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3 weeks in France solo and without a car: advice please!

Greetings! I just booked a roundtrip ticket to Paris for three weeks (Sept 14-Oct 5). I'm in the process of planning my itinerary and need some guidance. I'm in my early 40's, female, will be traveling alone, and will NOT be renting a car (this is non-negotiable). I've never seen France outside of a brief visit to Paris 15 years ago. I'd like to spend the first stretch of the trip in Paris (4-7 nights?) as well as the final night or two before flying home out of CDG.

To give you a sense of my traveling style: I like lingering in places for a decent amount of time in order to get a feel for the place. I'm not that into sightseeing for the sake of sightseeing, though I enjoy an occasional museum, historic landmark, etc. I like to walk A LOT (je suis une flaneuse!), sit at cafes, drink and learn about wine, watch people. I like to absorb atmosphere and I am not easily bored. I don't want to be traveling to a new place every 2 days, especially since I will have to negotiate public transport. My budget is pretty slim, so my plan is to rent cheap but charming airbnb's (with kitchens for cooking many of my meals) along the way.

Here are the places that intrigue me from what I have researched thus far (and seem to be accessed relatively easily via public transport):

Paris, St Emilion (biking the vineyards, exploring the town, overnighting in Bordeaux), Provence/South of France (not sure which town to choose - Arles, Uzes, Cassis, Aix? not really interested in the popular areas of Cote d'azur; I want to experience a good market, slower lifestyle, see the Pont du Gard and Cezanne's atelier in Aix), Beaune/Burgundy

So, maybe like this:

5 nights Paris, 3 nights Bordeaux, 7 nights Provence/South of France, 3-4 nights Beaune, last 2 nights Paris

I'm also intrigued by Annecy - biking around the lake, a change of scenery - but that seems pretty far off the beaten path?

And I'm open to including a neighboring country like Belgium - maybe 3 or 4 nights in Brugge and nixing time elsewhere?

I'm open to any and all suggestions! Is there a place that completely captured your imagination that you think I should include?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Posted by
4640 posts

Sorry, I'm so envious that I can't think straight. What a wonderful trip! The only suggestion I have is that you look at larger blocks of time; three nights in an area is probably only two days. Two nights is one day, etc. And since you'll be using public transportation, you have to allow travel time, packing time, getting from your apartment to the train to the next apartment... (The same would be true if you were staying in hotels.) Time to go buy the ingredients for your meals... In your mind's eye, walk through a couple of days, adding in time for shopping, finding the apartments, getting oriented to a new town, even cooking, sleeping, resting. We never have enough time to do the things we've planned, because the day-to-day ordinary things take up more time than we've anticipated.

But my goodness, it sounds like a wonderful time.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you Jane! You are so right. I think I might end up nixing Bordeaux and just head straight to the south from paris, then to Beaune, and finally to Paris before flying back to reality. One week for Paris, one week for the south, and 4-5 days for Burgundy. Merci encore!

Posted by
12 posts

I want to be you. I have no help for you, I just needed to say that.

(I should explain, I"ve only been to Paris and Normandy (not on your itinerary, nor do I think it should be, so I'm not much help but I am much envious)

Posted by
8 posts

Be careful what you wish for, capesunset! ;) This trip is a serious indulgence for me and I have 10,000 reasons why it's not a responsible thing to do, but I'm going anyway. C'est la vie! Thanks!

Posted by
16866 posts

I prefer to base in Arles, which has a great market, interesting sights, and bus connections to neighboring towns but you'd go via Avignon to get to Pont du Gard. Uzes is further from other popular destinations and not a convenient base without a car. See also Guidebook Updates. Arles and Aix both have their biggest markets on Saturday; Wednesday is the alternate day in Arles and Tues/Thursdays are also good in Aix.

Posted by
2916 posts

I think I might end up nixing Bordeaux and just head straight to the south from paris, then to Beaune, and finally to Paris before flying back to reality. One week for Paris, one week for the south, and 4-5 days for Burgundy.

I think that's a good decision given the amount of time you have. In the south, Avignon might be a good base. While I'm not a big fan of Avignon, it does have good public transportation to nearby villages and cities.

Posted by
2751 posts

My daughter, who has spent two years in France, has repeatedly told me that if I were to spend time in France in a smaller city then I should settle myself in Aix de Provence. I don't like to move around too much. I prefer to get to know a city/town, watch people, build up a routine, etc. so if it were me I would go from Paris-Aix-Nice-Paris. Or I would pick Honfleur...to explore that area and Normandy, and Nice for contrast. So many choices...

Posted by
7124 posts

This is all super easy by train, as are day tripping options from each. Head straight to Lyon from CDG and consolidate your time in Paris at the end of the trip.

Lyon - 2 nights
Côte d'Azur (Nice) - 4 nights
Provence (Avignon) - 4 nights
Burgundy (Dijon+Beaune) - 3 nights
Alsace (Strasbourg+Colmar) - 3 nights
Paris - 5 nights

Normandy, Brittany, Loire Valley, Dordogne are better enjoyed with a car.

Posted by
4620 posts

Cypresstree,

My daughter & I just spent a bit over three weeks in France this June, & had an amazing trip.

Our itinerary may give you some ideas:

  • flew to Geneva >> took shuttle to Chamonix (4 nights)

  • Chamonix to Annecy (3 N) via train.

  • Annecy to L'Isle sur la Sorgue (3N) via Avignon by train.

  • L'Isle sur la Sorgue>> Avignon (4N) via bus ( due to train strike)

  • Day trip to St. Remy & Les Baux via bus.

  • Avignon to Paris (5N) via TGV

  • Paris to Amboise (3N) visited 4 chateaux via bus.

We loved Annecy! It's such a charming town with a beautiful lake, canals running through the town, great outdoor markets & good food.
We experienced 3 outdoor markets when we were there. Saturday was the antiques & collectibles market. Sunday & Tuesday was the produce, meat, bread, olives & cheese market.
We'd planned to spend 4 nights in Annecy but had to depart a day earlier due to the train strike (our train had been cancelled the day we'd planned to travel)

Avignon was a good base for taking day trips, but we didn't take all the day trips we'd planned (Vaison la Romaine, Pont du Gard & Uzès, etc...)

We enjoyed our time in L'Isle sur la Sorgue & experienced their Thursday market, however, we wished we would have stayed there longer.
We also wish we could have visited Gordes & Roussillon but the bus only runs during the summer ( end of July-- August).

We also wished we'd have spent more time in beautiful, peaceful Amboise.

We spent our last night in Paris before our flight home.

We should have traveled directly to Amboise from Avignon, but it would have been a long day on the train.
It all worked out well in the end, because we left most of our luggage in the hotel in Paris, when we traveled to Amboise.

France is such a large & beautiful country that you can't go wrong wherever you choose to travel!

Bon Voyage!

Posted by
4125 posts

I admire your tastes.

Burgundy is a great place for cycling. There are at least 2 good day loops out of Beaune, north and south, and a rental shop that will give you route advice. If you are interested in more-serious cycling, they can also arrange point-to-point services for you, porting your bags and making reservations. That would let you see some really beautiful places. But it sounds as though you do not have time for that.

Without the cycling, you may find Beaune limited, although the wine scene is something else.

Let me second the suggestion to include Lyon on your itinerary. It's a marvelous city with great transportation options that would fit with your itinerary pretty well. There are in fact multiple direct trains every morning to Charles deGaulle airport, so if you have an afternoon flight you can skip the return to Paris and group all of your Paris time at the start. That's a more efficient use of your time. (There re also direct trains from Avignon and from Dijon as well.)

Avignon is your best Provencal location for connections to Aix and the Pont du Garde, but Arles is a close second on that score and, in my view, a first in terms of charm. I've never, alas, been to Annecy, but my guess is that unless it really calls to you its location would be a train ride too far on this trip.

Have a marvelous time, you are certainly off to a good start.

Posted by
3547 posts

You need some basic research tools:

http://www.aeroportsdeparis.fr/en/homepage
These pages are fairly comprehensive and include advice on travelling to and from the city. If you are coming across the Atlantic, a multi-city air ticket could have been a better strategy.

Paris mass transit, including interactive trip planners:
http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21879/visiting-paris/

The French train system, much easier to use than it once was, and avoid RailEurope:
http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/

http://www.seat61.com
All about train travel anywhere.
http://www.parisbytrain Also useful for trains, especially the photo tours of main stations.

The Internet is bulging with websites about Paris and the rest of France. You already know a good deal about the country and its attractions so I am sure specific questions will be welcomed on this forum.

Posted by
780 posts

I would definitely add Lyon,the rest of your choices look great,now you have to trim cities off due to your time frame.
Mike

Posted by
4763 posts

What a great trip! You're right about limiting your stops and staying in one place for awhile. I suggest dropping Bordeaux/St-Emilion unless you're really into that particular wine region. It's out of your way as far as everything else is concerned. I'd suggest at least a week in Paris, more if you can do it. Lyon is a place I haven't been but would like to go, and a logical stop between the south and Burgundy. I agree that Beaune itself is good for only a day or so, but it's a good base for exploring the area and there are some bike routes that might appeal to you.

Instead of returning to Paris for a day or two before your flight, you might consider a train straight to CDG the day before, with your last night in an airport hotel (the Ibis is convenient, comfortable, and affordable). You're wise to avoid rushing to the airport on the day of the flight from anywhere other than Paris.

And you're less than a month off, so need to line up accommodations in Paris as soon as possible. Many places will already be filled in the busy month of September.

Posted by
4620 posts

Once you decide the dates you'll be in Paris, whether at the beginning or at the end of your trip, you'll need to book your ticket to the Eiffel Tower! ;-)

Posted by
151 posts

Even if Brittany is not on your list, I precise it's also possible to discover the area with public transport (many TGV trains Paris - Rennes - Brest, Paris - Rennes - Vannes - Quimper, Paris - Rennes - Saint Malo. And buses or trains to link cities to towns/seaside), it's not easier or more difficult than in Burgundy or Alsace for example.
Of course, like in every region in France, a car helps to reach small towns. There are also many cycle tracks and hike pathes, for people looking both for historic heritage and nature (whether along the ocean or in the inlands).
But your itinerary is already quite full and you should keep some regions for a future trip in France :)

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you everyone! Your responses are SO helpful!

I wish I could reply to each poster, but I have limited time at this moment so I'll just let you know what I'm currently thinking as my itinerary:

6 nights Paris, 5 nights Arles, 4 nights Lyon or Annecy, 3 nights Beaune, final 2 nights back in Paris (staying in a different part of town, next to the metro line that goes directly to CDG for my 11 am flight)

What do you think?

Basically, I've nixed Bordeaux and added a stop in Lyon or Annecy. Which one would you recommend: Lyon or Annecy?

Again, many thanks!!!

Posted by
2916 posts

Which one would you recommend: Lyon or Annecy?

I've stayed in both several times, always w/o a car. My answer would be: both. But since that won't work, it really depends on which one fits into your schedule better, and whether you want a beautiful small city or a beautiful very large city. There's so much more to do in Lyon, but given just 3 days, there's plenty in Annecy and the surrounding area to keep you busy. Annecy has one of the best outdoor markets in France, and Lyon also has some very good markets. I'll attach my travel blog if You want to read a little about both cities and see some photos. They're scattered throughout the years, but you can always use the search function.
http://mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/

Posted by
2246 posts

Another vote for Lyon inclusion. So many great things about this city-food, history, sights. Lyon has a good deal on the "Lyon Card" which covers all public transport, a historical walk, and a river cruise. The Resistance Museum there is quite moving, and there's the Lumiere Brothers home and museum, the miniatures museum, old town and the traboules, and on and on. Easily worth a couple of nights, and great transport connections too.

Posted by
16866 posts

I really like Lyon. If you want to day-trip from Lyon to Annecy, it's possible at two hours each way by direct train or bus.

Posted by
4620 posts

Cypresstree,

I agree with Robert's reply:

But since that won't work, it really depends on which one fits into your schedule better, and whether you want a beautiful small city or a beautiful very large city.

I've not visited Lyon, so can't compare.

You will need to consider the travel time to reach each of these cities. Lyon is on the Paris to Avignon train route, & you'll need to add a couple of hours to reach Annecy.

We started our France trip in Chamonix, so it made sense to continue on to Annecy, before heading south to Avignon.

If you don't make it to Annecy, consider visiting L'Isle sur la Sorgue, an easy 30 minute train ride from Avignon.

If you decide to travel to Annecy, try to make it there on (at least) one of their market days!
Make sure to try the delicious ice cream at 'Glacier des Alpes'. My favorite was mandarine!

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
8 posts

Hi everyone! Thanks again for your helpful responses.

Quick question: If my flight lands in Paris (CDG) at 8:30 am, what would be a good time to book a TGV to the Avignon/Arles area? There is a train at noon out of CDG - would that be enough time? The next train is at 3 pm, and that seems like a LONG time to wait around. Please let me know... I dont have a good sense of how long things probably will take once I arrive in CDG.

BTW, this is the current itinerary I'm working on booking:

Arrive Paris, TGV to Arles

  1. Arles for 4 nights (including bus trips to Avignon, Pont du Gard and Uzes, another smaller village)

  2. Aix for 4 nights (including bus trip for full day in Cassis)

  3. Beaune for 3 nights

  4. Lyon, Dijon, or Annecy (still havent decided) for 3 nights

  5. Final week in Paris

Thanks again!

Posted by
4125 posts

Train from deGaulle: I think this is not a good plan, even if you've bought the airplane tickets. (Have you? You did say "if....")

The train from deGaulle is a 5 hour trip because it bypasses Avignon. You'd make our local connection in Marseilles, doubling back to Arles.

That train. does however, stop in Aix, so you might consider starting there.

Otherwise you'd be much better off taking the Air France Bus into Paris and catching the 11:40 train from Gare Lyon. It will get to to Arles by 3:30.

But if you can do so, look into flying into Marseilles or Lyon. You may be able to get to Arles (or Aix) by lunchtime and do some sightseeing.

BTW I'm not sure I understand all that time in Aix, given your interests. Is it primarily as a base from which to see Marseilles? Or cycling? Aix is charming but you'll be done with Cezanne's studio in an hour.

Posted by
14399 posts

Do you like champagne at all? I highly recommend 2 days in Reims. I stayed at an Airbnb (lovely room, modern bath, warm, friendly, helpful hosts), a short bus ride from the caves and the center. I took 3 cave tours, with tastings. All were interesting, all were different. One was in Epernay, a short train ride from Reims. Everyone pours champagne by the glass - there's even a selection at the cafe in the train station. There's Le musée de la Reddition (where the Germans signed the surrender at the end of WWII), the cathedral and a beautiful basilica. Try to fit it in as you leave or return to Paris.

I loved the small towns in Burgundy, but I had a car. If you base in Colmar, you can visit Alsatian villages and sites by bus, then spend a couple days in nearby Strasbourg. After driving in Burgundy and Alsace, I would be very hesitant to bike around the countryside except with a guide. The roads are narrow and shoulders are non-existant. In Alsace, the roads were noticeably wider and better maintained than in Burgundy. Alsace has a definite German influence - most everything is in both languages and many of its citizens are native German speakers, so I'd choose that over going to Belgium.

Posted by
11798 posts

I'll be flying into Paris Sept 16 and out on October 3. This is my first trip to France and I decided to make it one of four (NW, NE, SW, SE) - all about two weeks each - to get a pretty good look at the country. This one is my NW loop so it's Paris, Rouen, Etretat, Bayeux, Dinan, Lampaul Guimiliau, Vannes, Chinon, Amboise, Chartres and back to Paris.

I'm solo also so lodging is hostels and/or rooms through Air BnB.

I'm not as committed to no car, so Normandie and Brittany are by car. While I prefer lingering, the best I'll do is three nights in Paris to start, five nights at the end, two nights in Dinan, two in Vannes, two in Amboise.

One thing you might like is renting a bike in the Loire to see the chateaux. Here's a place you can reserve a bike, in lots of shops along the valley. You can pick it up at one shop and drop it at another:

http://www.locationdevelos.com/en/

I've communicated with them by email and they're good at responding.

Posted by
11798 posts

Also, Chani clued me into Journees du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) in Paris the weekend of September 17-18. Many places that are not open to the public will be open that weekend (free admission) and almost everywhere has some free admission hours. I'm most interested in the places I couldn't normally see. I think my tops are the Senate (Luxembourg Palace) and Tour Saint-Jacques but I'm still figuring out the options.

Posted by
14399 posts

I just went back and glanced through my (hundreds of) photos from that weekend (2010). I have no photos at all of the Luxembourg Palace, so photography must have forbidden there. I have lots of photos from the Assemble Nationale (Bourbon Palace) and the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). Wow, talk about opulence: gilt, velvet, marble, mirrors, chandeliers, paintings, tapestries, ceiling frescoes. I would try to add the Elysee Palace (official residence of the president) which must also be stunning.

Posted by
44 posts

Hi Cypresstree,
What a wonderful adventure you have ahead of you! I hope you will check in and and send updates.
I'd be particularly interested in hearing about your Airbnb experience. My travel plans include a month (maybe longer) in Paris in 2017, on a pauper's budget, and there seem to be some rooms that are affordable. Until now, is have only stayed at hotels and the occasional b and b. Good luck to you!

Posted by
8 posts

Dear friends,

Thanks again for all your help... Ive taken all your comments into consideration. I've gone ahead and reserved all my airbnbs and my trains - here is what my schedule looks like:

Arrive in Paris, take TGV to Avignon from airport

Avignon for 6 nights: with bus trips to Arles, Pont du Gard, Uzes, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Aix for 3 nights: with bus trip to Cassis

Beaune for 3 nights (including Saturday market day)

Lyon for 2 nights

Paris for final week (with possible side trip to Reims?), fly home from CDG

Merci encore!

Posted by
14399 posts

Do look for what's happening on your first weekend wherever you are. It's Les Journees du Patrimoine throughout the country.

Reims - question mark? Even as a day trip from Paris it's worth it. I loved the cave tours, the cathedral, the basilica even more, and all that even though I still prefer red wines to champagnes.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you for the heads up about Les Journees du Patrimoine! I will be in Avignon/Arles during those days and will keep my eyes open. Also thank you for the vote for Reims... the more I read about it the more excited I get. The question mark reflected the question of whether, by the time I reach Paris, I will just want to stay put in one place.

Posted by
764 posts

Looks great! I spent a month in Aix at a language school. Find a brochure or small book about all the fountains; Aix is a city of fountains. Also, walk up, or bus to the site where I believe to was Cezanne has a studio and there is a lookout to the hills that he painted. It is a short walk downhill back into the city. Visit the markets, I prefer the smaller ones to the huge market in the city centre.

Markets are one of my favorite things in France; try to visit Arles on the market day. I am crazy about Paris markets; find info on google. Describing dates, times and nearest Metro stops. My faves in Paris are the Grenelle, right under the Metro tracks near the Motte Piquet-Grenelle metro stop, and the President Wilson. Both walking distances from the Eiffel tower.

Enjoy!

Posted by
8 posts

Yes, I plan to visit Cezanne's atelier! I am a HUGE Cezanne fan and that's one of the main reasons I'm spending some time in Aix (Cezanne also inspired my desire to visit Annecy: http://www.wikiart.org/en/paul-cezanne/the-lac-d-annecy-1896). And yes, I plan to visit Arles on a Saturday, which is market day. I will look out for the Parisian markets your recommend, thank you! And BTW - a month-long language school: YES!!!

Posted by
14399 posts

As I recall, the Orangerie in Paris has a number of Cezannes, as well as the famous Monet water lilies and some fine Renoirs as well.

Posted by
4125 posts

I think you may regret only 2 nights in Lyon (which is really only 1 full day).

May I suggest stealing a day from either Aix or Beaune?

Whatever you do, the Lyon City Card is a terrific deal. Also, bring some change for your first metro ride in Lyon as the station at Part Dieu is not staffed. The city card includes a metro pass but is not for sale at the train station.