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2 weeks in france, best base for our family?

hi there, we are planning our annual family trip and are looking for some advice from france experts!

we have two weeks in early spring and our trip will include small children and parents in their 80s. many in this group have had the chance to travel and prefer secondary destinations and a bit of the outdoors (i.e., lake garda instead of tuscany)

we want to find a base from which to explore a region in france on day trips. moving from place to place is too much for this group; we also want to relax and enjoy our time together so don't need to pack in a score of destinations. but, we want to find a place that's pretty and interesting (historically, culturally, culinarily, winerly, or some combo).

our trip last year was to southern spain, which was amazing. everyone loved visiting that region's attractions. but, we made the mistake of basing ourselves in the middle of nowhere, so we had to drive at least 45 minutes to get anywhere. tho we saw some wonderful places, that much time in the car was difficult for the youngest and oldest in our group. i'd love to find a base that is lovely and engaging in its own right, so that on the days we don't want to drive we don't have to.

right now we are considering sarlat. but, i'm worried that it's an ordeal to get there from paris. it's tough for the oldest folks in our family to take an overnight flight, then a long train ride, then a car ride.

would greatly appreciate any suggestions, or thoughts about whether sarlat will work.

thank you!

Posted by
7513 posts

You need to take season and weather into consideration, so the only place I'd go at that time of year with three generations is the Riviera. You can base yourself anywhere from St. Laurent du Var to Menton and you'll have plenty to see and do. Cannes is a bit too far west for a base, but you can still reach it and Antibes easily. Menton has a microclimate that makes it the place with the most sunshine in France.

Rather than the ordeal to get there, I'd be concerned about the rain and cold in early spring.

Posted by
4125 posts

Betts's suggestion may be the path of least resistance (and best) for you, but I think the Dordogne is still within reach. The logistical key is to fly into Toulouse or Bordeaux, not Paris.

Those who move more slowly may want to overnight in the arrival city before proceeding to the Dordogne region, which is about 2 hours from either city. Toulouse is a fascinating and friendly place, well worth a visit on its own merits.

Not to knock the Riviera at all, just responding to your original impulse.

Posted by
7124 posts

For me I would want a week in Paris, and a week somewhere else, probably Provence or Côte d'Azur.

Posted by
92 posts

thank you bets, adam and david.

as for paris, some of us have spent a considerable amount of time there, and it's just really tough with this group to find a reasonably priced place to stay that's centrally located, accessible for people with limited mobility and large enough for a group of around 10 people. we do plan on spending a few days at either the beginning or end of the trip, tho. for that part we'll stay in a hotel but for the brunt of the trip we prefer to rent a house.

we do not need sunshine. :-) i am based in the tropics right now so for my children and me the the cooler, cloudy weather typical in april is lovely.

i will explore toulouse as an option to fly into. thanks again!

Posted by
48 posts

We just returned from a trip to France which included a wonderful week in the countryside near Sarlat. It is a lovely town and would probably work as a home base. Many other towns/attractions are probably 20-60 minutes away so there'd still be time in the car but it's doable. Do take into account, though, that while Sarlat is flat, it's a very hilly area and most of the sights are on steep slopes; I was surprised at how much climbing we did. (e.g. Beynac, Castelnaud, Jardins de Marquessayac all require steep walks up/down from parking areas). I'd imagine it would be difficult for elderly people to get around in some of these places. And it is indeed a long haul from Paris. We did the drive in one day on the way back (with a stop in Chartres) and it was 7 fairly boring hours.

What about Amboise/Loire Valley? If you don't mind cool/rainy weather in spring, it's a short trip from Paris, nice and flat, easy to get around. We stayed in Amboise for 3 days and LOVED the apartments in this house. It could not have been more centrally located (windows look directly out at the castle) and it's really clean and pretty. We had a group of nine and stayed in apartments 2 and 3 on the upper two floors, but if stairs are too difficult there are also a studio and 1 BR on the first floor which would require only a single step up from the sidewalk. It's one block from the central square with restaurants, patisserie, ice cream, castle, and one block from the river. The owner saw our book and told us she's going to be listed in the next edition of Rick Steves!
http://www.villaconcorde-amboise-accommodation.com/

Posted by
2916 posts

The Sarlat area is a good choice (we just spent a week in Beynac, about 15 minutes from Sarlat, in early April), but yes, getting there can be a hassle. The Loire Valley is another good choice, anywhere from the area of Bourgueil to the area of Amboise.

Posted by
4650 posts

We spent time in the Dordogne in April a few years ago and the weather was fine -- but of course it could differ for you. Flying into Toulouse or Bordeaux would be a good way to start. The Loire valley would be another good choice, easier to reach from Paris airports, perhaps not as good a chance of good weather. And so would the Riviera, as suggested, or even Provence (Arles might be a good base), flying into Nice or Marseilles.

Look for a house or large apartment on sites like homeaway.com, vrbo.com, airbnb, or Gites de France. Room to spread out, let different generations keep their own hours, cook some of your meals, do laundry, etc. Much better than a hotel for such a group.

Posted by
318 posts

We also really liked Colmar, with a lovely old town, close to other small towns, a great castle (www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr), and easy train connections to Strasbourg and Basel for other possible farther day trips. I don't know how early spring would be.

Posted by
92 posts

wow, what helpful replies! thank you all. i will start investigating the loire valley as an option. for some reason my heart is stuck on the dordogne but i am going to try to get over that. :-)

we have had great luck with homeaway in italy and spain and will definitely start there for housing options.

Posted by
151 posts

If you are still looking for other options, you can also consider Bretagne (for example Saint Malo, which you can reach from Paris with a direct TGV train). There, you have much to discover : historical places/towns (medieval towns like Dinan, megaliths in Carnac, many castles like in Fougeres, Josselin, Fort la Latte...), the nature along the ocean and also inside Brittany. Food is also reputed, especially for fish and seafood.
Like for many French regions, it is worth spending at least 5/6 days to discover and feel the cultural specificities (you could even spend 3 weeks in Brittany with still much left!)

Posted by
2451 posts

Take a look at Lourmarin. It's in the Luberon area of Provence. I's on the flats, small village with quaint cafes, a famous Friday market, short drive to many other towns. We stayed in a flat, but there are many villas for rent nearby on VRBO and other sites. Oh, and Albert Camus is buried there.

Posted by
11259 posts

Just to amplify the advice given above, you don't have to fly into Paris if it's not the most convenient airport for your destination. Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nice, Marseille - all of these have major airports that get flights not only from Paris, but various other European airports (Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid, Dublin, Rome, etc). Depending on where you're coming from, you can often get to one of these other French cities with only one plane change.

And speaking of Strasbourg, what about Alsace? It checks all your boxes (history, culture, food, wine) and if you stay in Colmar, you don't have to drive on days you don't want to; you can see Colmar itself or take a train to Strasbourg.

Posted by
92 posts

thanks for all this great input!

regarding switching planes, it is more taxing on some of this group than i would have thought. any transfers seem to be tough on those who have limited mobility and/or just don't move as fast as they used to, but for some reason airport transfers are the least favorite (are they that much worse?). so a flight into paris and then a train and/or short drive is ideal, tho we are flexible if necessary.

i will look at strasbourg. south of france does not seem like the right fit as i'd prefer a region i have never visited. :-)

Posted by
4650 posts

Maybe best to look for a train directly from CDG to your destination, avoid the trip into Paris just to get a train. I'd think that would be more hassle than a flight transfer.

Posted by
92 posts

dick, that's totally right. last year some family members flew into madrid and then took a train to malaga instead of transferring and flying right into malaga, thinking it would be less stressful and more enjoyable. one forgotten suitcase and a big traffic jam later... live and learn. :-) but then again flight schedules don't always work out. anyway, it's never perfect but we always manage to have a wonderful time anyway.

Posted by
14267 posts

Regarding airport transfers, have you ever requested assistance for passengers with limited mobility? When my mother's eyesight was failing, I talked her into it and it made all the difference. Wheelchair assistance is available from gate to gate and may include expedited passage through security and/or passport control. I once broke my leg on a trip - my contact person called either the airport or the airline from my hotel, when my taxi pulled up in front of the airport, a wheelchair was waiting and an attendant offered to stay with me until boarding. You can also request to be driven from place to place - I'm sure there's someone here who can tell you how to arrange that if you can't do it through your airline.

Posted by
92 posts

yes, some of the parents always request assistance at airports and even at train stations. it generally has been great, but there have been a couple of glitches and there is sometimes a language barrier, so i think the parents still get a little stressed when transferring.