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1st trip to France

My husband and I are planning our first trip to France for the last 2 weeks in April. We'd love to see as much as possible with at least 3-4 days in Paris and 2-3 in Provence -- other than those two destinations, we are open to ideas and suggestions. Since we know we want to see Paris and Provence, we're planning on flying in to Paris and out of Nice or visa-versa, but we don't have flights booked yet. With that in mind, RS' 15 day "Paris and the South of France" itinerary piqued our interest, but we're worried it might be a lot for us to tackle on our own. We are an active young couple who enjoy it all (museums, cultural/historical sites, new foods, cities, small towns, etc.). We've traveled some in Europe together and don't plan on this being our only trip to France, but it's hard not to try to fit in as much as possible in this trip!
Therefore, do you think Rick Steves' 15 day Paris and the South of France itinerary is feasible to do on our own with a rental car? ( -- 3 nights in Paris, 2 nights in the Loire Valley, 3 nights in Sarlat/Dordogne, 1 night in Carcassonne, 2 nights in Arles, 3 nights in Nice) 15 days (17 days with travel time) is really pushing the amount of time we can take off work -- is there a way we could shorten this trip by 1-3 days without losing any time in Paris? Maybe lose a night each in Sarlat and Nice? And can Carcassonne be done as a day trip stop between Sarlat and Arles or is that too much driving? Thank you!

Posted by
9110 posts

You can cover it faster by car than you can on a tour since you can get going earlier and can spend your time where your interests are rather than the group average. You can easily cut a day in Nice - - three nights is way too much. Carcassonne is no problem. No need to spend the night. You can see all there is in a couple of hours (make it a long lunch stop if the crowds aren't too thick - - they may not be in April). The fastest route from Sarlat to Arles passes within an inch of Carcassonne - - the shortest route is across the Masif Central and will make a five-hour trip into a two-day expedition. What strikes me is that you're trying to fit too much in (Paris, plus four nodes). Once you've seen all of France, you'll figure out that the Loire is nineth-tier. Chop it off and give the time to either the Dordogne or Provence, you don't have enough time in either to do justice. If you need to see a chateau, stop at Fontainbleau (which trumps all in the Loire and arguably beats Versailles as well) on the way up to Paris .... which implies that you're saving the best for last. Ending in Nice makes the whole trip a down-hill slide.

Posted by
78 posts

Since you plan to return, I would divide my time almost entirely between Paris & Provence. For me, a few days in Paris and a couple in Provence wouldn't scratch the surface of what I wanted to see.

Posted by
4 posts

Megan, my husband and I are also going to France april 27 to May 12 th. (2 weeks). We are planning on staying in Paris 4 nights, so we can go to Versaille by metro one of these days. We are then also headed to Loire Valley, staying in Ambiose for 2 nights, to see a chateau or 2, relax, maybe ride a bike through countryside. hotel has bikes. then to Sarlat for 2-3 nights, then to Provence for 3-4 nights, then Nice 1-2 nights, we fly out of Nice. It is hard to decide, I know. I have looked at utube Rick Steves videos. Have fun ! maybe we will pass ways in France. Terry

Posted by
8797 posts

I agree with Ed that you're trying to do too much. But I don't agree that the Loire is ninth tier. I like the Loire very much, much more than the Dordogne. And while I really enjoyed Fontainbleau (it's great), my favorite chateau (I've seen a lot in France, but certainly not all) is, by far, Chenonceau in the Loire. If it were me, I'd spend a week in Paris, and the second week driving to another area, exploring along the way.

Posted by
403 posts

Megan: I think you are wise to fly "open jaw", into Paris/Nice and home out of the other. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences, and probably the only thing we can all agree on is that no matter how much you crammed in, there would be lots not seen. Given that, here is my proposed itinerary for what it is worth.
Day 1 fly into Nice. Spend Day 1 strolling and soaking up sun and Day 2 on the beach. Day 3 Take an excursion to mountain villages overlooking the sea such as Eze, St. Paul de Vence, Vence and a coastal town such as Villefranche or Monoco. Day 4 Take the TGV to Avignon (about 2 1/2 hours). Pick up a rental car in the huge lot outside the TGV station. Basing yourself in Isle sur la Sorgue, Avignon, Arles, or St Remy, enjoy Provence. Having a car in Provence is a dream. Cruise to the lovely villages, enjoy the food and wine, sightsee the Pont du Gard and the other Roman structures that one finds all over Provence. Give Provence Days 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. On Day 9 return the car at Avignon-TGV and take the TGV direct to Paris 2.5 hours. Days 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 Paris with a daytrip to Versailles. If you can add another 2 days, take the TGV to Tours-St Pierre des Corps TGV, pick up a rental car and do the Loire, staying overnight in Chenonceau or Amboise. Return the car and take the TGV direct to Charles de Gaulle airport & fly home. (Day 16). If not, get from your Paris hotel to CDG & fly home on Day 14. My wife and I did a trip almost exactly like this a few years ago, and enjoyed it tremendously.

Posted by
710 posts

We stayed a beautiful bed and breakfast in the South of France two summers ago. If you are near the area I would highly recommend "Aurifat", Cordes-sur-Ciel. Wish we had more then 2 nights there. We did a driving trip from there to other hill towns. So beautiful!

Posted by
3313 posts

I would cut time in the Loire unless you have sights you really want to see. You could see on chateau along your drive to the Dordogne and fill that requirement. The Loire is a big, flat, boring valley. You have to really be into chateaux to benefit from time there. Otherwise, get thee to the Dordogne. After that, I disagree with Ed (at my peril) and would spend one night in Carcasonne if you find a good deal. Evenings there are magical (in April, you're gambling. I wouldn't spend three nights in Nice. With a car, I stay somewhere like Villefranche-sur-Mer. Much easier with a car and you can take the train into Nice.

Posted by
409 posts

Here's another itinerary option that we did in 2009. About the same length of time and we really enjoyed ourselves:
Fly into CDG; spend 3 nights in Paris. 4th day, take train to Versailles and spend the day there. At the end of the day, pick up rental car and drive to Giverny (spend the night). Get up early and tour Monet's Garden, then drive to Normandy via Honfleur (have lunch and walk around). Spend 2 nights in Normandy. The 1st day, tour the D-Day beaches. The next morning, drive to Mont St. Michel and tour early before the crowds arrive. Leave around noon and head south to the Loire Valley (3 nights). Tour chateaus (favorites: Chenonceau, Villandry, Cheverny, Blois). Drive to Provence (5 nights), admittedly a long drive. See Nimes, Arles, Uzes, Pont du Gard, St. Remy, Les Baux, Roussilon, Avignon). Drive to Nice, spend the day (1 night stay), fly out of Nice.