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Explore the countryside of south-west France with 'Chocolat' author Joanne Harris
The picturesque rural landscapes, quaint villages and gentle rhythms of life in south-west France make it one of Europe's most enticing destinations. It's a place that captured the imagination of author Joanne Harris, who fell in love with the region, and shared its magic with the world in her bestselling book Chocolat.
Now, Country Living readers can explore the region, and meet Joanne, on a seven-day tour travelling by train from the limestone cliffs and medieval hilltop towns of the Lot valley to majestic Toulouse and history-rich Cahors and Moissac, as well as visiting Nérac, thought to be the setting for Chocolat.
"We'll be taking a look at the historic little town of Nérac," says Joanne. "We'll visit the church, the old quarter with its wooden houses and tanneries, and the chocolaterie that started everything off!"
Here, Joanne will give you a tour of the places that inspired her and take part in an exclusive talk and Q&A session. Plu Joanne will give another fascinating talk about the creative writing process, a must for aspiring writers.
You'll also tour 'Les Plus Beaux Villages de France' (Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Auvillar and Lauzerte), as well as admire the 'Pink City' of Toulouse and taste its delicious wine and cheese. This is a wonderful way to visit a lesser-known part of France and a great opportunity to see it through the eyes of one of our favourite authors.
Reasons to book
Joanne Harris' France
Authentic French villages
Creative writing talk
Stay in Montauban
The Strawberry Thief
- Eurostar to Paris direct from St Pancras or Ebbsfleet, then by TGV to Montauban.
- Six nights at the four-star Hotel Mercure Montauban with breakfast each morning.
- Welcome drinks and two dinners in the hotel's glass-domed restaurant.
- Montauban visit on market day.
- Tour of Nérac, believed to be the setting for Chocolat.
- Two talks and Q&A sessions with Joanne Harris, including an exclusive creative writing talk by Joanne.
- Copy of Joanne's latest book, The Strawberry Thief (one per booking).
- Full-day tour to Cahors and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
- Sightseeing in Toulouse.
- Moissac, Auvillar and Lauzerte tours.
Day1Travel to MontaubanMontauban, France
Travel by Eurostar from St Pancras or Ebbsfleet to Paris and onwards to Montauban by TGV. On arrival, transfer by coach to the hotel - Mercure Montauban - for check-in.
Day2Full day tour to ToulouseToulouse, France
Toulouse was once the home to the resplendent court of the Count of Toulouse, who controlled much of southern France and it continues to be an important city today, particularly in terms of aviation. The old city, the Ville Rose, is compact and easy to explore - the two churches St-Sernin and Les Jacobins plus some Renaissance townhouses are architectural gems.
Day3Full day tour to Moissac, Auvillar and LauzerteLauzerte, France
The town of Moissac is best known for its magnificent Romanesque abbey church of St-Pierre - the cloisters and porch are considered masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture. Although a church was founded on the site in the seventh century, the church and cloisters date from the 11th, and have survived many wars including the siege and sacking on the town in 1212 by Simon de Montfort.
This afternoon we visit two 'Plus Beaux Villages' - Auvillar and Lauzerte. A stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela Auvillar sits on the banks of the Garonne and has some outstanding monuments, including a circular corn exchange, a clock tower and the Church of St Peter. The bastide of Lauzerte was founded in the 12th century by the count of Toulouse. The cobbled main square, stone built and half-timbered houses are delightful, as is the Pilgrim's Garden.
Day4Evening dinner and talk by Joanne HarrisMontauban, France
Today you have a full day to explore the lovely town of Montauban on market day. This laidback city, on the banks of the River Tarn, was originally a bastide built by the Count of Toulouse in 1144. The lovely old city centre, with its pink-brick houses, is a delight to wander around and there are a host of bars and restaurants to explore during the day or in the evening just a short walk from the hotel. This evening, we will enjoy a welcome drink and dinner in the hotel restaurant - open exclusively for our group - and a talk from special guest speaker, Joanne Harris.
Day5Nérac with Joanne Harris and dinner with second talkNérac, France
Today we will head to Nérac which was the real life location of the fictional village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes in her bestselling Chocolat series of books. Joanne will point out relevant locations and inspirations featured in the books. This evening a second private dinner in the restaurant with a second talk from Joanne who will enlighten about her writing style and method.
Day6Cahors tour and Saint-Cirq-LapopieCahors, France
For such a small town squeezed into a loop of the River Lot, Cahors has had a long and turbulent history - passing through Gallic, Roman, Moorish and English hands is just the start of it. The best known sight here is the 14th-century Pont Valentré - a beautifully well-preserved example of a medieval bridge. You'll spot Saint-Cirq-Lapopie sitting on its high bluff over the Lot River a good while before you reach the village. A member of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France", and voted the most beautiful village in France in 2012, the stone and half-timbered houses tumble over the cliff side. Head up the steep path to where the town's château once stood for wonderful views over the river valley.
Day7Return homeMontauban, France
Transfer back to Montauban station to catch the return TGV to Paris. At Paris, board the return Eurostar service to Ebbsfleet and St Pancras.
Four-star hotel set in a charming 18th-century building
Housed in a charming 18th-century building, the four-star Mercure Montauban is located right in the heart of the town centre opposite the cathedral. Facilities at the hotel include a restaurant, Bourdelle, and bar to relax in after a day's touring. Bedrooms are traditionally decorated and feature en-suite bathroom with bath or shower, a TV, telephone, wifi, minibar, air-conditioning and hairdryer.