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Ambitious Tentative Itinerary - tour of France in July

We will be attending a wedding on July 16 in Nerac. We plan to rent a car and do the following:

Paris (3 nights);
Colmar (2 nights);
Lucerne or Lugano or Chamonix or Milan (somewhere half way to Pisa) (1 night - this is just a rest stop not a touring destination)
Pisa (1 night) just long enough to see the tower which children (12 yr old twins) really want to see;
Nice (2 nights)
Marseille (2 nights)
Toulouse or Carcasonne (1 night)
Nerac (3 nights)
drive back to paris stopping somewhere for 1 night

I know its adventurous. Love any feedback

Posted by
1708 posts

Ok, since you're asking for feedback, I'd say remove Pisa. I get that your girls want to see it but it's really a non-event. I've been there. It held my interest for about 20 minutes. They're 12 and you're taking them to Europe- there are way better things to see - if you show them other cool stuff, you should be able to redirect them. Your itinerary covers al least 1800 miles in 15 nights - your kids will enjoy this amazing trip more if you scale back the driving. Paris, great. Nerac, great for the wedding. Colmar - like a fairy tale city - your girls will love it. South of France? Great - skip Pisa and add some more time here - there's a lot to see and you're already down here.

Posted by
11437 posts

I agree with valerie completely.too much way too much and going to pisa just for the tower,,,i considerate it as possibly the most skippable sight i have ever seen in europe, and i have done more than a few visits.

Two nights is only one full day , so for Paris you have allowed only two full days????!!!!!!!

Sorry this is a very rushed trip and it seems more about the roadtrip than the stops..you may regret that.

Posted by
15 posts

Thanks Valerie - I know, I know - I need to drop Pisa. It is a real problem for the itinerary. And I agree it seems like a lot packed in - the driving eats up a lot of time! I am most looking forward to Colmar and the Marseille area. My husband and I did a Mediterranean cruise almost 20 years ago and loved Nice, which is why we are staying there for a few days. I've already been to Paris, and we've been to Toulouse and Carcasonne as well. I'm feeling as if the plan is too much but I'm struggling with how to change it (other than the obvious - getting rid of Pisa)

Posted by
7711 posts

As Valerie and pat have said, you are trying to do way to much in such a short time. You will mostly see Europe through the car windows. Two nights is one full day, three nights is two full days, etc. I would also suggest skipping Pisa.

You do not want a car in Paris. Trust me. Pick up your car when you leave there. To avoid driving in Paris you might consider taking the train to Colmar. You can pick up your car there. Three nights in Paris is not enough time. If you skip Pisa you will also save the one night somewhere on the way. I would add at least one of those nights to Paris.

Posted by
2297 posts

I seem to be one of the few on the board her who actually LOVED Pisa. I was ready to skip it when we toured Italy and didn't expect much - and then the Field of Miracles completely blew me away! It's more than the leaning tower. And our kids liked it too.

That said, for us it was an easy stopover on the way from Tuscany to Cinque Terre. For you it would be completely out of the way and doesn't make much sense on this trip. I'd save it for another trip.

You mentioned that you have been to Paris before but I assume your kids haven't? Could you convince your kids that the Eiffel Tower is equally as awesome as the leaning tower of Pisa? And some extra time in Provence could allow for a leisurely day on the beach or maybe at the pool at one of your accommodations? When travelling with kids, such beach/pool days are more important than adding yet another sight to the itinerary.

Posted by
7124 posts

Sadly you will have to break it to the kids that the Leaning Tower is just not possible. Try something like this...

Paris (3 nights)
Colmar (2 nights)
Annecy (2 nights)
Nice (2 nights)
Arles (2 nights)
Carcassonne (1 night)
Nerac (3 nights)
Loire Valley (1 night)

Posted by
3473 posts

Here is another option:

Arrive Paris. TGV-Colmar.

2N Colmar.

TGV-Paris.

4 N Paris.

Fly Paris Orly- Pisa.

1 N Pisa.

Train Pisa-Nice.

2 N Nice.

Pick up rental car, drive to either
Marseilles or Carcassonne. Pick one
2 N , mine would be Carcassonne.

Drive to Nerac.

3 N Nerac.

Drive Nerac- Tours. Loire Valley.

1 N Tours. Drop car.

Train Tours-Paris.

It might seem to cost more, but,by the time you figure in the car rental, parking fees, lodging and tolls, costs will probably be fairly comparable.

I have to agree with the others ...
Drop Pisa. Fly to Nice. Easyjet services both cities.

Posted by
3696 posts

The only reason I would suggest dropping Pisa is because it will use up so much time and is so out of the way. Can you possibly entice the kids with a future Italy trip when this would make more sense???

I also enjoyed Pisa, and had bypassed it many times because of the negative comments here, but when I took my grandson to Italy, he was 9, and the only thing he wanted to see was the tower (probably all he knew at the time) we made the trip. He was thrilled with it. He is an artist and had a sketch pad so he sat and sketched the tower in his sketchbook while lots of adults looked over his shoulder. He later did a painting from that sketch. (I bring art supplies on all trips) So for me it is a very special memory... its not always about some building, but about an experience that makes things special.
As far as keeping the kids attention on France maybe they could each choose a place within reason to replace Pisa on this trip. Often they just want to see someplace they have heard about. I would look at some of the villages or small towns in Provence. Marseilles is interesting but it is a gritty seaport and with so many beautiful towns and villages so close I would look at something else.

They will probably like Eze. Also, my grandkids loved Paris, so you might want to add a day there.

Posted by
15 posts

I am truly so appreciative of everyone's comments....so great to me that people take time to offer advice to a stranger...your comments have been helpful...still up in the air

Posted by
15 posts

And I picked Marseilles because I want to do the Calanques, Pont de gard and drie through Provence and thought Marseille would be good central spot to explore from but perhaps I should re-think that too! so hard to plan

Posted by
3696 posts

I know it is hard... Looking at a map and planning or even reading guide books still does not give you the real feeling of what you have when you get there. If you really want to experience the south of France and the iconic image of cool french villages with amazing markets, beautiful little shops, great restaurants you really need to think more in terms of some villages.

I am not familiar with Nerac, so maybe that is a village. Another place the kids might like if they are into nature and horses is the Carmague. There is a great beach town there as well.... Too many choices:) My favorite place to stay in the area is St. Remy...

Posted by
664 posts

I think you just said your plan -- you are most excited about Colmar and Marseille, so start by planning your trip there. Take the train from Paris to Colmar to eliminate some driving. Possibly take train south as well. I think a better base would be Arles or Avignon, or there a variety of other smaller places as well.

I have 2 teens and we have done 3 European trips with them starting when they were 12 and 14. My general guidelines are 1) try to limit drive times to 2-3 hrs 2) don't pack too much in 3) stay in villages or smaller towns (few restaurant choices make for easier consensus on where we eat), 4) try to stay 2 or more nights in a place. I have boys -- Roman stuff is always a hit. Battlefields are a hit. So are castles. Picnics are good. Hiking is good. We don't do decorative arts. :) I try to visit things they like and keep things varied.

I think you will have a great trip. But I would skip Pisa for sure, and I would skip Nice and other places you have been. Explore new places together! Also, don't feel you have to spend a lot of brine in Paris. We spent 3 nights which was enough as a family. My boys have the rest of their lives to go back and see it better! Of course, I hope to go back again myself!

RS guidebooks are pretty reliable. I find the towns to be as described.

Posted by
15 posts

I thought about doing train for portions but I already booked the car (which I can cancel) and it is $350 CDN for 2 weeks - if I just rent it for our time in the south it is more than that, plus I have the cost of trains to colmar, nice, and then back to paris. That option is a lot more money. And we are only spending 3 nights in Paris - that is enough for our family - we our not big city vacationers - prefer anything but. Nerac is where the wedding is so its non-negotiable. Now I am thinking Paris, Annecy, Pisa (I KNOW I KNOW - but where our trip branches off from annecy to nice (it branches off at Genoa and Pisa is only 2 hours (each way obviously from Genoa - so it's only 4 hours of driving - we will stay 1 night in Pisa), Nice, then somewhere near Aix en Provence instead of Marseilles and then Nerac. The girls will do canyoning in Annecy, we will do Calanaques boat tour, maybe horse back riding in Camarques and then just hanging by a pool/beach.

Posted by
11437 posts

I realize car looks cheap.. but you have forgotten the road tolls you will pay.. and the gas ( way more expensive then here) and parking .. ( parking in Paris runs about 25-35 euros A DAY and never heard of a hotel that offers it for free.. and remember I quoted euros.. not dollars) prices will vary from place to place.. but you will definitely be investing a lot more then 350 dollars.

Posted by
3473 posts

Please look closely at the additional
costs for your car. Go to ViaMichelin
And enter your individual intineries.
It will give your aproximate costs for
fuel and tolls. Figure parking at 15-20
euros per day.
I think from past experience this figure
will be over 700 euro. Have done a
similar trip when our dollar was 1.54.

Posted by
399 posts

You know your children better than any of us. How are they with long car trips? My experience traveling with children and grandchildren that age would say that they won't be as thrilled as you might be. It seems to me that children endure car trips (at best) whereas adults can experience them as sightseeing. So I would agree that spending so much time in the car should be avoided, which might mean cutting out the trip to Pisa. But you also know better than any of us how likely it is that you can promise them (and deliver) a separate trip to Italy in the future to see Pisa. If this is a one time chance, go to Pisa.
Even if car travel is more expensive (remember folks, they'll be multiplying all their train tickets by 4) I'd do it because of the flexibility it gives you and the convenience of having the whole family (and their luggage) together. A car is cozier than public transportation and it will take you exactly where you want to go without having to find still another form of transportation to get from the train station to where you're staying.
And I don't think it's horrible to have a car in Paris. You won't want it for getting around (walking and the metro do a better job) so don't rent it until you're leaving. But I've never had a problem driving or parking in Paris, nor have I found the parking rates to be exorbitant. Unless things have changed since we were there last (2014), you can find street parking close to where you're staying and sometimes it's meter-free.
I hope you have a great trip.

Posted by
12 posts

Everyone has offered thoughtful and helpful suggestions. Here are mine based on your initial trip plans. Your children are 12. They will be teenagers soon. They still adore you, but for most of us our children prefer their own friends and start rolling their eyes in a year or less from now. And may not want to be around you very much. So make this a special family trip. We loved the entire village of Pisa including the tower. RS covers the town well. Only deserves a day. You also said you have been to Nice,
and some of the areas near Marseille. So I suggest making this about your children. Go see Pisa, (visit Lucca and rent bikes to ride the town wall) and stay in the Cinque Terre with some swimming or hiking. Take the trains and ferries between the towns. Wade in tide pools. We loved the Cinque Terre and families were having so much fun. overnight in one or two of the South of France locations you have not seen, or definitely want to see again. You only have your children once. Even if they are disappointed you will have tried. Pisa has horse drawn carts, the Arno River, good gelato. We stayed at the wonderful Hotel Bologna. Lovely location. One other note. You can fly jfk to Pisa on Delta.

Posted by
399 posts

Excellent points from harmsjm about children growing up. So even if you can assure them of another trip just to see Pisa, they won't be 12 again. It also makes sense to incorporate sights and activities along the way to and from Pisa, or at least to consider changing your itinerary in that way.

I remember disapproval from our B&B hosts in Brittany when we told them we were driving to see the standing stones at Carnac and would return to their B&B the same day. They thought it was characteristically American to rush around without pausing to savor the places we visited. I can see how that could make sense, but it's not what we wanted to do. And in retrospect, our way was right for us and for that destination.

Have fun.

Posted by
12 posts

More to consider. The villages of the Cinque Terre are so interesting, but driving into them can be very difficult especially during the summer peak season. You might consider driving to Pisa early enough to see the Leaning Tower before everything closes. We did not go into the surrounding beautiful churches and if the children don't want to climb to the top of the Tower, then you can see it as long as the sun is still up. Make sure you take pictures of the twins in a perspective that looks like they are holding the tower up. Cheesy but it will be a great memory. If you don't get my meaning there will be plenty of people demonstrating.Then Spend the night in Pisa, (the Hotel Bologna has a free shuttle to and from the train station) and in the morning train to Rigiomagiore. From there hike through the lovers tunnel to the next town, Manarola. It was actually a meeting place for lovers before roads were built. There is a link fence in a tunnel opening where lovers still put there locks, so take one along. Then ferry to Vernazza, and hike to Monterrossa. At Monterrossa there is a lovely sandy beach. From Monterrossa you can take the train and stop to see Corniglia on the way back to Piza if you have time. Spend the 2nd night and get back on the road to Nice in the am. Lucca is lovely, primarily for the medieval wall that surrounds the city. It is also much less touristy. But I would only add it in if you decide it is more interesting than some of the South of France. Caution: Trails may be washed out in the Cinque Terre, and ferries do not run in bad weather. You can google it ahead of time. Logistics are pretty easy if you pick up a Rick Steves and get help from the hotel about schedules. Avoid the fast trains as they do not stop in the cities. If the trails are washed out/ferries aren't running the train is reliable and the girls would enjoy it. Very inexpensive, as well. Good luck and have fun.

Posted by
3696 posts

One thing that has made roadtrips with teens more fun is to download the RS podcasts and you can listen to them while on the way to your current destination. I find roadtrips to be boring when you are traveling with boring people... otherwise they can be lots of fun. Make it the trip of a lifetime... they will engage if they are interested in what they are doing... and if they want to see Pisa, there is no way I would disappoint them... If they ask for one thing, then give it to them.... I don't think they will be disappointed, and be sure to take the goofy, iconic photo of them holding up the tower. Seriously, this is supposed to be fun. There are also road trip games that can be played. Make sure they each have their own camera and they will become much more involved in what they are seeing. Also, a journal/travel log that each one has to fill in at the end of the day. They may resist doing it, but years later it will become one of their most treasured items.
It is not only about the sights you will see, but the bonding and enjoying another culture together... and hopefully it is such a wonderful trip it will give them the desire to travel more.

Might be your last 'family trip' definitely the last one when they are 12, but my grandkids want to know at what age they are too old to travel with me! Oldest one is 19! We have such a great time on our trips and I give up a lot of other things to be able to travel.

Posted by
73 posts

Prior to trip purchase 5x7" Moleskin watercolor books, Niji watercolor brushes, perm ink pens, a few watercolor pencils, small good quality watercolor set, good quality gluesticks. Separate set for each kid.
First page - glue in a calendar with blank squares they will use to write the actual itinerary traveled. Each page they can draw, write, paint their impressions from the trip, glue in receipts, cards, etc. Later they can add a few photos.
I do one for every trip I take.
Best souvenir ever.