My wife and I are spending 7 nights in Paris in late September. We are looking for a second location that provides a different type of experience then the large city and very busy pace we will experience in Paris. Willing to ride the train or fly out of Paris to another location for 4 more nights then home. If it helps, we loved our last trip to Rome and Venice because of the their cultural and religious sites and plan on returning to different locations in Italy in another trip but not this one. Naturally scenic and a little lower key than Paris would be great. Any suggestions. Thanks Todd and Patty
Loire Valley to visit chateaus and vineyards.
Nice for the sea and smaller towns (Eze, Grasse, Menton, St. Paul de Vence, etc. etc.) -- many accessible by train or bus.
Strasbourg (and Colmar - wine country, charming villages, wonderful cathedral) is only a couple of hours by train, but I think you'd have to return to Paris for a flight home.
Bruges/Ghent is nice for 4 days, then fly from Brussels. Or The Hague or Amsterdam and fly home from Schiphol (Amsterdam).
We will be headed to Strasbourg after our stay in Paris next month, will more than gladly share what it was like. I imagine it will be quite different from Paris & the french culture as it sits along the Rhine River on the German border. The architecture strikes me as much more german in nature as well :) very excited to visit!
Wishing we had a wee bit more time to take in any of the following Reims, Normandy & http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm as per a friends suggestion. Anywhere in the chateau region intrigues me as well!
Burgundy or Provence would also be good choices.
You could go up to the Normandy coast and explore! We spent 2 nights in Mont Saint Michel as our base.
This is not a direct answer to your question. But " the large city and very busy pace we will experience in Paris" is only true if you allow it to be. If you spend time wandering streets and sitting in cafes whenever you need break, Paris can be very relaxing and slow-paced. And, like many big cities, it's actually a thousand little villages. A walk of just a few minutes will bring you to a different "micro-neighborhood," each with its own local stores, inhabitants, and character. I realize these things can be harder to appreciate if you are not from a big city (coming from New York, I have an advantage). But if you're feeling overwhelmed by Paris, just stop in the nearest cafe, take a seat, and order a beverage; you can then sit as long as you like, and regroup.
I would select from these smaller cities - Reims, Colmar, Beaune in Burgundy, Avignon in Provence, Chinon in the Loire - these by train. You don't include renting a car - then I'd do Giverny and Bayeaux - including the beaches there. Or the Eurostar to London for 4 days could be fun - though not a lower pace. However staying in Hampstead, Regents Park/British Museum area or Kensington/Chelsea would provide quieter areas to enjoy.
I would plan the out of town trip first, ending in Paris -- otherwise you have the raise back to catch a plane which can erase all that relaxed vacation feel. Might as well burn up jet lag day getting to your farthest destination rather than wasting a full day at the end returning to home base.
There are so many villages and chateaux within an hour of Paris that you don't need to bunk somewhere else to diversity your experience. You can see a few examples on my photo journal www.janettravels.wordpress.com in the 'Day trips from Paris' category, but that just scratches the surface their are tons more. e.g. Auvers sur Oise, Chartres Reims, Rouen
Fast train to Dijon, rent a car, stay in Beaune and explore beautiful historic Burgundy while the grape harvest is in full swing. Set your pace as you prefer. If your flight home is in the afternoon, you can get an early morning nonstop train from Dijon to CDG. If it's in the morning, safer to drive or train up to CDG the day before and spend the night there.
Or something similar in Normandy, get the car in Rouen or Caen.
If you don't want to drive, you'll be dependent on train or flight schedules and, by definition, spending your time someplace big enough to have those connections. For the real contrast with Paris, you're better off with a car.
And Harold makes a valid point about the "busy pace" of Paris. Except maybe on the Metro at rush hour, the pace is yours to set. Have fun!
We loved our trip up to Normandy. We based ourselves in Bayeaux, and did all the WWII beaches. They should be beautiful at this time of year. We took a slow pace, and stopped at some lovely inns for lunch. We found the crepes delicious, and the people warm and friendly. Our fathers were both WWII veterans, The museum in Caen was unbelievable. We wished that we could do a half day there, leave and come again the next day for another half day, as it was quite emotional. We sat outside at a café at
Arromanches les Bains and enjoyed the sea. So we had some history, some good food, and lovely little Bayeaux to boot!
We had previously spent a full week in Paris with friends, and when they left we went with them to CDG, said goodbye and rented a car at CDG and got right on the freeway Northbound. Very simple, and the car rental agency (Hertz) was extremely efficient. Contrary to what someone else suggested, if you rent a car in Caen, you will pay for two train fares to Caen, plus the rental car. Doesn't make sense, as the drive is pretty easy, and the freeways are fast and efficient (there ARE tolls).
Other posters suggestions for wine country are equally intriguing! Have fun choosing!