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Where to start?

Hi, I did browse the first three pages of the France forum, just to clarify.

I have two weeks in France with my boyfriend, flying into Paris on Sept 23 (early am, 7am to be exact) flying out of Paris Oct 7. Roughly we know we want to go up to Normandy then spend the rest in the South, with Marseille, Avignon, Louire Valley, Carcassonne, Dordogne, and possibly Nice as places we are interested in.

Advice on where to wade in first? Is a car rental a better option, do you think? I drove in Ireland for two weeks in May, we've also rented cars in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, obviously those are easy.

It's exciting but a little overwhelming on where to start.

MTA: I am open to suggestions of areas to concentrate. I have been to France many years ago, but BF has not.

Posted by
639 posts

You probably don't want to hear this, but I would start by prioritizing cause I really think you will need to eliminate some of that. You have 13 days and 7 places - just not going to work. While it's perfectly OK to have a 'sampler' vacation, it's foolish to travel to a place and then only see a tiny percent of what's there. Your list pretty much covers all of France (a huge country, very heavy on things to see all over it). Pick a direction from Paris. Either plan on Normandy, Loire Valley and Paris (not a bad 13 day trip) or go southeast and do Paris and Marseille, Avignon, Nice (even trying to just do those three plus Paris in that time frame will be tough). Or do Paris and Dordogne and Carcassone.

Car rental is necessary for small towns - such as if you do decide on Provence you would want to rent a car in Avignon to see some of the villages an countryside. Probably same is true for Normandy and Loire Valley. And actually same is true for Dordogne. But between regions train is better.

Once you decide what to drop and what region you want to concentrate on come back and you'll get lots of good more specific information.

Posted by
1514 posts

Badger 1 - For 2 weeks, I would cover the areas that are not far to travel in between regions. I don't think you have time to cover most of the areas you listed on your post because they are too far out. You can start in Normandy, from there head to Dordogne, from Dordogne head to Loire Valley. From Loire then head back to Paris. That should keep you busy for 2 weeks.

Posted by
5019 posts

Start here...

Upper left corner of this page, click "Explore Europe +" then under countries click "France", plenty on this page to get you started, but scroll down...look for "Plan" and click the "+" to expand...then click "France: Recommended Itinerary" and as they say, Voila!

You will have 13 days, so obviously you will need to prioritize and adjust the scope of your trip to balance your available time and your preferences. Be careful not to try and cram in too much, a common mistake.

Also take careful note that Rick's suggested "best" itineraries all assume you have 3 weeks on the ground in France. You have a bit less than 2 weeks, so resist the temptation to overdo it.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you, I didn't mean to imply that we were going to all of those places, just those were ones we were interested in. I will check out the subforum mentioned, and I figured car would be easier, but everything I read says train. I know 14 days isn't ideal, but with work obligations, it's the best we could do this year.

I read the suggested Itinerary, but yeah...it's not as helpful for 14 days.

Posted by
1514 posts

Badger1 - You could do a very reasonable route for 14 days like a previous poster mentioned. Normandy - Loire Valley - Paris

Just rent a car going from Normandy to Loire Valley so you can explore the villages of the Loire and the castles. Afterward, drop off the car in the Loire and take the train to Paris. That should work for you.

Posted by
5019 posts

Agree with RJean above - a perfect pace for a 2 week trip.

Posted by
1070 posts

I think that you are trying to do 3 or 4 weeks in 2; others may agree. Look at Rick's tour itineraries to get a better idea for timing things out. How much time do you want to spend in Paris for example? There are a lot of day trips you can take from there. What type of trip are you planning...Historic sites? Palaces? Villages? Foodie Tour? Kayaking? You need time to stop and enjoy where you are. Taking the train from Paris to the South will save you a lot of time. You can rent a car there. One thing to consider is the weather: Normandy on the Atlantic has more rain in the Fall than the Mediterranean South. Bon Chance!

Posted by
21 posts

Yes, we know about the weather in Normandy. We are backpackers and ski tourers, (just spent a week backcountry skiing in Yellowstone last week-- lows were -20 but we have good gear) so we have the right rain stuff. We also spent our first week in Iceland in the winter last year, then went back to backpack the whole month of July last summer, so weather doesn't bother us. BF is a history major so visiting the beaches in Normandy are a must for him.

Other than that, we would like to enjoy the french countryside, castles etc are ok, but yeah.....we are totally ok with relaxing. No kayaking for us on this trip.

I had indeed thought about taking the train from Paris to the south then renting a car and coming up.

So it looks like I need to decide whether to go up from Paris to Normandy, then down to Dordogne then Loire, then back, or possibly back to Paris after Normandy then train to the south then drive back up?

Posted by
16749 posts

A lot of us would say that Rick's 3-week itineraries are not even right for a tourist with 3 weeks available. They just move way too fast for many of us.

Keep in mind that when large distances are involved, a train will be much, much faster than a car. Check train times on the SNCF website and approximate driving times on ViaMichelin.com. Note that ViaMichelin doesn't allow for any stops, traffic, getting lost, looking for parking, etc.

Some areas seem to call out for more days than others. The Dordogne is one of those areas for me. There's a lot of variety there, and I think it's great to have at least 5 full days there. The Loire, I think, could be a shorter stop; how many days in a row do you want to spend in chateaux?

Posted by
21 posts

Open to all suggestions. We did a really good job in Ireland, but that was easy to do with 14 days. We even did several good hikes into the mountains.

Posted by
1528 posts

Are your flights already booked?
If not try open jaw/mutil city- fly into Paris-out of Nice

We spent 22 nights doing a road trip in France- had already been to Paris
This is what we did- you have a week less, just to give you some ideas:

Paris- 2 nights
Pickup Car-
Normandy- we stopped 1 night in Honfleur- it was fine but could have skipped, then to Bayeux for 2 nights- (wish we had 3 here)
Take a guided all day tour of the WW2 sights- you will get so much more out of it- they are far flung and though DIY is possible, it's a lot of driving and figuring things out. We used Bayeux Shuttle and were quite happy. The Bayeux Tapestry is a must see.

Drove to MSM- 1 night- worth it just for the views OF MSM- we stayed off the island.

Drove to Amboise- 2 nights- Loire Valley was our least favorite location-- chateaus are fine but after 2 we'd seen enough
(It was also very very hot so that probably clouded our opinion)

Drove to Sarlat- with a stop in Oradour-sur-Glane (worthwhile and moving)- 4 nights in Sarlat- this was our favorite place
Visited Las Caux, La Roque, etc- just loved this area

Drove to St-Remy - 4 nights- 2nd favorite place- great base for day trips- Avignon, Pont du Gard, Luberon villages
Drove to Arles- dropped car- 2 nights- really liked Arles

Train to Nice 4 nights- flew home from Nice- also liked Nice a lot. Did day trip to Monaco and I considered that a waste of time other than the bus ride w/views

Posted by
443 posts

Sorry to be sarcastic but, replace the text of your post with:

I have two weeks in The U.S.A. with my boyfriend, flying into New York
on Sept 23 (early am, 7am to be exact) flying out of San Fransisco Oct
7. Roughly we know we want to go up to Chicago and Boston, then spend the rest in the South, with Miami, Dallas, New Orleans, San Diego and
possibly Seattle as places we are interested in.

Is this realistic?

Posted by
21 posts

PharmerPhil, I mentioned already that I was only listing places I was interested in- not that I wanted to see them all on this trip. If you don't have anything helpful to contribute, why are you posting?

Moving on:

I have been to France before, I spent two weeks there and did indeed go from Paris down to the south on the train, spending time in Nice, Cannes and Monaco. It's been too long to rely on those memories for travel.

So I think, in my research today, as I'm currently housebound with a raging cold/chest cough, I would like to take the suggestion to go Normandy first, then the Loire Valley, then Dordogne. So hints and tips on those areas will be much appreciated. I.E., it looks to me like Dordogne would be more interesting but I was thinking it would make sense to drive through the Loire first on the way, then drop the car there at the end to take the train back to Paris for a few days at the end?

(I'm going to investigate some driving times. For reference I drove straight out of Dublin after arriving at 11am and made it to the Rock of Cashel that afternoon. I do drive a stick here as my car. I have a tiny bit of french language and am taking private lessons from now until we leave. )

Posted by
21 posts

(Also, I must have missed where the size of France is comparable to the US- going from NY to Seattle)

Posted by
1391 posts

I've been all over this gorgeous country; I now live in it and will never leave, and I am going to sound a middle note on Normandy. I just finished my second trip there. I liked it much better the second time, but it doesn't pull at my heart strings nearly as passionately as all the other places you listed. So, unless you consider the Bayeux tapestry, the D-Day beaches, and Mont-St-Michel musts, I'd concentrate on those southern destinations, Paris (at the end) and maybe the Loire valley.

Your best trip plan will take you jet-lagged by train from CDG to your first regional destination where you will rent a car for a short ride to your first hotel. You will drop that car before returning to Paris by train. That's how it's done.

Posted by
21 posts

My BF was a history major, and is still very very involved in his love of it. I think we must go to the DD beaches/memorial for at least a day or two, if you think that is still leaving enough room for the rest?

Posted by
1391 posts

History - well, there's plenty of it in one exquisite Loire valley chateau named Chenonceaux. The wax figure scene at Langeais depicts how Anne de Bretagne twice became Queen of France. Loches has history too. Dial in the gardens of Villandry and you've a nice visit to the Loire valley chateaux.

Posted by
506 posts

I second Andrew's suggestion: "Your best trip plan will take you jet-lagged by train from CDG to your first regional destination where you will rent a car for a short ride to your first hotel. You will drop that car before returning to Paris by train."

You never know if you'll get enough sleep on the plane to be able to drive safely for a long distance.

On the other hand, catching a train means guessing whether your plane will be on time or paying for walk-up tickets which are more expensive. If you stay in Paris for two or three nights (one or two days, not counting Zombie Day) you could visit le Musee de l'Armee which can soak up two days if you and the BF like military history. There's also a new Liberation of Paris museum which I haven't been to. Or you can return to Paris before the end of your trip (so you're not making a mad dash to CDG on the day you fly home) and see them then.

It's pretty easy to spend 4 nights (3 days) in Bayeux, Normandy. I took Dale Booth's two-day tour of the American site, plus spent a day divided between the Bayeux Tapestry and the Cathedral. No need for a car until you're ready to move to your next location. That leaves you about five or six nights to divide between the Loire and Dordogne, allowing a night near CDG before your trip home.

Hope this helps,
Marty

Posted by
1391 posts

Marty, I pity all the wives who get dragged thru all this military stuff for more than a half day.

Posted by
21 posts

So, what does this sound like? Train to St Pierre de Corps to spend a day or two in the Loire, possibly picking up a car there. Then moving on to Rocamadour and Cahors, Bouzies, St Cirq-Lapopie. Then on to Albi, Carcassonne then onto Avignon and up to Orange, dropping the car back and returning by train to Paris? Probably 3 days in Paris at the end.

My bf is open to visiting Normandy another trip. 14 days total, excluding the fly out/return to the states day but including the day we arrive.

Feasible?

Posted by
4125 posts

Badger, your latest would be a great 3 week itinerary. A shame you are locked in to flying home from Paris.

Do you want to spend any time there?

I get the sense that the Dordogne is a priority for you. If so, go with that. Plan to spend at least 5 nights (6 would be better). You will not be sorry.

So: De-jetlag in the Loire, as you are thinking. Drive to a base in the Dordogne. By then you are up to day 7 or 8, and you want to spend 3 days in Paris at the end. So you've got an extra 3 days or so.

I would spend those days in SW France, visiting some of the wonderful places on your list. Then drive to the TGV in Bordeaux, drop the car, and take the train to Paris. The train is only 2 hours!

This means leaving a lot of great stuff for future trips. But that's OK isn't it? The SW of France is a rich rich place, and logistically not so easy. So if you get yourself out there, don't be quick to leave.

Posted by
172 posts

@badger1. The last itinerary you suggested my parents and I are (essentially) doing in 18.5 days in May. And I still wish I could tack an extra day or two on.

There is so much to each region and that’s not even discounting the fact that RS writes pretty much nothing of the seacoast from Perpignan to Montpellier, if you found anything of interest you want to see there. (We are stopping in Sete for a day).

The itinerary you’re suggesting is hard enough in nearly three weeks. I just don’t think you have enough time to justify Dordogne, Languedoc Rousillion, and Provence in two weeks, much less trying to squeeze a day or two in the Loire and three days in Paris!

You will spend all your time in the car and none of your time actually seeing the sites. The smaller places you mentioned are up to 1-2 hours away from each other in some instances.

Cut back. Pick two regions at max and Paris and you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip.

I would go back to your original idea of Normandy and the Loire (easily doable, we did this and Mont St Michel on a 9 day trip in 2018) or the Dordogne and the Loire if that’s more your fancy. It makes more sense considering you are tied to Paris in terms of flights.

Stay north and save the south for a later trip when you can do open jaw flying. (We fly into Toulouse and out of Marseilles, for instance).

Posted by
21 posts

Boy I never considered myself dense but I'm beginning to think I must be. So flying into CDG and taking the train to St Pierre de Corps, then a couple days in the Loire, will leave me about yeah, 7 days to explore the Dordogne if we spend three days in Paris. Roughly. I'm a little confused about what exactly is considered the Lot, but I'm guessing everything I mentioned before Avignon is still doable, but then taking the suggestion to take the train back from Bordeaux.

We are not locked into the Northern regions, to be frank after discussing it and now investigating it more thoroughly, my bf would like something a tiny bit different since we spent 6 weeks in Iceland, the Faroes and Ireland (two weeks). We are not tugged to go to Mont St Michel particularly, either, although we agreed the whole north, both west and east, deserves to be explored as well. He's already thinking that the SE is another trip too I guess.

I did check auto routes and times on ViaMichelin, but as I've not been there in years and didn't drive there, I will take the words of people who've been there.

This is harder than I thought heh. Open jaw would've been nice, maybe next time/another trip, but this was simply too much of a steal to resist.

I really do appreciate the input, and am very glad I am jumping into this with 6 months advance planning.

Posted by
227 posts

You can take a direct train from CDG to Marseille departing at 8:29 (check www.bahn.com) and a day trip to Avignon (45m) from Marseille. From Marseille you can take a direct train to Carcassonne (3h). If you're going to rent a car do so here. You can drop your car off in Bayeux, but after you see the American Cemetery, Arromanches and Honfleur. You can take a 20m train to Caen from Bayeux and a 2h 45m direct train to Paris.

Posted by
172 posts

The Lot River Valley is to the east and south of the Dordorgne. Rocamadour is approximately 1 hour east of Sarlat la Canada with the Lot River Valley (ie St Cirq la Popie) about 70 minutes to the south of that. Of course that’s not accounting for you driving likely slower than the locals on narrow winding roads. The Dordogne region is quite rural compared to some other areas. Albi is 1 hr 40 minutes beyond St Cirq and Carcassone 1 hour 50 minutes beyond that as you keep moving south

France is roughly the size of Texas. Don’t underestimate the driving distances, especially in a country you aren’t familiar with.

If you did a few days in the Loire (I’d advise to rent a car here or hire a tour to take you to the chateaux) and then did 6-7 days in the Dordogne (you definitely need a car here if you truly wish to see the region, especially the East, rent in Sarlat or Bordeaux, if that’s where you trained to), that seems a much more easily manageable trip and enjoyable trip.

Keep your three days in Paris at the end and be near where your flight is taking off from rather than worry about an extensive train ride at the end.

I’d cut off at the Lot rather than before Avignon. Maybe go over to Conques if time. Albi and especially Carcassone are out of your way for this trip from my perspective. Unless you really love the idea of just watching France go by from the cabin of a train or the window of a car.

Posted by
21 posts

Hmmm I don’t know. I’d love to see Carcassone. I didn’t have any trouble at all driving in Ireland, and I grew up in NW Montana where their definition of a road is dubious at best, so winding doesn’t bother me at all. I do realize a foreign country has its challenges.

I would rather split the week /8 days not all in the Dordogne but see the Lot too. More investigating to be done.

Posted by
172 posts

That's good you feel comfortable with the roads so again, I'll just emphasize the idea of TIME. Two weeks may feel like a lot now but it's really easy to fill up those days. We spent 2 weeks in just Paris and it's greater immediate area [Versailles, Fontainebleu/Vaux le Vicomte, Disneyland Paris] in 2015 and still left some things on the table in terms of site seeing.

There's nothing wrong with a "sampler" vacation per se but for me personally and for most on the forum, the advice is always going to be less is more in terms of traveling from place to place. Ireland is pretty small and so no surprise you saw a good amount in two weeks. France is much bigger. So I'd rather say park it in the Dordogne for several days [ie 5-7 including the Lot] rather than trying to run around seeing 3-5 different regions but really actually seeing none of those regions, particularly if you're trying to lump Paris in there too. [And Paris is lovely!]

Loire and the Dordogne have much to offer, which I think? are the two regions you seem to have mentioned the most so far. I apologize if I'm wrong. Carcassone might be doable in the time you have [a reminder that it is not considered in the Lot River Valley. It's part of Lanquedoc Roussillion and 2-3 hours south depending on the route you take from the Lot area] but the more you add, the less you have in any one place, the less time you'll have to truly explore the areas. I would keep that in mind as you plan.

Posted by
21 posts

I got Rick’s France 2020 book and started reading about various regions. He doesn’t rank the Loire Valley as a top destination, but it exactly suits my and my daughter’s interests. We rented a car from CDG in Paris and drove the the Loire. We were there Sunday - Tuesday and then drove to Versailles, where we turned in our rental car (after touring the palace—the car held our luggage). We took the train to Paris and will be here until Sunday. If I were to do things over again I’d spend one more day in the Loire and one day less in Paris.

Posted by
21 posts

Yeah, it's hard to know how much time to spend in an area. We did not spend only an afternoon/evening in Dublin, and that was totally enough. Paris on the other hand, has so much more to offer. I think we might regret not having three days at least two nights there.

Posted by
172 posts

Paris is one of the largest capitals in Europe. Like I said, we spent two weeks there and we still could have done more. I'd love to go back some day. There are just so many good museums, churches, gardens, and other sites, not to mention a wonderful rich cultural scene. Dublin it most definitely is not. Think about how much time you'd give to London or Rome. Each city is good for a week if you do it right.

So I'll say it one more time and then let others take the lead :) ... Less is more. I'd pick only two areas maximum, giving some time to Paris, and I'd personally save anything south of the Lot for a different trip.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you for your input. It’s true that people have different ideas on what makes a vacation “good” and their thresholds for activity vary. I’ve been to London before and even Paris! If I only had a week I’d probably stay in Paris with a side trip or two. Not sure that’s what I want out of this trip.

Posted by
506 posts

andrew.reis wrote:
"Marty, I pity all the wives who get dragged thru all this military stuff for more than a half day."

LOL, I am the wife! But my husband and I share many interests.