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First time to France/Europe - need suggestions on where to go!

Hi All,
Excited to be on this forum. Husband and I are invited to a party in the Champagne region of France early October 2022, We plan on extending our trip as we've never been. We don't really have a time line as we are both retired. Our thinking is 4-5 weeks, with first week being in Champagne Region exploring with everyone - then we'll venture off on our own. We definitely want to get back to Paris and explore for 3-5 days before heading back to states. We'd like to make our way down to the French Riviera, with several stops along the way...we've been told that Black Hills Germany is nice as well as Interlaken Switzerland -- along with so many options in France.
Thinking about renting a car when we get there, and then once we make our way to French Riviera drop car off, fly back to Paris.

Now we have zero clue if this is even possible, if it is a good idea to drive,
We would so appreciate any and all suggestions. No idea what the weather is like at this time and if it is the same in the different countries. Got my Rick Steves book on France and reading very carefully!!
Thank you in advance.
TJ

Posted by
9547 posts

I’ll add a couple of observations. I’d plan to spend a full week in Paris. Honestly, there is so much to do!! I’d leave this til the end of your trip.

I was on a Road Scholar tour the middle of October. Many of the sites we visited were getting ready to close for the season in the Dordogne region. You didn’t mention this area but if it piques your interest I’d want to be done here by mid-October.

I’d stick to France. Once you start widening your net it’s hard to rein things in.

If you do decide on Switzerland, Interlaken is not nearly as nice as the nearby areas in the Alps such as Lauterbrunnen Valley. Again, timing will matter on the mountain areas.

Posted by
1638 posts

Re: driving - can be done, but really not a good idea right after a long flight that crosses time zones. Instead, you could take the train to Rhiems, say, spend a couple of nights getting minds and bodies adjusted to France time, then rent your car. You don’t say where in the Champagne Region you’re going, but it might all be doable by public transportation.

Posted by
20845 posts

I'm very weather-focused and would choose to spend some of my extra time in France before the early-October activities, because it could be getting cool in November and the days are 100% guaranteed to be getting shorter.

To what extent a car is advisable will depend to a great degree on where you want to go. I've spent about 4-1/2 months in France in recent years (none of the time in Paris) and I haven't rented a car. However, in some areas I simply couldn't get to a cute little town without a car or taking a tour. The Dordogne was one of those areas; another was Provence. Still, I enjoyed the time I spent in those areas; I just had to compromise a bit on where I went.

There's a regional rail line running along the Riviera, plus a good bit of bus service, so public transportation works well down there unless you want to do a lot of exploring up in the hills. Lyon is worth quite a few days, and a car wouldn't be useful for visiting that city, either.

Posted by
1767 posts

I agree with Pam and that is to stay in FR the whole time. Besides, you have no idea what variants will in affect at the time of travel and each country has different regulations making it confusing and harder when crossing borders. You will not be bored with only four weeks in FR on your own.
You definitely want to explore the Dordogne Valley as mentioned above and is best by car. Here’s what I recommend:
From the champagne country rent a car and drive to Colmar and sleep there to explore the Alsace region. From Colmar drive to Burgundy and sleep in Beaune. From Beaune drive to the Dordogne Valley and sleep in La Roque-Gageac. From La Roque-Gageac drive to Provence and sleep there before driving to the riviera where you can drop off your car before returning to Paris. You can take a direct overnight train from the Nice Ville station to Paris. You’ll want to reserve a sleeper car for this experience.

Posted by
3586 posts

I’d start with many days in Paris then end the trip in Nice and fly home from there. I would not leave France for the Black Forest, and the French Alps are just as stunning.

Posted by
80 posts

If you like to ride a bike go to the Lorie Valley for a week. So many wonderful bike paths thru fields, by the river, from one chateau to another. With a car (not recommended on a first trip to Europe) you can travel from beautiful village to beautiful village. Michelin Maps have a map that show all the villages in France that have earned this name, and their all amazing. Yes driving one direction and flying back is the best way to go. If your trip is in-and-out of Paris then save Pairs for the end of your trip. A car or train drive should only be 4 hours per day or less, otherwise the day is wasted in the move. Use your RS France book and keep track of the places that sound too good to miss, look at a map and see what you can easily do without wasting too much time in the move. Sounds wonderful, enjoy your trip J

Posted by
7440 posts

If you do stay with your idea of visiting multiple countries (which I wouldn't recommend given the ever-changing Covid entry rules), please check on how much it would cost to drop the rental car in a different country from the one in which you pick it up. I understand the charge can be substantial.

Posted by
90 posts

What an exciting trip you have ahead of you! Re: visiting multiple countries - we did this this past summer (France and Italy). While it's possible, it did add a fair bit of stress to the weeks before the trip. Covid regulations were changing rapidly and it wasn't even always clear how the inter-European travel regulations would affect Americans (in our case). We stuck with our two country itinerary (we were really fitting together two separate family trips), and had a grand time. We monitored the changing rules/regulations very carefully and made sure to follow things to the letter. So, it did work for us, but if you don't "have" to visit two countries, I think I would agree that sticking to just France will be more relaxing. It will also make your planning substantially easier. Hopefully my mixed messaging above makes sense!

If either you or your husband are American history buffs, a stop in Normandy could be very meaningful if you can fit it in. It's on the far western coast, so it won't flow easily with other itineraries mentioned above (all of which I agree with). The weather will likely be fairly cool and rainy in Normandy that time of year, however, I'd still recommend it. A guided day tour will give you a wonderful, and fairly in depth, look at D-Day and its aftermath. A rental car is necessary if staying for more than one day (day trips from Paris by train are possible - but will be a long day). The area is worthy of a multiple day visit if you can fit it in. We spent a few days there this past summer, and stopped at Giverny on our return to Paris (you'll drive right by). A visit to Monet's house and gardens in Giverny, followed by a stop at the Orangerie Museum in Paris to see the water lily paintings? Magnifique!

Have fun planning!

Posted by
3053 posts

We'd like to make our way down to the French Riviera, with several
stops along the way...we've been told that Black Hills Germany is nice
as well as Interlaken Switzerland -- along with so many options in
France.

As many have said, it might be a good idea to not plan to cross too many borders as it is hard to tell what the pandemic situation will be like in 2022. Also, if this is your first trip it makes sense to not try and see everything.

Thinking about renting a car when we get there, and then once we make
our way to French Riviera drop car off, fly back to Paris. Now we have
zero clue if this is even possible, if it is a good idea to drive,

It sounds like you are making the classic "American tourist takes first trip to Europe"-mistake. Assuming that there are only two ways to get around, by car and by plane. While a car certainly has its advantages in some areas, in other areas it will just be an expensive headache. And from the Riviera to Paris I'd suggest the TGV (300 km/h high speed train) instead.

Posted by
1199 posts

How about flying to the Riveria first and then working your way back to Champagne and then finish off by visiting Paris before flying home? You could fly into Nice and then spend 1-2 weeks exploring parts of both the French Riveria and Italian Riveria (including Monaco) via train. Then you could rent a car for a week-long road trip up to Champagne via the Alps. Break up the 725 mile trip in segments - perhaps spend the first day driving all the way to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. You'll be halfway and after your time in the mountains make another stop or two on the way to your party. Then you could drop the car and take the train into Paris (or drive). You should have 1-2 weeks left for the Champaign/Paris component of your trip. BTW - we did an afternoon drive on one of Rick Steves' recommended routes through the Black Hills a couple of years ago and found it to be underwhelming.

Posted by
20845 posts

For a trip beginning in early October, I'd prefer starting in the north and ending in the south. I like to play the weather odds, though there are no guarantees.

Posted by
27473 posts

If you are coming for a special event is it reasonable to assume you will be bringing special event clothing and perhaps excess luggage? If so then a big enough car may be a good luggage portering service....

Posted by
3 posts

Wow! You are all awesome. Thanks so much for the replies and advice. We can't be flexible (unfortunately) with the starting location. The birthday gal has rented a chateau in the region of Chalons de Champagne, France. Party begins 10/3. The kicker is my niece is getting married on 10/1. So as much as we'd love to arrive early, no can do. So we'll be flying out of Seattle on 10/2. I know it's not ideal to drive to get to the Chateau, but I think it will be the only choice.

The individual that commented on the luggage is correct. Which is why we thought the car would be a good idea, recognizing that we'd primarily use to drive us to the locations and use public transportation to get around once there.

Truly sensing from all that it may be best to explore Paris and not worry about the other countries. I've been told that since the majority of the countries (exception Switzerland) is in the EU (I think I have that right) that the Covid restrictions/requirements are the same when crossing borders. But that's not what I am hearing from the replies.

We definitely will be taking this trip very slow so we can enjoy all of the different areas -- again, another reason we thought about a car.

Thank you to the two that commented on Interlaken and Black Hills.

I will continue to work on some itinerary ideas and float by all, if you don't mind. Any other ideas would be appreciated.

Cheers! TJ

Posted by
2417 posts

Hopefully you have a stack of guidebooks not just from Rick but others that you are working your way through. Also watch as many videos on Youtube as interest you.

As others have noted, at the moment it's probably best to follow the KISS rule and stay in one country. And beware the timing of your shots to keep that country happy.

Posted by
90 posts

Prior to Covid, traveling between EU member nations was almost as easy as interstate travel
In the US. However, Covid changed that - hopefully in a temporary fashion. They attempted to unify around a Green Pass, but even that has shown its limitations. For example, when we visited last summer, both France and Italy had instituted their version of the Green Pass (Italy’s actually hit right after we got there). However, each member nation has its own program and metaphorical hoops to jump through to obtain the pass. We started our trip in France, which at the time had no mechanism for granting their Passe Sanitaire to foreigners. No problem, our CDC cards worked everywhere we wanted to go. But, flying from France to Italy required a QR code, which we didn’t have due to not having the Passe Sanitaire. So, we solved that problem by getting a mid-trip Covid test in France, with official/scannable results (QR code). These particular hurdles won’t affect you, but it’s an example of the things that pop up, sometimes on a day’s notice. Our need for the QR code to fly to Italy was not something that existed on any official government website - according to the Italian government at the time of our trip we simply needed our proof of vaccination and Italian Passenger Locator form. However, while we were in Paris, I read a report on this forum of travelers being prevented from boarding their plane by airline gate agents who insisted that everyone needed a QR code. Whether the gate agents were correct or not almost doesn’t matter - they were the (literal) gate keepers, and those passengers didn’t get on their plane. At a time when rules and regulations can change so quickly, simplicity is key. I don’t say any of this to frighten you off of your trip. We had a FANTASTIC time! But, keeping your itinerary to one country will lessen the chances of such stresses.