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France train trip help, please

Hello,
I have been reading through the forum posts for a couple months now, working on arrangements for our May/June 2022 trip. I am now stuck, and really need help. My husband and I are late 60-70. We have never been to France, and have only traveled in Portugal, Spain, and Italy. We are from a small town in Oregon, USA, and are most comfortable in small (10-30,000) towns and have chosen not to stay in larger areas when it seems possible. We know we are limiting ourselves by not renting a car, but we are firm on that with the exception of day rentals possibly. We are relying on train and taxi travel. We like to walk a lot, but leisurely. I know many people will disagree, but we do not want to go to Paris! Lyon is even bigger than we prefer but I am sure we will love it. I have been planning for months, but now time is flying and lots of properties are booking up. We were originally dividing our time between France and Scotland, and had tickets to fly from Bordeaux to Edinboro then back to Lyon. I canceled the Scotland portion a couple weeks ago as it seemed too chaotic. That ended up leaving more days in some areas than I want. I don't want to redo all our reservations since some are already booked up, so I need help making use of those extra days. I want to rework the Loire area. We most of all enjoy exploring the town we are in, with limited day trips. We enjoy good food, but not necessarily gourmet. We love wine! We won't be crushed if we don't see all the sights. We are more interested in architecture than museum art. We want to see the chateaux of the Loir, but only 4 or 5.
Here are some of our details: - Arriving Lyon mid May, departing June 14. Cremieu- 2 nights, taxi to and back from LYS. Arles- 4 nights, train. 1 or 2 day trips by train. Collioure- 3 nights, train. Carcassonne- 2 nights, train. Saint- Emilion- 2 nights, train. Tours- 4 nights, train. 1-2 day trips ( Saumur, Azay-le- Rideau). Maybe a chateau tour. Amboise- 6 nights, train. More chateaux. Maybe rent car for 2 days? Beaune- 5 nights, train, maybe rent car for 1 day and hope to do wine tours 2 days. Annecy 4 nights, train. Lyon-2 nights, train. Fly out early ( what was I thinking?)! While I am very excited about seeing chateaux, I think we are spending too much time in this 1 area. Because train travel can be time consuming and tiring, we don't want too may 2 night stays. We also are finding lodging prices shoot up very high on the weekends in some areas, and train schedules require more attention. I have gone over this so many times I think I have stopped thinking fresh! Any help?

Posted by
3799 posts

You are definitely spending a lot of time in the Loire valley, and perhaps not enough in Provence.
Here are my comments:
- Why Crémieu?? It's a pretty village, but it takes perhaps 2 hours to visit and that's it, also it is far from the railways. I would much rather head straight to Arles and add a night there.
- Then, if you want a village experience, consider staying in Pérouges rather than Lyon at the end of your trip. Suggesting it because you fear Lyon is too much of a city, and you're right, it is a bustling city!
- Collioure takes you a bit out of the way and I have no idea what you would do there for more than 1/2 a day. Opinions may differ, of course, but to me it is a "postcard village" type of place. I would skip entirely, and maybe stay 3 nights in Uzès instead, or 2 in Aigues-Mortes if you want somewhere more coastal
- Carcassonne is a 1-night stay
- Bordeaux/St Émilion deserve more time
- Beware of chateau exhaustion. 4 is enough. You do not need bases in both Tours and Amboise, they are less than 30 miles apart.
- You might want to drive between the Tours area and the Beaune area. Bourges would break the journey nicely for a night or two, so would Vézelay.

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks balso! The reason for Cremieu is that our flight gets in too late for the train to Arles, and we will be too tired to wait 3 hrs for the next. But I agree it does not make sense. I just wanted a mellow place that we could get to quickly that day. I will keep working on that. Maybe just spend that night at the airport and take the morning train down. I thought of taking a taxi to Tain l'Hermitage instead, then head down to Arles the next day. Yes Uzes!! I really wanted to stay there, but no train and the taxi was too $$$. We don't drive manual cars, so we don't want to depend on getting one. If we can get one while in the Loir we will grab it, but I have heard you should be prepared for one not being available. If we can, we like your idea of driving to Beaune. The Collioure pick was based on RS recommendation. We will sit and watch the sea... and walk the beach, and drink wine on our balcony... I think I will def cut night 2 in Carcassonne and add it to Saint- Emilion. Any other small place in that area you would recommend? What do you think of staying in Amboise 4 nights then some place like Bourges or Nevers-assuming we can't get a car and have to train- for 4 nights? Your suggestion of Perouges sounds good, and I started the look for lodging. I think Lyon would be fine, though. We could stay at the airport since we have to leave so early the 14th and at least we wouldn't be schlepping around our luggage. Thanks for your input. My husband will be grateful for less chateaux...

Posted by
1760 posts

Just another opinion on Collioure - we loved it. I think three nights there will be great. (We're 70-ish.)

Posted by
84 posts

Thank you Janet! We have a terrace with water view- a big splurge- I don't mind spending travel days just relaxing. I think there are a couple good restaurants too. Did you have any favorites?

Posted by
3304 posts

Since you mentioned Tain l’Hermitage, if you go there, you should visit the Valrhona Chocolate factory. They give lots of free samples. M-m-m. There is another town, Tournon, across the Rhone and reacheable by a pedestrian bridge.. It has preserved much of its medieval character.
I agree with the poster who thought you have too much chateau time. Three would be enough, in my opinion. The interiors aren’t that interesting . You’ll see what we mean after you ‘ve seen the first few.
One that is different is Angers. It has magnificent, huge tapestry of the Apocalypse.

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks Rosalyn! I did know that about Valrhona, but I did not know that about Tournon. The train stops in Tain l'Hermitage, so I had not even looked at Tournon. Some good wine and chocolate should help with jetlag!

Posted by
84 posts

I am narrowing down our chateaux choices. I am more interested in the exteriors than interiors, which I think would defiantly start to blur after a few. Perouges has very little available in terms of lodging. In just the last week the lodgings availability, in general, seems to be getting tighter. I did take out Cremieu, and added 1 more night to Arles. I also added 1 more night to Saint- Emilion. I will need to start booking wine tours soon. I am trying to rework the time spend after we head up towards Tours. I am still stuck!! Getting to Le Mans by train is easy from Tours/Amboise, so I am wondering about small towns close to Le Mans If I take the days from Tours, which I agree are not needed if we are not doing 10 days of chateaux, then I have 4-5 days to be somewhere else. I am not interested in the Dordogne area, primarily because the food does not appeal. We don't eat foie gras (or liver anything), and that seems to be a specialty of the area. I am sure we could find other things to eat but... Any thoughts on how to open up this trip? Please!!

Posted by
3799 posts

A few more comments in no particular order.

While there is more to it than foie gras (thankfully), Dordogne is difficult to visit without a car anyway, so perhaps best skipped in your case.

Le Mans is a great town to visit but there is very little of great interest in the vicinity. Worth 2 nights at most, and best used as a stopover between Paris and Brittany, or between the Loire and Normandy.
Could still be worth the detour once you're done with Amboise/Tours, but would not be my first choice because it is not on the way to Burgundy.

Uzès is accessible by bus from Avignon, so it is feasible to stay there for a few days without a car - Nîmes and Pont du Gard can be visited from there.

There are indeed few hotels in Pérouges, the proximity to Lyon doesn't help.

Posted by
21039 posts

There are some very nice not-too-large towns in the Dordogne/Lot right on the rail lines. I hate liver and all organ meats and had absolutely no trouble finding decent meals. I think you would enjoy places like Figeac, Perigueux, Cahors and Brive-la-Gaillarde. It's true that a car is necessary to get to many of the tiny places, but that doesn't mean the larger towns aren't worth visiting, especially since you'll be in the Bordeaux/St. Emilion area anyway. The Dordogne/Lot places I've mentioned get comparatively few non-French tourists (though the British have discovered them). They're much less touristy than St-Emilion.

Posted by
84 posts

Thank you acraven and balso. Your input is very valuable. I think we will keep a day train trip Le Mans as a possibility. I am looking at Perigueux and Brive-le-Gaillarde. How would you describe the main differences between them?

Posted by
21039 posts

Allow me to correct my misspelling for Brive. It's Brive-la-Gaillarde. I always have to look that up, but I didn't do that on the earlier post.

Brive is a larger town, but I can't say that it really felt that way as I was walking around. They are both nice places just to wander around. Perigueux has specific sights you'll find mentioned in guide books, so it would be my choice. However, I'd also consider the convenience of the transportation available. This is from my notes on Perigueux:

  • Covered MKT daily 8-13 at Place de Coderc, Extra outside stalls on Wed and Sat (the liveliest days to be in town).
  • 12C Cathedral St-Front, restored 19C.
  • Puy St-Front quarter near cathedral has very narrow medieval streets.
  • Place de Coderc uphill from cathedral.
  • Place St-Louis and Place St-Silan
  • Cite Quarter has some Gallo-Roman ruins.
  • Maison Estignard, 3 rue Limogeanne: Renaissance house with corkscrew staircase.
  • Rue Aubererie and rue de la Constitution: Renaissance houses.

You can Google photos Perigueux and photos Brive-la-Gaillarde to get an idea of the overall look of each town.

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks acraven! And thank you for the correction. I will do the photo tour. Based on Rome to Rio ( I will do a more thorough search later) Perigueux seems easier. I am not yet sure I would want 4 nights there. I will do some research.

Posted by
192 posts

You might want to check out Argeles sur Mer; it's right next to Collioure and has a fantastic beach area with a very nice paved boardwalk with good restaurants alongside. We especially enjoyed renting bikes along there. While we stayed in the town a bit off of the beach, we saw very nice accommodations at the beachfront. Use Google Earth to see the coastline differences between Collioure and Argeles.

Posted by
4446 posts

Hi, I will share the links to a couple of my trip reports. The first one covers some of the locations you’re considering in the Loire Valley, and the second one covers Annecy & Lyon. Have a great time! On another trip we stayed overnight 1 night at Carcassonne, and for us, that was plenty of time. It’s very touristy during the day.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/our-combined-solo-couple-vacation-in-france-2019

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/3-weeks-in-italy-france-french-locations

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks goanywhere! That beach is much nicer, but I could not find a lodging I liked. We will certainly try o go there at least 1 day. Maybe take a picnic lunch. I will have to check out taxis, as it looks great!

Posted by
84 posts

Thank you Jean! Your trip reports were very inspirational and helpful. I made the following changes to our itinerary: Saint-Emilion to Angers, train 2 nights. Angers to Chartres, train 3 nights. Chartres to Amboise, train 5 nights. I tried to make Perigueux work, but train times were not great. Both of these are bigger than my usual preference, but they look great! I am much more comfortable with this itinerary. I think we would have missed out on variety with my original plan. Great suggestion to remove Cremieu and add to Arles. We hope to day trip to Pérouges from Lyon at the end of our trip. I am excited about the beach area of Argeles sur Mer too, even though we will keep our Collioure hotel. Now I can focus on fine tuning the plans. I would love to hear input on favorite restaurants, tours (no bike tours) wine tours, etc. in any of the places we are going*. We have had some bad luck with traveling lately, and just hope this one happens. Already we have had to make a major change because United dropped our originating flight we were scheduled on, then another making our early departure even earlier :( . Now we get to start with spending a night in San Francisco. Similar thing happened on a flight to San Diego in January with Alaska, so we are mentally planning on being flexible.
* - Tain l'Hermitage
* - Arles
* - Collioure
* - Carcassonne
* - Saint-Emilion
* - Angers
* - Chartres
* - Amboise
* - Beaune
* - Annecy
That list looks like too many places, but we are covering a large area. Still so many places we will not get to. 5 weeks isn't as long as it seems!

Posted by
84 posts

More fine tuning. Our lodging in Chartres did not pan out, and train connections were not convenient and were expensive. It seemed like a struggle to make it work. So we, I, (my poor husband has whiplash) dropped Chartres and Angers. We really prefer smaller towns. I do miss being able to drive ourselves, as all my research has me wanting to go to so many of those places. But I know places exist that would be a good fit for us without a car. What we need now is to find a location for 5 days.
- Between Saint- Emilion and Amboise
- Good for wine (prefer red) and food
- Pop < 30,000
- nice lodging options available close to restaurants
- TRAIN ACCESSABLE with short taxi if needed. No busses
- More quaint than industrial
- Nice cathedrale, maybe? Nice architecture of buildings

I have ruled out Paris for this trip, but Rick Steves Paris rerun came on tv a couple nights ago. Oh wow. I almost changed all our plans. Any help is appreciated!

Posted by
3799 posts

Frankly, the region between Bordeaux and the Loire Valley is not the most interesting part of France. Cognac has the wineries and Poitiers is good for a day, but that's about it. Loches is pretty, but that's close to Amboise already.

If you go a bit further west, La Rochelle is an interesting town but it is closer to 100,000 than 30,000 and again, I wouldn't want to spend more than 2-3 days there.

An option could be Périgord; not ideal without a car but not impossible either, it is not the region I know best so I cannot be more specific.

Or, you could go to Le Mans (instead of Angers) then Chartres AFTER Amboise, and travel from Chartres to Beaune. That way you stay close to your original plans.

Posted by
3799 posts

Yes, there is a comic book festival there, and the old town is attractive with a well-preserved defensive wall. But unless you day-trip to the Cognac area and/or to Saintes (never been, but recommended every now and then), I do not see it as a place where it is worth spending more than half a day. I only ever passed through, and never felt the need to linger.
Le Mans, Chartres, Angers are FAR more interesting to me!

Posted by
84 posts

I think I finally have our itinerary! It has been difficult reconciling some of our issues regarding # of nights per location. Because we are train dependent, we would prefer longer stays rather than 1-2 nights. But it is hard to commit 4 nights to a place we may or may not like, for whatever reasons. Our preferred way to travel is to soak in rather than skim, but if there are not enough restaurants that appeal, or things that interest us, we would rather not be stuck with too much time. But 5 weeks of 2 night stops would wear us out. Also, taxis to and from the train station can add up. Seems like many people are more flexible about their lodgings, but if the places I want to stay in are not available, I am apt look for another destination. Unless the area itself is the draw. For Italy, I had been collecting ideas for ages about where I wanted to go. For this trip I don't have many 'must see'
places. So, now this is where we are at:
-arrive Lyon mid afternoon, stay at airport hotel. Try to stay awake.
-Lyon to Arles morning TGV
-Arles 4 nights
-Arles to Collioure, early afternoon train, 3 nights
-Collioure to Carcassonne, early afternoon train. 2 nights, days spent wandering the river and lower town with evenings in Cité Médiévale.
-Carcassonne to Saint-Emilion, morning train. 3 nights. 2 wine tours
-Saint-Emilion to Bergerac, noonish train. 3 nights.
-Bergerac to Tours, morning train. 2 nights. 1 day trip to either Le Mans or Angers
-Tours to Amboise, car rental reserved (but not guaranteed an automatic will be available). My husband can drive a manual but has been having issues with his right hand so automatic is important. Amboise 4 nights. Need to find tours to Chateaux if no car. Maybe train and taxis.
-Amboise to Beaune, early morning train. 5 nights. Need to book wine tours. Day trip train to Dijon. We have an apartment here, so catch up on laundry!
-Beaune to Annecy, morning train. 4 nights. Boat day, maybe bus around lake day.
-Annecy to Lyon, morning train. Airport hotel 2 nights. Leave our bags at hotel and tram to Lyon for afternoon and dinner. Next morning tram to Lyon for day and dinner. EARLY flight back to San Francisco next a.m.
Any thoughts? I thought we had it done until the problem with Chartres. I am still miffed that booking.com was not accurate or up-to-date on location of property. Next I will be asking for more specific location info. This forum is so helpful. Even the threads I read about things I didn't know I should think about!!

Posted by
3799 posts

What's the problem you had with Chartres?
Rather than 2 nights in Tours, which is right next to Amboise, i'd rather spend two nights in Chartres, after Amboise. To do so, after returning the car in Tours (Saint Pierre des corps probably), you take the high speed train to Paris Montparnasse and the local train to Chartres out of Paris Montparnasse. Travel time is acceptable.
Or you drive from Amboise to Chartres and return the car there if you can.

Posted by
84 posts

Balso, thanks for your input. We are not guaranteed an automatic car, so we are not counting on it. The Chartres issue was that the accommodation had moved- don't know when- and booking.com still shows it in it's old location. I picked it for the location. This is the place that required cash payment. We would arrive on a day that banks won't be open, and rather than traveling with that amount of cash we thought we would take enough for the 1rst night and go to the bank the next day. I like to carry < 500.00 euro cash when train traveling. I put the address into a google map search and discovered it had moved. I looked up the b&b's website, and she mentions it there, saying it's not too far from the old place, but I did not like that there was no disclosure of that on her booking.com listing. We kept Tours because we liked the restaurants and might want to see how far west we can go, even past Angers maybe. The connection in Paris did not appeal to us. I know we are making things harder on ourselves in some ways with that stance. We had looked at Bergerac earlier on and thought it would be a good chance to add some time there. Do you not like Bergerac? It has some wines I would like to explore.

Posted by
84 posts

I also checked out La Rochelle but I thought 3 nights there would be hard if the weather was not good. Otherwise it looked interesting. This would be May. Some years the weather history looks fine, others a bit cold for what we might want to do. We are trying to travel as light as possible, so sweater and light rain jacket but no coat.

Why are you concerned about banks being open? Most French banks don't want to see you inside anyway. There are ATMs at every bank available 24/7/365.

Posted by
3799 posts

There are plenty of good hotels & other accommodation in Chartres, and I tend to steer clear of places that require cash payment as this opens the door to tax evasion. Credit card terminals are extremely cheap these days.
Chartres is far more interesting than Bergerac, which has few places of interest - the old town is cute, but that is true in most French towns. Also, the most famous local wine, Montbazillac, is a sweet wine, which I do not like.

As for the connection in Paris: it is required to go from Amboise to Beaune, too.

Posted by
84 posts

I think you are right Balso. I did a google street walk around, and I don't think 3 nights in Bergerac would be a good use of our time. So we are back in Chartres. We have had some very tasty red wines from Bergerac- not sweet, and cabernet sauvignon based. For Chartres I am most interested in the cathedrale. I re-watched a RS episode showcasing Chartres. We don't need to go through Paris for Amboise to Beaune. I bought our tickets already, and we are going through Nevers. Any lunch spot ideas near the station? Thanks for your input. If I change my mind again my husband will really start worrying :). He is happy about the car rental in the Loir, though.

Posted by
84 posts

I also agree with you about the tax evasion possibility. I do think she has a responsibility to get her location changed on booking.com. It still gives info on distances from her establishment to places, restaurants etc.