Please sign in to post.

3 weeks in France! Help me make the most of it!

Hey guys :)

I'm brazillian, 26 years old and my husband is 31. So far we've only made one big trip to Europe, to Italy. We spent 3 weeks there, from Rome to all the north then all the south. Our style of travel is basically: waste as little time getting from one place to the other as possible (stopping at interesting spots and not divirting too much), find the hidden gems, the places tourists tend to miss, talk to everyone, walk the entire place, and never complain of foot aches. LOL. One of the gems of that trip was Sirmione, which I happened to find out by chance listening to a podcast and was just next to Verona. We also love to intercalate nature and cities.

That's what I've come to ask: the hidden gems of France and how to make the most of our time enjoying each place and making the most of the roads from one place to the other.

The plans so far are basically:
Flights 09/05 - 03/06
Arrival in Paris 11/05
Paris: 7 nights and days (not counting arrival)
Paris -Mont Saint Michel 1 night
Mont Saint Michel - Amboise - Loire Vale, 2 nights maybe?
Amboise to Annecy and Chamonix (1 night each?)
Then to the Provence 5 nights
From the Provence to the Côte d'Azur 5 nights

Any ideas? Did I get it wrong? What else is worth knowing? I left off large parts of France that I believe are best explored in a future trip (Normandy, the west...)

Thanks :D

Posted by
19175 posts

My own first comprehensive trip to France is coming up later this year, so I am not going to be of much help. I do have two comments.

  • It sounds as if you plan to drive. It appears that Annecy and Chamonix are only about 75 minutes apart by car, so I wouldn't want to split my nights between the two. I'd stay in Annecy because it is closer to Amboise and probably to your next destination and day-trip to Chamonix. Or if I fell in love with Annecy I'd just do hikes around there.

  • Thursday, May 18, is International Museum Day. Some museums seem to celebrate it on a slightly different date, and not all participate, but many museums will be free that day. I have no idea whether there'd be anything free in the Loire Valley at that time. It may be too early to find out details for this year. In my (limited) experience, not too many people seem to know about this, so museums may not be much more crowded than usual.

Posted by
1878 posts

Amboise to Annecy is a long day of driving, around six hours according to Google Maps. Rather than two one night stops, you might consider Chamonix as a day trip from Annecy. Six hour drive which is also your one night in Annecy. Annecy is easily worth a full day just to walk around and take a cruise on the lake. The short stops in the middle could be difficult, you will want more time. I think you could take a day from the Côte d'Azur and add it somewhere, maybe a day even from Provence. (I am actually planning a trip with the whole two weeks in those two regions, but that's a different kind of trip from what you are planning. The first time my wife and spent two weeks in France we only stayed two nights in each). You could actually have a pretty good whirlwind visit to Normandy in a couple of days if you took a day from Paris and stayed in Bayeux, then did Mont St. Michel as a day trip. But I can understand why you would want to stay on Mont St. Michel. You can actually do quite a lot in just one full day in the Loire, we visited three chateaux and one on the way out the next day as we were leaving for the Dordogne.

Posted by
15 posts

Thank you acraven, that was very helpful. I'll be sure to pay attention to may 18th and plan accordingly. What are your travel plans to France, if I may ask?

Posted by
7124 posts

Are you renting a car?
Annecy and Chamonix are a little out of your way for just 1 night each. I would instead substitute a stop somewhere in the Dordogne.

Arrive Paris - 6 nights
Train to Rennes for rental car to Mont Saint Michel - 1 night
Loire Valley - 3 nights
Dordogne - 4 nights
Provence - 4 nights
Côte d'Azur - 4 nights
Depart Nice

Posted by
19175 posts

Amanda, I am an idiot. I am spending all my time reading about other people's trips and no time planning my own! Of course, I am learning stuff along the way.

I am retired and will spend 89 days in France, arriving in Nice on May 1. I'll start with multiple weeks in the SE part of the country, waiting for it to warm up elsewhere, . Like you, I want to see the Annecy area. Then, in no particular order: French Basque Country, Bordeaux (hope to find a way to see part of the Dordogne without a rental car), La Rochelle and Isle de Re, Nancy and the surrounding (love glass and art nouveau, Paris, Normandy, and perhaps even Brittany. Then I'll head to England, probably via the Channel Islands

I am a slow traveler, spending time in or day-tripping to a lot of towns and small cities. This is probably too many areas for the time I am allowed to stay in France, and it is not easy to include eastern and western France in the same trip. I may have to cut Paris (easy to return to). Paris is where I'd like to be on Museum Day, but it's not happening; maybe I'll be able to spend that time in some other city that has multiple interesting museums.

I'm lucky that I at least don't care about the chateaux--though I do enjoy gardens--or wine. That would make planning the trip even harder.

Posted by
4125 posts

This to to D. The answer depends on how committed you are to these destinations—what your true priorities are. There is a balance between time on the road and time seeing the sights that is different for everyone.

Generally though a good trip will not zig zag around as much as you do in the middle part. if you are in Normandy to see MSM, stay a few days and see some of Normandy. I do not like that 1 night in Chamonix, which is so hard to get to, and here is why: what if it rains that day? You will have gone all that way for nothing, and then you will have to travel all day to get to Provence.

Once-night stays are rarely a good idea, because you don't get to see much. The exception is a place like MSM, which is so small (and so crowded during the day).

If you really want to make this itinerary work, I think you should steal some time from, say, Paris or Nice and give it to Chamonix and maybe one or two other places. But, do you really want to do that?

You might have a better trip saving some of the places that are so far out of the way for next time. If you are saving Normandy for another trip, save MSM for that too, and use the days elsewhere.

And, do think about taking advantage of the French trains. The TGV is will get you from Paris to Chamonix (or Annecy, or Provence) faster than a car. You can rent a car in Provence, where you will really appreciate having one.

Just my opinion, yours are the ones that count!

Posted by
41 posts

Arles is a nice base in Provence with Roman ruins, Pont du Gard, and family quick access to Avignon.

Posted by
15 posts

I think you all very much for your replies!

VS - Amboise to Annecy is a long day of driving, around six hours according to Google Maps.
Quite right, that's an issue. I divided the ride in two parts, sleeping between them in a random city midway. That's probably going to be our solution. Drive 3h, sleep, wake up, drive 3h more.
Chamonix as a day trip from Annecy.
Me and my husband are in such a "mountain" mood, we are thinking of 2 days for each. We really want to spend some time in the Alps, rather than the south coast. I think the south is a bit too similar to Italy, and we've done a comprehensive trip to Italy in 2015.
Mont St. Michel. Already booked a b&b in a nearby city. Loire, we booked 2 nights in a budget chateau.

Posted by
15 posts

Adam

Generally though a good trip will not zig zag around as much as you do in the middle part.
yes... it's an issue. the first week is easy (Paris) and the last too (Provence + Riviera), the middle is full of tough choices. We want it all!

I do not like that 1 night in Chamonix, which is so hard to get to, and here is why: what if it rains that day? You will have gone all that way for nothing, and then you will have to travel all day to get to Provence.
yes, we're seriously considering emphasizing the Alps over the South, because after all there will be no lavanders in May and the small towns are not so different from Italy.

If you really want to make this itinerary work, I think you should steal some time from, say, Paris or Nice and give it to Chamonix and maybe one or two other places. But, do you really want to do that?
the million dollar question... but I think so.

And, do think about taking advantage of the French trains. The TGV is will get you from Paris to Chamonix (or Annecy, or Provence) faster than a car. You can rent a car in Provence, where you will really appreciate having one.
This trip is considerably easier done all by car. I'll post a detailed plan soon.

Just my opinion, yours are the ones that count! thanks ^^

Posted by
223 posts

With all due respect to others, I see you've gotten the usual advice to forgo a visit to Chamonix for, well, for example, a few more nights in (insert location here, such as: Paris, Dordogne, Loire valley, etc.).

That's all well and good, but it supposes that Chamonix, and more specifically the télépheriques to Aiguille du Midi and Helbronner, are just another way to burn up one's time in France.

They're not. They're world-class attractions. Meaning you would have to look long and hard to find something comparable anywhere in the world. And you'd probably still fail.

Look: I'll admit that I'm a geologist and perhaps I'm a bit biased, but what one sees from those gondola rides is like little else one could see as easily and as comfortably anywhere else on this planet.

Please understand: I have nothing against the Dordogne or the Loire River Valleys. There is a lot to see there. A lot of history, a lot of culture, a lot of natural beauty. I love those areas.

But if you are fortunate enough to get to Chamonix, by all means take the télépheriques up from Chamonix. Descend into the glacier at Mer de Glace. This isn't Disneyland. This is real. And it's really astounding.

Posted by
15 posts

K, thanks for the advice! I'm actually 90% decided to cut days from Provence in order to spend more time in Chamonix. 2 full days for Chamonix is already decided between me and my husband. We are both looking very much forward to it -much more than to the small villages of Provence (pretty repetitive in comparison to Italy, or so it seems). Not to mention we don't drink, so wine tasting is not a possibility for us, and we didn't find the pictures of, for example, Aix-en-Provence all that pretty. Annecy, Chamonix and even other less known cities in the Alps like Grenoble look much better in a Google search for images. I just don't know if they are so much prettier in real life too. Of course each person has a different concept of beauty.

Posted by
177 posts

Hi Amanda: I travel very much the way you do and am headed to France for 17 nights in June. I did actually cut Chamonix and Annecy from our itinerary based on feedback here to reduce drive time, but still on my bucket list for future. We're headed to two nights in Normandy for the D-Day beaches, 4 days in Paris and then the rest in Provence and Dordogne (two separate friends told me it was their favorite place in France so they swayed me).

In any case, one of the ways I have most enjoyed a truly local, non-touristy experience in my European travels is through Airbnb so wanted to recommend. I know there is some kind of crackdown possibly in Paris on rentals so perhaps not there, but it's a great way to find a small village close to major attractions…and meet great locals. That's what we're doing in Provence, Normandy, and Dordogne. Added benefit: often more affordable than other lodgings.

When we visited the Cinque Terre last year in Italy, we stayed in a tiny, tiny village high in the mountains about a 45 min drive from La Spezia and it was so memorable. The owners invited us over for coffee or an evening glass of wine many times. Now they're like family! You'll need a car for this approach though.

Posted by
15 posts

Chris, thanks for your reply and have a nice trip too ^^
we'll definitely rent a car for this trip. Unfortunately airb&b didn't work out for us in Paris, my husband hates sofa beds and they were pretty much the only option for 60 euros a day or less. So we found a nice budget hotel instead (Hotel République near Saint Martin channel). I'll try to find some nice b&bs in other cities though. Seems like a good idea to have a kitchen, too.

Posted by
7996 posts

Chris, hmm... I don't know if I trust a writer who refers to Paris as the "City of Lights"... it's City of Light, as in enlightenment, not lightbulbs... 😂

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks for all these comments everyone, my husband and I will be in France around the same time (May 12-23) and we're also trying to decide how to spend our time. I didn't know about museum day on the 18th, that's very useful. I'll also be spending some time in the Loire because I have a cousin who lives there. We'll maybe do some biking in the Loire also.

Have any of you spent time in the prehistoric caves in France? I've seen the guidebooks so I know the basics, but if anyone has experience they'd like to share that would be great.

Posted by
15 posts

As it turns out, may 18th will be my last day waking up and sleeping in Paris. On May 19th we get the rental car and set off to Versailles and Giverny, to end up by the evening in our B&B near Mont Saint Michel.

That means we'll be in Paris for the Museum day. It'll probably be tricky to handle that.

I don't know which Paris pass will be worth it, with 6 full days (the last being the museum day). I can only imagine the cues.

Right this instant, here's what decided:
Few hours in Amsterdam may 12th
Arrival in Paris may 12h really late
May 13th to 18th Paris
May 19th leave Paris in rental car, visit Versailles as early in the morning as possible then visit giverny by the evening (probably stay until sunset). Then hit the road to mount saint Michel. Sleep.
May 20th visit Mount Saint Michel. Hit the road after that. Arrive by night in the Château De Razay, our base for the Loire Valley (to whoever is planning to rent a car for the region, I recommend finding a château to fit your wallet. I expect it to be magical. Château de Razay was the most affordable I found, but there are many others).
May 21st. Châteaux
May 22nd. Châteaux. Leave by night. Drive about 3h and pitstop along the way. Drive the other 3h the following morning.
May 23rd. We're working on it.

From here on the plan is: a few days in the alps (me and my husband agreed we have a greater wish to see mountains than countryside/Provence this time. We've recently been to Italy so that's something we have experienced. Not the mountains though.)
Then Provence and the Côte d'Azur.