First of all we plan on flying open jaw to Paris & leaving from either Nice or Marseilles (or vice versa-it doesn't matter if we begin or end in Paris)We would like:-3 full days in Paris + 1 day trip to Versailles -between 1-2 days Normandy mostly for the D-Day beaches -Loire Valley, probably with a stay in Amboise 2 nights -then at least one full week for Provence/Riviera area then fly home from Nice. We will be travelling by train. I'm uncertain how to tie it all together- anyone have suggestions we are a fairly energetic couple in our early fifties
thanks for the input Kent. yes the areas we want to spend time in are varied and distanced apart. any suggestions on where to cut back? it is our first trip to france, Provence area is a must. I've also thought of just doing Paris then Provence & maybe a bit of northern italy? it sounds like you've travelled a lot and are familiar with it all...I'm still in the early stages of planning so I'm not definitely set in any one itinerary yet...however it's got to be doable in 18 days and not too hectic...
it's 18 days + 2 days arrival & departure
These are awkward rail connections, but alas they come with the territory.
Since you must return to Paris at least once, you may want to start in either Amboise or Normandy, saving Paris for the part of your trip before you leave for Provence.
Doing this avoids a long travel day with a trip across Paris when you go to Provence.
By "start" I really mean "travel straight there from Charles DeGaulle" (unless you can snag an air connection into Caen). There are several TGV trains that depart directly from deGaulle to the Loire.
Your itinerary feels crowded to me, especially Paris. Compared to your other destinations, Paris is the most logistically easy (since you won't have a car) and culturally rich. Consider making the most of that even at the expense of another region.
Kent is right about the value of a car for a trip like this one. I'd want one for parts, though not all, of this itinerary. But you can travel to these parts of France and see many wonderful things with no car.
couple more questions: is there an airport in Caen ? and from Loire area are there trains going to Provence? (I haven't had a chance yet to check) I'm thinking maybe eliminate either Normandy or Loire if it gets too complicated, but I'm really torn as to which....Maybe as Adam says, we could begin in Normandy?
or eliminate Normandy and take the TGV from de Gaulle & go directly to Loire? start from there...then on to Paris, then Provence? what do you guys think?
Amboise - Paris - Provence - Nice is certainly a logistically sweeter trip. A shame to skip Normandy, though. Well, everything is a trade off, isn't it?
Ultimately it boils down to your taste. When my wife and I visited the Loire, we found to our surprise that the chateux left us cold. (Many people would disagree with us!)
But if you like Ancient Regime palaces, it's a brilliant choice. Normandy for the sea, D-Day, and cider; Provence for a Mediterranean France and Roman antiquities.
What do you and yours hope to see and do?
We're a pretty easy going couple (early 50s)who enjoy the outdoors, a bit of history, we love biking & might rent bikes once in the Loire area, a good meal with a good bottle of wine, nature lovers,enjoy meeting people...generally love to be in new places...oh and I love chateaus.......
Biking in the Loire sounds like the ticket for you, then! If the weather cooperates, bikes will really extend your reach without a car. The Loire is basically flat, and the shop you rent the bikes from can probably advise you on routes.
In fact, you may want to track down a good source for bikes before you go. When we visited the Loire, we rented bikes that were in such bad shape that we had to turn around halfway to Chenonceau.
Fortunately we had a car. But on a subsequent trip in Burgundy I learned the value of renting a good machine.
Two kinds of bikes are commonly rented in France: basic one-speeds and what are called VTTs--basically mountain bikes. It is worth paying extra for these, though the one-speeds might be good enough in the Loire if they fit properly and are well-maintained.
If you locate a rental shop, you can email them in the off season and pump them for information about good roads and destinations. This is almost as valuable as the bikes themselves.
In Sept '07 I flew in to Marseille, 2 days there (overcome jet lag) then to Caux (Near Pezenas) two days, then to Vaison La Romain (north of Avignon)and then on to Nice for a convention. Rented a car for that week and enjoyed it all. Did not rent a car until I left Marseille as would have been foolish to pay for the rental, and storage at night, when there was no feasible way to drive in Marseille! Stayed in Bed and Breakfast along the way. The one in Caux, (Stone House B&B) and in Vaison La Romain (Le Eveche) were both outstanding. Caux is agricultural and restful. Vaison La Romain filled with History, pre-roman settlement even, and staying the citie medevial was fantastic. Nice was excellent - Hotel La Splendid - All of the area is lovely. Enjoy the time!!
As you plan also consider leasing a car. If you have a car for 17 days, you can lease at a fraction of rental prices (and full insurance is included). Peugot and Renault are the companies that have leasing programs. Since you will be picking up and dropping off in France, there is no extra fee for open jaw.
It may allow you to see more places more efficiently and was much cheaper than trains when traveling as a family.
It's worth comparing.
thanks everyone for the helpful replies, will be giving each one consideration.