Fall 2022: Journeys in Genealogy
Following the success of the genealogy tour we did last fall, GBC Tours is proud to continue working with genealogist Cathy Sturgell, covering more of the home churches and villages of ancestors who left Europe for Louisiana.
This tour covers completely different locations from the previous one. As before, we present to you a tour that is full of genealogical history - but we've added a bit more time to allow for an experience balanced with culture, sights, and food.
We'll start and end in Frankfurt, Germany, a major airline hub for our travelers coming from all over the US. We'll cover regions including the spa towns of the Black Forest; the charm of Alsace-Lorraine, beloved for its half-timbered houses and shops; the untouched Argonne Forest, where Americans fought in WWI; the scenic Ardennes region of France and Belgium; two magical nights in the Old World city of Bruges; into the famed cities of Brussels and Aachen; and exploring hidden treasures in the alluring Eifel region of Germany before flying back home.
Read on for a day by day description of the tour!
Day One: Sunday, Oct. 9
With bags in tow, head to the airport and catch your flight to Germany! (We assist with ALL flight bookings to keep the costs down and the timetable intact. Do not book on your own!)
Europe, here we come...
Day Two: Monday, Oct. 10
After landing in Frankfurt at coordinated times, we'll link up with our tour bus, load up our bags, and head south through a string of villages and small towns in the Rhine-Neckar region: Rotenberg, Sinsheim, Reihen, and Obergimpern - and yes, we'll do our best to teach you a few basic German pronunciations along the way! These villages are home to ancestors of several Louisiana family lines: Norman, Dupuis, Bordelon, Mayeux, Edwards, Rebouché, Snoddy, Ducoté, Carmouche, Lemoine, Olivo, St. Romain, Lachenay, Trégre, Marcotte, and Lacombe.
They are all along our path towards our final destination for the evening: Baden-Baden, Germany. This spa town is one of Germany's absolute jewels. We'll check in as soon as we arrive, so that you can get situated in your room, and freshen up for a welcome dinner. Everyone will be ready for a good night of sleep after the long flight and a full day of travel!
OVERNIGHT: BADEN-BADEN, GERMANY
Day Three: Tuesday, Oct. 11
Guten Morgen! After a well-deserved night of sleep, wake up and enjoy a hearty breakfast, before we head out for a wonderful day in a beautiful town. After a flight and a bus ride down into this jewel of the Black Forest, we won't have any arranged travel today! It will be a perfect time to stretch the legs and explore!
Baden-Baden is part of a chain of UNESCO World Heritage Sites known as the "Great Spa Towns of Europe." Romans built a bath here, and a Roman emperor used this town's famous waters to heal his afflictions. It is considered by many to be the best spa town in Germany and has incredible architecture of different bath houses and fairy tale buildings.
We'll start off with an orientation/guided tour to give you a sense of the history and give you your bearings. After that, you'll be free to explore at your own speed. Check out the many splendid bath houses with their distinguished architecture. Take a walk along the Lichtentaler Alee - a gorgeous park and arboretum that follows an old footpath dating back to the 17th Century, and to more than 300 species of trees. Ride the funicular railway to the top of nearby Merkur Mountain to behold a breathtaking panorama below. Or book a spa appointment!
Enjoy dinner at your own choosing that evening and another night in our lovely spa hotel.
OVERNIGHT: BADEN-BADEN, GERMANY
Day Four: Wednesday, Oct. 12
After an early breakfast, we'll load up our bags onto the bus and head for France's storied Alsace, region.
Once part of the Middle Kingdom, Alsace-Lorraine sits at the confluence of Gaul and Germania, and the impact on its culture, architecture, cuisine, and history is virtually unparalleled in Europe.
We'll drive to Haguenau, a city which began as a hunting lodge for a notable duke in the 1100s. Sitting close to the present-day German border, Haguenau has endured centuries of prosperity - and destruction. It is also home to ancestors of several families who settled in Louisiana, including Materne, Normand, Broüillette, Bonnet, Voorhies, and many others.
From here, we'll drive into Strasbourg, the largest city in Alsace-Lorraine - and one of the most important in all of Europe. Its history is far too long to list, but it is a key hub for European politics, religion, and trade, with a dazzling array of sights, museums, and houses of worship. The list of prominent historical figures who play a huge role in this city's legacy is no less spectacular. You'll have a few hours to enjoy a delicious lunch, explore shops and museums, or perhaps the Strasbourg Cathedral - once the tallest building in all of Europe up until the 1900s.
We'll meet back up at a pre-arranged location to head south to our charming hotel for the next two nights.
Day Five: Thursday, Oct. 13
Today will be a free day to explore and enjoy a wide array of sights and exhibits in the area...
One option will simply be to get dropped off in nearby Colmar, an even more picturesque village than Strasbourg, and enjoy a completely free day of wandering, shopping, dining, and practicing your French chops... Situated in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, Colmar is ringed by vineyards and is full of storied buildings, cafés, and shops. Take a canal boat ride through Little Venice, visit a number of famous buildings, such as the covered Market Hall, the Customs House, or the Cathedral. There is nothing quite like having a day on your own in a beautiful, intimate city in Europe - to explore at your very own pace! Such an experience is often the most memorable and special of anything one can do abroad...
The other option will be to board the bus after breakfast and embark on an adventure...
First we'll head up to the Château Haut-Koenigsbourg, a Medieval fortress dominating the Upper Rhine Plain - which made it a target for competing factions, ending in its destruction during the 30 Year's War. It was rebuilt by Kaiser Wilhelm II during Germany's occupation of Alsace-Lorraine before the First World War, to remind his new subjects of their Germanic heritage.
We'll then make a family ancestry stop in Gueberschwihr, home to ancestors of no less than nine Louisiana families, before we head to one of the most beloved Alsatian villages of them all: Eguisheim (the picture directly to the left) and allow you some time to explore, shop, and eat in one of the most well-preserved jewels of this Franco-Germanic region of Europe.
The bus will swing back through Colmar to pick up everyone who chose the former option, before taking us to our charming Alsatian hotel for a final night there.
Day Six: Friday, Oct. 14th
Today we'll embark upon a lengthy journey through numerous towns and cities of great significance to our lineage.
Heading out from our hotel in the Rhine River valley, we'll drive through the hills and woods of the scenic Vosges mountains, stopping at Lièpvre, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, Étival-Clairefontaine, and Raon L'Étape, with stops to visit old churches where ancestors of ours were baptized. Where possible, we plan to have an opportunity to meet with local residents, including mayors, church officials, local historians, and even delighted members of the press. Such events were a superb (if not the most important) part of last year's tour, and Cathy will be busy in the coming months trying to arrange several such visits and interactions with locals along the way.
Following a stop at the famous hot springs in Vittel, another family home and source for one of France's most popular bottled water companies, we'll turn north for two more stops in Maixe and Pont-á-Mousson, two family towns/cities in the Lorraine part of France.
We'll complete our long day of travel with a bit of US history...
We'll pass through the viilage of Flirey, where American troops first went into action to take back the Saint Mihiel salient - a deep incursion by German forces in WWI to sever a major rail line that hampered French efforts in that brutal war. We'll stop a little known, yet absolutely breathtaking, American WWI monument sitting atop the Butte de Montsec, a prominent feature in the terrain that commanded the valley below - and was taken back for France by the Americans at a high cost.
Our journey for the day will end when we reach the city of Verdun, a sleepy and tranquil place with a history like very few others.
Day Seven: Saturday, Oct. 15
Today will be a day with two very distinct choices:
One option is to have the day to explore Verdun. This famed city was founded by Celtic Gauls over 2,000 years ago and has played a crucial role in the formation of Western Europe. It was the 843 AD Treaty of Verdun which split Western Europe up among Charlemagne's three sons, the westernmost becoming today's France, the easternmost eventually becoming Germany, and the Middle Kingdom (now known as the much smaller countries and regions of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Alsace-Lorraine) doomed to countless struggles between the two larger territories on either side. Verdun is home to a famous cathedral; imposing ramparts built by Napoleon's famed engineer, Vauban; and large subterranean galleries which were used to house troops. It is full of charming shops and has a lovely promenade along the river which has aided in its importance and prosperity.
Join us on a day of military history, as we travel over to the museum and massive ossuary dedicated to the most brutal battle of WWI, which lasted ten months! We'll visit the remains of Fort Douaumont, which cost the French and Germans countless lives.
After lunch at the battlefield, which has an upscale French brasserie - due to the volume of visitors to this hallowed ground (think our Gettysburg, Arlington, and Alamo rolled into one), we'll then strike north for a swing through several famous locations involving American fighting in the Meuse-Argonne region in WWI. We'll visit the little town where Sergeant Alvin York earned his Medal of Honor, stop along the hauntingly beautiful Argonne Forest road where the Lost Battalion gained its fame, and make a final stop at the largest American military cemetery in all of Europe. These are special places with fascinating stories to tell us, and they are sadly overlooked by far too many American travelers. Many grandfathers and great-grandfathers of ours served here! And unlike much of the WWII sites, this region is virtually untouched.
Day Eight: Sunday, Oct. 16
Today promises to be a wholly different experience than the day before...
After paying tribute to the men who fought in the Lorraine region during WWI - many of whom are distant and not so distant relatives, we'll head into Épernay for another ancestral stop which covers numerous families.
This town is rather famous, too, for it is synonymous with that bubbly and regal drink, champagne. After all, it's the capital of champagne production, and all of the major houses are located on the Avenue des Champagnes, which we'll have the opportunity to stroll along and photograph.
We'll head north through rolling vineyards and enjoy a champagne tasting at one of these esteemed producers' grounds, and you'll truly be able to soak up one of the most beautiful regions in all of Europe, while learning a bit about the soil, the climate, and its effects on the delicious grapes in this region.
With that completed, we'll continue our journey into Reims, one of the most celebrated of all French cities. Founded by the Gauls, it became a major city of the Roman Empire, before its prominence was solidified permanently by the Frankish king Clovis I in 496 AD. The iconic cathedral in Reims has been home to the coronation of every French king until 1825, and you'll have time to explore the cathedral and admire its architectural beauty.
From its 56 15' tall statues of kings to its three intricate portals and two prominent towers, this is one of the greatest examples of High Gothic architecture, after previous versions of the church were destroyed. During WWI, it took over 300 shell hits and was badly damaged. It has since undergone extensive restoration work and remains one of the most famous cathedrals in all of Europe.
From here we'll head up near the Belgian border to the French portion of the Ardennes Forest for a dinner and our lodgings for the evening.
Day Nine: Monday, Oct. 17
Today we'll dance up the Belgian/French border, making several stops to cover more ancestry.
Again, we are aiming to provide tangible connections to our ancestors, visiting churches, meeting with locals, and walking the ground they once did.
We hope to have a few surprises on this leg of the trip, and we'll share more of this as we get closer to our departure.
The family names we'll cover on this leg are well-known in Central Louisiana and beyond:
Pellerin, Foulon, Rondeau, Soileau, Vidrine, Lemoine, Guillory, Bordelon, Guillot, Fontenot, Michot, Décuir, Domer, Decoux, Dufour, Goudeau, LeDoux, Rabalais, Armand, Tassin, Mayeux, Grémillion, Châtelain, Moreau, Dauzat, Prévost, Lacour, Roy, Baron, Couvillion, Gauthier, Coco, and Normand, to be exact!
Upon completion of our stops in the French and Belgian villages, towns, and cities of Charleville-Mézières, Salles, Macon, and Maubeuge, we'll then complete our drive to one of the best preserved cities of Old Europe: Bruges.
We'll check into our palatial hotel, before gathering to enjoy a splendid group meal together. Feel free to relax afterwards or go stroll one of the most beautiful cities in the world, which becomes magical at night-time.
Day Ten: Tuesday, Oct. 18
After several days of travel by coach, we'll all be eager to enjoy a full, free day with zero motor transportation scheduled.
After a sumptuous breakfast at our beautiful, centrally located hotel in the heart of Old Bruges, step outside and wander the cobblestoned streets and explore and shop to your heart's content.
The story of Bruges is most fascinating. Once a bustling seaport, Bruges was the leading trade center in all of northwestern Europe - and home to the world's first stock exchange. This prosperity brought not only commercial prominence but cultural as well, as Bruges became the home of two of the great Flemish painters, Memling and van Eyck. As the political tides changed, so did the sea, and silt blocked shipping access to the city. Plagues and wars further reduced Bruges role - and froze it in an architectural time capsule, as there wasn't a population or funds to modernize it. It was "rediscovered" by an author, whose novel rekindled great interest in the city's old world beauty. Today it is cherished like few other locations in the world!
From a most comprehensive beer store; to a bakery that serves up big, delicious Speculoos cookies bursting with caramel and gingerbread; to a world-famous German Christmas store, Käthe-Wohlfahrt; to shops filled with lace, chocolates, and gifts; you will be delighted at the array of charming, unique shops all around you.
You'll also have an array of buildings to visit: the gorgeous belfry, which is worth every step of the climb; the Church of Our Lady, which houses the only Michelangelo sculpture (Madonna and Child) to leave Italy in his lifetime; or the Basilica of the Holy Blood, said to contain this prized relic of Christ, collected in Jerusalem during the Crusades.
Simply put, this is the perfect location for a free day to enjoy Europe at your leisure. Just remember this: Bruges is in the Flemish part of the country. Flemish is a dialect of Dutch, and they prefer English speakers by a wide margin over French ones! :P
Day 11: Wednesday, Oct. 19
After another delicious breakfast, we'll load up on the bus with our bags and make our way south to what is often considered the business and political capital of Europe: Brussels.
We'll devote three hours of the day to explore the center of this unique city. Our drop-off and pick-up point will be right off its world famous Grand Place, a giant cobblestoned square lined by 17th Century buildings that are a sight to behold.
Behold the towering Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and King's House, facing it from across the square. On both sides of these monuments symbolic of public authority were houses occupied by powerful corporations. Each different but built over a very short time, they illustrate remarkably the Baroque architecture of the late 17th century. Each house has a name and specific attributes, heightened with gold, reminiscent of the status of its occupants. It is interesting to note that this is a rare example of a square without a church or any other place of worship, which emphasizes its mercantile and administrative nature.
Nearby are shops and stores, as well as the charming Rue des Bouchers. Uniquely colourful Rue and Petite Rue des Bouchers are a pair of narrow alleys jam-packed with pavement tables, pyramids of lemons and iced displays of fish and crustaceans. It’s all gloriously photogenic and full of options for your lunch, before we load up on our bus and head to our next destination.
We'll make one stop in the industrial city of Liège, located on a major river and embedded into hills rich in mineral deposits which gave it such wealth and importance. This will be the final ancestral stop of our tour.
Our final destination will be once again in Germany, in the regal city of Aachen. We'll stay in a beautiful, modern hotel in the heart of the old city ("Altstadt" in German), and enjoy an arranged group dinner before heading to our rooms for the night.
Day 12: Thursday, Oct. 20
Again with the options, allowing you to customize your experience within the large group experience:
After breakfast you can stay in Aachen and explore the heart of the city on foot. Once a Roman spa town, Aachen rose to great prominence as the seat of Charlemagne himself. It was heavily damaged during WWII, but there are still some treasures to explore here, whether it be the Couven House - a well-preserved upper middle class home dating back to 1786, replete with period furnishings, cookware, and art. Or visit the famous Carolus Thermen, a first class spa where you can soak and relax. Perhaps shops, beer, and hearty German food is all you want for the day. It's entirely up to you.
The alternative is to load up onto the bus and head to a story-book village, located below high rock cliffs on the Eifel River, known as Monschau. It will require a very short walk from the parking place just up the hill, as Monschau's streets and buildings are simply too old and narrow to allow for sizable traffic. Explore a stunning German village, full of half-timbered houses and shops, with the ruins of a Medieval fortress towering over it all. Enjoy a delicious meal of schnitzel - or a number of local specialties, before heading back to the bus for one final adventure for the day.
We'll head south, into the heart of the Ardennes forest to visit some iconic WWII sites in and around Bastogne. This town became a household name during the bitter winter of 1944, as Hitler launched a final major attack on a thinly held American line, creating the "Battle of the Bulge." We'll visit the massive Mardasson Monument and even visit some foxholes in a nearby wood, once dug and held by the men of Easy Company, aka "Band of Brothers."
We'll head back to Aachen for one final night, before our last bus trip of the tour.
Day 13: Friday, Oct. 21
After breakfast, we'll load our bags onto our bus before taking a short stroll over to the Aachen Cathedral. One of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, it was constructed by order of Emperor Charlemagne, who was buried there in 814. From 936 to 1531, the Palatine Chapel saw the coronation of thirty-one German kings and twelve queens. It is a marvel of architecture and craftsmanship, and it holds the very throne of the great Holy Roman Emperor himself!
After our guided tour in the cathedral, we'll board the bus and make our way to our final location of the tour, stopping for lunch and a tour of a German castle!
The Burg Eltz dates back to the 12th Century. It has remained in the same family hands ever since, and it is only one of three castles on the left bank of the Rhine River to never be destroyed. Our guided tour will be a fascinating experience, and the scenery is nothing short of your favorite fairy tale.
An hour and a half later, and we'll arrive in Mainz, Germany to check into our stately hotel in the heart of the Altstadt. On this second to last night of the tour, we'll have our farewell dinner. It will be a memorable evening of story-telling, laughter, and a chance to acknowledge all who made the tour possible - including our bus driver (the very same from last year's tour - and an honorary American to many of us going)!
Day 14: Saturday, Oct. 22
One final, free day to enjoy Europe!
Mainz, capital of the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate and an old university town, lies on the left bank of the Rhine, opposite the mouth of the River Main (hence its name). One of the oldest cities in Europe, Mainz can trace its roots back to the 1st century AD, when the Romans built a fortress here.
Mainz is known the world over as Gutenberg's city, where the first movable metal type printing press was created. It is thus home to the Gutenberg Museum, as well as three prominent cathedrals, an old Marketplace, and two fascinating museums...
Why Mainz? 1. Mainz was not destroyed as Frankfurt was in WWII - and is thus more charming. 2. The last thing you want to do on the day before a long flight home is sit on a bus for another drive. 3. The hourly trains that run from Mainz's main station arrive DIRECTLY UNDER the Frankfurt Airport. In other words, have a full day entirely at your pace, including when you eat dinner and go to bed. We will personally make sure every traveler gets to the train station in plenty of time for their own flight, without others having to leave early as well. It's a far superior set-up than departing from Paris!
Day 15: Sunday, Oct. 23
Head to the train station, a two minute drive from the hotel, and take a 15 minute train ride to the airport, where you'll head right to your ticket counter, check your bags, clear security, and wait to board your flight home. You will be rested, recharged, and ready to return home!
OVERNIGHT: YOUR BED
This concludes the tour description. The tour cost will be $4,250. It will include the following:
All lodgings (4 and 5 star hotels)
All group meals (to be listed shortly)
Two full-time guides for the duration of the tour
All ground transportation throughout your time in Europe
All listed group events (champagne tasting, castle tour, etc.)
We have begun a list of people who have requested to go on this tour. We will cap it short of 40 people, and if you are interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 504-722-4000.