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16 days in Paris, Normandy, Provence, Dordogne

What a beautiful trip! I was an exchange student in Poitiers, in the Loire Valley 33 years ago and despite multiple trips to Europe, this was my first time back. It was especially satisfying because I joined a French conversation class and French meet-up six months ago and regained much of my fluency from back in the day. A reminder to me that trips are particularly enjoyable when you can connect with language.

Day 1: SAN to CDG, rented a car and drove to Chartres. Seeing the light show on the Chartre Cathedral was worth the 30 hours awake to make it until 10:30 pm local time.

Day 2: Drove to Bayeux via a Camembert farm in Normandy. I like to find out-of-the-way destinations and set the NAV to local roads a few times per trip. As a result, we stumbled upon the beautiful and crumbling remains of L'Abbaye d'Ouche, an 11th century monastery in the middle of nowhere by a lake, where we had a fabulous picnic with no one else in sight. Saw the Bayeux tapestry that eve at the musuem.

Day 3: D-Day beaches tour with Bayeux Shuttle Company which was wonderful. My grandfather was a French interpreter with Patton's army at Battle of the Bugle and landed in France a few weeks after D-Day so particularly moving for me. Slept in Bayeux.

Day 4: Drove to Giverny. It was packed with people, but it didn't even matter. Everyone was drunk on the scent of roses and it was glorious! Big mistake trying to drop the rental car at Gare du Nord. I'd planned Gare de Lyon, but dh thought Gare du Nord closer. Ended up in horrible traffic...impossible to figure out how to actually get INTO the lot. Happy to have my French! First of 5 nights at our Cobblestones apartment in Le Marais. It was wonderful except for the HEAT. 100 degrees all five days. No A/C of course. New rule: only A/C for summer trips to Europe!

Day 5: Walking tour of Ile de la Cite (Paris Walks) which was wonderful. Jardin du Luxembourg was a fabulous oasis of shade after that. Wonderful Basque dinner (mostly locals) at Au Bascou in Le Marais. Highly recommended.

Day 6: Notre Dame and Orsay Musee. Quick visit to my favorite shop Simrane nearby, where my mom had brought me a bedspread a decade back. Got into trouble there...

Day 7: Rest day after 10 miles of walking and the heat. DH went to the Orangerie, Tuileries, and Sacre Coeur. Came home with major heat stroke. Picked up a picnic dinner (and lunch for the train the next day) on Rue Rambateau.

Day 8: DH still unwell but did make it out for a nice lunch at Fil Au Saison in the Marais that had A/C!! That evening we met up with a couple that we'd intended to do a home exchange with back in 2008. I had to cancel that trip because I was ill, but we decamped to my mom's so their trip wasn't affected even though we couldn't go. Such an enjoyable evening finally meeting them. After dinner, the heat finally cooled and we walked Ile de la Cite with them late in the evening, past all the lit up monuments and kids playing Petanque. (It's not an old man's game anymore apparently!) Best of all: She said we'd be welcome to return for a week in their Paris apartment and a week at their home in Provence since we never got our exchange. I won't have to be asked twice!

Day 9: Fast train to Avignon (two hours. Woah!). The heat had moved south so back to 100 degrees...but infinitely more bearable in our lovely air conditioned Airbnb in St Remy and hopping in and out of an air conditioned car. After checking in, drove to Ile sur La Sorgue for a riverside dinner since we couldn't coordinate for market day. It was nice, but a bit touristy I felt.

Day 10: Beautiful Luberon villages tour. Headed out early to see Abbe de Sennanc for the lavender...a bucket list item and the only reason we went in summer. Stunning. Fortunately, we were leaving just as the tourist buses were arriving.

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Day 10 cont'd: Quick stops in Gordes and Bonnieux and then on to lunch at Closerie d'Ansouis in Ansouis. I'd booked a reservation via Skype at this tiny out-of-the-way Michelin restaurant and it did not disappoint. Easily the most beautiful meal I've ever eaten. Walked off lunch in Anxouis, ducking into a gallery for respite from the heat. Drove through Cucaron, had a drink in Saignan, then through Auribeau with a stop and walk through Roussillon. Passed dozens of lavender fields in bloom. The sunflowers were just starting too. Wow!

Day 11: Lex Baux, La Carmague and Arles--Enjoyed our visit to the castle at Les Baux as well as an excellent lunch at a cafe within the walls. Then Carriere Lumieres in the quarry beneath, which was quite the spectacle. A bit underwhelmed by La Carmague, but we only gave it a few hours. Stopped at the Nature Center recommended by RS but it sounded like we'd need to do quite a bit of driving to find any of the wild ponies or flamingos. Visited the Roman stadium in Arles late afternoon and had an incredible dinner at Chardon, a restaurant owned by a Michelin chef that he reserves for visiting chefs. An Aussie couple were in residence--she's a sommelier, he's a chef--and they cooked the best meal of my life, which cost a total of 60 euros for two. They're next in London and then to Canada on a year of pop-up restaurants!

Day 12: Long drive to Dordogne via a lunch stop in Carcasonne. It was pouring rain so hardly any tourists! Settled into our gorgeous Airbnb in Saint Cyprien.

Day 13: Lascaux caves since I'd been too late to reserve Font de Gaume and we didn't feel like queuing. Bought some foie gras, admired all the farms of geese and drove country back roads the rest of the day.

Day 14: Tasted our way through the market in Sarlat, which was incredible. (I didn't know you couldn't bring home meats! Wasn't a problem from Italy last year. Spent 20 euros on two hams and 4 sausages only to have to toss them into the trash at JFK. Beyond sad.) Had planned to canoe the river but it was pouring so we did a short cruise, then toured Chateau Beynac, drove through Roque-Gagnec and Dome.

Day 15: Gouffre de Padirac. Fun and exotic cave experience. Peaked in the cathedral in Martel and lunched at Autoure on our way home. Relaxed evening.

Day 15: We'd planned to train back to Paris, but it was going to be six hours so we elected to keep the car and drive which afforded us the opportunity to see Chambord en route. (I'd been there as a student all those years ago!) Only problem is that we apparently didn't learn our lesson about dropping the car in Paris after our earlier experience. Stuck in a two hour traffic jam. Next time I will drop the car outside of the city or at the airport! Still, we had a lovely last night in the Latin Quarter, including a Seine Cruise.

Day 16: Back to CDG for our flight home. We'd planned to arrive 3 hours early by Uber, but our hotel talked us into using their shuttle, which arrived 30 min late. (Seems the area hotels split the fee with the shuttle service. Could've Ubered for the same price in far less time. I see the shuttle rec as a real disservice to guests.) She also assured me we'd be the last pick up but we were the first of five all over the city. Plus it was raining. Plus it was 7/1, the day all of France apparently leaves for vacation which meant complete mayhem in the airport. Even arriving 2.5 hours early, we came within 5 minutes of missing our flight! Then waited 2 hours on our JFK-SAN flight due to storms. Exhausting.

But all in all, it was amazing!!! Thanks to so many of you in this forum who helped me plan such a wonderful trip.

Posted by
3580 posts

Great report, Chris. Getting to CDG from Paris, I used to do the Metro/RER combo but have developed bad knees and just take taxis now. To save a few Euros find a taxi stand near your hotel and walk there to get a cab. You can have your hotel call one for 4-7 Euros. I think the higher amount was when I asked the hotel to call the taxi in advance. If you wait until you need the taxi, it may still be 4 Euros extra for the hotel to call the cab. Earlier in the morning, taxi charges are a little more. There is a set charge of 55 Euros to the airport from the left bank, 50 Euros from the right bank. It took about 45 minutes the last two time I took the cab to CDG and I was let out at the correct terminal which saved me a long walk.

Posted by
1557 posts

Lovely report, it must have been an amazing trip. I'm struck by how much you did and all the wonderful restaurants. Did you research the restaurants in advance? I felt I like I experienced the trip with you. I hope you go back and take up the offer for the free apartment in Paris and Provence. Then write another report. Wow, very cool. And, to see the lavender fields. It seems the last couple summers in Europe have been blisteringly hot. I was in Vienna in June -July in 2015 with temps of 95 -98 degrees!
Thanks for writing this report.

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679 posts

Thanks for the report. We leave for London and Paris next week. So excited. The Basque restaurant in the Marais. Did you make reservations? Would a 17 year old (whose grandmother is trying to expand his palate from cheeseburgers and french fries) enjoy it? Sounds like a wonderful find.

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Swan--Actually, we much preferred Uber over taxis. Cheaper and more convenient! I think it would've been about 35 euros to the airport. When we dropped our car on our first day at the airport, we actually planned to get a taxi to Le Marais but the taxi driver quoted us some outrageous price. When I questioned it, he said it was because there was a surcharge as it was Sunday. I walked away, caught an Uber for 1/3 the price. He said there is no surcharge on Sundays!

Judy B—Thanks for your kind comments. For me, the joy of planning a trip is what I do when I'm not traveling so I did do a lot of planning and reading...which is why we did so much. A bit too much. I always try to squeeze too much in...so that home exchange will be perfect for my next trip to France! I credit the restaurants in Ansouis and Chardon in Arles i to Forum members! One person mentioned a podcast that had him wanting to go back to Provence so I listened myself and made a reservation there. Another RS poster mentioned that an RS guide recommended Chardon. The Basque place in Paris was recommended by the owners of our Cobblestones place. They were surprised to see us as it's a locals place! (I love when that happens.)

Nancy—Yes, I think you should take him to Au Bascou. It was a lot of food! We split a five course prix fix dinner and it was plenty. I bet he would go for a meat dish! We had a lovely paella which was different than any other paella...hard to describe but delicious.

Posted by
46 posts

Thanks for sharing this report, Chris!
I'm also in SAN and planning a solo trip to France for next summer. I'll spend the first few days in Amsterdam, then train to Paris for a few days ahead of the FRANCE MY WAY tour.
Could you comment on your flight? Did you transfer in US or Europe?
Thanks for warning about a/c. After reading lots of comments about the HEAT, I'll be sure to find lodging with a/c (not sure what hotels RS Tour will book, but hopefully a fan in the room!).
Happy travels :)

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177 posts

Shawn--We had a Delta flight from SAN TO SLC then Air France (Delta partner) to CDG which was excellent. Love Air France!

On the way home, we went through JFK which wasn't a problem since we had a two hour layover. Although summer storms on the east coast meant we had to wait two hours on the tarmac there, which was exhausting, esp after the whole CDG nightmare. I've heard lots of similar stories about delays at JFK due to summer storms so maybe avoid that airport.