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A month in France - must sees and what to avoid

My husband and I are going to be in France from the end of August to the end of September. We are flying in and out of Paris where we will be renting a car. Our plan is to head east through champagne down to Lyon, around the Medittereran coast to include the area around Toulose and then up the west coast through the Loire Valley and up through Burgundy, Brittany and Normandy. Then back to Paris for a couple of days, hoping to spend about a week in each section with little day trips. Suggestions son best places to stay and places to avoid? Many thanks - it is overwhelming right now. Sherryl

Posted by
784 posts

Without knowing your interests, it is hard to answer your question. So I'll ask a few. Do you have some good maps? Regional or department maps show the best detail. Do you have some good guidebooks? For a trip like this, I recommend Rick's Best of France and the Michelin Green Guide. If you want to spend a week on each area doing day trips, you need to narrow your scope down to three regions plus Paris. Keep in mind that you'll lose a day every time you move. If it were my trip, I'd do the following: Paris, Normandy, Loire, then Burgundy/Champagne, back to Paris. Do some research, then rough out an itinerary and come back to this forum with questions. Happy planning.

Posted by
11507 posts

Do not keep car in Paris.. you won't need it and parking is $$$

Do book hotel for Paris soon.. September is very much hotel high season due to it being trade show and fashion season.. room inventory goes down because of all the business travellers so tourists will find fewer vacancies and no deals.

Do suggest what your actual budget in euros per night is for Paris.. then people can suggest hotels.. one persons budget price may be anothers expensive price.

Posted by
16894 posts

I don't know that France has anything to avoid, but you can't see everything and must choose some priorities. For instance, Rick has never considered the city of Bordeaux to be on the priority list for a one-month trip around France, although smaller towns nearby could be good stops for wine lovers. You can see his proposed three-week itinerary at http://www.ricksteves.com/europe/france/itinerary and stretch it to four weeks, with a couple of other stops of interest. The details for following this route are well supported in Rick's France book and I also give another vote for Michelin Green Guide as your second guidebook.

Posted by
1548 posts

We prefer apt rentals over hotels. Advantages are additional space, kitchen, sometimes a washer, we prefer the interaction w landlords, economics and interaction w a community. Check out Airbnb as a primer for staying in apts.

We suggest staying just outside of paris and using their excellent metro system to access the city. Doing so decreases expense and increases choices.

We drive a lot. That said, dispel the notion of quaint scenic drives and do consider the expense, hassle of parking and need for vigilante safety of any items kept within the vehicle. Review the total need you think you will have for a car and then compare and contrast the train service which can get you to the same destinations.

Is this your first trip to france?

A month is a long time to spend with someone on a 24/7 basis. Discuss the need for each of you being okay with having some alone time. Also, not every site is likely to have the same level of interest to both parties. We accept that one person may prefer to do an activity while the other person desires to sit and watch humanity flow by.

August is a time when many folks shut down their shops/attractions so strive to learn who will be open during august.

Challenge yourselves to be experimenters of food. Strive to get out of tourist zone eateries and enter places where a tourist is a rare sighting. Take a translation app which can capture an image and translate a menu.

Finally, pack lite! Really lite. Even liter. Luggage is a travel headache.

Finally, you will obtain better guidance by sharing your preferred interests and stating what you do not like to do.

Posted by
7618 posts

In the Champagne region, be sure to visit the cities Epernay and Reims (pronounced Rahnts). September will be grape harvest time, so expect the roads to have the occasional tractor and muddy tire tracks. The countryside is full of World War I gravesites and cemeteries, which make for poignant stops.

If you're a foodie, Lyon has numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, but you should research them and make a reservation well before you leave for France. Lunch can be cheaper than dinner, but still spectacular.

In Brittany, we really enjoyed our time in and around St. Malo. Having a car in Normany will be helpful, especially if you'll be visiting lots of D-Day sights.

Posted by
15673 posts

Try the DK Eyewitness guide "Back Roads France." It has 24 suggested drives in areas all over France. Each section has a detailed map, suggestions for what to see, where to stay, and what time of year is best. The itineraries are usually 3 to 5 days each.

Posted by
11613 posts

Michelin guides have similar itineraries to what Chani suggests. I spent a month in France last year, some of the places I visited were: Paris, Chartres, Strasbourg, Reims, Rouen, Vezelay (great for a daytrip if you have a car), Amiens, Toulouse, Albi, Nice, St-Paul-de-Vence, Orange, Arles, Pont du Gard, Avignon, Poitiers, Nimes.

It is overwhelming, there are as many places I did not see for lack of time.

Posted by
4586 posts

It also depends how many times (if any) you've been to Paris and France. If you're newbies, you should probably try to see all the places you've heard about, even if they are considered "traps."

Posted by
4132 posts

Hi Sherryl.

These are great destinations but I think you should plot them all on a map and rethink your itinerary. You'd be driving in circles if you tried to do what you said in your post.

You can cover a lot of ground in a month, but if you are going to spend much time in Paris I don't think you have enough days left for all of those places.

Posted by
8220 posts

You don't want to be driving on arrival -- or perhaps pick up the car at CDG and drive to a very nearby town like Senlis for a night or two before heavy driving.

The regions I would visit for a week myself would be Burgundy (you can see our week in Semur en Auxois here https://janettravels.wordpress.com/category/burgundy/ I do think the idea of basing in several areas and ending in Paris since apparently it is too late to buy an open jaw ticket is sound. If you have not bought your tickets yet, look into an open jaw ticket perhaps into Paris and out of Nice or vice Versa.

Posted by
20 posts

Thank you so much - you have no idea how much these suggestions will help. This is our third trip to France and our most substantial. One past trip was only for two days and one was for a week -which leaves you only wanting more. We do have maps and driving guides, and of course Rick Steves - but always love to discuss with people that feel the same as you do and clearly you all do - many thanks and believe me I welcome your suggestions.

Posted by
11613 posts

One of my must-sees in Paris, in addition to the other must-sees, is the basilica of Saint-Denis.

Posted by
6670 posts

I'd suggest starting in Paris without the car, renting it when you're ready at, say, Gare de Lyon or Orly, and heading east. You might consider an apartment in Paris if you'll be there for, say, five days or longer, but otherwise I'd suggest hotels to give you flexibility. The route you describe makes less sense than a roughly clockwise circle: Paris, Champagne, Burgundy, Lyon, Provence, coastal Mediterranean, Toulouse area, Loire, Brittany, Normandy, back to Paris or at least CDG. That's actually pretty close to the RS route Laura recommended, in the opposite direction. If it were my trip, and I didn't have other firm ideas, I'd probably follow that route.

Get a good map like Michelin's and consider buying a portable GPS, or a Europe map for your GPS from home (renting one with the car will cost plenty). Keep the itinerary flexible so you can stay longer where you like, get out of where you like less, and cut the whole trip short if time runs short. The autoroutes will get you a long way fast if you want, the back roads will slow you down when you want to savor a particular region or explore villages. I may be wrong, so others can correct me, but except for Paris I doubt if you'll need to plan or reserve rooms ahead. The only reason to reserve, say, a day or two ahead is to save time wandering around a new city looking for accommodations. Even then, stopping first at the TI will probably get you a suitable room quickly.

I like driving and find it easy and fun in France (mostly, except for big cities). A month is a great luxury, more so with a car. You really can't go wrong if you do some research about places you want to see and if you pace yourselves to the time available. I agree that you might want to go separate ways once in awhile -- one to the big museum, the other out to the nearby villages, or whatever, on a particular day, but you know best how you travel together.

Have fun planning this trip. It's half the fun of the whole trip anyway!

Posted by
20 posts

You have all been more help than you can imagine. The ideas are very compelling and having time to plan and replant is half the fun as you said. Is there a good place in eastern France where a side trip to Switzerland might be possible? They seem very close to each other, but I'm not sure. Ideas - again thank you much. Sherryl

Posted by
7072 posts

When you say 'side trip' to Switzerland, are you talking about a day-trip or an overnight? Where in Eastern France will you be? What do you want to experience in Switzerland?

Posted by
8220 posts

I would organize with a week in each area and then pick 3 besides Paris. for me they would be the Dordogne (I might start there and take a train south after arrival and pick up the car there) and Burgundy and Normandy. Then finish in Paris for the flight home (assuming you didn't get an open jaw out of a southern city like Nice.

I would not do Switzerland. For one thing it requires a pricey road tax sticker and for another, it is not that interesting for a short trip compared to France. If you had a week to spend in the high alps it might be worth doing.

Posted by
7618 posts

Annecy, France and Geneva, Switzerland are almost - almost - twin cities. Maybe you could park your rental car in Annecy and pop into Switzerland by train?

Posted by
7072 posts

I'm not sure there is a train from Annecy to Geneva. I think it might be a bus operated by SNCF. Takes about 1-1/2 hr. Might be just as easy to drive to somewhere in Switzerland, just have to make sure to buy the required road sticker.