My 19-year-old daughter and I will be traveling in mid-May on a (thrice) rescheduled mother/daughter trip. I'm trying to get the details ironed out and create a trip we can really dig into France, getting a real feel for the area. We have 3 nights/4 days already scheduled for Paris on the front end of the trip. I am nervous about renting a car (and most definitely don't want to in Paris), but was hoping to add in some countryside to our trip. I'd love to include both the Loire Valley and the Normandy area, but want to take a train out of Paris to do so and then rent somewhere outside of the main city. I did read that car rental are more expensive if you rent from a train station (can I get confirmation on this and if so, alternative solutions for this). That said, would it be better to really dig into an area like Normandy and spend 4-5 days touring around the area and including Veules-les-Roses, ÉTRETAT, HONFLEUR, Rouen, Mt. St. Michel and D Day beaches or break up Normandy into 2-3 days and add in 2-3 days in the Loire Valley. Do we dig in deeper and spend more time in one area (this would definitely be Normandy), or cut the time in two and get the best of the areas and visit Normandy and Loire Valley? And if we do both, is renting a car and driving to both areas easy for an international driver?
My husband and I have driven all over France and found the driving in the Loire Valley and Normandy to be quite easy. The roads are well maintained and not especially narrow. We found it a bit harder in the smaller villages in the south of France and that was mainly because of the size of our vehicles -- we were usually in a group of between four and six and so needed a larger car. As to car rentals, they are sometimes more expensive from a train station and the alternative is to rent from what is called an in town location but I would check the prices because for us, at least, it was usually worth the extra cost to avoid the inconvenience of getting from the train station to the closest in-town rental location. Last time I rented a car, the difference was around 15€ per day. To me it sounds like you have a lot of sites you want to hit in Normandy so I'd suggest spending your four or five days there. It's really just personal preference. For example, my daughter loves Normandy mainly because it has her kind of weather but if I had my choice between Normandy and the Loire Valley, I'd choose the Loire Valley every time.
You need about 5 days to tour the Normandy places you listed; 2-3 nights for the area North of Rouen and 3-4 nights for D-Day beaches + Mont Saint Michel day trip.
Do not bother renting a car anywhere else than at the train station; in any case in many towns it is the only option.
Rouen train station is a good starting point, and you can drop the car off at Caen station at the other end.
You do not need the car in Rouen itself, so I would just rent the car on arrival, put the luggage in it, drive a few hundred metres to the Parking du Vieux Marché, and leave from there once you're done visiting (3-4 hours is plenty of time if you skip the Musée des Beaux Arts), so that you can stay somewhere closer to Etretat and Veules Les Roses. Speaking about which, I had a lovely time a few years back at a B&B called "La Nouvelle Criqueboise", which is somewhere between the two.
If you have 3 nights rather than 2 for northern Normandy, then perhaps you can spend one somewhere along the Seine valley; Jumièges Abbey is well worth a visit.
Honfleur can be visited "on the go" during the drive from Etretat to Bayeux (recommended base for D-Day beaches).
A lot has been written on here about D-Day beaches and Mont Saint Michel, and I know these parts less well than the area near Rouen, so I stop here.
Good advice so far. I think you need to pick one of the 2 areas. If you had a full week, you just might be able to do both. DH and I would be split on the choice. A coin toss may be necessary.
As others have said, driving in the countryside is easy and a wonderful way to explore this beautiful area. Recommend you listen to these episodes on driving in France from the Join Us in France travel podcast. Especially episode 16 which I found very helpful.
We did both Normandy and the Loire Valley in one trip……rented a car when we landed in Paris and drove to Giverny where we spent our first night….day toured Rouen and then a night in Honfleur….on to Normandy where we spent 3 nights……the drive from there to Amboise where we stayed seemed long but the car to me is a necessity to see all of those beautiful chateaus…….and Villandry Gardens. We spent 3-4 nights in Amboise and used it as a base to drive during the day to the chateaus…..the back country drives were as lovely as the gardens and chateaus!
My only two cents to add about renting a car in France is to check the hours carefully of both your pickup and dropoff locations, especially if you plan to pick up/drop off on middays or weekends.
There is very often a midday break and weekends hour may be limited (to take a random example, the Hertz at the Caen train station is closed from 12:00-14:00 Mon-Fri, only open 08:30-12:30 on Saturdays and is closed at Sundays).
We definitely want to add in Giverny, so would it be better to rent a car in Paris (as outside of the city as possible) and then drive? Otherwise, if we travel into Rouen aren't we back tracking? Or can we stop on the train from Paris to Giverny before heading on to Rouen to rent the car for our Normandy portion of the trip?
Side note, what do you do with your luggage in this case?
In hindsight our 2 nights at MSM followed by 2 nights in Amboise was too much driving. We're more experienced now. I'd suggest staying in one region if you only have 4-5 days - you can still move around (I'd do 2 hotels).
Let me add this…..I have said this so many times on this site that I am sure people think I am being paid by this organization that I mention so much but we were encouraged by college friends that lived in Paris for 35 years to try our best to stop on our car trips at any of the MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGES OF FRANCE that we came across as we drove. We think the best treasures we have happened up on are these incredible little towns that have this special designation. They look like postcards and villages that time has forgotten……probably our very favorite was discovered the morning we flew into Paris at 6am, got our rental car and drove to Gerberoy……one of these villages that looks like a movie set from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. We were pretty exhausted but sure that the adrenaline was fueling us as we walked it’s rose covered lanes…..a morning I will never forget. We drove from there to Giverny and spent the night and toured Monet’s home……then drove on to Rouen and Honfleur…….and then to Bayeux where we stayed to tour Normandy. The rental car gives you the ability to see these off-the-beaten-path places that others miss…..had a delicious apple strudel at Beavron-En-Auge on this same trip and would never have known to stop there if we had not found the map of these named spots……they are all over France and you will love seeing them!
Very doable by train, Paris to Orleans, then a day trip on the TER to Blois, where a bus takes you to Chambord. Both legs can be done taking the TER
If you only decide on Normandie, then a rental car might be better suited for your purpose, ie concentrated traveling in the region.
Rachel, see my answer to your other thread: there are car rental places near Giverny that would do the trick.
Otherwise, you can rent in Paris; Porte Maillot has a Hertz location and is near the start of the A14 highway to the west (the immediate area has extensive construction work, but it is still manageable).
In the first place my focus would be Normandy, getting the best out of it and see what’s left. As already said it’s best to explore it with a car.
You can combine La Roche-Guyon with the visit to Giverny, just a few km driving along the Seine. The château there is a bit empty and not really worth a visit, but the hills at the backside offer a nice panoramic view of the Seine valley.
Not only the Abbey of Jumièges is worth a visit, the village itself is charming too. Driving from Rouen the Abbey of Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville is easy to combine with Jumièges. Nice to do is taking the little free car ferry 1km west of Jumièges for crossing the Seine and driving to the A13 toll road near Bourg-Achard. Le Bec-Hellouin south of the latter is certainly worth a detour, follow A28 direction Le Mans, exit Brionne.
The road – D513 – between Honfleur and Trouville/Deauville along the coast is scenic. Besides Beuvron-en-Auge, Cambremer, Blangy-le-Château and many hamlets are those very charming places with half-timbered houses you can find in Pays d’Auge east of Caen.
If off interest you can visit Château de Balleroy on the way from Bayeux to Le Mont-Saint-Michel.