Please sign in to post.

June trip to southwest

I purchased a ticket last night (Icelandair to Paris) for a trip arriving midday June 1 in Paris and flying home June 19 (both ways from Orly). I've done three of my planned four loops: NW (Normandy, Brittany, Loire), NE (Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne) and SE (Lyon, Annecy and Chamonix followed by Provence and Riviera). So this is the fourth and I'm planning a SW loop. This time I generally want to see Bordeaux, Dordogne and Languedoc areas. More than likely traveling alone.

So far I've booked my first two nights at the Mije (hostel) in Paris. The plan would be to then train or fly south, pick up a car, tour the areas, then drop the car and train or fly back to Paris for a couple more nights before flying home.

For those of you who have visited these areas. Any recommendations on places to see, things to do, places to eat, places to stay would be welcome. I'd also like suggestions on a good jumping off point to get to and pick up a rental car, as well as a good ending point to drop the car and get back to Paris. I could either start south and work north or opposite, it really doesn't matter unless there is a festival or some draw to put me at one end first or last.

To give you an idea of the things I consider ideal. I absolutely loved the medieval stone towns in Burgundy (and Ardeche). I love history, but much prefer 15th century or earlier. Show me a 12th century castle, hospital or church, rather than the WWII French underground secret headquarters. I like ocean and water related activities (a kayak on the Dordogne for example). I like decent food and modest amounts of wine, beer or cider but not in a high end establishment. I prefer good local food, where locals gather, to fine dining. For lodging, I'm happy at hostels, Airbnbs, small hotels. I prefer economy lodging that is clean and quiet. Luxury is lost on me. I'm used to paying under 100 euro per night for lodging (often half that).

My French is horrible but it seems to please the locals that I understand most of what I read or hear and make feeble attempts to communicate in the local tongue and be pleasant and polite. I'm not daunted by areas where no one speaks English.

I'll read Rick Steves and other travel guides, for the area, before the trip and may have more specific questions regarding their advice.

Thanks for your help and experience,


Posted by
776 posts

"This time I generally want to see Bordeaux, Dordogne and Languedoc"

Read up on the Cathars and the Albigensian crusade

If you're going to read one book about the Cathars this should be it.

Depending on your tastes of course, IMHO there's so much to see that you stated being of interest to you, that I'd break off Languedoc and do that with Roussillon on a next trip following the Pyrenees from Peripignan into the Basque country at Biarritz

Posted by
12074 posts

I may end up doing that. I always start with a long list of things I'd like to see/do then weed them down to an itinerary. Sometimes things are weeded out because they don't fit into a route that covers most of the sights. Sometimes I'll weed it down to several stops that are the best representatives of the subject (like wine towns in Alsace). If it's still too full, I will break it into more than one trip.

The Cathars do interest me, I thought I'd include at least one or two stops related to their history.


Posted by
2916 posts

Here's the link for my travel blog, which includes posts covering the Basque, Bearn and Dordogne regions, plus Bordeaux. Those are mostly in 2013 and 2016. Bordeaux would be one option to pick up a car, since all of the major rental agencies have offices there, and the train from Paris takes a little over 2 hours. We've made several trips to the Languedoc, but they precede the start of my blog. But there's so much to see in the SW that you might want to put the Languedoc off for a later trip.

Posted by
70 posts

I agree with others--split it up. Either do a "northern" route of Atlantic coast, Bordeaux, Dordogne, or a "southern" route of basque/pyrenees/Languedoc.

If you choose "North", you'll find lots of advice on visiting the Dordogne. Definitely do a boat/canoe day! If you can fit it in, add in Le Puy-de-Dome. I did a sunset hike there and was so taken by it that I decided to stay over and hike it again at sunrise (and I am NOT a morning person). It was truly magical--like hiking into the Land Before Time, and then you could see all the hot air balloons lift off! Clermont-Ferrand, the closest town, also made quite the impression on me.

For the south, I'd travel west to east. For example Biarritz, Perpignan (highly underrated!), Collioure, Narbonne, Canal du Midi, Sète, Montpellier. Throw in some Cathar castles up front. Carcassonne if you can catch it in the afternoon/evening on a weekday. (Or substitute Aigues-Mortes closer to Mpl--similiar but less touristy). You can easily get from Montpellier to Paris to fly out (flying direct from Mpl might also work, depending on your destination. I've just done an early train from Mpl--CDG for my flight and it's been fine)

Posted by
776 posts

Considering your interests, do NOT miss Aigues-Mortes.

Posted by
4125 posts

Now that there is a 2-hour TGV to Bordeaux, I don't think you need to fly anywhere. Still, it is too bad you have bought your air tickets already, since flying home from Toulouse (or Bordeaux) would have been very smart.

You will need a car for this region, so I would just get one at the airport.

The Dordogne, Lot, and Cele valleys are the place for 15th century or earlier, with an emphasis on the earlier. A day visitng neolithic sites in the Vezere valley (off of the Dordogne) would be well spend. My favorite cave experience however was the Grotte du Peche Merle to the south. It's near a stunning hill town, St Cirq Lapopie.

The Dordogne is lined with stone fortresses from when the French and English faced each other across the river during the Hundred Year's War. I would stay on one of the fort towns rather than in Sarlat, which is nonetheless worth a visit. You could stay in the valley for a week without exhausting things to do or eat, though of course you have to balance that with your other priorities for this trip. Still I would not be surprised if the Dordogne is your highlight.

Drive south into Laguedoc and, if you are so inclined, French Catalonia. Carcassone is controversial here, but I like it, for a night (beat the crowds during the day by being mostly elsewhere). I also recommend learning a little bit about the history of the Cathars (aka Albigensians) and visiting Albi and also Cathar ruins. I especially enjoyed the Haute Corbiers, not for the phobic of heights.

If you are inclined to travel so far, the coastal town of Coulliore would make a charming southern end of your loop.

By the way, it looks as though there is a direct, no-transfers TGV from Bordeaux to Charles deGaulle that departs at 6 AM and arrives at the airport before 10. It's a little risky to trust your return to a train, but personally I would take that risk it if my return flight were not too early.

Posted by
1428 posts

The Cave Painters by Gregory Curtis was an interesting read to me. It covers the scientific history of the prehistoric cave are in southern Europe. A hard-drinking chain-smoking Jesuit priest, a mistress, scientific rivalries, bizarre theories - this field has it all. I enjoyed reading it while getting ready to visit the Dordogne region's caves.

Posted by
12074 posts

Thanks for the very good ideas. I'm not as interested in the Pyrenees/Basque areas because I've seen the Spanish side on a previous trip.

The reason for flying in and out of Paris is the price for alternatives goes up incredibly. I'll likely train to Bordeaux and fly back to Paris from Toulouse or Montpelier, or opposite. A seat on a hop (with my small carry-on) will likely be a little under 50 euro. I paid 46 euro from Nice to Paris last September. Even though I lose time, flying into other cities just about doubles the ticket price. I was able to get a round trip with Icelandair for $575 this time (not bad with the higher euro but more than my last three trips).

I will definitely enjoy seeing Albi, cave paintings and kayaking. I think I can make time for some hiking too. I've heard Carcassonne isn't bad if you enter opposite from the main tourist area, late in the afternoon is probably a good idea too. I'd like to hear as much about cave painting options as possible, I enjoyed the reproduction in the Ardeche and would like to see more.

Posted by
23097 posts

Brad, you may have luck searching the forum for names of specific caves. I don't like the search function here, but that might be successful. I remember considerable discussion of the various caves over the last 2 years or so.

I guess the fortifications at Villefranche-de-Conflent are a bit later than your preferred period. It's very picturesque, but also very touristy.

Posted by
399 posts

An alternative less touristy area would be the Saintonge - between Saintes with its two large Romaneque churhces and the Atlantic coast, where virtually every small village has a Romanesque church.

I'm planning to be there myself in early July, but getting around by train and bicycle, not car. An enquiry on this forum a while ago yielded no responses, so while it may take longer to research that area but you would be spared the crowds.