An intimate look at Normandy and the Loire Valley

This article appears on page 6 of the March 2011 issue.
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Colorful carousel at Honfleur’s old port.

We were inspired by Beth Habian’s article in the September ’09 issue about her trip to the Dordogne region of France — so much so that we immediately contacted George Nevin, the owner/operator of Intimate France (Oakland, CA; 800/676-1247), to ask about his 2010 tour of Normandy and the Loire Valley. We were pleased with his prompt and informative responses to our inquiries, so we booked the 12-day tour departing Sept. 12.

An added incentive to book sooner than later was a $100 discount (each) if we submitted our deposit before Dec. 31, 2009.

The tour included visits to Mo­net’s gardens at Giverny, the D-Day beaches, Belle Époque resorts, Mont-Saint-Michel, the cathedral at Chartres and many other fascinating sights. While in the Loire Valley, we toured castles, châteaux, gardens and beautiful scenic villages.

Superb dining

The tour began in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport Novotel with a meet-and-greet session with our fellow travelers. During our tour, eight passengers would share a comfortable nine-passenger van, with George as our driver. He also served as our guide and, since he speaks fluent French, our interpreter.

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, surrounded by water.

Additionally, George is a gourmand who enjoys sharing his knowledge. As a result, all the meals we had together as a group were varied and delicious.

The restaurants were personally selected by George for their high quality and ambiance and the beautiful presentation of the food. One included lunch was at the Michelin-starred Auberge du XIIe Siècle in Saché — a memorable experience. (We will never forget the hand-peeled and -seeded cherry tomatoes!)

While on the subject of food, two of our lunches were picnics in lovely settings, as we were blessed with gorgeous weather on this trip.

George has a delightful sense of humor, and he is a gracious host and a gentleman.

The hotels all were three-star, and each was unique. All were well located and had a high charm factor and/or could boast a dining room that was a destination in itself.

We spent three nights in Honfleur, two nights in Bayeux, two nights in Mont-Saint-Michel, four nights in Amboise and the last night at a former hunting lodge in the CDG airport area.

Inspiring sights

Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, where 9,387 soldiers rest, were beautiful and peaceful, belying the events that took place in that area. Shortly after we arrived at the cemetery, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps” were played, which was very moving.

By coincidence, as we were leaving the hotel dining room that evening, a local couple stopped us and, after visiting with us in English for a few minutes, the gentleman declared that they would never forget and would always be grateful for what America had done for France during WWII. We were very touched.

An excursion that was a little out of the ordinary was a visit to a foundry, in Villedieu-les-Poêles, that makes bells for churches, public buildings and ships and has done so since 1865. The foundry guide took us through the whole process of church bell making, from designing to casting, firing and tuning, and it was fascinating. Who knew that all church bells are named and christened before they are rung?

The charming village of Amboise.

We also enjoyed seeing Clos Lucé in Amboise, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci. The lower level of this beautiful old château holds models of many of this remarkable genius’ inventions, such as a parachute, a flying machine, a helicopter and an armored tank.

Monet’s gardens and the gardens at Château Chenonceau were especially beautiful. Even though it was a bit late in the season, they were so extensively planted that there were still many varieties of flowers in bloom. The hydrangeas and dahlias were spectacular. Every room open to the public at Chenonceau had gorgeous arrangements of fresh fruit and flowers taken from the gardens.

Window boxes all over Normandy were still dripping with geraniums and petunias, as were the baskets on the streetlights and the planted boxes on fences and bridges. There was always something to bring on the “oohs” and “ahhs.”

We could go on and on, but I suggest you take a look at George’s website for more details on the itineraries he offers.

Although the Normandy/Loire Valley tour is not offered in 2011, four others are, including one to Spain and one to the Benelux countries. Their descriptions, and the advantages of traveling with this company — with which we agree wholeheartedly — are described there in detail.

All breakfasts, three lunches, six dinners and all admission fees were included in the cost of $3,795 per person. Airfare was extra.

We will definitely travel with Intimate France again.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Colorful carousel at Honfleur’s old port.

We were inspired by Beth Habian’s article in the September ’09 issue about her trip to the Dordogne region of France — so much so that we immediately contacted George Nevin, the owner/operator of Intimate France (Oakland, CA; 800/676-1247), to ask about his 2010 tour of Normandy and the Loire Valley. We were pleased with his prompt and informative responses to our inquiries, so we booked the 12-day tour departing Sept. 12.

An added incentive to book sooner than later was a $100 discount (each) if we submitted our deposit before Dec. 31, 2009.

The tour included visits to Mo­net’s gardens at Giverny, the D-Day beaches, Belle Époque resorts, Mont-Saint-Michel, the cathedral at Chartres and many other fascinating sights. While in the Loire Valley, we toured castles, châteaux, gardens and beautiful scenic villages.

Superb dining

The tour began in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport Novotel with a meet-and-greet session with our fellow travelers. During our tour, eight passengers would share a comfortable nine-passenger van, with George as our driver. He also served as our guide and, since he speaks fluent French, our interpreter.

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, surrounded by water.

Additionally, George is a gourmand who enjoys sharing his knowledge. As a result, all the meals we had together as a group were varied and delicious.

The restaurants were personally selected by George for their high quality and ambiance and the beautiful presentation of the food. One included lunch was at the Michelin-starred Auberge du XIIe Siècle in Saché — a memorable experience. (We will never forget the hand-peeled and -seeded cherry tomatoes!)

While on the subject of food, two of our lunches were picnics in lovely settings, as we were blessed with gorgeous weather on this trip.

George has a delightful sense of humor, and he is a gracious host and a gentleman.

The hotels all were three-star, and each was unique. All were well located and had a high charm factor and/or could boast a dining room that was a destination in itself.

We spent three nights in Honfleur, two nights in Bayeux, two nights in Mont-Saint-Michel, four nights in Amboise and the last night at a former hunting lodge in the CDG airport area.

Inspiring sights

Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, where 9,387 soldiers rest, were beautiful and peaceful, belying the events that took place in that area. Shortly after we arrived at the cemetery, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps” were played, which was very moving.

By coincidence, as we were leaving the hotel dining room that evening, a local couple stopped us and, after visiting with us in English for a few minutes, the gentleman declared that they would never forget and would always be grateful for what America had done for France during WWII. We were very touched.

An excursion that was a little out of the ordinary was a visit to a foundry, in Villedieu-les-Poêles, that makes bells for churches, public buildings and ships and has done so since 1865. The foundry guide took us through the whole process of church bell making, from designing to casting, firing and tuning, and it was fascinating. Who knew that all church bells are named and christened before they are rung?

The charming village of Amboise.

We also enjoyed seeing Clos Lucé in Amboise, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci. The lower level of this beautiful old château holds models of many of this remarkable genius’ inventions, such as a parachute, a flying machine, a helicopter and an armored tank.

Monet’s gardens and the gardens at Château Chenonceau were especially beautiful. Even though it was a bit late in the season, they were so extensively planted that there were still many varieties of flowers in bloom. The hydrangeas and dahlias were spectacular. Every room open to the public at Chenonceau had gorgeous arrangements of fresh fruit and flowers taken from the gardens.

Window boxes all over Normandy were still dripping with geraniums and petunias, as were the baskets on the streetlights and the planted boxes on fences and bridges. There was always something to bring on the “oohs” and “ahhs.”

We could go on and on, but I suggest you take a look at George’s website for more details on the itineraries he offers.

Although the Normandy/Loire Valley tour is not offered in 2011, four others are, including one to Spain and one to the Benelux countries. Their descriptions, and the advantages of traveling with this company — with which we agree wholeheartedly — are described there in detail.

All breakfasts, three lunches, six dinners and all admission fees were included in the cost of $3,795 per person. Airfare was extra.

We will definitely travel with Intimate France again.