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Trip to France

Planning first 3-wk trip to France with husband in late May/June with 7 nights in Paris to start(loose itinerary--no particular order): Day 1 drop bags, walk and explore neighborhood; Day 2,Champs-Elysees & Arc de Triomphe; Day 3,Eiffel Tower & Orsay;Day 4, Louvre; Day 5, Notre Dame Cathedral & Seine River Cruise; Day 6, Day trip to Versailles; Day 7, Repeats and/or add ons; Day 8, Train to Giverny and overnight; Day 9,train to Rouen to rent car and drive to Bayeux for overnight and to see Normandy; Day 10, Return car to Rouen afternoon, train to Paris for overnight; Day 11, Train to Bruges, Day 12, Bruges; Day 13, Train to Amsterdam, Day 14-18(7nights) in Amsterdam; Day 19 Fly home.

Originally planned to see France in 21 days, but RS driving tour is way too tiring just to read about it--Every day is driving long distances--100 miles from Rouen to Bayeux is shortest day--other days 140 to 350 miles...want more leisurely trip so chg'd plans to see another area for more relaxed travel by train. Looked at train instead of driving through France, but areas recommended require long train rides to see a few points of interest. Since I've not been there I need advice from someone who has experienced Loire valley, medieval cave drawings, Provence w/o blooming lavendar(due to time there), etc. to know if driving long days is worth considering? We've seen Amalfi Coast, Capri, Cinque Terre so don't need to see Mediterranean beaches. Prefer small towns and beautiful scenery to large cities like Nice and Monaco. Would love to go see mountains -- Annecy and Chamonix look fabulous but not easy to get there from Paris. Still putting together trip--Bruges and Amsterdam are not firm but just a place we've not visited and thought we could add on.

Is this a do-able/reasonable itinerary? Any suggestions for renting car on edge of Paris rather than taking train to Rouen? Chose Rouen to avoid driving in Paris. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

Posted by
4674 posts

After seeing some shockers in the last few months I'm glad that your Paris itinerary is very rational. The only thing I'd say is the reverse of my usual - I don't think that the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees is worth a whole day, half a day at most. The Champs-Elysee is just a generic big shopping street with nice views at each end. Maybe you could have a stroll round Montmartre as well? Or if you're going to Orsay to see the Impressionists, there are very good Impressionist collections else where in Paris at the Orangerie (which is at the Champs-Elysees end of the Tuileries) or slightly more out of the way at the Marmottan Museum.

I agree that Bruges isn't worth a long stay, I think two nights and one full day is about right.

Posted by
1735 posts

What a lovely, rational itinerary. It looks like you have allowed yourself time to view things that might catch your interest as you go. Have you thought about doing St. Chappelle or an evening concert there the day you're near Notre Dame?

Love, love, love Bayeux - greatfood and people. Many people seem to rent their cars in Rouen. Any chance you might want to add an extra day in Bayeux? Not sure exactly what you want to see or if you're planning on catching a small day tour, but if you are doing it on your own you'll only catch a bit. Things are spread a bit and if you want to see the highlights ( Omaha and/or Utah beach, Pont du Hoc, St. Mariglese, the American cemetery) you'll be covering a far amount of territory, to say nothing of the Bayeux Tapestry. That leaves out spending any time at the museums in the area.

We also love Bruges, and I think you've allowed enough time for that city. Part of the fun of staying overnight is that the town empties out after the tourists leave for the day.

Posted by
4125 posts

You ask two general questions: (1) How's the itinerary (not bad but the Normandy stuff is a little scrambled imho) and (2) Would we like an all-France itinerary better/is it worth it/what about all that driving?

I'd handle Normandy a little differently, namely see Giverney as a day trip from Paris (less than a full day, really) and spend at least two nights in Bayeux, or a night in Bayeux followed by a night in Honfleur. Rent the car in Bayeux and leave it in Lille, where you can catch a train to Brugges.

This saves you a bunch of doubling back and gives you more time to sightsee.

Note that Normandy will be crowded in the weeks running up to the 70th anniversary of D-Day: Make those reservations early.

As for the larger question, I think Rick's itineraries, based on his tours, are not practical for independent travelers at the speed he proposes. His destinations on the other hand are brilliant. I'd rate Provence and the Dordogne as an order of magnitude better than Brugges (which is also very worthwhile, don't get me wrong).

A logistically sweet plan might be to fly into Marseilles and spend a week in Provence, based in one village and making day trips with a car. The trip to Paris is about 2-1/2 hours by TGV. Or you could spend 4 or 5 days in Provence and take the train to Annecy for a few days. This is more train time but if Annecy beckons to you, why not listen?

After that a week in Paris, and after that you must choose whether to swing through Normandy and perhaps the Loire or proceed with your Brugge-Amsterdam plan. Or stick to your original idea, which is not at all bad; I'm only sketching out alternatives because you asked.

Then there's Burgundy....

Posted by
126 posts

Hello Kyle,
My suggestions;
Firstly – I think 7 nights in Amsterdam is too long, cut it back to allow more time along the way.
So, I’m happy with the time in Paris, for me you can never have enough time there, after Paris….

Day 8 - catch an early train (about one hour) from Paris to Vernon (it’s a little town about 15 minutes from Giverney), hire a car from either Avis or Hertz, they both have agencies there, there could be other companies also. Drive to Giverney and see Monet’s gardens before the tour buses arrive. Then drive to Bayeux – about two hours away.

Day 9 – Bayeux and surrounds

Day 10 – Bayeux and surrounds

Day 11 – drive to Amiens via Honfleur – about three hours, overnight Amiens, you can drop the car off at the railway station, Avis and hertz have agencies at the station. Honfleur is worth the time

Day 12 – train from Amiens to Ieper to see the WW1 battlefields) overnight Ieper, under three hours by train. Battlefield tour this afternoon or next morning – if you do this, make sure you see the Last Post played at the Menin Gate at 8:00pm every night since WW1 (except for some years during WW2)

Day 13 – Ieper to Gent (or Brugge). I prefer Gent, it’s far less touristy and just as beautiful. Both are about two hours by train. If you decide to stay in Gent be aware that there are two main stations in Gent. A suggestion – Bed in Gent is a great B&B close to the Gent Dampoort station.

Day 14 – from Gent a day trip to Brugge about 40minutes by train, they run all the time. (or stay in Brugge)

Day 15 – Gent or Brugge to Amsterdam, about three to four hours by train

A suggestion for Amsterdam, we stayed about seven miles out of town at Zaandam at the Inntel Hotel Zaanadam – a great hotel, right beside the railway station, very easy to get into Amsterdam whenever you want, plus there are direct trains to Schipol from this station too, check when they run. Staying here gives you a taste of life outside the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Have a great time

Posted by
5377 posts

Just focusing on days 9-11: I trust you understand that you're not going to "see Normandy" in 30 hours. You're going to see the Bayeux Tapestry and a good bit of the D-Day invasion sights. That's enough for many posters here, so you'll be satisfied.

You are quite right to rent a car for a day, but you should think about how much travel time and travel overhead (like the Metro to and from rail stations in Paris, with or without luggage, etc.) you have packed into those three days, in a three-country vacation. I like Bruges, but perhaps you should consider another way to experience a beautiful medieval city. There are lots of them between Paris and Amsterdam.

I don't want to push you into a particular city, because then everyone will say how much nicer Bruges is. But some cities that are closer to your route include Gent and Antwerp. Another idea, if your luggage is light enough, is to consider a low-priced airline to Amsterdam, and see a Dutch city that's inferior to Bruges, but medieval enough, like Amersfoort, Utrecht, Alkmaar, or even Delft-which I have done as a day-trip from Amsterdam. My objective is to make time for either more of Normandy, or more of France. Another idea (which avoids airport security time) is to stay a night or two in Brussels or Antwerp, and spend most of a day in Bruges, since the train connections are excellent. But you won't be lugging your bags.

Posted by
99 posts

Many thanks to all for your wonderful suggestions. Trip planning takes so long to sort out, especially during Christmas and New Years -- so sorry for belated thanks. Have chg'd plans based on your wonderful suggestions. Thanks to Adam's encouragement to follow my heart, we're taking train to Provence and French Alps..sticking with French vacation as originally planned. Philip, I've added Montmarte & Orangerie to Paris; and, Patty, I've added extra day to Bayeux. Will use mix of rental car and train...much more relaxing than driving everyday all over France. Thanks,Baz, we'll use rental car plan for Vernon; and, LeRae, you had great ideas for Belgium and Amsterdam which I'll keep for another trip when we visit that area.

Any suggestions on accommodations in Provence, Annecy or Chamonix? Any add'l tips or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
99 posts

Oops...LaRae thanks for your response. It was Tim who had great ideas for Belgium and Amsterdam and also suggesting we needed more time in Normandy....Thanks again to all who responded!

Posted by
1 posts

This D-Day observance will be one of the last Big Ones, because most of the WW II veterans won't make it another 5-10 years. So you will be lucky to get reservations at this late date-- either sold out already or else you will pay through the nose! Watch out for Ascension Day in May, because Easter is late this year, so Ascension Day will be too. Holidays scramble so many things in France! (Like VE Day [Victory in Europe] on May 8.)

Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysees will take you about 3 hours; Notre Dame and Seine cruise will take about 4 hours, so re-calibrate your timing on those days. Consider adding a newer museum, the Quai Branly, which is antiquities-- fascinating, with outstanding displays, and a great restaurant. Decide exactly what areas of Louvre you want to see, because you could spend a month in it and not see everything. You'll need a lot more than a day in Normandy!-- more like 3. It's a lot more than WW II beaches.

The chateaux (castles) in Loire Valley are utterly unique; you can do a one-day round-trip bus tour from Paris and see 2-4 of them. Amboise (incl. Leonardo da Vinci's tomb!), Chenonceau and Chambord are unforgettable.

Impossible to overstate how vigilant you need to be against pickpockets and flim-flammers. (Apparently the national sport in many European countries.) ANY commotion or head-turning activity is likely a diversionary tactic-- Gypsies are famous for that, especially near large-crowd spots like Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. Make your valuables absolutely inaccessible on your body; you WILL be targeted at some point. Dress like the French so as not to stand out, e.g., dark clothing instead of American khaki. Your default answer to unexpected encounters/offers/requests should be "NON, merci". Ignore strangers who ask you if you speak English. With an abundance of caution you can have a ~great~ trip!

Posted by
99 posts

Thanks, fysmith, for your suggestions and cautions. Have increased time in Normandy to 3 nights. Will be going to Provence and to French Alps in Annecy and Chimonix after leaving Paris. Any info you can provide for accommodations or other tips for those areas would be helpful. Thanks.

Posted by
8193 posts

Bayeux is a wonderful, charming town and makes a good base... I highly recommend Hotel d'Argouges in the heart of town. We've stayed there at least 6 times, we love it. It's like a manor house with a lovely garden, great breakfast, a wonderful owner (Mme Ropartz) and friendly helpful staff.

In Paris, please include a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens... my favorite place!

Posted by
99 posts

Thanks, Susan. Hotel d'Argouges looks great and I will check for availability.

Posted by
30 posts

So excited for you, Kyle, I'm sure you'll have a wonderful trip. I just went to Paris for a few days in September, and greatly wished we had more time in France... I would've loved the D-Day/Normandy sites.
Just a personal opinion to share- we mapped out a day for Versailles, which if I could do over I would skip. If you've been to Schonbrunn Palace, or something similar, Versailles is just more of the same... endless excess. If I would've known better, I would certainly have spent more time elsewhere. Unless you're big on walking around endlessly...
I'd love to hear if others agree or not.
Also, a day at the Louvre may be too much... I would suggest a half day unless you know exactly what you want to see. We had about three and a half hours there and that was plenty, but then I'm not a HUGE art critic. I absolutely adored the Musee d' Orsay, and could easily have spent a day there. Much less crowded, smaller, and all focused on Impressionists... Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh... and the cafe looked amazing, views and all, but alas, we had no time allotted for that.
I wish you happy travels, and will look forward to hearing your report when you return!

Posted by
8265 posts

I believe the above poster meant that the Branly Museum (Musee du Quai Branly) contains Oceanic, African, South American, and Native North American art. The antiquities are in the Louvre.

One museum that is not mentioned often enough is the National Modern Art Museum (Musee National d'Art Moderne) in the Pompidou Center. It picks up where the Musee d'Orsay leaves off, around 1900. Another suggestion is the medieval art museum, Musee de Cluny.

You've done a nice job of leaving your days open enough to fill in as you go.