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France itinerary

Planning a trip with my husband and 13-year-old daughter in late June. We will have about 14 nights. On our last trip to Europe 5 years ago, we visited Paris (5n), MSM (1n), Loire (2n), Beaune (2n), and the Berner Oberland (4n), and we loved every stop, and did not mind the driving or the pace. Murren was our daughter's favorite place - we loved the family-like B&B, the hikes, the amazing natural beauty. So far I am thinking:

Paris - 3 nights
Dordogne - 5-6hrs drive - 2 nights, Sarlat?
Carcassone - 3hrs drive - 1 night
Provence - 2.5-3.5hrs drive - 2-3 nights, not sure which town yet
Riviera - 2hrs drive - 2 nights, not sure which town
Chamonix - 5.5hrs driving map shows through Italy, is this a problem for a rental? - 2 nights
Fly home from Geneva, or drive back to Paris 6.5hrs (depends on flight prices, looking at driving back to Paris at this point)

We could possibly add one more day. I have also wondered if we would be better off skipping the Dordogne/Carcassone and taking the TGV from Paris to Avignon. We missed Colmar on our last trip and I really want to go there, but I don't think we can fit it in this time, either. I have also thought about going to Northern Italy instead of the Alps, would love to see Lake Como area, would love to return to Cinque Terre. As you can see, I am all over the place. Too many places, not enough time and money! Any thoughts?

Posted by
4132 posts

Monique,

This is just my opinion, but I think it's not worth traveling so far out of your way to spend only a day in the Dordogne. And I love the Dordogne. So if you are looking to consolidate, that is a good place to start.

But then, I'd want more time at nearly all of your destinations. I might feel similarly about the Riviera and Chamonix too--or even Paris, since you've been before.

Remember, 2 nights = 1 day.

This is a high-risk itinerary. If it is rainy the one day you will be in Chamonix, you would have spent 3 of your 14 days for very little return. Ideally you'd spend more time there and insulate yourself from that possibility.

I can't tell you what would be best for you and yours, but do take transit time into account, including time spent checking into and out of hotels. The more times you move from place to place, the less time you will have for sightseeing. You are right to think of using the TGVs when possible, as they are faster than driving, at least when on TGV track.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
619 posts

Hi Monique - I did a similar trip in 2015 with my family (including daughters, 5 and 9 years old). They are described in detail in the below linked podcasts (the show notes contain the day by day details too).

http://joinusinfrance.com/trip-report-loire-valley-and-dordogne/

http://joinusinfrance.com/trip-report-provence-and-chamonix-episode-83

My general opinion is that you may get more out of the trip if you choose 3 places to visit (in two weeks) and save the others for another trip. Also, having done the Dordogne to Provence drive, I would recommend just doing it all in one day and moving the Carcassone night to the Dordogne if you retain this itinerary. One night stays are difficult and your hotels probably won't let you check in before 3pm anyway - making one long travel day preferable to 2 moderate travel days.

One more tidbit - my kids loved the Dordogne and the Alps (and the Loire) - they tolerated Provence.

-Matt

Posted by
7395 posts

If you're heading to Chamonix, you might want to also consider Annecy, nearby, since it's a beautiful town on the lake with lots of natural beauty, etc. that you would like. We were there two nights in September and really enjoyed our time there. Of course, I'm making this suggestion if you were thinking you might be dropping a different location.

Posted by
5258 posts

Monique,

Adam & Matt have given you great advice.
I also think you have too many destinations for your 13 day trip.

My daughter & I spent a bit over 3 weeks in France this past June & visited some of the places on your list.

You may consider flying into Geneva then going straight to Chamonix (on day of arrival), then visit Annecy (our favorite), before taking train to Provence. If you want to rent car, you can rent it in Avignon, then choose a home base & drive to nearby towns & villages.

We chose Avignon as our home base after spending 3 nights in beautiful L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
While in Avignon, we visited St. Remy & Les Baux. We'd planned to visit Pont du Gard & Uzès, as another day trip, but we decided to sleep in & just enjoy wandering around Avignon. We then took the TGV to Paris, then on to Amboise, & back to Paris to fly home.

If we'd had a car, we'd have visited Gordes, Roussillon & Lourmarin.

You may enjoy this website about the most beautiful villages of France.

Have a wonderful trip!

I like St-Rémy as a base for visiting Provence. It's a charming town, not too big but with plenty of sights to see, restaurants and shops. There's a ton of stuff within a reasonable driving distance - Avignon, Luberon, Les Baux, Arles, Pont du Gard, Camargue, etc. And the town is easy to get in and out of by car, unlike Avignon.

Posted by
7175 posts

The Dordogne, Provence and the Cote d'Azur are all destinations where you need to spend some time soaking up the atmoasphere - relaxing, exploring, enjoying the food and wine. I think 4 nights at each is a preferred minimum. I would get a connecting flight and start in Nice, or get the TGV from Paris on arrival if a Paris round trip is a far better deal.
Riviera - 4 nights
Provence - 4 nights
Chamonix - 3 nights
Paris - 3 nights
A night or two in Lyon to return the car before taking a train to Paris, would be another option worth considering.

Posted by
15644 posts

With our without David's itinerary, the idea of going south to north - or the reverse - makes mose sense than backtracking.

Secondly, while I understand that you had what may look like a busy schedule on your last trip, you had a long stay at the beginning and the end and only 5 nights of short stays in the middle, with an 8-year-old. You are now looking at stringing together two weeks of short stays with a teenager who may well want to linger more.

Also note that the only thing Chamonix and Murren have in common is a view of the Alps. How long ago was your visit to the 5 Terre? It now gets hundreds (thousands?) of day trippers most days in warm months.

Posted by
70 posts

Adam - You made a great point about Chamonix and the weather. This is exactly why we stayed in Murren 4 nights. In the past we have found that we can get 1.5 days out of a 2 nights stay. Even with a 7hr+ train ride from France to Murren, we still had part of the afternoon to enjoy, in fact this abbreviated late afternoon arrival was more memorable than days 3 or 4!

Matt - Thanks for sharing your detailed itinerary and experience with kids, so fun to read! Sounds like you took advantage of the markets. We love picnic meals, one of my favorite things. Sounds like you skipped the Riviera?

Jean - I would love to visit Annecy, sounds beautiful.

Priscilla - Sounds like you had an amazing trip with your daughter. I am amazed at just how much there is to see in Provence.

Keith - Thanks for the recommendation for St-Remy, I definitely need to consider the car parking issues.

David - I have always wanted to visit Lyon, thanks for the suggestion.

Chani - We visited Cinque Terre in August 2001 and it was surprisingly manageable at that time. Our daughter is a pretty easy traveler.

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. I came up with this plan following Rick Steves' suggested itinerary and number of nights - I knew it was a fast plan but I didn't think it was as unreasonable as others seem to feel. I should also note, our daughter is a good traveler, we are early risers, pack very light, and are great at moving on quickly and early. Aside from the two longer drives, we would easily arrive at our destinations before or by lunch, therefore giving us the rest of the day in the area. We don't get to travel often, so at this point in our lives we would prefer to sample several areas versus spending an extended time in one place.

I am really feeling drawn to the Dordogne, and can add the extra night I hadn't allocated yet here, making it 3 nights. I have one more night that I could add to Chamonix, but right now I am reserving it in case we must drive back to Paris. Should I give up Carcassonne and add the night to Provence? Or even give up the Riviera? I know Chamonix will be very different from Murren, but we are huge mountain lovers, and I really hate to give this up, and I think our daughter will love this.

Paris - 3 nights
Dordogne - 5-6hrs drive - 3 nights
Carcassone - 3hrs drive - 1 night
Provence - 2.5-3.5hrs drive - 2 nights
Riviera - 2hrs drive - 2 nights
Chamonix - 4.5-5.5hrs driving - 2 nights (3 if fly home from Geneva)
Fly home from Geneva, or drive back to Paris 6.5hrs

Posted by
125 posts

My plans for our trip to France in May are similar. I found cheap fares to Paris so we will fly there, get the train for Avignon where we rent a car. We will spend 5 nights in St. Remy, drive to Beynac where we spend 4 nights. We will then take the train from Brive to Paris where we spend 5 nights. We have visited Paris and Provence previously so we have already seen many of the sights. This will be a more leisurely trip. What do others think of this itinerary?

Posted by
4132 posts

Given your commitment to the Dordogne and to Chamonix, the second "most logistically awkward" place on your itinerary is the Riviera. Skipping it would free up about 2-1/2 days.

The first-most logistically awkward place is...Paris! It's the big northern outlier on your itinerary. Compared to flying into Toulouse or Bordeaux, skipping Paris frees up 3-1/2 days. (Not saying you should do this, just saying maybe, depending on your preferences; not hearing any excitement from you about the City of Lights, and it's not obligatory.)

So you should think carefully if you would perhaps have a better trip spending that time in Chamonix and, maybe, Provence.

You will not be bored or disappointed spending that time in any of the places on your route, with the possible exception of Carcasonne.

Note that the drive from Provence to Chamonix is a little quicker (than from Nice) because you are not going though quite so many mountains.

If you do find that your best flight home is from Paris, then starting in the Southwest might be your best bet for another reason. You could finish your trip in Paris without a mad sprint to the airport. But don't forget about the Basil airport; farther than Geneva, but closer than Paris.

Posted by
15644 posts

Monique, I mentioned the string of short stays because it can be a tiring pace when it's for 10-12 days, something to consider.

In the past 5-6 years the 5 Terre (you mentioned wanting to return) has become a very popular destination, especially for day trippers and most especially for cruise ships, which are now making it a port stop. Imagine one or two ships, each with 2000 to 4000 passengers, disgorging them at La Spezia, Genoa and/or Livorno where they have 3 options: 5 Terre or Florence or Pisa.

Posted by
131 posts

You could look at Flying open-jaws into Paris and out of Milan - or vice-versa. I would prefer to start in Milan, because I always liked ending my trips in Paris. Then from Milan you can visit Lake Como and work your way back to Paris.

In the past I've often drafted my itineraries based on where I can get the best airfare and cities that are easiest to travel in between. I almost always flew open-jaws in order to avoid backtracking to the arrival city. If flying to Paris is your only option then I would recommend traveling on on your arrival day, and then ending your trip in Paris.

I think that your latest itinerary is still too much all over the place and I would try to edit down to 3-4 stops that are in a more logical order and location.

Posted by
7175 posts

Look at getting a TGV train for a head start out of Paris to pick up your car.
Carcassonne may be seen in a few hours as a lunch stop.
Choose Nimes as a base so you can easily get to Arles one day and Avignon the other.
Your driving time to the Riviera is not worth it for just 2 nights - allocate it elsewhere.

Paris - 3 nights
TGV train Paris to Angouleme (2.5 hours) and pick up your hire car
Dordogne - 3 nights
Drive (3 hours) to Carcassonne, then (3 hours) to Nimes, Provence - 3 nights
Drive (5 hours) to Chamonix - 3 nights
Return car in Lyon - 1 night
TGV train to Paris - 1 night (or preferably depart from Lyon)
Depart from Paris

Posted by
70 posts

How about this plan? Still too much? I just can't pick which area to cut out. The Dordogne and the Riviera are high on my priority list. I have considered cutting out the Dordogne and taking the TGV south instead, to save time and have more time in the other locations, but I can't seem to bear to cut it out. I am thinking most would skip Chamonix for the Dordogne?

Paris - 2 nights
Dordogne - 3 nights (skip Carcassone, or make as a short stop on the way to Provence)
Provence - 3 nights,
Riviera - 3 nights
Chamonix - 3 nights
Fly home from Geneva

Posted by
4132 posts

I applaud 3 nights in the Dordogne, if you go there, but that long drive to Provence unbroken by Carcassonne or other overnight will demand payment in the form of recovery and decompression in Provence. You will not spring out of bed rarring to go your first morning in Arles (or wherever).

So the argument remains to omit one of your many logistical outliers. Chamonix and the Riviera are priorities, so that leaves Paris or the Dordogne as destinations to ruthlessly save for another trip. I really think if you can bear to make this choice that your will have a better time overall.

Posted by
70 posts

Maybe a shorter trip then?
Paris - 3
TGV to Arles - 3
Riviera - 3, then fly home Nice or train/TGV back to Paris

What itinerary would work to see the Dordogne in the future? This is my second trip to France that I have tried to fit it in. Chamonix is far easier to give up since we have been the Berner Oberland.

Posted by
101 posts

I don't think a shorter trip is the answer, just a smarter one. If you pay for the airfare and have 14 nights, then by all means TAKE 14 nights. I think the smartest thing I ever read in the Rick Steve's book is to assume you'll be back. It took me 3 trips to France to make it to MSM. It just was out of the way from where we were going the other times.

Unless you KNOW this is your very last trip to France, schedule your trip in such a way so that you actually get to enjoy some of places you're going. But then, if you just want to tick boxes, that works, too. It's your trip. If it were ME, I'd take out the Dordogne (or Paris) this trip and leave it for the next trip.

Posted by
1443 posts

What itinerary would work to see the Dordogne in the future?

Yes, it's a little hard to work in because it's not easy to get to. I worked it in last year with this itinerary combining train and car:

Paris - 3 nights
Dordogne (near Beynac) - 5 nights. Train from Paris to Brive (4 hrs); rent car, drive to Beynac (1.5 hours).
St. Remy - 4 nights. Drove Beynac to St. Remy (5.5 hours).
Antibes - 3 nights. Dropped car off at Avignon; train to Antibes (2.5 hours).
Fly home from Nice.

The Dordogne region is spectacular for many reasons: prehistoric cave paintings, food, castles, prehistoric cave paintings, canoeing, narrow country roads, and prehistoric cave paintings.

Posted by
70 posts

FastEddie - I really like your itinerary, thanks for the suggestion!

Posted by
70 posts

How does this sound? I cut out Chamonix in favor of more time elsewhere. The Dordogne is a must see for me on this trip, even though it adds a lot of driving. I know this is still a fast pace, but we like to get a little taste of difference places versus a lot of time in just one place. We are early risers, light packers, and easy travelers. I would like to focus more on natural beauty and experiences versus museums. I am worried my family will get bored in Provence.

1 arrive Paris
2 Paris - celebrate my 40th birthday :)
3 Drive to Dordogne, or train to Brive
4 Sarlat market, scenic loop drive
5 Caves
6 Canoe (should I consolidate Dordogne into 3 days and move this day to Provence?)
7 Drive to Provence base (stop Carcassonne or Pont du Gard)
8 Arles, Les Baux...
9 Avignon... Pont du Gard at night if didn't do already
10 Luberon (overnight here, or day trip?) - Senanque early, Roussillion, Gordes
11 Les Calanques - hike (if open) and/or boat (overnight Cassis, or day trip?)
12 Drive to Cote d'Azur, most of the day to explore, drop off car
13 Nice
14 Monaco and Corniches
15 Fly home from Nice, or train to Paris

Posted by
4132 posts

That latest is tight, but if you are as nimble as you say, feasible.

I think you will find that Avignon will be the lowlight of your trip. I assume (or suggest) that you see it as a day trip, if at all. Tons of other great things to see and do in Provence, so see how you feel when you get there.

Don't miss the Pont du Gard.

Posted by
1825 posts

I like your Dordogne plan. I have driven Dordogne to Provence and stopped for lunch in Carcassonne which was plenty. I found Carcassonne Disneyesque (in the daytime but I can't speak for nighttime). For three people you are better off driving Paris to Dordogne. Definitely stop at the Pont du Gard and consider staying in St. Remy. For the amount of time you have...pick up the car in Paris spend a week in the Dordogne and a week in Provence, drop the car in Avignon and take the train direct to CDG.

Posted by
2732 posts

I think your most recent itinerary is feasible. The Dordogne region is fabulous. However, if your desire to go there is rooted in a desire to see cave paintings, you may want to look into getting reservations ASAP. It may be too late. That said, the Dordogne is more than cave art.