French History by Rail European small group short tour
Odyssey's small group tour offers travellers the unique opportunity to live for 10 days as a local Parisian in one of central arrondissements of Paris. The tour is based on tour is based on Ina Caro’s book of the same name, we stay in charming apartments as a base, and explore the city and surrounding areas using train and metro.
- 1. Free time shopping for fresh food at open-air markets and savour the local cuisine and culture.
- 2. Enjoy an overnight stay in the historic cities of Avignon in Provence.
- 3. Experience everyday life as the Parisians do, from your apartment.
- 4. Journey to Caen in Normandy and visit the thought-provoking Memorial Museum.
|11 May 2023 |
Ends 21 May 2023 • 11 days
|07 October 2023 |
Ends 17 October 2023 • 11 days
|17 May 2024 |
Ends 28 May 2024 • 12 days
|06 October 2024 |
Ends 16 October 2024 • 11 days
French History by Rail European short tour
French History by Rail offers participants an unforgettable journey through French history based in Paris. On this educational tour, based on Ina Caro's famous book of the same title, we live for almost two weeks in one of the central arrondissements of Paris. Using charming Paris apartments as a base, we live as the locals do, enjoying the charms of Parisian life. We have time to enjoy the bustle of daily Parisian life, with morning coffee at the local boulangerie and visits to the local markets and beautiful arcades. In the evening there is, of course, time to explore while visiting local cafes and charming restaurants.
From this base, we come together each day as a small group to journey by rail to the beautiful mediaeval city centres of France. While here, we experience short tours in such historic and scenic cities as Caen, Chartres and Avignon. Riding the train is a great way to reach out into the history of this fascinating country.
French History by Rail Tour Itinerary
Exploring French History by Rail enables both couples and single travellers to journey with like-minded individuals. A couple of hours is all it takes to arrive in the heart of some of these magnificent cities. This gives us many hours to join a local guide for a walking tour of the city. We return towards the end of each day on a fast train back into Paris ready for another adventure the following day. On most days, the program provides us with the evening free to explore Paris.
Our start time each day is usually after the morning rush when we meet up with the program leader. Exploring French History by Rail, short tour, includes one overnight stay outside of Paris, in Avignon. This program is limited to a maximum of 15 people. Let the history of France come alive on this extraordinary cultural tour!
You can learn more about France with our country profile where all other tour departures are listed as well. For more details on this tour, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.
Other Railway Journeys by Odyssey Traveller
Odyssey Traveller has several railway tours that may also be of interest. All of these tours are especially designed for the active senior traveller. Just click through to see the itinerary and sign up!
- If you prefer staying in France, Odyssey offers a Paris-Bordeaux-Provence By Train Tour which runs for 22 days.
- A long version of this tour runs for 21 days: History of France by Rail.
- Odyssey Traveller’s Helsinki to Irkutsk tour on the Trans-Siberian Railway runs for 21 days and spends multiple nights in Helsinki, St Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk, with stops at Russia’s oldest national nature reserve, Stolby Nature Sanctuary, and Lake Baikal. You can also do a reverse tour, starting in Irkutsk and finishing in Helsinki.
- The Vladivostok to Krasnoyarsk tour moves westward from Vladivostok, where in 1891 tsar-to-be Nicholas first laid the stone that would be the foundation of the railway, to the old town of Krasnoyarsk in the heart of Siberia. This tours is also offered with a reverse itinerary.
- The 30-day Trans-Mongolia and Russia tour takes you on the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Mongolian Railway lines. The tour begins in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and concludes with a cruise on the waterways between Moscow and St Petersburg.
Day 1: Paris
Accommodation: We will be based in a Paris apartment located in a central arrondissement. Our apartments will be available for the duration of the tour.
Arrive Paris and make our own way to our accommodation. We settle in to our apartments and meet in the early evening for a briefing followed by our welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 2: Paris
Prehistory to the 5th century – the Celts settle in Paris in the Marais area and on the Île de la Cité – followed by the Romans:
Today we begin our tour with a guided walking tour of the Île de la Cité, including a visit to the Archaeological Crypt and a visit to the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Here we discover remnants of buildings and monuments from the 3rd century including two Gallo-Roman rooms heated by hypocaust. After free time for lunch we travel by Metro to the great Cathedral of St Denis to learn about its place in the history of French architecture and to see the magnificent Royal Tombs.
Day 3: Paris
A glimpse of Parisian daily life in one of the oldest quarters of Paris and an overview of the centuries:
The market in the Marais area is our morning activity. Here we can stock up for our apartment needs with vegetables, fruit, cheeses, wines or anything necessary or unnecessary-but-desired!
In the afternoon we will enjoy a guided walk of the area including the beautiful Place des Vosges with its connections with the great King Henri IV and famous characters such as Mme de Sévigné and Victor Hugo.
Day 4: Paris to Caen
The 11th century – and the 20th!
An early start as we meet for our journey to the city of Caen in Normandy by rail. Here we discover the 11th century with a visit to the Abbey of William the Conqueror and see his simple, black marble tomb. A leap to the 20th century takes us to the thought-provoking Memorial Museum with its dedication to the events of WWII.
Day 5: Paris to Chartres
Middle Ages and religious architecture:
Today we meet at Montparnasse Station for a full-day visit to Chartres where we will have a guided tour of France’s first High Gothic Cathedral with its magnificent stained glass windows.
Back in Paris, in the evening, we hope to complete this era of history at a concert in the Ste Chapelle of Louis IX. (If we are lucky, the sun will light up the glorious stained glass windows of this exquisite chapel.)
Day 6: Paris to Reims
Coronations of the Kings –Joan of Arc and Art Deco development post WWI:
Our full-day tour today takes us by TGV (fast train) to the city of Reims, site of the coronation of most of the French Kings. It was here that Joan of Arc brought Louis VII to be crowned after the tide of the 100 Years War was turned. During our guided walking tour of the city, we will visit the Cathedral, learn of its history and admire its stained glass including a modern series of windows by Marc Chagall. We will also learn about the city’s post-WWI Art Deco redevelopment.
Day 7: Paris
Today we have a free morning for shopping and other domestic chores, before we enjoy a leisurely cruise on the Seine followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 8: Avignon
Accommodation: We will be staying at the Cloitre St Louis hotel (or similar) for 1 night.
Papal Schism – machinations of political and religious life in the 14th century:
The TGV will take us south to Avignon for an overnight stay. On arrival we will have a guided tour of the city including a visit to the Popes’ Palace.
Day 9: Avignon to Paris
Accommodation: We will be based in a Paris apartment located in a central arrondissement.
The morning is free to explore Avignon and maybe visit the Pont D’Avignon or the mighty Cathedral on the Rock before we return on the TGV to Paris.
Day 10: Paris
Time to catch our breath with a free day in Paris to explore on our own. Our Tour Leader will have some suggestions to assist those who want a ‘planned day’.
Day 11: Paris
Your concludes this morning, as the remainder of the group on the full tour continue on to Tours.
- We recommend that overnight bags be used for the visits to Avignon and Tours.
- Sole use Studio apartment incurs an additional fee.
- Twin bedded rooms are not available in our Paris Apts (only double beds) you have the option of sharing a 2 Bedroom Apt at additional cost*
- Single supplement based on 2 bedroom apartment sharing one bathroom.
- Our apartments in Paris will be available for the duration of the stay.
Includes / Excludes
What’s included in our Tour
- 9 nights apartment accommodation in Paris
- 1 nights hotel accommodation
- 1 breakfasts and 2 dinners
- All travel on the TGV and metropolitan trains as listed in the itinerary
- Applicable entry fees and services of local English-speaking guides
- Service charges and gratuities
- Services of Odyssey tour leader for the duration of the tour.
- Detailed Tour Information Booklet
What’s not included in our Tour
- International airfares and departure taxes.
- Comprehensive travel insurance.
- Items of a personal nature such as telephone calls and laundry.
Participants must be able to carry their own luggage, climb and descend stairs, be in good health, mobile and able to participate in 3-5 hours of physical activity per day, the equivalent of walking / hiking up to 8 kilometers per day on uneven ground.
Make it a private tour
Easing your journey
Crossing international borders with restrictions
The list of requirements to travel internationally has changed and will continue to change for several years. Odyssey is here to assist you in managing your way through these requirements:
For more information see our Crossing international borders with restrictions page.
Book With Confidence
If less than 30 days before your tour starts you are unable to travel as a result of Government travel restrictions, Odyssey Traveller will assist you with a date change, provide you with a credit or process a refund for your booking less any non-recoverable costs.
See Terms and conditions for details.
Peace of Mind Travel
The safety of our travellers, tour leader, local guide and support staff has always been our top priority and with the new guidelines for public health and safety for keeping safe for destinations around the world, we’ve developed our plan to give you peace of mind when travelling with us.
See Peace of Mind Travel for details.
Reading List Download PDF
The History of Modern France: From the Revolution to the War on Terror
With the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, the next two centuries for France would be tumultuous. Bestselling historian and political commentator Jonathan Fenby provides an expert and riveting journey through this period as he recounts and analyses the extraordinary sequence of events of this period from the end of the First Revolution through two others, a return of Empire, three catastrophic wars with Germany, periods of stability and hope interspersed with years of uncertainty and high tensions. As her cross-Channel neighbour Great Britain would equally suffer, France was to undergo the wrenching loss of colonies in the post-Second World War as the new modern world we know today took shape. Her attempts to become the leader of the European union is a constant struggle, as was her lack of support for America in the two Gulf Wars of the past twenty years. Alongside this came huge social changes and cultural landmarks but also fundamental questioning of what this nation, which considers itself exceptional, really stood - and stands - for. That saga and those questions permeate the France of today, now with an implacable enemy to face in the form of Islamic extremism which so bloodily announced itself this year in Paris. Fenby will detail every event, every struggle and every outcome across this expanse of 200 years. It will prove to be the definitive guide to understanding France.
By Jonathan Fenby
How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
Sudhir Hazareesingh's How the French Think is a warm yet incisive exploration of the French intellectual tradition, and its exceptional place in a nation's identity and lifestyle
Why are the French an exceptional nation? Why do they think they are so exceptional? An important reason is that in France intellectual activity is regarded not just as the preserve of the thinking elite but for almost everyone. French thought can sometimes be austere and often opaque, yet it is undeniably bold and innovative, and driven by a relentless quest for the regeneration of humanity. Sudhir Hazareesingh traces its tumultuous history in an enormously enjoyable and highly original manner, showing how the French ways of thought and life connect. This will be one of the most revealing books written about them - or any other European country - for years.
Sudhir Hazareesingh was born in Mauritius. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and has been a Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, since 1990. Among his books are The Legend of Napoleon (Granta, 2004) and Le MytheGaullien (Gallimard, 2010). He won the Prix du Memorial d'Ajaccio and the Prix de la Fondation Napoleon for the first of these, and a Prix d'Histoire du Senat for the second.
By Sudhir Hazareesingh
The Discovery of France
Ten years ago, I began to explore the country on which I was supposed to be an authority . . .
France is a country famous for its intellectuals, its philosophers and writers, its fashion, food and wine. And yet the notion of 'the French' as one nation is relatively recent and - historically speaking - quite misleading. In order to discover the 'real' past of France, Graham Robb realised it was not only necessary to go back in time, but also to go at a slower pace than modern life generally allows. The Discovery of France, illuminating, engrossing and full of surprises, is the result of Robb's 14,000 mile journey across France on a bicycle.
Winner of both the Duff Cooper and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prizes, The Discovery of France is a modern non-fiction classic, a literary exploration of a remarkable nation. From maps and migration to magic, language and landscape, it reveals a France few will recognize.
By Graham Robb
Napoleon the Great
From Andrew Roberts, author of the Sunday Times bestseller The Storm of War, this is the definitive modern biography of Napoleon
It has become all too common for Napoleon Bonaparte's biographers to approach him as a figure to be reviled, bent on world domination, practically a proto-Hitler. Here, after years of study extending even to visits paid to St Helena and 53 of Napoleon's 56 battlefields, Andrew Roberts has created a true portrait of the mind, the life, and the military and above all political genius of a fundamentally constructive ruler. This is the Napoleon, Roberts reminds us, whose peacetime activity produced countless indispensable civic innovations - and whose Napoleonic Code provided the blueprint for civil law systems still in use around the world today.
It is one of the greatest lives in world history, which here has found its ideal biographer. The sheer enjoyment which this book will give anyone who loves history is enormous.
By Andrew Roberts
The French Revolution
Concise, convincing and exciting, this is Christopher Hibbert’s brilliant account of the events that shook eighteenth-century Europe to its foundation. With a mixture of lucid storytelling and fascinating detail, he charts the French Revolution from its beginnings at an impromptu meeting on an indoor tennis court at Versailles in 1789, right through to the ‘coup d’etat’ that brought Napoleon to power ten years later. In the process he explains the drama and complexities of this epoch-making era in the compelling and accessible manner he has made his trademark.
Writing in The Times, Richard Holmes described the book as ‘A spectacular replay of epic action …’ while The Good Book Guide called it, ‘Unquestionably the best popular history of the French Revolution’.
By Christopher Hibbert
Paris: Biography of a city
'Paris is the World, the rest of the Earth is nothing but its suburbs' - Marivaux
In this intelligently-written and supremely entertaining new history, Colin Jones seeks to give a sense of the city of Paris as it was lived in and experienced over time. The focal point of generation upon generation of admirers and detractors, a source of attraction or repulsion even for those who have never been there, Paris has witnessed more extraordinary events than any other major city. No spot on earth has been more walked around, written about, discussed, painted and photographed. With an eye for the revealing, startling and (sometimes) horrible detail, Colin Jones takes the reader from Roman Paris to the present, recreating the ups and downs in the history of the city and its inhabitants. Attentive to both the urban environment and to the experience of those who lived within it, PARIS: BIOGRAPHY OF A CITY will be hugely enjoyed by habitual Paris obsessives, by first-time visitors, and by those who know the city only by repute.
By Colin Jones
The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps
A radical guide to Paris through art, literature and revolution.
The Invention of Paris is a tour through the streets and history of the
French capital under the guidance of radical Parisian author and
publisher Eric Hazan.
Hazan reveals a city whose squares echo with the riots, rebellions and
revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Combining
the raconteur’s ear for a story with a historian’s command of the facts,
he introduces an incomparable cast of characters: the literati, the
philosophers and the artists—Balzac, Baudelaire, Blanqui, Flaubert,
Hugo, Maney, and Proust, of course; but also Doisneau, Nerval and
It is a Paris dyed a deep red in its convictions. It is haunted and vitalized
by the history of the barricades, which Hazan retells in rich detail. The
Invention of Paris opens a window on the forgotten byways of the capital’s
vibrant and bloody past, revealing the city in striking new colors.
By Eric Hazan
Becoming Bourgeois: Love, Kinship, and Power in Provincial France, 1670–1880
Becoming Bourgeois traces the fortunes of three French families in the municipality of Vannes, in Brittany—Galles, Jollivet, and Le Ridant—who rose to prominence in publishing, law, the military, public administration, and intellectual pursuits over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Revisiting complex issues of bourgeois class formation from the perspective of the interior lives of families, Christopher H. Johnson argues that the most durable and socially advantageous links forging bourgeois ascent were those of kinship. Economic success, though certainly derived from the virtues of hard work and intelligent management, was always underpinned by marriage strategies and the diligent intervention of influential family members.
Johnson's examination of hundreds of personal letters opens up a whole world: the vicissitudes of courtship; the centrality of marriage; the depths of conjugal love; the routines of pregnancy and the drama of childbirth; the practices of child rearing and education; the powerful place of siblings; the role of kin in advancing the next generation; tragedy and deaths; the enormous contributions of women in all aspects of becoming bourgeois; and the pleasures of gathering together in intimate soirées, grand balls, country houses, and civic and political organizations. Family love bound it all together, and this is ultimately what this book is about, as four generations of rather ordinary provincial people capture our hearts.
By Christopher H Johnson
All the Light We Cannot See
A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II, from the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr. The book won the Pulitzer Price in 2015 for Fiction.
By Anthony Doerr
French History by Rail European small group short tour
What are the trains like in France?
The best way to travel between french cities and villages is by train.
France’s world-famous TGV travels at up to 199 mph.
You can also travel on TER regional, local & suburban trains, or Intercité trains.
You can choose between 1st or second class.
Do I need to reserve a seat when travelling by train in France?
In France, you need to reserve if travelling on the TGV train, but you do not need to make a reservation on the TER or Intercité trains.
Do I need to reserve a seat on Eurostar?
To travel with Eurostar using your pass you need to book your seat in advance and pay a seat reservation fee.
How long are the train journeys in France?
Paris – Avignon 2hrs40mins
Paris – Lyon 1hr57mins
Paris – Bordeaux 2hrs38mins
Paris – Avignon 2hrs42mins