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4 week travel plan driving around France

It is our first trip to France and we are planning our itinerary for our 4 week trip in March We are staying in Paris for 5 days and want to make the most of our time travelling around France.
We plan to drive Paris to Amboise , staying there 2 nights , then drive to Sarlat staying 2 nights , then on to Albi or Carcassonne for 2 nights . From there onto Arles 4 nights which we will make day trips from here to explore Nice and Monaco and area .
From Arles we will drive to Beaune and plan to stay there 3 nights and then back to Paris .
Is this an ambitious itinerary ? I would appreciate your comments and suggestions
Rho

Posted by
16769 posts

Two nights in Sarlat is really inadequate for seeing the Dordogne. I'd skip it or stay at last 5 nights. ViaMichelin estimates the pure driving time (no stops, no traffic, etc.) from Amboise to Sarlat-la-Caneda at about 5 hours by the fastest of three suggested routes. Realistically, your arrival day in Sarlat will not provide a lot of time for sightseeing in the area.

There are many interesting places you can visit while staying in Arles, but it is not a good base for day-trips to Nice and Monaco. Nor is 4 nights enough time for a good look at Provence and the Riviera. ViaMichelin estimates it will take over 2-1/2 hours to drive from Arles to Nice.

France is a very large country with many wonderful sights all over. Although 4 weeks sounds like a long time, it is not sufficient for attempting to cover so many areas over such a geographical expanse. You need to separate your wish list into two trips if you cannot extend the duration of this one. Otherwise, you're going to be spending about as much time in your car as with your feet on the ground. That is not a good way to "make the most out of" your time.

Posted by
567 posts

March = Weather.... May be great, may not. Looking over several weather sites suggests daily temperatures in Paris near 50F. Arlenear 60F. Be prepared for rain.

We try very hard to avoid 2 nights stays on any trip, because that means only one touring day between two travel days. Three nights is much better, and if there will be day trips we add additional nights so we can actually enjoy where our base is. One day trip then means four nights, etc. 4 weeks is longer than it sounds, and shorter. You will get tired. Build in several rest days. And you will miss things, so hit the highest priority spots and come back.

Have fun!

Posted by
1391 posts

A few comments as you are not very far along.
Easier to take the TGV to/from Paris Like to St Pierre des Corps for the Loire valley, and from the Mediterranean or Beaune..
Between Sarlat and Carcassonne allow a day or two for the bridge at Cahors, St-Cirq Lapopie, and the towpath at Bouziès, all in the Lot.

Between Carcassonne and Provence don't miss the Viaduc de Millau and consider the caves of Roquefort.
Yes, you will need a base near Nice to explore Monaco et al.
I estimate with 4 weeks you can add at least two more regions.
Easier to end your trip in Paris which allows you to head into the countryside on the TGV the day you arrive

Posted by
287 posts

I spent 4 weeks in France last summer on a combined driving/train trip, and I had to come to terms with what others have said: France is a big country. I could either whiz past things and cover a lot of ground, or I could slow down and experience the places I went. I chose the latter and regret nothing. It did mean dropping some areas that interested me, but I felt like that was a good trade. I spent a week on the Riviera (no car), a week in Provence (car part of the time), a week split between Lyon and the Loire Valley (car in the Loire), and then a week in Paris. There were still things in every region that I didn’t get to see but I also had the time to settle into each area.

Posted by
447 posts

I would love to have 4 weeks! From your itinerary above it appears you have a lot of extra nights available. My rule of thumb when exploring a country is never to drive more than a morning from one destination to another. If I'm doing day trips then the combined amount of driving is only a half day. We always try to stay at least 2 nights in a new location and put the 2 nighters between longer stays. Our 1 nighters are usually at locations between farther destinations that will be interesting and avoid a long driving day. Enjoy France!!

Posted by
641 posts

You have accounted for 18 nights but say you have a month. Do you actually have 30 nights? If so you can do your trip with some alterations to what you state. If you only have 18 then you should change things significantly, dropping areas completely. The plan to have 2 night stays interspersed with longer one is good. I am not against 2, or even 1, night stays on a driving trip. But they need to be reasonable. Some of what you want to do is not reasonable. The idea that you could explore Nice and Monaco from Arles on day trips is not reasonable.

I think you plan up to Sarlat is not too bad. I would extend Sarlat by at least one, probably two nights. Leave Arles at 4 nights to explore that region - St Remy, Nimes, Avignon, Uzes, etc. Then move to Aix for 2 nights. Then move to Nice or some where close for another 4 nights (note - none of these times are excessive, you could easily add more and not be bored, but they are 'reasonable'). If you did this you are now up to 23 nights. Beaune is up to 26 leaving you 4 nights to play with. Add somewhere else in that area or extend other places by a bit to get a 30 night trip.

Posted by
5700 posts

If it were me I would plan to base for a week in 3 places and use them for local travel and I would finish in Paris if you are flying out of there. i.e. train somewhere in a region you want to be in and pick up the car the next day and end in Paris.

Lots of apartments rent by the week. You then have a week for 'road tripping' times and shorter stops between those bases. If not full weeks then at least 5 nights at multiple stops. Two nights is one full day and you chew up most of a day moving from place to place. You also are at great risk of theft if you visit places with your luggage in the car, so having a base is useful for that.

Punctuate bases with stop overs of one or two nights in interesting places along the way. There are many towns where an afternoon and then the next morning repay the effort and make nice stops between bases.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you very much for your advice. We have revisited our itinerary knowing now that we can’t see all of France in one holiday!
We have a week in Paris to start our holiday . Plan a on taking a day trip to the Loire Valley . Any tours that you can recommend ?
From Paris we will take the train to Lyon , rent a car in Lyon and drive to Provence , stay 5 nights in Provence , then 2 nights in Nice area (suggestions where to stay ?) , then drive back to Lyon . We have 2 nights to fill. Is it better to add these nights in Provence or spend the 2 days in Lyon ?
From Lyon we will take the train to Amsterdam .
We appreciate any tips
Rho

Posted by
16769 posts

Two nights isn't much time in Nice unless you have no interest in seeing any of the coastal towns or hill towns along the Riviera.

I'm confused about your plan for Lyon. I don't imagine you're planning to take the train to Lyon just to rent a car and drive to Provence, right? If you don't intend to see any of Lyon at that point, you should just take the train to Provence. Lyon itself is a large city with a great many, varied sights. It's sort of a mini-Paris. I'd recommend more than two days there if you can manage it; however, I realize your time is not unlimited.

Posted by
4 posts

Option 1: Actually we plan on taking the train to Lyon to get a car and drive to Provence . Can add 2 extra days to give us more time to explore the area .
Back to Lyon to return the car by the train station Then on to Amsterdam
Option 2
Train from Paris to Avignon , stay there 5 nights rent a car there , then 3 nights in Nice . Then train from Avignon to Amsterdam .

Posted by
16769 posts

Why rent in Lyon just to drive to Provence? Are you trying to avoid a drop charge? I thought those were usually not high within the same county. Have you checked with the consolidators (AutoEurope, Gemut, Kemwel) to see whether there's an agency from whom you can rent in Provence and drop in Lyon without an extra fee, or at least with only a minor fee?

Posted by
4 posts

We are thinking of driving from Lyon to Avignon to go down through the Rhone Valley .

Posted by
3356 posts

“Option 2
Train from Paris to Avignon , stay there 5 nights rent a car there , then 3 nights in Nice . Then train from Avignon to Amsterdam .”

If you want a car, rent it just for your time in Avignon. Take the train to Nice, and explore the area with cheap train or bus options. They go to all of the major sites. Then fly from Nice to Amsterdam. You will save time, and the interEurope flights are a good deal. Be sure to stay in Nice at least 3 nights. I would highly recommend more.

Posted by
11704 posts

My two cents:
- When thinking days, remember a full day in a place means two nights. If you don't wake up there and go to sleep there, it's at best a partial day.
- I always use viamichelin for driving time estimates - then figure that's a minimum. It will take longer for meals, gas, tollbooths, toilets and/or sights along the way.
- No way Nice/Monaco are day trips from Arles. It's a long drive and not something to do twice in one day.
- 5 days in Paris is good. You will find plenty to do. I've spent more than 20 nights in Paris and still haven't done everything.
- 2 days in Amboise is good. Since many of the Chateaux are a similar experience, pick a few you want to see. More chateaux isn't a good thing. I tried to mix it up by adding Clos Luce, Chinon Fortress, Fontevraud Abbey, and only the gardens at Villandry to Chenonceau and Royal Amboise. I had Azay-le- Rideau on the schedule but it was covered with scaffolding that year, so I skipped it.
- 2 days in Sarlat is fine but I'm thinking you may want to see more on day trips from there than you are allowing time for? Pick the sights in the area you want to see, then decide how much time it will take to see all of that? 2 days may be plenty, for me it would be at least four. I plan a sight in the morning and another in the afternoon. That leaves time for meals and my evening open. I usually keep a list of other sights (good to see but not must see) in case I find myself with spare time or wanting to do something in the evening.
- Albi might be more central for what you want to see, again look what's in the area that you would like to see and decide both number of days and a good central hub. I liked Carcassonne much more (and it won't be crowded in March). The church in Albi is worth seeing. I'm not a fan of Toulouse-Lautrec, so the museum held no appeal for me, and the rest of the city, IMO, wasn't worth planning a visit.
- Arles is a great hub for Provence. The spring Mistral winds might make it miserable in March. They say if you experience them, they'll be for three days (I went in September and avoided them). I'd suggest being ready to leave early if the Mistral hits. Other than that, I think 5 days is a good visit for Provence (still not seeing everything).
- Nice and Monaco won't be beach weather but should be nicer than most places in Spring. I'd stay in Nice because it's the bigger city with more to do and take the local train to Monaco for a day trip. My favorite in the area is Antibes but Nice is likely the better choice in March.
- I didn't like Beaune as much as the center in Dijon, I'd plan to stay there. I went to Burgundy in May and it was still too cold. Small towns had few eating options. Sticking to the bigger city is probably a good idea in March.
- Driving back to Paris will be nice through Burgundy. It's really pretty country. You should add a stop in Lyon between the south and Burgundy.