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Month in France(with side trip to Venice) itinerary questions especially driving

I’m taking my 18yo daughter to Europe may 13-june 9 -those are arrival and departure dates. So we will have 27 nights. Our flight is booked Into and out of CDG Paris with layovers in Munich. We will arrive at CDG at 7pm tired so may not go into city that night but get hotel by airport depending on next day plans. We have a long layover that day (13th) sightseeing in Munich. We are only taking carryon backpacks.

I’m having a really hard time nailing down what to do as far as getting from place to place In France. Obviously don’t want to waste too much time going from A to B to C, etc. I’ve been to Europe once, last May. Italy and Paris only so I’m a newbie so please bear with me.

For this trip our interests are castles, culture, food, countryside, architecture and beach. Definitely Paris for 3-4 nights at least and side trip to Venice is a must for my daughter( I know, I know but this is her graduation gift). The rest of the time I’m planning on spending in France. Not interested in the caves, canoeing, wine.
Like history but saving Normandy for a trip with husband. Biking would be fun but probably too tiring.(?)

Researching areas we are attracted to Dordogne, Loire, Colmar area, Annecy, Carcassonne and the southern coast (doesn’t have to be Riviera). Possibly Lyon. Again these are interests-we don’t have to see all. Also considering more time in Paris for day trips to Versailles, Vaux le Vicomte, Chartes, etc.
update: Talking to daughter we would both like to see the beach.

We are on a tight budget so $ is a factor.

I originally planned on trains but two of our main interests-Loire and Dordogne -seem to need a car to really experience. I can’t drive a stick so it’d have to be automatic, therefore it’s pricy but I think doable for a week or possibly two. However, parking and toll costs might make it too much.
Am I correct in that there are no tolls around Dordogne? I’m thinking it’d be best to train down to Dordogne to pick up car and only keep for a week. Possibly taking it to the southern coast and see Carcassonne on the way-or train there and just do car in Dordogne villages.

Do we need one for the North (Loire and Colmar) as well? Seems like we would hit more toll roads. Can we have a good experience with just trains up there?

Also-to clarify - we are going to Venice M-Th timeframe the 2nd or 3rd week of our trip.
So we can’t do France in a big loop then Venice at end. This is based on the predicted crowd levels there -already checked. Also I don’t want to go jet lagged again-did that last year.
Either leaving for Venice May 18,19 (least crowded) or 25,26 and staying 3 nights. Flying there Airport possibilities are Basel (cheapest), Lyon, Geneva or Paris (or Bordeaux low price on 26 only) .
Possibilities on way back include all of above airports as well as Marseilles.
Toulouse airport is too expensive and Nice is too far.
Don’t have any Venice qs-just FYI that our trip in France will be broken up.
Planning on staying night June 8 in Paris or near CDG airport if coming from another city that day.

What are your suggestions?? Driving vs trains in Colmar, Loire, Dordogne? Logical progression of areas to visit? Comments on the Southern coast west of Riviera. Also, is Lyon and Annecy worth a couple days trip since they are out of the way(unless we fly from Geneva)? Or is there more in this region that I’m unaware of that warrants more time?
How do ‘Day trip from Paris’castles and areas stack up to Loire’s? See both or pick one?

Posted by
7263 posts

Venice is in Italy and Barcelona is in Spain. Change the title of your post to fit the description of what you are trying to do; otherwise it will be confusing to many trying to help you

Posted by
20 posts

Ok-I dont have qs about them-just FYI that we are taking side trip for few days so our France trip is broken up. I’ll change!

Posted by
6 posts

I’ve never been to France, but if I did go, there are some incredible Gothic cathedrals that would be on my bucket list! If it’s in your route you might check out Chartes, Amiens, Reims or Rouen. In Paris, there are magnificent stained glass windows at San Chapelle.

Posted by
125 posts

If you are thinking about traveling by car, and it will be at least a 3-week rental, think seriously about a lease from either Peugeot or another French automaker. We did this and picked up our new Renault at CDG airport, and it was slightly less expensive than renting a car, plus all insurance was included, and we got a new car. Just make sure the car you choose will be big enough to carry all your luggage in the trunk, so you worry less about break-ins. Peter

Posted by
910 posts

We (2 adults and 2 teens) like the freedom of having a car, but in France we’ve only driven Paris to Normandy. Paid parking was generally 1€/hr from 9 am to 7 pm, free noon to 2 and after 7 pm. You can park on the streets a lot of places for up to 4 hrs with a placard. Tolls were about 40€ Paris to Normandy. You could map your route on Michelin and get toll and fuel costs.

I can’t speak to specific routes, but more to my methodology for planning. I prefer 2 nights minimum per location. Longer if day trips are possible. If budget is a concern I would skip Switzerland. The outlaying places (Colmar, Venice, MSM) will take half a day to get to/from.

I would go to Venice earlier rather than later if you are trying to avoid crowds, but check the cruise ship schedule to avoid those days if possible.

Sleep in whatever city you are flying out of. Don’t risk taking a train from another city to catch a flight.

Work backwards with dates from where you need to be to where you start. Figure out what cities have flights to/from Venice. Try to make two loops of France, with the side trip to Venice in between. But don’t assume you have to fly in/out of Paris to Venice. It might cost more to fly from Lyon to Venice and back to Toulouse, but it saves travel time and potentially hotels.

Here is just an example. 27 nights fill up fast! I didn’t include Colmar.

5/13 Paris
5/14 Paris
5/15 Paris
5/21 Paris to Annecy
5/22 Annecy
5/23 Annecy to Lyon
5/24 Lyon
5/25 fly to Venice for 3 nights
5/28 fly to Toulouse, get rental car (7 nights)
5/29 Carcasonne
5/30 Dordogne area
6/1 Dordogne area
6/2 Dordogne area
6/3 Loire valley area
6/4 Loire valley area
6/5 Loire valley
6/6 Loire valley area to MSM, drop rental car
6/7 MSM
6/8 train from MSM to Paris
6/9 fly home from Paris

Posted by
5648 posts

Bicycling comment - we left Paris and continued south by train, to Amboise in the Loire. We rented bikes and rode to/from the Chenonceau chateau. Not too tiring, as it was relatively flat, and we just went to that one location. Beautiful location, and pedaling was a great way to get there!

Posted by
5765 posts

MSM is in Normandy (actually, right on the edge), and 1) you said you would save Normandy for another trip, and 2) it's on the far north end of the country, opposite side of where you say you want to go. France is not small. Skip MSM this trip and do it with Normandy later.

Posted by
5714 posts

Personally, I would drop MSM, which to me was a disappointment and would fit better with a trip to Normandy.

Having a car would give you more flexibility, but they are liabilities in cities.

If your flights aren’t booked, look to fly into Venice and home from Paris. Flights within Europe have been available for months and prices only head in one direction. You can fly EasyJet from Venice to Toulouse 17 May for under €43 each (no checked baggage). From Toulouse, you could head to Carcassonne, then the Dordogne then the Loire and Paris.

If you are on a budget, then Carcassonne, the Riviera, Venice and Switzerland are not going to be easy, as they are expensive locations.

A cheaper form of accommodation is to look at staying on a campsite, as all French sites have a selection of lodges available at varying prices to suit different budgets. They are cheaper than hiring a gite (cottage) for a week and have good facilities.

Posted by
20 posts

Thanks for all the comments! Edited post to help-hopefully! Eliminated MSM. I had thought if we had car it would be doable from Loire but changed mind based on comments.
Added couple qs.
Will look into the Michelin road guide. Didn’t know they had toll prices! I had only looked at RS road time estimates in his book. Sounds like Michelin is pretty comprehensive. Gas doesn’t seem to be any pricier over there than here in states with the fuel economy. Is that more or less true?
Travel4fun thx! Very helpful info. Yes, definitely planning to be in city ahead of time for flight. Wow tolls are a lot.
Peter-I checked and the leases were a lot more. It would be cheaper to rent car by month but we will leave in middle...
Cyn-ok maybe we will consider biking!
Jennifer-thx! I will look into lodging at the campsites.

Posted by
21313 posts

The reference to Michelin may have meant the website, which is It does provide information on tolls and estimated fuel costs. It will ask you what sort of car you will be driving in an effort to make the fuel expenses reasonably accurate. I have never driven in Europe, so I have no idea how the actual fuel cost per mile compares to ours.

Posted by
467 posts

Gas doesn’t seem to be any pricier over there than here in states with
the fuel economy. Is that more or less true?

Gas is definitely more expensive in France than in the United States. It is currently about €1.50 per liter, which is equivalent to about US$6.30 per gallon. (Remember that in France -- and really pretty much in the rest of the world -- gas prices are quoted per liter, not per gallon.)

It's helpful to know that Google can convert this -- just type "€1.50 per liter to $ per gallon" for a conversion based on current exchange rates.

As a rule of thumb, remember that there are about 4 liters in a gallon (because a liter is almost the same size as a quart), so if you multiply the quoted French fuel cost by 4 and tack on a bit extra to account for the exchange rate, you'll have a ballpark estimate for prices in US dollars per (US) gallon.

Posted by
1671 posts

Hi RIMiller, Welcome to the forum. I too am a relatively inexperienced traveler but have learned a lot from the forum before going to Italy including Venice last year. It's been 50 years since I was in Paris and never visited the south of France. I am also considering the Loire Valley but in 2021 spending time in Paris pre-trip and ending in Venice. I want to add my two cents worth to your plans since I've spent some time researching that trip already. If you haven't made plane reservations yet, consider open jaw to save backtracking. You're braver than I am because I wouldn't want to drive even part of the trip, although I drove in Italy last year.

First of all, I think you need to do a cost analysis for what you're proposing. You mentioned "canoe trip" in your original post. That tells me you looked at RS Loire Valley tour. Part of your cost analysis should be tour cost with lunches and dinners vs rental car, hotels, food, admissions, site tours. My rough cost analysis of Paris is that the RS Paris tour is comparable to seven days on your own if you factor in food tour(s), walking tour(s) and site admissions. I'm sure you can do it cheaper of your own if you don't pay for day tours. Two of my undecided considerations is how many days I want to spend in Paris and will I travel solo or with someone. Since I don't want to do the Loire Valley on my own, I didn't look at other options.

As stated above gas is not cheap in Europe. It sounds like tolls are costlier in France than Italy. Factor cost of rental car, then compare with the Loire Valley tour. That tour ends in Nice. I'm considering spending a couple days afterwards there, day tripping via train or bus to Monaco and surrounding areas. From there it's a long train ride to Venice which can be broken up with an overnight stop in Milan or a shorter plane ride. I would plan on more than three nights in Venice, probably four or five. I loved Venice and want to go back to see more. From there you can either fly back to Paris or take several shorter train trips. Watch Easy Jet's prices and restrictions, checked luggage adds to the cost.

Whatever you decide, enjoy your trip. It's all an adventure that you and your daughter will treasure.

I appreciate everyone's feedback on this thread because it also helps me decide where I want to go.

Posted by
5648 posts

A bicycle doesn’t burn any gasoline😊, but if you are renting a car, you’re right, rimiller612, on average, it doesn’t cost much more to drive in Europe. Compared to the USA, where giant SUV’s and pickup trucks are prevalent these days, and big sedans with gas-guzzling V8’s were the norm back in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s, until the gas crisis hit, European vehicles tend to be smaller and more fuel efficient. The USA has more and more electric and hybrid vehicles, though, and smaller cars, too, but in a country with Interstate highways and a mainland that’s 3,000 miles across, lots of horsepower still seems to be valued. Some Europeans are driving bigger cars and trucks, as well, but they tend to be smaller overall than what’s plying the roadways in the USA. It can cost $50 to fill up, on either side of the Atlantic. As is often said, though, your mileage may vary.

And if you rent, make sure whether you’re given an unleaded or diesel vehicle. And the names for those fuels are different in different countries, so make sure the person putting the fuel in the vehicle (could be you, could be a station attendant) knows what fuel goes in.

Posted by
1671 posts

I just want to add that Allan did a great trip report in October about his trip to the Loire Valley. Use the search feature to find it. If I remember right it’s a 3 part report. It may help you make decisions about what you want to see and where to visit.

Posted by
20 posts

Thx! I searched Loire posts but didn’t see that one. I’ll check again.

Posted by
20 posts

Cyn. Thx for fuel info. I’m on hyper alert for putting correct fuel in as my 16 yo just filled up our Honda with diesel a month ago. Lol.
Rentals we would get avg 50-60 mpg and my van does 21 so I think it’s comparable!

Posted by
16883 posts

Following up on Peter's suggestion for a leased car, it's also cheaper way to get an automatic for the same price as a manual transmission vehicle. For instance, AutoEurope shows a compact automatic available for $1200 for 4 weeks from either Peugeot or Citroen, including full insurance with no deductible, and GPS built in.

Posted by
4125 posts

I would not go for a leased car. You do not need a car for all your your trip, and are breaking things up to go to Venice!

You will need a car for some of it, but plan on serial rentals if that. Pretty reasonable rates if you reserve in advance.

Based on what you've said, I think you would love the Dordogne and SW France. And, you have enough time to visit.

Going by your Bordeaux note, I wonder if you can try this.

  • A few days in Paris
  • TGV train to Bordeaux (it's a 2-hour trip) but don't stay there, rent a car and drive to a small town in the Dordogne *Five nights in the Dordogne That should get you to May 20 or 21. At that point I'd suggest a mini-road trip around SW France, ending at the Bordeaux airport on the 26 for your trip to Venice.

What to see on the road trip? Carcassone, since it is on your list, but there are many breathtaking hill towns; there's Albi, and you can spend a day or two on the Languedoc coast

Fly from Venice to Lyon and spend at least 3 nights--it is a fabulous city and just 2 hours by rail to Paris--and either go straight back to Paris (on the 3rd?) or pick ONE other destination from your list (Colmar, Loire) and spend a few days there first with car number 2.

Personally, I'd go straight to Paris and do some of those great day trips. There are some amazing Renaissance chateaux near Paris.

All those other ideas are great but you do not have time to do all of them, so save for the next trip. I am pushing SW France because it is amazing and fits your stated interests. Do not make the mistake of just staying in the Dordogne for 2 nights!

Too bad about Venice, you could have a much better trip without it, but the heart wants what it wants.

Posted by
28128 posts

We have a long layover that day (13th) sightseeing in Munich

Your third line confuses me. Do you mean Paris?

Posted by
2418 posts

I just want to add that Allan did a great trip report in October about
his trip to the Loire Valley. Use the search feature to find it. If I
remember right it’s a 3 part report. It may help you make decisions
about what you want to see and where to visit.

I'm touched that someone thought enough of my trip report to remember and recommend. In hindsight I should have done 1 long one instead of breaking it up into 5 parts. Here are links to them all;

Posted by
20 posts

Nigel we are flying from US to Paris with a stop in Munich. About 8 hrs so enough time to do a little sightseeing before getting back on plane to Paris.

Posted by
20 posts

Thanks everyone for suggestion! And Horsewolf for recommending Allans posts. Enjoyed the read!

Allan- loved your posts. I feel the same way you do about canoes and wineries. Lots of good tips.
My husband and I did the same thing in Italy last year with the markets and restaurants even- we had the same experience-a small bit of trouble but overall great experience with people friendly and wanting to connect. I even used google translate in a restaurant because the waitress didn’t understand my compliment on the food. I ended up leaving with the recipe!!!

Posted by
20 posts

Adam-good suggestions. I know we won’t fit it all in. And I agree about Venice! But alas.
Ok I’m surprised by Lyon-I’ll look into that more. The suggestions I’ve read were for a 1 night stay. What attracts you to it?
I didn’t know how to compare the French areas, but thanks for your comment on the Paris day trips. I haven’t heard too much about them so I didn’t know how good they were compared to Loire. Sounds like they may suffice. Did you do both?
Also, I would love more info/insights on the coast
And other SW areas If you have been. I read that the coast there is beautiful but very windy. (?) I thought that would be a good time to rest and recharge.
Maybe we could just focus on this area like you are suggesting. How many days would you recommend for the SW and Dordogne? I was thinking a week for Dordogne. Thx!

Posted by
4125 posts

Lyon: most foodie citie in France. Roman ruins. Storied old town with Italian renasance influences. Traboules used by resistance fighters during WWII. Resistance museum. Graeco Roman museum. Many other museums we did not have time to visit. Amazing topography. Two rivers.

Lyon city card, possibly best deal in France, includes a walking tour, a boat ride, mass transit, free admission to many sights. OK, it is a city, but it is a great city.

Chateaux: As in Renaissance palaces. Maybe discount my opinion because, frankly, we were unmoved by these drafty empty old buildings. (We are huge fans of medieval fortresses, so go figure.) Have visited several of the biggies in the Loire, plus Versailles and Chantilly. Have not been to Fontainebleau or Vaux.

How much Chateaux do you need?

SW: I think you could easily spend a week in the Dordogne with a car without regret. We spent 5 nights (4 days) years ago, and it was the highlight of our 5-week trip. i would not spend less than 5 nights.

Every other place we visited in SW was worthwhile: Toulouse, Cahors, St Cirq, Albi, Carcassonne, and Collioure. The last is a beach town and old port. The beach is just a beach but nicer than anything you are likely to find in Provence. It is a charming fun place. Problem though is getting back to Bordeaux for your flight.

Best cave: Peche Merle, on the Lot.

Posted by
20 posts

Thx Adam! Lyon does sound nice. I’m going to look up those suggestions. I had heard about the passage ways. Those sound great.-I love things like that. I think maybe the food alone is reason to go and hopefully wouldn’t kill our budget-ha. And I didn’t know about the city card. Love those!

We don’t need a ton of Chateaux. Hoping for some variety but sounds like the ones in Loire and near Paris are about the same.

I’ll look into the SW area more. My main concern is transportation, but I think we could swing it with trains and buses. Did you spend nights in those cities outside of the Dordogne area or do day trips?
I’m not sure how much time to give that.

I definitely want to be in Carcassone overnight after the tourist leave. My travel philosophy is to go whenever is the least crowded. Last year in May I saw the Mona Lisa with about only 20 people in the room-half of which were guards. Unimpeded view-priceless. My friend from college was there exact week and she said barely got a glance for all of the people. And we did the Vatican night tour- no wall to wall people!!! That’s why I love travel blogs and this board for suggestions. Great tips! I just haven’t found any good blogs on the SW of France.

Have you been to Riviera? Is it that much better as far as beaches? Worth it?
Thank you!

Posted by
4125 posts

Some of the SW destinations are doable by train or bus, though at a slower pace. That goes double for the Dordogne itself. I'd recommend a car for this leg of your trip. The area north of Toulouse is especially impoverished in terms of mass transit.

Driving also allows access to more remote places such as hill towns enroute. Here is an example that may or may not appeal to you. Driving from Carcassonne to Collioure, we visited the Haute Corbieres in the foothills of the Pyrenees. These are ancient Cathar fortresses. Spent perhaps an hour there.

Could not have done that by rail, though we did return our car in Perpignan and catch the local to Collioure.

Looks like there is a direct train to Carcassonne from Bordeaux St. Jean that takes 3 hours. From Bordeaux to Collioure is nearly 6 hours (with changes in Carcassonne and Perpignan).

Only you can know what is right or possible, but auto rental is not unreasonable, and think of all the money you are already spending just to get to the great places; a shame to miss out. The phrase "in for a penny, in for a pound" comes to mind, (also, "penny wise, pound foolish").

You have expressed some anxiety about toll roads in general: you can avoid these everywhere. They are faster (and more boring) is all. If you use a car primarily for local exploration, they are irrelevant.

You should make your own path. We did a series of one- and two night stands after we left the Dordogne because after Collioure our next stop was a week in one place and we knew we could handle a short sprint beforehand.

The last time I was on the Riviera, I was 2 years old. People here report that the beaches there are rocky and pebbly.

Posted by
125 posts

I tried to reply before, but am not sure my reply went through. If you are serious about driving, and need a car for 3 weeks or more, you can look into leasing a car from Renault (or perhaps another French car manufactures - I think several of them do it.) We landed at CDG last april and picked up a leased car from Renault right at the airport. It is about as expensive as renting a car, but includes complete insurance (which makes it a better deal), plus you get a brand new car. We drove ours from Paris to Rheims, then north into Belguim, and back south into France (including the Loire and then the Dordogne). We did not run into any toll roads when we were in the Dordogne. But beware of the GPS system that comes with your leased car - ours got us on some tiny roads, perhaps because it was trying to avoid toll roads (even tho we did not ask it to.) So rely on a GPS system that you are familiar with. We stayed in a B&B in Sarlat for a week, and then in a B&B in a chateau further north in the Dordogne for a week. They were both great places, although Sarlat does get a bit full of tourists. Peter

Posted by
21313 posts

I spent eleven days in the area of the Dordogne and the Lot last year. I'll join the "rent a car" chorus. Quite a lot of the small places you see mentioned here and elsewhere have no public transportation at all. If you don't have a car and want to go to Rocamadour (wildly touristy so not particularly recommended), for example, you'll have a very, very long walk (2 miles? I'm not sure) along a highway that--naturally--has no sidewalks. St-Cirq-Lapopie also requires a walk from the nearest bus stop, but a considerably shorter one that didn't feel dangerous.

I managed to visit some interesting smaller places, but in order to do so, I had to keep changing bases to avoid spending incredible amounts of time on buses and trains. I really liked the larger towns I based in, and I would make the trip again, but a car would have allowed me to see many more small towns in the same amount of time. And with two of you...

Sarlat-le-Caneda does have decent public transportation. My bus passed by Beynac-et-Cazenac but I don't think there's a stop there. A taxi from Sarlat shouldn't be grotesquely expensive; the distance is just over 7 miles.

Posted by
20 posts

Thanks so much everyone! Definitely getting a car for Dordogne at the very least.