After spending 4 nights in Paris, my husband and I plan to take the TGV to Colmar (through Strasbourg). We have six nights to play with and were thinking 3 in Colmar and 3 somewhere else. Does the train from Paris to Strasbourg stop anywhere on the way that we could spend a few nights in? We are trying to avoid renting a car. We intend this trip to be laid-back, affordable, not a whirlwind. We enjoy wandering through charming towns/villages/city centers, sipping on wine, hiking, picnics. We appreciate history and museums but don't feel the need this trip to do many tours, etc. Thanks in advance for your help!
Reims, Nancy, Strasbourg are on the way.
Reims, you would get a train direct from Paris. When you want to move on to Colmar, you take a local train out of town to the Champagne-Ardennes TGV station, then get a TGV to Strasbourg where you take a local train to Colmar. Reims is the champagne production center and has a famous Gothic Cathedral. I haven't been there, so I will let others chime in.
Nancy, again take a separate TGV direct to Nancy. To get to Colmar, local train to Strasbourg and change to a local train to Colmar. Again, I haven't been there, but I know there are fans on the Forum who can fill you in.
Strasbourg is very nice, but it is culturally very similar to Colmar. A bigger city, lots of sights, museums, and cosmopolitan as it is also home of the European Parliament. Frequent local trains to Colmar.
If you are not renting a car, maybe you should sleep in Strasbourg and then Colmar. You will have to research local trains or busses for daytrips, since 3 days with no car are a lot for either town. It would be a shame to miss all the pretty, even smaller towns like Ribeauville or Reiquwehr ( just for example.) There are also wineries and war cemeteries to research.
There's decent bus service (at least during peak season) from Colmar to a number of the beautiful surrounding villages, plus train service to a few spots. You will have enough to do even without a car, I believe, though you won't be able to link just any pair of villages, willy-nilly. Definitely go to the very fine Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. I remember liking Strasbourg a lot, but that was too long ago for me to remember any details.
I visited both Reims and Nancy last summer. As a fan of Art Nouveau, I much preferred the latter from the aesthetic standpoint. In addition to its architecture, Nancy has a good A.N. museum with a collection of primarily furniture and decorative art. It gets few foreign tourists, which is always a joy.
Reims might be preferred by folks who are into champagne, though you'd need to determine how accessible the champagne houses are without a car. Reims also has the Surrender Museum (not spectacular, but perfectly OK, especially if you haven't seen several of the WW II museums up in Normandy, as I have). The glass in the cathedral (including work by Chagall) is magnificent. Really, my only disappointment with the city (not a surprise since I was forewarned by guidebooks) was that Reims, though prosperous (read: expensive), isn't all that attractive a place compared to so many other French cities. I just wasn't thrilled to be walking around there in the same way I was in Nancy and so many other places,
take a look at TGV maps such as this one http://www.rue89strasbourg.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/schema_tgv.jpg and then look up some places you might want to visit.
I stayed in Strabsourg last summer and went to Colmar as a day trip. I thought Strasbourg made a good base, a lot to see in town and easy rail connections for day trips. But if you want the small town experience then maybe sleeping in Colmar would be the better fit.
Thank you all for the tips. Perhaps it would be better to spend each one of the three nights in a different place on the way to Colmar - say one night in Reims, one in Nancy and one in Strasbourg? Is this feasible? We chose to stay in Colmar over Strasboug because we prefer the smaller town feel over the big city and it seemed like we'd have a better chance of seeing a few of the surrounding towns (Eguisheim for instance) by biking there. So you have an overall picture of our trip: 4 nights in Paris > 3 nights to play with > 3 nights in Colmar > 2 nights in Paris.
I would not do three one-nighters in a row. Hate even one. But that's just a personal bias.
That all of those are good stops between Paris and Colmar doesn't necessarily mean they are well-connected to each other.
Reims to Nancy means either doubling back to Paris (time-consuming and costly) or a couple of changes and about 1 hr. 45 min. Nothing wrong with the latter, but looking just at the Deutsche Bahn options (there may be some nominally inferior routings not shown), it appears that there are times when the connections are more than 2 hours apart. If a train is late and you need to scramble, you could lose a lot of time on the travel day.
There are direct trains from Nancy to Strasbourg at 8:16 AM and then about every two hours thereafter. The trip takes just under 1-1/2 hours. Connections aren't much slower but will probably be much costlier if a TGV is involved.
I wouldn't go to Strasbourg for just one night due to its size. I imagine that getting from the train station to your hotel, from your hotel to sights and back to your hotel, then from your hotel to the station the next day will chew up a lot of time.
Perhaps it would be better to spend each one of the three nights in a different place on the way to Colmar
That you asked suggests you haven't done a string of 1-nite stays before. Otherwise you would have known if it works for you or not.
Given you "intend this trip to be laid-back" I personally would not do this. We find it tiring to have to pack up everything each morning, lug it down to the train station, drop your bag at the next hotel (because you likely arrive before your room is ready) and then start your visit to the city. On the other hand if this isn't the only time you'll visit Europe then maybe you should give it a try and you'll know for the future whether you like it or no.
What we like to do is pick a base for a few nites. If traveling by train then look up a few possible destinations for each day. So if you are in Strasbourg you might plan a day in Colmar but maybe when you're there you decide Colmar isn't worth a whole day. If as part of your trip planning you had looked at a map online, other resources such as http://www.francethisway.com/tourism/place-map.php?place=Colmar, or in your guidebook (the green Michelin guide has much more detail on smaller towns as well as covering the larger ones) you could have as part of your research picked a few places you could get to by rail as well as the train times. We've found by train we can visit 1 or 2 towns per day. It is of course easier with a car rental, you want to leave you just go and you can go to towns not on the train line.
You can invert the reasoning above as well. Maybe you plan a day with a morning in Colmar and then after lunch you're going to take the train to another town and return after dinner there. Colmar is so nice you change plans and just stay the whole day.
I like the idea of one night in Nancy, which I really enjoyed visiting. If you spend two nights there, you could take a day trip to Metz, which I didn't get to but sounds interesting.
In Strasbourg, don't miss the Museum of Alsatian Life. I wasn't that enthralled with either Strasbourg or Colmar, but this museum was great.
With regard to Nancy, the interesting architecture is fairly well scattered. The tourist office has a brochure identifying some key locations. The Ecole de Nancy Museum is not particularly centrally located. So if the major interest is the Art Nouveau and Art Deco sights, plan for quite a bit of walking, waiting at bus stops, or taxis. I chose walking and certainly couldn't have managed it with just one night in the city. As it was, I left the museum too late and had to really rush.
I would suggest Metz. One hour 20 minutes from Paris and an hour or so to Strasbourg. It is a beautiful old Roman city with canals, an extraordinary Cathedral, and the largest pedestrian only centre-ville in France. Please look at the photos and reviews of Metz before you decide on the much lesser Nancy.