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Itinerary advice and thoughts?

Hi all -

My partner and I are planning our first international trip (we've never traveled outside of the U.S. - aside from brief tips to Mexico and Canada) and are so excited! We plan on spending one month (November 2019) in Italy, one month (December 2019) in France, and one month (January 2020) in Spain. I am mostly excited for France, and have a very rough draft of an itinerary. I am hoping if you all can help me decide if I'm on the right track here, being a bit too ambitious, if there are other must-sees, etc.

We would fly into Bordeaux. Stay here for ten days and rent a car.
Day 1: Museums
Day 2: Heritage trail and explore Bazas (1 hour drive)
Day 3: Arcachon Bay - Dune du Pilat for sunset (1 hour drive)
Day 4: Saint Emilion (45 min drive)
Day 5: Roquetaillade - $12
Day 6: Rest, explore, sight see in Bordeaux
- Quai Des Livres (a bookstore and art gallery)
Day 7: Castelnaud-la-Chapelle (2.5 hour drive)
- Chateau de Castelnaud
- Sarlat Market (Wednesdays/Saturdays only)
- Vieux Sarlat
- Chateau de Beynac
- Cave of Domme
Day 8: Rest, explore, sight see in Bordeaux
- Opera?
- Wine tasting boat tour - $40
Day 9: Dordogne (1.5 hour drive)
- Aquarium

- Villages of Dordogne tour - $70 *This is actually unavailable in December - any other suggestions like this?
Day 10: Nothing planned

12/10: Drive from Bordeaux to Rocamadour
Rocamadour: Stay here three days. Drop off car (Having a difficult time finding places to drop off car near Rocamdour, though)
Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3:

12/13: Train from Rocamadour to Marseille - approximately $70, 6 hours
Marseille: Stay here for four days.
Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3: Relax, explore
- Cooking class w/ wine - Thursdays only, $90
Day 4:

12/17: Bus from Marseille to Nice - approximately $20, 3 hours
Nice: Stay here for three days.
Day 1:Take day tour to Verdon Gorge for approximately $150/each, 9 hours.
Day 2:
Day 3:

12/20: Train from Nice to Lyon - approximately $45, 5 hours
Lyon: Spend three days here.
Day 1: Horse riding tour?!?! - approximately $300 - 3 hour train ride to Gare de Moulins Sur Allier (they pick you up here) - drinks not included
Day 2: on horseback tour
Day 3:

12/23: Train from Lyon to Paris - approximately $60, 3 hours.
Paris: Stay here for 8 days.
Day 1: relax, explore
Spend Christmas in Paris!
Day 3: Row boat?
Day 4:
Day 5: Possible horse riding tour - approximately $350 - 4 hour train ride from either Paris or Lyon - drinks included
Day 6:
Day 7:
Day 8: New Years!

Any help/suggestions/etc would be so greatly appreciated!
Cheers,
Caitlin

Posted by
5697 posts

Since you're counting days, can we assume you understand the Schengen area limit of 90 days (not 3 months) in total, including arrival and departure dates ?
Looks like more moving around than I care to do, but that's a personal decision. Are you planning to stay in hotels or apartments with kitchens ?
Horse riding tours in late December? Sounds cold !!

Enjoy the planning !

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks, Laura! I was actually under the impression it was 3 months, rather than 90 days. I can do some minor editing - should only need to take off about ~3 days total. As I mentioned, we've never done a big trip like this before and I definitely agree it seems like a lot of moving around but I'm truly just unsure what we should see/do/etc. I want to make sure we get as much in as we can, while also making sure we have enough time to actually enjoy ourselves :) - I think we'll stay in hostels and possibly apartments w/ kitchenettes to save money to be able to spend elsewhere. There's this beautiful horse riding tour here. This is definitely a dream of mine!

Being in Seattle, I actually am okay with the colder weather.

Posted by
5697 posts

Caitlin, your riding tour is actually in Alsace ? Also a beautiful area of France, with wonderful Christmas markets in Strasbourg and Colmar. You might consider basing in this area as well. (We plan a return visit in December 2019 -- but no horses.)

Posted by
6 posts

Laura, I suppose I could take some days out of Bordeaux and spend a few in Alsace. That may simply make more sense since it is quite the drive/train ride from Lyon or Paris. I think I will actually make that adjustment - thanks a ton!

Posted by
598 posts

Wow, I'm bookmarking that France on Horseback website! I take lessons year round (in Rockville, MD) and don't think the cold will be a problem if you're dressed properly. On below-freezing days I have a thin balaclava I wear under my helmet to keep my ears from getting cold. Just checked the weather in Vienne - looks like it's in the 40's (Fahrenheit) this week, so probably no snow at the moment. I personally wouldn't want to do it as a day trip - four hours each way on the train! Is there a way to go directly from Lyon, spend two nights in Vienne, then on to Paris?

Posted by
6625 posts

I have experience only with the Dordogne among your destinations. I don't understand why you'd want to pingpong from Bordeaux to Sarlat, back to Bordeaux, then back to Rocamadour. When you've seen what you want in Bordeaux, head west up the valley and visit your other locations as you go. Rocamadour is fine but I'd have trouble figuring out what to do with three days there.

Can't overemphasize the need to understand fully the Schengen rules and count carefully the days you'll be in those three countries.

Posted by
86 posts

I'm confused by the order of your itinerary. I've visited all the places in France you list and it seems to me your wasting time on travel days. If you want to end up in Paris, I would fly into Nice and work my way back to Paris. In the Dordogne I would base myself in Sarlat for Rocamador and other sites in the area. Bordeaux is nice, but I wouldn't spend more than 2 or 3 days there. You can hit St. Emilion on your way to Sarlat.

Unless you're forced to travel in winter I would suggest April-May or September-October for your trip.

Oh, and if you're basing your drive time on Google Maps, please don't. Google Maps way understates the drive time. Via Michelin is more accurate.

Good luck and enjoy!

Posted by
112 posts

There is a Europcar office in Sarlat, not very far (although could be unpleasant with luggage in December) from the train station. It's also (longish) walking distance from the Old Town if you decide to stay a day or two before picking up your car. If one of those days is Saturday, all the better, as this is the market you want to visit.

Posted by
174 posts

I am also puzzled by the thought of horseback riding in December anywhere near Lyon. It gets quite cold and windy there in winter. I recommend spending more time doing the touristy things in Lyon: cathedral, perhaps a boat tour (dress very warmly), bus tour of the old parts of the city, etc. Peter

Posted by
11392 posts

Day 1: Museums

Is this your arrival day? If so, not the best way to counteract jet lag.

Posted by
6 posts

Wow. Thank you everyone for your replies! This will help me greatly. Based on your suggestions, I plan to rethink my itinerary. Not only will this be our first time in Europe, but first time traveling internationally so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. We plan to spend 3 weeks in Italy, 4 weeks in France, possibly one week in Switzerland, and 3-4 weeks in Spain. My work is very season based, and because I'd like to come back to a job :), our travels will need to be Nov-Jan.

Posted by
6 posts

joe32f - I've been under the impression that the best way to fight jet lag is to remain busy and try to adjust your sleep schedule. Do you have any other suggestions?

Posted by
11392 posts

Just about anything outdoors.

You want your body to know its daytime and work on 'resetting' your internal clock.

Posted by
27357 posts

Getting down to the real nitty-gritty level, I think you'll find trains at least a bit faster than buses between Marseille and Nice.

Due to the timing of your trip, I think you need to Google mistral.

Posted by
6625 posts

Joe's right about staying outside on your jet-lag day if you can. Admittedly easier in warmer weather than you'll have. I like museums but I think I'd become a zombie pretty fast in one on that first day. Walk around outside, enjoy the adrenaline from being in a totally new place, explore your neighborhood, try to stay awake till an early dinner then zonk out till morning and you're all set.

The number of weeks you plan in each country adds up to, I think, 77 days max, well under the Schengen 90-day limit, so you should be fine even with a few extra transit days.

Posted by
15644 posts

What an exciting trip, Caitlin. My first suggestion is to get a copy of Rick Steves' Durope Through the Back Door and read it thoroughly. Have you worked on your budget? It sounds like you may have. Keep in mind that moving around is expensive.

In your planning have you taken into account that you will not have a lot of daylight hours, so you want to be in places that you'll have things to see and do in the long evenings. Places that look and sound wonderful in spring or summer could be dismal in December. Consider spending time in places that are more "congenial" in winter. Maybe more time on the Cote d'Azur (I'm currently planning 8 days in March there and finding it's not enough time). Alsace is one place I absolutely wouldn't miss - some of the best Christmas markets and decorations in Europe. Google "Noel en Alsace". You could take a fast train to Strassbourg for a couple of days, then rent a car and visit the many villages (stay in one of them) as well as Colmar (not a good place to stay with a car). There may be more public transportation to the villages because of the holidays, now is the time to check. It would be cheaper than renting a car.

There's a lot to adjust to when you get off the plane. Signage is different, the money is different, the local customs are different, and more. Give yourselves a couple of days to get oriented before you start driving. Driving isn't as easy in Europe as it is in the U.S. Added to that, you may have poor weather conditions, signs are only in French (in France), road signs aren't great once you're off the autoroute (toll road), and traffic laws are sometimes strictly enforced, especially speed limits. Take a GPS device with you that you are familiar with. Having a difficult time finding places to drop off car - that's another problem - even larger towns don't have many car rental options.