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Advice needed on 15-day France driving vacation

Hello,

I would appreciate your advice and suggestions on our upcoming 15-day France driving vacation. Feel free to comment on any aspect e.g. add/remove/reduce/increase stays, routes preferences, must avoid, must see, must eat, must experience :) Most importantly, though, are we stuffing too much into 15 days with lots of driving or is this doable?

We have been to Paris and to Provence but not seen the rest of the country. We like hiking, scenery, culture, and food. We are not wine connoisseurs but enjoy wine. Rick Steves Europe inspired us to plan the below circuit.

So we will rent a convertible from Hertz at CDG, and return it when we return from Alsace to Paris. We are energetic early 50s and have driven between NYC and Canada often so could deal with with up to 7-8 hour long drives.

City / Nights / stay at / Activities

1) Rouen/ 1 / Mercure / walk the old town
2) Honfleur/ 1 / BW Le Cheval Blanc / Visit Etretat and walk Honfleur
3) Saint Malo/ 2 / Oceana Escale / visit Mont St. Michel / Visit Cancale and tour Saint Malo / Walk Dinan
4) Amboise/ 2 / Bellevue Hotel / Visit the recommended Loire chateaus and sights
5) Sarlat/ 3 / Au Grand Hotel Sarlat / Visit the Dordogne towns / canoeing / see the caves
6) Beaune/ 2 / Hotel des Ramparts / walk Beaune and possibly bicycle among the vineyards / see Dijon?
7) Colmar/ 2 / Hotel le Mandelberg / Stay in Mittelwihr and Visit Riquewihr, Ribeauville, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, Colmar
8) Paris/ 3 / Hotel in Marais / return car to Hertz CDG then do the usual Paris sight seeing.

Thank you for your advice!
SuleimanDad

Posted by
16996 posts

Are you flying in from the US or Canada? If so, I would not want to get in a car and drive to Rouen; I would definitely not be a safe driver after the overnight flight.

Overall, the itinerary feels aggressive; I fear that every day will find you practically running from sight to sight, with one eye on your watch. I would prefer to drop a stop or two and relax more.

I am especially concerned about the Dordogne. You will have significant drives to and from the area, and you will have just two days there, which I think you'll find really inadequate to include caves, canoeing and multiple towns. You could easily spend half a day in Sarlat itself, substantially longer if you hit market day. It's great to be in the Dordogne with a car. Give yourself time to really enjoy it.

Have you checked for estimated driving times on ViaMichelin.com and padded them to allow for stops, traffic and finding parking? What about time for sit-down lunches? If I tackled this trip I'd have to settle for carry-out food at midday and would collapse, exhausted, at a restaurant in the evening, quite possibly too tired to enjoy my food.

Posted by
1653 posts

I would really skip Dordogne, it takes you way too far south. Add a night in Colmar, one in Amboise, one in Honfleur, and maybe sleep the first night in Giverny rather than Rouen (which you can skip) for a shorter, safer day 1 drive.

Posted by
16996 posts

Aww, I wouldn't skip Rouen. The historic center is really beautiful (albeit mostly rebuilt post-war).

Posted by
1653 posts

I love Rouen, but the OP is also going to Colmar where they'll have their fair share of half-timbered buildings and medieval streets, hence my thought to skip it.

This being said it's a minor detour off the road from Paris to Honfleur, so it's easy to fit in a few hours' visit.

Posted by
23728 posts

Your time in the Loire is very short. The chateaux are not next to each other and they are all pretty big with lots of estate - each one takes a fair bit of time.

The next day you have a very long drive, and the previous day a fairly decent one too.

But it sounds like it is all planned with all the hotels except perhaps the final one. Are you able to change things or are you looking for suggestions which won't mean changing your nights?

Are you flying from NYC?

Posted by
399 posts

This is do-able. Yes, there's a lot of driving and yes, the distances to and from Sarlat are long, but you've already said you're okay with 7-8 hour drives.
Obviously, this is a tour of "the rest of France" (and only some of that), not an immersion in any one area. You will, therefore, not be able to see and do all the interesting things that you might do if you stayed in one area. But I see nothing wrong with this kind of walkabout (drive-about) if that's what you want. You can always come back and see more of any area that really interested you, or you could design a second drive-about that didn't cover the same areas.
Even driving in France is an adventure if you let it be. The scenery is subtly different, at least for us, maybe dramatically different from where you live. Towns are likely to be quite different. How many centuries-old buildings do you walk past in your daily activities? Getting gas, buying groceries, stopping for lunch are all potential delights.
Remember that full days in an area equals one less than the nights you have allotted. So, for instance Amboise/2 means you have one full day there. Not much time for visiting all the recommended Loire chateaus and sights. You'll have to prioritize.
You may or may not be able to do some sightseeing on arrival day and departure day, but that will depend on how far your drive is that day and what activities you attached to the previous (or next) day's destination.

This may not be everybody's idea of an ideal vacation. It only has to be yours. Have a great trip.

Posted by
27 posts

I think you are moving around to much. Especially in the beginning. We did a similar trip....Stayed two nights in Paris then took a high speed train to Rennes where we rented a car. Had planned several stops on the way to Mont Saint Michel. Ended up just seeing Dinan, which we enjoyed and ended up staying longer than expected. We stopped at a castle ruin which we did not plan but the hubby loves castles....Missed Saint Malo but made it to Concale for awesome seafood. Stayed the night on Mont Saint Michel....just barely made it to eat, dinner. The restaurants close fairly early there. In fact they had closed the kitchen and out of the goodness of the owners heart he had some sandwiches for us to eat. From there we went to the Loire which took a lot longer to get to then planned. We stayed 3 nights in a chateaux and visited 3 of the famous ones. Missed the market in Loches because we were rushing off to get to the chateaux. Driving in this area is slow....they also have radar and cameras that will take a pic of the license. if I remember right just going over the speed limit by 3klm will get you a ticket. No tolerance for speeding at all in france. Locals loose their driving privileges.

We did stay in Colmar 2 nights that trip and enjoyed it. Visited all the town's you listed. Dropped of the rental car in Strasbourg and took the high speed train back to CDG. On a side note we went back to the Alsace region, because I Ioved it so much, for the Christmas markets. We stayed 3 nights and stayed in Kaysersberg at Abbaye d' Alspach loved it! Explored even more of the little villages....

Posted by
4125 posts

Hello Dad,

I think you have the right idea with your Norman itinerary: short hops, close together.

This is a charming unhurried way to travel. The Micheline Green Guide may be very helpful to you.

Amboise is a reasonable jump to the next region, but after that (in my opinion) it gets to be too much time on the road for too little reward on the ground. Just for instance (again, my opinion) the 2 days you would spend in the Dordogne do not justify the very long trips to there from Amboise or from there to Beaune.

That's not a question of "dealing with" long drives, rather of making the most of your time there.

If you really want to cover a lot of ground, try planning an itinerary that makes good use of the trains (which are much much faster than driving), and fly open jaw. You can rent a car more than once as needed.

For instance, after Normandy, return to Paris fo the 2 days you have planned, then take the train to Boredeaux, rent a car, and visit the Dordogne and some other sights in the SW. You can then fly home from Toulouse or Bordeaux.

Or you could take the train to Beaune, spend a few days (you only have budgeted one, what if it rains?) with car and bikes, and then either drive or take the train to Lyon, Lyon is a marvelous place and there are regular 2-hr trains from there to deGaulle for your flight home.

Or stick to the slower-paced road trip idea, which is a fine one, and see more by seeing less.

Posted by
50 posts

Take the train if you can - relaxing and fun. And, you'll generally be downtown, where you want to be.

If not, plan on getting at least one speeding ticket - speed cameras are all over.
Ticket runs about $50 and you'll get it 6 months after you get home.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you so much for all for your thoughtful suggestions and observations. Here are some answers to questions raised and our updated draft plan:

  • Our flight is from New York to CDG Sep 6 arrives 11. We fly out of CDG September 23 midday. We drove from Nice airport after a similar flight last year. Is driving from CDG to Rouen any different from driving in Provence and in New York City?

  • We typically enjoy spending half a day to 1.5 days per city when we cruise hence the rationale for the plan's wide coverage and short stays. We would prefer to not drive as much but we have not done any train travel yet. I see the wisdom in using trains.

Help help help:
Is there a recommended site to learn travel by train in France? How should we prepare for train travel? How much time should I allow myself as a beginner to catch/transfer trains in the station? Do we buy tickets ahead of time? Which site? Paper or digital? Is there luggage surcharge?

Here's the updated plan with Dordogne and Burgundy removed - they would have to wait until next time.

Summary:
- Normandy, Brittany and Loire Valley by car, then high speed train from Tours to Paris and Paris to Strasbourg same day.
- Strasbourg, Colmar, and Alsace villages by car, then high speed train back to Paris to spend 4 nights.

Detail:
---9/7- CDG: Rent a car and drive to Rouen - sleep in Rouen(1)
-9/8, 9/9 - Drive to Honfleur - see Etretat and Honfleur - sleep in Honfleur(2)
-9/10, 9/11 Drive to Mont St. Michel / Cancale - sleep in Saint Malo(2)
-9/12 drive to Dinan - sleep in Dinan(1) - (or we could just spend ~4 hours - any recommendations either way?)
-9/13, 9/14, 9/15 Drive to Loire Valley - see chateaus. Sleep in Amboise(3)

*9/16 is travel day from Loire to Alsace via Paris
---9/16- Train from Tours to Paris. ~2:30 hours
---9/16- Train from Paris to Strasbourg ~2:30 hours

-9/16- Arrive in the afternoon in Strasbourg - Sleep in Strasbourg(1)
--- 9/17- Rent a car in Strasbourg
-9/17, 9/18 Colmar, Riquewihr, Ribeauville, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim(3)
---9/19 --Return car in Strasbourg
---9/19-- Train from Strasbourg to paris
9/19, 9/20, 9/21, 9/22, 9/23 Paris
----9/23-CDG to JFK

Does this make sense?
I look forward to your feedback on the updated tentative itinerary:

Best regards

Posted by
16996 posts

I like both Strasbourg and Colmar. I wouldn't want to split my hotel nights between the two as close as they are. I'm not sure whether that's what you're planning to do.

I think you'll end up spending more time in Colmar and the nearby wine villages than in Strasbourg, so setting up camp in Strasbourg wouldn't be the most efficient choice. It's a much larger city than Colmar, too, which I suspect would make for annoying traffic.

You might do better to stay in one of the smaller villages since you'll have a car.

Posted by
1464 posts

You can stay a night in Saint-Malo longer as it is so close to Dinan, unless you think that that single night in the latter adds to the experience. Saint-Suliac at the right bank of the Rance estuary is worth a short visit.

Posted by
4125 posts

I think your latest itinerary is both sensible and fun. Have a great trip!

Posted by
6875 posts

This site answers all train questions: https://www.seat61.com/France-trains.htm

Land travel is so different from cruises where your bags are delivered to your cabin, you hang up your clothes once, and are spoon-fed three meals a day. You’ll be loading and unloading, looking to eat, interacting more with locals where you go. It’s both more frustrating and rewarding. You’ll get a broader view of the country and a different experience. I’m glad you won’t be spending the time behind a car dashboard but will have more time on the ground.

Posted by
4259 posts

I think this is a more sensible plan, and I agree that minimizing the number of hotel changes is worth a little extra driving time.

The transfer between stations in Paris (Gare Montparnasse to Gare de l'Est) is probably best done by taxi, since you'll have luggage. But if you want to save money, and maybe time also, Metro Line 4 (direction Clignancourt) is a straight shot between those stations (with 12 intermediate stops).

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you all - I now feel much better about the new itinerary.

After some googling and learning, it seems TGV would be the simplest mode of transport for us, train beginners, until we master train transfers. :) We bought direct TGV tickets from Tours to Strasbourg + TGV from Strasbourg to Paris for our last leg.

Final thoughts,
- we decided to stay overnight in Dinan for the quiet and charm of a city preserved after escaping the bombs of World War II.
- fortunately, most hotels we had booked have availability for the new schedule.
- we will not stay in Strasbourg but drive to hotel in a village, as recommended :) We would see a but of Strasbourg when we drop off the car before taking the train back to Paris.

Best regards!

Posted by
14003 posts

Much better. I stayed in Eguisheim for 3 nights with a car. It was very convenient, close to the main road and short drives to visit the other villages and sights. If you go to Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, stop for a visit at Monkey Mountain, and interact with a colony of Barbary macaques.

Posted by
1653 posts

There is luggage storage at Strasbourg station, so you could leave luggage there after you drop the car and spend 2-4 hours to get a taste of Strasbourg ; it is easy to hop on any tram from the station to the center and back, a 10-minute ride at most.