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driving from provence to normandy

We are planning a trip to France in mid October. We would like to start out in Provence for four days, then go to Normandy for three and then on to Paris for five days. I know we could fly into Marseilles and out of Paris but the the trip is from NYC to Marseiles involves long layovers and plane changes. It seemed easier to me to fly round trip to Paris and take a high speed train to Avignon from CDG. I realize it will add to the cost but not that much. However we get to Provence, we plan to rent a car when we get there. From Provence we are thinking about driving to Normandy for a few days and then to Versailles where we will drop the car off and take the train to Paris. I am wondering about whether the drive from Provence to Normandy could be a nice one. Or does it make more sense to leave the car in Avignon and take another train to Normandy and rent a car there?

Posted by
1446 posts

Trip sounds great; but I would do it in reverse. Do Paris & a day trip to Versailles. Then rent a car for Normandy. October weather in Normandy can be wet...so earlier there would be better. I have taken train from Paris to Provence. It is worth it for the time it saves. Then rent a car or just take commuter train along coast when in Provence. You can then fly back from Marseiles.

Posted by
10344 posts

After flying into Paris, you could take the high speed TGV train to Avignon TGV station, pick up a rental car from the Avignon TGV station rental car pick up point, have fun in Provence, and then return the car somewhere in Provence, and take the high speed trains back to Paris. That leaves the Normandy part, you can get from Paris to Normandy in 4 different ways: 1) after the train from Provence back to Paris, you could continue by train to Bayeux and rent a car there; or 2) some travelers choose to rent a car in the Paris area and drive to Normandy; or 3) some train from Paris to Normandy, then rent car in Normandy; or 4) some train to Bayeux, do a Battlebus tour, and train back to Paris (in the last option no rental car needed).

Posted by
110 posts

Kent, I realize that we could - and very well might - take the train to Normandy from Paris option. I was thinking that we might enjoy having the flexibility of the car (especially since we'll have luggage to haul) but not if the drive it will be a hassle. I've just read some horrible accounts of driving even on the outskirts of the city. So assuming we do decide to take a train to Normandy...which station should we return to from Avignon that would make the transfer as uncomplicated as possible?

Posted by
110 posts

Brian, that road trip sounds lovely and I guess what we sort of had in mind when we first conceived of the drive from Provence but we only have 12 or 13 nights for our trip and we want to spend time in Provence, Normandy and Paris. But, out of curiosity, how long did it take you when you did it quickly and did you enjoy it at all?

Posted by
9110 posts

In response to Kent: G. Lazarre is the easiet escape to Normandy with a car; however, I think the trains from Provence go into G. Lyon, making a cross-town metro haul of the luggage a requirement......You can drive from Avignon to Caen in eight hours of road time (Brian's idea is a neat way to spend a week, however). Looking at two short-term rental expenses for the car, plus turning in one and getting another, plus muking about in the city with luggage.....I think I'd just grit my teeth and drive it, knowing it is far from the most scenic drive in the country.

Posted by
10344 posts

Ed: Thank you for joining in on this thread. Lisa: Ed is a very experienced Europe traveler.

Posted by
110 posts

So...just when I thought I had it figured out I can see the wisdom in Ed's suggestion too. Training back to Paris and then to a place to rent a car could be a lot of schlepping. So I guess I'm back to deciding whether to take a train from Avignon to Paris and from Paris to Caen (and renting a car there) or driving from to Caen from Provence. Ed it sounds like you think the latter has the lowest hassle factor (my husband doesn't mind driving though I know he was hoping it would be a scenic drive). Do we run the risk of traffic jams if we choose to drive? or other pitfalls if we drive? Is there anyway to break the trip us with a one night detour to someplace midway that wouldn't add hours to the total drive time? Thank you all again for spending time helping the confused and overwhelmed.

Posted by
110 posts

Thank you for your replies. actually the "Versailles" part of it wasn't to actually visit the palace (I'm sure its interesting but not a high priority for us); someone told me its a good drop off point for a rental car and to then get a train to Paris. We've pretty much decided to do Provence to Normandy to Paris. My big question is how to get from Provence to Normandy. We'd like to make it two day drive across but are not sure which route to take or where to stop midway. Suggestions would be appreciated!

Posted by
10344 posts

Google Maps will also work but doesn't give all the info that Viamichelin does. If you're at the Viamichelin site, put in Avignon or whatever starting point you think you'll be at when you head for Normandy. Then put in Bayeux as the destination. It will draw several possible routes and give you the straight driving time and miles for each. Note carefully that the driving times do not include any allowance for gas, stretch break or other stops, it's road time only. Also, a commom comment posted here is that on the ground people found they couldn't hit the Michelin times, some suggest adding about 25% to the times given, to get the road time more accurate for actual traffic conditions, getting lost, etc - and then add on for your preliminary estimate of times for stops of all types.

Posted by
110 posts

Thanks. Actually, I just read something on Fodor's about how driving from Provence to Normandy on a relatively short trip (ours will be about two weeks including travel days) is a waste of time. Apparently, to leave the major road adds many hours to the trip and to stay on the major roads is a bore. So I am rethinking that plan. I guess we should consider a train from Avignon to Normandy. Any thoughts about that?

Posted by
10344 posts

I just now read your latest post. "Apparently, to leave the major road adds many hours to the trip and to stay on the major roads is a bore." That's exactly right, and was why in my 1st post I recommended taking the high speed train from Paris to Avignon and Avignon back to Paris.

Posted by
110 posts

Oh my. I think I'm not expressing my proposal very well. Sorry to be confusing! My plan is to fly into CDG and "immediately" get on the TGV to Avignon, rent a car and drive to a nearby hotel. THEN after 4 nights in Provence, we want to go to Normandy. My question was how to get there. I was wondering if it made sense to drive to Normandy from Avignon or take a train. Its becoming obvious that driving doesn't make sense because its not time efficient. Anyway, your descriptions of the autoroutes convinced me that a train is really the way to go. Thanks for your input.

Posted by
10344 posts

To research train schedules and how long the trips will take, I suggest you first go to this website, it's the German not the French rail website but start with the Germany one because it's more user friendly than the French train website. You won't use the German website for buying tickets, just for planning: http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en

Posted by
110 posts

Haha. I think our posts are crossing in the "mail." So you think training back to Paris and then on to Normandy makes more sense than training from Avignon to Normandy? By the way, I want to end the trip in Paris, so the plan is Provence, Normandy, Paris.

Posted by
10344 posts

We're doing fine, I've now caught up with you. If you go to the German rail website I just sent (in my last posting), and input Avignon and Paris (start out with Paris as the destination even though you really want to go to Normandy), you'll see that the train time is only 2 hrs 40 mins, way faster than you could drive it. These high speed TGV trains go 180 mph! This exercise was just to show you how much faster the trains are, when you just want to get from point A to B.

Posted by
110 posts

Thank you. That website looks very helpful. I appreciate all your input.

Posted by
10344 posts

Okay, after you've done the first exercise on the German rail schedule website, input Avignon and a just pick a town in Normandy, say Bayeux for right now since that's where Battlebus goes out of. When you see the train time for Avignon to Bayeux, you'll notice that the trains slow down on the Paris to Normandy leg, that's because the trains go slower and make more stops.

Posted by
10344 posts

Now look back at my very first post, where I describe 4 different ways to get from Paris to Normandy and back to Paris. So, once you get back to Paris, you have 4 choices.

Posted by
110 posts

Kent, That German website really is great! And now I see that it makes perfect sense to go back to Paris and continue to Normandy from there. Now my question is: Which station in Paris do we return to that would make it easiest to pick up a car and drive to Normandy (I think we'd like to avoid driving through the city). And thank you so much for the time you're taking.

Posted by
1986 posts

In case someone has the same question. If you arent in a hurry, a car trip from Provence, via carcassone,Sarlat, Albi, Rocamadour, Dordogne , Bordeaux, Mont St Michelle, Brittany would be a great rural, relaxing vacation. I have been quickly through that route and would love to do it at a more leisurely pace

Posted by
10344 posts

Can someone else here give their recommendation to Lisa on her most recent question, which is: "Now my question is: Which station in Paris do we return to that would make it easiest to pick up a car and drive to Normandy (I think we'd like to avoid driving through the city)." I don't know the answer but think there are some others here who will be able to advise you on that. * * * But Lisa, remember, a rental car from Paris to Normandy is not your only choice, you have 4 choices of how to do that, see my very 1st post for those 4 choices.

Posted by
9110 posts

Start to finish, I could drive it faster than you could train it. No kidding. A lot of people like Beaune....it's just short of the midpoint and about a split second off of the freeway. I's a good spot to spend the last part of the afternoon. Read up on it a bit and it should make you happy.

Posted by
9110 posts

Additional thoughts: breaking the trip puts you on the Paris by-pass (peripherique ring road) at good times. BUT no matter what GPS or mapping software says, GO AROUND ON THE WEST SIDE.

Posted by
110 posts

Ed, thanks for your information. I looked at Beaune and, if we decide to drive and stop, it looks like the perfect choice. I guess I didn't realize that the drive took us near Paris (I am geographically challenged even in the US but my husband has a great sense of direction). So, if we do stay in Beaune we should plan on getting up and getting back on the road the next day to avoid rush hour outside of Paris (we will be traveling on a weekday)?

Posted by
9110 posts

Pass, on the west side, between ten and three and you'll be fine; worst case, on that little segment of peripherique, you'll only loose a half hour at any other time unless there's some kind of disaster.

Posted by
8 posts

Lisa, We did a similar trip two years ago. We arrived in CDG/Paris and spent one night. Next day we took the train to Caen. Picked up a rental car there and spent a few days in Bayeux. Did the Battelbus tour which is wonderful. Drove from Bayeux to Provence. We used Michelin for route planning plus had a GPS. We chose to spend two nights in Chinon (Loire Valley) and then drove to Sarlat where we spent a few days in Dordogne. Then drove south to our B&B in Provence. This part is the "long drive". Used car in Provence for 5 days before dropping it at train station to take TGV back to Paris. This route worked very well and we saw lots of France by doing this. Good luck!

Posted by
110 posts

So, one last question to Kent or Ed...if I haven't worn out my welcome: One way or the other we will have a car in Normandy that we will have to return somewhere before we go to Paris. Advice? Thanks.

Posted by
9110 posts

Not to champion Avis, but just did some research for somebody else that wanted it simple, and there's a place on Ave Charles De Gaulle right near the peripherique in the NW quadrant. Simple as heck to hit coming in from Normandy. Most importantly, where are you staying, if you know? And what rental outfit? Assuming this trip is in a few weeks and not next year.

Posted by
32730 posts

... more ... And check out trucks. They will come from every country you can think of, and probably many you wouldn't have. First one to spot a Russian one gets a prize. ^ ^ ^ Service areas (rest stops) are called Aires. Most have good toilets and restaurants and shops, some have hole-in-the-floor squat toilets as you will see scattered around the country. ^ ^^ Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
110 posts

Ed, We haven't purchased airline tickets yet (will probably do it this week - having a bit of trouble taking the plunge - obviously not experienced travelers)but planning to leave the US on Oct 16 and return on the 29th or 30th. Renting a car from AutoEurope.com is the recommendation I've received from a couple of people who have used it. I'll take a look at AVIS but autoeurope's rates seem good and they have a free GPS offer if you book before 8/31 for more than 7 days. Have you known the company to be reliable/unreliable?

Posted by
9110 posts

I've nothing against autoeurope, but just go with the bottom line; sometimes they win, more often they don't. Let me know when you get it worked out and I'll see if I can pick a good return spot.

Posted by
110 posts

Comparing them today at face value, I guess Autoeurope wins - if they are reliable; they seem to be having a "sale" and have an offer of a free GPS. They also promise a full refund if you cancel more than 24hours ahead so I guess I'll book with them for now and keep my eyes peeled for a better deal. Also, several weeks ago I spoke to one of the consultants at Rick Steves who definitively recommended autoeurope. By the way, I only found the service marginally helpful but probably because my plans were too vague at that point and I had too many questions for the 1/2hr. One other thing that was recommended by the consultant(which I mentioned earlier) is using the Versailles train station as a dropoff point after which we could take the train to Paris. Does that make sense to you? Thanks again for your time.

Posted by
9110 posts

No, and I think it's stupid. I've seen the idea postulated here before and wondered where it came from. Versailles is way the hell out of the way and the train in will cost you more than a normal metro ticket. Autoeurope has a drop spot right at the Porte Maillot metro station. You'll come in from Normandy on the N13/A14. The street name on the road will be Ave Charles De Gaulle. At the Peripherique, it becomes Ave de la Grande Armee (which becomes the Champs after the Arc). As you cross over the Peripherique, the station's right in front of you. The autoeurope place is located on the circle that runs around the station. Simple.

Posted by
32730 posts

I agree with Ed about the drive. But I will say that what is probably boring to Ed and me may well be pretty cool to you if you haven't driven in France previously. And Beaune is a very good idea. Do you like wine? You are in the heart of the Burgundy region, and seconds outside of the town centre you are right in the vineyards. You can stop in Montelimar, right on the Autoroute de Soleil (the A7) and watch original Nougat being made and take a load along to keep you going. After all, you have to get out of the car and stretch your legs, right? ^ ^ ^ You will get a kick as you drive noticing how the church steeples change as you go north, and notice how very French the road bridges are. Notice how they change from Department to Department. The last two digits of a French license plate are the number of the Department. Watch as you approach Paris how so many more are in the 90's. Different cattle, different architecture (look at the roof tiles around Beaune). ^ ^ ^ I just think you really can have a good time. ^^ ^ ^ Just don't forget to budget money for the toll booths.

Posted by
110 posts

So Ed, tell me how you REALLY feel about using Versaille as a pickup/dropoff point :). The Porte Maillot metro station seems further into the city than I imagined we would drive but my husband is an intrepid driver so I think we'll be using it. Thank you so much for all the time you took to answer all my mundane questions. I have traveled enough to know that these details matter. (Of course, I also know about the "best laid plans" etc, etc but that's life). Thank you also Nigel, for your imput. We love wine so Ed's recommendation for a stop in Beaune sounds perfect. I really am so grateful that people are willing to spend so much time sharing knowledge and opinions. So thanks again...though I'm sure there will be more questions from me in the next few weeks, I really feel that Ed and Kent and the rest have helped me to give the overall structure to the trip. Next is committing to all the reservations I need to make...