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France

The southern coast of France is a land full of historical treasures. Vast and impressive medieval castles, opulent palaces and well-preserved Roman monuments vie for your attention alongside the stunning natural scenery of the French Riviera. With Voyages to Antiquity’s shore excursions you will explore the fascinating history of French Catharism at the magnificent fortified town of Carcassonne, marvel at the Papal palace in Avignon, home of the papacy from 1309 to 1377, and relax at Villefranche on a cruise along the Côte d'Azur, one of the world’s premier holiday destinations.

An Introduction to Ajaccio

Ajaccio, France
Half Day Extensive WalkingSignificant Steps
In 1769 Napoléon Bonaparte was born to an Italian family of minor nobility in the Corsican Capital of Ajaccio. Despite spending little time there beyond the age of ten, his legacy as one of the most influential figures in human history pervades the city and forms the centre of this guided tour to its many highlights.

In 1769 Napoléon Bonaparte was born to an Italian family of minor nobility in the Corsican Capital of Ajaccio. Despite spending little time there beyond the age of ten, his legacy as one of the most influential figures in human history pervades the city and forms the centre of this guided tour to its many highlights.

 

The Cours Napoléon passes the 19th-century neoclassical Church of St Roch, before turning right into Cours Grandval to reach La Grotte de Napoléon. According to popular legend, it was here, outside the cave entrance, where the young Bonaparte first learned of his acceptance into a French military academy. Directly overlooking the grotto is a particularly imposing statue of Napoléon as he would have appeared during the Battle of Austerlitz, representing the fulfilment of his destiny. This large bronze is a copy of an original by Charles Emile Seurre and is mounted on a granite pyramid with steps framed by two eagles.

 

A short drive out of the city, the headland at Pointe de la Parata offers spectacular views over the four Iles Sanguinaires (Bloody Islands). The tour then returns to Ajaccio for a stroll through the old quarter to the cathedral where Napoleon was baptized and the house where he was born, which is now a museum. Other sites include the historic town hall, the farmer’s market and the 19th-century Fesch Palace Museum of Fine Art, featuring work by significant many painters, including Botticelli, Poussin, Titian and Michelangelo.

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Coastal Drive and Inland Village

Ajaccio, France
Half Day Winding road
During the 15th and 16th-centuries Corsica was plagued by a series of attacks from Turkish pirates, during which villagers were kidnapped and sold into slavery. In an attempt to defend the island, the Republic of Genoa constructed nearly one hundred small towers around the coastline, many of which still exist today and are listed as official Historical Monuments by the French Ministry of Culture.

During the 15th and 16th-centuries Corsica was plagued by a series of attacks from Turkish pirates, during which villagers were kidnapped and sold into slavery. In an attempt to defend the island, the Republic of Genoa constructed nearly one hundred small towers around the coastline, many of which still exist today and are listed as official Historical Monuments by the French Ministry of Culture.

The scenic coastal road immediately south of the island’s capital passes headlands where some of these Genoese Towers remain. From the lively resort town of Porticcio the beach goes on for miles, stretching all the way from Plage d’Agosta to Ruppione, where the coastline gradually becomes more rugged and the views across the Gulf of Ajaccio are truly spectacular.

The route then swings inland and climbs through the Forêt de Chiavari to arrive at an expansive plateau surrounded by granite massifs. Here you will find the eerie remains of a Second Empire penitentiary from where prisoners would have been transported into the nearby vineyards and cork forest for hard labour.

In the 16th-century the village of Coti Chiavari was completely destroyed by Barbary pirates, but today it is arranged into some beautiful hillside terraces facing the Iles Sanguinaires (Bloody Islands) in the distance. Finally, the route returns to the coast and passes the La Castagna peninsula, followed by Plage d’Portigliolo, on the way back to Aegean Odyssey.

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UNESCO World Heritage Site

UNESCO Bordeaux

Bordeaux, France
Half Day Cobbled Streets
Depart by coach from the ship for a panoramic walking tour of Bordeaux. Drive along the river front where the wine trade has flourished for centuries and then view the Second World War German submarine base. In the summer of 1941, Admiral Dönitz decided to build highly fortified U-Boat pens in Bordeaux and construction began in September 1941. They were constructed with reinforced concrete and the roof above the pens was 5.6 m (18ft 4 in) thick.

Depart by coach from the ship for a panoramic walking tour of Bordeaux. Drive along the river front where the wine trade has flourished for centuries and then view the Second World War German submarine base. In the summer of 1941, Admiral Dönitz decided to build highly fortified U-Boat pens in Bordeaux and construction began in September 1941. They were constructed with reinforced concrete and the roof above the pens was 5.6 m (18ft 4 in) thick.

Then on to L’Esplanade des Quinconces. This is one of Europe’s largest squares (12 hectares) and its principal monument was erected between 1894 and 1902 in memory of the Girondists who fell victim of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Stop at the Palais Rohan, the 18th-century former home of the Archbishop that is now the City Hall and walk to the 13th-century Cathedral of St Andrew, where Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII, for an inside visit. Continue to the nearby the Grand Theatre de Bordeaux which was built by the architect Victor Louis and inaugurated in 1780. This is one of the most beautiful theatres in Europe and a pure work of art from the 18th century.

Strolling through the Old Bordeaux area, you will come across beautiful squares such as La Place du Parlement, the former royal marketplace (1760) with its harmonious façades and fountain, and Place de la Bourse, the former royal square dedicated to Louis XV (1729). 

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Panoramic Bordeaux and Wine Tasting

Bordeaux, France
Half Day
For many years Bordeaux was known as “La Belle au Bois Dormant” (Sleeping Beauty) due to its magnificent buildings being shrouded in centuries of black soot. Then in 2000, the mayor, former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, roused Bordeaux, restoring its neoclassical architecture and implementing a high-tech public transport system.

For many years Bordeaux was known as “La Belle au Bois Dormant” (Sleeping Beauty) due to its magnificent buildings being shrouded in centuries of black soot. Then in 2000, the mayor, former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, roused Bordeaux, restoring its neoclassical architecture and implementing a high-tech public transport system. His efforts paid off: in mid-2007 half of the entire city (18 sq km, from the outer boulevards to the banks of the Garonne) was UNESCOlisted, making it the largest urban World Heritage Site.

After a panoramic tour of the main sites including the 13th-century cathedral, the Palais Rohan and the Grand Theatre de Bordeaux, you will leave the city for the nearby world-famous vineyards that surround Bordeaux.

The history of Bordeaux wine spans almost 2,000 years to Roman times when the first vineyards were planted. In the Middle Ages, the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine opened the Bordeaux region to the English market and eventually to the world's stage. Today, Bordeaux wine remains the world’s most popular and sought-after wine. You will stop at one of the prestigious wine estates such as Chateau La Louvière, Chateau Haut Bailly, Chateau Carbonnieux or Chateau Latour-Martillac to visit their cellars, be introduced to the art of wine making and, of course, to enjoy a wine tasting.

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Saint-Emilion Village

Bordeaux, France
Half Day Cobbled StreetsUphill Sections
Saint-Emilion is a charming medieval village located in the heart of the famous Bordeaux wine area. This is a very special place that combines world-famous wineries, beautiful architecture and great monuments.

Saint-Emilion is a charming medieval village located in the heart of the famous Bordeaux wine area. This is a very special place that combines world-famous wineries, beautiful architecture and great monuments.

A local legend says that the village was founded by a monk from Brittany who fled from his hometown of Vannes to seek refuge in one of the natural caves in the 8th century. His name was Emilion and for many years, he lived as a hermit. He is said to have performed a few miracles and rapidly became famous in the region and beyond. Soon he had many disciples and with their help, he made the town a religious centre.

Even after his death his followers carried on his legacy and named the town after him: Saint-Emilion. In 1999, the vineyards of Saint-Emilion became the first winery in the world to be given World Heritage status by UNESCO.

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Medoc Vineyards and Wine Chateaux Road

Bordeaux, France
Half Day Extensive Walking
Chartrons, cradle of the Bordeaux wine trade, your tour of the Medoc starts just north of the city. The Medoc wine road, located between the Gironde estuary and the Landes forest, provides magnificent views of vine-covered gravelly rises as far as the eye can see.

Chartrons, cradle of the Bordeaux wine trade, your tour of the Medoc starts just north of the city. The Medoc wine road, located between the Gironde estuary and the Landes forest, provides magnificent views of vine-covered gravelly rises as far as the eye can see. You will have the opportunity to take photos of some of the most famous Chateaux of the area i.e. Margaux, Pichon Longueville.

Medoc vineyards are orderly and well-kept almost to the point of fanaticism, and the region's world famous chateaux produce wine that are nothing short of divine... Moulis, Listrac, Saint Julien, Saint Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, Haut Medoc and Margaux (with the celebrated chateau of the same name).

You will visit the cellars of one of the following famous estates: Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron, Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Lagrange or Chateau Kirwan. After your guided visit of the estate, you will be introduced to the secret wine-making techniques of the estate before following your guide to the tasting room to indulge yourself with their wines.

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Walking tour of Honfleur

Honfleur, France
Half Day Cobbled Streets
The history of Honfleur, long sung about by poets and painted by famous artists, has always been tightly bound to the sea. Today, Honfleur offers visitors a unique heritage which can best be glimpsed by a leisurely stroll along its picturesque narrow streets lined by timber-framed houses.

The history of Honfleur, long sung about by poets and painted by famous artists, has always been tightly bound to the sea. Today, Honfleur offers visitors a unique heritage which can best be glimpsed by a leisurely stroll along its picturesque narrow streets lined by timber-framed houses.

One of Honfleur’s major sites is St Catherine’s Church, which dates from the 15th century and also has the distinction of being France’s largest timber-built church. The separate bell tower, located opposite above the bell-ringer’s house, is likewise made of oak. Other sites of interest you will see on this tour are the Salt Warehouses, originally run by the Gabelle (tax on salt) collectors, the Lieutenancy, once the residence of the city governor, and the Old Port, which has some beautifully picturesque quaysides.

After your visit, you will then have some time on your own to enjoy the quaint atmosphere of this charming little town before returning to Aegean Odyssey.

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Magnificent Versailles

Rouen, France
Full Day
Few palaces in history can hold a candle to the Château de Versailles for its breathtaking grandeur and extraordinary beauty. This enormous UNESCO World Heritage site was the crowning achievement of 18th-century French architecture and demands a whole day of sightseeing to explore its many ornate rooms and exquisite gardens, which cover over two thousand acres of land.

Few palaces in history can hold a candle to the Château de Versailles for its breathtaking grandeur and extraordinary beauty. This enormous UNESCO World Heritage site was the crowning achievement of 18th-century French architecture and demands a whole day of sightseeing to explore its many ornate rooms and exquisite gardens, which cover over two thousand acres of land.

Originally built in the early 17th-century for King Louis XIII, it was his son, Louis XIV (the famous “Sun King”) who expanded the palace and moved his court here in 1682. The total cost of Versailles has been conservatively estimated at around two billion US dollars in modern currency and came perilously close to bankrupting the king. He survived to enjoy a decadent reign, however, but his lavishness at the expense of the nation would not be forgotten.

During the 18th-century the chateau was enlarged by King Louis XV and the parkland extensively transformed by Marie Antoinette, who was then betrothed to the Dauphin, Louis XVI. Following the French Revolution the royal family were forced to leave, the palace was plundered and fell into disrepair. After centuries of changing fortunes, however, it was eventually designated a permanent national treasure and is currently undergoing a twenty-year restoration process that began in 2003, at a cost of four hundred million euros.

During your guided tour around this incredible palace you will discover more about its turbulent history, before lunch is served at a nearby restaurant. In the afternoon there will be plenty of time to visit the magnificent Versailles’ gardens, after which you will return to Aegean Odyssey in Rouen.

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Magnificent Versailles

Rouen, France
Full Day
Few palaces in history can hold a candle to the Château de Versailles for its breathtaking grandeur and extraordinary beauty. This enormous UNESCO World Heritage site was the crowning achievement of 18th-century French architecture and demands a whole day of sightseeing to explore its many ornate rooms and exquisite gardens, which cover over two thousand acres of land.

Few palaces in history can hold a candle to the Château de Versailles for its breathtaking grandeur and extraordinary beauty. This enormous UNESCO World Heritage site was the crowning achievement of 18th-century French architecture and demands a whole day of sightseeing to explore its many ornate rooms and exquisite gardens, which cover over two thousand acres of land.

Originally built in the early 17th-century for King Louis XIII, it was his son, Louis XIV (the famous “Sun King”) who expanded the palace and moved his court here in 1682. The total cost of Versailles has been conservatively estimated at around two billion US dollars in modern currency and came perilously close to bankrupting the king. He survived to enjoy a decadent reign, however, but his lavishness at the expense of the nation would not be forgotten.

During the 18th-century the chateau was enlarged by King Louis XV and the parkland extensively transformed by Marie Antoinette, who was then betrothed to the Dauphin, Louis XVI. Following the French Revolution the royal family were forced to leave, the palace was plundered and fell into disrepair. After centuries of changing fortunes, however, it was eventually designated a permanent national treasure and is currently undergoing a twenty-year restoration process that began in 2003, at a cost of four hundred million euros.

During your guided tour around this incredible palace you will discover more about its turbulent history, before lunch is served at a nearby restaurant. In the afternoon there will be plenty of time to visit the magnificent Versailles’ gardens, after which you will return to Aegean Odyssey in Rouen.

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Highlights of Paris

Rouen, France
Full Day
The most romantic capital in the world, a place of breathtaking architecture, atmospheric cafés and historic boulevards, Paris is a city that needs no introduction. After enjoying a spectacular river cruise to Rouen, you will arrive early in the French capital, for a whole day of scenic sightseeing, with some fabulous stops along the way.

The most romantic capital in the world, a place of breathtaking architecture, atmospheric cafés and historic boulevards, Paris is a city that needs no introduction. After enjoying a spectacular river cruise to Rouen, you will arrive early in the French capital, for a whole day of scenic sightseeing, with some fabulous stops along the way.

 

Your guide will ensure you get to see the Champs-Elysées and the fabulous Arc de Triomphe, which was commissioned in 1806 to celebrate Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. You will also pass the largest public square in Paris and the site of many infamous public executions during the Revolution, Place de la Concorde.

 

When the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 it was a source of great controversy, but today this magnificent structure is arguably France’s most recognisable landmark. After some free time for lunch, you will then be taken to Notre-Dame on the banks of the Seine, for a guided tour of the Gothic cathedral which inspired Victor Hugo’s celebrated novel.

 

Along the way your guide will point out many of the city’s other wonderful sights, including the Opera de Paris Garnier, the Vendôme Column, the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned and the prestigious Louvre museum. You will then return to Aegean Odyssey in Rouen to continue your cruise around the coast of France.

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Medieval Rouen

Rouen, France
Half Day
Rouen is a city that has stirred the souls of many great writers and inspired numerous artists, most notably Claude Monet, who famously painted its cathedral in a series of experimental pieces throughout 1892 and 1893. Situated on the north bank of the River Seine, for centuries the port was one of the most important in France and is considered the historic capital of Normandy. Rouen also has a tragic connection with the nation’s most beloved heroine, Joan of Arc, who was executed here in 1431.

Rouen is a city that has stirred the souls of many great writers and inspired numerous artists, most notably Claude Monet, who famously painted its cathedral in a series of experimental pieces throughout 1892 and 1893. Situated on the north bank of the River Seine, for centuries the port was one of the most important in France and is considered the historic capital of Normandy. Rouen also has a tragic connection with the nation’s most beloved heroine, Joan of Arc, who was executed here in 1431.

Your morning tour of the city will begin with a scenic drive to the summit of Hill Sainte Catherine, which has some spectacular views across Rouen and the Seine. You will then enjoy a fascinating walking tour through the city’s Historic Quarter to the Old Market Place, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, followed by the beautiful 14th-century astronomical Gros Horloge clock, which is mounted on a Renaissance archway above a quaint cobblestone street. Powered by the oldest mechanical movement in France, the dial has an oculus to denote the phases of the moon, allegorical symbols representing the days of the week and rays of sunshine pointing to the hours of the day.

After stopping to admire Normandy’s flamboyant Gothic-Renaissance style Parliament building, you will arrive at the wonderful 16th-century Cathedral that was so splendidly captured in paint by Monet, followed by Saint Maclou Church, which together form a tryptic of internationally significant Gothic buildings. Some free time will then be available to explore at leisure, before your return to Aegean Odyssey.

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Impressions of Giverny

Rouen, France
Half Day
This afternoon tour is a dream for art lovers and horticulturalists alike, as it will take you into the house and gardens of Claude Monet, the founding father of Impressionism and arguably the most influential post-Realist painter of the 19th-century.

This afternoon tour is a dream for art lovers and horticulturalists alike, as it will take you into the house and gardens of Claude Monet, the founding father of Impressionism and arguably the most influential post-Realist painter of the 19th-century.

 

In 1883 Monet was travelling by train through the French countryside when he spotted the idyllic village of Giverny through the window and instantly fell in love with it. Mourning the recent death of his wife, on impulse Claude packed his belongings and moved to the magical pink brick house that would become the Monet family home for the next eighty years. By the 1890s Monet had achieved enough financial success to create an Arcadian paradise of sculpted flowerbeds, lily ponds and bridges that became the inspiration for many of his most famous works.

 

Today the house is a museum filled with reproductions of the “Giverny paintings”, as well as Monet’s personal collection of 200 Japanese ukiyo-e prints, which date from the 18th and 19th-centuries. Most of the colourful interior is open to the public, including the “blue salon” or reading room, the dining room filled with yellow-painted furniture, the delightfully blue-tiled kitchen, the huge “Waterlily Studio” and the private apartments upstairs. Free time will then be available to enjoy a peaceful stroll through the adjacent flower garden and the Japanese water garden. Both of these beautiful spaces have been replanted according to Monet’s original designs and in August will be filled with a spectacular

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Nantes Highlights

Nantes, France
Half Day Extensive Walking

The birthplace of Jules Verne, Nantes is France’s sixth largest city and dates back to the 2nd-century BC when it thrived as a port on the Loire River. Today, it has arguably been transformed more than any other city in France to become one of the nation’s thriving cultural and artistic centres. This tour will take you to some of the highlights.

Our first stop will be Saint Pierre Cathedral, a masterpiece of flamboyant gothic architecture housing the tomb of the Duke François II and Marguerite de Foix. Built on the site of a previous Romanesque cathedral, work on construction began in 1434 and took 457 years. We will then see the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany from the outside, a feudal construction built in 1207 and rebuilt in 1466, where several French Kings, Princes and Noblemen have stayed.

The area that was once Feydeau Island has some beautiful old buildings so we will stop here at Sainte Anne Mound for a panoramic view over the town and harbour. Then we will drive to the Jardin des Plantes, the main botantical garden of France that has a substantial collection, including the wild flora of Brittany and many other species from America, Asia and Africa. Begun in 1807, this garden is typical of the landscape gardens of 19th century Brittany, with an informal style featuring numerous waterfalls and lakes as well as traditional carpet bedding. Among the highlights are Hector's Magnolia that were planted in 1807, the Palm House, the Cactus Houses, and a collection of camellias, the symbol of Nantes, totalling 600 different varieties.

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UNESCO World Heritage Site

Carcassonne and Narbonne

Carcassonne, France
Full Day Extensive WalkingCobbled StreetsSignificant StepsUphill Sections
Relive centuries of history when you visit two cities with Roman roots: the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carcassonne, an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town.

Relive centuries of history when you visit two cities with Roman roots: the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carcassonne, an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, and landlocked Narbonne, once a leading port celebrated by the troubadour Bertrand de Bar.

Your adventure starts with a drive through the wild Languedoc countryside to Carcassonne, a site continuously occupied for over 2,500 years. Encircled by double walls, this stronghold stands exactly as it did in the Middle Ages with miles of battlements, 52 towers and a castle. View the mighty gate with its chains, portcullis and intricate access system. Stroll the lists between the double walls and savor the atmosphere as you get an education in military architecture.

Then you will be taken by coach to the second major place of the region: Narbonne. Enjoy a three-course lunch before visiting the first town founded by the Romans during the second century BC. At that time the town was also a sea port and took advantages of the privileges as Rome. In the 5th century Narbonne was a Visigoth capital and in the Middle Ages an important Episcopal centre, as can be seen in several superbly preserved monuments.

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Montpellier

Carcassonne, France
Significant Steps
A short distance inland from the Mediterranean Sea sits the capital of the Languedoc Roussillon area, Montpellier. Founded in the 10th century by the counts of Toulouse, it boasts one of France’s largest and Europe’s oldest universities founded here in the 12th century).

A short distance inland from the Mediterranean Sea sits the capital of the Languedoc Roussillon area, Montpellier. Founded in the 10th century by the counts of Toulouse, it boasts one of France’s largest and Europe’s oldest universities founded here in the 12th century).

Begin with a guided walking tour through the charming streets, take time to appreciate the handsome medieval buildings and elegant private mansions, plus the 14th-century Cathedrale de Saint Pierre and the lookalike Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Rue Foch.

Enjoy free time to explore the narrow back streets and lively squares before driving to Chateau de Flaugergues, property of the “de Colbert” family since 1696. Count and Countess Henry de Colbert live in the castle, a French historical monument, and you will enjoy a visit of their home with its family collections and a walk in the gardens. The castle preserves antique furniture and a collection of stunning Flemish tapestries. Then you will discover the cellars and taste wine produced at the Chateau’s vineyards: a red, rose and white wine of “AOC Coteaux de Languedoc” and “Coteaux de la Mejanelle”.

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Avignon's Papal Palace

Marseilles, France
Full Day Lunch IncludedCobbled StreetsUphill Sections
Explore the Provençal countryside on this tour that visits Avignon with its papal legacies.

Explore the Provençal countryside on this full-day tour that visits Avignon with its papal legacies. Your adventure starts with a 90-minute drive to Avignon which rose to glory in the Middle Ages, when a series of French-born Popes fled Rome and made the town a base from which they ruled Christendom until 1407. Enjoy views of the Rhone River and Avignon's much-sung-about bridge, Pont St Benezet. The highlight of your visit is a guided tour of the Pope's Palace with its long, echoing Great Audience Hall, 14th-century wall paintings and Great Chapel. Also enjoy a walking tour through Palace Square and Horloge Square. Then enjoy a leisurely lunch and time on your own to wander or shop before heading back to Marseilles.

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Marseilles & Aix en Provence

Marseilles, France
Full day Lunch IncludedCobbled StreetsSignificant Steps
The day begins in Marseilles where you’ll visit the “Vieux Port," the Old Port, where the Greeks landed in 600 BC. Here classically French cafes and restaurants nestle about gently bobbing fishing boats in the harbour.

The day begins in Marseilles where you’ll visit the “Vieux Port," the Old Port, where the Greeks landed in 600 BC. Here classically French cafes and restaurants nestle about gently bobbing fishing boats in the harbour. Continue along the J.F. Kennedy Corniche. The first stop is Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, located at the highest point of the city at just over 500 feet. Built on an ancient fortress from the 16th century, the sanctuary was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and consecrated in 1864. From the Basilica descend into the city's shopping district and the Longchamp Palace. This municipal water tower, houses the Museums of Fine Art and Natural History.

In the afternoon, your visit to Aix-en-Provence starts with a walking tour of the Cours Mirabeau. This wide avenue is shaded by trees and was built in the 1600s on the site of the city’s medieval ramparts. The aristocratic façades of the old mansions line the Cours and their wrought-iron balconies and finely carved doorways invite the visitor to explore. Note the different architectural styles of Saint Sauveur Cathedral with a Romanesque nave, a Merovingian baptistery and a Gothic section.

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