After a wrench in my plans this summer I am more determined than ever to return to Europe next summer with my fiance who will be on his first European trip. One of the things we are interested in doing is the "Lavender Route" through Provence. It takes you through Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque, Gordes, Musee de la Lavande, summit of Mont Ventoux, Sault, Forcalquier, Distillerie "Le Coulets", and Manosque factory. We may be interested in doing all or part of this tour. Is it possible to do at least a portion of this, and see some great lavender fields, without renting a car? Biking is not an option. This is the one area I would like to see badly enough to consider renting a car if necessary. Is it worth exploring the Loire chateau by train? I understand only some of them are accessible to trains. Is it easy enough to get to them from the stations? We may also be interested in exploring at least some of the Black Forest and again am wondering if this is "worth it" by train. Rick spoke of the merits of touring the area by car on the applicable episode. Another question, Rick took a boat tour on the Burgundy episode with his friend. Is this something anyone can arrange or not an option for the general public? It seemed to be a "private" boat. Thanks for your help. I'm sure I'll be back since we're wrestling with time management.
Heather, regarding the lavender route I was there this summer and it was wonderful. Besides being beautiful, it was fun to walk through a lavender field and immerse myself in the smell - heavenly. However, I can't see how you can do much, if any, of it by train, you would need a rental car. You definitely can't get to the Abbaye de Senanque without a car (unless they have tours from a nearby town - I'm not aware of that though). By the way, the drive there and up to Sault is marvelous. When I was there my home base was Roussillon and there were lavender fields that I could walk to just outside of town but I drove everywhere else. Be sure you go between late June and early August. I was there mid-July and some fields were already being harvested. As for the Loire chateaux, you can get to Tours by train and there are all-day tours from there that go to at least 3 chateaux, but of course with an organized tour you are restricted by their time frame at each chateau. With a rental car you do them on your own time, have lunch where and when you want, etc. I don't have any info on the Black Forest or the boats in Burgundy. He might have been on a private boat but I believe they are something anyone can arrange. I'm sure someone here who has done that will give you better info. Hope you have a wonderful trip, enjoy the planning.
While it's probably faster and easier to see some parts of the black forest by car, (as most of the trains in the area are regional ones, not high speed ICE trains) you can absolutely do it by train. Some of the train routes through the black forest are known for being scenic. This page has some helpful info: http://www.eurail.com/trains-europe/scenic-trains/black-forest-lines
You can rent houseboats to travel the Burgundy canals; the rental period is one week.
"We may also be interested in exploring at least some of the Black Forest and again am wondering if this is "worth it" by train." Yes, it is. The Black Forest Railway (Offenburg-Singen) and the Hells Valley Railway (Freiburg to Hinterzarten and beyond to Donaueschingen) are scenic routes that cut east-west through the BF. See links to towns too: http://www.black-forest-travel.com/places-of-interest/black-forest-railway.html Other towns on the BF railway worth seeing - fabulous Gengenbach, Villingen http://www.black-forest-travel.com/gengenbach/ http://www.black-forest-travel.com/villingen-schwenningen/ Beautiful Schiltach is easy to reach via an offshoot line: http://www.black-forest-travel.com/schiltach/ Hell's Valley: http://www.black-forest-travel.com/landscape/hoellental.html Trains (and buses) are free if you stay in a "KONUS" town: http://www.blackforest-tourism.com/konus
Heather, I can only address the lavender tour, but we wondered the same questions, since we use only public transportation. Our B& B in Avignon suggested a tour company which gave us an exceptional tour (we ended up being the only two on the tour, so she headed wherever we wanted.)It was a very warm spring and the lavender fields at the Abbey were already harvested (2nd week in July 2011). We traveled by van, stopped to examine the two types of lavender, smell the most amazing scents, visit a distillery and stop to tour the following: Gordes, Roussillon, Sault. It was the single best day of our 20-day trip.
Loire chateaus are difficult to do without a car. While we've been there a few times with a car, one time we took a niece and traveled by train, staying in Amboise and Blois. From Amboise we had to rent a taxi, which took us to a bunch of chateaus and waited until we were ready. But it cost a bundle. We could have taken a tour (there were several) if we had booked in time, but we were too late. So if you want to see Loire chateaus w/o a car, check out the tours well in advance. Provence is also very difficult to do w/o a car (we did it one trip, but wasted a lot of time), but again, there are tours if you plan ahead of time.
Thank you all very much for your help! I'm looking forward to going even more now, and will definitely rent a car at least for Provence.
You seem reluctant to rent a car, but let me assure you, I'm relatively a nervous driver overseas (and a very confident one back home) but I find driving in France outside of major cities to be very easy. There's usually good signage and with a map you'll be fine. Enjoy!