Please sign in to post.

2 Week Tour of France- Nice -> Paris. All suggestions welcome!

Hi all,
My wife and I are planning a 2-week trip to France for our honeymoon in mid-September. We get into Nice on a Tuesday morning, and leave from Paris 15 days later. We modeled our trip off the RS driving tour of France, and are open to any thoughts/suggestions you may have about how many days to spend in certain places, whether we're missing anything important, any any and all hotels, restaurants, or sights.

We are planning on renting a car when we leave Provence (Avignon or Arles) and dropping it off when we leave Versailles a week later (see schedule below). Our most pressing questions at this point are:

  1. Should we stay in Avignon or Arles for our time in Provence? And should we spend more time in that area (see schedule below)? Having trouble figuring out when we should head to Dordogne.
  2. I've been reading about how to do the drive from Avignon/Arles to Sarlat (which we're really excited for), and I don't think we're particularly interested in staying in Carcassonne. Thus, we're contemplating finding another place to stay to break up the drive to Sarlat- maybe in Albi, Lot River Valley, or Rocamadour, or something like that - OR just making the 5-hour drive to Sarlat in one trip.
  3. Any suggestions on places to stay other than Amboise in the Loire Valley?
  4. Is starting the day in Bayeux/Caen and then driving to Giverny and Versailles in one day crazy?

Here's our schedule:

  1. Tuesday @ 10:30 a.m. - Arrive in Nice (sleep Nice)
  2. Wednesday - Nice Area (sleep Nice) - Explore Monaco, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes
  3. Thursday - Nice Area in Morning, 3 hr TGV afternoon/evening to Avignon - sleep Avignon/Arles
  4. Friday - Explore Avignon/Arles- maybe half-day wine tour? (sleep Avignon/Arles)
  5. Saturday - Provence (Avignon) - either pick up car mid-day and drive to Sarlat/Albi/Rocamadour/ St. Cirq Lapopie/ Gramat/ or somewhere else? OR stay the rest of the day in Avignon/Arles area. Undecided.
  6. Sunday - Either (1) drive to Sarlat, if didn't do that the day before, OR (2) spend day in Dordogne/Sarlat (sleep Sarlat)
  7. Monday - Dordogne (sleep Sarlat)
  8. Tuesday - Dordogne in morning, then Drive to Loire Valley/Amboise (or another city in Loire Valley?) (sleep Amboise)
  9. Wednesday - Loire Valley/Amboise (sleep Amboise)
  10. Thursday- arrive Mont St. Michel in morning (3+ hrs from Amboise) (sleep Mont St. Michel)
  11. Friday 9/21 - drive to Normandy for D-Day Beach Tour (1.5 hrs from Mont St. Michel) (sleep Bayeux)
  12. Saturday - Drive to Giverny, explore, then drive to Versailles and tour. Drop off Car after Versailles in early evening, take train into Paris! (sleep Paris)
  13. Sunday - Paris (sleep Paris)
  14. Monday - Paris (sleep Paris)
  15. Tuesday - Paris (sleep Paris)
  16. Wednesday - Fly out of Paris midday

Thank you all so much in advance for your feedback!

Posted by jlschandler
454 posts

Sounds like a wonderful honeymoon trip. We did a similar itinerary in reverse several years ago. We thought both Sarlat (3 days) was a perfect base, as well as Arles (2 days). This was based per our RS Loire to the South of France Tour.
You might consider looking at this for ideas. Enjoy your planning.

Posted by Jessica
NM
502 posts

I have done the exact trip (but in a different way) last year.

My first thought is that you are spreading yourselves thin. The areas you will visit, like the Dordogne and Loire and Provence and Normandy, are driving-heavy. They are spread out. Now, you can select a few locations to visit in each, and thus reduce the driving and the need to spend more time, but you will also be missing some things.
Given your pace, I would definitely do the whole drive from ARLES to Sarlat. As you describe above, you only have 1 ½ days in the Dordogne, so I would add to that.
I would choose Arles, personally, because I like staying in places that are more intimate and have a slower pace and then visiting the busier places as desired. That said, we spent 4 days in Provence, staying in Il sur la Sorgue, and did not visit larger cities like Avignon (only drove through), or Nimes, or Aix. We visited Arles, Le Baux, Fontaine de Vacluse, Vaison la Romaine, St. Remy, Abbey de Senaque, Rousignon, Gordes, and a few others. I liked Arles, although it is a drive to get to other locations because its not exactly central to Provence.
We also stayed in Amboise for 2 nights - the first day we visited Chenenceaux and another, and the next we visited Chambourd. I might even depart the Dordogne later, arriving in Amboise in the evening for dinner, then depart Amboise such that you arrive at Mt. St Michel at around 4:30. The hordes really clear out around 5 and the monastery is open until 7. I arrived at 5, and we had the place practically to ourselves. That way, you have the morning in Amboise, drive midday, then spend the evening walking around MSM, eat, sleep, and then drive to the Normandy beaches in the morning (90 minutes from MSM)
I think seeing Giverney and Versailles in a day is a lot. Mostly because the crowds at Versailles will slow you down like glue. Its possible, but I would make sure its open until late so you have the time to not rush if needed (like, if it was open until 9p that would be great).
Not sure if that helps ;p

Posted by Adam
Boston
3774 posts

Congratulations.

Tastes vary, but I suspect you will feel that this itinerary shortchanges you, with too little return on too much driving.

With two weeks, even if you are very nimble, I think you would have a better honeymoon if you chose between the Dordogne and Provence. A Dordogne itinerary would start in Toulouse and work north. A Provence itinerary would start in Nice as you propose but then head north, not west (and use the train to go north, which is faster and will save you time).

It is possible for travelers to enjoy days that are spurts of activity, if they are followed by more-laid-back, slower days for recovery. Almost all of your days are jam packed. They do not seem to take into account things like traffic, or lunch.

These are all terrific destinations. September is a great time for this trip. Open-jaw is a great strategy. So, your instincts are good! But in my experience every trip benefits from a planning phase that includes a dose of brutal honesty about what your priorities really are, and what the logistical arrangements on the ground actually permit.

And think, maybe these are two trips.

Posted by andrew.reis
Perpignan, FRANCE
416 posts

Oh, it's a honeymoon!
Slow down just a bit to smell the flowers.
A few suggestions -
Riviera - Monaco is 1 day, Nice is at least one day, and you have not time for Antibes.
Provence - Nimes - and Pont du Gard (if you've never seen an aqueduct) - 1 day only (the Palais des Papes in Avignon can be skipped, the amphitheatres of Nimes and Arles are almost carbon copies of each other, and Nimes has other significant Roman relics)
Carcassonne and divine Albi ending in Cahors (bridge) in one day. Followed by St. Cirq Lapopie and Pech Merle cave next day.
I guess since Rick Steves blows his horn about Sarlat, you should go there. I have not been so impressed, and I'd skip it.
Chenonceaux, Loches, Langeais and the gardens of Villandry in 1 1/2 days. Those are the best 4 chateaux to visit (#5 - Angers is too far). I highly recommend le Bon Laboureur in Chenonceaux for two nights. Not cheap but a proud family-run institution there for several generations now that always delivers.
Mont St. Michel, Omaha Beach (you will shed tears there) and Bayeux tapestry - also 1 1/2 days.
Drive to Giverny, explore, then drive to Versailles and tour - also 1 1/2 days.
That's 11-12 days. I think I'm done.

FYI I am an American living in France for 16 years now, a former restaurateur and travel consultant for independent travelers to France and Belgium.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9875 posts

I think you have too many places and too few days and will be checking your watch constantly, trying to stick to a schedule that doesn't allow time to enjoy being in France.

I doubt that you'll actually accomplish Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco and Antibes in one day. And if traveling to the Riviera, I'd want to stay a bit longer so I could at least see one or more hill towns and give Nice more attention.

I wouldn't go to Provence just to spend a few hours in one city and half a day on a wine tour.

I can't address the Dordogne.

I believe all the full-day D-Day tours depart rather early. I'd spend the night before the tour in Bayeux.

Three days in Paris seems exrtremely short.

Posted by Anita
Philadelphia, PA, USA
412 posts

Congratulations!

I think i’d eliminate one or two stops. You’re doing a lot of driving and checking in and out of hotels. Slow down a bit.

In Dordogne I think your choice of Sarlat is a good one. I really enjoyed renting an apartment on the edge of Sarlat. Check out La Maison Pierre D’Or online.

Posted by Anita
Philadelphia, PA, USA
412 posts

Congratulations!

I think i’d eliminate one or two stops. You’re doing a lot of driving and checking in and out of hotels. Slow down a bit.

In Dordogne I think your choice of Sarlat is a good one. I really enjoyed renting an apartment on the edge of Sarlat. Check out La Maison Pierre D’Or online.

Posted by bdw629 OP
7 posts

Hi all,

Wow! Thank you so much for all of the thoughtful responses, and for all of the congratulations!

Well, it seems like the most consistent feedback is that we need to slow down and have that brutally honest conversation where we cut out some stuff. I thought that 15 days would be plenty of time to see a lot of France....and then I started trying to plan a trip! Haha.

So, how to do that?
Since we've already got our flights, and we're flying into Nice, I think it makes a lot of sense to spend time in the Riviera and Provence (how I'm describing Arles/Avignon/Luberon). Say, 5 days? Tuesday through the first Saturday.

Aside from that, we definitely want to see Normandy and the D-Day beaches, and we definitely want to have 3 full days in Paris. It would make sense to finish off the trip in Paris, since we're definitely flying out of Paris.

I'm thinking of how best to fill the time to between Provence and the Paris/Normandy end of the trip. It gives me about 5-6 days to play with. Frankly, I don't know much about the other regions of France, but my wife and I love to explore, and we're definitely interested in all of the cute French towns we've read about in the RS France book. I don't care that much for what I've read about in the Amboise/Loire Valley Region (I don't care to see a million castles), but the Dordogne region and Sarlat seem simply enchanting. One option we've thought about to cut out some of driving is flying from Provence (Marseille) to Bordeaux (about $60 one way) and then driving to the Dordogne/Sarlat area, which isn't that far. Then we would continue our trip up to Amboise/MSM/Normandy and onto Paris. Just throwing around some ideas.

On the other hand, these posts have made me look to completely re-doing that middle part of our trip by staying on the eastern side of France and traveling North from Provence to Annecy/Burgunday/Alsace. The TGV trains from the Alscace (Colmar) and Verdun/Reims area to Paris make it very intriguing. We would probably train from Avignon to Annecy, then drive from Annecy -> Beaune -> Colmar, and then train to Verdun/Reims and onto Paris? Just throwing around some ideas, and don't know if it makes sense to add any/all of those places. Any thoughts on if those regions are really worth seeing, of if it makes more sense to go that route instead of the Dordogne/Amboise route?

Just trying to think outside of the box here a bit, as my wife and I are open to most configurations! I know I've still got a lot of reading and logistics to do.

Thanks again.

Posted by andrew.reis
Perpignan, FRANCE
416 posts

I do not think that Provence/Cote d'Azur merits that much of your time.

I do know that Carcassonne/Albi/Cahors/St Cirq and Pech Merle are a terrific stretch.

In the Loire valley I have recommended 3 quite different chateaux, all filled with history, and one unique garden.
Annecy is a wonderful destination. Alsace is delightful and interesting but atypical of France.

Posted by Bets
Deep in the heart of Indiana
5473 posts

Again, you are doing a lot of driving without spending time to really see and experience the regions, but this time it’s the eastern side that’s beckoning you! It’s so hard to choose, but please add one or two nights onto Côte d’Azur-Provence, drive north through Burgundy without deviating east, or take the train north. Next, catch the train to Normandie and give yourselves 2-3 days there, including a day trip to Mont St. Michel, and then to Paris for the rest of your time, including Giverny and or Versaille. Or, if you take the train to Normandie, rent another car there to go to Mont St. Michel and Giverny before Paris. Versaille would remain a day trip.

The Dordogne deserves five days to a week. So does the east of France. That’s why it’s best to plan on returning.

I thoroughly agree with Andrew on his Carcassonne, St. Cirq, Peche Merle, Albi recommendation. And not being a château fan, I agree with the variety of his chateaux and would add Chambord.

Posted by Adam
Boston
3774 posts

Given that your top priorities for an eastern-oriented trip are (1) Cote d'Azure (2) Provence (Rhone valley), Normandy-MSM, and (4) Paris, and you only have 2 weeks, I'd think about adding your "spare" time to those destinations. Not adding more stops.

Five nights in Provence with a car (a week would not be wasted), and another night in Bayeux, and ideally another in Paris for one of your day trips (Giverny or Versailles).

There is one ugly patch in such a plan, which is the long trip from Avignon to Mont St. Michel. It is 5-1/2 hours from Provence to Rennes, including cross-town transfer in Paris, where you can rent a car and drive to MSM. (You are basically crossing the country in that time.)

But the idea is to end in Paris, right? If you catch an early train you can break your trip with a nice lunch in Paris.

I am very fond of Burgundy (and for future reference: Lyon is fabulous), but you'll get more travel bang for your buck by not shortchanging your already ambitious priorities.

With a car in Provence, you might prefer a smaller town such as Cavaillon or St Remy to Arles or Avignon. Arles has great charm however and is worth a visit at least.

September is a very busy month in Paris, make your reservations there in advance. And, have a marvelous trip.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9875 posts

The Dordogne is on the list for my next visit to France, but I think the idea of traveling up the eastern side of France makes logistical sense. In fact, that's what I did last year. I flew into Nice and took a ferry out of St. Malo. There are so many interesting places in between that I didn't have time to see Paris (though I had to change trains there three times), and I spent 89 days in the country. Don't kid yourself that you can see very much of France in two weeks; you cannot. It's all about having the most fun possible in the time you have available.

The basic concept to keep in mind is that you do not see more by going to more places; you see less, because so much time is wasted in transit, checking in and out of hotels and getting oriented to a new base. France has uncountable great destinations. You can put your finger down randomly on a map, and there will be more worthwhile (and varied) places within a 25-mile radius than you would have time for. You don't have to go to 4 or 5 areas stretching from one end of the country to another to come away with tons of great memories.

Since it sounds as if Normandy is a priority for you, I'll list below a bunch of the stops I made in Normandy and eastern Brittany last year, most as day-trips. They are all recommendable, though I know from previous threads that posters differ in their favorites. I am not suggesting that these are the best stops in the area; they are just the ones I chose and liked. My point is that there are a great many delightful possibilities that don't require much train/bus/car time.

Rouen, Bayeux, Honfleur, Deauville, Cabourg, Rennes, St.-Malo, Dinard, Dinan, Fougeres, Vitre.

I haven't been to Mont-St.-Michel, but Fougeres and Vitre are not terribly far from MSM, and I found them both charming and nearly devoid of American tourists.

Posted by bdw629 OP
7 posts

Hi all,

Thanks again for all of the helpful feedback. So, I had that brutally honest conversation with myself (and my wife, haha), and we think it now makes sense to just focus on the Riviera (in and around Nice/Villefrance-sur-Mer/Monaco/Antibes), Provence (in and around Avignon/Arles/Cotes du Rhone), Normandy (MSM/D-Day Beaches/Bayeux, etc.), and Paris. As per all of your comments, I'm sure it will allow us to actually see and experience more than if we were on a whirlwind road trip, and this new plan WILL take into account traffic and lunch (which, by the way, I thought was the funniest comment about my initial crazy road trip plan). I guess it will have to be another trip to France for us to see the Dordogne/Loire, or Alsace/Burgundy.

Anyway, here's what I'm thinking now based on all of your incredibly helpful suggestions:

  1. Tuesday- arrive 10:35 a.m. - Arrive in Nice (sleep Nice)
  2. Wednesday - Nice Area
  3. Thursday - Nice Area
  4. Friday - Nice Area- in afternoon, Pick up Car and Drive to hotel in Roussillon/Isle-sur-la-Sorgue area
  5. Saturday - Provence (stay in Roussillon/Isle-sur-la-Sorgue )
  6. Sunday - Provence (stay in Roussillon/Isle-sur-la-Sorgue )
  7. Monday- Provence (stay in Roussillon/Isle-sur-la-Sorgue )
  8. Tuesday- Drop off Car and Fly from Marseille to Rennes @ 8:35 a.m. - pick up Car- check out city like Dinan during the day, go to MSM in mid/late afternoon when crowds lessen. (sleep in St. Malo or somewhere close by?)
  9. Wednesday - Normandy exploring- driving east along coast- (sleep close to D-Day Beaches that night- maybe Bayeux?)
  10. Thursday- Normandy- D-Day Beaches tour
  11. Friday - Normandy?
  12. Saturday - leave early, drive to Giverny, then Versailles- after, drop off Car, take train -> Paris (sleep Paris)-
  13. Sunday- Paris (sleep Paris)
  14. Monday - Paris (sleep Paris)
  15. Tuesday- Paris (sleep Paris)
  16. Wednesday- Leave from Paris in morning

Thoughts on this? I think the nonstop Marseille -> Rennes flight makes this all work pretty great. Interested in hearing if you think I should reallocate the days to different places. For example- am I spending 1 too many days in Normandy area? If so, reallocate to Paris or to Provence/Nice? I know that there is probably no such thing as "too many days" in any of these places- I'm just referring asking in reference to where I'm going and the amount of time I have.

THANK YOU!

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9875 posts

An 8:30 AM flight would mean spending the previous night very close to the Marseille airport for me. I haven't checked the driving time because I can't figure out ViaMichelin's new tablet interface, but neither of your proposed overnight stops is all that close to Marseille.

I don't have any other quibbles.

Posted by ChristineH
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

I am in process of planning a 3 week trip covering some of your same locations. We are starting in Paris ending in Nice and will visit Amboise & Sarlat but we have a total of 22 nights..
Have been to Paris but not other areas so this advice is just from my research

8:35 flight from Marseilles would make me nervous if I was staying more than an hour away. I suppose it is doable but something to keep in mind. Arrival to Rennes is about 10 I assume- you won’t actually be on the road to anywhere til closer to noon that day. Trying to visit Dinan then drive to MSM to visit there seems too crunched. By the time you get to Dinan, find parking it is lunch time, you’ll want to be heading to MSM by 3 or so which leaves you only an hour or 2 to actually see Dinan.
I might just go to Dinan, spend the afternoon/ evening there. Stay in Dinan. Next day go MSM early am and work your way back to Dinan via St Malo for a 2nd night in Dinan.

Not crazy about the bit of a backtrack (passing MSM again) but from Dinan head to Bayeux and spend 2 nights there. That gives you most of the day to see Bayeux ( tapestry, cathedral) and next day for all day WW2 tour.

We have not been to Giverny but have been to Versailles. Versailles was a long full exhausting day-we did it via train from Paris—took us from 8am to 8pm-so I can’t see how you can do both the drive from Normandy, visit Giverny and Versailles then head to Paris all in 1 day.

I would consider dropping car in Bayeux (only Herz) or Caen and taking train to Paris.
Do Versailles as a day trip from Paris, same for Giverny. Or pick just one. Or skip both and enjoy your time in Paris- if this is your first visit to Paris 3 days is hardly any time at all!

That would be 3 nights Nice, 4 Provence, 2 Dinan, 2 Bayeux and end with 4 in Paris.

Another suggestion unless Dinan/Brittany is priority just got to MSM from Rennes, spend 1 night there no need to stay on the mont there are affordable hotels right near the bus/ parking. You can visit in evening and early am if you like. Next day day drive to Bayeux for 2nights.
Add the night you just gained to Paris so you could do a day trip to Versailles.

Also be sure to check all the Pairs museums open/ closed days- you are there on Mon/Tues- can’t remember offhand but some are closed on those days.