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Thoughts on time in Paris, Normandie, Brittany and Loire

I'm finalizing my plans for a September trip that will include Paris, Normandie, Brittany and Loire. Here are a few questions I'd like to get your opinions regarding:

  1. Time in Paris. I'm thinking I'll likely spend between five and seven nights in Paris, flying in and out of CDG. My question for the group, are there advantages, disadvantages to splitting that time roughly evenly at the start and end of my trip? Or would it be better to lump the days together? If so, would it better to spend the time in Paris at the start (arrive morning Sept. 16) or at the end (leave mid day October 3)?

Maybe the answer is six of one, half dozen of the other but I'm open to opinions and experiences.

  1. For Normandie, I'm thinking a half day guided tour of the D-Day beaches and the Bayeux Tapestry. Conceivably I could accomplish those in one full day, two nights in the area. I'm looking at some Airbnb choices. My questions, is it definitely better to stay around Bayeux than Caen (or closer to the beaches)? Will I miss something if I don't add a third night, second full day, other than just going slower?

  2. Between Normandie and Brittany. I'm thinking a half day at Mont St Michel. What is the earliest I can arrive? I'm thinking of leaving Normandie early (I'll pick up a car in Rouen after leaving Paris) getting to Mont St Michel before the crowds then leave before noon. Is this long enough to quickly explore or should I plan to spend a night in the area so I have more time to see the island?

  3. For Brittany, I want to visit Carnac. Other than that my goal is simply to see local architecture, taste some local seafood and visit/stroll at least one beach in the area. Right now I'm thinking two nights at a hostel near Carnac, which means driving past St. Malo and Dinan with maybe a quick stretch at Josselin. Should I plan an intermediate stop for a night rather than two near Carnac?

  4. After Brittany, I'll drive to Loire (thinking Saumur), drop the car, rent a bike and ride for four or five days. Originally I had thought of ending in Orleans, drop the bike, stay a night, then train to Chartes for a mid day look around and on into Paris. When I looked at train schedules, however, the train from Orleans to Chartes transfers in Paris. I have an unnatural loathing for backtracking so now I'm thinking of Tours to Chartes and then into Paris. If I choose this option, I'd probably skip Orleans, see my last Chateau by bike at Chambord then ride back into Blois, drop the bike, spend the night and take a train to Tours in the morning to connect to Chartes. Will I miss a ton if I skip Orleans. Do I gain by seeing Tours (originally planned to skirt it in favor of riding in the country)?

Last opinion. If you had to trade, which would you choose - a night in Paris, Normandie, Brittany or Loire (or conceivably Rouen, Chartes or Orleans)? I have 17 nights. If I plan seven nights in Paris, two in Normandie, two in Brittany and five in Loire, I'll have one more night to play with.

Thanks for you opinions and advice,


Posted by
784 posts

Personally, I prefer Paris at the end of the trip. Reasons for me are that I am not jetlagged, and while there are lots of things to see and do I am more likely to slow down and savor it. But the main reason is that Paris is expensive, so by saving it to the end I don't have so much anxiety about having enough money to finish the trip. That being said, you don't want to immediately pick up your rental car and drive for hours on day of arrival, so spending a night or two in Paris before heading out is a good idea.

In my opinion, 5 nights in the Loire are too many. I think 3 are enough. I would add 2 nights in Paris (you cannot spend too much time there) and 1 night to Normandy. We did a similar trip but had 3 weeks. We drove from the Loire to Chartres, dropped the car, visited the cathedral, had lunch, then took the train into Paris. Have a great trip.

Posted by
139 posts

There are enough DDay sights for a whole day or more, but it's up to you how many you need to see. We did a full day tour and weren't bored at all.

Stayed in Bayeux and only drove by Caen, but if you want to see the tapestry you might as well stay in the same town.

Posted by
11294 posts

Many seem to like bunching their days at the beginning or the end. For my first visits to Rome and to Vancouver, I split the days (a few in the beginning, travel to other places in a circle, then a few at the end). I really liked this, particularly since it was my first visit; the second part of the trip, I was much more familiar with the city, and it felt like a second visit.

So, if you've never been to Paris before, I vote for some days at each end. if you have, do whatever works best with hotels, rental cars, etc.

Posted by
779 posts

A lot of the decisions depend on what you like to do and see. Also keep in mind that two nights in any place means, really, only one full day. So you have several short stays for a good amount of moving from place to place.

If it were me, I would skip Normandy and spend more time in Brittany. That's because it's a less-touristed area that I have only spent a couple of days in, but seems to have a lot more to see (including pre-historic stuff and some castles). Normandy, I went to 25 years ago; it was very pretty, but because I'm not a big WWII buff, it wasn't a highlight for me (obviously, you may have a totally different assessment). Mont St. Michel can have tons of tourists, but it is interesting, especially if you're in the area anyway. The time you have allotted here is just about right, based on the amount of time we have spent there. Rouen we found interesting.

I would also say that's a lot of time for the Loire area. I find that part of France less beautiful than, let's say, Brittany, Provence or the Dordogne. Possibly also less beautiful than Normandy. The chateaux are quite interesting, but I prefer older, more ruinous castles - obviously another case of personal opinion. If you do go, there are some older, more defensive castles (Fenelon, I think, is one). Have you done biking in Europe before? The roads are narrow with not much of a shoulder.

In terms of allocating your time in Paris, on the whole, to minimize changes of hotels (or AirBnB or hostels), I would say to group all of your time at the end. However, then you need to calculate transportation. If you went straight to Rouen from the airport, then you have to get from the airport to Gare du Nord, in the city, which is a bit of a hassle and might cause timing stress, in terms of figuring out which train you could take, based on airplane arrival time (what if the plane is delayed). Our trip to Brittany, my husband persuaded us, because of simile transportation timing issues that stressed him, to spend the initial night in Paris. It worked our very well! We spent one night near the Montparnasse train station, which was a part of Paris that I hadn't spent much time in, but had wanted to explore. The next morning, we walked to the train station and took the train to Rennes. Then, after touring Brittany, we spent the rest of our time in Paris at a different hotel in a different part of Paris.

Enjoy! We're off to France in three weeks, and I'm really looking forward to it!

Posted by
3696 posts

If you do spend more time in Normandy I would suggest a night on Mont St. Michel. I found it a unique experience.... after all the tourists leave it is like a different world. Bayeux is also a great place to use as home base. As far as splitting the days in Paris, if you do that I would suggest staying in 2 completely different areas so you can get a whole different experience. A few days at the beginning to see all the 'must-see' sights, then the last few days in another area just taking in Parisian life, or going back to someplace that you did not get enough of. I agree with another poster who said it will feel like your second trip:)

Posted by
12074 posts

Good thoughts,

I added Normandie specifically for a friend I served with in the Guard. I'm not sure if he's coming now or I'm solo (I'm going either way). I had another interested friend but he now has a serious girlfriend so there's no way he's going (lol). After I added D-day, I got used to the idea of including it. I'm not really a fan of history post 15th century but I really like anything before that. Bayeux tapestry is a must see for me, but I could pass up the invasion tour.

The only reason for so many days in Loire is to bike. I'm not sure how slow the going will be? If it's bad weather, I can see myself keeping the rental car, catching the highlights and heading back to Paris after two days to see the top handful of chateaux. I'd stop and see the cathedral and center in Chartes on the way.

I may add a night at Mont St Michel. It's too great a sight to miss but I still worry the place will be too touristy, even without the day tourists.

I might rearrange and extend Brittany and use the extra time to head further west to see more ancient sights, more small towns and, hopefully, meet more locals. Paris has amazing must sees but Brittany seems to be the land that tourists forgot (at least compared to everywhere else on my itinerary). I enjoy getting to know locals as much as seeing the great sights.