My friend and I are going to France for the first time (well, MY first time!) for a 16-day trip in late September to mid-October. We're in agreement about where we want to go but we can't make up our minds about the direction. My thought was that we'd fly into Paris and spend a week, then rent a car and drive into the Loire Valley to see the chateaux for 4 days, then into Provence for 5 days and leave from there. Then my friend suggested going in the other direction, first Provence and then Paris. And Rick Steves makes the same suggestion in his France 2013 guidebook: "Most find the easygoing Mediterranean city of Nice far easier than Paris as a starting point for their trip." I still like the idea of starting in Paris and going south (I want to see the great city at the beginning of the trip, and it seems our energy for it will be fresher), but we're discussing the pros and cons of this. Any thoughts and experiences on this vital travel question?
I'd save Paris for last when you are over the jet lag and have more energy to stay up later to see the city at night. I didn't have much interest in seeing the Loire so 4 days is way too much IMO, I'd rather spend the time in The Dordogne.
I agree with you that flying into Paris would be a good way to start the trip. Traveling north to south might be helpful weather wise. Also saving the driving for later when you're more rested is a good idea. There is nothing wrong with doing it south to north. One way to decide might be to check airfare and if one way is less expensive than another, flying into Paris and home from Nice and visa versa.
Actually, you might have more energy later in your trip, when you're over jet-lag, than at the beginning. Also, IMO, 4 days is too much for the Loire. 2 days (3 nights) is adequate. Add the time to Provence. Provence is large and has many beautiful, charming, and interesting sights to see. Even a week will hardly let you do it justice. Open jaw is the way to go, no matter which starting and ending points you choose.
Rick I personally don't think it makes a huge difference, I sort of side with the start in Paris and finish low key south myself.. and I agree, that for Loire Valley 3 days are enough.. enjoy a stop somewhere random between Loire Valley and Provence instead perhaps. I also think I would prefer weather in Paris in September then October, there may be not too much difference, but just like where we both live , rain and cooler weather increases from Sept to October gradually right? I think Rick STeves figures that the average never been to Europe American is going to have major culture shock arriving in Paris , but frankly I am not so sure, perhaps if you are "off the farm mid west guy", but you seem like you are from a larger city , yes, Paris is overwhelming to some but I bet you will be fine.
I don't think it makes much difference that time of year, all else equal. So if there is a hotel that looks especially fun but only has vacancies part of the time, or if there is a particular exhibit or a festival, you can make this decision based on that sort of thing. Your choice of "where to de-jet lag" should include the Loire as an easygoing smaller-city alternative to Paris. Nice airport is a good idea if you want to spend time in Nice, otherwise perhaps not. Nosy impertinent question for you and yours: Are you sure you are just going to love all those Renaissance chateaux to pieces? Because if not four nights in the Loire is a lot. You can hedge your bets a little if you visit the Loire before Paris, because there are some really great chateaux that are easy day trips from Paris. So you could spend perhaps 2 full days in the Loire and if you want more either extend your stay or plan to spend a day of Paris seeing Versailles or Fontainebleau or Chantilly. The upside is that if you find you're ready for something else--you've got an extra day in Paris!
Thank you, everyone! Thanks for the tips about 4 days in the Loire being too much. So some of the Loire chateaux are day-trippable from Paris? Richard, I've heard of the Dordogne but I honestly don't know where or what it is, so Wikipedia, here I come. Roslyn, I appreciate the suggestion about going "open-jaw", particularly since (ok, I know this is going to be a really bad double-entrendre) I'm so new at world travel that I look around at everything I'm seeing with an open jaw. :-)) I've spent too much of my life NOT being a world-traveler, then two years ago I went to Italy for the first time and it made me realize that I now have many years to make up for. Hence the open-jaw attitude...
The Renaissance chateaux that I mentioned as possible day trips from Paris (and there are others) are not in the Loire valley. They are close to Paris.
I prefer flyng into the south, either Nice or Marseille, both easy and cheap connections on your trans-Atlantic ticket. You can probably fly home non-stop from Paris and get up at a reasonable hour of the morning to catch the flight, which is less likely if you have to allow for the connecting time coming from the south.
No ., Loire is not really a daytrip from Paris, it can be done if you take a train to Tours and then rent a car ( Chateaus are not close together ) but that's not cheap , or taking a big bus tour and that's a lot more expensive) but as Adam says there are chateaus that are doable and pleasant daytrips from Paris, Versailles of course is number one, but also look at Fontainebleau ,Chantilly, Or Vaux le Vicomte.