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12 days: Normandy and Loire Valley - help with itinerary?

I'm looking for some advice on planning a trip to the Normandy and Loire Valley areas. We'll be a group of 6 adults, ranging from 50's to late 70's. We'll be going in late June/early July 2018.

I have 12 days to work with, give or take - I haven't booked flights yet so some flexibility remains. We'll be flying into and out of Paris (with a Seine river cruise and a couple of extra days in Paris on the tail end).

The plan is to rent a van (or two midsize cars) in Paris and wander a bit. A van large enough for 6 with luggage might be unwieldy in smaller towns, so am leaning toward two cars, which will be a consideration in choosing a home base.

Have done the 1-2 nights per location thing elsewhere before in other parts of Europe and found it a little hectic, so am trying to limit the moving around as much as possible, meaning 2 (maybe 3) apartments or house rentals that are good jumping off points for the sights in each region.

How would you structure your trip to the area with ~12 days to spend?

Suggestions and comments welcome.

Posted by
656 posts

I'll bite. It is a fairly broad-based request, but for the Normandy portion of your trip, it is hard to beat Bayeux as a base. Fairly close to the British beaches and Omaha Beach, not too far from Utah Beach, a good drive but doable to MSM (possibly en route to the Loire?) , and a wonderful small city in its own right. As for the vehicles, I would think the hassle of coordinating two vehicles may lean towards one larger van—although I'll be honest that I have never done this sort of thing. But I have passed many a Normandy tour company van in the small towns around Normandy and they seem to get by okay. I just think the hassle of a larger vehicle is outweighed by the hassle of trying to keep two cars together (especially when parking or encountering other vehicles in intersections and round-abouts).

Posted by
5221 posts

I think PharmerPhil got it right. Twelve days is plenty of time to do justice to both areas, and include an overnight at Mont St-Michel or nearby Dinan if you want. I'd suggest picking up the van or cars at a rental office near La Defense or elsewhere in western Paris you can reach by Metro or RER, so you don't have to deal with central Paris traffic. Rouen would be a convenient daytime stop on the way, and Bayeux a very good base for the reasons given. In a few days, with wheels, you can visit the D-Day sites, the memorial museum at Caen, the harbor at Honfleur, and/or other places of interest. MSM or nearby could be an overnight on your way to the Loire -- though not on the direct route.

I'd spend more time in the Loire than Normandy, but your interests may vary. Amboise is a good base, easy to get into and out of, pretty central to the chateaux east of Tours. If you don't mind moving again, Chinon or nearby would be a good base for the chateaux west of Tours. Tours itself is more central to the whole area, but a bigger city that takes more work to get in and out of. Coming back to Paris, you might drop the car at Orly airport and take the shuttle and Metro from there.

Given the size and mobility of your group, I'd suggest looking for a house in each location. I haven't used Gites de France, but friends have and they have a very good reputation. However, I think they work on a calendar-week basis which might not be right for your schedule. You might try or for more flexibility. It's not to soon to start lining up those lodgings for next June.

Posted by
20840 posts

There's a more risk of unpleasantly hot weather in the Loire than in Normandy, so I'd begin the trip in the Loire and head over to France as early in June as possible.

I think it's really beneficial to have a guide for the WW II-related sites for at least one day. You'll get a lot of background information and will be able to see much more with a guide.

Posted by
4125 posts

One advantage of two vehicles is that it lets you split up for the day, which can be a pleasant thing to do once in a while with any group that is together so intensely for 12 days.

I am not sure, because my own experiences in the area were at a faster pace. But it seems possible to me that, although Bayeux is an admirable staging area for touring the beaches, that with 5 or 6 days in Normandy you might prefer to base yourself in a smaller town or a country inn. You'd want to visit Bayeux, as a day trip , I think, and probably the Peace Museum in Caen as well.

Also, there is more to Normandy than just the D-Day beaches. If you find yourselves drawn to a cluster of sights in the northern part of Normandy, such as Honfleur or Rouen, you might be justified in spending several of your nights there. And the best experience at Mont St. Michelle involves staying the night and ideally leaving before the tour buses arrive in the morning.

For the Loire, I will only suggest that for some people 5 or 6 days of chateaux would be a death march. It is worth developing some daytrip ideas that explore some other aspects of this region. Again, with two cars, your party could follow more than one impulse at the same time.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks all for the thoughtful replies.

I was thinking about the Bayeux area for a homebase for Normandy. The challenge is finding a 3/2 rental with parking. One of my nice-to-haves would be a place where there are restaurants and shops within walking distance but it looks like most of our choices are more rural. Can't have it all!

On the car front, having two can have some downsides, but Adam is exactly right on why a second vehicle is attractive - especially if we wind up outside of a city center, being able to split up for the day is an attractive prospect. As it turns out, a "full size" van large enough for 6 with luggage is 3x the cost of a midsize car as well so there's that as well.

I think a side-trip to MSM is definitely in the plan, maybe as an overnight while still staying in Bayeux - we've done that type of thing in the past and it is less disruptive to do an overnight in the middle of a longer stay than uprooting everyone completely for a one-night stopover.

Looking at the RS book, the Dordogne looks cool, but I think with our 12-day target it might be too much to pack in and not rush.

So if I split it evenly with 6 nights in each area (with a 1 night overnight at MSM for Normandy) that looks like the ticket. Looks like there are some great bicycle routes in Loire so we can maybe use a day for that to fend off chateux overload.

Posted by
9 posts

With that many people, consider doing things like:

arrive in Paris for a night, catch your breath.

taking the train to Bayeux for 3 nights.
booking a minivan tour of the beaches (with 6 plus driver and just day bags, that's a van load.)
booking a minivan tour to/from MSM.
If you want, add a night and do a 1 day rental for a couple of cars do cruise the local countryside, etc.

Head back to Paris for a night or two.

Again, take the train to Amboise for 3 nights.
Book a minivan tour for the chateaux.
Maybe even a second day minvan tour.

Finish up in Paris.

Posted by
434 posts

A canoe tour in the Loire is another option to break up château overload. We did a short paddle on the Cher river under the arches of Chateau Chenonceau. There were options for longer tours as well.

Posted by
5 posts

We just returned from Bayeux, Amboise and Beaune in that order - picking a rental car up from CDG. Had three full days in Bayeux (Bayeux Shuttles, all day tour was fantastic) and just one night/ half day in Amboise. Went to just one chateau which was enough for us. Did a morning stop at MSM along the way. Stayed in Beaune for 3 full days and really enjoyed it. Did a great cooking class in the town with other US travelers and was truly a highlight, along with touring the small villages along the Grand Cru route. We loved Burgundy and would consider going back - maybe a canal trip on a barge for several days, especially in the spring or summer.

Posted by
6 posts

Give yourself min of 3 days in and around the D-day sights.We have just finished our trip and we needed 2 full days to visit the American sector with Omaha,Utah and around the St Mere Eglise drop zones.
If you can take a private tour it's well worth the extra money as you see more than the bus tours.
We took our tour direct from our B+B (Le Manoir de Herouville ) and both tour and Inn were fantastic.Have a great time.

Posted by
429 posts

We are staying here in Normandy ~ near the ocean and there are two houses and one cottage so lots of options with plenty of parking. I found three good restaurants that are within walking distance. We are staying 3 nights.

Posted by
677 posts

My husband and I took this same trip in late May 2016. It was great! We flew into Paris, did Giverney (Monet) , Rouen, Honfleur and then stayed in Bayeux (Churchill Hotel) for 3 nights for an Overlord tour of the DDay beaches. We drove from Bayeux to Mont St Michel where we stayed a night on the island.....a bucket list treat. From there we drove to Amboise and stayed for 4 nights at the Le Manior Les Minimes.....a great location. This hotel is a grand old house that has been refurbished to house a bed and breakfast. There is a 5 bedroom cottage on the grounds that would be perfect for your crew. We used Amboise as a base as we toured 4 or 5 castles. Amboise was a wonderful place to come home to each night.....lovely, quiet, easy to navigate to bakeries and food spots. We drove from Amboise to Paris and enjoyed 3 nights there before flying home.

Posted by
19 posts

We are still in France and left Normandy (Bayeux) and MSM just a few days ago.

I can't imagine visiting the D Day beaches without a tour. We used Overlord and they were great. We did the full day tour.

We stayed near Bayeux at Ferme de la Ranconniere, 14480 Crepon-France. It was very nice. 80 Euro per night without breakfast.

Posted by
258 posts

This is all good advice.

Our itinerary for next July starts in Roissy (near CDG Airport) because we land in the late afternoon from California. The next morning we drive to Honfleur for one night; Bayeux for two nights; Mont-Saint-Michel for one night; Amboise for two nights; and then we head south.

In 2016 we spent three nights at Chateaux de Pray near Amboise and it was lovely. We visited four chateaux which was a nice introduction to the Loire Valley.

We’ve been to Normandy but the weather was rainy so we wanted to go back.

Make sure to see the American Cemetary.

If you’ve got time to stop at Giverny on your way west from Paris, I’d recommend it.

Posted by
127 posts

You should consider your interests when planning the dday beaches. I allocated a half day tour with overlord and it was just perfect. I wouldn't have missed it, and I'm glad i did just 1/2 day. I spent 3 days in Honfleur (loved it), drove to Bayeau for the tour and then on to MSM for an overnight. Then on to Dinan for a few days. Some people spend 3 or 4 days at the beaches, but you should consider your own interests. sue