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How can we best use our free time while on Rick Steves Eastern France tour?

We will be joining the Best of Eastern France tour starting June 5 from Reims. We will have several afternoons and evenings free. I would appreciate suggestions for how to best use our free time to complement the activities that take place on this tour. How would you use the afternoon and evening in Colmar after taking a walking tour and seeing the Unterlinden museum? After seeing villages, vineyards and Roman ruins surrounding Vaison-la-Romaine, what would you do with a free afternoon and evening there? Thank you for any suggestions you have.

Posted by
1158 posts


Best question I have seen on this forum in a long time. It is very important to research the places where your tour says you are free for the day or mentions you will have time on your own for dinner and the evening. Too many people who take tours assume they don't have to plan anything.

I would look closely at your itinerary in all locations on tour and be armed with places to see during free time. Otherwise you will spend valuable time looking for things to do when you are faced with downtime. I would include dining spots as well, whether they be for lunch or dinner. I know the tour guides are helpful, but it is always nice to be prepared just to see if your selections match theirs. Use the internet for an extensive list of "things to see in ???". It will help a lot. Also, use Yelp, Lonely Planet and other sites for restaurants.

Happy planning!

Posted by
1689 posts

Staying in Colmar is relaxing, but if you fancy classic cars Mulhouse has a fantastic museum named Musée National de l'Automobile. From Colmar it's less than a half hour by local train.

Posted by
1800 posts

We met a couple of couples from the tour in Colmar when we were taking the little canal boat ride. I would also visit the house of Bartholdi .( statue of liberty sculptor )

Posted by
60 posts

Hi, Vonnie. Great topic. I'm on the May 29 departure of the Eastern France tour and will be following this thread for replies. I'm doing some reading and will have a place or two in mind for free time in each stop. For me I can easily spend time wandering around, poking my head into shops and finding a nice wine bar. I have to resist the temptation to become Susie Tourist and schedule a lot of sightseeing. Sometimes kicking back is good. All depends on your style. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
740 posts

Hi Vonnie,

We did this tour in May of 2019, preceded by the Best of Paris tour. Our free time activities are probably all in the RS France book for each town. And I agree with all the comments above. Sometimes things were planned, sometimes we just enjoyed walking around these relatively small towns/cities, sometimes we did a bit of shopping, and there were several impromptu happy hours with tour members..

We arrived in Reims the morning the tour started, so checked in, wandered the main street, and had lunch before the start of the tour.
The next day after the group did a walking tour of the city, then a tour of a champagne house in the early afternoon, we went to the Museum of the Surrender, as did several other tour members.

On the full day in Colmar, after the walking tour and visit to the Unterlinden Museum, we visited the Dominican church/museum which has the Our Lady of the Rose Bushes painting, then did the canal ride. Not spectacular, but it was interesting.. After lunch, we went to the Bartholdi Museum which we thought was quite interesting. On one of the evenings, there was a musical presentation in the town square.

In Beaune, on one of the free times, we walked the city walls. Ours was a friendly group, and the hotel had a relaxing lounge, so people met there for a glass of wine on both evenings. On our free morning, we visited the outdoor market.

Unfortunately, it was rainy in Chamonix when we arrived, and rain continued the next day, when we would have gone up the Aiguille du Midi. We did the River Walk along the Arne River to the town of Les Praz and found a nice little pizza restaurant. Nothing spectacular, but better than not getting out. Luckily, our guide was checking the weather, and those who wanted, got up and out around 7 AM to catch the cable cars up to the top. Our departure from Chamonix was delayed by several hours for this. Coincidentally, we had been in Chamonix the year before on the Alpine My Way tour and couldn't go up because the cables were being repaired. So we were happy to finally make it up!

My notes don't show much free time in Vaison-la-Romaine, but several references to happy hours on the terrace. I do remember a little souvenir shopping for items that had meaning to family members. Some people hiked up to the castle(?) across the valley.

Same with Aix-en-Provence--not much free time, but walked around enjoying the ambience, and some impromptu group gatherings.

Overall, the days were pretty full with tour activities which we enjoyed, so free time was a bit low-key.

We stayed an extra night and did a day trip with the local tourist office to Les Beaux de Provence, Arles, and Pont du Gard.

PS Because our tour guide knew the weather was iffy in Chamonix, but looking better in a few days, we stopped in Annency on the way to Chamonix. That gave us the leeway to delay our departure on the last day in Chamonix.

Posted by
4618 posts

Hi Vonnie,

We went to some of your locations on an independent trip. Here’s my suggestion for Colmar’s free time from my trip report. At the least, I would take a taxi over to nearby Eguisheim.

We reserved a village tour with Ophorus Excursions & Tours for the afternoon. Our half-day minivan tour to several small villages outside Colmar was very special. Our friendly guide briefly drove us to sites beyond the tour plan to thoroughly explain the significance of this area during WWII since it’s near the German border. His information, showing us bullet holes in stone building walls, and pointing out the American flag flown high up the hill at a memorial were very meaningful. He also provided lots of details about the wines & origins for this area. The villages were all so cute (he even drove us down to Eguisheim which was my favorite!), and with his time with us, it made an afternoon to be grateful, too.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I'm getting excited!

Posted by
1381 posts

As others have mentioned, the ideas mentioned by our guide were good, and all the locations were perfect for simple wandering and enjoying. Very enjoyable tour!

Posted by
1015 posts

Hi. It has been awhile since I took this tour. It rained while we were in Colmar. Our hotel's restaurant was supposed to be closed that day, but they opened specially because of the poor weather, and I had the best asparagus dinner ever thanks to that set of circumstances. In fact, returning to the region during asparagus season is on my to-do list. I don't remember having an excess of time, but then I moseyed along the town streets stopping in shops. I do recall stopping for some Tarte Flambée with another tour member. I could have had more time in the surrounding villages, so spending more time there is also on my list.

Beaune: although we had a tour of the Hotel Dieu, I went back on my own. I joined other tour members for an escargot dinner later. I recall some tour members inquiring about biking, but I do not recall if they actually fit that in.

Vaison-la-Romaine: I know each tour may stay in different hotels. We stayed in the very hilly area across from town: great views and a fantastic pool. The hotel was worthy of a tour itself, set in what seemed like a tiny old village with winding streets - all steep and sometimes staired. Because of the hilly location, going into V-la-R in spare time was done with forethought. I stayed "local" one evening for pizza.

As I recall, this was a tour that filled up lots of time. I usually arrive with a nice list of places to see and visit. This tour: mostly walking around the locations we visited or stayed in. It was a very full tour, and remains one of my favorites - the locations were all so varied, Food was so good, Enjoy!

Posted by
334 posts

Thanks for starting this thread. We are on the May 8th tour and will arrive in Reims on May 6th after five nights in Paris. My husband enjoys watching Rick Steves and reading about wherever we are planning to visit, so he has a good feel for what might be good activities for us. I prefer to go in cold and be surprised. Some of our best times on past tours have been dining or hikes with other members in the group, so don't plan so much that you can't be spontaneous. We have been to Chamonix on the Alpine tour and are trying to figure out which hikes we didn't do last time will be accessible in mid-May.