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France want to see it all but can’t itinerary

First post. I’m hoping to have someone set me straight if this itinerary is doable or if we need to scale back. First time overseas for my spouse and I’ve only been to Paris where I visited a friend, so not exactly a DIY trip. We are in our 40s and not scared of driving but would prefer not to have a car for the whole trip. We have 14 days, could stretch it to 16 days max, regardless, 2 of those are complete travel days to/from Paris due to where we live and proximity to home airport. Looking to travel mid to late September 2024 with possible spillover to early October.

We would like to eat tasty food, drink wine, physically move (walking, hiking, biking, canoeing), relax while also seeing some historical sights (ancient and modern) and the “things you think of when you think France”. We are not big into art so while we will pop into a few art museums, they aren’t high on our list. The regions we have narrowed it down to are Burgundy (vineyards), the Alps (hiking), Provence (Pont du Gard and Roman arena), the Loire (Villandry and other chateaus), and a few days in Paris at the beginning or end of trip (Eiffel tower, catacombs, Saint Chapelle). Everything I look at suggests we should skip the Loire because of logistics, however it’s very high on our list. I’ve thought of skipping Provence but that also doesn’t seem to help much either since the tgv super fast trains don’t seem to run east/west.

1 Travel
2 Paris (sleep in Paris or Reims)
3 Reims to Beaune train (sleep Beaune)
4 Beaune
5 Beaune to Annecy (sleep Annecy)
6 Annecy *day trip to Chamonix
7 Annecy to Arles (sleep Arles)
8 Arles *Pont du Gard (canoe if possible)
9 Arles to Tours (pick up rent car and sleep Blois)
10 Blois *chateus
11 Blois to Tours to drop off car and Tours to Paris
12 Paris
13 Paris *Versailles possibly
14 Travel

This is a lot of time on trains…4 trips of 5-7 hours of travel and since we haven’t done a trip like this before I’m just not sure if that’s too much or just fine. So savvy travelers, is this realistic or do we need to cut out a region and add 2 days? Much appreciation in advance.

Posted by
3129 posts

Welcome to the forum! I’m going to leave it to other Francophiles to comment on your whole itinerary, but Paris is worth more time.

Posted by
13636 posts

Vote #2 with Tammy on not enough time in Paris. Your first afternoon may not be much due to travel tiredness and depends of course on what time your flight arrives. Many of us live on the US West coast, or further west and north like Tammy so the long flights are always on our minds. So really you've got 2 full tour days for Paris and one of those you're doing Versailles.

I'd also go as late in Sept as will work with your schedule. Of course the Olympics are in the summer, then the Paralympics which end Sept 8. There is also fashion week which is the end of Sept although I've never actually been impacted by that.

However, I can't tell you what to cut out. All are worthy, lol.

Posted by
26436 posts

Always, always, always add extra days if you can. As you are well aware, you're losing 2 days to transatlantic travel. Would you rather have 12 days or 14 days to see France?

You're right that rail service isn't great traveling east to west if you aren't going through Paris (and probably having to change train stations there). My solution to that problems was to plan one trip to eastern France and one to western France. Even so, I had to go through Paris twice on the first trip. And I still haven't actually spent the night in Paris. That will be Trip 3.

I would not go all the way to Provence for two nights. No way.

The more you learn about France, the more places you'll want to go. And they'll be scattered all over the country. France just is not a two-week destination.

Posted by
4 posts

@Tammy and @Pam, thank you!
@acraven, we would love to spend the extra days but that’s extra above what the grandparents have committed to for watching the kids so just not sure if it’s possible.

Posted by
1090 posts

If you want a vacation to see trains, this is fine. And don't get me wrong, I love trains. But if you want a vacation to see France, this is not it. Yes, you are trying to cram everything you have ever read about into two weeks (or less). Lower your expectations and give yourself a chance to actually enjoy France rather than only seeing it from a train window.

Posted by
19249 posts

There are a couple of logistical issues with this itinerary.
To get to Beaune from Reims you have to go back to Paris and change stations from Gare de l'Est to Gare de Lyon.
To get to Tours from Arles, you have to go back to Paris and change stations from Gare de Lyon to Gare Montparnasse.

All these return trips to Paris eat up a lot of time, even with high speed trains.

I think you can cut Reims and Loire Valley and come up with a reasonable itinerary.

CDG to Beaune- stay 3 nights (4 hour train)
Beaune to Annecy- stay 3 nights (4 hour train)
Annecy to Arles- stay 3 nights (5 hour train)
Arles to Paris- stay 4 or 5 nights (4 hour train)

When you spend 3 nights at a location, you get 2 full days.

Posted by
14445 posts

Traveling in France one wants to see as much as possible, too tempting. You have to set the priorities, ie how desperate are you towards a particular place.

I would suggest getting to Blois by regional train from Orleans. Buses at the Blois train station go out to the various chateaux.

Posted by
6741 posts

To me, Reims does not make the cut for a first trip to France where you want to see many things. Add that time to Paris.
And adding the Loire is a logistical challenge, Arles toi Tours will be a long day. If you can be happy with a Paris - Beaune - Annecy - Arles route, I think it will be more manageable.

Posted by
4223 posts

Remember Rick's advice - assume you'll be back and slow down.

Have you looked at the round the country tour that Rick outlines in his guidebook? Perhaps you'd do better to recreate that, and then collapse in exhaustion upon arriving home (which doesn't sound like much fun to me).

Posted by
1321 posts

I'd fly into Paris and out of Marseille or Nice or make a loop starting in Reims ending in Annecy flying into Paris and out of Geneva .

Posted by
4 posts

@PharmerPhil - thank you, we definitely want to ride trains but it's not the main purpose. I appreciate the perspective.

@Sam -thank you for the alternate itinerary ideas, we've been talking about reprioritizing so we can spend more time in fewer places and this was very helpful as a starting point.

@Fred - the suggestion on Blois from Orleans is welcome, thank you. I think my priority is Loire Valley and his is Chamonix but we are wondering if this just isn't the trip for both.

@balso - thank you, what specifically in Paris do you recommend? We aren't really into art museums and the week I spent in Paris was filled with them. To be honest, there isn't one I would go back to see. I'm sure that is not the majority opinion as most people go to Paris specifically FOR the amazing art opportunities.

@phred - thank you, we have! We like the myway tour itinerary but it seems to only work because they use a bus for getting to the various destinations.

@Donna - thank you, I'll look into flying out of another airport besides Paris.

I really appreciate everyone taking the time to comment and help me think through the logistics!

Posted by
14445 posts

@ not my name.....Should you have to go from Gare de Lyon to Gare Montparnasse, you can expect the two areas to be crowded...quite normal.

You have another option other than the Metro, which I would avoid in doing this route with luggage in tow.

I suggest taking the bus # 91 that is a direct shot between these stations.

Posted by
664 posts

We were fortunate to just spend two weeks in Paris alone and the time barely scratched the surface. Tip of the iceberg for sure. It’s always the desire to see as much as possible.
Skip Reims unless you are champagne fanatics. Try to skip day tripping, ie; Chamonix-just stay and enjoy Annecy. Never been to Beaune so don’t know the reason for going there.
I’d stay towards the Paris area and skip trying to go to Arles and Blois this trip.
So-Beaune, Annecy and Paris- enjoy and don’t spend your time on trains or in the car more than you need to for these three. If you can do trains and no car=better.
You will go again! You can walk 12 miles a day in Paris and not get very far. Keep that in mind. If you want to hike, make that a separate trip to just hike, canoe et al.
If you can add the 2 days-definitely. The time will speed by-surreal.

Posted by
424 posts

As regards things to do in Paris that are not art museums, you can do bike tours in Paris (I've done day and evening bike tours) and a bike tour at Versailles which includes an opportunity to shop for and have a picnic in the gardens. Because you mention La Sainte Chappelle and the Catacombs, you may also enjoy the Archeological Crypt in front of Notre Dame which is not far from Sainte Chappelle and shows ancient ruins of what was built in Paris before the current city, or the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

If you like the Chateaux but Loire is hard to fit in, there are a number that you can easily see on daytrips from Paris. I have strong memories of Chantilly, Malmaison and Fontainebleau which I visited on Saturdays while I was a student in Paris.

Posted by
372 posts

I agree with other posts, too much in one trip. And in your 40's you have decades ahead to see France and other destinations so as RS cautions people trying to do everything in one short trip "assume you'll be back". Posts have given some good alternative trips.

That said, there is one option not mentioned yet. The RS "Best of Eastern France in 14 Days Tour" covers most of the destinations you said you wanted to see. Although more expensive than 14 days on your own I'd consider the tour equivalent to what you could do on your own in 18-20 days. A tour has the advantage of reserved entries to museums and other sights, their own bus that leaves when it suits the tour schedule, a guide that knows each town, and on a RS tour enough free time that you can spend half-days or more doing what's of most interest to you. And given that you've only been to Paris and your spouse hasn't been to Europe before, a tour like this could be a good way to "stretch" and become familiar with more extensive travel.

Posted by
239 posts

Agree with slow travel. How about one week in Paris (incl. your day trip to Versailles, though we found that to be far less enjoyable than just about everywhere else we were this past spring, on our 4 week trip in France). And you can spend one week in ______________.

You get to fill in the blank ...
Loire Valley?
Provence?
Wherever!

We've been to France three times, for a total of 6-1/2 weeks. Still haven't seen it all, but we have been able to feel like we were truly visiting and not just traveling.

Posted by
177 posts

I think the others have given some great advice. And I'll echo that it is, unfortunately, too much to fit in to 14 days. @Sam 's suggested itinerary is a good one that seems to fit what you outlined as your priorities.

To answer your question about what to do in Paris aside from Museums, I give you this incomplete list (keeping in mind you like food, wine, walking):
1. Food: So. Many. Good restaurants. If you check the boards, there are loads of suggestions. I will offer a few that I enjoy. Le Récamier (https://lerecamier.com/en/page-daccueil.html) is a incredibly yummy, small restaurant known for it's soufflés though all of the food is great. Berthillion ice cream (https://berthillon.fr/), Chocolate shops (chocolatières), there are many and so, so good. I would also encourage you to do a food tour your first day there. A good one I've used is Secret Food Tours (https://www.secretfoodtours.com/) and they have their black friday sale going on right now. I've also used Eating Europe (https://www.eatingeurope.com/) I also recommend the seine dinner cruise. I used to think they were cheesey...until I actually took one. I loved it! The food was good, the boat ride up and down the Seine was lovely. We took the Bateaux Mouches. I've now done it a few times!
2. Walking/Hiking/Biking: Walking you can get just meandering through the city. I'd check out some of the great parks and have a picnic. There are lots of Bike tours offered around the city. I have not taken one but I've heard they are fun. If you like dancing, you could check out these fun, outdoor spots to dance by the Seine (https://parisjetaime.com/eng/article/dancing-outdoors-a015) though I'm not sure if they go through end of September.
3) Other activities: There is a comedy club that has an English speaking (American I believe) comedian (https://www.theatreinparis.com/en/show/the-only-american-in-paris-by-sarah-donnelly). I've heard it's good but have not gone myself (yet!) And there are some wonderful Jazz clubs (if that's your thing)

Happy planning!

Posted by
4 posts

I’m having problems on my phone viewing the previous replies since my last update, so I apologize for not tagging everyone who commented in this reply. I cannot thank you all enough for your thoughts and guidance. We have listened and decided to focus on the areas of Paris, the Loire and Bordeaux this trip! September can’t get here soon enough! 😃