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90 days in France

I’m newly retired and looking to spend 90 days in France. Interested to know if March - May 2020 or November-January 2019 would be better. My schedule is flexible and I want to avoid the summer crowds. Also looking for ideas on how to spend my 90 days. My tentative plans are to stay in Paris, Nice, and Lyon. Train is my preferred transport mode. I will be traveling solo and do not want to rent a car. My interests are architecture, art, wine, food, history and French culture. My goal is to visit as much of the country as I can, however, I don’t want to spend less than a week in any one place. I’m working on my budget now, so, All ideas are welcome. Thanks in advance.

Posted by
153 posts

Sounds like a wonderful plan, Debbie! Just be sure you clearly understand the 90 day stay restrictions for Schengen visits so you do not inadvertently overstay. As to season, I would prefer the spring months, personally, but would slide my 90 day stay into early June. The real crowds don't really hit until a bit later, IME, and you would miss some of the March weather, which can be nasty. You can also avoid some ot the crowds by planning the rural or smaller town parts of your travel for later.

I'm sure you will have a wonderful time!

Posted by
6513 posts

For weather reasons my choice would be March-May.

You'll be leaving Dodge as the tourist season is revving up

Posted by
4125 posts

Debbie,

March - May also enjoys a heck of a lot more daylight.

90 days with no more than a week in one place is, at minimum, 13 destinations (and probably more if you include shorter hops).

Or did you mean day trips from Paris, Lyon & Nice? Because that won't let you cover the country or anything like.

I suggest investing in some good guidebooks soonest and plotting your adventure.

Posted by
17148 posts

I did 89 days in eastern France last year and didn't have time to include Paris. When you start digging into guidebooks, I think you'll find you need to choose between limiting your geographical coverage or hopping around and skipping over some great places. There aren'r many dull spots on the map of France.

I, personally, would not go to France in March or April because of the weather, and for me, November-January would be dreadful. There is a reason why high season on the Riviera is in the summer. If you want to spend some time in Normandy, Brittany or the French Alps, you might consider ending the trip in June.

Don't forget that your count of Schengen days includes both your arrival day and your departure day. I recommend not scheduling yourself in France for the full 90 days. Stuff happens. Flights can be canceled.

Posted by
3340 posts

I am soooo envious. The longest I've spent in Europe as a tourist is 8 weeks. If I didn't have a dog, I'd love to max out the Schengen limit. My husband can fend for himself!

It sounds like renting apartments would be your best option. There are many resources for finding them. Booking.com is my favorite. I also check Homeaway and VRBO. Many swear by Airbnb, but I am not a fan. Typically owners list their apartments on several sources, including smaller ones local to them. Airbnb prices are usually higher than those listed other places.

As with any kind of lodging, dealing directly with the owner could result in a better deal, especially if you rent for longer than a week. I haven't rented apartments solo in France, but I'd guess that you are unlikely to get a lowered price just because you are traveling solo. At least I didn't in Great Britain or Italy.

As to your potential timeframe, it will obviously be darker and colder November through January than March through May. There are many online weather resources. For a quick look, I like Weather2travel.com. you can choose locations and months, choose F instead C, and explore the averages.

For a quick look at France, there's a lot of info under Explore Europe right here on the RS website. You'll need a guidebook for the nitty gritty, but you can go here to start getting ideas for how to spend those 90 days. You will have lots of time to see and experience things in all the categories on your interests list.

These are just a few of my favorites. For art and history combined, don't go home without seeing the caves in the Dordogne Valley or the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux. For heart-wrenching history, visit Verdun and Normandy. For the cleanest lake in Europe, go to Annecy.

There are so many places to go and things to see and do, it's mind-boggling. Don't get overwhelmed. Even with 90 days you will have to prioritize. With at least a week anywhere you stay, you will have time to breathe and just be there. That's a very good thing.

Posted by
12139 posts

Hi,

Bravo on your decision! Given the two time slots listed, my vote is for March to May, since you "want to avoid the summer crowds." That is a personal choice.

I prefer the summer. The spring can be still cold, I've been in Paris in early May, ie this past May, still a bit chilly for a light summer jacket...just depends.

If I had 90 days to spend just in France on a budget level trip, no problems finding places of interest in terms of culture and history...Brittany, Normandy, Alsace-Lorraine, up north, ie from the Somme River to Belgium, the Loire valley, and lots of other sights, and small towns.

Since you're relying on trains, as I would too, study the French rail system, especially the trunk lines, the lines where the TGV run.

Posted by
6951 posts

Having lived in Paris, I’d spend all of March and part of April there because you are in a city, it’s most vibrant then with art expos, concerts, opera, and city life. Everything is in full force, geared to Parisians. At spring break, which is Easter in Europe, it’s like a starting gun goes off and every school group, not only from France but from throughout Europe, heads to Paris for the class trip. That’s when the “summer crowds” begin.
At that point it’s lovely near Nice: clear blue skies, 60-70 degree weather, flowers in bloom, cafés open near the water, and you avoid the heat and traffic jams of July and August. The south is a year-long destination. With family living there, I’ve been there all seasons. On the other hand, when I lived near Marseille, we considered the beginning of May to be the end of our hiking season due to the heat.
I’d finish in Lyon in May, avoiding summer heat, which seems to be getting worse each year.

Posted by
4065 posts

The weather can be dreary in northern France in the winter. Easter school holidays next year for Europe will be the first 3.5 weeks of April, when prices in some places will double and it will be busier. To make the most of the longer daylight hours, better weather I would opt for March to May, but April to June would be better and still without the crowds of August.

Trip Advisor rentals and Booking.com are my preferred accommodation sources.

Posted by
6115 posts

For long-term rentals, is booking.com really a place to look? Just asking.

I'm not sure what you mean by long term, but I booked most of my apartment rentals in Europe through booking.com. These were from 3-6 nights each. I have never had any problems with booking.com for hotels, b&b's, apartments. My one long-term rental (1 month) was through VRBO but working directly with the owner, everything was fine, no issues. I also booked one 5-night stay in a hotel directly through the hotel with no problems. I know it's just one person's experience but I'd start at booking.com for apartments for any length of rental and then try other places if they don't have anything that suits.

Posted by
614 posts

Please don't rule out renting a car for certain areas. Provence and eastern France are best seen by car. I would recommend March 15-June 15 to avoid some of the bad weather in March or start in southern France in March.. Be careful renting some apartments through VRBO or Air B&B their additional fees are sometimes more than nightly hotels. My advice, print out a map of France and draw it into 12 quadrants and pick a locale in each to base. Make sure your locale has a good train station. I just got back from 11 weeks in Europe. Your trip sounds very nice and thorough of France. You will certainly enjoy it.

Posted by
20726 posts

First, I would plan 12 weeks (84 days) you need that time pad just in case. There was a posting here a couple of years about a student who overstayed by one day -- cost her a $500 fine and a new plane ticket because she was delayed long enough to miss her original flight. Second, I would consider an open jaw ticket -- into one city and home from another. Although with 12 weeks you could do a circle route. Nov-Jan is dead of winter and it can be very cold and damp with very short days. March-May would be a much better time weather wise. I would consider starting along the Mediterranean coast - perhaps Marseille, or Nice and moving north to arrive in Paris area by May, and perhaps even coming home from Brussels or London. Play with the airfares a bit to see if there are any cities that have better rates. Also, check rail passes. This is one of the few situations where a rail pass might has some advantage.

Posted by
101 posts

Fellow francophiles, I appreciate the insights provided thus far. At this point I'm digging in to the guide books to work on a better outline of travel thru France. Additional comments are welcomed. J'adore this forum. Merci beaucoup.
Deb

Posted by
4 posts

Hi Debbie—my husband, our dogs and I have done one-month, 11-week, and 3-month trips to France. Our next one is this January through March. We’ve also done shorter visits of one to three weeks. Here are some thoughts...
—Definitely travel March to May. Longer days, markets will be in full swing.
—We used to use exclusively Homeaway/VRBO. Now we also use AirBnB. I would also check out Rentaplaceinfrance.com.
Work from south to north. This allows you to use the same wardrobe for the entire trip.
Start your trip in Nice! It’s very user-friendly, and the weather will be mild but not hot. It’s a great hub for day trips along the Cote d’Azur and slightly inland. We found Nice to be very liveable, with lots to do and fantastic train and bus connections (you can travel from Nice nearly to Italy for one euro fifty pounds on the bus!). Nice Pebbles, AirBnB, and rentaplaceinfrance.com have tons of long-term listings.
End your stay in Paris. It is endlessly interesting and beautiful, and easy day trips abound.
Use your middle month for some one-week explorations. I would suggest heading west or east, but not both. A great itinerary heading westerly would be a week in Avignon, then Bordeaux, then Bretagne and the Loire Valley.
A possible eastern trip could include Lyon, Burgundy, Champagne, and Normandy.
You will love your extended stay in La Belle France! Enjoy!

Posted by
12139 posts

As to digging into guide books, if you're not doing this already, I would also suggest using the "Michelin Green" guide too.

Posted by
7327 posts

I would follow Bets advice, which is always stellar. It also makes the most sense to me for the reasons she gave.

Posted by
86 posts

Debbie, I just started a three-month stay in France. I have an EU passport, so I hope the Schengen fanatics will not ask me for an itinerary. I'm currently in a fantastic AirBnB in Franconville, a northern suburb of Paris. I chose this for my own reasons that I won't go into here, but it was a good choice for me. So far, we've done one day in the city and will go again today and on Saturday. Thursday, Giverny. Our next stop is Sarlat, which isn't super convenient to get to from Paris, but I really want to be there right now for the food and--well, the food, really. I will probably rent a car there for a day or two to see the caves, but I might opt for some other means of transportation. We'll be there for two weeks. Not sure precisely where we'll go after, but probably Carcassonne, then Provence. I booked in Colmar for a week in December, right before we head back to Paris for Christmas with some friends from home. From Colmar, we will take a couple of easy day trips--Strasbourg, etc. We came to Paris from Bruges, which we loved. I realize it's not in France, but it's pretty close. I find I prefer these smaller cities.

This is the second three months of a one-year trip, and the first three months were extensively planned and very, very busy, so the France interlude is a slow-down time for us to enjoy life more than sightseeing. I've actually cooked this week. One thing I wish I had considered more seriously was a rail pass. A previous poster mentioned that your situation is one in which a pass might actually make sense. I'm not sure I agree because if you are planning ahead, you'll get the better fares that make the rail pass too expensive. My situation, where I haven't planned very far ahead, is one in which a rail pass may have saved me some money and hassle. A great resource for train travel is The Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com). Fair warning: it can be a bit of a rabbit hole, a lot like this forum, I guess.

Wherever you decide to go, I hope you have a great time.

Posted by
6951 posts

Susan--that's very nice of you, thanks.

However, you and I may be off-base on this one because we're looking at it from the points of view of people who have lived in Paris. With a month in Paris, I was seeing debbie as a resident, someone who would join groups, go to neighborhood Sunday concerts, expand beyond the tourist track. Weather wouldn't matter but the activities for the English-speaking community would. For example, there's an occasional poster here, Holly, who goes to Paris for three months every few winters and joins a group of ex-pats at Le Select Cafe every Sunday morning.

On the other hand, others, and maybe debbie, are seeing Paris as a base for tourism. In that case, it would indeed be better starting in the south. I like the last suggestion of needing to pack only one type of clothes--but be sure you include a lot of layers--I've run into many freezing Junes north of the Loire. Very unpredictable.

My only caveat (again) is that Paris explodes with tourists starting April 1st. March is more mellow but full of Parisians.

What do you think, Susan?

Posted by
7327 posts

Bets, I still like your first advice best. Even as a tourist, there is so much to see, do, experience in Paris (as you know), then, add in day trips and a month isn’t even enough time. I wasn’t thinking in respect to being a resident, but of a tourist. I also like your plan as it avoids the hordes of tourists in Paris. I would never go to Paris in the summer months (if I have a choice) because of that. Hordes of tourists really ruin Paris for me. Plus, it can be brutally hot in the summer.
Of the two time periods debbie’s considering, March-May would be my first choice, but I’d still be very happy w Nov-Jan. I spent February 2017 in Paris and the weather was fantastic. Sunny, blue skies, no rain, in the 50s and low 60s during the day. Perfect weather for walking, which Paris is made for.
But it goes w/o saying, you never know what the weather will be on any given day.

Posted by
101 posts

I j’adore this forum! The guidance is welcomed and I’m taking it all in. My intent is to live as a local, I will certainly visit some ‘tourist’ sites while in the country simply because there are so many layers to experience. As of now I’m into guide books, making notes and trying to figure out the trains😀. I appreciate each of you my fellow lovers of France. I look forward to any additional input sent my way.

Posted by
7327 posts

debbie, j’adore Paris, so I’m biased.. 😊
I live as a local when I’m in Paris and don’t do “tourist” things. However, there’s a grey area w tourist sites such as Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay, etc., which I love and go to. But even though I’m not a tourist in Paris, I still can’t do and see all the things I love there in a month. My point is, if you’re so inclined, at least a month in Paris is so worth it and so rewarding. Bonne séjour!