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Alsace vs. Normandy?

Ok, here's another real apples & oranges question for experienced France travellers. Planning a two-week anniversary circuitous driving trip (avoiding entering Paris) to get our first French countryside experience. Current plan is Reims 2 nights, Verdun (for WWI buff husband) 1 night, Colmar (Alsace) 3 nights, Beaune (Burgundy) 2-3 nights, Loire 3 nights, Chartres 1 night. Alternative would be skip Alsace but add 2 nights Bayeux/Normandy beaches after Loire and sub Rouen for Chartres as last stop before trip to CDG airport. Husband also interested in WWII beaches but visited as a teen so says he could miss if he has to. Wife more interested in attractive French towns and gardens. RT flight to Paris already booked. Can anyone weigh in on pro's and con's of either itinerary? Don't want to be so rushed w/ long drives that we can't enjoy the places we go sufficiently, but hate to miss anything, who knows when we'll be back?

Posted by
1464 posts

My idea what to expect following the “Alsace” route:

-WWI museum Meaux near Paris and CDG, gives a good overview of the war from the
French point of view.
-Explore Somme region with WWI museums in Péronne or Albert.
-Laon, a bit quiet but nice place to stay.
-Reims Cathedral + Palace du Tau, nearby Épernay with Champagne house Moët&Chandon
(Dom Pérignon)
-On the way to Verdun, Meuse Argonne American Cemetery.
-Verdun
-Nancy, Place Stanislas
-Colmar, Riquewihr, Haut-Koenigsbourg, Strassbourg
-Mulhouse, Bugatti Museum
-Beaune, Dijon
-Vezelay, Semur-en-Auxois, Abbey de Fontenay, Guédelon.
-Loire Valley, Château Villandry for the Gardens, Chenonceau, Ambois (Leonardo da Vinci),
Chambord.
-Chartres, nearby Château de Maintenon of second wife Louis XIV is nice
-Certainly to consider also for the garden is Château Vaux-le-Vicomte south-east of Paris
and/or Monet´s gardens in Giverny and maybe nearby Villarceaux.

For more gardens see websites like: www.french-gardens.com

I think in general it doesn´t really matter what route you take as there is so much to see en enjoy in France. But prepare as good as possible and ofcourse include the places you really want to see. With tips from locals there is always a surprise around the corner, so keep some spare time for that in the planning.

Posted by
23864 posts

I don't tend to weigh in on apples and oranges questions because there is no way to give a perfect answer - it all depends on the party having the holiday.

I know which I would do, but that is because I am me.

But - I can say that 3 nights to see the Loire valley (and the valleys of the other beautiful rivers there like the Cher) takes more than 2 days which is what you get with 3 nights when transportation is included. To equate the amount of time taken there in an area which is so spread out and the attractions so large and inexpensive (we spent a whole day and part of another just at Chenonceau Chateau, and had no energy left to contemplate Chambord on a different day, and we were there nearly a week) with the amount of time given to Beaune - which I do like but 3 nights is about twice what I feel is required, but then maybe you will be visiting a number of caves and vineyards that we didn't - isn't balanced.

Part of the problem is that your first trip into non-Paris France (if it is your first trip beyond Paris how can you be experienced France travelers? - but maybe I read that wrong) is going all the way across a quite large country so you can't do it all. Maybe focus and plan on returning?

Posted by
3311 posts

Okay, here we go.

I'm a WWI nut. Over the years I've been to the Verdun area 3 times, 2 by myself. The last time was the most thorough trip in 2012. My husband and I drove through the entire battlefield and visited everything there. That included the Ossuary, the Trench of the Bayonets, the Memorial Museum, Fort Douaumont, Fort de Vaux and simply driving around the area. We spent 2 half-days doing it, but I suppose it could be done in one day, depending on the time of year you are going and opening hours of the buildings. We were there the 2nd week of June and there were no crowds anywhere on either day.

Before that, we spent a couple of nights in Reims. Our B&B owner told us that one of the reasons Reims is so Art Deco is that before WWI there were 13,000 houses (I think he may have meant buildings) in Reims and after there were 70 left standing.

The cathedral is amazing of course, but what many people don't realize is that the WWII Surrender Museum (Musee de la Reddition) is also in Reims. It is located in a school building somewhat behind the train station. It is a small museum built around Eisenhower's war room and it is where the documents of surrender were signed at the end of WWII in Europe. Except for some preservation work, the room has been left just as it was at the end of WWII. See the NY Times article about the surrender.

I have also been to Bayeux and the Normandy beaches twice. Seeing the Bayeux Tapestry (documenting yet another battle in another war -- Hastings, 1066) and taking a one day tour of the beaches is another good choice, but if you have little interest in that and your husband has been there before, I'd stick with the other areas you list.

Depending on when you are going, Monet's gardens in Giverny could be a lovely stop as you circle Paris. If you arrive early enough, it is doable in one day or even part of a day and one night.

You are on the road a lot. Keeping in mind that 2 nights usually means one full day on the ground seeing the things you list, your itinerary is a bit heavy on travel. However, the driving was a delightful part of the trip for us. Keep in mind the speed cameras and don't drive too fast. Voice of experience here.

Posted by
784 posts

I love both Normandy and Alsace, but IMO two weeks isn't long enough for either of your itineraries. I've done similar itineraries in two separate 3 week trips. I can tell you from experience that the drive from Burgundy to the Loire is a long day with virtually no stops or sightseeing - I took the N & D routes and it was grueling. Perhaps now there is an A route, which would be faster, but it would still be a day on the road. France is a large country and trying to go from one side to the other in just two weeks doesn't allow much time for anything other than quick photo ops and long hours on the highway. I think you want to get more out of your trip than that. My suggestion would be to do either Normandy and the Loire or Burgundy and Alsace. That would give you the time to explore and experience France in a more leisurely fashion.

With the Normandy/Loire itinerary, you can go to Givernay, Rouen, spend a couple of nights in Honfleur (my particular favorite), and a couple of nights in Bayeau to explore the D-Day Beaches, then a night at Mont St. Michele. It will be a full day of driving to the Loire, but you will have time for a couple of stops and a picnic. In the Loire, you could spend a couple of nights in Amboise, then one or two near Blois, and visit several chateau. You can then go to Chartres on your way back to the airport, or stop off at Chartres on your way to Reims, and spend one or two nights in Reims before going to CDG.

With the Burgundy/Alsace itinerary, you can stop in Reims for a couple of nights, drive to Verdun on your way to Alsace, spend 3 or 4 nights in Colmar, and drive the Wine Route, then go to Beaune and spend 3 or 4 nights to explore Burgundy, and perhaps stop off at Fontainbleu on your way back to the airport.

Get some good regional maps and guidebooks, then plan your itinerary according to what appeals to you the most, but I truly believe that you will enjoy your trip much more if you select just two or three destinations that are relatively close together, then plan to return to do the other itinerary another time. Minimize the travel -- Maximize the pleasure. Bonne chance and bon voyage.