SOMERS, N.Y. - Tusker Travels, a nonprofit educational travel company formed two years ago by five Somers High School teachers, recently returned from an unforgettable adventure in France. Student travelers and chaperones left on Friday, March 30, and arrived the next day in Nice, on the French Riviera. After a day of seeing the Promenade des Anglais and exploring la vieille ville, the old town of Nice, we hiked to see the Roman ruins overlooking Nice and the Mediterranean Sea. At night we took part in an Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathédrale de Nice. Students of all religious backgrounds enjoyed this experience, beginning with a bonfire and candle ceremony outside of the entrance. The Mass was candle lit and we were able to sing along with the hymns in this gorgeous and historical cathedral.
On Easter Sunday, we explored nearby Eze and went to the Fragonard perfume factory followed by an afternoon in Monaco, where we witnessed the changing of the guard in front of the Prince’s Palace. On the way back to Nice, we stopped to explore the waterfront town of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Back in Nice, we donned our bathing suits and headed for the beach. Some students took a quick dip in the Mediterranean and the rest of us enjoyed staring out at the azure water and being chased by rogue waves! We returned to Fenocchio, the most amazing gelateria on the Riviera, where students tried gelato flavored with lavender, jasmine, pistachio, orange blossom and more.
The following day we traveled to Provence, stopping first in Arles where we saw the Feria d’Arles, the official opening of the French bullfighting season. The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles later in life and painted more than 300 paintings there, inspired by its history and beauty and especially by the lighting. We explored Arles, including its ancient arena where several of our choir members performed with outstanding acoustics.
Next we spent time in Les Baux-de-Provence, in what is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in France, with a ruined medieval castle overlooking its surrounding plains.
Continuing our history lesson, we headed to Le Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct built in the first century. It is the highest of all Roman aqueducts and is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
We continued to Avignon where we stayed within a walled city, facing the Popes’ Palace. We took a walking tour in the morning before heading to the Palais des Papes, the papal residence from 1309 to 1423 and the largest gothic palace in the world, followed by a visit to a French flea market, where many of us picked up antique jewelry and unique decorations.
We stopped briefly in Lyon and visited the gorgeous Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, and took a walking tour through the city. Later that evening, after dinner at Le Bouchon des Carnivores, we explored the old town, which had some truly fascinating architecture (and some more fabulous gelato!).
On our way out of Lyon, we visited the Château de Chambord, one of three amazing castles we visited in the Loire Valley. The others were the Château d’Amboise and the Château de Chenonceau. The castles were stunning, as were their gardens, and their enormous fireplaces kept us toasty during our visits. We went through a labyrinth at Chenonceau, saw the famous double helix staircase at Chambord designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and while in the town of Amboise, we also explored the Château du Clos Lucé, which was the official residence of Da Vinci between 1516 and 1519.
Our last dinner in the Loire Valley was at a troglodyte dwelling where we ate in an enormous underground cave, enjoying the sounds of Claude François’s greatest hits. They started us off with a local pâté and most of the students tried it and loved it.
On the way to Paris the next day, we stopped in Chartres to see its majestic cathedral, considered to be the finest example of
French gothic architecture. Most of its 12th and 13th century stained glass windows survived, and they are simply breathtaking! We were lucky enough to have a little time to explore local restaurants, boulangeries and chocolate shops before leaving for Paris.
Arriving in Paris, we headed directly to the Louvre. Everyone wanted to see the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci, but we all found other areas of interest, as well, such as the “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” a Greek statue dating back 2,200 years!
After the Louvre, we took a walking tour and ended up at Notre Dame Cathedral, a medieval gothic cathedral known for many reasons, including its innovative architecture, such as the flying buttresses, for support, and the gargoyles for water spouts.
After a dinner in the Quartier Latin, we jumped into the métro and headed to La Tour Eiffel. It was an incredible way to end the first day in Paris!
We took a guided tour of Paris the next morning to see all of the major monuments. Afterwards, following a brief photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower, we spent some time in the Musée d’Orsay, a museum in a former railway station which now houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. How amazing it was to see Monet, Manet, Degas,
Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne!
One of our final stops was in Montmartre, where some of our travelers chose to explore Sacré Coeur. Some had original art created by the portrait artists, some did their last day shopping and others looked for a crêpe stand. One last amazing dinner and a final trip to the supermarché extraordinaire, Monoprix, and it was time to pack our bags.
In spring 2019, Tusker Travels will be running a 10-day educational trip to Athens and the Greek Isles. SHS students currently in ninth, 10th and 11th grade are invited to learn more and start the application process at www.tuskertravels.org.