My partner and I are traveling to and from Paris in July. We will spend 2-3 days in Paris. Outside of Paris, we will rent a car and drive the countryside. We want to visit chateaux, a winery or two, and a little village or two. For those of you who've been, how would you prioritize these regions for visiting based on our desires: Loire, Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne. I think a visit to all of them would be too much, requiring too much time in the car. Or, maybe not.
Is this your first visit to the Ile de France? Your partner's?
"Chateaux" generally means the Loire, which also has wineries and many villages. From Paris you could take public transportation to Orly airport, or Versailles, or some other location southwest of the city, and rent the car there so you don't have to drive it in Paris itself. Or you could take a fast train to St-Pierre-le-Corps, near the city of Tours. You could divide your time in the Loire Valley between a base west of Tours (like Chinon) and one east of Tours (like Amboise), or look for smaller villages in both directions. Then you can spend a few days on each side exploring the chateaux, wineries, and countryside. The link to France under "Explore Europe" above can get you more information about sights in the Loire.
We spent a week there a few years ago and felt that was enough. At some point chateau fatigue can set in. While there are other things to see there, like the zoo near St-Aignan or the Cointreau distillery in Angers, or the Troglodyte caves, you probably won't want to spend two weeks in the area.
My second suggestion would be Burgundy, a half-day's drive by the most direct route, or a longer drive with a stop at Guedelon, where a "medieval" castle is being built the old-fashioned way. Burgundy is beautiful, has many charming villages and world-renowned wine. Beaune would be a good base there, with numerous tasting rooms that let you sample different wines on foot. Other sights include the art museum and medieval center in Dijon, the Romanesque basilica in Vezelay, the cathedral in Autun, the Roman battle site at Alyse-St-Reine, and the picturesque abbey of Fontenay -- and many others. You could return the car in Dijon and get a fast train back to Paris or, I believe, even direct to CDG. But plan to get there the day or evening before your flight home so you don't risk missing it.
How many "nights" do you have in France? 2 N=1day.
It's hard to answer your questions if we don't know how much time you actually have.
We have 12 nights, three of which will be in Paris — two nights at the front end of the trip and one at the tail. I’ve been to Paris only, and it will be my partner’s first trip to France.
So you actually have nine nights outside Paris "by car," not the two weeks I had thought from your title. I think you could still do the Loire+Burgundy trip I suggested, with a driving day between them. Of course the sequence doesn't matter.
With that short of a time I'd pick one - it doesn't really matter which one, they are all fabulous but quite different from each other - and Paris... Is it possible when you get to Paris that your partner may want to see more of Paris and therefor shorten your road trip up?
As far as driving, if you are from North America it is the law that each driver be able to present your driving license to anybody who needs to see it in French - the best, cheapest and easiest way is with an IDP, International Driver Permit which you produce with the home license. You can get it at AAA/CAA for around $20 plus two photos.
You need to learn and be well acquainted with the yellow diamond, and in the absence of the yellow diamond the policy of absolute priority to the right, where a car coming out of a driveway or very minor road has the right of way over cars approaching on a main road, and traffic must stop.
That’s my idea too, so focus first on one region and get the best out of it. If there is time left you can visit another region or other places. You can’t go wrong with Burgundy and on the way back to Paris pay a visit to Fontainebleau and/or Vaux Le Vicomte both lovely and historically interesting “châteaux”. Btw on the way to Burgundy and passing Troyes you will drive through the most southern part of the Champagne region, however the famous Champagne houses are based more north in Reims and Épernay.
I have driven from Beane to the Chenonceaux area and it’s a very long day on 2-lane highways since the freeways don’t work out.
Edit: France’s ongoing road building mania may make this statement obsolete.
Chateaux: if you don’t care much for decorative arts (me) you’ll burn out after two.
Let me preface this with "I love driving in France", but though a car seems like the way to go, you need to figure in the cost of fuel, at $6.00
a gallon, tolls at almost $10/20 miles.
Parking could be as high as €25 day. So the inexpensive car rental is not. Then your time, most of these locations will take an hour or more by car versus train. Especially if you get lost. Burgundy would be the only place I'd do it and a 2 day rental would suffice.
However as this is your first trip, here is what I would recommend.
Arrive Paris, taxi to Gare de Lyon. train directly to Beaune 2hrs 12 m.
Beaune, chateaux tours.
Beaune, wine tours.
Beaune, day trip to Dijon. Train,
The tourist office has some great suggestions.
Edit: this should read days 5-12.
Day trip to Colmar. Train 2H30m
Nannybags has luggage storage by the station. Must be booked online.
Evening train to Strasbourg 32 min.
Train, Strasbourg to Reims. 1H50m.
Possible day trip to Eperney. Train, 35min. Late Afternoon train back to Reims.
Train Reims to Paris, 48m-1H25m.
Though this is a fast itinerary, it will give you a good taste of these areas.
I felt I had a pretty good look at Burgundy, Alsace and Reims in under two weeks. In 18 nights, I included some time in Paris and added a night each Freiburg and Heidelberg. I think you could see Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne fairly well with two weeks by car. I don't think you should add Loire to this trip.