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France 3/20/23 - 4/6/2023

What is a good itinerary for this trip? Flying into CDG, should we travel around and finish in Paris or start in Paris and then travel thru the rest of France?

Posted by
347 posts

You’d need to provide a lot more info. Who is traveling? Where in France are you going? Interests? Priorities?

Posted by
6740 posts

I'm counting this as 15 nights on the ground, assuming that 20 March is when you leave the US (so 21 March arrival).

Without any info about your preferences, that amount of time is good for Paris (which deserves 5-7 nights) + either:

  • 1 large region, e.g. Provence & Côte d'Azur, Brittany, Dordogne & Bordeaux, or the East (Champagne, Alsace)
  • 2 smaller areas close to each other: for example Normandy and the Loire Valley, or Burgundy and Lyon
Posted by
32231 posts

Is this your first trip to France? Europe? How many is "we"? Age groups?

Using trains or driving? How is your jetlag recovery time?

Posted by
2579 posts

Have you researched possible destinations using a guide book or online? The more information you can give the forum, the better answers you will get.

Posted by
11 posts

My wife and I are renting a car in Paris 9am on the 20th, (we leave on 19th and arrive 8am on 20th. Thinking of Ricks France in 2 weeks by car itinerary, but starting in Normandy on Day one and cutting out Nice (even though we heard it was nice)
Han fleur 20th, Bayeux 21&22, Mt St Michele 23 Amboise 24th &25th, Serlatt 26 & 27, Carcassonne, 28th, Arles 29 & 30, somewhere around Lyon March 31`, Colmar April 1&2, Paris 3,4,5, leaving from CDG 5:30pm on 6th
We have never been to France except to change planes at CDG on two different trips.

Posted by
26412 posts

Most of us find Rick's suggested itineraries way too fast. I can't imagine driving all the way from Amboise to Sarlat-la-Caneda in the Dordogne for just two nights! That area justifies at least five nights. The drive will take at least 4-1/2 hours, according to ViaMichelin.com, and that doesn't include any stops, navigational errors, traffic delays, searching for parking or walking from your parking spot to what you want to see.

I wouldn't try to cover the entire length and breadth of a country the size of France in 17 nights. I don't know what the entire mileage is (ViaMichelin.com will tell you and will also provide a cost estimate), but it must be a lot.

Posted by
664 posts

If CDG is your port of entry, it will most likely take longer than an hour to deplane and go through formalities, so thinking you will be at the car rental desk by 9 might be optimistic.
Many experienced posters also say it often isn’t the best choice to drive right after arrival when in a country whose driving rules will differ from what you are used to even though viamichelin clocks the drive in at 2:21 to Honfleur.
Jet lag?
I’m not real familiar with driving in France, but the RS itinerary seems pretty tight if you want to experience any of the proposed towns/places. I recommend at least 2-3 full days anywhere, so 3-4 nights. If you only give yourself a short stay, there are things you encounter or learn about while there, that you will want to include to make your trip more memorable.

Posted by
1089 posts

My only comment on your trip is that Normandy can be fairly cold and rainy that time of year. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Normandy and would go any time of the year. But shifting it to the end of your trip and the more Southerly destinations to the beginning may help a very little with the weather.

Posted by
6325 posts

Your question was "what is a good itinerary," and all I can say is that the driving marathon you outlined later is not it. And I'll agree with the previous poster, and many others, that driving on arrival day after an overnight flight is dangerous to you and others, especially on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar rules.

I suggest spending about a week in Paris (no car), and the rest of the time in a nearby area like Normandy, the Loire, Alsace, or Burgundy. Take a train from Paris to your base town in the region you choose, and rent the car there to explore. Try to find one non-Paris base that has interesting things to see and do, plus convenience for day trips elsewhere in the area. Every time you change where you're sleeping you lose at least part of a day just to packing, checking out, transporting yourselves, finding a new hotel, checking in, unpacking. You don't have time for many such days.

Posted by
22 posts

At the risk of violating guidelines, I will recommend you contact Annie Sargent to assist you with your itinerary. I do not have any affiliation with her other than that I enjoy her podcast. She is a French native who has an itinerary development/review service. Sounds like you may benefit from more thorough help.

Posted by
237 posts

You have travelled to Europe before. So, what do YOU and your companion(s) like to do? Go to churches or museums? Hike, bike, or wander through small towns? Visit chateaux, vineyards/wineries, go to the beach or the coast, drive thorough the countryside? Have you considered spending time in one area to get to know it? Relax? Or is it truly your joy to simply hit the "highlights," without lingering in the markets or over a meal?

Without a tour guide who has organized all your transfers, transport, and meal reservations, you will never keep up with an organized tour. Personally, we avoid organized tours, because we choose to linger, rather than race about.

France is probably larger than California. I couldn't imagine seeing all of California in 15 days. Maybe a few days in SF, then down the coast to LA and San Diego. That would be manageable and would leave out the Giant Redwoods on the north coast, Lake Tahoe, the 49-er country, the Sierra national parks and the deserts.

And so, with France, start with a 5-7 days in Paris (or Paris + Versailles and/or Giverny?) Paris' museums, parks, shops and restaurants may best be enjoyed while you are starting your trip fresh (after that first day of jet lag), rather than at the end of a week or more of traveling that has left you exhausted at the pace you describe. Then, with your remaining 8 to 10 days, focus on just one or two regions, perhaps two that are not too far from each other.

Posted by
5848 posts

We did a 3 week road trip in France and covered some of same places. (14 nights with car)
Firstly I would NOT rent a car on arrival. Take the train to Bayeux and rent it there or in Caen. We spent 1 night in Honfleur and found it skippable, wish we had given the night to Bayeux
Amboise to Sarlat is a long haul- we did it but had 4 nights in Sarlat.

In general you are trying to cover too much ground.
A 2 night stay is only 1 full day and your driving distances mean you won’t arrive in most of your locations til late in day.
Try to give 3 nights to more places. I agree that RS itineraries are way too fast paced.

You have 17 nights on the ground, I’d suggest no more than 5 locations.
Paris could use a lot more than what you are giving it (barely 2.5 days)

Here is what did, we had 22 nights:

Paris 2 (been there before)
Picked up car
Honfleur 1
Bayeux 2
MSM 1
Amboise 2
Sarlat 4
St-Remy 4
Arles 2- dropped car
Nice 4
Flew home from Nice via Paris.

If you get as far south as Arles you might just want to drop car there or Avignon and train back to Paris
Or visit Paris at start of trip look into flying home from Marseilles.

We really enjoyed Bayeux, Sarlat, St-Remy, Arles and Nice. We learned that we really do not enjoy 2 night stays, hate 1 night stays!
Amboise was OK but it was probably our least favorite. Can visit only so many chateaus in a day!

Posted by
6585 posts

Lots of good advice above.

Unless you (and your companion) are both one of those very rare individuals who begins a trip well-rested and free of an accumulation of pre-trip stress, and you always sleep easily on flights...don't expect too much from yourself on your arrival day. Coming off a flight, exhausted, jetlagged, and disoriented, then jumping into a car and driving off in a foreign country...is a pretty high-risk choice. Please consider that arrival day as just something you will need to struggle to get through (awake). Best to simply arrive, get settled in to a comfy place in Paris, go out in the fresh air, walk around and let it all sink in, with your #1 goal for the day to simply remain awake until enjoy you have enjoyed an early dinner (after dinner, hit the sack, and you will sleep very deeply, and mostly recover). For most people, that will be an accomplishment. If you really want to charge off to Normandy right away, pick up your car on the next morning (some folks are still a bit tired and jetlagged after their first night's sleep, but it should be manageable).

I agree with other responders that you are being too ambitious about the ratio of time-spent-getting-there to time-spent-actually-being-someplace. And I say that as someone who often takes a very (sometimes too) aggressive pace. I think you will be hard-pressed to include all your proposed stops in the time you have, and still enjoy the trip.

How about enjoying Paris on your arrival day, next day when you are feeling more like yourself, get the car, head out to Bayeux, Normandy, MSM, maybe a quick slide into Brittany, then head for the Loire, maybe a quickie overnight at Carcasonne (it's a long way to go for a relatively minor payoff considering how far you have to go), drop the car, jump on the train, and take the TGV back to Paris. Spend you last night in Paris, you do not want to crossing any significant distance on the day your flight departs.

Hope that helps. Good luck.

Posted by
11 posts

Bonjour,
Thanks for all the good info, appreciate all the shared experience. We have re-thought the plan to follow the Rick Steves France in two weeks itinerary and are going to start with 4 days in Paris, (we were thinking Paris last for better weather in 1st week of April, but even though I do sleep on planes and don't really get jet lag per se, that 1st day can be rough). After Paris, picking up car and then maybe 2-3 in Normandy area, Stay on MSM one night? Next a stop in Amboise for a few days. But we haven't settled on the rest of the trip, maybe Burgandy (maybe Beaune), a winery tour. Dordogne? Colmar? Reims?
We enjoy museums, cathedrals, art, architecture, history and trying local food and good wine.
We have done RS itineraries in Italy, UK & Ireland, smaller countries and we covered some travel by rail. I don't mind a half day drive, (my commute to work was 1.5hrs, 33miles each way with traffic) driving through the countryside, taking time to stop on a whim has been fun. We have travelled before GPS with Michelin maps so it's a good bit easier now. We pick up a local sim card for our phones so we can get live directions and traffic data. We have still managed to get lost but that has mostly led to a bit of serendipity.
Again, thanks to all who commented.