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First Time in France: Paris and Normandy

Hi everyone,
I am planning my first trip to France in early Oct 2018 and am very much looking forward to it. My husband and I are arriving Oct 3 (Wed) early PM and departing Oct 12 AM (Fri). We want to spend 5-6 days in Paris, one day to tour the D-Day beaches and another day at Mont St Michel. I am debating how best to split our time between these places.

Here are the two options I'm debating:

1) Arrive CDG on Oct 3, immediately head out to Bayeau the same day, spend Oct 4-5 in Normandy and return to Paris on Oct 6-12.

2) Arrive CDG on Oct 3, spend Oct 4-7 (Thu-Sun) in Paris, then head out to Normandy for Oct 8-9 (Mon-Tue) and return to Paris on Oct 10-12.

Initially I was going with Option 1 to minimize number of hotel transfers. However, with many Paris museums and Versailles being closed on Mon/Tue and me wanting to limit museums to 1/day to minimize fatigue, I am struggling with how to fill out our days on Oct 8-9 in Paris. So I am wondering if it would be better to split up Paris and go to Normandy in the middle. Would this make sense?

Thank you in advance!

Posted by Carol
Washington
1602 posts

You don't mention how you plan to get to the D-Day beaches and Mont St Michel. If you are planning on driving yourself, then I think giving yourself a little time in Paris to get over jet lag effects might be an excellent idea before driving anywhere.

I would encourage you to consider spending one night on Mont St Michel itself. I wouldn't have believed what a difference this would make until I experienced it myself. The crowds are huge during the mid-day. The island is virtually deserted late at night and in the morning. One day at the D-Day sites will just scratch the surface. I would encourage you to hire a guide or go on a guided tour for this section of your trip.

Other Paris activities that are fun include exploring a market street, walking or riding along the river on a bike, taking a river or canal boat cruise in Paris, and of course sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
3051 posts

I agree with everything Carol said (wrote). Don't try to drive any real distance (like to Normandy) the day you land, unless you're coming from elsewhere in Europe or you're one of the rare people who sleeps well on planes. Your Option 2 makes sense to me, even though it requires another hotel change.

In Normandy you'll want either a car or a D-Day tour. Caen is a good place to get a car, to drive to Bayeux as a base. Bayeux is a place to get a good tour, also easily reached by train if you don't want to drive.

Staying overnight at MSM would be the best way to experience it, but that's another hotel change. C'est la vie! ;-)

Posted by Tocard
Panguitch, Utah
324 posts

Either way, I might suggest your making hotel reservations for Paris as quickly as possible. September and early October are the busiest hotel times of the year.

Posted by jules m
Twin Cities of MN
1015 posts

You don't say how you plan to get around. When we've gone to Paris, it worked to stay in Paris the first night, then take a train the next day (typically having prepurchased the ticket for savings) and then when we get to the destination we rent a car. Then we do the same thing in reverse. Return the car to a convenient train station and then take the train into Paris. I try not to take a long train trip the day we fly in because then I feel its not wise to prepurchase the train ticket due to the possibility that the flight could be delayed. And I strongly agree with the idea of spending a night in/by MSM. We stayed at a convenient and reasonably priced hotel very close to MSM parking. We took the shuttle over to the abbey in the early evening and enjoyed the tranquility. The next morning we got up and leisurely walked up to the abbey to get in line for opening. We explored the abbey and left at about noon. Once off the island we enjoyed a picnic with views of MSM. I don't mind switching hotels every few days with one night stays here and there. I like to keep the drive/travel route efficient and it doesn't take me much time at all to check in/check out of a hotel.

Posted by janettravels44
Chicago
4307 posts

I would train to Bayeux on arrival and take an Overlord tour of the beaches the next day and the van tour to MSM run by the Hotel Churchill the next day. Reserve. both asap; that way you don't need a car which you don't need if you have this little time and those are your objectives. You don't need to stay at the Churchill to go on their tour but you need to book as soon as you know as this is high season.

then finish in Paris. It doesn't matter that some museums are closed on Mon and Tues because many others are not -- those closed Monday are open Tuesday and vice versa. You will have plenty to choose from. And it you waste a day of your vacation by having to return to Paris the day before your flight from Normandy. This day before departure is prime vacation time when jet lag is over and you want great memories at the end and a relaxing time, not travel logistics.

Posted by sheauchin.woon OP
Chicago, IL
3 posts

Thank you for all the suggestions! There is certainly a lot that I haven't considered. Based on the comments, it seems museums being closed on M/T is not really a big deal, but the potential jet lag is more of a concern.

1) We are flying to Copenhagen on Oct 2, spend a day there, and then fly from Copenhagen to CDG on Oct 3. So we have a pretty short flight to Paris. However, it will be our 2nd day in Europe, knowing us, we'll most likely still be jet lagged that day.

2) Based on your feedback, here's what I'm thinking: take a train from Paris to Bayeux (I found direct trains up to August, but only indirect trains for Sep-Oct, could it be that there will be no direct trains during Oct or is the schedule just not up yet?). Stay the night in Bayeux, then take a guided tour of the D-Day beaches the following day. Stay in Bayeux again. The following morning, see the Bayeux tapestry and then rent a car and drive to MSM. Since MSM is crowded by the time we get there, maybe we could go to Dinan or St Malo first and then return to MSM for the night? Following morning explore MSM, then return the car at Rennes and take the train back to Paris.

Given that we are taking a train to Bayeux, would going straight to Normandy at arrival (i.e. Option 1) be reasonable? Or is option 2 still a better idea?

(I checked flight statistics for our particular CPH-CDG flight and it was 97% on time the past 2 months, of course there is no guarantee that we don't end up in the 3% that ends up delayed.)

I really wish we booked a longer stay but it is too late to change flights now. :(

Posted by Marty
Rockville, MD, USA
214 posts

Hi Sheauchin.woon,

Don't worry about the length of your trip - there are always more things you wish you had time to see (something to come back for)!

There are multiple sites that sell train tickets and some are better than others when it comes to listing all the trains on any given day. You can search previous posts if no one responds with details. I'd probably spend my "almost jetlagged" day training to Normandy and wandering around when I get there, so your Option 1. But it's one of my quirks that I hate moving from one hotel to another so the fewer moves the happier I am.

Oh, when you buy train tickets watch out for the dates. 10.4 is April 10th and 4.10 is October 4th.

Posted by Wray
Quincy, MA, New England
1707 posts

I vote for option 2, doing Bayeaux/MSM in the middle of your visit. I think I'm in the minority, but I prefer to leave and return to the same town, in this case Paris, so when I return it is almost like coming home and I have time to do anything I thought of in the interim before I go home.

Posted by sheauchin.woon OP
Chicago, IL
3 posts

Thank you Marty and Wray for the feedback and train tips! I will keep watching out for the train schedule - it does seem to be just that it hasn't been released yet.