From One Tour to Another

Something that gives me just the tiniest frisson – connections between tours.

I’ll give you an example, from our Dordogne and Loire Valley tours. One of the striking features about the Dordogne is the way that the history between England and France going back to the 12th century shaped the landscape we see today. This is a region that saw 4 centuries of fighting in a 500 year period, beginning with the marriage of Henry Plantagenet, heir to the English throne, to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Dordogne river was the boundary between Aquitaine, belonging to the King of England, and France. There was fighting for 200 years along the Dordogne, finally erupting into The Hundred Years War in 1337.

Chateau Beynac, Dordogne
On our second night in the Dordogne we stay in Beynac, directly beneath the spectacular castle of Beynac 500 feet above us. Henry and Eleanor’s son Richard the Lionheart stayed in Beynac – as did Robin Hood, believe it or not. Known in France as Robin des Bois (Robin of the Woods), his legend is taught to French children just as it to British children, Sherwood Forest, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Wicked Prince John and all.
Queen Eleanor in the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.


And on our first day of cycling in the Loire Valley we visit the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, resting place of Henry, Eleanor, Richard the Lionheart, and their daughter-in-law Isabelle of Angouleme, Prince (later King) John’s wife.



Charles, man-up, go to Reims.
Staying in the Loire Valley, we spend Tuesday night in Loches, where we get the chance to visit the Royal City and Chateau of Loches. It’s a spectacular and beautiful place, but it also has a particular historical significance. Thsi is where, in 1429, during The Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc persuaded the future Charles VII of France that he must travel to Reims, accept the crown as the King of France, and ‘boot the English out of France’.


Cathedral of Reims (c) R. Kiezer-Coll.ADT Marne

On our newest tour, of Champagne, we visit Reims, the capital of Champagne. Anyone given half the chance should visit the Cathedral of Reims, “Our Lady of Reims”. This was Charles VII’s target, the cathedral where all but 7 of France’s monarchs were crowned, dating all the way back to Clovis 1st in 509 AD.


It doesn’t sound such an amazing thing these days, to tell the King to go to Reims – get a TGV from Tours, change in Paris. But in the early 15th Century it meant crossing hundreds of Kilometres of territory held by the enemy English and Burgundians. In France, they go a bit potty for anything to do with Joan of Arc. If she’d asked the King to post a letter, there’d be a statue and a plaque!

Reims also links to our Normandy tour. We spend the last 3 days of our Normandy tour exploring the monuments, cemeteries and memorials of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Here is where the end of the Second World War began. Reims is where it ended.

It seems to be a little-known fact that the surrender of Nazi Germany was signed in what is now the Museum of Surrender in a northern suburb of Reims. A tiny musuem, and overshadowed because Stalin insisted on another ceremony in terriotry liberated by the Soviet Union. This took place the following day in Berlin, on May 8th 1945 – VE day. But the surrender was signed on May 7th. In Reims.

General Eisenhower
When we’re in Bayeux on our penultimate night in Normandy, we stay at the Hotel Lion d’Or, once General Eisenhower’s HQ as supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. He was present in Reims, too. But he didn’t attend the signature. Hitler had died the week before, and the Nazi leader, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, was unable to attend. The surrender was signed by General Jodl, Head of the German armed forces. But Eisenhower stayed upstairs – one rumour says Eisenhower didn’t take part as Germany only sent their No. 2. But Eisenhower was better than that – I’m biased, I know that. But Ike will have had his reasons!

And here’s my favourite ‘connection’. On our Paris tour, obviously we visited the Louvre, where we could see the throngs gathered around the Mona Lisa. In 1939, to save the artworks from the Nazis, the artworks from the Louvre were boxed-up and shipped out. As an aside, each crate was labelled with a code identifying the value of the contents. A yellow circle indicated very valuable art, green was reserved for ‘major works’ and red for ‘world treasures’. The Mona Lisa was given 3 red circles!

The Mona Lisa

All the treasures were sent to Chateau Chambord in the Loire Valley. From there various artworks were transported from chateau to chateau for safekeeping, and the Mona Lisa ended up in the Château de Montal. Which we cycle right past on Wednesday morning of our Dordogne tour, on the way in to St Céré.

Chateau de Montal, Quercy
I had no idea about this until I read a book called The Night Gate by Peter May. It’s a series of books about a Scottish forensics expert based in Cahors. Great fun, and recommended, but I was particularly chuffed to find one of them set in Carennac and the Château de Montal.

On our tours we do make a point of exploring some of the history of each region, so it’s no huge surprise to find that regions of France have historical links with each other. But I like it!

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