After a week in Paris, we would like to see the Loire Valley, the Dordogne and the Basque Coast. We will have about 9 days after our week in Paris. We have not been to France so is that time for travel to and taking time to explore. Any feedback would be appreciated.
We can give an answer that will be more useful to you, if you can be more specific than just "winter" (giving the month you will be there).
Think short days. For exploring outside the cities, you need to be more flexible and less ambitious than you would in the summer. Most of France doesn't see a particularly large amount of snow, but it can be quite foggy.
In January 2009 we went to Beaune in the Burgundy region of France and it was cold but not freezing. Some of the better restaurants and sites were closed--we were a bit disappointed. You probably won't get the full "flavor" of the wine region in the winter months.
On another trip, we traveled from northern Spain to the Basque Coast (St. Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz) in March--it was a similar experience.
But, if it's a matter of going then or not at all--I'd say go--crowds will be lighter and hotel costs will be less expensive.
The "basque coast" does not exist except in Ameican-oriented travel literature. True, there is a bit of coast in the western-most French basque province (Bayonne being the largest city in the area that was previously part of Gascony), but it has little or no basque culture. If you look really hard you can find a bit in the old parts of St Jean de Luz/Ciboure. Biarritz is a still-expensive, but decaying former playground for the ultra-rich. Even the French have pretty much forgotten what the Cote Basque was at one time. The fleets of fishing boats are long-gone; so are the shepards.
The heart of basque heritage is centered in Vizcaya, Spain (Guernica).
For any remnants of basque culture in France, you must look more to the east in the mountains and foothills; e.g. Ustaritz, Itxassou. Oddly, the strongest basque heritage remaining in France is the small community in Perpignan, way the heck to the eastern end of the Pryenees, who are largely descendants of refugees from the Spanish civil war.
How are traveling? By car? And are you returning to Paris?
If you are driving, you could drive to the Dordogne in about a half day, drive from the Dornogne to the Basque Coast in about a half day, and drive to Loire on your way back to Paris - with a couple of days in each area, for exploring. It's doable, particularly if you like driving and exploring by car.
I've done the one and two day stays, trying to take in as much as you can. And I've done the stay in one place and really take in the region. There are advantages to both and they're both great experiences. Just a word of warning - traveling long distance by car in France, while very easy, is expensive, as the highways are toll roads. Viamichelin.com can give you travel times and the cost of tolls.
If you are traveling by train, you're a bit more limited in your ability to see the different regions.
As far as the Basque culture in France, I visit that area frequently, as I still have family there. And last I checked the Basque Culture is alive and well. Fishing boats, shephards and all!
Make sure to try the "poulet basquaise" if you get that far down to the south west! Scrumbly good dish.
The Loire valley is 630 miles long. However, guessing where your thoughts are headed I would recommend Amboise as a base for visiting the chateaux of the Loire, in the centre section of the Loire valley.
If I were you I would get a hold of the Michelin Green Guide for France - it covers all the main tourist sights (though misses out on interesting smaller places) and gives opening times and seasons. Essential to check to avoid disappointment out of season. Available through Amazon.
Thank you for all the responses.
Kent: December, we will be leaving Paris on the 26th.
Sharon: it is indeed a matter of going or not, so we will assuredly GO.
Linda: we will not have a car in Paris, of course, and are debating what to do from there on. One thought is to take TGV to a city near the Dordogne, pick up a car there. Or to take TGV to Amboise and get a car there. One of our questions is which swing to do, South first, then West and north back to the Loire Valley, or Loire Valley first, but then the coast next or the Dordogne. Any feedback appreciated.
Phil: I have every intention of returning at least 20 lbs heavier, and thank you for a specific suggestion of how to do that.
As Tom says, short days, but also shorter hours at attractions that are open to the public, and less or possibly no English spoken.
Some local buses don't run, or run less, in some places, though I don't know about the locations you will visit.
So take advantage of all the daylight--get up and out the door at dawn, because the sun sets early--do your homework about what is open when, and roll with any glitches. You'll have a great time.
Definitely get a rental car for exploring the Loire. Public transportation for the purposes of sight-seeing here isn't very efficient. With the short daylight hours and variable weather conditions of December, maximizing your time is important.
FYI for this board: there is a thriving Basque community in Boise, Idaho
As you are in Colorado now, you will be prepared for COLD weather. I'm in Paris right now, freezing my fanny off, so I can't imagine how cold December will be. The Loire Valley is beautiful in May -- I don't imagine it will be as lovely in December, but there are great places to visit and I suspect the rates will be cheaper then. If you can avoid it, don't pick up or drop off your car in Paris -- it's a nightmare.