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First draft of itinerary - critique for me please??

Hello all, my husband and I are planning a trip in late September for our 25th anniversary. I've asked a few questions on this forum and you have all been very helpful, so I am hoping you will be willing to give some feedback on our proposed itinerary. We have traveled to Europe numerous times, but this will be our first time in the south/west part of France. We like history, art and architecture, outdoor activities, beautiful scenery, wandering small towns, sitting at cafes, and people watching. We prefer to stay in smaller towns for this trip, and are considering renting a cottage/apartment for at least one of our stops. We want a semi-relaxed pace for this trip, with time for long lunches and spur of the moment exploring, and will have a rental car. My original plan was to fly into Marseilles and out of Paris, but we have decided to focus on the southern half of France and are now thinking of flying into Montpellier (thanks Ed!) and flying out of Toulouse. Flights seem to work better out of Toulouse than Bordeaux. We have been to Paris several times, and while I love it there, I think we'll do another trip at some point and explore Northern France more so will skip Paris this time. Nothing is booked yet so we can rearrange at will. We'll have 14 nights/15 days actually in France. So here's what I've got so far:

Day 1 arrive Montpellier 5 PM - pick up rental car, drive to lodging - 4 nights Provence - if we don't arrive until 5 PM, will we have time to drive through Aigues-Mortes (maybe for a dinner stop?) as Ed suggested in a previous topic question and still make it to a lodging place before it gets too late?? Or should we go straight to wherever we base and eat dinner there? We can fly into Marseilles and arrive about 12:45 PM - would that be a better option?

Days 2-4 Provence - priorities - Pont du Gard (will it still be warm enough at the end of September to canoe/kayak?)
Van Gogh sights/dinner one night in Arles
one day spent exploring Gordes/L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue/Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque

Can anyone recommend a good town to use as a base for these sights?

Day 5 - drive to Languedoc-Rouissilon, 4 nights there - considering basing in Le Boulou?

Days 6-8 Languedoc-Rouissilon - Sightseeing options - Abbaye St-Martin du Canigour, Abbaye de St-Michel de Cuxa, Ceret, Chateaux of Peyrepertuse and Queribus, hiking, exploring, wandering

Has anyone out there done RS's recommended Madeloc Tower Hike?

Day 9 - drive to Carcassonne - spend one night. Is it worth spending a night here? Better to sleep in La Cite or outside the walls?

Day 10 - leave Carcassonne early, drive to Albi, have breakfast, see Cathedrale Ste-Cecile, Toulouse Latrec museum, drive to Pech Merle for late afternoon tour, then to lodging in Dordogne Valley - spend 4 nights. (This is our longest day - suggestions on better logistics? Would it be better to stop in Albi on the way back to Toulouse at end of trip? Is the museum worth a quick stop? Should we stay the night closer to Pech Merle rather than continuing on to our lodging for the Dordogne? I was trying to minimize one-nighters…)

Looking for a vacation rental in Dordogne, not sure yet where we'll be based. Or would it be better to stay in one of the river towns?

Days 11-13 - Dordogne - priorities - Font de Gaume, Museum of Prehisttory, Lascaux II, hiking, canoeing, maybe Chateau de Castelnaud for Museum of Medieval Warfare, exploring river towns

Day 14, drive to Toulouse arriving early evening, drop off car, take bus into city center, spend one night, have dinner

Day 15 - early afternoon flight out of Toulouse

Thanks so much for any feedback/advice on this trip!

Posted by
5262 posts

I don't know Provence but your itinerary from Carcassonne on seems very doable to me.

Try to stay within the walls in Carcassonne. Late in the day and early the next morning the old city would be quieter and less crowded. The Hotel de la Cite and the Donjon des Remparts are 4-star places, there may be less expensive options. There are several hotels just west of the walls, a short walk. I use Google Earth to scout hotel locations, it might work for you (but avoid Les Florentines north of the walls).

Sarlat is the "big town" for the part of the Dordogne you want to see, and it's well worth a visit especially on market day (Wed or Sat I think). But I'd suggest one of the river towns. You're looking for a rental, but if you consider a B&B I'd recommend Le Petit Versailles just outside Beynac. Friendly hosts, great breakfasts, view over the valley, easy walk down to the tiny village with several good restaurants (best imho is La Petite Tonnelle).

It's nice to see an itinerary that focuses so well and covers a manageable area. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks Dick for your feedback! I visited the websites of the B&B and the restaurant and have bookmarked both of them for reference as I start booking places…they both look amazing! And the nice thing about a B&B is the opportunity for expert guidance, which may be handy as it is our first trip to the region. As I'm doing more research, I see that Pech Merle has a 2:15 tour in English, so we might skip Albi and drive directly to Pech Merle from Carcassonne, then head back through Albi on Day 14 when we drive to Toulouse. One quick question…is Viamichelin.com fairly accurate for drive times in the Dordogne region? Or should I add extra time to their estimates? Thanks so much for your help!

Posted by
5262 posts

In general, Via Michelin and the other online routing apps underestimate driving times. That would be especially true in an area like the Dordogne with narrow roads and many distractions. They assume you're at the speed limit the whole time and never stop to eat or use a bathroom or visit anything along the way. FWIW, we drove from Beynac to Carcassonne in about half a day as I recall, with an early start and little difficulty, but without sightseeing stops. You can really fly on the autoroutes.

Sadly, I haven't been to Pech Merle or Albi so can't advise you there. I'd love to see both. Some on this board, and other friends of mine, highly recommend Pech Merle.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks Dick, I was assuming I'd need to add a little time to their estimates so it was good to have that confirmed. I've moved Albi to Day 14, on the way from the Dordogne to Toulouse. That eases Day 10's schedule and gives us time to get to Pech Merle for the tour in English, which also lets us get to our home base in the Dordogne at a more reasonable hour. And we didn't have anything on Day 14 except driving to Toulouse. I'm trying to leave driving days open to allow for serendipitous explorations:) How early should I book accommodations for the end of Sept/beginning of Oct? I know I should book cave tours as soon as possible, but should I go ahead and start booking lodging as well?

Posted by
5262 posts

Google Earth shows about 2 1/2 hours driving from Sarlat to Albi and an hour from Albi to Toulouse, so even allowing for more time you should be OK in a long day. I'd start booking things now, or whenever you're reasonably sure about your plans. You can change later, but check cancellation policies for deadlines. Some hotel or B&B websites won't accept reservations sooner than a few months in advance, and may tell you they're "full" when they're really just not ready to handle your dates yet. The website should tell you that, or if not you can check by e mail.

Posted by
4125 posts

A very thoughtful itinerary.

Late September should be warm, so swimming in the Gard is possible. The sun sets before 7 PM local daylight time, so keep that in mind for your Aigues-Mortes plans.

There are many towns in the are of the Rhone valley that would make a suitable base for this part of your itinerary. St Remy is popular on this board.

An overnight is the best way to appreciate Carcassonne, with a departure before the tour buses arrive the next day. If you arrive in time there is a tour of the inner keep that is worthwhile.

if you had time (but I don't think you do) I'd suggest a visit to St Cirq on the Lot near Peche Merle. If you needed an overnight stop (but I don;t think you do) I'd suggest taking it there. Do line up your reservations at Peche Merle.

Is the airport at Montpellier really better than that near Marseilles for this itinerary? Mostly asking for my own curiosity, since it wouldn't have occurred to me.

Have a marvelous time.

Posted by
186 posts

Yes, Deanna (and Adam). Montpelier makes a much easier and more efficient beginning for your proposed trip as it's only 40 minutes west of Arles. The airport is small and it's so quick to pick up your car and be on your way. After Arles, we stayed near Joucas, and
also in the perfect town of San Remy. You will have a wonderful trip.!

Posted by
3304 posts

Just regarding days 6 - 8 of your itinerary . . about 10 years ago, we spent some time in that area. We had a very nice stay at Hotel Le Mas Fleurie, in the town of Vernet-les-Bains. It was very well-located for visiting the two abbeys and the nearby town of Villefranche-de-Conflent. The tiny village of Corneilla-de-Conflent, a couple of minutes away, has a Romanesque church with lots of good sculpture. The priory of Serrabonne is also worth visiting for its sculptures. Since it's been so long since we were there, I don't know if the hotel even still exists; but for a very reasonable price, we had a nice modern room, good breakfasts, and lovely, friendly service. There was a swimming pool, filled with warm water from the underground springs, set in a garden, where we enjoyed glasses of wine each evening. Highly recommended.

Posted by
164 posts

Many thanks to everyone for your generous advice and suggestions! I am traveling for the weekend but once I get home next week I will further explore all your recommendations, and will have more questions I'm sure! I was telling a friend tonight how grateful I am for this forum - our trip will be enriched because of all of you! Thanks again...

Posted by
428 posts

Your interests sound similar to ours. Here are some things we've done that are on your route.
Days 6-8: Peyrepertuse is unforgettable. Breathtaking (both for the view and the uphill hike). Definitely one of the most memorable things we've seen in France (4th trip coming up).
Day 9: We didn't stay within the walls at Carcassonne but wished we had
Day 10: We took a French-language tour at Pech Merle, so didn't understand everything that was said but the cave itself was still very worthwhile. If you decide to stay near there, St Cirq la Popie is one of our favorite villages. It's become very crowded during the day but an overnight stay gives you a quiet evening and morning. You can hardly turn a corner without seeing something picturesque.
Days 11-13: I second the recommendation for le Petit Versailles. We've stayed there twice. Mme Fleury's breakfast will knock your socks off - best breakfast I've ever had at a B&B. There are numerous chateaux nearby. Castlenaud http://www.castelnaud.com is interesting as a castle, outstanding if you want to learn more about medieval warfare. One of our favorite places to visit near Beynac is Les Jardins Suspendu de Marqueyssac http://www.marqueyssac.com. I don't know why it's not on more travel websites. Delightful gardens with several little surprises, high up above the Dordogne.
In Sarlat, the market days (Wed and Sat) are very interesting. Market stalls (great food), a fascinating people-watching scene, plus street performers day and night. We planned our upcoming trip so that we'd be there on a Saturday. If you like gardens, try to see Les Jardins du Manoir d'Eyrignac near Sarlat http://www.eyrignac.com. Good explanation about French vs English gardens and nice, varied strolling. It's not small but something about the scale and design gives it that "I could actually live here" feeling (not like some of the more monumental chateaux).
Happy anniversary. Enjoy.