Older Female Traveling Alone to France - Need Advice

Hi, I am, I guess, a senior woman(66) but very healthy, young at heart and body. I am planning a 3-month trip to France to fulfill a very long-time dream - to return to and "live" in France for 3 months. That's as vague as my plans are at this time. Also, I'm planning on doing so on a fairly tight budget. Having lived in Toulouse as a graduate student for two years when I was in my 40's, I know a bit about life in France and speak the language fairly well - and am brushing up with classes now. My question: Have any of you in my similar circumstances had such an audacious experience; and if so, could you give me some do's and don't's to help me along in my plans? I want to live within a community and just try to fit in and live a normal life for my 3 months there. I won't be using a car, so I'll need to rely on either a bicycle, walking, or public transportation; and for that reason, I feel that I ought to stay in a fairly large city. I don't even really know what time of year will be best. I have researched Paris and think it might work well, but there are so many different areas that to search for an apartment seems overwhelming. Perhaps some of you have done something similar in a different city that you might be able to recommend?

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2169 posts

Dottie, I had the same dream so last summer at the age of 67, I did a solo trip to France. I spent two months there (wish I could have afforded 3, you're lucky). July was spent traveling around France by a combination of rental cars and trains visiting Nice, Provence, Alsace, Normandy, Brittany, and Loire area. August was spent in an apt in Paris. Unlike you I spoke no French other than the general courtesies, but never found that an issue. I had always wanted to live in one of the world's great cities so I didn't look at smaller towns/villages - just knew I wanted to stay in Paris. I did take some day trips by train from Paris, which was part of the experience of living there. My apt was a small studio in the 4th arrondisment; very convenient to shops, restaurants, museums, metro transport, etc.. It was wonderful to wake up, stop for a croissant at a local boulangerie, walk along the Seine or sit in a cafe or park and watch people going about their life, spend an hour or so in a musuem then buy some groceries and go 'home' to my apt and prepare dinner. I really liked the mid-summer timeframe as there was so much going on everywhere I went and the weather was great and it stayed light so late in the evening. With 3 months you could certainly combine seasons - spring/summer or summer/fall and experience some of both. Go for it! I did and it was the experience of a lifetime for me.

Posted by Bets
2911 posts

I would suggest anytime between September through June when clubs, lectures, local sports facilities and classes are in full swing. The Sorbonne and some other universities offer courses for the "3ieme age" which are stimulating, while many museums have continuing ed classes during the academic year. Last time we were on sabbatical, I took many courses at the Louvre and attended lectures at other museums. I'd base my choice of city on what the local institutions offer for those living there. Try sabbaticalhomes.com for a rental. Agencies have infiltrated the website offering vacation rentals, but you still may find something. BTW, as of now, the French start retiring a bit earlier than we do, but many around 62 and practically mandatory by 65, so you'll fit right in with this youthful, energetic group. And don't forget your automatic 25% off regional train tickets, but 50% off all trains if you buy the senior card.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1167 posts

I think this is a great idea, but I can't reply directly to your questions. I would note that my private college alumni magazines often list apartments and villas in France - but most of those aim at summer and no more than a month. They also seem to me to be overpriced. Do you want all three months in the same residence? Is there a very recent successor to the "life in Provence books?" Just as in the US, an urban area like Paris is perfect for older travelers. But do you also want to live in a tiny village? You indicate that you have no mobility problems. But what do you want to do every day? It sounds like you don't want to sit in a cafe and pretend you're living off the welfare state! Which three months do you have in mind? Have you been back to France since grad school? It interests me (at least six trips to France) that some economists are asking whether France can avoid falling (in the next decades, that is) into a subsidiary political and economic position versus its leading status for the last several centuries?

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3143 posts

April, May, and June might work for a three months stretch. I would probably opt for a small city with adequate local and regional transportation. I like Avignon a lot as a town for staying a while. Nice might be good.

Posted by Robert
717 posts

I agree that a smaller city (that is, almost anything other than Paris) would be a good idea to consider. In addition to those recommended, I'd suggest Bordeaux or Lyons as possibilities. Public transportation is very good, both locally and to get away. As to accommodations, I'd normally suggest Gites de France, although it's mostly for rentals in the countryside, but they do have something called "Citybreaks" now. And Clevacances does have numerous city rentals.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1489 posts

Don't forget the Shengen (?) law you cannot stay anywhere in the European Union for more than 89 days without paying a serious fine. I think maybe a month in Paris, a month in maybe Lyon, and a month in the South of France would be lovely! I've rented apartments through Home Away, VRBO.com and Airbnb.com You can look there, and I'm sure others will have advice

Posted by Dottie
Portland, OR, USA
31 posts

Wow! Thank you all so much for all your information; that's more than I've been able to learn from a couple of months of just kind of blindly researching up to now. I'll try to respond to a few questions and comments now: To Tim, yes, I do think I want to stay put in one "home" place but probably take short trips via train to nearby towns/cities. And I forgot to mention in my opening post: I am a full-time artist, so I intend to continue to paint while I am in France. It's something I do completely in solitude, so no setting up in museums or parks for me. But as here in the US, it is what I do most of the day, every day, so I would "hang out" in coffee shops, cafes, etc., only during break times. Really, I just want to experience life in an environment that holds a lot of special memories from my earlier time there. But I've done Toulouse, so it's time for another city. And no, I have not been back to France since graduate school; life really got in the way, and the next thing I knew, a couple of decades had gone by! I'm now thinking that I better get things done and not let them wait anymore! Swan, thank you for your suggestions of Avignon and Nice; I'll check each of them out. Paris does seem a bit intimidating, I must say. (Have you ever pulled from a street view to way back over it with Google Earth? It's huge!) Ray and Robert: (Fellow Portlanders, I see.) Yes, I do intend to enjoy every second of my stay! And, Robert, thanks for the smaller city suggestions; that's exactly the kind of info I was looking for. I'll check out both Bordeaux and Lyon. And the apartment search suggestions are great, too; thanks. Dottie

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1167 posts

Be sure to check whether there are any "festivals" during your proposed time. For example, as attractive as Avignon is, in July (and maybe August) it's kind of like staying in Times Square NYC. I would not assume that May is "safe", since Florence (Italy) has had Maggio Musicale for a long time. There have been posts here warning about the D-Day anniversary, over that way.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1673 posts

Another thought is Strausburg, we loved it as had a flavor of France and Germany, very bike friendly also. Whatever you decide, good for you.

Posted by shirley
Toronto, Canada
347 posts

Different scenario but I lived in Arles for a month. It was October. The weather was still reasonable. I liked the fact that I was "adopted" by the immediate neighbourhood who had been alerted to my presence by the "mayor of the street" - an elderly lady who lived next door and who had the keys to the house I rented. I got friendly with my local wine merchant and the souvenir shop owners on the corner (we traded language lessons). I had great intentions of doing lots of stuff while in Arles, but it was all too easy to do nothing and just enjoy living there. Arles had a festival of some kind going pretty much every weekend and I went to a bullfight (not the kind where they kill the bull). There is also a great twice weekly market in Arles that I loved to go to every week. For a three month stay, Avignon might be a good bet as it is larger than Arles and I think it has better train connections than Arles. I think you nee to know what kind of lifestyle you want - Paris will be full of activity for sure - and depending on the neighbourhood you may be able to become a "regular" with the local shop keepers etc. But you might prefer a smaller city if you want to live within a community.

Posted by shirley
Toronto, Canada
347 posts

Part two: I've also lived in a really small village in the Languedoc region - Marseillan, for a month - again it was October. This is on the coast and had great shellfish. I became a regular at my local shellfish vendor. This town only has 10,000 people in it and it was very quiet - almost dead at night. It's busy in the summer. Marseillan got quite rainy and colder by the end of the month. We had the heating turned on. For three months I would recommend staying a larger community - Arles is about 50,000 people, and Marseillan 10,000. Also, I had friends come to visit me while I was on these month long visits to France. Perhaps you could consider having some friends take their vacations and spend them with you in France. It was nice to have some contact with home while I was away and it was quite cost effective for my friends to visit.

Posted by Bets
2911 posts

If you are an artist, you should look to the south as several previous posters have said. The luminosity!! And you could visit all those fabulous museums along the coast. The north tends to be overcast, gray, light rain...sounds like Portland.

Posted by BG
SF Bay Area, USA
1578 posts

Hi Dottie,
I just sent you a private message with a suggestion, but also agree that Nice would be a great place too. I went there last year and am planning to go back as soon as I can. I'd go in the fall.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
6028 posts

Do a little research on Nimes and Dijon. Dijon is a transportation
hub, Nimes has lots of interesting places nearby. One of my favorite places is Autun but without a car it's difficult to do side trips.

Posted by Wray
Boston, ma, usa
349 posts

In addition to Nice, I would suggest you look at Nancy. Nancy, IMO, is a miniature Paris, and with lots of art nouveau. We stayed 14 days and felt at home and were greeted as one in the neighborhood by the time we left. My daughter worked there for a year and enjoyed the city. We saw only one other American tourist the entire time we were there. It was lovely. However, my first choices would be Paris and Nice.

Posted by Tom
Milwaukee, WI, USA
101 posts

I'm going to agree with Gail and throw in another plug for Strasbourg. Not only is it a lovely mid-size city but it has a great bus and light rail system for getting around at a cost of about E12 for a weekly pass. Apartments are cheaper than in Paris and the TGV runs directly to Paris in about 2 1/2 hours (there are more leisurely trains to Paris that are cheaper). It is in the heart of French Alsace so eating out is great and I am a fan of those delectable white Alsatian wines. Colmar is a must quick train ride south of Strasbourg where you will see Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece at the Unterlinden Museum (the back-story on this is truly interesting) but the beauty of that small town will surprise you. Short train rides from Strasbourg to Nancy and Metz and to the Black Forest area of Germany will also occupy your time. I think Sept-November is the prime time to go as autumn descends on the area and the color is spectacular for painting. Everyday will be a "bonne journee"!

Posted by Dottie
Portland, OR, USA
31 posts

Hi, Everyone. I thank all of you for the wealth of information you've given me. I'm still reading and researching all the amazing information I've received. I'm a bit overwhelmed at the moment but will be back in a few days to ask more questions. I've looked at all the cities that have been mentioned, the times to be there. . . . well, I have a lot of studying to do now! Now I want to look more in depth at some of the cities. Again, thank you so much!

Posted by George
Independence, KS, USA
716 posts

We've stayed in a 400 year old working farm, with modern rooms and amenities, just east of Bayeux and traveled from there with ease. Send me a PM for details. You might need to reconsider the car. Nothing, repeat, NOTHING gives you the freedom to explore, and driving in rural France is a breeze. We are from rural Kansas and if we can drive all over rural France, you can too, and I'm 69, BTW.

Posted by Trishia
Vancouver, Washington, United States
41 posts

Hello, Neighbor! You haven't mentioned what you paint, but if you are into birds, I would recommend the Provence region, perhaps with Avignon as a base. An easy side trip by car about a half hour's drive from Arles is a wonderful bird sanctuary. I have about 400+ photos of flamingos from my visit there:) Many other birds, but I was especially taken by the flamingos.
I have been to Avignon and Arles several times. We spent a week based in Avignon this past March/April and it's just such a great location with easy access to the train. YOu can go 'big city' and visit Nimes or go small hill towns and visit the cliffside villages in the Luberon region: Rousillion (where ochre came from!), Gordes, Isle sur la Sorgue -- all so picturesque.

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
1442 posts

Have you ever considered home exchange?? We have done this many times including a total of 10 weeks in France one summer in two different places. It's a great way to get to know the community you choose to stay in! Living in a French home you get to know the subtleties of the place that you just don't get staying in a vaca rental or hotel. Highly recommend! We stayed for 5 weeks in a beautiful town called Pezenas in southwest France and in a suburb of Paris for the second 5 weeks. Fantastic experience! We use homeexchange.com.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
2253 posts

I have traveled alot thru the yrs in France but not 3 months consecutively. I suggest however you split your time 1 month, Paris (not summer as Paris can feel deserted of locals) 1 month S. France ie. Marseille or other along train route (travel out from there to Fr,. Riveria & nrby beach areas &Provence and then 1 wk here and there to total 4 wks to enjoy the rest of France's blockbuster areas ie Normandy, Chamonix and villages bordering Switzerland etc. Train and bus combo would work but of course would take planning ahead. Stay in more budget type hotels if needed like Ibis budget on your wk to wk.
I would also research ahead for tours in case you find you would like the companionship of other visitors along the way. Best of Luck it is a grand idea!