France 2025

Apr. 26–May 11, 2025

Southwest France & Basque Country

Experience la belle France from a new perspective—the scenic beauty, culture, and gastronomy of the Southwest and Basque Country.

In our private vans we’ll visit the southwest corner of France known for the Basque people, who have populated it since pre-Roman times. We’ll explore four unique locations, giving us a variety of insights into the culture of the Southwest and a range of gorgeous subjects to capture.

Professional photographer Wayde Carroll will be your guide as you capture
the changing light and views of each locale. We’ll explore techniques and share ideas in a relaxed, friendly ambiance. Multi-night stays will ensure that we can immerse ourselves in local culture and scenery.

We’ll experience a range of landscapes, from the spectacular peaks of the Pyrenees, to the Spanish influence of the far south, and along the mighty Garonne river to historic Toulouse, capital of the southwest and Catalan culture in France. We’ll conclude with a special stay in a château in the elegantly terraced vineyards of the Dordogne valley and the surrounding renowned wine center, Saint Émilion.

Each locale offers its own local color, and regional gastronomic delights will be explored along the way. Francophile Karen Brinkmann will help us navigate the unique language, flavors, and customs that are characteristic of le pays Basque.

Space is limited to 8 guests. Price includes accommodations, ground
transportation, and most meals (excluding alcoholic beverages). Prices based on double occupancy (single occupancy possible with supplement).

An extension in Paris or Bordeaux is possible before or after this tour. Contact Wayde for more information.

15 Nights

8 Travelers

Activity Level

⬤ ⬤ ⬤◯ ◯

$7,499

(Double-occupancy; single supplement $1,999)

$1,000

Deposit

Itinerary

We’ll start our journey by spending four nights in historic Toulouse, the ville rose or rose-colored city. Toulouse is the capital of France’s Occitan region, where the Catalan language is still spoken. The largest city in southwestern France, Toulouse is easily accessible by plane and train.

We’ll begin in the late afternoon at our hotel, and enjoy an apéritif while we get to know one another. We’ll have an introductory photography discussion with Wayde. Karen will give an overview of the Occitan history and culture, including highlights of the local gastronomy, and the wines of the Languedoc, the largest wine-producing region in France. An evening stroll through the historic city will lead to dinner in town.

Highlights

  • Arrive in France
  • Welcome presentation
  • Evening stroll to dinner in historic Toulouse

Meals

  • Dinner in town

Accommodations

  • Le Balcon

After breakfast at our hotel, we’ll spend the day exploring Toulouse, known as la ville rose for its rose-tinted sandstone buildings. Also characteristic are the pastel blue shutters and doors you’ll see throughout the city—Toulouse is a photographer’s delight in color and texture. In addition to people-watching, we’ll visit some of the city’s most spectacular monuments, such as the Place du Capitole, basilica of St-Sernin, and St. Étienne Cathedral. We’ll also spend time exploring water compositions along the mighty Garonne river.

Highlights

  • Historic Toulouse
  • Monuments Place du Capitole, basilica of St-Sernin, and St. Étienne Cathedral
  • Garonne river

Meals

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Lunch in town
  • Dinner in the country

Accommodations

  • Le Balcon

The majestic city of Albi is sometimes called the “Florence of France.” But Albi also witnessed the medieval crusade against the religious movement known as the Cathars. The town’s fortress-like cathedral of Ste-Cécile is a symbol of the wealth and power of the crown and the church at that time. Albi also is the birthplace of beloved artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. We’ll have time to wander the cobbled streets of Albi and explore the bishop’s garden. Relax and grab a bite at your own pace in one of Albi’s many cafés. In the evening we’ll have time to look at photos and discuss techniques with Wayde.

Highlights

  • Albi, the “Florence of France,” birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
  • Ste-Cécile cathedral

Meals

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Café lunch on your own
  • Dinner in Toulouse

Accommodations

  • Le Balcon

Today we’ll begin at one of Toulouse’s lively covered markets, enjoying the bustle and people-watching while we practice a variety of photo techniques. We’ll have opportunities to visit additional historic sites in the city, such as the serene Jacobin cloisters. We also can explore the Canal du Midi, an engineering marvel linking the Atlantic and Mediterranean, in use for more than 400 years. Nighttime photography is a must in Toulouse— we can’t leave without capturing the stunningly illuminated Place du Capitole!

Highlights

  • Covered markets
  • Jacobin cloisters
  • Canal du Midi
  • Nighttime photography

Meals

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Lunch on your own
  • Dinner in Toulouse

Accommodations

  • Le Balcon

From Toulouse we’ll drive into the Pyrenées for four days. There we’ll delve into Basque culture and stunning scenery, staying in the mountains. Great photo opportunities abound in this bucolic setting, from the majestic peaks and sparkling meadows of the Pyrenées to colorful Basque villages throughout the region. We’ll split our time between a charming chalet in the mountains (two nights) and a cozy inn on the river Baïgorry (two nights).

Highlights

  • Arrive in the majestic Pyrenées
  • Sunset in the mountains
  • Photo work with Wayde

Meals

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Picnic lunch in the mountains
  • Home-cooked dinner featuring local specialties

Accommodations

  • Private châlet

Wake up in the mountains and catch the sunrise, weather permitting. The rapidly changing weather in the mountains itself can be a dramatic subject! Waterfalls, narrow passes, heathered meadows, and herds of sheep add to the drama. Sunset may offer still more dramatic photo opportunities. We’ll return to our châlet for a convivial evening sharing photos together.

Highlights

  • Landscapes of the Pyrenées
  • Sunrise and sunset photography (weather permitting)
  • Photo review

Meals

  • Breakfast at the châlet
  • Picnic lunch in the mountains
  • Home-cooked dinner featuring local specialties

Accommodations

  • Private châlet

Another morning in the Pyrenées! We’ll take our time exploring more mountain locales. In the afternoon we’ll make our way to a local gem, the village of St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, where we’ll spend two nights. This area is known for local blue trout, sheep’s milk cheeses, and artisanal chocolates. Irouleguy wine is the local appellation. We’ll have the opportunity for both wine and chocolate tastings in the village. Our family-run hotel is in an idyllic setting on the river, and we’ll enjoy a
gourmet dinner in a beautiful setting tonight.

Highlights

  • Mountain scenes
  • Village of St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry
  • Wine and chocolate tasting

Meals

  • Breakfast at the châlet
  • Lunch in a Basque village
  • Gourmet dinner on the river

Accommodations

  • L’Hôtel Arcé

This morning we’ll gather at the riverside for breakfast before heading out. We’ll have more opportunities to see the Pyrenées today but also to visit a characteristic Basque village, where the local red peppers, piments d’Espelette, are the pride of the region. In the evening we’ll enjoy another gourmet dinner by the river.

Highlights

  • Pyrenées
  • Basque village
  • Piments d’Espelette

Meals

  • Breakfast on the river
  • Picnic lunch together
  • Gourmet dinner on the river

Accommodations

  • L’Hôtel Arcé

Today we’ll head to the Atlantic coast, still deep in Basque country. We’ll enjoy a relaxing day that includes beautiful scenery, a stop in a picturesque Basque village, and continue to work on our photography skills. When we arrive at our hotel in Bayonne, we can review our photos from the first half of our journey with Wayde, ask questions, and talk about technique. We’ll spend three nights on this gorgeous coast, drinking in the changing light and Spanish influence.

Highlights

  • Atlantic coastal drive
  • Picturesque Basque village
  • Photo review and technique discussion

Meals

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Lunch at village restaurant
  • Dinner in Bayonne

Accommodations

  • TBA in Bayonne

Bayonne is known for its beautifully preserved architecture as well as its food—hams, seafood, and chocolates especially—with a decidedly southwest flair. We’ll visit the historic port and medieval cathedral, and you’ll have the opportunity to explore the city at your own pace. Dinner together in town and nighttime photography will round out the day.

Highlights

  • Medieval architecture of Bayonne
  • Historic port
  • Photo work with Wayde
  • Nighttime photo shoot

Meals

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Lunch on your own
  • Dinner in town

Accommodations

  • TBA in Bayonne

The Basque Corniche is a wild and rocky seacoast with sturdy old castles and lighthouses dotting the cliffs. A nice way to explore it is via the extensive coastal trail. We’ll also visit the colorful fishing port St-Jean-de-Luz. Enjoy the pedestrian-friendly harbor and shops. Don’t miss the historic church of St-Jean-le-Baptiste. Beautifully preserved, it’s the largest Basque church in France. The Sun King himself, Louis XIV, was married here.

Highlights

  • Exploration of coastal foot trail
  • Fishing port of St-Jean-de-Luz
  • Historic church St-Jean-le-Baptiste

Meals

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Lunch on your own
  • Gourmet dinner at a Basque restaurant

Accommodations

  • TBA in Bayonne

The mountainous pays Basque gives way to the low country of Gascony (think Musketeers) and then we enter some of France’s most productive wine country, the Dordogne river valley. To cap off our tour of the Southwest, we’ll spend four nights in our very own château, a manor-house in the heart of the Saint-Émilion wine region. This area, also known as the Périgord, boasts some of the richest cuisine in France, along with photogenic villages and, of course, vineyards. We’ll have time to settle in and explore the property, then enjoy a wine tasting and dinner at our château..

Highlights

  • Gascony to Dordogne river valley
  • Arrive and settle in at château
  • Explore château property
  • Wine tasting

Meals

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Lunch on the road
  • Dinner at château

Accommodations

  • Private château in wine country

The renowned wine town of Saint-Émilion is perched atop a limestone hill in the Dordogne valley. The ancient town is a jewel-box of archways and stairways, cobblestones and cloisters, and vistas over both town and vineyard. We’ll visit a subterranean church carved right into the limestone hill. And we’ll have a chance to taste the wines of the renowned Saint-Émilion appellation.

Highlights

  • Picturesque town of Saint-Émilion
  • Historic subterranean church
  • Wine tasting

Meals

  • Breakfast at the château
  • Lunch on your own in Saint-Émilion
  • Dinner in Saint-Émilion

Accommodations

  • Private cháteau in wine country

Spend a relaxing morning in the vineyards or reviewing photographs. We’ll have a special riverside lunch with Cyrano de Bergerac—in the town for which the fictional character is named, that is. Bergerac is a charming town straddling the Dordogne river, offering a variety of perspectives. After lunch we’ll enjoy the views along the Dordogne, and stop at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, a wine exporting town. When we return to the château we’ll take time to work with Wayde on our photographs and post-processing techniques.

Highlights

  • Self-led exploration of vineyard
  • Town of Bergerac
  • Dordogne river
  • Wine exporting town of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande
  • Photo review and post-processing

Meals

  • Breakfast at cháteau
  • Gourmet lunch on the river in Bergerac
  • Simple supper at cháteau

Accommodations

  • Private cháteau in wine country

For our last day together we have saved a little gem: Sarlat-le-Canéda. This walled village remains largely as it looked in medieval times, having avoided the destructive forces of war and modernization. Now it’s ready for its close-up—dressed in warm sandstone hues and lovingly preserved. Though a small community, Sarlat has much to offer, including a castle, museum, and walled garden. You’ll enjoy exploring local gastronomic products such as truffles and foie gras in its many small shops. A farewell dinner awaits at our château.

Highlights

  • Authentic preserved medieval sandstone village
  • Castle, museum, and walled garden
  • Local gastronomic delights

Meals

  • Breakfast at the château
  • Lunch on your own in Sarlat
  • Farewell dinner at the château

Accommodations

  • Private château in wine country

After breakfast at our hotel, Wayde and Karen will see you off to your next destination, at the St-Jean train station or the airport in Bordeaux.

Meals

  • Breakfast at the château
Note: All activities are weather-dependent; if poor weather keeps us inside, we’ll practice photo editing and post-processing techniques.

Meet Your Guides

Wayde Carroll

Principal and Photography Instructor

Karen Brinkmann

Guide: France 2025

Packing List

Recommended

*Note: These are recommendations only. Don’t feel you need to buy everything on this list before your trip! Bring the gear you need to take the type of photos you really want.

  • Digital SLR or advanced “point and shoot” camera with the ability to shoot in “manual” mode and with a wide angle to telephoto range zoom.
  • Plenty of batteries for your camera and flash. Don’t forget to bring your chargers!
  • A card reader so you can download images.
  • Individual lenses, fixed focal length, or zoom, that give you wide-angle and telephoto possibilities. A good range would be 16mm to 200mm.
  • Tripod. Please make sure it is made to support the weight of your camera model. Flimsy tripods are useless!
  • Rain cover for your camera and camera bag. (Check out Fotosharp and Think Tank Photo covers for example).
  • A lens hood for each lens. This helps keep stray light out as well as rain off the front glass.
  • A polarizing filter for each lens diameter. I think all models use “circular polarizers” now but check your lens/camera manual to be sure! (You can also buy a filter for your largest lens diameter and buy “step-down” rings that allow that filter to attach to smaller lens sizes.)
  • Your camera’s manual. A digitial version saves weight and space.
  • Cable release, or wireless trigger-for tripod work.
  • Plenty of storage cards and batteries. I would bring enough cards to shoot about 1000 images a day just in case. More if you shoot multiple frames per second often.
  • Small portable hard drive to store your images on. ( 500 GB)
  • Small hand towel to keep in camera bag.
  • Lens cleaning solution and cloth.
  • Jeweler’s screwdrivers (pack in checked luggage!)
  • Dust blower and your preferred way of cleaning your camera sensor.

Optional

  • Laptop computer (with surge protector) or iPad etc., with your photo manipulation software ie: Photoshop, Lightroom. We’ll spend time viewing images to make sure we’re all getting results we’re happy with! We’ll work on post-processing when time allows as well.
  • 2 or 3 stop graduated neutral density filter with holder and lens mount for each lens size.
  • A super wide angle, 16mm  would give you more options inside temples and shrines.
  • Second camera body as back up.
  • Dedicated flash unit. This is a flash separate from your camera. The “built-in” flashes in the camera are very limited.
  • Project-a-flash/ flash extender
  • Small softbox or umbrella for dedicated flash.
  • Off-camera flash cord or wireless trigger such as Pocket Wizards.
    ( I love to do portraits/wildflowers with off-camera flash and a small umbrella!)
  • Photoflex Litedisc gold/white reflector. 12- or 22-inch.
  • Camera harness to prevent your arms from getting tired carrying your camera all day.
  • Light, comfortable clothes appropriate for outdoor activity,
  • Light waterproof jacket in case of cooler weather or showers.
  • Two pairs of comfortable walking shoes
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottle
  • Umbrella
  • Toiletries

FAQ

The deposit to hold your spot on the tour is nonrefundable provided that the tour runs as scheduled. For this reason, we strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance. Travel insurance will often cover unexpected trip cancelations, delays, lost luggage reimbursement, and other travel-related expenses that may arise unexpectedly (policies vary). Should the tour itself be canceled for any reason, we’ll do our very best to refund any deposit amounts that have not already been forwarded to secure airfares or hotel accommodations.

Current travel protocols for France can be found on the French Embassy website. Current information about return entry into the U.S. can be found on the U.S. Embassy website. We’ll be monitoring the situation closely for any update. Please make sure that your passport is valid for at least three months after the end of our trip.

If it’s required to have a COVID-19 test at the time of our return, we’ll make sure to adjust our schedule so that all travelers can receive their test.

We’ll be walking quite a bit, but there are no extended treks or walks of extreme difficulty in our itinerary. We’ll be walking daily, and some days we’ll visit sites that have steps or cobblestoned streets (uneven surfaces). There’s no rush in these locations and we can take our time. We have private transportation throughout the entire trip, and when we need to cover more ground, we’ll use our private vehicle.

Average temperatures in southwest France in April and May range from the upper 40s overnight to the mid 70s by day, with occasional rain likely. Heavier rain days are possible, but would not be typical for this region.

  • Hotel accommodations will be provided from April 26 to May 11 (15 nights) 
  • All dinners and breakfasts will be provided. Lunches will be offered on at least half of the days on this tour. On the other days, time and suggestions will be offered for you to explore local cafés and restaurants on your own. Of course, you always may opt out of a meal and spend time as you choose.
  • Knowledgeable France expert, Karen Brinkmann, will offer cultural context and assist with translation as needed.
  • Professional photographer Wayde Carroll will provide individual photography instruction as well as demonstrations to the group.
  • Private transportation will be provided throughout the tour.
  • Daily activities will be as noted in the itinerary, weather permitting. A mix of active time with the group and free time is planned.
  • Airfare
  • Travel insurance 
  • Photography equipment
  • COVID tests 
  • Expenses to meet entry requirements