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Where to stay in mid-Southern France as a base for seeing museums and history?

We are traveling to Southern France for our honeymoon next fall (1st week of October 2023) and flying into Paris (land Saturday 11AM) and out of Lyon (following Saturday at noon).

We love really diving deep into a few places rather than spreading ourselves too thin or doing "touristy" highlights only. We do love history and museums and hope to check out a wide variety while in the area, such as cave paintings, Roman ruins, WWII museums, art museums, etc.

What would you recommend using as our base city in Southern France?

We're thinking a few days and nights in Paris, then taking the train to Lyon, then renting a car to explore that area more in depth. We could stay in Lyon a few nights and do day trips from there and then Arles a few nights? Or we could pick somewhere in the middle of Lyon and the coast, like Valence or something more off the beaten path and just divide our trip into staying in 2 places- Paris and the single Southern France place, as our base for day trips and exploration?

(Note: We still want to dine at restaurants and feel like we are among locals and not be too remote. Also, if you have any specific places to stay to recommend that are budget friendly with either great views or great for walking to a lot, that would be wonderful too!)

Thank you for your help!

Posted by
2336 posts

hey get henning.k.megan
you are planning to cram too much in your short stay. are you flying in from USA or canada? second day can bring you not so pretty jet-lag. plans in paris for 3 days then lyon for 3 days. your saturday is shower, pack, checkout get to airport 2-3 hours before noon flight. your arrival into paris, checkin 3p-4, what will you do with luggage, unless early checkin approval or rent hotel room day/night before.
what is budget friendly? could be 200E to 500E. where is hotel in paris and lyon?
come back with more details, will be happy to help.
aloha

Posted by
27349 posts

I'm afraid I agree with Princess Pupule. You have only six days. You'll lose about half a day when you move from Paris to Lyon--you'll be sitting on a train for about 2 hours, and to that you must add the time required to check out of your Paris hotel, travel to the Gare de Lyon, find the correct platform, and then do the reverse once you arrive in Lyon. If you try to stay in three cities, you'll turn your six days into a five-day honeymoon. At some point, extra moving around degrades a trip because you have too much time in transit and not enough feet-on-the-ground time.

Lyon has a lot of interesting sights. I like the city a lot. However, it is large (the metro area has a population of over 2.2 million) and in some respects seems to me quite a bit like Paris. If I had just six days in France, I'd either spend all the time in Paris (to eliminate inter-city travel) or split the trip between Paris and a considerably smaller town.

The cave paintings I'm aware of in France are well west of Lyon and Arles and would be too far away to include on this trip. However, there may be others I don't know about that would work for you.

Posted by
6362 posts

The Princess is right; please don't add a 3rd stop.

But what about Arles for your 2nd stop? We spent just a couple of days in Arles this past summer, and can't wait to go back and spend at least a week. Plenty of Roman sights, interesting museums, and you can make a day trip to Pont du Gard.

[Editted to remove incorrect information; thank you, Bets, for catching my blunder.]

Posted by
4535 posts

I'm not a France expert, but I am someone obsessed with travel logistics--making the absolute most of your time. With a week, you can enjoy Paris and Lyon, or you can give them both short shrift and choose somewhere in between. You can't do both, but neither is a bad option.

Posted by
10289 posts

@Jane Where’s the cave art that can be seen on a day trip from Arles? Are you referring to the recently opened reproduction of the Cosquer Cave in Marseille.

For six days, go to Paris and forget the rest. Or, go to Nice and forget Paris and Lyon. This moving around leaves you doing exactly what you said you didn’t want : spreading too thin and doing touristy highlights. I’m in Paris for a week right now. Even though I’ve been visiting and living here for 49 years, my week is jam packed. You will never, ever, ever run out of wonderful things to do in Paris.
You have pre-Roman and Roman history, WW II is mentioned on plaques everywhere soldiers and citizens died, there are museums about WW II. There are hundreds of art, couture, and history museums. Then you have the monuments, shopping, romantic lights, restaurants, romance, romance, romance. It is a honeymoon. What else could you ask for?

Posted by
291 posts

Congratulations.

FWIW, we spent a week in Paris 11 or 12 years ago. We intended to get out to Versailles for a day trip, but didn't make it. Too many museums, churches, parks to hang out in, and neighborhoods and shops to visit.

23 years ago, we spent a full week wandering by car down the Rhone from Geneva to Avignon, on to Arles and the Camargue on our way to the south coast, near Marseilles and then through Les Baux on our way to Nimes. (We picked up a car in Munich and were travelling to Barcelona and then Madrid to visit friends, there, as part of a 3 week trip.)

So I fully agree that just six full days for Paris, Lyons and then more off the beaten track is overly ambitious. It's like spending 6 days in California to visit LA, San Francisco, Yosemite and the 49-er trail, when you only speak Spanish, not English. Or 6 days in the Northeast, visiting New York, Boston and the shore, with a similar language barrier. Can you do it? Yes, but you will miss a lot of what you want to see.

Next June we will make in back to Paris for a weekend at the end of a 4 week trip, so we might pick up the Bois de Boulogne, the Picasso Museum and the Rodin Museum that we missed. And we'll get to Versailles on our way to Paris.

Consider: less is more.

Posted by
1321 posts

Are your flights already booked? I'd fly into Paris and out of Marseille or Nice .... skip Lyon BUT 6 days could just be Paris & Champagne or just Provence.... too short for 3 and possibly even two stops. France is a big country. It's like flying to NY and going to Denver for a couple days.

Posted by
6362 posts

Bets, I'll edit my post. I was thinking about our South of France RSE tour this summer, and instead of checking my notes, I remembered doing the cave tour from Arles. No, we did the Pont du Gard from Arles, and the cave from Sarlat.

Thanks for catching this. I still think Arles would make a great place to spend a few days.

Posted by
14580 posts

On the seeing the WW2 museums in southern France: I would suggest seeing the museum on that topic in Provence. I saw it in July 1999.

The museum is focused on Operation Dragoon-Anvil, the Allied landing in southern France in August 1944, six weeks after D-Day. It's located in Toulon, Mont Faron, the Memorial/Museum of the Landing and of the Liberation of Provence. You need to get there by car.

We got to Toulon by train from Paris via Marseilles. Valence is not on the coast.

Since Toulon is the second naval base in France, the French naval museum is also located there.

Posted by
10289 posts

Pont d'Arc is several hours south and west of Lyon, at least at the speed we drive.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you everyone for your input!

I wish we could have more vacation time...we only have a week to work with, so we can't extend our trip at all.

We do already have our flights, so we're locked into flying into Paris on Saturday and out of Lyon the following Saturday. Given those circumstances, what do you recommend?

Now I'm thinking 5 days in Paris, then move to Lyon and explore Lyon with maybe a day trip via train or tour if we want.

Or we could do 4 or 5 days in Paris, then transfer to a 2nd location somewhere near enough to Lyon that we can get to the airport on the morning we fly out at noon? Where would you recommend this 2nd location be? For example, we could train from Paris to Avignon and stay there for the 2nd half of the trip and then train back up to Lyon to fly out on Saturday? That way we only have 1 day of travel in the middle of our trip and then just on the final morning of our trip. Thoughts?

Thanks so much!
Megan

Posted by
27349 posts

I'm risk-averse when it comes to choosing where to spend my last night before a transatlantic flight. Avignon isn't terribly far from Lyon, but check the train schedule carefully. Those fast trains getting to Lyon in 50 to 70 minutes depart from the TGV station outside of town. You'll need to allow extra time to get there from a hotel in the city. I'd want to allow extra time in case of a major traffic tie-up (if taking a taxi) or the failure of the shuttle train to show up.

https://www.sncf-connect.com/app/en-en/home/search

Given your time constraints and the locked-in departure from Lyon, I guess I'd split the time between Paris and Lyon. I'd be tempted to allow 3 nights in Lyon since you're less likely to return there than to Paris. Even if you spent 6 nights in Paris, you'd have more sights than time.

Posted by
4535 posts

Two places is a good call! If you are not as jazzed about Lyon and want a smaller place, then I would pick somewhere that is an easy trek to the airport for the last morning--so it would not be Avignon because that is more than two hours away (too much for even a noon flight imo). A guidebook will give you an overview of places that are close to Lyon. I would consider somewhere like Vienne--it's got Roman ruins. I also read about a small town close to Lyon called Pérouges.

Posted by
7490 posts

FYI: My wife and I went to Pérouges with a rental car. It is an exceptional, unique, stone medieval town, a location for one of the many Three Musketeers films. The only place I've been remotely like it is bigger Monemvasia (Greece), which has the added advantages of being two-level and on the coast. But it is VERY hard to get to Pérouges without a car (the subject was discussed here, so see the Search box top center) and after a full day, and a night in the one luxury hotel, there is little to do there. It's in the middle of nowhere. I don't believe it's suitable for your needs.

We went there from Besançon, however, and that might actually suit your needs. In my opinion, you need a destination with direct train service.

Edit: Rereading that you have a Lyon return flight, you should read up on Anthony Bourdain and the like, and go to Lyon. Speaking of honeymoon, maybe you can get to Valence to eat at Restaurant Pic, a longtime three-star run by a woman.

Posted by
291 posts

Thinking through your time is something you should do.

What I see is...

Arr Saturday PARIS
Sat night - early to bed
Sun
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs - Train to Lyon and dinner and eve in Lyon? Maybe rent a car (one way) to travel from Paris to Lyon, so you can wander through the countryside on your way? Burgundy is along the way. Or other sights that others have mentioned.

Fri Lyon
Sat - Fly home

That leaves 4 full days in Paris; 1 full day in Lyon

Saturday in Paris, by the time you get to your hotel from the airport and checked in, it will be all you can do to have an early dinner and then sleep. You'll be exhausted. The good news is that you will be up early on Sunday and you will quickly be on track with local time. Still, this is really 4 days in Paris, not 5 or 6, plus a dinner when you arrive and a breakfast before you depart. One full day in Lyon. And a bit of Burgundy on the way, perhaps.

To my way of thinking, Avignon and other sites/sights south of Lyon are beyond the short time-frame you have.

Bon voyage.

Posted by
2336 posts

hey hey henning.k.megan
have you been to paris before and do you speak french to get by on, rode the metro, how to get to hotel from airport, going thru passport/immigration, finding taxi line or metro in airport?
you still want to add something and you don't understand you don't have time with your short 1 week that is really not 1 week -7 days.
your arrival day saturday at 11am, i would count a wash, check in at 3-4pm to hotel, unpack, have dinner walk a bit then bedtime.
next morning start your adventure, may have some jet-lag, what are your plans on what to see? take train to Lyon wednesday or thursday for 2 days/nights. walk around and enjoy lyon, it's a big city, food is great there, take a food tour or cooking class, window shop, sit at cafe and people watch. your saturday is a day/morning to get ready, check out and get to airport 2-3 hours before your noon flight home. that's like 5 days to see what little you can. no renting cars, parking will cost you if you can find a place, gas/petrol is expensive, tolls on certain roads, drop off fee $$$ to pick up one place and return to another, obtaining an IDP to drive in france.
back to drawing board.
historiangifford's idea about a meal at le train bleu in gare de lyon is fabulous. gorgeous setting with beautiful architecture can't be missed. good luck and enjoy your honeymoon
aloha

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for all of the advice and perspective!

So here is our plan:

We land in Paris at 11AM (and plan to sleep on the flight over). By the time we go through customs and get to our hotel, it'll be the mid-afternoon, so we'll plan to walk the city, maybe see one particular spot, and do dinner. Then we'll explore Paris more Sunday and Monday (and we're aware some museums are closed those days- thank you!). (And we know we won't see all of Paris- even if we had weeks we wouldn't be able to see ALL of it, so we're going to do some things this trip and hope for future trips back to the city :)

On Tuesday morning we'll catch the 7AM train from Paris to Avignon (4 hours) and rent a car. That day we won't plan to do anything in Avignon and instead head out to Arles/check in there and use that as our hub for the next few days. Weds/Thurs we'll explore around Arles via car, and we'll drive back to Avignon Friday AM to return the car and spend the rest of the day exploring Avignon.

Saturday morning, we'll catch the 6:50AM train to the airport in Lyon.

Questions:

  • Where would you recommend renting a car in Avignon? (We'll be arriving at the train station from Paris, and when we return the car will be staying that day/night in Avignon. I've read driving in Avignon is no fun, so I'd prefer to rent somewhere as close to the outskirts of town as possible but easy to get to from the train station)
    • Any recommendations for where to stay (with parking) in Arles?
    • Where would you recommend staying in Avignon that would be close/walkable to the train station for the next morning?

Thank you so much!

(The only other option I'm still slightly considering is doing just Paris and Lyon and renting a car for just a day trip or 2 days at most from Lyon and driving to surrounding areas/hilltowns/etc. Any thoughts of if this would be a better plan? But I'd want to stay in Vieux Lyon area, and renting a car from there/parking there/getting out of town from there and back in from day trips seems like maybe more hassle than it's worth? We could stay somewhere outside of Lyon/smaller town nearby and spend 1 day exploring Lyon and others exploring the surrounding areas there? Overall we want to do Paris (city) and smaller town/get some time to explore and see smaller towns too)

Posted by
6996 posts

If you want to explore small towns/villages, you could take the train to Lyon Saint Exupéry, rent a car there, and visit Crémieux and Pérouges. 2 nights (in a single base) is enough. You would have to skip Lyon altogether, but to me that is not a huge loss (not a Lyon fan, for reasons I cannot pinpoint).

Posted by
249 posts

Getting a car at the TGV station in Avignon is a snap. And the TGV is the fastest train from Paris.