Planning first trip to France next spring. Will start out in Paris and end up in Italy. Are there interesting villages, countryside, etc. to be enjoyed if we pick up our car outside Paris at the completion of our stay there and drive from Paris to Provence? Or should we take a train to Avignon and pick up our car there? We don't want to miss anything along the way! Thanks!
You can't see EVERYTHING. Undoubtedly there are nice villages between Paris and Avignon. How far off the main roads do you intend to explore? Given the number of wonderful towns in the greater Provence area, why waste time getting to them. Take the train to Avignon and rent the car there. From the Avignon area, it is an easy drive to the coast. You might want to drive from Provence to Cassis and along the coast to Nice. From there take a train or fly to your destination in Italy.
I agree w/ what David says entirely. I have done as he suggests and it was perfect. Driving a portion of the Fr Riveria is easy but sometimes a little crowded on wkends and summer. For sure get a small car and take local train along the coast if you wish espec Monaco. Walking from train station to sights is a cinch. Enjoy.
It depends on your time frame and your priorities. You can have a great road trip over 3-5 days. Grab the Michelin Green guides--they were made for that sort of thing. You will make many off-beaten-track memories But if your time is short and you want to spend it in Provence, the train will whisk you there in 2-1/2 hours. You can't beat that in a car!
How much time do you have to get from Paris to Avignon? If you have precious little time, I would suggest the great TGV run from Paris to Avignon TGV that takes 2hrs 39min. Of course, you will see the scenery whiz by at about 200MPH. If you want to see something along the way, I suggest that you take the high-speed to Dijon and rent a car right in the station. From there, you are close to Burgundy. If you want to see the countryside, you will need to stay off of the toll roads. There are wonderful roads that go all through the countryside on your way to Avignon. It all matters as to how much time you have to do this. Please advise.
Take the train to Avignon and drive and see the villages, countryside, etc in Provence and along the coast. I've done it be train and by driving, and the drive is looooong. I was interested in doing it because I live here, but I wouldn't spend my time on it if I had limited time and my goals were the south of France and Italy.
If you do intend take the really fast train to Avignon TGV, the rental car agency is right there at the station. Note that the Avignon TGV station is not the Gare d'Avignon central station which is near the best part of the tourist area. However, rent the car and drive to the other part. There is a very nice multi-story parking garage there. It's called the Jean Jaures garage. It's all underground. Everywhere you go, you will pay for parking so the garage works out well. We parked there each night for our 2 night stay there. With the rental car, we toured most of Provence. We especially enjoyed the beautiful villages in Luberon.
For me, it depends on what you're looking for. Is the destination, Provence, your main goal? Then train it. If the journey is your main goal, there a wonderful sights and experiences to see along the way. I was able to visit just a few this summer and I'm writing about it in the Trip Reports, and there are thousands more, just between Paris and Provence, which could have been just as special. In the countryside, you'll experience the less-touristy side of France. There are definitely major destinations between Paris and the South with plenty of tourists, but it's also very easy to see magnificent things with much less of a well-traveled path. Castles (Chateau) in Loire, caves and rivers in the Dordogne, charming villages and wine in Burgundy, medieval churches and ruins everywhere, quaint cemeteries, small regional markets... They're all out there "in-between." You've just got to decide what it is you're really wanting to experience. I'm convinced that whatever you decide, you can have a great time. Maybe this time you work Provence and next time you experience the "in-between" of central France. If that's the plan, then take the train and don't waste time on the highways. If you want to see some of the area between, then I'd just pace out a reasonable distance and start looking at small towns and villages in that general area. Google maps is a wonderful tool.
I agree with David and the other posters. Take the TGV from Paris to Avignion or possibly Aix-en-Provence and pick up a rental car there. Be sure to purchase your tickets online as soon as they go on sale, I think it's 90 days in advance or perhaps 60. If you do this early enough on you will be able to get the best price possible and have your choice of departure/arrival times. Although I have found interesting villages and towns all over France some of my top choices would be in Provence. You probably don't want to do a high-speed drive from Paris to the countryside when you could do it faster and cheaper on the TGV. And I agree about renting a small car. I would also request diesel. I have used Auto Europe with great success many times. You can even cancel your booking and rebook your car if the prices go down.
Many, many thanks to all of you who responded. Your opinions and ideas are ever so helpful as we weigh the pros & cons of train or car. You've given us so much to think about. Very interesting was the idea from Larry take the train to Dijon and then drive the rest of the way. Thanks again to all - I can always count on valuable information from the RS Helpline. Now I have another question... Is Mont St. Michel doable in a day or should we plan an overnight there?
As has been said above, there are a lot of intesting places along the route (see Rick's guide to France) and it seems to be a shame to just blow past them on a TGV. We have made the drive and would happily do it again. An indirect route would be to Normandy & Brittany, then to the Loire Valley and the Dordogne en route to Provence. Do not forget that in Italy you are legally required to have an IDP. Getting caught without one gets very pricey on the spot and than you get to hope some hard nosed cop doesn't decide to impound your car since you cannot legally drive it. The IDP is cheap and easy to get at AAA and $15 buys you a million bucks woth of peace of mind.
Take advantage of TGV from Paris to Avignon. There is plenty to see by car once in Avignon. Each day we picked a different direction to explore. So much variety in towns. You won't "miss" anything doing this and it will give you more time.
I agree with most everyone else, and suggest you take the TGV to Avignon and then rent a car. There is lots to see in Provence, and if you get an upper seat on the train, there's lots to see out of the window. We just returned from a trip to Paris and Provence and did it that way. Everything worked out wonderfully!
Karen, you have been given a lot of good advice, but it is easier to help if you say how long you are going for and what time of year your trip will be. As for the International Driving Licence, it is a good idea to have it even if you do not intend driving in Italy. If you will be using the car for more than 17 days, consider leasing rather than renting, but I think you need to return the car in the same country as you pick it up, which may not be a problem if you are only using it in France.