11 days
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French History by Rail - Short tour - map

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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.


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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.

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.

To travel with Eurostar using your pass you need to book your seat in advance and pay a seat reservation fee.

Paris – Avignon 2hrs40mins

Paris – Lyon 1hr57mins

Paris – Bordeaux 2hrs38mins

Paris – Avignon 2hrs42mins

Tour Notes
  • 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.

PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Overview: 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.

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.

Overview: 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.

Overview: 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.

Overview: 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.

Overview: 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.)

Overview: 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.

Overview: 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.

Overview: 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.

Accommodation: We will be staying at the Cloitre St Louis hotel (or similar) for 1 night.

Overview: 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.

Accommodation: We will be based in a Paris apartment located in a central arrondissement.

Overview: 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’.

Overview: Your concludes this morning, as the remainder of the group on the full tour continue on to Tours.

Explore Paris and journey by rail to regions and great cities to learn about their historical significance and influence on France.
Free time shopping for fresh food at open-air markets and savour the local cuisine and culture.
Enjoy an overnight stay in the historic cities of Avignon in Provence.
Experience everyday life as the Parisians do, from your apartment.
Journey to Caen in Normandy and visit the thought-provoking Memorial Museum.

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.
History of France by Rail
Avignon, France
pont de Bir-Hakeim pont de passy
France cooking and eating