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Best location(s) and season in France for "winging" it.

I know it's not practical - not to mention nearly impossible to do these days - but I really do love taking a trip where I don't know what my itinerary is or even where I will be staying for more than a few nights in front of me. It's how I began travelling years ago and a part of me wants to return to it someday. With that being said, what are your picks for the best area(s) in France to "wing" a trip while minimizing risks (lack of lodging being the main one). I've heard parts of Brittany, Gascony, and around Lyon during Winter may work, but truthfully I haven't been to any of those places.

Any thoughts? Or am I just being silly and nostalgic? Thanks!

Posted by
122 posts

Having been to both the Normandy area and also Lyon, you should be good winging it with a few notes: If you are looking at museums, watch for days they may be closed. Watch those dinner times in both locations. If you have your eye on a Michelan and / or popular restaurant, reservations are wise too.

Posted by
35 posts

Having been to both the Normandy area and also Lyon, you should be good winging it with a few notes: If you are looking at museums, watch for days they may be closed. Watch those dinner times in both locations. If you have your eye on a Michelan and / or popular restaurant, reservations are wise too.

Thanks for the tips! Any thoughts on lodging? Fairly easy to find empty rooms? What about late Fall or early Spring? Thanks again.

Posted by
1469 posts

We too, are interested if it is still possible to wing it. We drove when we were in the UK so we could stay at a farm B&B. We could drive on if we got a "quaintness" overload. We got a National Trust Pass and a Scottish Pass; and really enjoyed visiting stuff in the middle of nowhere and drive right up to the castle doors. We traveled in April/May and September/October...these used to be shoulder seasons. Often the landlady would ask with we needed to get an accommodation where we were headed and would recommend and book ahead for us. I get the travel itch to travel; but when I hear about the crowds and inflated prices I find staying home more comfortable. I live in an attractive, if damp climate, and still have a lot of stuff to discover and revisit. Don't come here...it's getting crowded LOL.

Posted by
122 posts

Keep in mind that early Spring or late Fall will often coincide with holiday's from other countries. That said, if you do not have a particluar destination or room quality in mind, you should be okay Be sure to have good phone data plan and be aware of your surroundings. On the road between Lyon and Normandy there were many travel rest stops where you can get fuel, coffee, and do some lodging reconisence. I'd recommend stopping too early to do this versus too late in the day.

Posted by
8225 posts

If winging it means driving around and just stopping by hotels for a room, don't. With smart phones, it is easy to have done a little research have some ideas of where you might want to stay and then call ahead or go to websites and reserve for the next couple nights.

Posted by
14580 posts

Winging it presents one distinct disadvantage one could well run into, ie the lack of lodging. In France you could still lower the odds of that happening in choosing your itinerary, even in the summer, which is the time I'm there.

As far as I know Brittany offers a good chance for "winging it." as do Northern France and Lorraine, given the image of Brittany in the summer. When you walk around and explore towns in Northern France , say in Amiens, Noyon, Arras, Maubeuge, Soissons, etc) , observe who is there in the train station, the centre-ville...any obvious foreign tourists ? If any, they are French. That was my experience this summer. Only in Rouen and Troyes did I see Anglophones in any number.

No, this desire to "wing it" is not silly, If it is, so what? Do it anyway. In a way nostalgic and may not be practical, as regards to expenses. If you do decide on this option of "winging it," I would suggest that in each town/city you check out the Tourist Office. I found it very useful in talking to the friendly and helpful staff in every T.O. I entered, be it in Rouen, Albert/Somme, Troyes, Thionville, etc.

Would I do this option? Not normally, but I am a lot more tempted to do so in France (and most likely will do some of that next summer when I get back to France) than in other countries. "Winging it" is a minor option.

Posted by
27414 posts

Winging it in smaller cities will be easier with a rental car. I tried just showing up in town on a train and checking with the local tourist office in 2015 and it didn't always go well. For one thing, tourist offices are often not located near the train station these days. For another, they don't necessarily help with room bookings. For a third, there may not even be a staffed tourist office. For a fourth, it is still possible (though very unlikely in most countries) to encounter a tourist office where English is not at all well spoken. It has happened to me once in Poland and once in Turkey (not in Istanbul). If you like to go to less-visited cities, you'll be in places where there isn't necessarily a great need for foreign-language skills, and the T.O. staffing may reflect that.

My technique is now to check booking.com a few days before I anticipate arriving in a new city. On a few occasions that has allowed me to identify a problematic location and either skip it or make my peace with paying double the usual room rate because there's something special going on.

When I'm heading for a place where I'm uncertain of how many nights will be needed, I try not to book anything at my anticipated following destination. That way, I'm free to extend in the first city if I want to--assuming I can find a room on short notice. I've usually been fortunate with that, though the rate may be higher. Occasionally I've needed to switch hotels. Extending stays is likely to be a lot more challenging if you're in an apartment and want to stay on; what are the odds that particular place isn't already booked?

I think if you travel to Normandy/Brittany outside beach season and don't bump into special events, room availability won't be an issue. I had some challenges finding inexpensive rooms with air conditioning in July 2017 (Normandy) and late June 2019 (Brittany). Avoiding a/c season greatly increases the universe of options (for me, at least). Of course, if you're booking not long before arrival, you'll have a reliable temperature forecast and may know a/c is absolutely not needed in that generally-cool part of France.

Posted by
7073 posts

If you have a car, out of the whole Easter - mid-September period, you can find rooms at very short notice in most of the country.

The main exception is school holidays.
Right now is more difficult because of the start of French school holidays (= week of Nov 1 + the week before). Around Christmas + new Year can be tough too (impossible in the Alps), and the 4 weeks from the second week of Feb to the first week of March, inclusive, are very busy in mountain areas (skiing holidays).

The other exception is special events, the first that comes to mind is Xmas markets in Alsace.

Posted by
9866 posts

The other factor is how much stretch your budget allows

Posted by
2022 posts

Before internet I always used catalogues of B&B / home rental organizations and there was always somewhere a room to find. In popular cities like Chartres it was two times not possible, but easy to find one a few kilometers outside town. With organization "Gîtes de France" it's as far as I know easy to find something anywhere in France. With public transport this wil be hard to, do but not with a car. https://www.gites-de-france.com/en

Driving through the countryside locations of B&B's are still, but not always signposted. If arriving without announcement and no room vacant, you can always ask for help or tips to find another one. It's a bit of an adventure to travel this way and I think still possible today and doable with the technology nowadays available as a back-up for instance.