Trip to France: Paris, Normandy, Loire Valley

My husband and I are planning our first trip to France in the Fall and are thinking of spending five nights in Paris and then renting a car and head out to the Normandy region, including Mount St. Michel, then on to the Loire Valley before heading back to Paris. I'm having a hard time figuring out where to stay and how many days it will take to see these areas. How to figure out distances between different cities, areas, etc. I hear that Honfleur is a nice place to stay but can you see all of the sites from Normandy there or do you move on after one night? We want to see all of the sites before heading to the Loire Valley. What is a good location to stay in in that area as well? I'll full of questions and would appreciate any recommendations and suggestions. We are probably thinking of a 10-12 day trip. Peggy

Posted by barry
new york
43 posts

I was a little hesitant about driving in Paris; what we did was take the train to Caen, pick up a rental car there (the Hertz outlet is a very short walk from the station, spent the night in Caen (Kyriad...they have parking available for guests, if i remember correctly) then drove from there to Mt. St. Michel (I'd suggest getting there trés early....before the busloads of tourists arrive)...then we spent the remainder of our time in Bayeux...Hôtel d'Argouges (3 nights there)...they also have parking..and we saw quite a bit of Normandy from there..we were able to take in Omaha beach, the US Military Cemetary (very moving) then drove along the coast stopping here and there...we did spend a little time in Honfleur before getting as far east as Duclaire (only because my father was stationed near there in '45). Driving in Normandy was not at all difficult; the roads were all extremely well marked. I'd recommend the Peace Museum in Caen; we expected to only spend 3 hours there and wound up spending close to 6 and almost missed out train back to Paris (driving from the Museum to Hertz through downtown Caen was extremely challenging for us,but the only difficult time we had driving). Hope this helps.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

We've done Paris - Normandy - Loire many times. I also recommend staying in Bayeux, and second the vote for Hotel d'Argouges - we love that hotel. Beautiful manor house, nice gardens, off street pkng, large rooms, large bathrooms, very clean, great breakfast, and the owner and her staff are exceptionally nice. We've rented a car in Caen and we've also rented a car in Bayeux, after taking the train from Paris. Four nights in Bayeux would be ideal. I would recommend taking a one day tour of the WWII sites and the rest by car. Bayeux itself is charming, the Bayeux Tapestry and the WWII museum there is what I'd recommend. It's the best museum of them all imo. Didn't like the one in Caen at all, and it's a lot more expensive. I wouldn't take the time to go to Honfleur, it's out of the way and you can't see everything worth seeing in the short amount of time you have. I agree that driving in Normandy is super easy, we especially loved the two lane roads. Exploring from village to village is fun. We then drove to Mont St. Michel for a few hours (been there many times including overnight), stopped in St. Malo for a few hours, then on to the Loire Valley. We've always stayed in Amboise which we liked a lot. I would recommend spending a minimum of 3 nights there. Next time we go though, we will stay in one of the hotels next to the Chateau de Chenonceau (my favorite one of all). It's also very easy to drive in the Loire Valley. In addition to the many chateaux worth seeing, I also recommend visiting Clos de Luce in Amboise, the home where Leonardo de Vinci lived. You could visit Chartres on your last day returning to Paris and return the car there, taking a train back into Paris or to CDG. www.viamichelin.com is a good website to figure out distances and routes. It's a fun trip, I hope you enjoy!

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
304 posts

Make this 3 votes for Hotel d'Argouges. It is so unusual, but also centrally located for the region. There are things to see in town and great restaurants, too.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

Patty, I'm just curious, what's so unusual about Hotel d'Argouges?

Posted by Peggy
Philadelphia
6 posts

Thanks to all the replies. Susan, you said that you've taken the train from Paris to Caen & Bayeux and that worked out well to tour the Normandy area instead of driving from Paris. I assume you didn't get to Giverny to see Monet's Gardens or were you able to work that in too. You then drove to Amboise in the Loire Valley. Where did you stay there and are there any wineries or wine tours available in that area? You also suggested dropping the car off in Chartres before returning to Paris. That sounds like it could work out well if we choose not to drive from Paris. Also, the www.viamichelin.com website has been so helpful - thank you. Instead of making Bayeux the base in Normandy, someone suggested we look at Crepon and Ferme de la Ranconniere hotel. Is anyone familiar with this? The town is very close to Bayeux. Thanks.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

Hi Peggy, I highly recommend Giverny, we loved it. We didn't stop there on our couple of trips I described because we took a train from Paris to either Caen or Bayeux (both worked equally well). On another driving trip, we picked up a car in a town right outside Paris (Saint Germain-en-Laye, which is super easy to get to on the RER) and drove to Giverny, then to Honfleur, then to Bayeux. But we had more time than than you do, that's why I recommended skipping Honfleur. You could rent a car outside Paris, and drive to Giverny, then on to Bayeux. The freeways are fast and super easy from Paris to Bayeux. I'm not familiar with the two places you mentioned outside Bayeux, but we really like staying in Bayeux. The town has a lot to offer and we don't have to drive to anything - we can walk everywhere and it's a beautiful, charming town to explore on foot. Plus, as I said, we love Hotel d'Argouges and would never want to stay anywhere else. We've been to Amboise twice and stayed in different places each time. The first one, in RS France guide, is Hotel Belle-Vue which I do not recommend. It was awful. Moldy rooms, bathrooms, hallways, very unpleasant owner. The second one, Le Manoir les Minimes, was wonderful but expensive. We didn't do any wine-tasting but Rick has recommendations in his France guide. One is 10 mi west of Amboise in the town of Vouvray. Rick says of this town: "Wall-to-wall opportunities for wine-tasting, including a convenient and top-quality winery." He goes on to say more... I recommend getting the RS France guide, it will be very helpful to you. I hope you have a great trip!

Posted by melissa
Austin
799 posts

After 5 days in Paris,I rented a car in downtown Paris, drove for more than 2 weeks, returned the car to CDG. If you can drive in Philly, you can drive in France and don't need to get a car after taking a train out of town. A GPS is very helpful. Honfleur was cute for an hour or two, Bayeux was better. With the car you can easily see M. St Michel and the DDay beaches, then an easy drive down to the Loire. Lots of info at the Tourist offices in the Loire about the vinyards, but you will see them even without a map. See this: http://www.loirevalleywine.com/home/sites/default/files/LoireValleyVineyardBrochure.pdf
It's a beautiful trip!

Posted by Bobbie
Park Ridge, IL
524 posts

Peggy Paris, Normandy, and Loire Valley are wonderful for a trip to France. I also agree to take the train to Caen/Bayeux and rent a car there. Check previous threads on taking a mini van tour of Normandy as the guides provide fascinating info that you will never get by driving around on your own. You will need to take at least 12 days on the ground in France. 5 days Paris + 1/2 day travel to Caen + 3 days in Normandy + 1/2 day or more to Loire + 3 days in Loire + 1/2 day back to Paris - If you have an early flight from Paris, you will need to return to Paris Airport the night before and stay the night at an airport hotel. You will love France and these places are a nice variety of places. Bobbie

Posted by Adam
Boston
2629 posts

We did exactly this, following Rick Steve's itinerary but at about 2/3 of the pace. Which I add exhausted us, but you can collapse on the plane home. We enjoyed Normandy much more than the Loire, the chateux leaving us underwhelmed. This is a minority opinion and we are no doubt philistines but you should be sure you want to spend 3 days doing that. Maybe 4-2 Normandy-Loire, instead of 3-3? Or add a day to Paris and take a daytrip to one of the many Renaissance chateaux (such as Fontainblue or Chantilly)? The good news is that you are traveling in the fall and if you are flexible can travel without reservations and revise your itinerary on the fly. So, go to Chantilly and if you love love love it spend lots of time on the Loire. If not, spend more time in Normandy maybe with a swing through part of Brittany. If you visit Mont St Michel I think it is a good plan to stay overnight, otherwise the crowds (even in the fall) make a day trip much less memorable. Honfleur is lovely too, and Rouen makes a nice 3-hour stop, especially of one has visited the Marmeton museum on Paris beforehand to see Monet's paintings of the cathedral there. Fall is a great time for a trip like this, have a wonderful trip!

Posted by Anita
Philadelphia, PA, USA
331 posts

You're getting lots of good practical suggestions. My advice is to end your vacation in Paris. My logic is that when you arrive by plane it will probably be too early to check into your Paris hotel, so why not travel (by train or rental car) to a destination outside Paris until check-in time. Plus, that way you end your trip in Paris and your final vacation day and night will put you close to the airport. One suggestion is to spend the first day and night in Rouen, and then you could drive west toward Normandy for a night or two. If you want to spent a night near the coast, Dinan or St. Malo are pleasant towns near Mt. St. Michel. Then drive east again into the Loire Valley. Either Ambois or Chenonceau are good spots for a few nights. Don't try to see all the chateaux; two or three will be sufficient. If you are traveling by rental car, your choices are to drop it off outside of Paris and then take the train into the city, OR, drop it off in Paris. If you do the latter, if possible schedule yourself so that you arrive in Paris on a weekend when traffic is much lighter. The last time we did this, we arranged to return our car near Les Invalides and easily walked to our hotel after dropping off the car. Feel free to write if you have specific questions.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

To clarify Anita about it being easier to drive into Paris on a weekend, not true on any Sunday. The roads into Paris are bumper to bumper every Sunday afternoon and evening with weekenders returning home.

Posted by Julie
Frisco, Texas, US
54 posts

Don't miss Giverny! We went by train from Paris, took the 8 am train to Giverny, and were back to the Champs for lunch by 1:30. Giverny is magical, and if you have any interest, then you must do it!!

Posted by Peggy
Philadelphia
6 posts

Our trip was great except for a little too much rain. It didn't hinder our plans though except we did miss Giverney. After five nights in Paris, we picked up a car at the airport and drove to Bayeaux. It was raining so we skipped Giverney. We did stop in Honfleur for lunch though & loved the town.
We stayed in Bayeaux for three nights & it was a great base to tour the WWII sites. Hotel D'Argouges was wonderful! We drove out to Mt St Michel from there too & that was another great day. We then drove to the Loire Valley for two nights & states in Amboise at the Manoir St Thomas. It was a great find & we loved the hotel. We then drove to the airport & stayed at the Holiday Inn for one night, then flew home. It was a great trip all round. Thank you so much for all of your great tips. As you can see, I used a lot of your them. Your help was very much appreciated.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

Thanks so much for posting... I'm so glad you had a good time! Sorry about the rain :( Also really glad that you liked Hotel d'Argouges. And everything else :) You'll just have to go back sometime so you can visit Giverny!

Posted by Kerry
Tinton Falls, NJ
615 posts

Hi Peggy, I didn't read all the other posts (no time), but I'll chime in. I think you itinerary of visiting Paris, Normandy and the Loire area will make for an extraordinary trip! You will love it! I agree that 5 nights would be great in Paris. We spent several nights in Hotel Dieu which is located IN the Hospital NEXT door to Notre Dame Cathedral. It wasn't plush, but it was inexpensive and clean and the location was amazing! It's in R. Steve's guidebook. ON the way to Normandy, I too highly recommend Giverney. It is lovely, lovely, lovely (especially Monet's water garden). I fell in love with Normandy when we visited in 2009; and that came as a complete surprise to me. I went thinking it was someplace my husband would love (he loves history), and found I loved it too. The history is moving and fascinating, but the area is so peaceful and charming, I can't wait to return one day. We stayed in a lovely B&B called Le Mas Normand for two nights and would have liked to stay a 3rd, but they were booked. It is very close to Arromanches (charming little village on the beach where the Winston Artificial Harbor remains are. There is also a very good 360 degree movie about D-Day here. However, you might also look into Bayeaux as a base. We never made it to Bayeaux (so I do have to go back one day). We spent 2 nights in Normandy, and then spent one overnight on Mont St. Michel. I loved Mont St. Michel, but it IS very busy during the day. I woke up at 6am to walk around and had the whole place to myself and got to see the sun rise. It was amazing! I have not yet been to the Loire, but I do hope to go one day. I think 5 days Paris, 4 days Normandy area, 3 days Loire, would be great! You could break the 4 days in Normandy into 2 bases. This summer I am going to explore Provence for the first time. I can't wait, I love France! I'm sure you will have a wonderful trip!