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Sketching out an itinerary

Hello all! I am hopeful that these forums have some other itinerary planning junkies like me! I could really use some help tweaking this before it is finalized.
Background:
My husband and I will be traveling to Europe with our four children in July 2022. Unfortunately we do not get to choose the dates because we are flying over for my sister’s wedding. I have traveled pretty extensively in Europe but it has been a while since we have been back, due to having so many children! This will be their first trip to Europe. They are good travelers who have done several RV trips, Central America, Hawaii, Hong Kong, and most of the big cities in the US so we know their travel style pretty well. Ages: 16, 13, 11, 5 (almost 6 at time of travel) Yes. He’s a little happy surprise! Having one child that is so much younger than the others does provide some challenges for travel. We typically try to give her the trip for the older kids with some points of interest for him along the way. He is pretty flexible as long as he gets some time to run around and a few treats along the way. He no longer needs to nap and we do not need a stroller. He is pretty used to tagging along. That said, my husband will have to go back to work after a couple of weeks and so he plans to take our youngest back to the states with him. I will be spending three weeks with the older three kids on a road trip. In total will be abroad 37 nights, including 4 for the wedding in western UK. I lived in France for two summers, once in high school and once in college, and I was a French major as well as an Elementary school French teacher for a time before I had children. My French is Rusty but I can definitely get us around no problems. My two daughters also study French in school and this is going to be their first exposure to the culture and they are so excited. I share that to say that we will not struggle with communicating or understanding what is going on around us so I am hopeful that that will help! I know I am biting off a lot but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity before my oldest goes to college and I wanna make the best of it! Sorry to share so much information but I see on these forums people ask for background all the time so I figured I would give you what I could.

None of these plans are written in stone besides the wedding and I am open to any and all revisions.

Plan:
7/4 fly into London from Atlanta. Land 8am
7/4-6 London; recover from jet lag; hit a few basics like Tower of London and Westminster abbey. No big plan. Hotel near Westminster abbey
7/6 family transport to wedding with stop at Stonehenge (3hr drive)
7/6-10 wedding festivities
7/10 early train totnes to London, transfer, late afternoon Eurostar to Paris
7/10-7/15 Paris
7/15 train to Rouen; rent cars (2 small cars. Can’t find one big and husband will return his in a few days)
Sleep farmhouse B and B 30 mins outside Rouen
7/16. Veules-les roses, etretat; sleep honfleur or trouville
7/17-19 bayeux, day beaches
7/19 mont st michel in evening, sleep nearby B and B
7/20-23stay outside dinan with my dear friends; visit dinan and maybe st malo
7/24 drop one car in Rouen, son and dh train to Cdg, Sheraton in airport for early morning flight
Me and big kids to vannes via josselin
7/25 overnight chateau nieuil near angouleme
7/26 - 29 dordogne
7/29-8/3 Provence
8/3- 8/10 getting fuzzy

I am hesitant to take on dordogne or Provence in July but also don’t have any date flexibility. We are married to the north for the beginning of the trip to see friends in pleudihen. My girls have studied the major sites ion school and both think they want to see pont du gard and prehistoric caves. If we don’t go south for 3 weeks I am at a lost as to what to do. We have tons of time but I’m lost. We could do Strasbourg and return the car there before returning to Paris to fly out. We could attempt Switzerland or Annency. Help!

Posted by
916 posts

Have you thought about doing a little more in England before crossing the channel? There is so much to see there and you could simply move your to-do's down your row of dates.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you so much for responding! Actually that would’ve probably been my preference but because my husband needs to get back to the states and we are trying to visit with family in northern France before he leaves it seemed like it was best to just go on and cross. The other little side bet that I hadn’t mentioned is that my oldest child is turning 16 on July 11 and we are trying to make it really special by celebrating her birthday in Paris.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Kelly, Sounds like a fantastic trip! I also studied in France and have been to France several times. We took our kids at ages 8 and 10, visiting Paris, Normandy/Britanny and the Loire, and it was an amazing trip. Now they're 16 and 18 and we're planning to return next summer with a fresh itinerary.

One of our highlights was a stay in a treehouse at the Domane des Ormes (https://www.lesormes.com/en) between Mont St. Michel and St Malo. The campground has a fun waterpark, simple restaurant, and is well-situated for exploring the area. I love quaint Honfleur and Dinan is gorgeous. We also did a chateau b&B in the Loire that the kids have lots of great memories of.

I'm jealous that you're planning to go to Dordoge as I absolutely fell in love with this area when I went in '98 and I've been dreaming of getting back ever since. It's absolutely gorgeous there. At that time, my husband and I toured the Grotte de Font de Gaume, which is a real cave with prehistoric paintings (maybe the last one open to the public that I'm aware of). We did not go through the Lascaux replica. Your older kids are at a great age for a canoeing trip on the Dordogne. I loved Sarlat.

We're thinking of Provence and Cote d'Azur for next year with teenagers. The Carrières de Lumières art/light show at les Baux-de-Provence gets rave reviews. I'm looking at kayaking at the Pont du Gard or Gorges du Verdon.

For your extra time, one kid-friendly attraction I've looked at is the Puy de Fou theme park near Nantes. There aren't any rides; it's an immersive historical attraction that a 17yo French student recommended to me. In Italy a couple of years ago, it was very hot and my husband suggested we take an impromptu detour to a water park; it was a fun day, and a nice break from touring. Beach days are also great!

I haven't spent much time in Strasbourg, but I love Colmar and Alsacian villages. It's fun to see how the different regions of France have different character, food, etc. You might also look at cheap flights to Germany and then back to Paris. I had no language issues at all in Germany and would feel comfortable being alone there with my kids. Italy can be more challenging; haven't been to Switzerland but kids ride trains for free when you have the Swiss Family Card.

Happy planning!

Posted by
19194 posts

Weather-wise, Brittany and some additional time in Normandy might be smart. I try to head to an area like that (cool and overcast) when I'm traveling in July/August.

I did not see the Machines de L'Ile in Nantes, but from others' reports they are pretty fabulous. Nantes is an attractive city; I don't know whether driving in and parking would present challenges.

If you do go south, I do think the Dordogne is a great idea and would suggest an additional day there. There are float trips down the river in addition to the caves (check carefully on advance-booking requirements) and castles. The market in Sarlat is fun. I went on a very, very rainy Wednesday in June and there were still many booths set up, though precious few customers. The Saturday market is even larger. There are some night markets in the Dordogne; I didn't get to any of those.

I don't have children and am not the best person to guess what they might enjoy. I like walking the streets of historic cities and used to drool over pictures of medieval villages, but that may not be typical of teenagers. If you're interested in a list of the atmospheric towns and cities I visited in western France in 2019, I'll be glad to provide that information. I was using public transportation, so I wasn't able to get to some of the really tiny places.

You've only got four full days in Paris. I think the conventional wisdom is that there is more for children to do in a big city.

Posted by
323 posts

Am I reading correctly that you are going to Cannes from Paris, over to the Dordogne, and then back to Provence?

Posted by
19194 posts

I think that's a typo for Vannes, which is a really nice coastal city in Brittany.

Posted by
323 posts

Oh ok that makes much more sense.

To the OP: I absolutely loved the dordogne, but I'm wondering how much your kids will. I think your time there is ok, and I wouldn't add anymore. There are castles and chateaus of course, but I remember when my kids were teens and I think your days there are enough.

I do think they would really enjoy Strasbourg. It is a very cosmopolitan city. I don't know if there's enough there to justify a week though. If it were me, I might add 3 or 4 nights on the Riviera, others probably have better suggestions specifically there, but I would think they would enjoy the shopping and the vibe. Nice, maybe? I loved it when I was 18.

Posted by
7 posts

Great insight so far! It is curious because in TripAdvisor forums I am being told to keep away from anywhere in the south. But it sounds like it may be manageable if we keep our expectations low? I have never been to the dordogne so it’s of particular interest to me. I was looking at sarlat as a place to stay, maybe near the edge of old town to avoid some traffic? I do think I near to be able to walk to a town for food, so too far out in the country, while appealing, may not be practical.

One place I was interested in stopping was oradour on the way to sarlat from Nieuil. The kids are at an age where ww2 is quite interesting.

But, again, I am hesitant to go south. I think I want someone to tell me if I should do it or not!?

Posted by
10045 posts

Instead of the south, how about heading over to Alsace and nearby points towns....Reims, Strasbourg, Colmar, etc.

Or, you could go back to the UK. Skip the south of France--it will be hot--and head back to the UK. Lots to see and do.....and much more bearable weatherwise.

Flying roundtrip ATL-LHR-ATL will also be cheaper than open jaw.

Posted by
26054 posts

about going south, what is the weather and humidity like where you live in the summer. Are you starting from Atlanta? Fairly hot and humid there in the Summer? Do the kids play outdoor sports usually in the summer?

Posted by
7 posts

Gosh you guys are so much help!!! Regarding the heat - we live in Birmingham, AL so it won’t bother us. It’s typically 90f and 90% humidity here that time of year. That said, I am happy to avoid it. My only hesitation with returning to UK is driving. I am definitely not going to drive there without my husband. That would leaves us relying on trains. Oh, and sorry if this sounds silly, but we are all foodies and my kids aren’t excited about the food for the week we already have in the UK. They dream of crepes and galettes and oysters and croissants and duck. Oh wait, maybe That’s just me. ;). Does anyone have experience on the Atlantic coast? Would those towns be as slammed at the south? I’ve been to most stops in Brittany, Bordeaux the actual city, and spent a week in a small town near Bayonne but that’s about it in Aquitaine. Would that be of interest instead?

Right now colmar is moving up the list!

Posted by
7709 posts

Everywhere is slammed that time of year. You want to firm up plans and reserve early as these are all vacation hotspots.

Drop the car in Rennes, not Rouen, and take the TGV. Some go directly to the airport from Rennes.

You need to add more time in Vannes. You are next to Carnac there and other famous prehistoric stone sites. There are boat rides on the bay and out to the islands.

Pont du Gard and prehistoric caves are in different directions. You aren't counting your driving time from Angoulême on. You will have only the 27, 28, 29 in the Dordogne which is too short considering all there is to see and the drive to get there. Then you can drop your car in Bordeaux and take the TGV to Paris It's the same for Provence. BTW the lavender bloom in Provence ends around then. Check the dates. If Provence, you drop your car in Nîmes, or Avignon, or Valence, or Marseille and take the TGV to Paris.
So, the girls need to choose one or the other and you need to spend the full amount of time in one of these paradises. I've been to both, even lived near the Pont du Gard.

Posted by
19194 posts

Oradour-sur-Glane is a very well-done memorial site. There are museum-like displays (English-accessible) in addition to the destroyed village. The former took me so much time that I had to rush through the latter; be sure to allow sufficient time. Limoges itself has a very nice historic center and is known for excellent decorative-art museums (probably of no interest to the children).

I day-tripped to both Ile-de-Re (from La Rochelle) and Belle Ile (from Vannes). I preferred Belle Ile for the terrain changes. I am not a beach person, so I need scenery to keep my interest. Though I didn't find it quite as pretty as Vannes, La Rochelle is an attractive, lively town from which you can get to Ile de Re by bus; I don't know whether there's a limitation on private cars. Dealing with the ferry to Belle Ile takes considerably more time.

Posted by
5689 posts

Just a possible glitch -- when I tried renting a car in Rouen several years ago I could only return to Rouen. Ended up taking a train to Caen, which had cars that could be returned to many places (we chose CDG.) Things may have changed by now.

Posted by
6117 posts

We have often rented a car one place and returned it another and have even changed the drop off after renting, but you do need to be sure when you book.

Someone suggested Nantes -- I would definitely suggest that. Be sure to book the elephant ride (giant mechanical elephant') as soon as you have your dates and the Machines are amazing: here was our visit in the spring just before COVID.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2019/09/13/les-machines-de-lile-nantes/
WE also thought the castle in Anger and the apocalypse tapestry there was amazing.

I would not do Provence in summer with kids. The Dordogne needs more time. You will want to canoe on the Dordogne and it is overall more pleasant this time of year than provence which IMHO doesn't offer much for kids. Try to visit a night market while you are there. Evenings on the town square with bands for dancing, food stalls and communal tables (you bring your own dishes and glasses -- so stock up on paper plates/cups although we didn't know that and the vendors were nice to us and gave us paper plates. There are some snapshots of a night market here:
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/perfect-place-for-murder-commarque-chateau/
I'd want more time in Brittany/Normandy at this time of year.

Posted by
2431 posts

I see many comments about Provence being too hot in the summer, but it is really a matter of personal tolerance... In my opinion it is far more tolerable than the oppressive humid summer heat anywhere south of New York.
Conversely, if you are unlucky, Normandy and Brittany can be rainy for several days in a row, even in summer.
So I would try to mix those northern locations with a bit of guaranteed southern sun!

Posted by
7 posts

@janettravles those night markets sound fantastic and exactly the sort of thing our kids would love!

We are a road trip family, often driving 9 hours to go 3 due to stopping a lot along the way. These are all good suggestions. I hate to punt on Provence but sounds like the beat idea

From oradour we could head to dordogne and spend 4 nights. If sarlat with be too crowded do you have suggestions for other home bases that would be well located? I don’t want to waste money but we are also not really limited in that sense for this trip. Plan to do a lot of Vrbo. We would love to find a farm stay. The kids love stuff like that. I am getting excited!

I could return car in dordogne and then train to another area. If we go to alsace and colmar would you recommend staying in a different town? Obviously we won’t be wine tasting but my kids like the looks of alsace. I’ve never been so I’m curious too.

Riquewihr - too crowded? My youngest daughter has had a lifelong obsession with beauty and the beast. Isn’t this the village it’s based on?

You guys are awesome. I love planning trips and I’m getting excited!

Posted by
7709 posts

I think Oradour-sur- Glane is way too frightening for a six year old. After all, they burned the people alive and shot in the head anyone who stuck their head out of the building gasping for air. It's all written out and can't be avoided. Even you and the two older children will be affected. There’s no way to pretty this up.

Posted by
2431 posts

If you skip Provence, be aware that, say, Bordeaux to Alsace takes the best part of a day.
Also, I hadn't picked up on Oradour sur Glane: definitely not a place to take a child to. Even grown-ups might need some time to process it...

Posted by
7 posts

Re: oradour- yes my youngest and his dad will have left for home by then. I will read more about it to see if it’s a good fit for middle and high school. Thanks for the warnings. I do remember visiting concentration camps around 10 years old. While frightening they did have a lasting impact on me - in a good way, IMO.

Does anyone have suggestions for a good dordogne home base besides Sarlat? I have found a great rental there on the northern edge of town with its own parking but am open to a smaller town with less tourism if it’s centrally located to sites. We will have 3-4 full days to canoe, visit a couple of towns and see a cave or two. Would love any and all suggestions for best caves and towns or farms for kids!

Posted by
6 posts

You need a car for this, but your kids might enjoy Guédelon, the replica Medieval castle they're constructing using original techniques, near Treigny. We were there in 2007, early on in the project, and it was fascinating. Even just watching some videos on their website (www.guédelon.fr) is interesting. We also toured the nearby castle of Saint-Fargeau, where you could go clear up into the attic and see how it was constructed too.

Posted by
4944 posts

While in Bayeux, don't miss the 900 year old Bayeux Tapestry explaining the Norman conquest of England.

Posted by
771 posts

Just want to add that I've been to both the Dordogne and Provence in July and it was fine - not too hot or too crowded, I've been a couple of times. I've also been to Strasbourg and think that's a good idea. I've also been to Nice and that area in July - Nice itself and the coast was pretty crowded but just inland (Vence, St Paul de Vence) were great.