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10d in/out of Paris: Help with itinerary options!

UPDATED 2/5/19:

I have since ruled out London, Jura, Versailles/Giverny, the French Riviera, Normandy, and Brittany this time around. We'll have 2-5 days for a side trip and I'm currently deliberating between...
- Burgundy, Beaujolais and Lyon (love these wines, and food even more)
- the Loire Valley (love Chenin, & it looks beautiful too)
- Provence (who doesn't love the idea of Provence?)

For any of you who've been to these places, were they favorites, or not so much? How much time would you recommend spending there, and what was the best way to get around (especially if you are interested in visiting specific producers)? For some reason we have a huge fear of paperwork/driving/parking in a foreign country where we don't speak the language...

Thanks so very much for your thoughts!


Booked a roundtrip ticket to Paris from Apr 30-May 10. Been to Paris a few times, and would love to spend around half the trip doing something else...the problem is there are TOO many options and I'm overwhelmed. Would prefer not to rent a car, but it's still something I'd consider.

Should I...
- ...take the train to London? (Never been.) This is one I'm seriously considering, but will it be too much?
- ...visit a wine region in France? (I love Beaujolais, whites of Alsace, Jura reds, Provence rose, etc.)
- ...explore the nearby surroundings of Paris (Versailles, etc)
- ...hit up Normandy or Brittany? (not interested in war history, but am really into food/drink/arts/etc.)
- or do something else? (Edited to add that I have been to Nice, so somewhere other than the French Riviera, and that I probably travel to somewhere in Europe every other year or so.)

Any suggestions? All ideas welcome and so very appreciated!

Posted by
90 posts

If you are interested in French wine, as I am, you may wish to consider during a wine appreciation class while you are in Paris. During my first visit to Paris in 1979 I did a class led by Steven Spurrier. At that time he had a shop in the Place de la Madeleine. If you are a foodie definitely visit this part of Paris. Some of Paris' most famous food stores are located here eg Fauchon, Hediard, truffle shops and wine shops.

I have only visited the Bordeaux wine region and did a day trip visiting the Medoc and one that visited Sauternes.
Versailles is worth a visit but expect crowds...big crowds.

And if you take the Eurostar across the ditch you could spend some time in London. I attended a Christie's wine auction the first time I visited London. Although I didn't buy anything I was still allowed to taste. It wasn't one of their fine wine auctions more one focussed on house wines for the hospitality trade. The Harrods food department in London is well worth visiting as is the Fortnum and Mason's store. And like Paris, there are heaps of fantastic restaurants.

Posted by
771 posts

When planning, keep in mind 2 May holidays. May 1 and May 8th. Check websites for information.

Posted by
3354 posts

Before you select a London, how often do you travel? If you’re going again next year, I would stay within France this year and then devote your next trip to London and sites in England.

Another suggestion- Any interest in Nice? It’s about six hours by TGV trains. Lots to do there by public transportation.

Posted by
1030 posts

Any interest in champagne? You could head over to Reims for a few days to visit some champagne cellars in addition to the cathedral and other sites. It’s only an hour train ride from Paris.

Posted by
10 posts

75020–thank you so much for the tip!

Jean—thanks for the ideas! I was in Paris/Nice in 2015 and Spain in 2017, so probably hit a region in Europe every other year or so. I would love to do a whole separate trip to Britain/Scotland/Ireland...

Edited to add that I did go to Nice, and was actually not a big fan. It felt a little too Miami Beach for me—lots of Euro tourists who were there to party hard. (Nothing wrong with that, just not really in my wheelhouse.)

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10 posts

istvandesiderata, thank you for the wine and food recs!

I would 100% go to a wine region yet am struggling to narrow down as there are so many worthy of a visit from the usual suspects of Burgundy/Bordeaux/Champagne to the lesser-traversed areas of the Rhône, Alsace, Beaujolais, Loire, etc. etc.

Curious to know: Was your visit to the Medoc heavily crowded and touristed? I enjoy complex whites, roses and lighter, brighter reds and am interested in places that are off the beaten path (for instance, if I went to Champagne, I’d be way more interested in visiting small growers than renowned houses). Any advice there?

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10 posts

Rocket—yes! This is a great idea. Any favorites? Am curious to know also how crowded Reims would be.

Posted by
6747 posts

If you like complex whites, rosé, and light reds, Bordeaux is not your territory, (except for Sauterne. Mmmm).

Alsace has enough cities to offer art, and it has good food and all kinds of whites, including late harvest wines, and even a rosé or two. Beaujolais and Jura are rural areas, so you won’t have large concentrations of art.

Posted by
90 posts

There weren't a lot of tourists in Bordeaux when I was there and not too many on the bus travelling around the vineyards. Probably most of the really prestigious vineyards around Bordeaux including the Medoc, Graves and St Emilion would not welcome visitors except for people in the trade such as buyers or wine writers.
The suggestion to visit Champagne is a good one as it is the closest to Paris. I have just googled Champagne tours and there seem to be a few listed that leave from Paris but are fairly expensive. I suspect that it would be more cost effective to make your way to Reims or Epernay and join a tour there. You may be able to get contact details of some of the smaller Champagne houses from a fine wine or boutique wine store if you have one in your town. There are probably online wine enthusiast groups who could offer advice. Good luck and happy sampling.

Posted by
11153 posts

Some easy side trips from Paris by train:

Lyon is my favorite city in France outside of Paris. It feels very different from the capital, and there are several days worth of good sites. Rick has an excellent Lyon chapter in his France book.

You can go to Strasbourg and other places in Alsace like Colmar, and on the way back you can visit Nancy. To be honest, I wasn't as taken with Strasbourg or Colmar as most others are, but I did love the wonderful Museum of Alsation Life in Strasbourg. Nancy is an under-visited gem, particularly if you like art nouveau or beautiful glassware.

If you really want something different from Paris, look into visiting Marseille for a few days. From there, you can also take side trips to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, or Avignon.

Overall, I preferred all of these to Nice and the Riviera.

Posted by
3315 posts

If you opt for Reims, plan to spend at least one night there -- perhaps two. In addition to the champagne houses there is a cathedral that is very historic and a museum where the treaty ending WWII was signed. Also a restaurant with super mussels. Google maps has street views of the city so you can walk around and get the lay of the land before you go.

Posted by
744 posts

This past fall, before my Best of Eastern France RS tour, I spent 2 extra nights in Reims so that I could have a full day in Epernay and Hautvilliers. Hautvilliers was one of my favorite visits. As it is not on a train line (or difficult to get to via train), after getting off the train in Epernay from Reims, I immediately took a taxi to Hautvillers (under 15 Euros); there were taxis at the train station and I got his card for the return to Epernay.

Reims is under an hour from Paris. I booked my TGV tickets 3 months in advance and paid around 20Euro for one way.

Hautvilliers has many small wineries and is also home to Dom Perignon's church. The town has many decorative signs which makes it very beautiful. I was dropped off at the TI (Tourist Information), where they had a map of the town with wineries. I was there on a Saturday and some wineries were closed; the TI knew which were open. I visited 2 small wineries right in town and had a picnic at a marked picnic site overlooking huge fields of vines. I had purchased picnic goods at the covered market in Reims before catching the train and carried it with me. I could walk right into the vines, it was glorious. I highly recommend visiting Hautvilliers. The TI called the taxi to take me back to Epernay.

In Epernay, I did visit Moet & Chandon and had the tour underground. It was very interesting to see the contrast between a huge company and the tiny wineries I visited in Hautvilliers.

Reims Cathedral and Basilica are great. The gargoyles on the Cathedral are the best I have seen and I am a gargoyle fan.

The Best of Eastern France tour visited a few wineries in the Alsace region. You might look at the tour itinerary at the sites in Alsace to see if they are reachable via train.

Although I enjoyed the champagne, Sancerre is still my favorite French wine. I discovered that on the Paris and the Heart of France tour!

Have a great trip.

Posted by
143 posts

let see 10 days, landing in Paris... gosh your options are endless... I am going to pretend this is my trip, that I am doing a solo trip:

1)If I am feeling prehistoric and adventurous:

After landing in Paris, I would take the train to Bordeaux (2h30) and rent a car and drive to Sarlat for 6 nights; explore La Dordogne. On May 6th, drive back Bordeaux, train or fly to Paris for 4 nights.

2) If I want to bicycle and explore the Germanic side of France: 5 days in Paris and 5 days in Strasbourg

3) If I am feeling medieval: 6 nights in Paris and 4 nights in La Loire Valey

4) If I am feeling Italian: 3 nights in Paris, overnight private compartment train to Venice, 3 nights in Venice, 2 nights in Verona or Malcesine, flight or train to Paris, 1 night in Paris.

ect...

Posted by
10 posts

Wow, thanks for all the ideas!

Bets—did not know about Alsace and art, so thanks for the pointer!

istvandesiderata—Good to know re: Champagne and Bordeaux. I am currently looking into a wine tasting/class in Paris, although I’m pretty sure I’m not going to score Steven Spurrier. Lucky you!

Harold—Lyon is a pretty strong contender at the moment, so thank you for the suggestion to look at that Rick Steves chapter! In your mind, what was the biggest difference between your experience to Nice/the French Riviera and your experience to Provence? (I did not love Nice but am still considering Provence.)
Alsace does seem like it would be a wonderful option too, although for some reason I’m intimidated by it. (Perhaps it’s because, knowing myself, I know I’d want to try to eat at all the top-notch restaurants and have the best Riesling and totally overdo my budget and itinerary in far too little time!)

TC—At which restaurant did you have the super mussels? Thanks for the Reims ideas, and the Google Maps proposal is brilliant. When you were in Reims, how did you get around—by foot, bike, tour bus, local bus, rental car, or taxi? My SO really doesn’t want to rent a car but I’m having a hard time imagining I can make it to all the small grower Champagne houses that I’d love to go to without one. (I’d be more interested in visiting Vignerons than large Champagne houses.)

Posted by
10 posts

Arya—This is amazing for idea generation! Thank you! So helpful (and sounds like a fun exercise). Do you think that one could get around Alsace (Stasbourg, etc.) or the Loire Valley without a car, or would that be super difficult (even on a bicycle or some other mode of transportation)? My significant other is anti-renting a car, as he's somehow under the impression that it would be very difficult as a foreigner who doesn't speak French to read the road signs, find parking, deal with the paperwork, etc.

Posted by
10 posts

June—I LOVE the Hautviliers idea, so thank you for that! And the suggestion to contrast a big Champagne house with smaller grower visits. Out of curiosity (although not sure that it ultimately matters much), were the wineries you visited vineyards/estates or just tasting rooms/storefronts? And were you able to simply walk around Hautviliers and Reims once you got there, hopping from winery to winery?

I ask because my significant other is anti-renting a car, as he's somehow under the impression that it would be very difficult as a foreigner who doesn't speak French to read the road signs, find parking, deal with the paperwork, etc.

Posted by
11153 posts

"In your mind, what was the biggest difference between your experience to Nice/the French Riviera and your experience to Provence?"

They are just completely different areas. Similar to the way that New York City and the Adirondacks are both in New York State, but otherwise have very little in common (certainly from the perspective of visiting them). So, while both the area around Nice and the area near Marseille are both part of the PACA region (Provence-Alps-Cote d'Azur), they have a completely different feel. Meaning, if you liked one, you may or may not like the other, and if you disliked one, you may or may not dislike the other.

Then there's the factor that Marseille, itself, is quite different from the other smaller cities in the area like Nimes, Arles, and Avignon.

In summary, if you are drawn to this area, don't let your impressions of Nice fool you into thinking that it will, in any way, resemble that area. You may still not like it - but not because it's "just the same as the Riviera."

Posted by
3315 posts

The restaurant with the mussels was named Continental on Place d'Erlon. But do not confuse it with the restaurant in a hotel with the same name directly across the street. We went almost all over Reims by foot. The one exception to walking everywhere was a visit to the Martel Champagne house. We took a local bus from the park in front of the train station. Very easy to navigate as it is fairly close. Taittinger also has a location near by. When returning on the bus, if you stay on the bus at the train station, you can get off at a stop very close to the museum of surrender and walk back via a pedestrian tunnel that goes under the train station. Can't advise about visiting smaller outlying houses without a car as we didn't go to any of them. The RS Guide book for France does have a section on Reims that will give some good insight.

Posted by
143 posts

The car is my least favorite mode of transportation (I prefer the boat, the train and the bicycle) but I have to say that some areas of France are easier with a car, i.e the Loire Valley and Provence. That said it is possible for you to explore those areas without a car. I believe that the Rick Steves Provence book has a whole section how to travel Provence using public transportation. In Provence you would have to pick a town/village that is well served with buses and/or join group excursions (several found on trip advisor).

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143 posts

I forgot to mention Strasbourg: you don't need a car; it is well served by trains and bicycle within Strasbourg is king.