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Help with Fall 2018 intinerary!

We are planning a trip to France in the Fall of 2018. We plan to spend at least five nights in Paris and then travel around France or possibly combine Switzerland with France. We'll have about another twenty days of travel after Paris. Trains and or bus will be are mode of travel and we are interested in medieval/renaissance history, art, and love to hike mountain trails. My husband also wants to see WWII historical sites as the D-day beaches. I have been reading guide books and the problem is that every area of France looks fantastic. My questions are: Should we just concentrate on France and spend time in the French Alps? Which areas of France should we focus on for our first France trip? What's your favorite spot in France and why?
Thanks ahead of time for helping me begin to sort things out and narrow my plans.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1746 posts

France is a fantastic country, with (as you're no doubt discovering) lots of distinct regions, each with its own delights. Brittany, in the northwest, has fascinating stone-age history as well as medieval sights (Quimper, Josselin, etc.), plus art destinations(Pont Aven), and their own unique French cuisine. There's great coastal and inland hiking, too, but it won't be Alpine. Unfortunately, it's a better summer destination than fall, unless you plan for cooler, wetter weather.

How late into the Fall are you going? If it's late October or November and you're in the French Alps, you may be in for snowshoeing or skiing, rather than hiking.

If you're looking at D-Day sights as well as Paris, you'll be in the north, anyway. It's a big enough country that we've generally stayed to the north or to the south, but you could mix things up with 3+ weeks, if you don't linger too long in any one place.

My favorite parts of France, though, are Provence and the Cote d' Azure, including Nice. Fall is great there (lots fewer tourists than in summer), but that's waaaay south. Be sure to visit the Marc Chagall and Paul Matisse museums, the Picasso museum down the coast in Antibes, and the marvelous Foundation Maeght museum in Saint-Paul de Vence to the north.

For fall, I'd head south, and leave the north for your next trip.

Posted by Erin E.
30 posts

I have never been to Southern France (it's on my list!), but three years ago, my husband and I spent two weeks in Paris and Normandy in November. We were prepared for the worst, weather-wise, but had great weather nearly every day. My advice is to pack appropriately (warm socks, layers, solid footwear, a good rain jacket, and an umbrella), but not to let possible weather deter you from doing something you want to do!

With your interests in medieval/renaissance history and WWII, a home base of Bayeux (site of the famous tapestry) and day trips to the D-Day beaches would fit in nicely. On our trip, we spent a week in Paris, then took the train to Caen, picked up a rental car, and drove to Bayeux. This worked out great as we didn't have to brave the hectic streets of Paris and having a car in Bayeux (our bed and breakfast there provided free parking) gave us a ton of flexibility. From Bayeux, you could also take a day trip to Mont Saint Michel, which is incredible (but get there as early as possible to avoid the tourists, even during "off-season" they were horrendous by midday). We spent a week in Bayeux, which was a tad too long. I'd recommend a shorter stay of 4-5 nights.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
2356 posts

With 20 days, you can see plenty. History is everywhere. Art? Every cathedral is loaded with medieval art. Take in Monet’s house at Giverny, even though he was modern. The gardens are splendid. Honfleur. Rouen, and St. Malo are 3 cities we particularly enjoyed. You’ll be close enough to the Loire Valley to visit a Chateau or two. The Chateau of Angers houses a not-to-miss immense tapestry of the Apocalypse. I’ve read that there is also a modern one, but haven’t seen it.
Burgundy will also be pretty close. Again, lots of art and history in the churches. Get to Vezelay, if you can.

Posted by mike
shingle springs, CA, USA
586 posts

If your husband wants to see Normandy WWII sights you can stay in Bayeux at the Hotel Churchill which is 300 Feet from the D Day Tours pickup location and the Tapestry Museum is a five Minute walk from the Hotel.The Hotel also has a Shuttle bus to Mt St Michel which would be good for you without a car.There is also Honfleur which is a Harbor Town where many artists painted and still do so.While in Normandy you can go south to Brittany which has a Lot of Celtic customs and some very nice towns to stay in like St Malo which is a walled Town,the old Part and Dinan on the Rance River which will take quite a bit of time.We have been alll over France and wherever you go you will not be disappointed

Posted by Adam
Boston
3651 posts

If it's early fall, I think combining the alps with France and Paris would be brilliant. I would choose the Berner Oberland, and would start the trip there, flying perhaps into Zurich. 4 nights minimum there, and then on to France.

I think the central logistical dynamic of your trip, with which you must contend realistically, is this. Your two priorities, the Alps and Normandy, are far apart and not easily connected. You have enough time to connect them, which it great, but you don't have much flexibility beyond that. So, the Dordogne, for instance, is probably out, unless you save Normandy or Switzerland for another trip.

The logistical advantages of the French versus Swiss Alps are not obvious to me for a trip that will subsequently be centered around Paris and Normandy. But that could change if your priorities do.

Here are some places that are more or less enroute from Switzerland to Paris: Alsace, the "German" part of France, and Burgundy, rural, famous for food and wine. (Alsacian wines are also very good.) So either or both would make logical stops on the way to Paris. Both are good places for cycling, by the way.

Or, take the train to Beaune (Burgundy), pick up a car, and when you are ready drive to the Loire Valley. Once you've had your fill of renaissance chateaux (and a little goes a long way in my view) continue on the Normandy. When you are done you can ditch the car and take the train to Paris, ending there.

If other parts of France call to you, though, you should honor that and see if you can come up with something different and better. If you want to see Lyon, for instance, that would work well with Chamonix instead of Switzerland.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8814 posts

Hi,

If you are driving extensively in France other than in Normandy and Nord Pas-de-Calais, then I suggest Route 85...historical, famous, and you will see a lot worthy of seeing.

Posted by Jim
Sisters, OR
40 posts

I think the answer about whether to add Switzerland or not is determined by what type of traveler you are or trip you want. Example: I know you aren’t taking a tour but Rick Steves has a Best of Europe trip to hit the highlights or you can choose a trip in a specific area of a country. If you are a person who likes the highlight trips select both countries. If you are a person who likes to stay in an area an extra day to get a real feel for the area then leave Switzerland for your next trip. We haven’t been to the French Alps yet (next trip) but we love Brittany which you could easily get to when going to Normandy. We love the small coast towns, the seafood, the history and the fact that it is a bit independent part of France with their own language (Breton). The main languages are French and English, but Breton just shows their unique flavor of France. I realize you are doing trains and buses, but you might consider renting a car in the rural areas of France. Easy to do, easy to drive. Hope this helps!

Posted by danowskisharon OP
41 posts

Thanks for all of your suggestions. We have decided to save Switzerland and the south of France for another trip and just focus on northern France. There are so many wonderful places to experience in France! We are the type of travelers who like to linger in one area and get to know the culture a bit. We will definitely visit Normandy and are trying to figure out where else to go. Brittany sounds and looks like a place we would like but we are trying to avoid a rental car but maybe we will have to? We will continue to read guide books and watch videos and will try to come up with a 3 to 4 week itinerary that will work. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated. We are going mid September to early October and this is our first visit to France. We have been to Ireland, Great Britain, and Italy twice. Thanks again for all of your help!

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8814 posts

"...so many wonderful places to experience in France." How true. And that goes for northern France as well !

Posted by Monty
Virginia
77 posts

Think seriously about renting a car; driving in France is very easy (and I am over 80). We have spent about three weeks in September and October each of the past four years. I make detailed plans early (I already have this year's trip mapped out with a short list of hotels and restaurants.) I start with Michelin green guides and a large map. We spend 3-4 nights in Paris and take a train to the first city on our drive. I try to spend two nights in each town along the way, and the car lets us make side trips if we see something interesting.