Please sign in to post.

Newbies - 4 or 5 weeks in France & Spain? Fly in and out of same city?

My wife and I would appreciate some feedback and suggestions on how long to make our first trip to Europe and whether to travel in a loop or straight line.

Previously we have traveled together for two-plus weeks in the Caribbean, much of that on a sailboat, so we are unlikely to become homicidal. We will join a friend for a week or so in Paris. Our thought is to drive south through France and on to southern Spain, without much of a schedule or itinerary. We might spend a night or two in Tangier. We want to spend some time in the bigger, more historically rich cities and at least as much time in smaller towns and villages experiencing local people and culture. Some rough planning indicates that the driving portion could take 3 to 4 weeks. Do the experienced travelers among you think that 4 or 5 total weeks of travel is too ambitious, particularly for a first trip to Europe? If so, what would you recommend?

We could either fly in and out of Paris, making a driving loop through France and Spain, or fly into Paris and fly home from Madrid. Any thoughts and recommendations on this choice would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
22983 posts

We tend to fly in and out of different cities because we generally move in a straight line. But a circle works if it fits the places you want to go. The thing that a lot of experienced travelers will caution against is the back tracking to your starting place. That is a waste of time and money. What gets ambitious is those who want to see 7 countries and 22 cities in five weeks. So until you start laying out your trip it is hard to tell if it is too ambitious. We have done several four to six weeks but we break it up by putting a two week cruises or something similar in the middle. Having a car in the bigger cities can be a problem so you might plan it to use the car for the country side and dump the car before the big cities. Sometimes it can be a problem taking a car from one country to another and especially if you drop the car in another country. The drop fees may exceed the cost of the rental. You need to spend some quality time with guidebooks, DVDs, and a map to plot out what you might want to do.

Posted by
2877 posts

Hi, I totally agree with Frank, you need to have a first rough layout of your trip in order for others to give usable views/advice. As a first comment though I'd like to point out that travelling through Europe is a very dense activity as there are plenty of things to do/see at every corner. So please, look at Google Maps with a pinch of salt, 1000 miles on the map are no the same here in Europe than in other parts of the world where there might be little to do/see (as a visitor) in between a route from A to B. Also note that going all the way from Paris down to Tangier for a flash stay might make little sense unless you're intending to spend some more days in the area (be southern Spain, be western Morocco). Also notice about the need for VISAs, a VISA for the EU won't allow you to visit Morocco, you will need a separate one.
Lastly, I believe it's important to get to know a bit of you first, what do you like? what don't you?

Posted by
4132 posts

In Europe, auto rentals standardly charge a stiff fee for returns in different country of origin. There's usually no drop-off fee, however, for returns within the same country. One way around that is to rent two cars, one in each country, and cross the border on a train or other means.

Incidentally, depending on your itinerary you should at least consider taking advantage of the rail system. The trains will get you to Burgundy or Provence much faster than you could drive. A road trip has its own charms of course, but with 4 or 5 weeks it might be pleasant to mix things up a bit.

Last general advice: A long trip is a marathon, and you should pace yourselves by varying the pace and tone. Otherwise places tend to blur together. City and village, beach and mountains. Pick a place you will stop moving for a week or so to catch your breath midway.

Posted by
507 posts


As suggested get a map of Spain & one of France out & circle the places you want to go to. Then connect the dots. Tangier is on the African continent.

If you have 4 to 5 weeks to spend, then go for it! I wish
I could spend more time traveling at my leisure. I am usually on a 10-day trip where all stops are set.

One poster said you can be charged extra for dropping your car off in another country. Have you thought about landing in Madrid. Spain, travel the southern part of Spain, head for Paris (& the rest of France) going through Barcelona, & come back down the western side of Spain back to Madrid for your departure home. (Take the above, choose any major airport for entry/departure & make the same circle.)

Aside from local culture my interests lie in places where the Blessed Virgin has appeared. Zaragoza, Spain; Montseratt, Spain; Lourdes, France; LaSalette. France

Bon Voyage!

EDIT: Check the topic below yours, "Madrid to Southern Spain." One of the posters gives the time it would take to reach Tangiers & Cassablanca from Spain.

Posted by
6929 posts

A car gives you ultimate flexibility on where you go and when (along with European gas prices, and sometomes highway tolls, and parking challenges). You could avoid different-country-return fees if you started in France, drove thru part of France on your way to Spain, then drove back thru another part of France on your return. Even if you didn't drive all the way to Paris, you could drop off the car someplace in France and get back to Paris by some other means. Or arrive in Paris and fly home from some other French city, like Marseille.

Some rental companies charge more for, or don't allow their car to be taken to, certain other countries. Might not affect you going between France and Spain, but make sure. If you need that car for more than 3 weeks, leasing is another option that could save you over renting.

Increasingly over the past few years, budget airlines (like Vueling) fly within Europe quickly and cheaply, and might give you another option for getting around. Of course, you don't see the country you're flying over so local people and culture at 30,000 feet would be limited, but it might get you to a specific place quickly where you could pick up a car and resume experiencing things up close. Some of those budget airlines have strict luggage policies, or can nickel and dime you with extra charges, so read the fine print, but if you decide you don't want or need that car the whole time, that might work for you.

You could also have a France car, turn it in and take a train or bus to a destination in Spain, then pick up your Spain car. Depending on the rental company, there could even be a charge for returning the car to a different city than where you picked it up, even in the same country, so again, read the fine print. Picking up a car at an airport or train station usually involves an extra charge, compared to picking it up at their location in town (if applicable), so that's another thing to possibly consider. Vacation time is valuable, though, so a relatively small additional cost for the convenience may be a good investment.

In addition to regular trains, France has super-fast TGV trains, and their counterpart in Spain are AVE trains. There are also fast highways and less-fast highways. Navigation by road signs often requires knowing cities in the direction you want to go, and following the signs for that location, rather than simply "following the A-90 then turning onto the N-236."

Posted by
10344 posts

Being newbies (and pardon me if you already know this): Unlike, most European countries where you can get by with English, you may find that the French segment of your trip will be more enjoyable if you spend some time studying the "tourist" and "politeness" phrases, and hear an audio of some French being spoken to get a feel for the accent.