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Help with France Itinerary Needed

My husband and I are lucky enough to be spending 27 nights traveling through France in Sept. and Oct.. I am having some trouble with deciding on a few areas (the Dordogne and the south of France are the most difficult). We are a little ambivalent about driving in France (we only did trains and buses for 3 weeks in Italy), but realize that it is the best way to get to some of the "must see" villages.
After several days in Paris, Normandy, and the Loire we will take a train from Tours (if possible) to Sarlat or nearby to rent a car for part of our time in the Dordogne. Stay 2 or 3 nights in Sarlat or Dordogne on our way to Nimes.
-Train or drive? to Nimes, and see the Pont du Gard. Rent car and stay in Provence 4 nights (preferably all nights in Aix en Provence, unless it is better to stay in Nimes or Avignon for a night or two)
-Train or drive to Cote d'Azur. Drop off rental car, possibly after seeing some foothill villages above. Stay three nights (having trouble here. Would like to stay in Antibes, but lodging choices are few. Am thinking about Cannes, as there are more choices for lodging, but want to be sure that there is some quiet and old world charm to be had there.) We do not think having a car here would be a good idea as trains run between the towns. Stay 3 nights somewhere here.
Any help with these areas would be greatly appreciated, particularly about getting to the Dordogne and Sarlat, as well as whether to drive or train to Nimes. Where to stay in the Cote d'Azur is our other dilema. Architecture, village charm, gardens, beautiful walks, quiet cove beaches, rocky coastlines, and glimpses of every day French life are important to us (in shops, cafes, markets, etc.)

Posted by
864 posts

With almost a month to tour France a car gives you all the choices of what to see and where to stay. France isn't all that big and the driving is easy easy. Just make sure to buy (upon arrival) a 1:100000 road atlas (or better yet order on-line before you go making sure you get a map in French not English). No car in Paris of course and try to pick it up at somewhere other than the airport. A car allows you to stop and have a picnic, take a photo etc. It also allows for the B&B experience. The Ibis Hotel Chain is also a good choice for car travelers (all the charm of a Motel 6 however). HATED Cannes so I'm definately NOT a good source of help on that (different strokes for different folks). Very much enjoyed Sarlat, Tours, Normandy, Provence. Paris remains my favorite city, well, perhaps Florence is a tie. If you can't drive a stick make darn sure you reserve an automatic (which will be difficult outside an airport I suspect). A smaller car is better than a larger car especially in hill towns. Anybody out there tried leasing a car for under a month?

Posted by
796 posts

I stayed in Vaison La Romaine in Provence as part of a RS tour in 2006. It has a wonderful market and marvelous Roman ruins. We stayed at Le Belfroi (? spelling)meaning Belfry, at the top of a hill looking over a river. Not sure about train connections. This town was one of the highlight of the tour for me. Cheapest pastis I had in all of France (licorice flavoured liquor) and a lovely chocolate shop. http://france-for-visitors.com/provence/vaison-la-romaine/index.html

During the same tour, we stayed near Nice in Villefranche sur Mer in a simple hotel right on the water; another gorgeous town. This town has a rail station; about 15 mins train to Monaco. A small beach, some great restaurants too.

Just suggestions for you.

Posted by
163 posts

Hi Sandra. My wife and I drove in France in 2001 for a week and it was a breeze. We rented our car at Versailles after spending 3 nights in Paris and drove to Chartres to see the cathedral and spent a night at a B&B in a small town called Blevy. We then drove through the French countryside through small villages to the Macon area and Lyon and then down to Aix-en-Provence where we gave up the car and rode the train to Marsailles. We really enjoyed having the car to allow us to see the small villages on our schedule. Driving in France is not much different than driving in the US. We are planning to visit France again this fall also in combination with a trip to Germany and Austria. We have never been to Normandy so we are planning on going there and then down to Bordeaux. I hope your trip is great and goes off without a hitch. Happy Travels.

Posted by
12040 posts

"After several days in Paris, Normandy, and the Loire we will take a train from Tours (if possible) to Sarlat or nearby to rent a car for part of our time in the Dordogne." Unless you sign-up for an organized bus tour, seeing the Loire without a car is difficult.

Don't worry about driving in France. Outside of the cities, it's one of the most well-organized countries in Europe for driving. Traffic in most of the country is pretty light.

Posted by
4132 posts

This sounds like a really memorable trip, congratulations.

As to the "train or drive" question, I'd strongly recommend having a car to explore the Dordogne and Provence. But, you know that already.

If you really aren't gong to visit any of the wonderful places in between Sarlat and Nimes, then maybe the train is for you. Rent one car in Sarlat and another in Nimes. Looks as though the shortest trip is about 6-1/2 hour and starts with a bus ride.

However, consider adding a night in the Lot valley to the south. Visit the amazing Peche Merle caves and spend the night in lovely St. Cyrq. Then you can drive to Cahors where the train to Nimes is more like 4-1/2 hours.

Aix is charming, but in my view makes a poor base from which to tour Provence, especially if driving isn't your thing. It is relatively far from so many attractions. Nimes (or Arles or Avignon) would be better. But, if you've got a car, consider staying in the countryside or in a small town.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
3 posts

You will definately need a car in the Dordogne. Salat is a wonderful ville, probably my favorite. I wouldn't stay in Aix en Provence. Why not stay in a B&B in some smaller village if you are going to have a car. There are lots of B&Bs in that area. If you like great flea markets, don't miss the Isle sur la Sorgue flea market on Sundays. If you are going to drive the auto route at any time, be prepared for LOTS of tolls. I try to keep lots of change for these. You won't hold up the traffic behind you if you don't have to use your credit card (mine never works there) or get change from the machine. Many are not manned, though there is usually someone nearby who will help. I would surely have a car to explore area just above the Cote d'Azur. Towns like St. Paul de Vence and Vence should not be missed. The Matisse chapel,alone is worth the trip. You won't need a car if you are only doing the beach scene, but you can rent one for a day for excursions. Right now I am living in a wonderful little village, Bormes Les Mimosas, on the Mediterranean. Last year a friend and I drove all through the Dordogne. We stayed in a charming B&B called Les Cordeliers run by a very nice Brit named Chris Johnson. Lots of English spoken there and he is very helpful. Have a great trip!! Carole

Posted by
711 posts

Hi Sandra... We drive in France every year in October. As the other posters have noted , driving in France is easy. This year we took our own GPS and it was incredibly easy. We always fly into Paris and pickup the car at Orly; then head south to Burgundy and Provence and the Var( almost to the Riviera but quainter ,more picturesque villages.) In Provence we stay in Isle-sur -la- Sorgue...this is small enough to get in and out of easily and is a good base for the Luberon Villages and the Cotes de Rhone villages.Wherever you go I would not recommend staying in bigger places if you are not familiar with them. You are certainly going at a great time. It is lovely in France in the Fall. At this time the grapes and vineyards are at the height of their colors. If you are interested in an places to stay we have a number in Burgundy, the Dordogne, andProvence and the Var. There are many gites, B and B's . The markets are great and very interesting.

Posted by
3696 posts

What a great adventure... I have stayed numerous times in a wonderful town call St. Remy. It is beautiful, great food, shopping, a wonderful market and easily accessible to all the other places to visit. Aix is definitely much bigger than I expected, and more confusing to drive in. Check it out. I have also stayed in a wondeful town on the sea called St. Maxime. Also less busy then Cannes and has a great market and is an easy drive along the coast to see the mediterranean. All of the places that are well-known ended up being much bigger than I expected,(Avignon, Arles, Aix, St. Tropez) although great to visit they were not my idea of the french village. I have stayed with a group of photographers for 2 weeks with St. Remy as our home base (twice) and we still have not seen all this area has to offer, simply doing day trips. It is the epitome of most Americans think of as a french town. We did a day trip also to the Carmague, which was great.

Posted by
31 posts

Hi Sandra. My husband and I spent three weeks driving around southern France and had a fantastic trip! The directions were a bit of a challenge, but on another trip last summer we had a GPS which made all the difference! Just beware that sometimes it takes you the most direct route (tiny little roads winding all over the place!) - not the fastest, so definitely use it together with an map. We stayed in a great B & B near Gorde in Provence. (La Ferme de la Huppe - but understand it has changed hands so don't know what it would be like now.) My favorite hilltop town in that area was Rousillion, although others were great fun too. I wouldn't ever stay in a larger city if I had the chance to stay in the countryside. Didn't like Aix very much and Avignon is another big city, but stayed in one of our all time favorite B & B's in Gramat. Moulin de Fresquet is a charming restored old mill on beautiful grounds and with fantastic food and wonderful hosts!! Found these B & B's through Karen Brown's guides. On the Cote d'Azur we stayed in Antibes which was pretty centrally located to explore Mougins, Vellauris, Vence, etc. Mougin had a great art gallery where we bought a painting. If you have any other questions you can email me and I'd be happy to answer if I can. Sounds like we like the same kinds of things! Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
2 posts

Wow! I am so impressed with the generosity and quality of all of your responses. Thank you.
We feel much better about driving after reading of your experiences. After 5 nites in Paris we were intending to train to Rouen, pick up a car and then drive to Honfleur, Bayeux, Mt. St. Michel (2 nites in Honfleur, 1 near Michel), then on to Amboise for 2 nites before taking a train to the Dordogne. Now after looking at train schedules and michelin.com I am thinking a car all the way may not be a bad idea, since I would not save as much time as I had thought with the trains. We are heading up to Annecy/Lyon and the Alsace after the Cote d'azur, so could probably use the car there as well for our last week.
I am reconsidering Aix as a base in Provence and that maybe Isle Sur La Sorgue or similar would be a better choice (especially with a car). I am thinking about settling on Beaulieu-sur-mer as a base on the Riviera because it looks quiet, has reasonably priced nice lodging (waiting to hear from Le Havre Bleu), is next to the train and has easy access to all the other places by train or bus. I was intrigued with the mention of Ste. Maximes though as well.
Any more suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Posted by
1 posts

I need help with a 7 day France intinerary as well. I'm flying into Paris and will take train to Nantes, where my daughter is studying. From there, I have no idea how to spend my time!! I'm torn between heading straight to Chamonix (via train) to enjoy the mountains, or splitting the trip between Nantes/Loire/Brittany areas and Paris. Any thoughts?

Posted by
692 posts

Hi Sandra, driving in France is easy, just buy a good map. i don't know if you have considered a long term lease, but here is the link http://www.renault-eurodrive.com/ it might interest you. we got a long term rental in 2005, and loved it, you get a new car with all insurances included, and you just returned it at the end of your trip. in the busy cities just park the car and take the train, but you will appreciated having the car to go to all those lovely villages in Normandy and Provence. Have a nice trip!

Posted by
2023 posts

I agree with the other comments regarding driving in France. Very easy. To see the caves in the Dordogne area you will need the car. We were there last May and it is indeed a beautiful area of France. I would not stay in Sarlat--too busy. We stayed in a B&B five miles to the east of Sarlat and it was a perfect location for exploring the Dordogne--you can visit the villages along the Dordogne River and also those along the Lot River. Be sure not to miss St Cirq-La-Popie. Rocamadour was disappointing IMO.

Posted by
4132 posts

Laura (who has seven days in France): It sounds as though you have some definite ideas (such as Chamonix), and those should come first. Logistically, though, Nantes - Chamonix is a schlep.

Personally, with such a short amount of time, I'd see a little of Britainy and a little of Paris. But you should really focus on what would be the most special for you.

Posted by
1 posts

My sona dn I arrive in Paris and have 8 days before we meet a group for the tour de France. I thought we could spend some time in Salat as I am told it is great for cycling and very beautiful. Can anyone suggest the way we should go from Paris to Salat?. Train or car?. Or other ideas?.

Posted by
4132 posts

Jo: If you can change your ticket you could fly into Tolouse and drive north to Sarlat. (Fly home from wherever.)

You have a choice of a long drive versus a long train ride. Either would give me pause arriving jet lagged. I think flying in would be better.

Or you could chose a handier part of France--Provence or Burgundy has great cycling too. But the Dordogne really is exceptional.

Posted by
425 posts

South-West France is not on your list. BIG mistake. Huge!

I like the comment someone made about France being "not that big". When reading that, bear in mind that it is the largest of the European nations. (Yeah - I know about Alaska and Texas. :-) )

Have a great trip - it's a nice time of year.

Roger Bruton

http://www.fermedecandeloup.fr

Posted by
1 posts

I was in France last month with a friend. We are two women and she had never been outside the USA. We rented a small car and drove through the Alsace region. I programed all our destinations in a Tom-Tom before we left and it worked great. I did have a map for back up but really didn't need it. My friend did most of the driving in France and she had no problem at all.