aqueducts. It runs for 50 kilometres and here crosses the Gardon river. Overnight Avignon (B)
Wednesday 7 June – In Aix-en-Provence with Cézanne
We depart for Antibes today, travelling via Aix-en-Provence. This elegant provincial centre has enjoyed a long prominence due to its thermal springs and was an important Roman site thanks to these health benefits. In the modern era, it has been indelibly associated with Cézanne, who experimented with abstraction and tone here and was so inspired by nearby Mont-Sainte-Victoire. We enjoy a walking tour of central Aix, including a guided visit of Cézanne’s atelier. In the afternoon, we continue on to Antibes, where we enjoy a stroll and dinner in a local restaurant after check-in. Overnight Antibes (B, D)
Thursday 8 June – The Light of the Riviera
From the 19th century, artists flocked to the French Riviera for the qualities of its light and landscape, economy of its lifestyle, and relative permissiveness of its morals! This morning we encounter this exuberance in a walking tour of Old Nice, the city’s historic quarter and a microcosm of great Mediterranean ports such as Marseille and Naples. After lunch at leisure in the colourful flower market, we continue to the Musée National Marc Chagall. The spiritual themes of the paintings, mosaics and stained-glass windows, and calm gardens surrounding the museum, are an oasis in this bustling tourist mecca. This afternoon is at leisure in Antibes – perhaps to explore the Marché Provencal or Musée Picasso – Overnight Antibes (B)
Friday 9 June – Villa Life on the Riviera
On the heels of the great modern artists, the rich and famous – and, eventually, mass tourism – came to the Riviera. The stunning coastline running from France into Italy still preserves some of the 20th century’s most extraordinary pleasure villas, including Greek revival at the Villa Kerylos and magnificent neo-classicism at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, recent protagonist of the fascinating Hare with the Amber Eyes. After touring these exclusive Cap Ferrat villas, we continue to seafront Villefranche-sur-Mer for lunch at leisure. Here, the tiny 16th-century Chapelle Saint-Pierre was neglected and filled with fishing nets when artist Jean Cocteau offered to restore it in 1957. With the help and support of the local community he decorated the chapel with murals celebrating the life of St Peter and dedicated to the local fishermen. Overnight Antibes (B)
Saturday 10 June – Miró, Matisse and Giacometti
Today we make our way to the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Here we visit the Fondation Maeght, an exceptional museum of modern art displaying works by Calder, Chagall, Braque, Giacometti and Miró. The museum is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, and after our visit we stroll through the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. A mecca for artists throughout the 20th century, it has suffered for its beauty, and in high season its cobbled streets can be thronged with tourists browsing its many galleries and boutiques. Despite this it retains much of its charm. After lunch we travel to the Chapelle du Rosaire for a guided tour of the simple chapel decorated by Henri Matisse for a convent of Dominican nuns, in gratitude for kindness shown to him when ill. Returning to Antibes, we enjoy a farewell dinner together in a fine local restaurant. Overnight Antibes (B, D)
Sunday 11 June – Departure
Our tour concludes after breakfast at our hotel in Antibes. Nice Airport is close by, and transfers to the airport are included for those whose flights have been booked with Academy Travel. (B)
Dr Nick Gordon
A cultural historian with a PhD in History, and practicing painter who brings this passion to the visual arts.
Dr Nick Gordon is a cultural historian and artist, with over 10 years of experience leading tours to Europe. He has strong interests in art, history, philosophy and architecture, from the ancient world to the present.
Nick holds a University Medal and PhD in history from the University of Sydney. He taught medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Sydney, the history of political thought at the University of Western Sydney, and architectural and Australian history elsewhere. He continues to teach at the Centre of Continuing Education, and gives occasional lectures on topics ranging from Classical Rome through to Australian and contemporary art. Nick has lead tours for Academy Travel since 2007, and designs study tours, residential tours and art-focussed tours, such as the Venice Biennale, Art Along the Rhine, Art Basel, and Amsterdam to Paris: Van Eyck to Van Gogh.
Nick is also an artist and his firsthand experience of art complements his academic expertise, through his knowledge of materials and the processes behind how an artwork is made, and his well-practiced eye for reading art.
We asked Nick, what do you enjoy most about tour leading?
“One of the things I enjoy most about touring is helping people understand more about what they’re seeing. This happens through a combination of background lectures exploring different contexts, cultural commentary on the road, and especially by being able to explain what is going on in an artwork with the artwork in front of us.”
“The aim of all of this is to help people see more for themselves, independently, both on tour and beyond. Some of the best moments for me on tour are when this happens, and you get to be part of something bigger as people start adding their own knowledge and experience to what we’re looking at. It makes each experience unique.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.