We are doing a 3-week home exchange in Lyon with 5 days in Paris tacked on at the end. We will be there in July/August, 2014. We will have a car, so we're looking for advice on day trips or 1-night trips. We are also willing to take a train/bus if it makes sense. We would like to see Switzerland (Geneva?) and the Mediterranean. What else? We'll have our 7 year old daughter with us. She'd love to see a castle. Any advice?
I recommend Chamonix for the beautiful French Alps and many gondola rides. If you try Switzerland take the paddlewheel historic ferry on Lake Geneva from Geneva or better Lausanne(Olympic Park & Museum here)they are fully restored ferry w/ orig wood & copper fittings and all fabrics and finishes old world beauty. Then get off at stunning medieval Chateau de Chillon nr Montreux, it is not a huge castle but sits right on lakes edge w/ and interesting history and visit. Lausanne ( very picturesque up the hills and on lakeshore) would also be a gd overnite over Geneva. Some reasonable lodging is close to Lausanne train station & an easy walk to ferry. Def. incl Provence as you have a car and can easily be enjoyed on a long day from Lyon. incl. Pont du Gard (picnic here)and a cple of villages nrby. You & your daughter will delight I am sure with the above itin. Hope this helps alittle.
Remember that if you're driving in Switzerland, you will need a vignette for your car, and they are only available for the whole year (and so priced accordingly). If you're making a few trips, it might be worth it, but someone else on this Helpline complained that it made for an expensive day trip. I was only in Lyon for a few nights and I didn't have a car or take day trips, so I don't have specific advice for your question. However, I really liked it, and think it would be a great place to spend some time.
Thanks for the great ideas. We did not know about the vignette and will definitely look into it. We are borrowing a car from our home exchange family, so I'm wondering if they have a vignette already and if we are allowed to use it. Are vignettes required for entry to other countries by car as well?
Your host family may very well have the Vignette already on their car. The Swiss Vignette is a square with rounded corners with the European motorway/Autobahn/Autoroute/Autostrada symbol from top to bottom superimposed with the last two numbers of the year. The background colour changes each year - I don't know which colour it will be next year. Austria and Slovenia also require vignettes.
Heather, you have Annecy and Chamonix off in one direction. Chamonix might be a longer drive. We've done it from Lyon but we stayed overnight in the Annecy area first. To the south, you have a very high-speed train from Lyon to Avignon. About 1:10 for the ride. I see fares on the early train (06:36) at 15Euro one-way. Not bad.
Definitely Pérouges, which probably counts as "a castle" at age 7. Maybe Dijon & Besançon if you're willing to go farther. In the same (farther) area, the site (open to the public) of Gustave Courbet's "La Source de la Loue", on beautiful countryside drives near his home town, Ornans.
We did a house exchange a few years ago, near Valence, so I think some of the day trips we took would also work for Lyon. The town of Tain-l'Hermitage is home to Valrhona chocolate. You can visit their retail shop and taste anything they make. Walk across the river on the bridge, and you are in the medieval town of Tournon, with a chateau you can visit. We didn't do it, but I believe you can also take river cruises in that area. Vienne has a large Roman archaeological site with a good museum housing many of the finds.
Those are just a few suggestions. I recommend that you get a copy of the Cadogan guide, "Rhone-Alpes." It covers, in great detail, the region where you'll be. You can then choose what especially interests you.
I'd 2d most of the suggestions, particularly Perouges and Annecy. I'd also suggest driving through various Beaujolais villages and visiting some wine producers there.