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20 years wedding anniversary Roadtrip in France

I so desperately need some major guidance and help for our upcoming trip to France. After reading this forum, I know I will get some trusted incredible advice from you all travel gurus.

We will be flying into Paris and flying out from Nice. Total 11 full days on land. Our travel style is to explore the local true culture, the small towns, the food, but would like to see or do the major must also. We are not much of museum buffs, but I know we do want to see some famous ones such as the Louvre. We've been to Nice and Marseilles before, so it's not necessary for us to spend time there other than dropping off the rental car and flying out from there to save traveling time, instead of looping back to Paris.

So, with the time frame that we have, what would be your recommendations to see and experience as much as possible? We won't be traveling with kids and we are 40 years old active people. We like to explore towns by foot because we think we can see more. Like when we were in NYC, we barely take the metro. We are planning to rent a car also, but not sure what day and where we should pick up a car. I am thinking to do the followings but it maybe too ambitious...

Day 1 Arriving Paris early am (hire a tourbylocal guide for a couple of hours to get ourselves oriented, yay? nay?)
Day 2 Versailles (with fat tire bike tour? to get a better experience without waiting in line? Yay? Nay?)
Day 3 Reims (with Fat Tire tour again? Just not sure if it's easier to go with a tour or we can do this on our own), arriving Paris late and pick up a car, drive to Monet spend a night in Giverny
Day 4 (If we end up spending night 3 in Paris, will rent a car, drive to Monet Garden in the am instead) Tour Monet Garden, to Normandy, mid afternoon, Mont St. Michel by night
Day 5 Mont St. Michel.
Day 6 Loire Valley
Day 7 Drive into Strasbourg
Day 8 Strasbourg
Day 9 Geneva
Day 10 Lyon
Day 11 Provence

Or skip entirely the Eastern France. Just stick with going south? I really have no idea how many days to spend on different town. I just wish we had more time.

Thank you in advance for your input to help me to make this the best memorable trip.

Posted by
1464 posts

Just my point of view: If you like to explore “the true local culture” your plan completely contradicts with that. The only way to do this is to settle yourself for a while somewhere and for that you need time. Time to slow down and get used to the local rhythm of life and enjoy what a region of place has to offer. To my opinion the only way to get as close as possible to that true local culture experience.

As I can read you have already booked the flights, so in this case enjoy Paris for a few (let say 3 – 4) days and drive to Burgundy, many things to see and do there, also underway. Many cute lovely romantic places to celebrate your 20 years wedding anniversary there. For instance drop the car in Dijon and take the TGV straight to Nice for your flight home.

Or enjoy Paris first and drive to Normandy (you can visit ofcourse underway Giverny) to stay around the D-Day beaches and/or the area around Le Mont-Saint-Michel. And see how to get to Nice for the flight home, likely time consuming.

My way looks less, but think is more.

Posted by
208 posts

I like the idea of a tour on your arrival day for orientation and also to keep you moving so that you don't go to bed too early.

You're allowing very little time for Paris, have you been there before? I would want at least a full day besides arrival day but then I love Paris!

I think you are trying to do too much and agree that you might want to eliminate eastern France. That way you could perhaps spend more than one night in each place on the way south.

I would get Rick's France book or other guide books and decide what you want to see in each town. That might give you a better idea of how to break up your time. I have only been to Paris and northeastern France so I can't offer any specific advice on your southern stops.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
443 posts

I totally agree wit the above posts. You have squeezed a lot in!
My husband and I just returned from a 15 day trip to France. We stayed in 3 places for 3 nights to help break up the trip and give us some rest time. We are very active 64 year olds that like to do things on our own. I felt like we had taken 5 small trips that added up to a wonderful 15 days. Hope this helps:
Rented a car when we landed in Paris and drove to Giverny.....half day is plenty there. Drove to our base in Bayeux for 3 days and did Normandy. I think you really need to give Normandy more time to see it all. We took an Overlord Day tour and saw all 3 cemetaries......American, British and German. While in the area we saw Honfleur, Rouen, Etratet, and the Caen museum....all were well worth the time. Drove to Mont. St. Michel for 1 night on the island....plenty of time there. Drove then to Amboise, our base for the next 3 nights and saw 6 castles. They were all great. We loved Amboise......charming small town easy to get around with great shops, bakeries and restaurants. Drove to Paris after this for 4 nights where we strolled the Marais, ate fallafel and sat in the rain drinking coffee across the street from Notre Dame. We had seen the museums, etc on a prior trip.
We had been told about a website called "the most beautiful villages in France" and tried our best to make stops at these as we drove through the countryside from one place to the next. We found Gerberoy (LOVED IT) and Beuvon-En-Auge, where we had a nice afternoon apple crepe. That was well worth the time.
Hope this helps!

PS.....have been to Geneva to see the Reformers Park.....not much to do there but that (husband is a pastor)......would give Provence another trip......we saw Gordes outside of Avignon and could have spent a week there....it is one of the beautiful villages......full of charm that will make you want to explore it

Posted by
53 posts

I guess you are getting the idea from the other posters, that your concept is Helter Skelter, From what you say about walking, etc. i would also suggest some bike rides, and perhaps canoeing where possible. I think i would suggest 3 days in Paris, 5 or 6 in Burgundy, I spent 5 days in the Beaune area,
and enjoyed it a lot.
Here's what i did, stop in Beaune, I stayed in Domaine des Anges, (Puligny Montrachet) just outside of town. http://www.domainedesangespuligny.com , a very good RS recommendation, do a little bike ride from town on paths thru vineyards, to the village of Meursault, visit Chateau Rochepot, then one night in Chateau St Sabine http://www.saintesabine.com/fr/ (ask for the attic room) and visit ChateauNeuf. From there its 2.5 hrs , to Paris... with all that you have 2 or 3 spare days

Have Fun

Posted by
423 posts

We're doing an itinerary this fall similar to what you propose to do. We seem to go faster and farther than some on this forum but we have 20 days and I am struggling with being able to do justice to the wide variety of areas in France. I haven't been there yet but based on my research, with 11 days I would scale back to Paris and two nearby areas like the Loire and Normandy.

Posted by
16796 posts

You said you've been to Marseille and Nice, but have you also been to Paris? I would like more time in Paris and/or would not spend it all day-tripping outside the city. Reims would be an easy cut, in order to see more of Paris.

When you mention Normandy, are you planning to visit the D-Day beaches or any museums in Caen and Bayeux? If so, I think you should spend one night there and one (not two) at Mont St Michel. Next, two nights in the Loire Valley would allow a leisurely day there to see several chateaux, whereas Mont St Michel doesn't need a whole day.

The big cities of Strasbourg, Geneva, and Lyon are all easier by train but I think you need to skip them. Lyon is worth more than one night. Geneva would not make it onto our priority list until you've seen many more destinations in both France and Switzerland.

Instead of the eastern France route, I would drive south from the Loire valley. See GoogleMaps and www.viamichelin.com for logical and scenic driving routes.

Posted by
7124 posts

With 11 nights only, I would look at 4 destinations maximum ...
4 nights in ... Paris
2 nights in ... Loire Valley, or Alsace
2 nights in ... Lyon, or Burgundy
3 nights in ... Provence

Posted by
479 posts

We agree completely with the less-is-more approach. In view of your comment on museums you might consider swapping the Orangerie and Musee D'Orsay for the Louvre. The latter is overwhelming and you might overdose early on obscure items after tracking down Mona Lisa and a few other highlights. The smaller and more manageable Orangerie and Orsay contain a concentration of more familiar works, in particular the Impressionists, and each can be completed easily in an hour or two depending on your level of interest. Finally, an evening Seine cruise is a relaxing way to end your first day, keep you up late to fight jet-lag, and also get some orientation to the major sites. (RS Forum posters like the easy to find (no dinner) Vedettes Pont Neuf; it worked well for us.) Your Day 4 echos part of our recent trip. Get an early start for Giverny, trying to be there, parked and in line, before opening (9:00 I think, but confirm.) If this stays on your itinerary, you should definitely visit the Orangerie in Paris to get a preview of Monet's water garden.

Posted by
21 posts

Two years ago, my husband and I "lived" in a tiny community in the Dordogne for a week and fell in love with that country. Every day was an adventure! We landed in Paris and drove there with a stop at Chambord and the cathedral at Bourges. Very memorable. Our first day of sightseeing was in Cordes sur Ciel, which was wonderful. We meandered back to our home base. The next few days we explored all that region had to offer. We then drove to the Loire Valley and stayed one night. We were able to see Chenonceau, Chartres, and Azay-le-Rideau on our way to Versailles. To explore all of Versailles takes a full day. Don't miss the hamlet!

We then drove to Normandy and spent 2 nights. Mont-Saint-Michel is great, but somewhat touristy. Get up to the abbey. Omaha Beach, Pont-du-Hoc and the Bayeaux Tapestry are must-sees. On our way back to Paris, we stopped in Deauville, Honfleur and at Monet's home. We stayed outside Paris and took the train in. Honestly, we loved the country, but didn't much care for Paris or any of the big cities.

Everything we saw was breathtaking. You didn't say what time of year you are going - we always go in the shoulder seasons and it's so easy to get around because there are not many tourists. Touring in the summer, you should allow double the time for these places because of the massive amounts of tourists. My advice is to go slow, take your time and savor a few areas. Then plan to come back for your 25th anniversary and see some more!

Posted by
38 posts

Thank you so much for all the great tips! I think we will just take this slow, instead of fitting everything in. I have just booked 2 nights of hotel in Paris for now, and rent a car to head south. Where do you recommend to pick up a car? We could hop on a train as we leave Paris. I would think to get further down before picking up a car. We truly would love to see more of the country side, the charming towns. Big cities other than Paris would probably not our priority on this trip.

Posted by
14035 posts

There've been several threads on the France forum recently about planning auto trips. I suggest you read through them and choose a direction. I suspect all choices are good. Once you know the area, it's easy enough to find a train to a large city to pick up the car.

Posted by
95 posts

Wow. Your original itinerary is just not going to work. You will be spending most of each day driving. And the only day you've really left for Paris is the first day, when you'll be jet lagged. I assume you've never been to Paris if you're going to hire a guide to orient you? Are you not interested in Paris itself?

You need to narrow it down to a couple of areas and plan your time by what you actually want to SEE there. Then spend some time on ViaMichelin.com to determine how far your destinations really are from each other. I suggest you do Paris and only one of the other destinations you have listed, two at most (the closest together).

ETA: I re-read and see your flying out of Nice. When were you actually going to SEE Nice? So maybe few days in Paris, a few days in a destination toward Nice, then a few days in and around Nice.

Posted by
4125 posts

Re where to pick up a car: What region do you want to explore on your way south? What sights do you want to see?

Depending on your priorities that might be:

Strasbourg (or smaller town like Colmar) (though Alsace is a bit of an outlier for a road trip to Provence)
Dijon (or smaller town like Beaune or Auxerre)
Amboise

I think the idea on a trip like this is to pick a base for 2 or 3 days, toodle about, then head south to your next base.

I also like the idea of taking advantage of fast trains (such as from Paris, or Lyon) to cover more ground, if you need to. I would save at least a few days on the ground with a car in Provence.

Consider not going to Nice just to drop off a car and fly home. You can do that in Marseilles.

Posted by
7124 posts

3 nights in ... Paris
3 nights in ... Alsace (pick up car in Strasbourg)
3 nights in ... Burgundy
2 nights in ... Lyon

Or

3 nights in ... Paris
3 nights in ... Burgundy (pick up car in Dijon)
2 nights in ... Lyon
3 nights in ... Provence (fly out of Marseille)