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2 week France itinerary review

I am planning on traveling solo in France on a 2 week trip; arriving in Paris early on Sunday, September 24 and flying home from Toulouse early on Sunday, October 8. I visited Paris about 12 years ago, but never got outside of the city. My primary interests in visiting France is to see the sights, history, and castles. No interest in shopping, relaxing on a beach, etc.

  • Day 1-4 Paris
  • Day 5 - Pickup rental car early in Paris and drive to Giverny, Rouen, en route to Honfleur for the night
  • Day 6 - Drive to Bayeux, see sights there, sleep there
  • Day 7 - D-Day beaches, second night in Bayeux
  • Day 8 - Make way to Mont St. Michel and splurge on a night on the island
  • Day 9 - Make my way to the Loire Valley, sleep in Amboise
  • Day 10 - Loire chateaux, sleep in Amboise
  • Day 11 - Loire chateaux, sleep in Amboise
  • Day 12 - Leave early and head to Sarlat-la-Caneda, sleep there
  • Day 13 - Drive to Carcassonne and sleep there
  • Day 14 - Drop off car in Toulouse, sleep in hostel near the train station
  • Day 15 - Take early shuttle from the train station to the airport for 9 am flight departure

My itinerary is heavily based on Rick's online whirlwind tour of France by car. I am looking forward to spending a decent amount of time in the Loire, but not sure if I should spend all 3 nights in Amboise or try to work in some variety. I was wondering if anyone sees any issues or has any suggestions? Thanks for the help.

Posted by
11829 posts

I like to get out of the big city before I rent a car. It's fairly convenient to get to Rouen by train. The same train goes through Vernon (Giverny) so you could hop off there, check the schedule for reasonably direct trains to Rouen, and get a car in Rouen to go to Honfleur. The rental agency hours are somewhat limited so you may have to check out the car before you're ready to leave Rouen. You will want a car after that at least into Amboise. I haven't tried getting south from there, so can't tell you whether a car is necessary.

Posted by
4125 posts

I think the first 2/3 of your plan is well paced and well thought out, give your priorities. But after Amboise, it is mostly driving punctuated by sleeps.

The Dordogne is a singular destination, arguably "better" (if you are keeping score) than the Loire or Normandy. It is just a fabulous place, though hard to reach. You would not feel shortchanged to spend 5 nights there.

To use it as a place to sleep enroute to Carcassonne (Carcassone??? for goodness sakes) just seems wrong headed.

I guess I should dial that back, it's just my personal opinion which in this case is not the one that matters. But I think you will regret how this ends, and only suggest that you apply the same sensibility to that end as you do to the rest of the trip.

Posted by
5 posts

I am thinking about switching up Day 12 and Day 13, spending both those nights in the Castelnaud area of the Dordogne. Early on Day 14 drive to Carcassonne and sleep there. My flight out of Toulouse is at 2pm on Day 15, where I plan to drive from Carcassonne and drop off my rental car at the airport and bid France au revoir.

I like the idea of taking the train to Rouen and picking up the rental car there, avoiding driving in the vicinity of Paris.

I have my flight, just now need to work on arranging accommodations for each night (anything cheap, just need a bed and a place to shower and then keep on moving) and reserving an automatic rental car.

Posted by
8397 posts

jayhawk--there are a few things.
I agree with Adam that the last part has you flying through with no time to see much. It's good that your flight has changed from 9 am to 2 pm, giving you more time to arrive in Carcassonne later in the day the day before you go to Toulouse for your flight. It's one hour from Carcassonne to the Toulouse airport.

If you need an automatic, you'll probably have to get it in a larger city. Check autoeurope.com to see if automatics are available where you want to pick up.

Posted by
436 posts

If you want to sleep on MSM you need to reserve ASAP. There are only 5 hotels actually on the island and they fill up. Highly worth it IMO.

Posted by
5261 posts

I agree about picking up the car in Vernon or Rouen if possible, and if you can get an automatic.

I think your itinerary works great until day 13. Stay in the Dordogne (Castelnaud or Beynac would be good, or Sarlat) for another day instead of driving all the way to Carcassonne. Carcassonne is worth seeing but I think the Dordogne is more scenic and varied, and less crowded. Given your timetable I'd take that bird in hand rather than chase it down the road to Carcassonne.

Posted by
332 posts

Day 8 - Make way to Mont St. Michel and splurge on a night on the island

If your dream has always been to stay on the island I don't want to try to talk you out of it.

on the other hand if not let me suggest considering staying across the bridge from the island. The view of Mont St. Michel is beautiful during the day and sublime at nite when it is lit up. They have trams (free) so you can go visit Mont St. Michel as often as you want. I followed the advice in the RS book and arrived late afternoon when crowds were thinning and visited the island. After dinner I went back to see it lit up, and then once again the next morning before departing.

About dinner -- because tourists staying in the area are thin on the ground you need to plan to be seated by around 7pm or you're not getting dinner. I know everyone says in Europe people eat late, but the restaurants in the immediate area are not catering to locals. I also want to put in a plug for Restaurant Le Relais du Roy which was a pleasant surprise. Usually in tourist areas the better the view or the fame of the attraction the worse the food, but I have to say that the dinner here was one of the best I have ever had in France (the associated hotel, where I was staying, not so much).

Posted by
49 posts

I'll keep this short but agree that the Dordogne is one of the most magical parts of France and really authentic France. Carcassonne is interesting but seems more like Disneyland to me. Crowded and not really as old as it seems. I actually iike the non-Cite part. Amboise is a nice town but unless you are really into chateaux you can reduce a day/night there. My wife I were done after one chateaux but you may feel differently. Feel the same about Mont St. Michel as Carcassonne although it's something I guess everyone should see at least once in your life. My wife and I went and spent an hour or so there and that was enough. Unbelievably touristy and crowded.
I know this is a hard itinerary to plan but if you can I'd spend more time in fewer places and get immersed in the places you visit. Not to make this harder on you but loved Dinan (Brittany, near Bayeux).

Posted by
313 posts

This is really good advice above, so I'll just agree with it. Do try to pick up car on the outskirts -- not only will you have less stress adjusting to the car & traffic, but you'll save a lot of time.

If you visit D-Day area, don't miss Arromanches/Port Winston, the cemetery at Omaha beach, and the Utah beach museum (the best).
I have to agree on MSM -- if it's something you really want to do, definitely stay the night, which is supposed to be much calmer once the buses leave. I've also never watched the tide come in now that they redid the causeway. Otherwise, mid-day, it will drive you crazy unless you enjoy overcrowded, over-commercial experiences.
Also agree on chateaux -- there's so much to see in the areas you'll be in, you might want to take a day away here and add it to somewhere else. The advice is right about the Dordogne area -- don't miss La Roque-Gageac while in the area, let alone a visit to one of the caves, if possible.

Carcassonne is a one of a kind, but it's somewhat the same as MSM in that an evening experience might be better, and the fortress itself gets hugely overrun in the daytime. Do a later visit here and don't overestimate how much there is to see within the walls. Also be careful to make the most of Day 14.

Posted by
42 posts

You've got a great trip planned. I've taken three of Rick's tours of France and I've been to all those places except Honfleur and Toulouse. Honfleur will be on the itinerary of my next trip.

I spent a night on Mont St Michel. I loved it and I got the best photographs I've ever taken but, walking up that thing sure made my legs hurt.

You will need a guide for the D-Day beaches.

From Amboise you will want to see Chenonceau, Villandry and Amboise chateaux. The Amboise chateau feels medieval, Chenonceau feels renaissance. Villandry is privately owned and, in the living quarters, the family's belongings from the 1920s remain in place.

Amboise has amazing gardens and Villandry's are as amazing but are far larger and more colorful.

I've been to Chenonceau on each of my three trips to France. It is so beautiful and unique. The proper gardens there don't do much for me but the walk from the entrance thru the forest and past an acre of tulips in front of the farm house near the chateau more than make up for it.

Chambord and Carcassonne seem sterile as they don't have much in the way of belongings and furnishings from their period.

Driving to Sarlat is like driving across Texas. I cannot recommend it.

I would rather see the breath-taking landscape and the half-timbered houses of Dinan than Carcassonne. After you've seen Mont St Michel, Carcassonne ain't much.

Posted by
2466 posts

I agree about Carcassonne, and I wouldn't want to sleep anywhere near there.
On the other hand, it's only about 2 hours by car to Aigues-Morte, or Sete, or Nimes. I'd choose one of those.

Posted by
197 posts

First, you should have a wonderful time; enjoy! As others have mentioned, renting a car outside of Paris will be easier. Consider a full-day D-Day site tour--most posters on the RS forum recommend tour guides over self-guided tours. I also recommend that you visit the Bayeux Tapestry while in Bayeux.