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2017 Trip Planning

Hi Everybody. I'm putting together my next trip to France (me, spouse, 11 and 9 year old girls). It will be just over 3 weeks long in June/July 2017, divided up as 2 days in the Loire, 1 week in Brittany, 1 week in Dordogne, 1 week in Collioure. Most of the planning is done and I'm hoping that the travel forum can help flush out some specific questions that I have.

  1. We will be leaving the Amboise area around 9am and have a 4pm check in time at our gite in Dinan - what to do in-between? Villandry is looking like the top contender at this point - thoughts?

  2. We will drive from Dinan to Mont St Michel in the AM of one of our days that we are based in Brittany. I expect to be done with MSM by 1pm. As this is our only day in Normandy, I would like to see some traditional Normandy farmland (and get some cheese, potentially tour a farm, etc) as we meander back to Dinan. Can someone recommend an efficient way to do this and/or specific places to look in to?

  3. We will be staying 2 nights on the Golfe du Morbihan (June) - any strong feelings about which town to choose? We will be seeing Carnac stones and Gavrinis so any town towards the western portion of the golfe would be fine, geographically. I've looked at most options and I haven't developed a strong feeling about any.

  4. We will be driving (in one day) from southern Brittany to Beynac in the Dordogne. We anticipate taking many breaks along the way. Can anyone recommend one driving route over another and things to see that are more compelling than French rest stops and worth the time needed to stop? I am not interested in seeing Oradour-sur-Glane.

  5. Can anyone recommend an activity in the Dordogne that they loved that is NOT in the RS guide? This will be our 2nd time in the Dordogne and while we are thrilled to repeat things, it would be nice to find some new gems to try.

  6. From the Dordonge we will head to Collioure near the Spanish border (on the Med). We have decided that a stop at Grotte de Niaux is a must. Has anyone done the drive from Grotte de Niaux (or Foix) to Collioure? Any recommendations? Google maps says the west to east route 'has restricted usage or private roads' - any idea what that means? The plan right now is to do this all in one day. If we leave Beynac by 8:30 am we should have no problem getting to Niaux with full stomachs for the 1pm english tour (it is a 3 hour drive). Then it is 2 hours and 45 minutes to Collioure. I'm considering spending the night to split the drive into two segments (but our gite rentals are 7 night minimums, so we'd be paying double lodging if we spent the night). Any strong feelings about this area?

  7. I'm planning to spend one day in Spain (driving from Collioure) seeing Figueres and Cadaques - should it be two days? If so, what do you recommend?

  8. We will be in Collioure during the week of July 14th/Bastille Day. Can anyone recommend a place to spend Bastille Day in the area? For example, does Perpignan have a lot of stuff going on that its worth spending the day there? Or, is everything shut down to a degree that I should spend that day in Spain or on the beach?

  9. Is there anything in the Collioure area that you consider a 'can't miss' site? In 6 full days I'm planning one road trip to Spain, one road trip to Carcassonne and 2 days on the beach - leaving 2 days left to choose from the surrounding area. There's a lot to see, but nothing is standing out yet.

Thanks a bunch!

-Matt

Posted by
672 posts

We spent one Bastille Day in Carcassonne watching an incredible fireworks display over La Cité. We sat down on sidewalks with our baguettes and enjoyed it along with the crowd - a very fun atmosphere. It wasn't the best time to see La Cité because of the crowds, but the fireworks more than made up for that for us.

Posted by
4302 posts

Re #4, the fastest route Via Michelin shows from Carnac (chosen arbitrarily) to Beynac is about 350 miles and 7 1/2 hours nonstop. You won't have much time for stops beyond the necessary lunch and other breaks. But that route goes through Nantes and Perigueux, both historic places of interest, and I expect most of it will be very scenic. Check Lonely Planet or one of the other more comprehensive guidebooks re Nantes and Perigueux. Another, longer, route would take you to La Rochelle on the coast, another historic city worth checking out in a guidebook that covers more of France than Rick Steves does.

Looks like another great trip for your lucky kids and you. I enjoyed reading about your adventure last year and I'm glad you're returning. We loved Beynac.

Posted by
2901 posts

Since you didn't mention it, you do know you should get your reservations for the Grotte de Niaux as soon as possible, don't you? When we were there - - a long time ago - - there were only two tours in English/day, and only around 20 people per tour. There is an park of prehistory nearby, with a museum and outdoor exhibits. I remember some hands-on activities. Possibly a little young for your kids, but maybe not.
The town of Ceret, near Collioure, has a very good museum of modern art. Picasso, Matisse, Gris, Braque, and several other cubists hung out in Ceret; and some of their works are on display there. Tile reproductions of some of their works also decorate various spots around town. There is a small but very nice museum of musical instruments from Catalonia and elsewhere. We considered our day in Ceret one of the most enjoyable of those spent in the area.

Posted by
603 posts

Thanks Nancy - I have heard about Carcassonne on the 14th - it sounds amazing. That may be an option for us.

Dick - Lot's to consider here. I would like to visit Nantes - have not looked into Perigueux or La Rochelle yet - will give a look and see what I think. Thanks for the suggestions and the compliments!

Rosalyn - this is great stuff, thanks! Ceret will be bumped up onto the day plans. May I ask you what else you did during your trip to the area?

I believe the cave tours begin booking on January 1st, but plan to vigilantly check as time progresses. Thanks for the reminder!

Thanks and keep the ideas coming please!

-Matt

Posted by
243 posts

Personally, I would skip Figueres in favor of more time in Cadaques. You can get your Dali fix there (Port Lligat, a short walk). And it's a long curvy, narrow road coming in to Cadaques so once you're there, why not stay a night or two? It's a gorgeous place.

Your trip sounds fantastic!

Posted by
288 posts

We will drive from Dinan to Mont St Michel in the AM of one of our days that we are based in Brittany. I expect to be done with MSM by 1pm

That puts you at MSM at the same time as all the day-trippers and tour buses. Instead I'd do what RS suggests and arrive late in the afternoon, perhaps 4pm or so. The crowds are thinning out then, still plenty of daylight left. Then have dinner on the island or the town just across the bridge. I had dinner at Le Relais du Roy where I was staying and it literally was one of the best meals I've had in France, a complete surprise since restaurants in touristy places usually count on a captive clientele and offer mediocre food. Note that at any restaurant in the area you need to be seated around 7pm, they don't stay open late. After dinner take one of the frequent trams back across the bridge to enjoy MSM all lit up, maybe walk around it a bit, then return to Dinan. As a bonus if you make a dinner reservation you can park in their lot close to the bridge rather than the ordinary lot; see http://www.le-mont-saint-michel.com/en/parking

We will be staying 2 nights on the Golfe du Morbihan (June) - any strong feelings about which town to choose?

Decide if staying on the coast itself is important or not. I stayed in Vannes which has a small medieval core and restaurants down by the harbor. Some gulf cruises have stops in Vannes, which is convenient. But the harbor is about a mile or so from the coast. Vannes was a nice town but if I was doing the trip again I'd pick a town actually on the coast.

I found the guidance in the RS book to be accurate and helpful, but limited in what it covers. I suggest getting the Rough Guide as well. The green Michelin pair for Brittany and Normandy is very comprehensive but almost too much info.

Posted by
603 posts

Awesome info - really appreciate it.

Dale - yes, the stop in Figueres was Dali-focused. I will look into Port Lligat as an alternative. Honestly, I know a lot about France but very little about Spain - I have some catching up to do!

Bill - Great ideas - really helpful. I think I do want to stay on the golfe for those two days. I looked into Vannes and I'm not feeling it.

-Matt

Posted by
443 posts

Response to Question 1: By all means see Villandry. We were there a few weeks ago and out of the 6 castles and grounds we saw it was by far our favorite. You have to respect the owner and staff for taking such incredible care of this huge place for others like us to enjoy!

Posted by
2901 posts

Another enjoyable experience we had on a different trip to the area was to ride Le Petit Train Jaune up into the mountains. It begins at Villefranche/Vernet-les-Bains. There are 3 caves to visit at Villefranche, also a castle, an 11th c. church, and Fort Liberia, once used as a prison.

Posted by
603 posts

Jane - without getting into the full discussion about the wisdom of leaving things in your car while you sight-see, how would you classify the parking lot at Villandry in terms of your comfort level leaving say, your suitcase full of clothes (no electronics, nothing expensive) in the car (let's assume you have a hatchback and you have no way of hiding your bags).

Rosalyn - trains and 3 caves! I'm in. How did I miss this in my research? Thanks!

Thanks,

Matt

Posted by
443 posts

Matt.....we had a hatchback that you could see our suitcases in when you walked around the back of the car and they were fine. We got there early afternoon and parked on the road alongside the wall to the gardens, about 20 yards from the entrance and felt very safe leaving all of our luggage there in our locked car. Get ready for a treat.....we also loved touring the house on the Villandry property.

Posted by
603 posts

Thanks Jane. That insight is much appreciated.

Matt