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First time - 2 weeks - late November 2017

We'll have our home base in a Paris timeshare-Novotel Montreuil and doing a few 2-3 day trips. Normandy&Bayeux definitely, Alsace and Avignon perhaps. Open to other suggestions. Will rent a car, ride train and/or bus whichever seems best. We'll also booking lodging, well, someplace. We have traveled in Europe so are quite comfortable getting out and about.
Also, are there tickets or passes we should purchase before we leave the US, or some best purchased in Paris? ie Metro, trains.

I'm concerned about weather in Northern France Nov 17-Dec2. Any thoughts on clothing? And Paris Walks looks to be closed at that season. Any other tours/activities that may also close in the winter?
And Christmas Markets will be happening then, any tips will be appreciated. I will read Rick's France and Paris guidebooks, but would like any current suggestions you may have.

Thanks so much in advance.

Posted by keith
Eagle, CO
192 posts

We were to Paris and Normandy about that time last year. As far as weather we got everything in Normandy from sunny and 60 to windy and rainy in the same day. Pulled layers on and off a few times. Bring layers with something water proof on top, maybe warm hat and gloves, everyone's cold tolerance is different. The Champs Elysees market was going 1st I believe so we combined it with our day to Arc Triomphe and walked through it. Weather was on and off wet in Paris but not too cold for us Colorado mountain people. If you want the Eiffel tower purchase it ahead. We also purchased catacombs tickets ahead and skipped a long line. The Paris Museum pass was a good value for us if you plan to visit a lot of the museums and it does give you some skipping of ticket lines varying on the sites. We purchased it at a lesser travelled museum so the line was short. Daylight is short so plan things accordingly if you want to see something in daylight. We also used the weather forecast to plan museum days vs outdoor days accordingly. But we had a great time in November, crowds were not bad at all.

Posted by eloise86 OP
MN & FL
2 posts

Thanks so much for your suggestions. Did you drive or ride the train between Normandy and Paris? Glad to hear the tourists were fewer in Nov.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7107 posts

Even in July the weather in Normandy tended to be overcast, and virtually every day brought the possibility of rain, though usually not all that much actually fell. The meteorologists seemed not be able to predict precipitation with much accuracy. It can also be quite windy, especially along the coast, so I agree with the suggestion often made here that travelers rely on hooded waterproof jackets rather than umbrellas. I haven't traveled in Europe beyond mid-October so can't provide first-hand information beyond saying that you should probably expect damp chill if you're lucky and damp cold if you are not. If your raingear is windproof, that will be very helpful.

Check ViaMichelin.com for driving times (recognizing that they are optimistic and do not factor in any stops, getting lost, searching for parking, etc.). Compare those times to the rail schedules on sncf.com. I think you'll find that for your destinations, the train will get you to the area faster. Whether a car will be useful once at your destination will depend on what you want to do upon arrival.

I'm not sure how picturesque the little Norman towns will be in late November, and I'm of the take-a-tour school of thought where the D-Day beaches are concerned. You would surely see far less in a single day of driving yourself around. There is rail service between Caen (huge WW II museum) and Bayeux (origin point for many of the van tours, and home of the Bayeux tapestry and a smaller D-Day museum). There is transportation along the coast in both directions from Caen, but it can take a while to reach the farther destinations without rail service.

In southern France a lot of attractions cut back their hours of operation and even days of operation in the off-season. If you're mainly interested in the major sights (like the Palais des Papes in Avignon), you'll probably be OK, but it would be best to Google for the individual websites and check the schedules. I think there are some less mainstream places that may be closed Mon-Tues or even Mon-Wed. I think Avignon is a large enough city that it will remain pretty lively in November. Incidentally, the Palais des Papes (which is unfurnished) has an exhibition of contemporary African sculpture running until January 2018. I felt it added a great deal to my visit.

Strasbourg is huge and shouldn't be an issue in terms of availability of sights and services. Colmar probably also gets significant tourist traffic all year round--justifiably, because it is gorgeous. Check the schedule to be sure you have an opportunity to see the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. The Isenheim Altarpiece is one of those you-really-should-see-it artworks, and the rest of the museum is worthwhile as well.

Posted by Adam
Boston
3533 posts

You'll get a better rate if you rent your car (or cars; you might want to rent serially) before you go, and the best rail deals on some routes sell out early. But we are not talking a lot of money, and you might value the flexibility to make your plans on the fly, in light of weather conditions. Especially for Normandy.

About "serial car rental": It probably depends how you feel about driving, but for some of us the sweet spot is to use the trains to get from region to region, and cars to explore locally. So, no need to drive from Bayeux to Arles! And besides, you don't want a car in Paris.

Note that most guidebooks, including Rick's, are going to be written for the off or shoulder season. So verify open and closing times, and anticipate early darkness.

Posted by keith
Eagle, CO
192 posts

We did a day trip to the Dday sights with our kids, its all the time we could afford. We took a train to Carentan and met a guide and he drove us around. It was a long day, but doable left t about 7 am and returned about 8 pm. We bought our train tickets at the station there was no advantage to getting them early the train was not near full and price for regular trains does not change. For the Paris Metro we used carnets which are 10 packs of tickets which you can split between people. we were four so we went through 10 quickly, then just buy singles the end if you need it. Just remember to save your ticket until you are out of the metro station and not mix up old tickets with your current validated one as they would check sometimes as you left the stations, I think its a pretty hefty fine not to have a current ticket.