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France - Paris, Annecy & Chamonix, Provence, Normandy

I have revised earlier itinerary for first trip to France. We will be traveling in late May/June. Following is new itinerary for 20 days in France. I've already made airline reservation and will be flying in and out of Paris.

Paris - 6 nights
Train to French Alps: Annecy for 3 nights with day trip to Chamonix
Train from Annecy to Provence for 6 nights (rent car in Avignon)
Train from Avignon to Normandy for 3 night, pick up car in Bayeux where we will stay (2.5 days)
Drive to Giverny (with stop in Honfluer)for an overnight in Giverney and return rental car in Vernon
Train to Paris for overnight and fly home following day


1) Are 3 nights in Annecy enough time to see the beauty of the the lake in Annecy and the mountains in Chamonix.

2) Should we rent a car and drive the 1.5 hours to Chamonix or take train?
3) Is this a reasonable itinerary to see Paris, French Alps, Provence and Normandy? If not, recommendations for shifting time in various places.

Many thanks for any thoughts/suggestions from seasoned travelers. It is greatly appreciated hearing from those who have been there.

Posted by
4125 posts

I am only going to speak to (3).

This is all quite feasible and lets you see some very special places. Good for you for figure out how to include your top priorities.

Nonetheless there are two logistical dysfunctions that you should think about. Maybe there is something better for you.

The first of these is the long trip from Provence to Bayeux. The second is the return-to-Paris-to-catch-the train thing. Not the end of the world in either case, but neither is going to be the high point of your trip.

Your trip has a northern circuit, though Normandy, and a southern one, through Provence and the Alps. The key to avoided the long travel day is to see Paris in between the two.

Your options there are to fly into Lyon and proceed by train to Annecy, or into Marseilles and Provence, or into Paris and spend your first night in either Giverney or Bayeux. That lets you see Paris in between.

There are three ways you could avoid the hassle of coming back to Paris just to catch a flight. The most obvious would be to reorganize your itinerary so that all your Paris time is last. Unfortunately that would rule out an itinerary with Paris in the middle, but it is a trade-off to consider.

Another is to fly home from Marseille or Lyon, wherever you can arrange to end up. And the last is to arrange for an afternoon flight so that you can take the train to deGaulle from either Provence, Lyon, or Giverney.

If you get up early this is quite feasible. The farthest of these, Provence, has some direct trains that will get you to the airport by about 10:30 AM. You will then have an entire extra day to spend on your itinerary. Even if you do so in Paris, you will save yourself a one-night stand in a hotel.

Your proposed plan is quite good and if you do not have a problem with the issues I raise I hope you'll just ignore my advice. But you do have alternatives and you might want to consider them.

Have fun!

Posted by
1077 posts

Hi Kyle. Annecy is nice. If you like biking, there is easy bike rental and a nice path around the lake. For Chamonix from Annecy, either get an early start, or consider an overnight in Chamonix. We drove through the mtns via La Cluzes and it probably took close to 3 hours. Via Freeway is probably faster, but want to make sure you have enough time to enjoy Chamonix. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
3658 posts

Or you can take an hour boat trip around Lake Annecy, wonder what they are saying in French as they describe the journey and also wonder at all the people paragliding off the mountains. Flyeo is just one company that will take you for a tandem flight if you are so brave as to do it.

Be sure to eat somewhere in the old, pedestrian part of town and have ice cream in the tiny shop in the corner called Glacier des Alpes. It's behind the Hotel du Palais de l'Isle, not one of the big ice cream places out along the canal. You will see that it is the best place by the long lines compared to the often empty other places.

And if you are there on a Saturday, be sure to check out the Flea Market in that old part of town. I don't know why French junk looks better than American junk, but it sure does.

We were planning to go to Chamonix, too, but got so settled into Annecy that we just spent our time walking around the charming park and downtown area. It's lovely and very popular with French and Italian tourists, so it was pretty crowded when we were there. Still it was fun seeing all the families with their kids and dogs having a good time in the park and downtown area. We were there 3 nights.

Posted by
6898 posts

Kyle, a day trip to Chamonix-Mt. Blanc? What do you intend to do there? The train ride takes 2.5hrs-3hrs each way depending on the run. That doesn't leave much time to visit. Do you intend to ride the gondola up to Aiguille du Midi? That will take a couple of hours. On a clear day, it's one of the best views on the planet IMHO. Here's a link to a video I took on the way down.

Posted by
1939 posts

Not sure what days you plan to go to Normandy but just remember that this June will be 70th anniversary of DDay so will be crowded the first week of June.

Posted by
5377 posts

Adam wrote a good reply. You are quite right to use a car for northern Normandy. However, many, many people do Giverny as a train/bicycle (or bus, or hike) trip from Paris. I wonder how big the parking lot is at Giverny?

I suggest you find some way to do the Normandy segment from Paris, at the beginning. This may also avoid the crowding from the D-Day anniversary. Since the Beaches attractions can be crowded in-season normally, do not dismiss the Anniversary warnings given to you and others here. Many of the roads (after leaving the highway) are quite narrow, if well-paved. And the parking lots are always a nightmare. It will be like Woodstock for the Anniversary.

We took the TGV back to Paris from Avignon, and it's much pleasanter knowing you're going right to your hotel, not on another train trip-with a change of railway stations in Paris! We spent an extra night in Paris instead of going to the airport early the next morning. But that's a matter of taste (and budget.)

Didn't someone recently post here that it's much easier to rent a car in Caen? Check the Search box top right.

Posted by
8193 posts

The parking lot at Giverny is big.

Tim is right, it's easier to rent a car in Caen and drive to Bayeux than to rent in Bayeux. There are several rental agencies right next to train station in Caen, whereas in Bayeux, you'd have to take a taxi to get the rental car. In Bayeux, there's only one place to get a rental car, I believe it's Hertz, and it's located in a gas station. Which also means you'll have less chance of getting the car you requested and will have to take what they've got. Even though you arrange what car you want in advance, our experience is that renting from a small place, like a gas station, you have less chance of getting what you requested. That can happen at agencies too, but less often.

I highly recommend Hotel d'Argouges in Bayeux. Wonderful hotel in the heart of town.

Aiguille du Midi-Mt. Blanc is amazing, and best view as Larry said. Well worth a visit.