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8 days in France - where to go (excluding Paris!) Help!

Hello,
I am going to France in September (Arriving Saturday morning, flying back to USA on following Saturday morning, so 6 nights wherever we choose, 1 night in Paris before return flight) with a friend. Flying in and out of Paris. We have both spent around 3 weeks in Paris so we won't spend any time there. We have only been to Paris in France, so anything else is new.

We are trying to piece together an itinerary, these areas interest us:

  1. Normandy/Mt St Michel
  2. Alsace/Verdun/Colmar
  3. Loire Valley
  4. Dordogne

We understand we can probably pick 2 maximum 'areas'. Any suggestions for an itinerary? We are open to renting a car. Should we visit somewhere else altogether? We really enjoy a combo of history and sightseeing. Not big shoppers/wine drinkers/etc.

Thank you so much for any insight!

Posted by
27347 posts

I haven't been to the Loire Valley (don't like most palace interiors) but very much enjoyed the other three areas. I'd say the Dordogne, especially, would benefit from having a car. It's fairly slow-going there if you need to depend on trains (not terribly prevalent) and buses, and you don't have a lot of time. Are you prepared to rent a vehicle?

How many nights will you have on the ground in France--not counting the night on the plane? On a short trip, one night more or fewer could make a difference in people's recommendations.

Posted by
8163 posts

I love the Dordogne -- you need a car and frankly if I chose that I would just do that and not try to do another area. Rent a cottage and a car and wander. Train down, pick up a car, spend a week in a gite then drive back to Paris with maybe an overnight stop on the road (Semur en Auxois is good; we have also stopped at Auxerre for a lovely evening in a pretty town)
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/perfect-place-for-murder-commarque-chateau/
Closer to Paris, Normandy and Brittany are good choice and you could also do Burgundy. We once spent 4 nights in St. Malo and then a 5th in Carnac for the neolithic sites and it was wonderful.

https://janettravels.wordpress.com/category/brittany/
We spent a week in Semur en Auxois and visited sites in the area e.g. the Fontenay Abbey, several Chateux and did some short hikes. But 4 nights would give you 3 lovely days.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/category/burgundy/
Plan to spend the last night at an airport hotel having dropped the car the evening before. If possible train into Paris for dinner or get dinner on the road before arriving at the airport.

Posted by
6996 posts

Hi!
Your last night has to be in the Paris area since flights to North America (I assume that's where you live) usually leave in the morning. This leaves you with 6 nights, unless you are also counting the night spent on the plane on the way to France, which would bring down the total to 5 nights.

In you list, Alsace and Dordogne would each warrant all of those 5-6 nights on their own. Plus, it would be too time-consuming to try to travel from, say, Alsace to Normandy.

Normandy and Loire Valley can be combined in a 6-night trip without rushing too much: 3 in the Loire Valley, 1 near Mont Saint Michel, 2 near Bayeux. A car would provide maximum efficiency.
However, doing both 5 nights would be more challenging, especially if you throw in Mont Saint Michel... Yet I would say that 5 nights in just one or the other is perhaps a bit much?

My gut says Alsace, which is beautiful at that time of the year, and easiest to travel to. You could take the train to Metz upon arrival, spend 2 nights there and rent a car to visit Verdun (or you could stay in Verdun, but I really like Metz), then either drive to Alsace or take the train again (a car is less essential there) and stay 4 nights in, say, Colmar or (with a car) a nearby village.
Then go back to Paris by train for the final night.

Posted by
454 posts

The Dordogne region is wonderful. It does require a car. If you want to avoid renting one in Paris and having to drive out of that city, and also avoid a lot of driving on your jet lagged arrival day, consider this plan: Take the train from Paris to Chartres and enjoy one night there. The Cathedral is beautiful. In the evening, you can enjoy Chartres en Lumieres, 23 sites throughout the city beautifully illuminated, from dusk until 1 a.m. On the facade of the Cathedral, it's a beautiful display of changing light scenes set to music. When we were in Chartres for one night, we stayed at the TimHotel, which appears to be newly renovated and now called the Campanile Chartres Center. We had just a five minute walk there from the train station, and there is an Avis rental car facility at the train station. Rent your car there on day two and drive to the Dordogne for a three night stay. I suggest Sarlat as your base. If you are interested in a cave tour to view prehistoric cave paintings, the Rouffignac cave is a great choice. You go into the cave on a small train, with narration so you know what you're seeing. After the Dordogne, drive to your chosen destination in the Loire Valley, perhaps with a stop on the way in Oradour sur Glane. I haven't worked out where you'll return your rental car after the Loire Valley, but presumably you can find a place to do that so you can just take a train into Paris for your final night.

Posted by
3122 posts

I would choose just one of your four listed areas. None are near enough to each other to make it feasible (or enjoyable, anyway) to try to visit two. It really depends on your interests, of course -- if WWII then Normandy for sure. If castles and medieval fortresses, then Loire Valley. I prefer the western end, away from the heavily touristed eastern end that gets day trippers from Paris. We stayed in Azay-le-Rideau at the Hotel Biencourt and would go back there in a heartbeat. Chinon could also be a lovely base; there's an American expat named Jamie Schler on Twitter who runs a small hotel there and does a lot of cooking. I don't know as much about your choices #2 and #4 so I will defer to others about them.

Posted by
5033 posts

My initial thought was Normandy and the Loire; probably because that's what we did on one of our trips. Train from Paris to Caen to pick up a rental car and drive to Bayeaux for 2 nights, and then a night on or near MSM. Drive to Amboise for 3 nights. Drop the car at St Pierre des Corps station (Tours) and train back to Paris on Friday afternoon/evening.

Posted by
1379 posts

Haven't been to the Dordogne region. On the other hand, one trip we rented a car and drove from Paris to Normandy WWII sties to MSM and spent 2 nights. Then we drove down to the Loire Valley and spent 2 nights in Amboise before heading back via Chartres to Paris for our last night - over 600 miles. It was a bit rushed but 6 nights combining Normandy/MSN/Loire would be a nice road trip. On another trip we drove from Paris to Colmar for 5 nights and did a few day trips before heading back to Paris for our last night - over 600 miles plus day trips. Beautiful and the Route du Vin is great. Either way you can't go wrong. If you do the Normandy/MSM/Loire trip minimize your wasted drive time by getting going early the morning you're traveling from Normandy/MSM to the Loire. If you go to Alsace then drive straight from the airport all the way to Colmar (6 hours). Then spend 3-5 nights and work your way back via Verdun to Paris. There is a high-speed train from CDG to Colmar via Strasbourg that is better than driving. You'll have to research the best way to get back to Verdun and then Paris. We were scheduled to take the train to Colmar and back but got caught up in a transportation strike so had to drive; otherwise, I was just going to rent a car in Colmar for a few days. Hope this helps and good luck!

Posted by
1585 posts

Hi Sarah,

I sent you a private message with a doable itinerary that should peek your interest. Take a look at it and let me know.

Take care,

RJean

Posted by
1602 posts

If skipping Paris, bear in mind that you only really have five full days on the ground: you wil continue travelling on the day you arrive, and you will be travelling the Friday before you leave. I'd choose one region and stick with it.

Posted by
23 posts

Hi -- just agreeing with the some of the others. One week sounds like a lot, but transit to/from CDG cuts into the time, so one region might be best.

One of my fav visits to France was Dordogne in the fall. Took the train into the region and rented a car there. It's a great way to explore the region, and a great time of year to experience it.

But the other mentioned regions have a lot to offer as well -- and any of them would be a nice experience.

Kurt

Posted by
3022 posts

Have been to Normandy and the Loire Valley and liked Normandy over the Loire. I have never been to the other places you listed but I would love to spend time in Dordogne.