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Where to stay in France - loaded question

Our family will be travelling to France during July. We will be visiting friends in the Chambery (in the Rhone Alps region) for several days, then spend 2-3 days in Paris. We have a 2nd week to spend in France and cannot decide what region to visit...For economic reasons we plan to rent a gite for a week, so we will be tied down to that particular area/location. We are family of 5, with 3 boys (17, 14, 11). We prefer to be in the coutnryside to get a real flavor for the French people. We're leaning towards the Loire Valley. Help! It seems impossible to pick an area....

Posted by
10344 posts

Lisa: Your latest post helps us to better understand your travel plan, which enables us to give more specific or more useful advice tailored to your situation.Are you renting a car? Guessing you'd have to, to reach the gite and to explore the French countryside. Where I'm going with that question is, if you'll have a car, then you can save on 5 TGV fares, because you can drive back to Paris for your airport departure.The next question is: about what time is your departure from the airport on Friday? If it's before a certain time of day, there will not be time for you to stay in the gite until Friday morning and have time to get to the airport.Your initial suggestion of the Loire Valley may, indeed, be where you want to be--but even then, you will need to carefully think about staying in the part of the Loire Valley closer to Paris, the eastern portion, and carefully estimate the time required to return to Paris for your departure.It's already apparent that you have to rule out the Dordogne and Provence because they are too far away from Paris.Please get back to us on the follow-up questions. Or if you prefer, send me a Private Message and we can continue one-on-one without bothering everyone else.

Posted by
8 posts

Kent, thanks for the response. Yes, it is very difficult. You mentioned Dordogne country for French country life... Curious as to your thoughts about why that area is a good representation of such. That is really what we are looking for. However, forgot to mention that we have to fly out of Paris (on a Friday) and most gites rent Saturday to Friday, so too far south makes getting to the airport difficult. I've done some initial research on TGV, but for a family of 5, the costs are up there and we are on a shoestring budget... Yikes, I guess that's why we ended up in northern areas to begin with... Sorry about that. Mayhaps that narrows the focus and you might be able to expand on opinions of a more northern location?? thanks

Posted by
3313 posts

Unless you (and your boys) really, really, really like castles, the Loire is pretty dull. You have to really be into identifying which king's emblem was a salamander and racing to see a pack of hounds fed in the evening...

To the outrage of many (castle lovers) I've equated the Loire with California's San Joaquin Valley - only with castles. It's a big, flat, agricultural valley with roads choked by slow-moving farm equipment and big nuclear power plants hulking on the horizon.

I would suggest, instead, Burgundy. A much more varied countryside, great food, biking, hiking, etc. And there are a few castles (and abbeys) tucked away there too. Not too far to get back to Paris, either.

Posted by
66 posts

No - got to be Lower Normandy, inland, away from the tourist hordes and Britpack villages of the Dordogne and Brittany.

That was me in provocative mode! Seriously:

  1. Do any of you have a smattering of French? If not, you could struggle outside of the usual tourist hotspots unless you stay somewhere your hosts speak English.

  2. What do you like to do on holiday? Do you like cycling, riding, walking, lying on a beach, fishing, proper castles (not the Renaissance stuff), gardens, museums, etc. or what?

  3. Where have you enjoyed going on holiday before?

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for the reponses. So, Loire valley was recommended by someone my hubby met. We have looked at Brittany and he likes Normandy area. Hubby chanced to meet somefolks from France in his work. They say Burgundy not real friendly. It looks like a beautiful area though... Can you advise? The Bordeaux area looks nice as well, but is a little too far from airport. On holidays, hiking/mountains (or at least hilly terrain), biking), relaxing at pool/beach (one of the top priorities), kayaking/canoeing, fishing, some castles, a couple gardens, some village window shopping (obviously, we can't bring much back with us...), and definitely some lounging time...We're not too big on museums and too many tours...We like to explore on our own off the beaten track, I guess. We do have a small smattering of french language. Hoping that will be enough. BTW, nuclear power plants on the horizon are not appealing at all. Doug, can you advise where these are? Thanks!

Posted by
4125 posts

Lisa, these are all spectacular areas in their own way. I would strongly advise that you base your decision on your knowledge of what you (plural) like and are moved by.

I would not say that Burgundians are especially unfriendly, but for a more relaxed French sensibility you might wish to go south. Bordeaux would not be my first pick there, but maybe it is yours. With two weeks to travel I would let travel dreams trump such logistical concerns as proximity to an airport.

I can't help but imagine your crew in Perigord, in the Dordogne or Vezere vallies. The castles are the Loire on steroids--no namby-pamby Ancient Regime finery, these are real stone fortresses from the Hundred Years War.

If that is not old enough for you, you could spend the entire two weeks look at caves decorated by their original inhabitants--from 15,000 years ago. At Rocamador the sword of Roland (supposedly) is stuck into the cliff face. Then there is the river and the countryside, with options to rent bicycles and canoes.

This area will be touristed that time of year, but mostly by Brits and the French--you won't see many Americans.

Have fun making up your mind!

Posted by
3313 posts

I agree with Adam. Canoeing, hiking, etc.; you're talking the Dordogne. By the way, Burgundians are very friendly. Your husband must have castle loving friends who have it in for the abbeys and clos du vin of Burgundy. Pay them no mind.

Bordeaux is more dull than the Loire. Its castles are fake (meaning the great wine chateaux).

The Dordogne is seriously spectacular. Plenty of things for an active family to see and do.

Oh, and about the nukes. I was being somewhat dramatic but France is 70 percent nuclear powered. Many of the plants are in the Loire.

Posted by
194 posts

Between the Loire Valley and the Burgundy region (northwest of Vezelay) is Guedelon. It's the making of a castle using only medieval methods, materials, plans, etc. http://www.guedelon.fr/
I think your boys would love to see this. I know my sons would have enjoyed it, especially after having to "build" a castle in school...with sugar cubes... Steve Smith, Rick's Francophile friend and coauthor of his France books said it's his son's favorite place to visit (I heard him talk about it during one of his lectures).

Posted by
8 posts

Char, thanks for this awesome link! This w/b a must see stop if we get to this area. Would also like to see the show put on at the sister castle. We had actually planned to try to be in that area to see the tour-de france come through. While we were iving in Colorado, we were able to visit another castle under construction, called Bishop's Castle. It was a one man show, but this looks amazing! An entire village!