3 Weeks in July 2015 - Looking for Input

Hi,

My family and I (wife, 9 year old and 6 year old) are planning a 3 week trip to France for July 2015. My wife and I traveled frequently before we had kids, but this will be the first trip out of the country for the kids. Over the years traveling with the kids in New England, we have developed our travel style, which can be categorized as (1) car trips of no greater than 3 hours in any given day; (2) accommodations with kitchens and 2 bedrooms when we can swing it; (3) swimming is loved. While my wife and I have eaten life-changing meals in French restaurants in the past, our youngest is allergic to eggs, so we plan to self cater for most of the trip. We will each have one bag and employ the rule that 'if you can't run with your luggage, you've packed too much'. Anyway, that is the setup. Here's the plans:

Week 1 - Fly Boston to Lyon, rent a car, rent a gite in Provence, likely in or near Vaison La Romaine. I can easily fill 6 days with activities and most of the Gites I've seen come with a pool - so this part is pretty straight forward.

Week 2 - Drive from Provence to Annecy, rent a gite in Annecy. Annecy is one of our favorite places we have ever visited and between the lake, Chamonix, Mont Blanc, etc. there will be a lot of things to do during that week as well. Again, pretty straight forward.

Now here's where I need help - week 3 has several options that all of pros and cons:

Option 1 - Rent a gite in Beaune for the week, spending the last day in Lyon, fly home from Lyon
Pro - we love Beaune, Burgundy is great, will be fun to drive around and explore the area, relatively inexpensive
Con - I'm not seeing my kids loving Burgundy for 6 days, it my lose some of its luster if we don't go out to eat, Swimming opportunities will be limited

Option 2 - Split Week 3 between Beaune and Paris
Pro - Paris is Paris, also get to see Beaune, can also squeeze in a trip to EuroDisney, driving between Beaune and Paris will be very much new for me
Con - Paris is expensive, likely not going to get 'self catering' options in Paris and Beaune costs will rise due to not spending a full week, also arrival in Paris and depositing rental car could be a very long and stressful day - also, is Paris necessarily fun with kids? When I take them to New York City, we spend most of the time in Central Park.

Option 2b - same as Option 2, but we drop rental car off in Dijon and train in - much less stressful but lose out on seeing stuff between Beaune and Paris - also would add costs to trip (I think).

Option 3 - We fly home from Switzerland and spend the last week in Switzerland. Details not yet explored.
Pro - lot's to do and see
Con - much more expensive, would likely not rent a house - no gite system, likely cost prohibitive.

Option 4 - ???? Any Thoughts (though note that my wife and I really did not like Nice when we visited and that while we love the Cinque Terre, the driving to get there and then to the airport in Milan or Florence would be prohibitive).

From a budget point of view, the costs look great if we do Option 1 and get stretched for the other options, depending on the choices we make.

I'm enthusiastically happy for any feedback that you provide - including providing information on things kids might like about Burgundy that I've not heard of. You can assume that I've read the Rick Steves France guide cover to cover and watched all of the shows pertaining to the places discussed here. We have been looking forward to this trip for 4 years and I'm excited to begin planning it. Thanks a bunch for the input.

-Matt From Somerville, MA

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4179 posts

Two quick thoughts:

To begin your trip you can fly to Marseille instead of Lyon, which will put you actually in Provence.

If you want to self cater in Paris, you can rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2923 posts

Matt, you can certainly rent an apartment for a week in Paris. And in Burgundy you all might like some or all of the following:

  • Guedelon, where they are building a castle, on the way to Paris from Burgundy
  • Vezeley, compact medieval hill town near ancient springs and Roman baths
  • Noyers-sur-Serien, small old town with cobbled streets and architectural dig at site of original castle
  • Ride bikes along canal or other route
  • Tour of caves at Arcey-sur-Cure

The caves are frankly sub-par and the tours are only in French but your kids might like it.

For "Option 4," I'd suggest a week in the Dordogne for old stone fortresses, canoe rides, and neolithic cave paintings. Fly home from Toulouse or Bordeaux.

Honestly in your place I would probably go with Switzerland if I could afford it. But I hope this gives you some ideas for a great trip.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2923 posts

To flesh out the Dordogne a little more:

  1. Start in Annecy from Lyon, then go to Provence.
  2. From Provence drive along the coast to Collioure, a pretty town with a beach. 2 nights there maybe.
  3. Drive to Carcassone for a night, stopping at the Haut Corbierres in the foothills of the Pyrenees
  4. Balance of time in Sarlat, or Beynac or other small river town, with day trips.
Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
130 posts

Thanks!

Adam - what you propose for a week in Switzerland? I've been to Zurich and Bern, but that's all.

I like your ideas for Sarlat/South France. I will consider this further.

-Matt

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
130 posts

And also, my kids love caves and castles - so I will look into these Burgundy options further too - thanks again.

Posted by Tom
Milwaukee, WI, USA
89 posts

Matt,

A couple of things to think about: July 14th is Bastille Day (French Independence Day) and, of course, it is celebrated all over France so be settled in someplace that day and enjoy the holiday (no traveling). Also, the Tour de France will be coursing its way throughout the country in July and it might be fun to check out the route (either in a city or out in the countryside) and find a spot to stand by the road and cheer on the bicyclists like everyone else does (a lot of free stuff is handed out by sponsors as the riders approach-kids might like that).

Posted by Darlene
Carlsbad, CA
8 posts

Matt,

Your weeks 1 & 2 sound wonderful. We have taken our two children (now ages 17 & 13) to France and Switzerland several times, beginning when they were ages 6 & 2, and they loved staying in gites in Annecy and Provence.

Regarding week 3, we have a few thoughts. We have not taken our kids to Beaune (we had the same doubts that you have), but we have taken them to Paris several times. We always rent an apartment (using VRBO) near Luxembourg Garden in the 6th and have found that daily visits to the park were necessary (our kids have never been fond of big cities, even now that they are older). Paris is always a more challenging destination for the kids, but we keep going back and find ways to make it fun (less is more for the sightseeing part).

We have driven into Paris twice (once from the Dordogne and once from Strasbourg) and it was VERY stressful and difficult (and lots of traffic). We would definitely take the train in from Dijon.

Regarding option 3, we highly recommend Switzerland for children (easy to drive or train, the Alps are so beautiful, very relaxing and fun). On a couple of our trips we took a train from Paris to Murren (Alps in Berner Oberland) and our kids were so happy to decompress after being in Paris for a week. Murren (see Rick Steves' Switzerland book) is a very small town in the Alps with amazing mountain views and lots of hiking trails (most easy enough for your children). It is true that Switzerland is more expensive, but you can stay in a chalet and self cater (http://www.topapartments.ch). If the choice is between Paris and Switzerland, my kids would always choose Switzerland. If the choice is between Paris and the Dordogne (we took the kids there when they were ages 9 and 5 and rented a cottage in Domme through VRBO), then they would choose the Dordogne.

Good luck with planning!

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
130 posts

Darlene,

This is exactly on point and very helpful. Thanks so much.

-Matt

Posted by Adam
Boston
2923 posts

For Switzerland, I'd go to the Alps. Probably not for the whole week, maybe more time in Provence. (Or a day or 2 in Lyon itself.) Fly home from Zurich if it works.

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
1203 posts

Airbnb has lots of listings in Switzerland between $80 - $150 per night that can accommodate 4 people. Your costs are going to come in transportation, food, and gondolas. If you rent a car you will pay about $8-9 per gallon. Gondolas range in price but they are a significant cost, especially if there are 4 of you. Last summer our family of 3 budgeted $150 per day, not including transportation and lodging (we were there on a home exchange) and that ended up being about right. Some days were more expensive and some less so but it wasn't cheap. Meals out are extremely costly - an average lunch for us was about $80 with nothing fancy. Drinks, soup or salad, simple main dish...that's it! We only ate dinner out once while there and it was about $130 - pasta. If you have a house or apartment you can eat for quite a bit cheaper - grocery costs are a bit higher than the states but not too much higher. Certain things are a lot more expensive, like beef and ice cream, but they are easily avoided.
If your kids like castles then there are quite a few between Lake Geneva and Zermatt in the canton of Valais. Starting with Chateau Chillon on the shore of Lake Geneva all the way up east through the valley, it is dotted with castles in various states or ruin. Some are hardly visited and you'll have them to your self. My favorite is on one of the two hilltops in the town of Sion. Lots of others you can stop and explore. This area is beautiful because the valley floor is covered with orchards and the slopes of the valley are covered with vineyards - the whole thing is surrounded by spectacular mountains to hike. There are many ancient waterways called bisses that were dug to bring water from the mountains to the vineyards and orchards in the valley. They all have hiking trails that follow them and some have spectacular views Bisses Brochure.
One thing we found that was really fun was the Alpenhorn Festival in Nendaz. Hundreds of alpenhornists from all over the world gather on a mountaintop for 3 days and have a festival. We went on the final day. The processions of farmers with their cowbells, the children's dance groups and the final performance when they all stood in a giant semicircle in a meadow on top of a mountain and played - WOW - it was something to see. Your kids would love it! Alpenhorn Festival Nendaz.
Just a few things to consider!
Switzerland is so kid friendly! As long as you budget it's worth it!

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
130 posts

Thank you so much for all of these fantastic replies. Based on your input we are now planning to spend the last week in Switzerland.

-Matt

Posted by Jean
Mill Creek, WA, USA
453 posts

If you're going to Switzerland with children, check out the St. Beatus caves if you're in the Interlaken area.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
6488 posts

I'm glad to see the plan is coming together. Lucky kids.

Posted by tecot
27 posts

A few tips:

1) Picking the correct airports can save you more than a thousand dollars when you multiply by 4 people. Nice and Zurich will likely produce the best compromise between cost and convenience.
2) If you do end up with an open jaw in different countries, drop off your car in the same country you rented it; take a train, and then pick up another. You'll save hundreds in drop-off fees.
3) Get a gite in Annecy with a washer and dryer.
4) Even in July, you'll need warm clothes for the mountain peaks. Pack layers instead of heavy jackets to keep within your one bag rule.

Posted by sanderskn
San Jose, CA
328 posts

I like option 2: rent an apartment in Paris. I think the kids will love it.

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
130 posts

Thanks for the tips. For what it is worth, here's an update. Out trip is basically planned - 1 week in the Dordogne (Beynac), 1 week in Provence (st Remy), 1 week in Annecy - all places booked through VRBO, which was great. Everything is under budget so far and I'm we are getting very excited.

Ended up going with Beynac/Dordogne instead of Switzerland for several reasons including cost differential and fear of too much repetition with Annecy/French Alps. Also, the sites in the eastern Dordogne, including the Gouffre de Padirac (boat caves!) and La Foret des Singes (Japanese Monkey sanctuary) sealed the deal. My wife has been bananas about caves since we went to the Frasassi Caves in Italy 7 years ago and she has also wanted to go to a monkey sanctuary (long story). So that's that.

The drawback is the long drive to Provence (6 hours or so), but it is surely not that big of a deal. Another factor was that we were committed to traveling during the last week of June and the first two weeks of July - and I wanted to be in Annecy for Bastille Day, which we are going to be.

Thanks to all that helped here!

-matt

Posted by Christine
California
94 posts

We loved Beynac and it is a perfect location for canoeing down the Dordogne.

Posted by Kathleen
Victoria, BC, Canada
177 posts

I just want to say congratulations to all. I very much enjoyed reading this thread! The OP had clearly done his homework, and used the forum to fine tune his itinerary. Responses were all respectful and very helpful. To me, this is RS Forum at it's best! Matt, you and your family will have an amazing holiday, and I hope you post a trip report!

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
130 posts

Thanks Kathleen, I've kind of sort of been planning this trip for years, so I was glad that the details could come together rather quickly with the help of the contributors on this board. The last trip I took was in 2008 to Italy and I have to say that there's been quite a leap in the tools available to plan a trip over this relatively short period of time. Between, vrbo, google translate and google maps street view, you can communicate easily and get a really good feel for locations and rentals. One house looked great from the pictures but google street view keyed me in to the fact that it was the only house in the neighborhood, surrounded by what I'm guessing is a community college and the nearest restaurant is McDonald's.

I will surely post a trip report when we return. Now I just have to wait until next summer!

-Matt

Posted by Adam
Boston
2923 posts

The Dordogne is great, and Beynac is brilliant. You will have a fabulous time.

The Goufre de Paderac is a hoot—great people-watching opportunity as you wait on line with French families on holiday. Do not miss the Grotte du Peche Merle in the Lot; if you have time while in that neighborhood St Cirq is really lovely.

You probably know to fly into Toulouse or Bordeaux to start your trip.