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12-13 nights Northern / Central France March 2017

Thank you all for your continued help as I've found this forum to be immensely helpful with previous trips.

My wife and I are in the very early initial planning stages of a trip to France for the beginning of March 2017. We have traveled to Europe twice during this time of year during the past 2 years (Italy in 2015 and Ireland/Spain in 2016) and enjoy it for the relative lack of crowds and lower prices albeit chillier weather. Venice/Florence have been my our favorite cities so far. Do not mind renting car if needed to get where we want to go, however would not mind minimizing car travel (drove in Ireland; found it draining and somewhat stressful; however this was with steering wheel on right side and driving directions switched from what it is in America). We would be spending 12-13 nights (excluding the overnight flight in). Our interests include walking around nice towns, people watching, architecture, churches, finding small cafes / squares to relax and drink coffee/wine in, art (we are not huge museum buffs; will see the Louvre and maybe 1-2 others on our stay but we by no means need to see it all). Would like to take a cooking class. Really would like to minimize hopping around and too many transitions. My initial thoughts (based on not a ton of research) are:

Arrive in AM
Paris x 4-5 nights
Loire Valley x 3 nights
Normandy Region x 3 nights
Return to Paris x 1 night
Flight back to USA

Would Loire / Normandy be active at this time of year or would we find them to be too sleepy to sustain 3 nights a piece? Are there other regions that would be more suitable? Should we abandon the North and head South? Thanks for all your help as always.

Posted by
688 posts

We went in November so I'm no help there. I would recommend doing the travel part first and end with your 5 days in Paris at the end. We did that and loved it. I would have been stressed doing it the other way around.

Posted by
13933 posts

I had my first driving experience in France last year (after driving in Spain and Sicily) and I was traveling solo. Driving was pretty easy - the challenge for me was navigating on back-country roads, since I was also driving. GPS was a godsend (built-in) especially in the larger towns (I was in Burgundy and Alsace). I loved exploring the villages. I chose to base in one town/village in each area, which meant driving back and forth - much easier for me than moving every day. Every town/village had a TI with lots of information, brochures on all the attractions in the town and the area, "wine route" and "chateau route" brochures, and self-guided walking tours. Now I can't wait for another opportunity to visit France and explore other parts of the country.

My guess is that Normandy and the Loire are pretty busy all the time because they are well-known regions and close to Paris. You may find that restaurants in the small villages are closed, or open only on weekends.

Posted by
158 posts

Looks like a very doable, low-stress itinerary. My wife and I spent four weeks in France last September, but have traveled throughout France during different times of the year. Fair warning...March can be a bit chilly, windy and damp, especially if you are going to be anywhere along the Normandy coast. Many of the nicer B&B's (especially near Mont St. Michel) don't open till April.

Given the information you have shared, I'd start in the Loire Valley. Don't rent the car in Paris, though. Best bet is to take the train from Paris to Amboise and then rent your wheels there. Driving through the Loire Valley is very pleasant and the only decent way to see all the chateaus. We actually stayed in a 17th-century converted mill which is now a lovely B&B in Blere which was central to all of the chateaus in the area. Three nights...yes, that's just right. From there, we continued south with a two night stay in the Languedoc town of Gramat for its central location to this region (and stayed in another converted mill featured in the RS France book). A highlight of this region is the wonderful town of Sarlat and the surrounding Dordogne region. If you're foodies, like we are, you'll love Sarlat.

From there we continued south to Albi (great cathedral and Toulouse Lautrec museum) and on to Carcassonne, before swinging east. Carcassonne was a true joy. Not only for the old fortified upper town, but the "new" lower town was great fun. We even spent a day gliding along the Canal du Midi on a converted barge which served local cuisine and regional wines.

I certainly do not want to discourage you from going to Normandy. Along with the Burgundy region, Normandy is just about my favorite region in France. I just think you would enjoy it during a slightly more temperate time of the year. But, if you do decide to go to Normandy, drive south starting in Honfleur with stays in Bayeux and Mont St. Michel. Please say "hello" to my dad's brother who is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery (Plot G Row 15 Grave 31) just outside of Bayeux along the coast.

BTW, we really enjoyed our cooking class at La Cuisine Paris near the Hotel de Ville.

Have a great time and maybe I'll see you in Ireland this August and September!

Posted by
8 posts

For a good museum visit in Paris for non-museum-buffs, consider the Rodin museum and grounds. Three-dimensional art works you can just amble around and spend some good quiet time with. And IMHO, Rodin's "The Burghers of Calais," when you know the story it depicts, is the greatest sculpture of all time.

For a final night in Paris, I did the Bateaux Mouches dinner cruise, and it made for a perfect, romantic memory.

Posted by
116 posts

Update: Just booked flights. My wife and I are credit card points junkies. Depart Boston Logan direct to CDG (Delta through Air France); return CDG to JFK direct on AA. Total 95k points and $200 in taxes/fees. Baggage and seat selection included.

Posted by
479 posts

Echoing comment about putting Paris at end of the trip. We did that last month, doing Normandy and Provence first, and ending with a week in Paris after we were fully acclimated. We based in Bayeux in Normandy; plenty of lodging and dining/shopping options, but still with a small town vibe. Also close to DDay sights -- plan at least 1 full day for that. A day trip to Mont St. Michel is easy from Bayeux, with an early start. If you wanted to drill deeper into Normandy (e.g. Honfleur, Cidre Route, enjoying Bayeux, etc.), you might consider a longer stay in the region. That said, Honfleur and the Normandy countryside might be far less charming in March than what we experienced in May. We spent first night at CDG (@70+ we wanted to catch our breath), picked up rental car on Day 1, and left for Bayeux early on Day 2. (Marriott at CDG worked fine.) There's an excellent post (by "Don") under another topic today about driving the toll roads in France. Our experience was much the same, very little difficulty, even using US chip/signature VISA card.