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I can't figure out a last stop for my France trip - ideas?

I just put down a deposit on a Road Scholar Southwestern France trip. I'll start in Paris for a few days and so the trip looks like this:
Paris - 3 nights (been there numerous times)
Amboise - 2 or 3 nights (see some chateaux)
Bordeaux - 4 nights (tour)
Rocamadour - 2 nights (tour)
Sarlat - 3 nights (tour)
Toulouse - 3 nights (tour)

We'll be traveling by train when we're not on the tour.

I am looking for a final place to spend 3 or 4 nights. We like to end our trips somewhere spectacular. We've done Taormina, Positano, Santorini etc. as final locations. Touristy, I know, but hey, we're tourists and we love those spectacularly-situated villages.

I can't find something similar in the south of France but I am sure that I'm missing great options. I see Collioure and am considering it. But any other thoughts? I'd venture in to Spain but I'm trying to keep things COVID simple.

Looking for a hillside city with Mediterranean views, reasonable train connection back to Paris (about 6 hours and no more than one change of train) and cool architecture. We'll be doing very little so museums etc. not necessary.

We'll likely train back to Paris from there for a couple additional days before we head home.

Posted by
4287 posts

I don't know how this fits into your itinerary, but year before last we spent about 3 or 4 days in Aix en Provence after the RS Eastern France tour. We had a great time there. We had tentatively planned a day trip to Marseilles, but never got that far.

I don't think you can go wrong, wherever you end up. Spectacular? Hmmm.. Marseilles? Nice?

Posted by
1962 posts

In this corner of the Mediterranean, it is not so easy to find those spectacular cliffside coastal towns like you find in Italy, especially one connected by train, I can't think of any that would be en par with where else you have been. For spectacularly-situated towns in this area, instead of the sea, I would look to the mountains.

Foix with it's majestic castle would be good option, accessible via train (1.5 hr), and makes for a good base for hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains (or skiing if it's winter).

Also the walled medieval town of Carcassonne comes to mind, it is just a short 45 min trip on regional train from Toulouse, certainly would make for unique and historical finish.

The medieval town of Girona, just across the border in Spain, is quite the gem, reminds me of a mini-Florence, with its many bridges and colourful riverside buildings.

From Girona, you could also take the bus to the seaside medieval town of Tossa de Mar, on the cliffs of the Costa Brava, perhaps a little more closer to what you are looking for :)

Posted by
1727 posts

Thank you both! Aix en Provence looks gorgeous! I'll look that one over. Carcassonne is on the tour as a day trip. And Girona - I had considered that and will look it over- I had even considered a return visit to Barcelona for my last few days, as I love Barcelona. But I'm really unsure about making this a multi-country visit. I want to give myself every possible chance for this trip to occur on the assumption that travel is still going to be tricky in September.

Posted by
872 posts

I think that Eze certainly fits the bill for the cliff side Mediterranean village, but public transport can be tricky to get all the way up to the village. The train runs along the med and does take you right to the coastal village. This area is accessible by public buses, but we preferred to have a car for this leg. We also ended our two weeks in France here and we stayed for five nights. Lots of villages around to explore, as well as Monte Carlo not far away. We flew out of Nice, but you could easily train all the way back to Paris from here.

Posted by
1727 posts

Thank you! Eze is gorgeous and exactly what I was picturing but the transit is too long - both getting there from Toulouse and then from Eze up to Paris.

In normal times, I'd take those transit days on - but I'm trying to for simple as I just can't tell what fall travel will be like. Heck, in normal times, I wouldn't think twice about flying from Toulouse down to Naples for Sorrento or Amalfi...

Aix en Provence has pretty good connections. I had also considered Montpelier but worried it's kind of big for a last stop on a trip. We are really lazy by the end of our trips and end up using the last few days to sit around and maybe wander a smallish village. RS doesn't even discuss Montpelier in his books - is it the Heidelberg of France??

Posted by
17630 posts

I liked Montpellier; it has a nice, large historic area that's great for wandering. But it's not a small city. It does look different from Toulouse, which has a lot of brick architecture.

Inserting a small town between Toulouse and Paris is likely to significantly increase your total transportation time, because you won't be able to stick only to fast trains. The smallest places are likely to have no rail service at all, so you'd be combining rail and bus going both to and from your relaxation spot. That will mean a lot of extra time.

I went to the Dordogne area last year and found a lot of the small cities / large towns to be worthwhile multi-night stops (though I took day-trips). I don't know where your tour takes you, but Cahors (population 20,000) is less than 1-1/2 hours from Toulouse by regional train, with no transfer required. There are rail connections from Cahors to Paris that meet your requirements.

If you're willing to consider cities rather than towns, you might take a look at Limoges and Poitiers, both north of Toulouse in the general direction of Paris. Both have expansive areas attractive for walking. Their terrain isn't pancake-flat (especially in Poitiers), which for me adds interest.

Posted by
1444 posts

Marseilles will have fast trains back up to Paris, and it doesn't have to be a big city experience if you're willing to find lodging along the water in either direction --
I'm recalling the later episodes in Jean Claude Izzo's detective trilogy, esp. in "Chourmo" and "Solea" once he has aged and settled down. It could be the best of both worlds -- calme if you lodge away from the hubbub, yet with the draws of modern multicultural Mediterranean life easily found.
Not to say that Aix isn't very nice, too.

Posted by
1156 posts

If the objective is to depart Toulouse for some point to spend a few days before returning to Paris and not rent a car, Montpellier, Nîmes, or Avignon all fit your itinerary. In my view, Aix-en-Provence is too far east (if you have not visited any of the 3 closer options) and any of these these suggested cities have easy train connections from Toulouse and to Paris.

My personal preference would be Avignon if for no other reason than it is the transportation hub of western Provence with plenty of bus or train connections to l´Ile sur la Sorgue, St Rémy, Arles, les Baux de Provence, and even Uzès and Pont du Gard. You could easily spend 2 weeks in western Provence and have something new to visit or to explore every day.

Alternatively, you could visit Tours and explore the Loire Valley for a few days but there are no easy train connections from Toulouse. You would almost certainly need to travel from Toulouse to Paris to Tours for the fastest travel options.

Posted by
1473 posts

Carcassonne is on the tour as a day trip.

Carcassonne was my first thought even though it's inland without the Mediterranean views. In my opinion, Carcassonne as a daytrip is better than nothing, but you'll see it at its worst-packed to the rafters with day trippers. I was lucky enough to stay overnight and have the place to myself in the evening and first thing in the morning. Getting up early to see the sunrise against the fortress walls was spectacular.

Posted by
1727 posts

Ohhhh, just woke up to find all of these suggestions! You are all the best - I've got a rainy day here and I'll be looking these ideas over. :)

Posted by
33 posts

Have you considered Avignon and taking the 3 hour TGV high speed from there to Paris? Avignon is a great city and there are plenty of short, day trips from there if you don't want to spend four days there (Arles, Nimes, Aix, etc.). The Pont du Gard is accessible by rental car or bus and worth a trip. Plus there are lots of vineyards and wine tours available, too.

Also, you could certainly work your way to Avignon by spending a day or two in either Nimes or Arles, or both. Each of them are accessible to Paris by train and both have fantastic Roman ruins and nice museums, along with great, great food and wine.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to travel by train from Avignon, to Aix, to Arles, to Nimes, Carcassonne, etc. and each city was wonderful.

Best of luck

Posted by
1962 posts

If you are nixing the idea of a smaller town/village, then you could also consider Béziers, on the rail line between Toulouse and Montpellier. Béziers with its historical center, built on a hilltop, is a great place for a stroll through the little squares and picturesque streets. Check out the stunning 13th century hill-top cathedral with an interesting Cathar past.

Posted by
483 posts

if you want something spectacular with Mediterranean views, would you want to look at the French Riviera? I haven't been yet, but it looks quite beautiful.

If you don't need the Mediterranean views, what about Annecy? I thought it was a delightful town and would be a relaxing and beautiful way to end your trip.

Posted by
3561 posts

Hi Valerie, I’d be tempted to just take a flight from Toulouse to Nice and finish at the Mediterranean either at Nice or one of the nearby villages. There’s so much to do in that area! I stayed in Nice for five nights during my 3-week trip back to France last year and explored nearby towns, including the beautiful Italian area of Menton. Nice is on my list of places to return again.

Your train back would be right at 6 hours - no train change to Paris.

Posted by
2320 posts

Hi Valerie, I am enjoying all of the ideas in this thread & living vicariously. I am thinking the same as Jean has suggested. We enjoy ending a tour near the water. That’s exactly what we did after our southern France Tour. We spent 3 glorious nights in Nice, took the bus to Monte Carlo & the train back to Nice. This was a relaxing way to end our memorable tour before heading back to Paris.

Sounds like a wonderful tour to look forward to!

Posted by
7895 posts

Oh my word!!!! I've looked at this tour every single day over the last month! I will probably put down a deposit before the end of Dec while they still have the offer of fully refunding your deposit if you cancel 90 days or more out from the travel date.

I have NOT been here but RickSteves guide Rolinka Blooming has an EcoGuesthouse in Ferrairolles that looks cool. She was my guide for Best of Paris a number of years ago and is a hoot!

https://www.rolinkablooming.com/venue/

Interesting that Carlos mentioned Beziers. Road Scholar used to have a trip that started there, I think and covered that part of France and across the Pyrenees to end in Barcelona but it's not listed on the website for 2021. The guide I had for a Road Sch Brittany trip also used to do that one and said it was his favorite area.

Posted by
1962 posts

@Pam - yes there is a famous ancient route that follows the old Cathar trail from the 13th century Albigensian Crusade all over the Languedoc region. I believe it starts up in Béziers, the flashpoint of the Albigensian Crusade, then snakes its way south following a network of secret trails of Cathar fortresses and castles deep in the Pyrenees mountains. I've only been on bits and pieces of the route, but it seems like quite the adventure!

Posted by
1727 posts

@Pam - I don't blame you for looking at that itinerary daily - I've been doing it too. It's exactly the kind of trip I cannot sort out on my own since I won't drive in Europe. Could we do it by bus/train? Maybe, but my dearest and I would disown each other by about Day 2, when we found ourselves dragging our luggage a mile or two, lost en route from the train station, despite our GPS.

In case it's helpful, I talked with Road Scholar yesterday. Our departure has either 16 or 18 of 24 spots booked - they are never totally specific. They told me that it was at least halfway booked and then my travel group booked 4 spots yesterday. And one other thing - there is only one single spot left. They told me they allocated 6 singles for this trip and 5 are taken. FWIW.

PM me if you want my specific departure:)

Posted by
101 posts

I second Jean's suggestion about a few days in Nice - we loved it there. It was an easy train ride to Eze and to Monaco, and you can also stop at other villages on the water along the way. Nice is beautiful, and we found some amazing little restaurants in the old city just a few streets away from the main touristy areas. Would definitely go back there again and stay somewhere close to the water.

Posted by
1156 posts

Unless I do not understand the question, Valerie is ending her planned itinerary in Toulouse and wanting to add a destination between there and Paris. From the train station in Toulouse, to Nice, will take from 8 to 9 hours. Nice to Paris takes 6 to 8 hours by train.

Some of these suggestions are for very interesting and worthwhile destinations but how well do they fit Valerie´s itinerary?

Toulouse Matamiau to Nimes, for example, is well under 3 hours and from there to Paris is about 3 hours. If the idea is to add 3 or 4 nights, that´s 2 to 3 days to her stated itinerary, she probably does not want to spend half of that time on the train.

For many of us, adding an easy access destination such as Montpellier, Nîmes, or Avignon fits the overall plan better than do points on the opposite side of France. Montpellier, Nîmes, or Avignon offer a great deal to tourists with much to see and to explore.

Another point, Collioure is a beautiful location, the most scenic place on the Mediterranean coast until reaching Cassis east of Marseille, but it is very small, a bit awkward to reach by train, and is really best visited by car on a day trip.

Posted by
3561 posts

Tocard, in my comment pasted again below I mentioned the transportation type - taking a flight. Train travel is too long for this option. We have flown to another European connection from Toulouse on a previous trip. Although we’ve stayed at Avignon & Nimes, I didn’t mention those options since they didn’t seem to meet her request with the towns she listed as examples.

“ Hi Valerie, I’d be tempted to just take a flight from Toulouse to Nice and...”