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Five weeks in France 2017

I'm in the beginning stages of planning a trip to France for my husband and myself in 2017. My plan is to start with two weeks in an apartment in Paris and, then, head to the coast and spend three weeks working our way down to St-Jean-de-Luz, near the Spanish border. We are free to travel from late May until mid-October. I'm assuming that May-June or September-October would be best, but I'm hoping that those of you, who are far more in the know than I am, could help push me one way or the other. Your insights would be greatly appreciated.

After deciding on the dates, my focus will be on finding an apartment in Paris and, then, I'll be back for more expert advice on my ideas of locations to stay along the way.

Posted by
5262 posts

May-June will give you more daylight for sightseeing. The weather should be pretty good. If you choose this time frame, get started soon on the apartment search because the best places will be filling early in the year. September is a busy and expensive month in Paris because of trade shows, but you wouldn't go wrong with the fall months either. In that case, start looking for an apartment in the spring.

Your plan makes a lot of sense to me, you're lucky to have so much time. Two weeks in Paris won't be too long. You'll get lots of advice here about Paris apartments, including cautions about current efforts to enforce local laws against short-term rentals where taxes aren't paid. Your safest bet would be to use an agency that itself owns the properties, rents them out, and pays taxes on the rental income. Or try to get an assurance from the individual owner that taxes are being paid.

Except for Normandy, I don't know "the coast." France really has three -- English Channel, Atlantic, and Mediterranean -- and you have time to drive from near Paris into Normandy, Brittany, and then down the Atlantic coast to St-Jean. You could also spend some time in the Loire Valley looking at chateaux and such, and/or the Dordogne further south. Hopefully you can do this non-Paris part of the trip by rental car, getting it near Paris (a short train ride, say to Rouen or Caen) and dropping it at St-Jean or wherever you want to finish. If you continue into Spain you'll incur a big drop-off fee unless you return the car to France. Consider flying home from Bordeaux or Toulouse to save the time and cost of backtracking to Paris by land -- unless of course you want to see more inland sights.

Good luck planning this trip. You'll get lots of help here with focused questions.

Posted by
521 posts

If you are thinking Bordeaux region - I strongly recommend staying near St Emilion (cheateau grand barrail). It's about a mile from the town. When in town eat at l'envers du Decor. My husband and I are looking for a reason to return but it's not terribly convenient to anything.
Amboise is fantastic too. We stayed at Hotel Le Manoir les Minimes.

Both places just make you want to linger.

Posted by
7136 posts

Sounds like a wonderful plan.
With 3 weeks I would start with Normandy - 3 nights in each of Rouen and Bayeux.
Then move to a base in Rennes for 6 nights while you explore Brittany.
Finally travelling down towards Spain - 3 nights in each of La Rochelle, Bordeaux and Bayonne.

Posted by
672 posts

Dick, that's exactly the information I was looking for - May-June it is! I have inquiries in with two reputable Paris rental agencies. As for the rest of the trip, we will be relying on public transit, which will affect our choices. We've spent time in Normandy, the Loire Valley and the Dordogne, so we're wanting to spend some time along the Atlantic Coast. And, we do plan to fly home from Bordeaux.

Amy, we've stayed at Le Manoir les Minimes, too - loved it! St-Emilion might be a problem without a car, but it sounds very appealing to me.

David, Rennes is on my potential list, as are La Rochelle and Bordeaux. We've been to Bayonne.

Posted by
6727 posts

IMHO September October is absolutely the best time to be in France. For years we had to go in May and June because of my work schedule; as soon as we retired we started going in the fall. This year we spent September in the south of France and October in Paris. The weather is more reliably nice in our experience and yet seldom miserably hot. Given a choice I would also choose the fall. We have had cold rainy miserable weeks in Paris in May (and lovely temperate ones). We have never not had lovely weather in September and October. We just spent October in Paris this fall and last fall.

If you plan to begin in Paris then I assume you plan to fly out of Nice or other southern town. If you are round tripping to Paris then you should plan to train south and then work your way up to Paris and finish there to be there for the trip home. Nothing ruins the lovely feeling of five weeks in France like having to rush back to Paris to catch your plane the day before the flight home.

With 5 weeks, I would choose 3 regions of France and rent in each and explore. For me it would be the Dordogne region, and Burgundy and one other. You could train to Bordeaux and pick up a car there the next day and stay in one of the villages in the region and then perhaps head to Provence next (or the riviera or?) and then to Burgundy and then drop the car on your way into Paris for your apartment there. You can see a bit of our travels in Paris and the region and in Burgundy here:
www.janettravels.wordpress.com
I find I get ideas when I view other people's trip and snapshots. Unfortunately I haven't gotten material up yet on our time on the riviera at Roquebrune Cap Martin and in the Dordogne in Cadouin this September. They were both idylic and lovely.

5 weeks is a great amount of time and your plan sounds great.

Posted by
672 posts

Jane, thanks for your thoughts. I've enjoyed your blog several times during my travel planning. We've seen quite a bit of a France, including generous time in the Dordogne region, Burgundy, Provence and the French Riviera. We've enjoyed it all, but I'm hoping to spend some time in an area that's new to us. I have a pile of French guidebooks in front of me and, judging from them, I can definitely say that the far western side of the country is not a prime tourist destination, but I think we can make a good trip of it. A couple years ago, generous people on this forum helped me plan a trip through Northern Germany, staying mostly in towns that we had never heard of and it was marvelous. I'm hoping to put together a similar trip in France.

I understand the logic of beginning South and ending in Paris, but we love to end our trips in a beach town. We've ended trips with stays in Cassis, Nice, and, on the German trip, at a seaside Spa Hotel on the Baltic Sea. It's such a great way to end a trip! And, after a brief visit to St-Jean-de-Luz several years ago, I promised myself that we'd return for a stay.

Posted by
672 posts

I'm not getting too much help from guidebooks, but I have a potential list of destinations. We will be traveling by train, so that certainly factors into the itinerary. In general, we prefer smaller towns over large ones and we love to be along a body of water. We're not looking for blockbuster sights, but we're more interested in spending our time wandering through town, walking along the sea, enjoying cafes and and people watching. We normally sign up for day trips from some of our destinations. This is what I've come up with so far, but I'd very much welcome insight and suggestions from any of you. Except for Paris, the number of nights per stay is flexible, but three nights is our minimum per destination.

Paris apartment - 2 weeks

Dinan - 5 nights

Rennes -5 nights

La Rochelle - 5 nights

Bordeaux - 5 nights

St-Jean-de-Luz - 5 nights

Posted by
6727 posts

I can see wanting to end in a beach town but for me I learned that the rush back to the town where we flew from just sort of harshed the mellow.

We had planned on St. Malo this fall but my fall down the steps of an ancient ruin, and the subsequent hospital stay and surgery meant we had to drop the Brittany week from our trip. I have visited MSM but nothing else in that region and would love to see Dinan and St. Malo -- maybe another time.

It is tricky without a car, but I will be interested in hearing what you come up with since I think this fall was our last driving trip and there are still some places we would like to explore.

PLanning is the fun part though. And we got lots of good ideas from people in this group and TA when we were planning last year. for example we spent a night in Uzerche on our way south on the recommendation of someone and it was really a lovely interlude.

happy travels

Posted by
5262 posts

Nancy, it seems like you have this plan well in hand. It looks like you would have good train connections for the route you outlined. The D Bahn website shows (for tomorrow, I didn't plug in other dates):

Dinan - Rennes: 1 hour 20 minutes with no changes, shorter with a change at Dol de Bretagne

Rennes - La Rochelle: 5 hours with a change at Nantes

La Rochelle - Bordeaux: 2 hours 20 minutes with no changes

Bordeaux - St-Jean-de-Luz: around 2 hours 30 minutes with no changes

These all make sense to me on paper, short travel days except the one through Nantes. I'd much prefer to drive, for flexibility and easier luggage handling, but you can certainly do this, or variants, by train. I'm sure local buses can get you around your cities and surroundings while you're there. Bonne chance!

Posted by
672 posts

David - Great video😊. France just keeps calling us back, so, yes, we've covered much of it.

Dick - I know that driving would make our route much easier, but, at our rather advanced ages, we think it's best to leave the driving to someone else. I tried to come up with an itinerary that works by train and, as you showed, this looks pretty good. I have a lot more plannng to do, but it's a start.

Jane - As we've gotten older, we've made various adjustments, including having no rushed first or last days of our trip. We usually fly (or take the train) mid-day from our last destination to Paris or Amsterdam and stay overnight at an airport hotel. That gives us an easy morning before our flights home. We would never have done this when we were younger, but we have the time now and it works for us.

I'd be most eager to get any suggestions for stays in Dinan, Rennes, La Rochelle, Bordeaux and St-Jean-de-Luz. Thanks for all of your thoughts so far!

Posted by
1940 posts

We had a month in France once, and the most memorable part was a week on a diy barge on the River Baise, starting in Agen (SW France, not too far from Carcassone). It was such a lovely break. We stopped in tiny villages that see few tourists. One of our most amazing travel adventures ever.

We went in September, which I recommend. Do some research on Locaboat and the River Baise. You don't need any boating experience, just an adventurous spirit.

Posted by
5262 posts

Ina Caro's Paris to the Past (the link is to Amazon) describes many trips you can take by train from Paris to various historic places. Most are day trips but one (recommended as an overnight from Paris) is to La Rochelle. You might find that chapter worthwhile if you can find the book in your library. And you might be interested in some of the other destinations, closer to Paris, for your time there.

Posted by
12980 posts

"...not getting too much help from guidebooks." Have you looked at The Rough Guide France? I agree with your choice of La Rochelle. It's on my "to see" list in France too due to its historical significance.

Posted by
396 posts

For train travel within France, this site is super helpful. Look especially at the touring section. Note that their set prices include travel to and from the UK by Eurostar but they are very flexible and can build you a train itinerary from any starting or ending point, with or without accommodation as you wish.

Posted by
151 posts

Except if you have special reasons/purposes for staying 5 nights in Rennes and 5 nights in Dinan, instead of one of these places I would choose another town not far away (to allow for day tours in Dinan or Rennes), but along the coast, for example St Malo, Dinard, St Briac (called the Emerald Coast).

Posted by
672 posts

Dick and Fred - Thank you for the book recommendations. I have them both on hold at the library.

Cgichard - Your train travel site looks like a good tool for planning. I appreciate the recommendation.

Korriganed - I'll look into St. Malo, Dinard and Dinan. We do enjoy the smaller towns. Would you recommend eliminating Rennes or Dinan?

Posted by
129 posts

La Rochelle seems to be a well kept secret of the locals and primarily French visitors. Relaxing and interesting place to stay. the harbour cruise is interesting and the vistas breathtaking! An excursion to Ilse de Re is worthwhile as is a visit to the Museum Of the New World. Fun to hunt for symbols from the Knights Templar! We stayed at Eden Quested and recommend it. Though suggested that 3-4 Nights here should suffice,

Posted by
11973 posts

I think I'd split time in Brittany between Dinan, to see the northern coastal areas, and Vannes, to see the southern bay and prehistory. Still you will be missing the west end, Finisterra, which has it's own unique qualities.

Posted by
672 posts

Brad, Vannes wasn't even on my radar, but I think it would work for us. If we stay in St. Malo, we could day trip to Dinan, rather than staying there. And, from Vannes, we could day trip to Quimper, a town I'd really like to visit . . . so many options. Switching out Dinan for Vannes gives us a slightly improved train trip to La Rochelle, our next town. Do you have any hotel/B&B recommendations?

Posted by
89 posts

Hi
I have cycled along the coast several times and agree that both Dinan and Rennes are close enough to be covered by 5 days in either. Rennes is a much larger town and a regional centre with regional museums plus is a great transportation hub with easy access to St Malo, Dinan, Fougere and Vitre.
For your second 5 days, I would substitute the smaller town of Quiberon with day trips to Vannes, Carnac for the stone circles, ferry to Belle Isle, and a day on the beach or walking along the coast.

Posted by
672 posts

What an amazing resource this forum is! Thank you so much to all of you who have shared your thoughts.

Alan, I'm so intrigued with Quiberon, a town I had never heard of, and I like the idea of your suggested day trips. I am concerned about the logistics of traveling there by train. I'll need to do some more digging on this. I know that our choices will be limited, but I think we can come up with another good trip by train.

Posted by
396 posts

Nancy, Rome2Rio says you can get from Vannes to Quiberon by hourly train via Auray in just over 2 hours (inc. 3/4 hr changing trains in Auray), or by bus.

Posted by
7136 posts

Ah Nancy, a wave of jealousy washes over me every time I read a new reply to this post. :-)

Posted by
672 posts

David, you clearly should join us!

I need to take a Christmas break now - five adult children, two grandchildren and FOUR DOGS will be descending upon us for the holidays. I'll be back next week, hopefully in just a mild daze, with a whole new set of questions.
Thanks for your many great ideas!

Posted by
7136 posts

Believe me I shall be with you, in spirit at least, and look forward to following how the trip evolves. I am dog sitting for my sister who is interstate with her family for Xmas, as is my other sister. That leaves me with alone with my 77yo parents (thankfully we have The Crown on Netflix) and Nellie, the cattle dog cross. My sister lives on the Sunshine Coast, so it's warm weather, walks along the beach, swims in the pool, and cold beers on the balcony - a summer Christmas in Australia. Best wishes all.

Posted by
45 posts

Hi Nancy...Jane and I are so jealous! We would be happy to drive you around!
Over the last few years we have driven around France on multiple occasions. This past September we spent two weeks in Brittany. While we were driving it can certainly be done conveniently by train. Twice we trained to Rennes from Paris and then on to smaller communities. The local regional trains can open up small towns for the walks, food, time on the beach, shopping at markets, etc that you want. Here is a link to help you to get started. It just takes some planning and sounds like you are pretty good at that.
http://www.sncf.com/fr/trains/ter

One of our trips was for a month so we used Frommer's 25 Great Drives in France to help us get started. I realize you are on the train, but it would help you see what towns are where, what to see, and then you can overlay those ideas to the train website. I would encourage you to not feel stuck in Rennes for 5 or 6 days but to get further out and then spend nights in the smaller towns. We live in Sisters and come to Portland if you want to chat let us know. Happy travels.....Jim and Jane