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Itinerary help - where to go besides Paris

I'm looking for some help...

My wife and I want to take a trip to Europe for our 25th anniversary late spring (May time frame). A little about our travels. Our main point of interest is Paris and Normandy. The rest of the trip is up in the air, and the main reason I'm posting. Looking for ideas. A bit about us....

  • healthy middle age, love to walk and explore
  • been to Italy 3 times, Vienna, Prague, Budapest
  • have driven all over Tuscany, don't mind driving
  • we plan on being gone for about 18 nights (give or take)
  • modest budget, prefer < $200 / night for lodging. We like to rent apartments
  • flying on miles, open jaw is no problem

We've thought about:
Paris / Barcelona trip
OR maybe a Paris / Luxembourg / Amsterdam
have also though about Zurich and/or Munich

While we are an active couple, we prefer to travel a bit slow and enjoy the moments. Don't like to stop in a city just to say we've been there. We know you can't see Paris in a couple days.

So, we are looking for some suggestions to complete our itinerary. Initial thought is 5 nights in Paris with maybe a couple in Normandy. My wife would also like to see some castles. Enjoy food, wine, architecture. Not a huge fan of museums.

Any ideas or things I might have missed greatly appreciated.


Posted by
4125 posts

Okay, so you've got 10 nights and some great ideas.

Any of your possible itineraries would be excellent.

Many castles in the Loire valley, especially the poofy Renaissance variety, just a few hours from Normandy.

You can also see some great examples of same as day trips from Paris, so consider getting your Chateaux that way if you do not want to stop in the Loire.

There are many older, grittier stone fortresses, dating from the 100 Years War, lining the Dordogne valley to the south. This is a fabulous area with great food and amazing cave art.

You could spend 10 days driving from Normandy to the Loire, then from the Loire (2 nights?) to the Dordogne (4 or 5 nights?), then south to see some of the smaller towns (Castres, St Cirq, Albi, even Carcassonne), flying home from Toulouse.

Just one of many possible itineraries.

Posted by
11613 posts

I recommend Belgium. You can base in one city and do daytrips to others - I like Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels or Ghent, Great food, easy-going friendly people and chocolate and beer! Ph, and art, culture, history...

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for the info so far.

My wife and I are leaning towards Barcelona. I sure don't want to drive all the way there as I would want to avoid a large rental car drop off fee. So we're looking at driving to the southern part of France taking in some of Adam's suggestions and then probably train into Barcelona.

So it would look like 5 days Paris, a couple/three in Normandy, spend a 5 days on the road, and then 5 days in Barcelona. I'm assuming I can train from Toulouse to Barcelona?

Any ideas/suggestions always welcome.

Posted by
4125 posts

Yes, Toulouse > Barc 3-4 hours by rail.

But I think you are spreading yourselves a little too thin. Remember that what is possible is not necessarily what is optimal.

So while you could do as you suggest, I think you'd have a better trip if you left off Normandy (ouch!), or at least the Loire.

Don't want to do that? I sympathize very much! But you really need another 3 days to do your plan justice, in my opinion.

Posted by
695 posts

You're right about the drop off fee. I should have mentioned in my earlier post that we left the car in Perpignan and took the train to Barcelona from there. The car rental agency, Europcar in our case, was right in the train station. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
3 posts

my husband and I (same age group and travel experiences as you) had a similar itinerary last year: Barcelona-Paris for our 30th anniversary. we loved Barcelona- it has everything you could ask for. our hotel was centrally located on Las Ramblas (mixed reviews from others but we loved it a the Hotel Montecarlo) and within a one block walk we had access to anything we needed including super convenient bus transportation to the airport. We would wholeheartedly recommend this city for a 2-3 day addition. maybe the best aspect is the proximity of the airport- I would not recommend train from paris- takes too long- I would fly and savor the extra day for the beach, the food, the history (hop on hop off bus is the best way around) and if you can catch a soccer match it will be a truly memorable trip.

Posted by
9 posts

I finally have been able to book my air fare. Award travel can be tricky when you have to deal with 1000s of flight cancellations due to weather. Took forever to get thru.

I have 17 nights on the ground for Paris / Barcelona. Our (just my wife and I) tentative plans are:

  • Arrive in Paris and spend 4 or 5 nights. I know this doesn't do Paris justice, but we want to see much more than Paris.
  • leave Paris, pick up rental and spend 3 or 4 nights in Normandy area
  • leave Normandy and drive to the Loire and visit some chateaux. Not sure how long here.
  • Possibly visit Dordogne and maybe make our way to Toulouse for a few days.
  • drop off car and train into Barcelona for 5 nights before flying home from Barcelona

This might seem ambitious. Not sure if we should drop something. The only thing booked is air, so I'm open for any and all suggestions.

Thanks for any and all help.

Posted by
5250 posts

You're giving yourself 7 nights for Normandy, Loire, Dordogne, and Toulouse. That's pretty rushed I'd say. And if you're really going to spend 3 or 4 of them in Normandy, then you'll have time for maybe one chateau (Loire) and one cave (Dordogne) on your way to Toulouse. ;)

Well, maybe not as rushed as that, maybe two chateaux and two caves, or a cave and a castle. Your original message said you were interested in food, wine, and architecture. For architecture the Loire would offer a lot. Chambord for its immense size and forest setting. Blois for four distinct styles around a courtyard. Chenonceau for spanning a river. Amboise for its setting above the river, and for the nearby Clos Luce were Leonardo spent his last years. For food the Dordogne offers pates and more. If you can work in at least two nights in each area (Amboise and Sarlat would work as bases) you should try. What are you looking to see in Toulouse, or is that just where the train starts?

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks all for the replies. Dick, my wife and I were going over this again last night and came up with the following:

  • Arrive CDG, pick up rental car and drive to Bayeux
  • stay in Bayeux for 4 nights, see the WWII sites, Bayeux Tapestry, etc (looking for lodging recommendations)
  • drive from Bayeux to Mont Saint Michel, visit for half day, then drive to the Loire and staying 3 or 4 nights??, probably staying in Amboise or somewhere near here. (looking for recommendations)
  • driving to drop the car at Orly and taxi in to Paris
  • spend 4 nights in Paris
  • high speed train to Barcelona for 5 nights.

However, we arrive in Paris on June 4th, and there is absolutely NO VACANCY in Bayeux (or Caen), which is really no surprise since the anniversary of D-day.

So I think I have three choices....
- make the loop in reverse
- start in Paris instead of Normandy
- start in Paris and still do the loop in reverse, giving more time for the crowds to clear. (yeah right)

If we do the latter, I'll probably travel somewhere from the Loire to drop off car and train to Barcelona. Don't see the point in driving back to Paris.

Posted by
4125 posts

For your last option, the train from Amboise to Barcelona is 8-9 hours (although there is a night train option). You might want to price out flights.

Posted by
5250 posts

If you go straight to Normandy on June 4 you'll hit the 70th D-Day anniversary square on. Better to make Normandy your last area in France. Either stay in Paris or drive to the Loire first. Then the Loire or Paris. Then Normandy. Then back to Paris for either the TGV train (from Gare de Lyon) or a budget flight (watch the baggage rules) to Barcelona. Seems like a lot of backtracking but necessary if you can't find a Normandy room at this late date.

You could always skip the Loire and spend 7 or 8 nights in Paris, you won't run out of wonderful things to see and do. Assume you will return....

Posted by
6608 posts

How about arrive Paris and head for Normandy for a few nights; train to Bayeux and spend a few nights there with the Tapestry, doing a tour to the landing beaches etc and then perhaps get a car and visit Mont St. Michel and another town or two. We did 5 nights a couple of years ago and did one at MSM, two at the Churchill in Bayeux with an Overlord tour and then two in Honfleur with a day trip to Etretat. Then dropped the car at Caen and trained back to Paris where we spent a month. You can see our Normandy stops at AFter Normandy you would then return to Paris for the number of days you have chosen and then take the Thalys to Amsterdam for 3 nights or so. Amsterdam is a great 3 night town and you could get a rental there for that length of time. We have used City Mundo and gotten houseboat lodging. I have also heard that you can get very good hotel deals on Priceline for central Amsterdam.

Or you could do something similar and head for Burgundy for a week. You can look at my photo journal to see how we handled a trip like that a few years ago. Burgundy is just beautiful. To have a base and then be able to drive from there to charming towns, vineyards, abbeys and hiking trails -- just a terrific vacation. Then return to Paris and on to Amsterdam.

For either of these trips you would fly open jaw into Paris and fly out of Schiphol in Amsterdam. We have been flying open jaw most years in the last 25 and it is no more expensive and lot more convenient. We often fly into Paris and out of Amsterdam (we hate flying out of CDG and avoid it when we can) Last year we flew into Paris and out of Madrid; the year before into Rome and out of Amsterdam with a stop in Paris for two months.

By starting the trip in the countryside, you don't have to race back to homebase to train or fly on to the next stop.

Posted by
9 posts

Our current plan is to travel in a loop.

Starting in Paris, on to Bayeux, then on to the Loire. From the Loire, we will be returning the rental car and taking the TGV train from Paris to Barcelona.

My latest question is.....

we have 4 nights to spend in the Loire. We are looking for some recommendations on the best place to "base" keeping in mind that we will be returning towards Paris to catch the train.

We are thinking either Tours, Amboise, or some other location. Should we split this time 2/2 or 3/1. Is Orleans worth a stop.

Advice or recommendations greatly appreciated. All of you have been a great help.


Posted by
11450 posts

three nights is fine for Loire Valley.
I liked Amboise and its a good base... but I found this place I have lined up for my next stay..

Hotel La Roseraie near Chenonceaux.

Posted by
34 posts

When we went to Paris last year we rented a car from enterprise and drove from Paris to Metz, France. Thru Verdun on the way there and thru Reims and Epernay on the way back. The tolls are kind of pricey but getting into the country was wonderful! Metz is absolutely gorgeous! Well worth the trip! Reims has a cathedral that Norte dame should envy and Epernay has champagne! If you go to the Moët tour check for reservations ahead of time, though. Have a great time!