In France, Kirker Holidays

Our train journey whisked us along the stunning French Riviera, eventually bringing us to the enchanting city of Aix-en-Provence, affectionately referred to as Aix. This historic gem, established by the Romans in 123 BC, welcomes visitors with a delightful blend of ancient charm and contemporary vibrancy.

After a swift check-in and refresh, we set out to explore this captivating city. Our guided walking tour led us down the grand Cours Mirabeau, a magnificent avenue lined with plane trees and elegant mansions. This picturesque promenade is perfect for a relaxed stroll, offering a glimpse into Aix’s rich past and dynamic present.

Our visit coincided with one of Aix’s renowned market days, ‘Le Grand Marché’, held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The market buzzes with life, offering an array of fresh produce, clothing, and crafts, all set to the backdrop of lively music. The atmosphere is truly electric, making it an unmissable experience for any visitor.

Aix offers an abundance of attractions for visitors, from the historic Saint-Sauveur Cathedral and the rejuvenating Thermes Sextius to the intriguing Museum of Old Aix and the famed studio of impressionist Paul Cezanne, the ‘Atelier Cezanne’. Alongside these cultural highlights, the city boasts vibrant markets and a delightful culinary scene.

We had planned an overnight stay at Le Pigonnet, a charming hotel renowned for its beauty. Unfortunately, unexpected renovation work meant we had to change our plans. However, we were treated to a presentation about the hotel over a delectable lunch. Le Pigonnet, a favourite of Kirker, is famed for its enchanting gardens filled with cypress trees, pines, fountains, and flower-filled borders. These gardens inspired Paul Cezanne’s famous painting, ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire,’ in 1890. The hotel’s gastronomic restaurant, ‘La Table du Pigonnet,’ is highly regarded, and in the summer, guests can dine on the terrace. It’s definitely on my ‘bucket-list’ for my next visit to Aix.

Our journey through France continued with a TGV ride from Aix to Paris, a scenic four-hour trip through the heart of the country. The TGV trains are impressively modern and comfortable, featuring double-decker carriages. I found the upper deck particularly enjoyable for its superior views. Rail travel is undoubtedly the way to go—environmentally friendly, stress-free, and as they say, “let the train take the strain!”

After a quick turnaround, we enjoyed a hosted dinner before settling in for the night. Our final stay was at the Hotel Rond-Point des Champs Elysees, perfectly located for a city break, though not ideal for those with mobility issues due to its numerous stairs.

The next morning was dedicated to hotel inspections. My favourite was The Royal Garden Hotel, a four-star property on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, nestled between Place de l’Étoile and Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement. The hotel is bright and spacious, with recently redecorated rooms and suites in soft pastels. Its breakfast room, adorned with living walls and flooded with natural daylight, was particularly enchanting—a definite highlight for me.

You could spend months in Paris and still not uncover all its treasures, but with only a few hours to spare, we focused our visit on one of its most iconic landmarks: the Arc de Triomphe. Thanks to the excellent Kirker Concierge service, we had a local tour guide booked, who vividly recounted the history of Napoleon and King Louis-Philippe of France. The Arc honours those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I resting beneath it. Our visit was especially moving, coinciding with the 80th Anniversary Celebrations of D-Day.

As our French adventure drew to a close, we made our way to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar journey back to the UK. It had been several years since I last travelled on Eurostar, and I had anticipated a smooth transition through security and passport control. However, post-Brexit realities meant we faced some queuing, with two sets of passport and security checks (French and British). It’s wise to allow a couple of hours for check-in before departure.

Our whirlwind trip, meticulously organised by Kirker Holidays, showcased their unrivalled attention to detail. Over three days, we explored three cities, travelling by plane, train, and minibus. At every stop, a Kirker representative was there to meet us, guide us, and ensure a seamless transition to our next destination.

While Kirker may come at a premium, it’s an investment worth making for the discerning traveller. If you expect high-quality hotels, impeccable service, and a concierge facility that caters to your every need, then Kirker is the company for you.

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