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French Countryside Itinerary

My 68 year old Mother and I are flying to France in 2 weeks. I have been to Paris, but my Mom has not. We are both somewhat seasoned travelers. We plan to fly into CDG on 3/29 and do a few days in the west of France, then go back to Paris for 3 days before flying home. I am struggling to do an itinerary. Please feel free to comment and suggest! Thurs, 3/29 Rent car at CDG and drive to Tours or Chenonceaux. Maybe walk around a little, but mostly nap and adjust. Fri, 3/30 Do Chenonceaux and Villandry, then drive to Mont St Michel. Sat, 3/31 Do MSM, then drive to Rouen Sun, 4/1 Explore Rouen, then hit Giverny in the early afternoon. Drive towards Paris, drop off car and start Paris adventure on Monday, 4/2 We decided to go this route since Giverny is not open until April 1. MSM seems like it will take alot of travel time. Is is really that wonderful? Any alternative suggestions would be appreciated. Also, any reasonable hotels or charming B&Bs in the countryside you would recommend? I know it sounds like alot, but this may be my Mom's only chance to travel to France and I want her to see France, not just Paris. Thank you!

Posted by
4125 posts

MSM is so popular that it can be mobbed, also crowds have brought the usual kich tourist businesses to Le Mont, which is kind of jarring when you first enter. I happen to like MSM, and the way you are seeing it (overnight visit) is the best. I don't know what you and your Mom will think. There are a lot of stairs. I do not have lodging recommendations, but would like to make one observation and one suggestion. Obs: This is a fast-paced itinerary. You will be tired. Sugg: You might want to look into returning your car in Vernon (after Giverny) and taking the train into Paris.

Posted by
1681 posts

Hi Laura,
We did a similar trip in 2008, although we went farther west into Brittany. I would suggest a loop (it totals 720 miles) including Chartres, Chenonceux (overnight); Dinan / St. Malo (overnight); go to MSM early in the morning - 2 hours is plenty - stop in Bayeux for the tapestry, then 2-3 hours in Rouen for cathedral, lunch, Jeanne d'Arc sites, overnight in Honfleur or maybe Les Andelys; next morning enjoy Giverny, then return the car........We picked up our car at Orly but I believe you could also take a train to Chartres and get a car there......If you would like the names of our accommodations, let me know......Nothing here is too strenuous for your mother, I was 63 when we did this trip.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks, Adam! I like the suggestion of turning our car in at Vernon. As long as there is a rental car agency there. Yes, the itinerary is packed. That is why I wanted some feedback. Any thoughts on what to cut out or a different site to see?

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks, Cynthia, I will look into those destinations. Do you think all those destinations are doable in our time frame? I mapped it out on Google and it said 11 hours+ In some ways, this is easier in Paris, because at least you get to sit in between instead of being on your feet all day. I would love any information on accomodations or anything you have to pass on. Did you drive the A roads or did you do a more scenic route? My Mom is a trooper - given what she has done in the past on our trips. By the time we get to Paris, we will be adjusted to the time and hopefully ready to take on the sites.

Posted by
6 posts

I meant I mapped out my itinerary and it was 11+ hours.

Posted by
837 posts

Laura, I would consider a bit of a change. You could take a train from CDG to Tours upon arrival, approximately 2 1/2 hours with one change. The drive from CDG to the Loire area after your flight will be challenging. Rent the car in Tours and proceed to wherever you decide to stay. Chartres, while well worthwhile, is out of the way even if you decide to drive. It is on the A11 whereas you want the A10. You are going to tour 2 chateau and then drive to the coast. I would not detour to Brittany. Hopefully you will see MSM in the evening. Another peek in the morning then off. I would stop in Honfleur, which is quite small and on the way to Rouen. An hour or two should do Rouen then to Giverney and turn in car in Vernon and train into Paris.

Posted by
251 posts

Hi Laura,
We did a similar trip in 2010. The drive from Paris to the Loire is very long. I agree with previous poster to take the train to Tour and then pick up a rental car. There are over 900 steps go Up Mont St Michel,but it is a gradual climb and we saw many elderly people doing the climb( not that I consider 68 elderly, I'm not too far behind!). Hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
9110 posts

Drive or take the train, whatever suits you and your constitution. But the facts are that the train from Paris Montparnasse to Tours takes about an hour and a quarter plus whatever time it takes you to get across town to the station. It's an absolute coin-toss on whether driving from center ville is faster or not. Assuming that David is correct about train times from the airport, driving time to Tours is three hours (and that much only if you catch the bad morning traffic on the southeast quadrant of the peripherique. The gazillion steps at MSM only come into play if you go to the abbey - - which closes fairly early and has unpredictable hours anyway. There are only thirty steps or so if you walk up the main drag and then go up the steps to the eastern wall and circle back down that way (there's a few down-steps along the way and maybe twenty at the end where you get back down to the central street.

Posted by
1681 posts

Laura, Since you asked, the hotels we used were La Roserie in Chenonceux (also delicious dinner there!), D'Avaugour in Dinan (very central location), and Chaine d'Or in Les Andeleys. We were happy with all three hotels; however, if doing this circuit again we would choose to stay in St. Malo - it is livelier and offers a lot more to do. St. Malo and Dinan are just across the border in Brittany - at times in the past MSM has also been in Brittany when the river ran in a different course........Your itinerary might flow better if you visited Paris first.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you to everyone who posted! Great information! I am wondering if I should drop MSM. Is the abby worth the 900 steps? Or is just seeing the MSM from the outside the amazing part? For the amount of time it will take to drive there, I wonder if it is worth the drive? If we skipped MSM, we could do Honfleur or Bayeax instead. Any strong opinions on those two destinations? Also, should we drive the A roads or are there more scenic roads we should take? Does anyone have an opinion on maps? I looked at a few at B&N, but wasn't overly impressed. Someone mentioned the Michelin Green Map, which I will need to order online. Thanks again for all your help!

Posted by
9110 posts

You really need to do a little map studying and see what you think is possible. Your first idea was hard, but workable. Chenonceaux and Villandry are an hour apart - - parking lot to parking lot. Figure on spending a couple of hours at each chateau. From either one it's a hard three hours plus, maybe four, to MSN. By the time you park and get to the abbey, it's probably closed. No big deal, probably, and MSM is better late in the day or at night when the throngs have left. I've been to MSM several times and the abbey once somewhere in the middle - - I could have skipped it and not felt I missed anything. Your proposed revision might not work. Bayeux has more to offer than Honfleur (and Honfleur is my favorite small town in Normandy) but it's still the same three or four hours from the chateaux. With some kind of lunch stop and an eight am departure, everything is going to be shutting down as you arrive. Bayeux to Rouen is a bit more than two hours by the time you wiggle around and get close to the cathedral. You're going to need a couple of hours there. Giverny is an hour away.With a bite to eat and another eight o'clock departure, you'd probably make it by one or so. Michelin has two products that might interest you. The Michelin Greed Guides are just that, a very excellent guidebook, but the maps are of such a scale that they're only good for rough planning - - you can't really navigage with them. Michelin maps are the gold standard. I just looked at mine that covers all of France - - it would work for what you have in mind rather than buying several of the regional maps.

Posted by
8419 posts

Love Bayeux and Mont St. Michel. Am in the minority, but didn't love Honfleur. It's very subjective if you should do MSM or Bayeux, but from what I can gather from what you've written, and if you can't do both, I would choose MSM. There's no place else like it. If you do the walk Ed described it's easy and enjoyable. Yes, the abbey is worth it imo. I agree to take a train and get a rental car from whatever town you choose, but I was surprised to read Marilyn's post saying the drive from Paris to the Loire is long... I disagree. From the center of Paris to the heart of the Loire Valley (Amboise/Chenonceau) it is 2 hrs 20 min. We've done it many times - it is easy and beautiful. I agree with Cynthia on her suggestion of staying at La Rosarie in Chenonceau, that's what we'll do next time. It's next to the chateau de Chenonceau (my favorite one of all) and a perfect location. We've stayed in Amboise many times, a charming town as well. Driving the A roads or the scenic roads all depends on how much time you have. If you have the time, I'd choose the scenic road.

Posted by
837 posts

About maps: I like the spiral bound Michelin map books. They have wonderful detail. However, because of the detail, each page covers a relatively small area, particularly the map of France. Therefore, I also use a country map to give orientation and then go to the spiral book for detail.

Posted by
524 posts

Laura IMHO, you are trying to do too much in the first 4 days. Are you arriving from the US on 3/29 and that's why you are renting a car from CDG? If that is the case, you do not have enough time to get over jet lag before you are off on 3 one night hotel stays in a row. Many of the posters, including me, do not recommend 1 night stays as it makes for very little time at your destination and lots of time on the road. In addition, it is very mentally tiring to try to change hotels and towns every day. Here is another idea for great city and country destinations. Spend all of your time in Paris. Take 2 or more day trips to: Giverny, Versailles, Blois, Chartres, Fountainbleau, etc. These can be done by a tour bus to make it really easy or by train. This is much more doable. I stay in the Loire for 2 or 3 nights. Yikes, I didn't realize you are leaving in less than 2 weeks. Bobbie

Posted by
2995 posts

I can only comment on MSM. It is absolutely stunning, from a distance. The actual experience of walking up into the abbey is nice, and provides great views of the sea and countryside, but the abbey itself isn't really remarkable up close compared to castles/abbeys/churches in general in Europe. If I was doing MSM with your restrictions, I'd be more inclined to drive to it, maybe walk around it on low tide if you really want to, but the best views are from further away honestly. I'm a little bitter, as we went from Paris all the way out to MSM specifically because my in-laws wanted to see it. It was a schlep and ate a lot of our travel time. It was cool to see, but...I'm not particularly interested in going back, which is not something I say about most places I've visited in Europe. Anyway, just my 2 cents, hope that helps you decide on what you want to do.

Posted by
1525 posts

Regarding the abbey on MSM; Context is everything. No, it's not prettified. No, it's not opulent. It wasn't built to be admired as a status symbol for the local leaders with little regard for cost. It was built at great effort on a remote location for the good of those few who would use it. Considering the context (and the location with no natural flat land) I found it to be stunning and evocative. The undercrofts and cloister added nicely to the effect as well.

Posted by
963 posts

I don''t know how much experience you have with jetlag, even though you say you are experienced travelers. Personally, I am not sensible or comfortable until I get a short nap after arriving in Europe, even when I sleep on the plane. Me driving a few hours would be a hazard to everyone on the road, can you really concentrate on finding your hotel after the flight?
Kudos if you can. Also, I'd take a GPS or get one in the rental car for ease in driving. And though I enjoyed seeing MSM, it seems that either MSM/Bayeux OR the Loire could be more enjoyable than trying to see both. I liked Bayeux and endorse seeing the tapestry which takes perhaps an hour. Honfleur struck me as a nice place to spend time-- but had to hurry on to MSM.... Amboise and a couple of other chateaux or wine tastings are interesting if you stay an extra day in the Loire. Until you get a good map, you could use viamichelin.com to give you miles and time for the distances, and add 20 or 25 % for actual time.

Posted by
1986 posts

I echo randy's comments on MSM. the abbey and realted buildings (cloisters etc) are quite simple and undecorated, but have an ethereal feeling that truly is magical. get past the shops and its a great experience Chenanceaux: i have heard good things about La Roseie (recommended above). We also enjoyed La Bon Laboreur. Both I believe are easy walk from the chateux, so you can hit it first thing in the morning

Posted by
711 posts

Hi Laura, I know that you want your mom to see France, not just Paris, but with your fast paced Itinerary, you guys may not enjoy it much, you'll probably be pretty tired. One of the great things about France is kicking back in a cafe, relaxing and watching the world go by. Slowly. If you're constantly trying to see some sights, then off to the next one, you're missing this quintessential component.
I would focus on the Loire, at the expense of Mont St. Michel. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE MSM, but it's a ways out there, and your time is pretty limited. You can visit plenty of Loire Chateaux in a much more relaxed time frame. You can also give a day (or 1/2 day) to Versailles and it's excellent gardens (one of my favorite places in France). Staying closer to Paris will give you some breathing room and I think let you enjoy it more. You're mom is 68. Don't think that you won't even get back. It's fun to hope, and after a trip there, you guys much just start scheming on how to make it happen again...