Francophile Poll - Paris + North or Paris + South

My husband and I are taking a return trip to Paris next fall (2014). We are planning on being there approximately six days, not counting our travel days. This is my third trip to Paris and his sixth, so we have covered most of the big tourist attractions (Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Versailles). For this trip, we are looking to visit some of the more minor sites, wander some neighborhoods and take one day trip/overnight stay to either the north (Normandy/St Michel and surrounding area) or the South (Chateau Country). We are considering renting a car, which we have never done on our previous trips. My husband speaks rusty high school French and I speak zero. We are both used to driving stick shifts. Thoughts, favorite spots, things we should consider?

Posted by Kira
Seattle, WA, USA
954 posts

Sounds like a lovely trip! Fall is glorious in Normandy - and in the Loire Valley - so where you choose should be where there are more things that you want to see. I would choose the Loire Valley because I adore the chateaux (favorites, in no particular order, are Chenonceau, Blois, Azay-le-Rideau, Chinon, Châteaudun and Angers {Apocalypse Tapestry!!!]) and the wine (here's a list by appelation: http://www.loirevalleywine.com/home/loirewines/appellation) On the other hand, Normandy's cider route (http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/oct/10/cider-route-normandy-calvados-hotel) is... delicious! The coast line is gorgeous - I love the countryside - you could check out Rouen, or the Bayeux tapestry, or the cool Roman ruins in Vieil-Évreux. Car thing: don't worry! No opposite side of the road "problem" to worry about - you should have no trouble at all. Wikitravel has an informative piece: http://wikitravel.org/en/Driving_in_France Since you have time before you go, may I be so bold as to suggest that your husband bone up on his remaining French? Even a little more fluency will help. Fewer folks speak English the further out of main city centers that you go. You might want to get a phrase book, too - or even take a lesson or two. While it isn't strictly necessary - Rick himself does well in Europe with VERY little in the way of foreign language ability - it might help you feel more confident. Happy travels!

Posted by Adam
Boston
2624 posts

A car will help you to see either of those regions. Rent in Paris or take the train to your first city and rent there the following day.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

For our third trip to Europe we finally broke down and rented a car when we were leaving Paris. The main reason was because we wanted to see mont st Michel and not have to rely on public transport as I wanted to be there in the evening and the bus wouldn't allow that. We were very nervous at first, but once we got the car and were out of Paris we had no problems that all. We had to get an automatic (hubby did the driving) and had no problem. We used Autoeurope as a consolidator and the rental was thru europcar. I enjoyed the freedom of a car so much, I can't wait to go back and rent for a few weeks. We only had the car for two and half days...I didn't find the tolls excessive, and we only filled the tank once. I would recommend having a GPS..for us, it made life easier, along with a paper map of course. Now, maybe because we used Autoeurope, but our car rental was minimum three days (we had initially only wanted two, but stretched it to two and half)...not sure about just overnight rental costs. For us, the cost was pretty close to what a train/bus combo would have cost for two people from Paris to Caen then to msm, but the freedom was great.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

Oh, and I have about 3 years of junior high French from twenty years ago, so very basic, and hubby no French other then what we can read on our products in Canada (you'd be surprised how many words you pick up up here where every thing is labelled in eng and French) and for us we had pretty much no issues with a language barrier. (We were hosted by a lively couple in a tiny village near Caen called Amblie and the wife had really no English skills, so her husband, who knew about 90% english, did the translating)

Posted by Marty
Rockville, MD, USA
70 posts

One thing I wish I'd done before we attempted renting a car and driving from Bayeux to Honfleur in Normandy was look up toll booth symbols. Eventually we figured out the round circles meant coins accepted and the other booths marked with a T were for transponders (we have E-Z Pass in Maryland). Other than that we had no problems. You also might want to look up the words for North, South, East and West. You'll have a great time.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3403 posts

North - nord : South - sud : East - est : West - Ouest. Quite intuitive really.

Posted by Christina
New York, NY, 10025
365 posts

I second the idea of renting a car and going to Mont Saint-Michel. We did two nights in Saint Malo, Brittany, and drove along the coast with a few stops to Mont Saint Michel, where we stayed from late afternoon until evening. The mud flats were gorgeous at sunset, and the Mont was beautiful all lit up. (This was in the summer, though.) One of my top travel experiences ever! I also really loved Brittany and Normandy and would like to return, especially because the Mont was all I saw of the latter.

Posted by Kristen
Huntsville
103 posts

On our first trip to Paris we took a train to Caen and rented a car there. We then spent a wonderful couple of hours driving from Arromanches to Ste. Mere Eglise with stops at the several WWII sites in-between. My husband and I speak very rusty high school French and we managed just fine. Communicating was never a problem. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and cool breezes. I had a delicious glass of Cider at a cafe that I still dream about. It was one of the highlights of our trip. Enjoy!

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3192 posts

It's a really difficult choice for me... I love both Normandy and the Loire Valley. Driving in those areas is really easy, fun actually. Love taking the two lane country roads and exploring. For a first timers visit to either, and since you have to choose, I would say the Loire Valley. I love chateaux and seeing them from afar or up close is something I really enjoy. But as I said, it's a very difficult choice...I love both. Not speaking French well in either place won't be a problem, as others have said. The people in Normandy are some of the nicest, most gracious people you'll ever meet. They love Americans, and never forget that we saved them in WWII.

Posted by Margie
Houston
82 posts

Thanks for all the feedback. The cider route and all the advice for renting a car will be filed away for further investigation. After reading the feedback and sitting down with my husband last night, we are leaning more towards doing both (the distances weren't as much as I thought) and our list of desired sites in Paris is pretty short.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3403 posts

"They love Americans and never forget that we saved them in WWII" The French are also grateful to the British, Canadians, Poles and others for their bravery and losses during the invasion of Normandy.

Posted by Tom
Stafford, Virginia, USA
137 posts

Nicole, Many of the products we get in the DC area are also labeled in both English and (Canadian) French, but some of the names are different in Canadian-French than they are in French-French. The one I'm most aware of is the word for "blueberry." In Canadian-French, it's "bleuet," but in French-French it's "myrtille." Interesting.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

Yeah - I know Canadian French and France French can be different, but mostly at least I can read the menus and understand a few words of rapid-fire French!

Posted by Margie
Houston
82 posts

I totally get what you mean about "drive by" language skills. We live in Houston and the same thing applies for us in Spanish. I know Spanish construction language just because everything is bilingual when you walk into Lowe's. Now if only the Spanish word for hammer would come in handy in France...