We are headed to Normandy in October and would like to add on 5-6 days in Barcelona. We plan on taking the high speed train from Paris to Barcelona. Based on the RS France Guidebook we know we want to stay in Honfleur, and Bayeaux, see all the sites including Mont St. Michele. We also know that renting a car is our best bet for the Normandy part of the trip. My question is, what makes the most sense, should we head to our northern destinations directly from CDQ and how easy is it to do that or should we spend a night or two in Paris? We would plan to stay the night in Paris before our train as well (we have been to Paris twice so far and have done a lot but I am happy to spend more time there). We are fairly adventurous as to seeing the sights but we also like to take things at a leisurely pace. I think since we have never rented a car on our European trips I am just a little unsure on how to proceed. Thanks.
I've picked up the rental car at CDG a couple of times and found it pretty easy to navigate out of the airport toward whichever direction I'm heading, including Normandy. I've also found it fairly easy to drop the car off at CDG. There is a surcharge involved with doing this, so others may tell you differently, but I think it is worth the convenience. Driving in France is actually pretty easy, but do get a good map of Normandy with lots of details. Don't depend solely on GPS. I would tuck a few days in Paris between Normandy and Barcelona. You really can't spend too much time in Paris.
You can find a lot of similar discussions on this forum, such as https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/travel-between-cdg-airport-and-bayeux. If your flight arrives fairly early in the day, and your driver doesn't get too jet-lagged, or can get a nice lunch and coffee at the airport, then the driving sounds doable.
We did a variation of this trip in 2012. We flew from Madrid to Paris-Beauvais and rented a car. Since CDG is a bit away from the center of Paris, you can easily pick up a car and head to Normandy from there. We drove to Bayeux and made that our base. We spent 2 nights there and drove around Normandy to see WWII sites. We dropped the car at Rouen train station and took a train to Paris. Dropping the car was easy...as in, we parked it and dropped the keys off at a competing rental agency because our agent decided to take the rest of the day off! We purchased our train tickets well in advance and got Prems fares for 10 euros each. We spent 3 nights in Paris and then flew from CDG to Barcelona. The airfare was pretty cheap and it was faster than the train trip. I don't recall which airline we used - it was either RyanAir or EasyJet. I believe airfare for the two of us was around $150 (total).
It's takes exactly the same time to drive to Caen/Bayeux/Honfleur from the airport as it does from Gare du Nord.
There is no price difference between doing everything at the airport, everything at the train station, or mixing the two in any fashion.
If you rent the car at the airport you will pass within three miles of Nord on your way to Normandy, but it will take you ten minutes to do it instead of closer to an hour it'd take if you used the RER to get down to Nord.
It's faster to pick up a car at the airport than it is to get an RER ticket and wait for the next train.
If you decide to get the car in town, Nord provides much easier egress than any other car rental place if you're headed to Normandy.
Thank you-exactly the type of feedback I was hoping for. We certainly feel less concerned now about the whole car rental part of the trip.