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The Great Tours: France through the Ages

Course No. 8012
Professor John Greene, PhD
University of Louisville
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Course No. 8012
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Explore France's multidimensional history, iconic landmarks, romantic neighborhoods, and artistic and literary life
  • numbers Learn about the history, lore, and methods of preparation of many of France's favorite regional foods
  • numbers Pay visits to many of France's greatest cultural treasures
  • numbers Mine the essence of a culture which lives, for people across the world, as a symbol of romance, beauty, and the very best of life and living

Course Overview

France is the world’s most visited destination for travelers. From the beloved city of Paris—a global archetype of beauty, romance, and fine living—to the sunshine and lavender fields of Provence, the medieval splendor of Carcassonne and Avignon, the glittering seaside life of the Côte d’Azur, and more, France ignites the imagination and dazzles the senses like no other country on Earth.

In this thrilling new edition of The Great Tours, you’ll delve deeply into what makes France such a magical and irresistible draw, and you’ll discover how a visit to France can be an unforgettable adventure, an astonishing journey through history, and a multifaceted immersion in the French “art de vivre”—the art of living.

In the 24 visually lavish segments of The Great Tours: France through the Ages, you’ll travel across the diverse regions of France, from Brittany and Normandy in the north to Aquitaine and Provence in the south, enjoying an inside view of France unlike any other you’ll find without a plane ticket. What truly sets this tour apart is your consummate guide to France, Professor John Greene of the University of Louisville, a multi-award-winning scholar and professor of French language, culture, and civilization.

Professor Greene’s extraordinarily detailed knowledge of France has been honed through a lifetime of travel across all of France’s remarkable regions—an intimate, personal familiarity with French life and culture far surpassing guidebooks or conventional itineraries. He was named by the French government as a chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques for services to education and culture. Professor Greene’s expert guidance and richly informative commentary make this tour a thoroughly delightful—and insightful—excursion into the cultural and historical treasures of La Belle France.


Discover the Timeless Appeal of France


The Great Tours: France through the Ages is both an ideal resource for planning your own trip to France and a way to enjoy a deeper grasp of the beauty, history, and culture of France from the comfort of your own home. All segments of the tour are richly illustrated with contemporary and historic photos, maps, and visual aids, bringing the sights and landscapes of France vividly alive.

As one of Europe’s premier civilizations, with a tradition reaching back over two millennia, France boasts a spectrum of historical treasures and cultural riches to enchant even the most seasoned traveler. Across the many distinct cultural regions of France, you’ll enjoy such diverse sites as:

  • The Palace and Gardens of Versailles—Among Europe’s most spectacular royal residences, and the majestic seat of Louis XIV, the “Sun King”;
  • Bordeaux—Home to both the beautiful city of Bordeaux and the superlative, verdant wine region known for some of the world’s finest wines;
  • The Basque Country—Featuring the proud Basque culture, culinary traditions, and fascinating history, plus the world-renowned religious pilgrimage site of Lourdes;
  • Corsica—Known to the French as the “Isle of Beauty”; the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte, seat of the legendary French Foreign Legion, and a paradise of natural scenery; and
  • Arles—The sun-drenched, historic town of matchless Provençal charm and the place that inspired numerous masterpieces of Vincent van Gogh.


Enjoy a Phenomenal Tapestry of History

France has often been a major player in some of the most impactful events of European history, making it an infinitely rewarding place to visit for history buffs and for travelers looking for a rich, cultural experience. In the course of this wide-ranging travelogue, you will truly experience France through the ages. As you journey through France’s regions and subregions, you’ll encounter landmarks of French heritage, such as:

  • The 35,000-year-old cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet, among the world’s most stunning prehistoric artworks;
  • The imposing medieval castles of the Cathars—a storied religious sect—and their dramatic history;
  • Outsized historical figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), and Charles de Gaulle, and the sites associated with their lives;
  • The historic locations where the world-changing French Revolution unfolded; and
  • The enthralling worlds of George Sand, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the swirl of art and artists in 19th-century bohemian Paris.

Along with a thorough look at the past, you will also get to see the cultural landscape of contemporary France, as captured in the French passion for art, cinema, soccer, fine food, and daring modernist building projects across the country, such as the Viaduc de Millau, a wonder of 21st-century engineering.


Travel to the Heart of French Culture

Throughout the tour, Professor Greene delights in probing the question of what makes France such a magnet for visitors from all over the world. Central to this matter is the art de vivre, a sensibility that permeates nearly every aspect of French life, expressing the French people’s desire to live well and to seek out the best life has to offer, in terms of food, art and culture, décor, fashion, nature, and more.

As just one instance of the art de vivre in action, you’ll study the concept of “terroir” in French winemaking—the combined factors of the grape, soil, growth environment, weather patterns, and how the land is worked, all of which define the identity and value of a fine wine.

Across the 24 segments of the tour, you’ll experience this hallmark of French culture in examples such as:

The Multiple Wonders of Paris—Within six full segments on Paris, dig deeply into the French capital—arguably the world’s most aesthetically beautiful major city. Stroll the Grands Boulevards and the enchanting squares, a masterstroke of 19th-century urban planning. And explore the city’s multidimensional history, iconic landmarks, romantic neighborhoods, and artistic and literary life, as well as its eminence in the worlds of cinema, photography, and fashion.

Lyon—Explore the self-proclaimed capital of French gastronomy, even above Paris; learn why this remarkable city attracts icons of haute cuisine; sample its culinary scene, from its fine dining restaurants to its more informal “bouchons”; and also note how Lyon gave birth to France’s—and the world’s—love affair with the cinema.

The Loire Valley—Spend time in one of France’s most celebrated regions, most famous for its 300+ châteaux, a Renaissance cluster of architectural masterpieces designed for luxury, comfort, and elegance; trace the historic factors that created this most astounding building boom; and take an in-depth look at the palatial splendor of Azay-le-Rideau and Chenonceau.

Regional French Food and Wine—In the home of the Western world’s most celebrated culinary and wine traditions, learn about the history, lore, and methods of preparation of many of France’s favorite regional foods, such as bouillabaisse (Marseille), ratatouille (the Rhône valley), and cassoulet (the Camargue). Visit France’s world-famous wine regions of Alsace, Champagne, Burgundy, and the Loire, among others, and discover iconic wines, including Château Margaux, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, and Pouilly-Fumé.

Glories of Art and Architecture—Across the span of the tour, pay visits to a multitude of France’s greatest cultural treasures, such as the island citadel of Mont Saint-Michel; the 11th-century Bayeux tapestry; Claude Monet’s home and gardens at Giverny; the Cathedrals of Rheims, Chartres, and Paris’s Notre Dame, as well as Paris’s sublime Opéra Garnier; the Gallo Roman architecture of Arles; and Avignon’s magnificent Palais des Papes.

Finally, you’ll also take in the remarkable natural wonders of France and its idyllic landscapes, from the gorgeous coastal scenery of Normandy and Brittany to the soaring peaks of the French Alps.

In The Great Tours: France through the Ages, you’ll mine the essence of a culture that has long stood as a symbol of romance, beauty, and the very best of life and living.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Point Zero: Charting Our Course
    Begin by contemplating the French art de vivre (“art of living”), and the timeless appeal that makes France the world’s most visited tourist destination. Take an overview of the course’s journey across the rich cultural landscape of France, and learn about the iconic figure of Charles de Gaulle. Finish with an aerial view over Paris, and a first look at its beloved monuments. x
  • 2
    The Birth and Rise of Paris
    Mine the layers of history that reveal how Paris evolved from an ancient settlement on the Seine to a Roman city and then the capital of France. Learn about medieval Paris through the Cluny Museum, the great cathedral of Notre Dame, and the royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle. Follow the growth of Paris and its architectural treasures through the Renaissance, to the reign of Louis XIV. x
  • 3
    The Splendor of Versailles
    Discover the remarkable palace of Versailles as the self-contained world of Louis XIV, the “Sun King.” Note how the landscaping surrounding the palace symbolizes features of Louis’s reign, and how the Versailles court prized royal spectacle and appearances. Take account of Louis’s patronage of the arts, and how he and his successor built extravagant private residences within the palace grounds. x
  • 4
    Paris in Revolution
    Examine the social, intellectual, and political background of the French Revolution of 1789. Visit key locations in Paris where the events unfolded, from a legendary coffee house to the site of the Bastille prison and the Place de la Concorde. Then map the turbulent epoch of Napoleon, and witness the lasting impact of his rule on both the look of Paris and the features of French society. x
  • 5
    Northeast to Champagne
    In your journey to the first of France's diverse regions, begin at the city of Rheims, and chart the fortunes of its glorious and historic cathedral. Learn about the beverage that gives this region its name, and about some of the area's great champagne producers. Visit the cemeteries and memorials that poignantly commemorate World War I, and a small town that is central to French identity. x
  • 6
    Normandy at War: Beaches and Bunkers
    Travel now to the northern French coast, where three dramatic events in world history took place. Learn first about the 1066 Norman invasion of England, and the role of the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Then visit Dunkerque (Dunkirk), site of the massive evacuation of Allied troops during World War II, and finally the beaches of Normandy, where the D-Day invasion of Nazi-held Europe unfolded. x
  • 7
    Normandy at Ease: Painters and Pilgrims
    The beauty and clear light of the Normandy coast became a magnet for 19th-century painters. Travel these shores in the footsteps of Claude Monet, then visit his home at Giverny, and learn about the inspiration for his famous paintings of water lilies. Sample the region's fine cheeses, apples, and apple brandy, and finish with the history and architectural wonders of the island citadel of Mont Saint-Michel. x
  • 8
    Brittany: The Wild West
    Investigate the Celtic culture of Brittany, starting in the walled port city of Saint-Malo, with its ramparts, forts, and seafaring past. Experience the wild beauty of the northern coast and note two contrasting cities: Quimper, with its Breton traditions and crêperies, and Lorient, with its superb seafood and dramatic World War II history. Also, view the enigmatic ancient megaliths of Carnac. x
  • 9
    The Loire Valley: Among the Chateaux
    Begin your tour of this famous region with the fabulous Chartres Cathedral and its masterpieces of stained glass. Trace the history of the Loire’s plethora of extraordinary châteaux, explore two of the most celebrated, and learn about some of the region’s notable citizens. Finally, visit the historic maritime city of Nantes, home to a remarkable 19th-century science fiction theme park. x
  • 10
    Bordeaux and the Coast of Aquitaine
    Ponder the mysterious cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet, considered some of the greatest treasures of prehistory. Then encounter the extraordinary figure of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the region that bears her name, and view the majestic architecture of the city of Bordeaux. Take in the renowned Bordeaux wine region and study the essential concept of “terroir,” a key to the quality of France’s finest produce. x
  • 11
    The French Basque Region and the Pyrenees
    Trace the origins of the Basque people and uncover their unique architecture and culinary traditions, seen in the picturesque city of Bayonne. Travel to the 19th-century resort town of Biarritz, the historic fishing port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Then, head into the Pyrenees and the town of Lourdes, a major site of religious pilgrimage and a lightning rod for the modern role of French Catholicism. x
  • 12
    The Camargue: Land of the Cathars
    Start your journey through the Camargue with a visit to the spectacular castles of the medieval sect known as the Cathars, as well as the town of Carcassonne with its fairy tale grandeur. Continue with the extraordinary urban landscape of Montpellier, and end at Albi, taking in its fortress-like cathedral, its memories of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the delicious regional dish of cassoulet. x
  • 13
    Arles: A Jewel of Provence
    Near the Provençal city of Arles, contemplate two incredible feats of engineering: an ancient Roman viaduct and a 21st-century cable bridge taller than the Eiffel Tower. Stop at the “monarchist” village of Les Baux-de-Provence; then view the Gallo Roman architecture of Arles, see the sites that inspired Vincent Van Gogh, and discover Arles’ lavender fields and local food specialties. x
  • 14
    Along the Riviera: From Marseille to Cannes
    Here, explore the storied Côte d’Azur, starting with the history, culture, and noteworthy architecture of the industrial port of Marseille, France’s second-largest city. Sample the area’s signature dish, bouillabaisse; the game of pétanque; and the local liqueur, pastis. Finish at the summer playground of Cannes, city of literary history and of the world-famous film festival. x
  • 15
    Corsica: The Isle of Beauty
    Savor Corsica's blend of French and Italian cultures, starting in the capital of Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and a location of beautiful coastal scenery. Learn about the island's food and drink at the historic port of Bastia. Also, visit the citadel of Bonifacio, home to the renowned French Foreign Legion, and take in the island's beloved landscapes, flora, and nature trails. x
  • 16
    Avignon: From Popes to Produce Stands
    Learn the singular and colorful history of Avignon, home to the papacy in the 14th century, whose legacy is the city’s magnificent Palais des Papes, now the site of one of France’s most revered theater festivals. See how the rich Rhône valley’s produce is embodied in the region’s celebrated ratatouille and the Côtes du Rhône wines, and climb the legendary Mont Ventoux, Provence’s tallest peak. x
  • 17
    The French Alps, Lyon, and Beaujolais
    In yet another of France's distinct regions, experience the spellbinding vistas of Mont Blanc, western Europe's tallest mountain and the birthplace of rock and ice climbing. Then pay a visit to Lyon, the capital of French gastronomy, and encounter its famous chefs, eateries, and Beaujolais wine. Explore Lyon's historic neighborhoods, World War II history, and its proud invention of the cinema. x
  • 18
    Dijon and Burgundy: The Delicious Heartland
    Trace Burgundy's history as a politically independent duchy, and begin your visit at Dijon's Les Halles Centrales market, an exemplar of the lively culture of French street markets. Review Burgundy's dining specialties before traveling to Baune, with its medieval treasures and iconic wine auction. Learn about the region's famous citizens, from Louis Pasteur to Resistance heroine Lucie Aubrac. x
  • 19
    Alsace and Lorraine: France Meets Germany
    In this much fought-over region, take the measure of Lorraine's great heroine, Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc), and how she saved her country. Examine the oldest written document in a proto-French language. Then travel to picturesque Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament; savor Alsatian wine and German-style beer; and ponder Alsace's poignant roles in French military history. x
  • 20
    Paris Transformed: La Belle epoque
    Witness the massive 19th-century urban planning works of Emperor Napoléon III and city administrator Georges-Eugène Haussmann, which thoroughly altered the urban landscape of Paris, largely creating the city we know today. Against the sociopolitical background of the Second French Empire, take in the Grands Boulevards, parks, sewer system, and standout masterpieces such as the magnificent Opéra Garnier. x
  • 21
    Bohemian Paris: Artists and Expats
    Explore famous artists’ haunts of Paris, beginning with the neighborhood of Montmartre, where the quality of light and bohemian culture were a magnet for painters and writers during the Belle Epoque. Visit the cemeteries of Montmartre and Père Lachaise, the resting places of many famous Parisians and expats. Learn about the literary culture of Montparnasse and enjoy two of its most famous cafes. x
  • 22
    Paris: The Capital of Design
    Get to know Paris as a vital hub for the creative arts. First, visit the Cinémathèque Française and grasp the rich role of the cinema in Paris’s cultural life. Trace how photography came of age in Paris and take note of the many Parisian venues for photography. Discover Paris’s world-famous fashion houses, and visit the Sèvres porcelain factory and the Cordon Bleu culinary school. x
  • 23
    Paris and the Future
    Observe the ways in which Paris has responded to successive waves of modernization. Note how architectural wonders such as the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais came to be and tour the Métro, Paris’s much admired underground rapid transit. Then take account of groundbreaking public works such as the Centre Pompidou, the complex of La Défense, the Musée D’Orsay, and the Pyramide du Louvre. x
  • 24
    United France: Celebrating Together
    Conclude your tour with a look at some of France’s great national celebrations. First, visit the Stade de France, a shrine to French sports achievements. Learn about two essential events that conclude on Paris’s Champs-Elysées: the Tour de France and the Bastille Day parade. Finish with national cultural events such as the Fête de la Musique, the Fête du Cinéma, and the national Heritage Days. x

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  • Printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

John Greene

About Your Professor

John Greene, PhD
University of Louisville
John Greene is a Professor of French at the University of Louisville, where he also serves as director of the Introductory French Program. He earned a PhD in French from the University of Wisconsin–Madison after completing his undergraduate studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. At the University of Louisville, in addition to teaching language, literature, civilization, and culture courses, Professor Greene teaches...
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The Great Tours: France through the Ages is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 93.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well presented historical tour My wife and I are in the middle of these lectures and are thoroughly enjoying them. It's definitely more focused on the history but the professor keeps the pace moving at a good clip. Presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio the images come across as High def even though the media is not blue ray. The locations take some pretty large leaps so don't expect to cruise the country side.
Date published: 2020-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Geographic gateway study of France For a number of years I've wondered why the Great Courses had only one human geography course. Most universities have multiple regional geography courses. This course answered that question. I must say that was surprised and pleased with the geographic perspective of France Through the Ages. Google Earth images and animated maps are liberally used which tie together the other media. The professor effectively creates a narrative of French history and culture arising from place. It reminded me of travelogues I watched at the local high school auditorium when I was a kid. In the same way Dr. Green seems like he wants to prepare you for your upcoming trip. This motivated me to revisit sections of other Great Courses on Foundations of Western Civilization I, The Cathedral, The Impressionists and the Louvre. Great format that integrates multiple disciplines in a memorable way.
Date published: 2020-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course - highly recommended Professor Greene did a fantastic job with course content, organization and presentation. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in France
Date published: 2020-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A mini-vacation without the travel A whirl around France to spectacular places with historical tidbits, hosted by a generous tour guide who offers delectable tips on food and wine. A reminisce of my own trip 25 years ago, reminding me of why I want to go again to explore the many regions and towns I missed before.
Date published: 2020-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Throw Away the Tour Guides John Greene has managed to perform a very difficult task very, very well. In one series of extremely engaging and pictorially stunning lectures, he paints a picture of what is, for my money, the most beautiful country I have ever visited. My wife and I have been to France nearly a dozen times and, while we are able speakers, that only enhances what would still be a surpassing cultural experience. Professor Greene has woven history, culture, language, the arts and everyday living to create a journey that should place this country, despite its many political tragedies and self-inflicted wounds, high on any serious traveler's list. He makes it quite clear that this is no mere collection of tourist "must-sees." It is a civilization that must be understood from within, and Professor Greene has done all the heavy lifting, and in a most engaging way. A joy to watch. I would look forward to another course from Professor Greene. Are you listening, Great Courses?
Date published: 2020-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from C'est Magnifique! I thought this course would be good -- even, perhaps, very good. I was wrong: it is outstanding! Each lecture is interesting and informative, form and content superb in every case. Dr Greene is utterly engaging throughout. I was especially astounded how he managed to touch upon so many regions of France and so many aspects of French life: history, geography, arts and culture, cuisine, wine, fashion, sports, etc. Each lecture concludes leaving one wishing there were more. The course concludes leaving one with a sense of joy and satiafaction for having met France through Dr Greene -- and wistful that this Great Tour has come to an end. I am also left with a sense of excitement and anticipation looking forward to my next visit to France, hoping it will be sooner rather than later. And I am sure I'll return to this course before too long. I very highly recommend "France Through the Ages."
Date published: 2020-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Tour of France with a Charming Guide I write to praise Professor Greene’s remarkable series which you produce. We viewed the entire series raptly and appreciate the immense work that went into this undertaking. The breadth of topics was outstanding. Moreover, Prof. Greene delivered his insights with immense charm. We hope to see more of him! His tour is a tour de force!
Date published: 2020-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnifique!!! My husband and I traveled through France with Professor Greene on this delightful and insightful tour. We travel to France frequently but were amazed at how much we did not know. Professor Greene's delivery is easy and comfortable. We walked away with a whole new list of destinations we want to visit once travel opens up again. This was the perfect antidote for quarantine time at home.
Date published: 2020-10-25
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