We plan to do the Rick Steves tour of Belgium and Holland next June. Since we think Paris is a magical city, we will spend a few days in Paris prior to the start of the tour in Ghent. My husband is a fan of Band of Brothers and wants to visit the Bastogne area 2 days before the start of Rick's tour. From my initial research, it seems that relying on public transportation will be difficult. If so, we will rent a car and stay the first night in Bastogne and then travel/tour the next day and a half and end up in Ghent. Please provide recommendations about this planned side trip.
You duplicated your question (In General Europe) and my answer is here.
You are right - Bastogne without a car can be challenging.
Do you or he have any interest in First World War, or is it all WWII? If any interest in the First World War, you will be going very close to a large number of major sights.
Have you ever driven in Paris? Your profile says you are from Acton. Is that Acton in West London? If so you should be OK with Paris if you are familiar with the North Circular in rush hour. Just remember that "vous n'avez pas la prioritié" on the Peripherique.
It can be quite expensive to hire a car in France and drop it in Belgium. If it is considerably cheaper you can take the train to Lille and go just over the border to hire the car. That does make it a bit of a faff, and you would have train and car expenses on the same day, but your pocketbook might appreciate it.
If you will be in Bastogne with the car you may find a rewarding Battle of the Bulge / Battle of the Ardennes experience just over the Luxembourg border at Diekirch where there is an exceptional museum of the conflict.
That's quite a lot of driving and sightseeing in a day and a half.
That is a lot of driving if you start in Paris. You might want to consider the high speed Thalys connection from Paris to Brussels and rent a car there to take you to Bastogne. After that visit, drive to Ghent. By staying in one country you avoid the penalty of dropping off the car in a different country than where you picked it up.
Many thanks for your responses. After I posted my questions I started trying to make some plans and was shocked by the cost of car rental that requires crossing borders and dropping off in a different location from pickup. The dropoff penalty fee was quoted at 300 euros! As a result I had already decided to do what you have suggested. Likely we will take a train from Paris to Brussels and rent a car and drive to the Battle of the Bulge area. Additionally, I learned that the car rental agencies require a minimum rental period of 3 days even if you only need/want a car for 1 or 2 days.
We might also to explore some WWI sites in the same general area if it is doable with our relatively short time frame. We will spend a night in Bastogne and the following night we need to be in Ghent. I have also learned that not all car rental agencies - such as Europecar have offices in various Belgium cities so I am limited it seems by that.
According the website of Europcar you can drop off the car at Bruxelles-Midi and Sint-Pieters railwaystation in Ghent. In terms off time or costs it doesn´t differ very much to my opinion where. The advantage of the latter is, that it has better access from/to the freeway. First ask them where exactly to drop-off.
If it´s at the following place:
Approaching Ghent you have to follow signs ‘EXPO’ (ignore exit signs Gent), leaving the freeway you drive almost directly along an Ikea branch, after a km follow signs ‘Gent-Sint-Pieters’ (drive over both roundabouts to see them!!). At the traffic lights drive under the bridge and keep the left lane for going into the parking garage. There are very frequent trams to the city centre, the ride takes some 10 minutes.
Practising with google streetview helps.
Thanks Will. Have you had any experience renting a car either through Europecar or Sixt?
Also, I found on tripadvisor tour leaders for the Battle of the Bulge being evaluated very positively. Wondering if anyone had had personal experience taking a Battle of the Bulge/Band of Brothers tours?
Judy - Have no experience with. As I live, despite being Dutch, quiet close to Ghent and visit it frequently with my own car, I´m familiar with finding my way there. So was thinking to help you with that. Sometimes for catching the train to Brussels I park my car in the mentioned parking-lot.
I just returned from a Paris to Normandy holiday and then we went to Brussels via the high speed train that we had booked 60 plus days in advance in Thalys for 40euro. The only caution is train strikes which we were alerted to by a Belgium travel writer we met on our wine cruise to Normandy. Everything was well posted on the days of the strike as right now they just had one on Dec 1st and a few more Mondays. We just did not know to be on the alert for this and we just changed our plans a little.
We were going to Bastogne via the Belgium regional train and then taking the local bus to Bastogne and meeting a local tour guide, Henri Mignon and you can just search him on the web. Staying at the Best Western which is right by the newly opened museum that you can do on your own. A lot of YouTube videos explain it and it just opened in May.
We had to put that on hold due to the strike and on my next trip, I would take the fast train from Paris to Luxembourg and spend time in that lovely little city and visit the American cemetery where Patton is buried. You can rent a car and go to Wiltz, Bastogne and the forest where so many of our men lost their life.
All organized tours were not available from my research even though it is the 70th anniversary of the Battle. I thought December was a perfect time and it will be very busy in the next weeks with local celebrations. But Henri Mignin was a wonderful person who communicated with me via countless emails. He sets a per day fee and it is not per person so if you have your car, the more people sharing the cost, is better. We did not plan to drive so he has a car and 3 of us were going on a specialized tour based on where my father fought and was later captured by Wiltz and then released a year later.
We enjoyed staying in Brussels and exploring on our own and then did a day trip to Ghent to see the Ghent Alter Piece. The story was featured in the Monument Men. I have been to Bruges last April and wanted to spend a night there. We saw the Madonna, again this was returned to its original church and we saw that on the Monument Men.
Combining lovely Paris with Normandy and Brussels was amazing and now I will return to Bastogne to met Henri.
I can't wait to hear about your adventure.
Europcar and Sixt are both long-time, respectable car rental organizations with no more than the usual car rental issues. I've rented from Europcar a few times, usually booking through Auto Europe, which is a US middle man. Being double-charged for gas was the one problem I've had with them, so if returning your car with a full tank of gas, try to get documentation of that fact.
Many thanks to the latest posters. I have spent a lot of time since my initial inquiry back in the beginning of November researching travel options. I believe the easiest way to explore the Bastogne area in a short amount of time is for us to take a high speed train from Paris to Brussels and then rent a car and drive to Bastogne. I have found the name of highly rated Battle of the Bulge guides on tripadvisor and plan to take a tour (either half or whole day (??) with him the following day. We need to arrive in Ghent mid afternoon the third day so our time frame is rather compressed.
I had contacted Auto Europe back in November and was surprised that Europcar did not have an office in Ghent which ruled out renting a car with them since we need to be able to return the car there. I will try Sixt Car Rental but was informed that I needed to wait at least until January since they did not have their pricing schedules for June this far ahead.
Happy traveling and happy holidays,
Your plans sounds amazing and taking the high speed train is easy to take and book on line 60 days at least in advance. I would be very interested in your tour guide as I have found Henri Mignon who has been very responsive but nice to know different options. I can't wait to explore Bastogne and the Forest.
The name of the Battle of the Bulge guide is Robert Clam. Here is his email address. firstname.lastname@example.org
I found him listed under tripadvisor Bastogne attractions as #2 (#1 was booked already in November for the entire month of June!!) Hope that helps.