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Best way to travel from Paris to the Riviera

We are two women, who don't speak French, who want to see Paris and travel through Alsace, Burgundy, Provence and the Riviera for about 11 days in the latter part of May. We're thinking about staying in Colmar, Beaune, Annecy, Vaison la Romaine and Antibes. How many nights should we stay at each? Do you have suggestions for any reasonably priced, charming B&Bs or small inns?

What would be the best way to travel? If renting a car, would it be very expensive for the one-way drop-off charge, and how much extra for an automatic? Do I reserve it ahead of time from the states or when I'm in Paris?
If we'd be better off taking trains, should we reserve seats now?
Or would buses better able us to see the villages and vineyards along the way? And again, what about advance reservations?

As this is our first time traveling in France, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Anne

Posted by
16852 posts

Hi, Anne. I do recommend Rick Steves' France guidebook to you, which covers many practical details. I hope that Paris is not included in the 11 days! Assuming not, then it's 5 cities in 11 days, basically 2 nights and 1 full day at each. That's doable, but try penciling out the plan on a calendar, with travel time. Are the two of you well agreed on sightseeing priorities?

For instance, by train, Paris-Colmar takes 3 hours and Colmar-Beaune mostly takes 2 hours (but up to 4 hours for the 9:30 a.m. departure, or 3 hours driving). If you skip Colmar, the Paris-Beaune takes 2-3 hours total, again depending on departure time. From Colmar to Vaison is faster by car (optimistically 3.5 hours) versus 4.5-5 hours for trains to Orange and more for the bus to Vaison. For complete train schedules, without the confusion factor of prices or what any one agent has for sale, see the DB link at How to Look Up Train Schedules and Routes Online.

I think you are going to prefer a car for most of this trip. Google Maps can estimate driving times, or www.viamichelin.com is perhaps more conservative/realistic. Car rental reservations are best made from the USA so that you can reserve a smaller, cheaper model, or be more likely to get what you want. Automatics can cost twice as much. Try www.autoeurope.com for price quotes from a few different companies.

Train tickets are cheaper when booked ahead for most longer rides, but those advance tickets do lock in your exact departure times and often can't be changed. The cheapest rates went on sale a couple of months ago, but either Rail Europe or Capitaine Train are still likely to have some mid-range discounts.

Posted by
909 posts

Anne,
You could join the Rick Steves My Way France tour this summer and leave the driving and accommodations to someone else. This is the first time this particular tour is being offered, and my husband and I are on the second one of the summer. It's typical that most people tack a few days on at the beginning to acclimate to the time zone change and see more of Paris or other cities not included on the tour. We will be going to Normandy before our tour starts. Check it out if you're not familiar with the My Way tours. Takes off a lot of the stress of planning.