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Travel with mom and sister - France/Germany

Hi everyone!

We have a last minute family travel opportunity to France and Germany with my mom who is 78 and my sister and me. It was after one of those conversations about how she does so much caregiving for my dad (we all do, but she does the most), and I really wanted her to have a chance to travel for 9 days and do something for her. I also think this might be the last opportunity we have as mom and daughters to do something like this. The chance came up and we took it. We leave March 24th and return April 2nd.

I've been to Europe with my husband and for work probably a dozen or more times, driving for me over there is no problem, and I've been to this region before. We even brought my mom along on a driving trip around France back in 2013. She's a little more frail now but still is pretty good with travel. Walking is no problem but she cannot do anything steep and heights kind of freak her out now.

We found a cheap RT flight to and from Paris. We will have 8 nights once you factor out the two flying days. I will have the car the entire time, which in retrospect was dumb because we'll be in Paris the last two nights. I will see if I can change it.

So, 6 nights on the road, and we do have one required stop: Hassloch, Germany (about 1.5 hours SW of Frankfurt, and about 6 hours directly east of Paris), where my 19-year-old son is going to be working as a waterskier for the Holiday Park Theme Park. Just want to see him, deliver some stuff from home he needs, take him to dinner...it'll be a quick visit. But, my sister has never been to Europe, my mom's never been to Germany, so I'd love to show them some quintessential spots and experiences without overdoing it too much on the driving (as in 5 or 6 hours of driving between places every other day is probably the max).

My mom loves nature and easy hikes, anything with a good story from history, wine/champagne/beer, food, a museum or two is fine, and maybe throw a cathedral in there for good measure. Castles? sure.

The drive from Paris to Hassloch is 6 hours. I don't think we will do that all the first day.

Tell me what you think of this itinerary:

March 25th: land at CDG, pick up rental car. Drive to Champagne region for tour, tasting, and possibly a place to crash for the night. I think my mom would enjoy the Champagne tour. Any suggestions? Reims seems too big for a one night stop. Is there somewhere quaint with a good place to sleep and a good restaurant or two? Any good places you would recommend?

March 26th: Drive to Hassloch, see the kid, take him to lunch or whatever, and then drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Stay in Rothenburg.

March 27th: Day trip to Nuremburg for historical sites, or Bamburg for brewery experience (hubby and I did a self-paced brewery crawl there and we had so much fun, I think mom would enjoy it), or just stay in Rothenburg. Stay the night in Rothenburg.

March 28th: Drive to Bavaria/Neuchwanstein/Tyrol/that region - need ideas for a place to stay. Stay in....?

March 29th: Visit castles, towns, enjoy some traditional Bavarian food, etc. Stay in same place as the 28th.

March 30th: Drive to Colmar. Explore Colmar, if time visit Eguisheim. Stay in Colmar.

March 31st: Drive to Paris/Stay in Paris. I have this part of the trip planned out.

April 1st: Explore Paris. Stay in Paris.

April 2nd: Fly home from CDG at 1 pm.

But...I am also really open to changing around things/doing different combinations that involved any of the following (or others!):

Heidelberg
Baden-Baden
Munich
Beaune

Any suggested itineraries/input would be great! Thanks, everyone!

Posted by
16941 posts

Is your son in perhaps Hassloch? I see a Holiday Park located nearby.

Honestly, it looks like all you will be doing is driving, checking into hotels, sleeping, then checking out of hotels and driving to the next destination. You trying to wear mom out?

Posted by
5612 posts

Your son works in H-A-S-S-L-O-C-H, I think.

Does your mom just want to ride around in the car every day? It seems to me that's largely what you have planned for her. The constant checking in and out is strenuous, and even if you are fine with driving that much, I think you are not adding any value to speak of by driving so many miles on such a large loop.

If you want to see adorable towns, try local wines, hit some brew pubs, tour some castles and take in some great scenery, all that really is right there in the general neighborhood of Hassloch. If you want to brave a trip all the way to the Alps, you're closer to the ones in Switzerland. And if Colmar is in your sights, then it makes a lot more sense to me stay closer to Germany's border with France and Switzerland. Gengenbach and The Black Forest towns (not Baden-Baden,) The German Wine Road towns (focus on Neustadt an der Weinstrasse and look north and south,) Lake Constance, Tuebingen, Esslingen, the castles and towns of the Middle Rhine Valley, all these places are nearby and waiting for you.

Posted by
341 posts

Thanks, guys. You are correct about the spelling. Been a busy day. Will fix.

I'm not sure the driving is too bad if it's every other day. Driving trips were part of our family's DNA; maybe that's why I mapped it out the way I did. But, I will look over your suggestions. I've stayed in Gengenbach; it's lovely but small. In March, I thought it would probably be a ghost town.

Your suggestions for the German wine road sound great! It will be interesting to check out some new places.

Posted by
5612 posts

I counted 6 different overnight stops in your 8 days.

Don't assume I'm suggesting that you overnight in each of the places that I suggested (like Gengenbach, just a nice place to visit on an outing, maybe see the Fasnacht museum?) - it's probably impossible even to visit all of them in the time you have. In fact I would try to pick only 3 places at most to base in, and visit some of those other suggested places on day outings.

Posted by
3361 posts

I think your itinerary looks like way too much driving and you really should rethink unless you are looking for a tour of European motorways. And I agree that you might be planning a bit too much.

I will have the car the entire time, which in retrospect was dumb
because we'll be in Paris the last two nights.

Yes change the reservation.

March 25th: land at CDG, pick up rental car. Drive to Champagne region
for tour, tasting, and possibly a place to crash for the night. I
think my mom would enjoy the Champagne tour. Any suggestions? Reims
seems too big for a one night stop. Is there somewhere quaint with a
good place to sleep and a good restaurant or two?

As always, don't rent a car and drive away direct after arrival on a long haul flight. You will most likely not be a safe driver. Take the train to Reims, it's 30 minutes from Charles de Gaulle to the TGV station outside Reims. Then use Reims as a base for exploring the region.

March 26th: Drive to Hassloch, see the kid, take him to lunch or
whatever, and then drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Stay in
Rothenburg.

That is quite a long drive in one day and you will not have a lot of time with your son. But I think you should consider taking the train at least to Karlsruhe or somewhere else in Germany and rent the car there to avoid having to deal with getting an Umweltplakette for a French rental car. You could however also take the train all the way to Rothenburg via Haßloch and your stay there will be a lot easier, cars and medieval towns don't mix.

March 27th: Day trip to Nuremburg for historical sites, or Bamburg for
brewery experience

Also, better done by train.

March 28th: Drive to Bavaria/Neuchwanstein/Tyrol/that region - need
ideas for a place to stay. Stay in....?

Depending on where you plan to go, a car can make sense. But in that case, take the train to Munich or some other town in the area and rent the car there.

March 30th: Drive to Colmar. Explore Colmar, if time visit Eguisheim.
Stay in Colmar.

Return the car somewhere in Germany and take the train to Colmar.

March 31st: Drive to Paris/Stay in Paris. I have this part of the trip
planned out.

Again, train.

Posted by
5612 posts

...don't rent a car and drive away direct after arrival on a long haul
flight.

I completely agree. Agree with Badger also that these destinations could better be visited by train. (The exception would be if you wanted specific accommodations in very remote locations.) An additional concern with a tight driving itinerary like this comes about when the driver will be enjoying time in brew pubs, sampling the fruit of the vine, etc. Public transport makes this all much easier and safer (I often enjoy a brew while traveling between destinations - but only on the train of course.)

For North Americans who are accustomed to long drives on their domestic vacations, it often sounds reasonable to spend nearly every day driving around Europe. This tendency is exacerbated by unlimited-mileage rental plans. The car experience dominates the entire visit, and too many destinations are seen too superficially. (The same can be true about train travel, at least for rail pass holders with unlimited access - one reason point-to-point train tickets are a sound practice.)

...driving for me over there is no problem, and I've been to this region
before. We even brought my mom along on a driving trip around France
back in 2013.

In Europe, not all train systems are equal, and in France, train service is typically inadequate on several grounds. Many itineraries are simply NOT doable by train. Driving is often a more reasonable way to get around.

Germany is a VERY different story. You can get almost anywhere fairly easily. But it's near impossible to be persuasive about this truth if an experienced traveler (like Wendy) has previous car experiences in Europe that they consider successful. Such a person with no German train experience is naturally going to be extra-reluctant to switch.

Posted by
341 posts

It's not that I'm reluctant to switch to trains. I've done trains in Germany. They were fine (except the time a lady took my suitcase off the train thinking it was hers.) I just think a car with my mom would be easier. Also, I sleep on flights, so I'll be fine when we land.

Any suggestions for a place to stay about 3 hours outside of Paris to the east?

Posted by
341 posts

I'm looking at the train from Paris to Frankfurt, which is about 4 hours. The reason I've been reluctant to do trains is simply for my mom's sake. While she is used to airline travel and airports, I can see her getting nervous about us getting on the right train, in a busy train station, etc. Obviously I will get us where we need to go, but the car trip I thought would just be more relaxing for her, plus we would could stop in the Champagne region on the way east.

But, the idea of just getting to Germany quickly is attractive...

Posted by
1246 posts

There are a few nice villages on the wine route close to where you son is staying. I liked Freinsheim and Deidesheim, and the splendid Wissembourg in northern Alsace. But there is better to be had elsewhere, and the Heidelberg area is very busy.

Then......

1) It's easy to spend a week in one of the wine villages in Alsace and make day trips to other villages, Colmar, Strasbourg and the western part of the Black Forest (Baden-Baden on the way from Gengenbach, Freiburg, Staufen, Endingen):
https://www.visit.alsace/en/
https://www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/en/tourist-office/ribeauville-riquewihr-tourist-office.htm
https://www.tourisme-eguisheim-rouffach.com/en/

OR

2) Same for Lake Constance based in Meersburg. Lots to see and do around the lake, plus Beuren Abbey and Sigmaringen Castle to the north (very pretty drive between them); Rheinfall, Schaffhausen and pretty Stein am Rhein on the Swiss side.
https://www.bodensee.eu/en
https://www.constance-lake-constance.com/experience-explore.html

Posted by
341 posts

Gundersen, this is great! Thank you. You mention Heidelberg being very busy. However, we are going in 6 weeks. Will it be busy then?

Posted by
268 posts

Paris, city centre, to Haßloch (Hassloch) can be done in 3 hours 30 minutes by train (most of the time being spent on a high-speed train with an on-board restaurant), or in about six hours by car (plus breaks, which you will need when driving). The train is also probably going to be cheaper. Why anyone would choose to drive on this route is beyond me.
Heidelberg, Speyer, or the Middle Rhine Valley are easy train (or car) journeys from Haßloch.

Posted by
341 posts

Chris, thanks for your reply!

Why anyone would choose to drive on this route is beyond me.

Because my mother loves good champagne and I thought she'd enjoy the tour? Goodness!

Paris, city centre, to Haßloch (Hassloch) can be done in 3 hours 30 minutes by train

And yet, I'll be at CDG. Rome2Rio says it's 5 hours by train when you account for that. https://www.rome2rio.com/map/Paris-CDG-Airport-CDG/Ha%C3%9Floch

I didn't say I was going to Haßloch the first day; in fact, I've specifically asked for ideas on where to stay that's about 3 hours outside of Paris as one of my questions. But thanks for your help!

It's interesting...I really didn't ask for advice on driving/not driving. I asked for ideas on where to go. Thanks to those who have offered helpful suggestions on where to go. And thank you, Chris, for your ideas on where to drive once I'm in Germany.

Posted by
1246 posts

Hi Wendy. What I meant about Heidelberg being busy pertains to driving in the area as a whole. The channel from Frankfurt to around Karlsruhe (Mainz/Worms/Speyer etc) is terribly busy, unattractive highway driving. That's my impression, anyway. As for Heidelberg itself, I visited last autumn, returning after many years. I enjoyed the castle and Philosphers Walk, the old town was a little underwhelming compared to other towns I've visited.

Sorry, I looked at your dates properly. I usually travel in autumn. There's no guarantee of good weather anywhere but historically Alsace/Black Forest have moderate temperatures and rainfall in general.

Re Paris to Hasslock. As a youth I stayed/worked on a farm stacking hay just north of Metz. I remember it was flat and very plain. Saarburg is a very pretty little town worth stopping at but will add a litte time to your trip.

Posted by
341 posts

Thank you, Gundersen. I'm looking more at Alsace and Black Forest as the primary location. Meersburg/Konstanz looks lovely as well. Thanks so much for your input.

Posted by
5612 posts

I am pleased to see others suggesting longer stays with fewer lengthy journeys.

"But, the idea of just getting to Germany quickly is attractive... I'm looking at the train from Paris to Frankfurt, which is about 4 hours... Any suggestions for a place to stay about 3 hours outside of Paris to the east?"

The fastest to Frankfurt from CDG is about 4.5 hours. But since it gets you there via STRASBOURG (which you reach in just two hours) and since the Alsace is on your wish list (Colmar) I suggest that you look more carefully at Gundersen's suggestion for a multi-day stay there or thereabouts. The whole trip to Colmar by train from CDG at 11:23 takes only 2.5 hours.

OTOH Strasbourg itself is considered to be a worthy destination - and it's a good travel base if you wish to visit some Black Forest towns - like Gutach. Gutach's Open Air museum is a good introduction to the local culture and history and makes for a really nice visit. Haslach is a pretty town near Gutach where you can visit the Black Forest Folk-Costume museum, take a walk around town. Then there's Schiltach which is exceptional as well. All these BF towns are easy to reach and get around in by car or by train.

If you hit Haßloch after that, then you have already driven half way to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, one of Germany's must-sees IMHO. Your visit will come prior to the official "river cruise season" but there are roads and train lines on both sides of the river for paying a visit to the towns and castles. A few of the castles in private hands have been repurposed into castle-hotels. Maybe that would be entertaining. Others are open for touring.

Marksburg

Rheinfels

Burg Rheinstein (museum)

Reichsburg Cochem (on the nearby Mosel River.) Cochem itself is a delightful place. The Bundesbank Bunker and the chairlift ride are worth your time as well.

(Burg Eltz does not open until April 1)

Rhine Castles

Rhine Towns

Rhine ferry crossings and train lines

The small towns are very atmospheric but will be very quiet at that time of year. If you want things to do in the evening, Ruedesheim and Boppard are the best small town bets for a prolonged stay. Otherwise you may want to stay in Koblenz.

Posted by
3361 posts

Also, I sleep on flights, so I'll be fine when we land.

Are you sure? You might be, but you might also not be. I guess this american tourist also thought he was fit to drive. And this one. It's very easy to overestimate your driving ability, especially when you are a bit tired.

The reason I've been reluctant to do trains is simply for my mom's
sake. While she is used to airline travel and airports, I can see her
getting nervous about us getting on the right train, in a busy train
station, etc.

Has she said that or is it your assumption? And aren't you all travelling together?

Obviously I will get us where we need to go, but the car trip I
thought would just be more relaxing for her, plus we would could stop
in the Champagne region on the way east.

I think it's hard to find a more relaxing way to travel than watching the landscape from a comfortable train seat, with a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Also, there is nothing preventing you from stopping in Champagne if you take the train. Gare de Champagne-Ardenne TGV just outside Reims has trains to both Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Strasbourg (where you can change to a train to Colmar or Germany).

It's interesting...I really didn't ask for advice on driving/not
driving.

No, but maybe you should think about why you were adviced not to drive instead of dismissing the advice. As a European I have to say that while we don't mind tourists, one thing we really do not like is tired drivers on our roads. Especially if they are not familiar with the traffic laws.

Posted by
341 posts

Russ, great information. Thank you!

Paris CDG to Strasbourg - now that seems like a good possibility. This prevents the shuffle of CDG/transfer/Gare du Nord/transfer/Gare de L'est. Yes, with my mom, that's a stressful amount of transferring, particularly when I'm going to have an extra suitcase for my son. But the TGV to Strasbourg could work!

I reserved a hotel in Bacharach, which is a place I love. But the Accuweather forecast for that region in late March is not great. In the 40s and rainy. By contrast, Colmar looks better by about 10 degrees and less rain. But I really do love that Rhine region...hmmm.

There seems to be quite a lot to do in the Colmar/Freiburg/Black Forest region, too.

Thanks for your help!

Posted by
5612 posts

I would be reluctant to book in Bacharach in March. The reasons I've suggested Boppard (or Ruedesheim) over the other Rhine towns:

  • Boppard is larger and a little livelier than Bacharach or the other towns, which may be quite "dead" - so is R'heim. You will have a wider choice of accommodations/restaurants etc. than in smaller towns like Bacharach. (Boppard is a common port-stop for longer cruises by major cruise companies because of this.)

  • Boppard is better located for outings to Cochem (and other Mosel destinations) and Marksburg Castle than Bacharach. The Boppard auto/passenger ferry operates all day so you can drive on the other riverbank.

  • Boppard has a developed waterfront with riverfront rooms with nice views and little to no train noise - Bacharach does not enjoy a riverfront setting and is the worst of all the small towns for train noise. But Bacharach is easy to VISIT by car or train.

  • Boppard is only a few minutes from Koblenz (larger city) if you require city services of some kind.

View from a cliffside over Boppard
Boppard waterfront

Posted by
341 posts

Thanks, Russ. Boppard is beautiful. I will check it out. I appreciate your help!