France the Rick Steves way - September, 2013

- - The post has been added on behalf of Robert by the Webmaster - - My wife and I first visited France in 1991, following the guidance and itinerary provided by Rick Steves' 2 to 22 days in France. We've been to France (as well as some other European countries) several times since then. This year, we decided to visit France again, mostly following the route suggested by the original 2 to 22 days... but modified by our own experience. The first step was the purchase of the latest Rick Steves France guide book, and then booking accommodationsa process that was much easier than back in the pre-internet days.
We arrived from Toronto at the Charles de Gaulle airport early in the morning, picked up our rental car, and drove to Giverny, about an hour's drive, where we visited Monet's garden. We stayed that night in Giverny at La Musardiere. One thing I've learned from previous trips is to schedule no more than about an hour's driving after arriving. On one occasion, I had a four hour drive, and that was definitely too much; I had to drink lots of coffee and really concentrate while driving.

Posted by Webmaster
Edmonds, WA, USA
241 posts

Our next stop was the Loire valley. We decided to stay in Chinon (Hotel Diderot), an alternative to Amboise that was not mentioned in the original 2 to 22 days book, but which we liked even more. We stayed in Chinon for two nights, which allowed us to explore the area, and visit one of the chateaux. Then on to what is probably our favourite part of France: the Dordogne. We stayed there (Vezac, Le Lys de Castelneaud) for three nights. Then on to Carcassonne (Chambre le Grand Puis), where we stayed one night. (The only one-nighter other than Giverny.) Our next stop was Avignon (Hotel Medieval, two nights). We had previously stayed in Arles, and we liked Avignon even more. One of the most impressive things we saw on our trip was the Illuminations sound-and-light show in Avignon. And then a three-hour drive to Nice, where we turned in the rental car and stayed for three nights (Hotel Gounod). I've driven a bit in Paris, and I must say that the driving in Nice is even more challenging: cars and pedestrians seem to pay little attention to traffic laws. Finally, we took the "bullet train" to Paris, where we stayed for five nights (Hotel Bourdonnais) before flying home.
The hotels we stayed at (and most of the restaurants where we ate) were all ed on the basis of Rick Steves' France book, and they were very much as described. Having the guide book with us had one tangible benefit: in the writeup on Hotel Le Bourdonnais Rick says that the hotel has promised free breakfasts for those who show the guide book. And so it was: a full American style breakfast was free each morning. That's 15 Euros per person, a saving of 150 Euros over the five-day period.

Posted by Webmaster
Edmonds, WA, USA
241 posts

As I said, the hotels we stayed at were as described by Rick's guide book; they were all pleasant and comfortable. Our favourite by far was Le Lys de Castelnaud, in Vezac, near La Roque Gageac. The room itself, furnished in medieval style, was lovely, but what made the experience special was our hostess, Nathalys. Charming, full of joi de vivre, and with a most welcoming attitude, Nathalys made the experience of staying at Le Lys de Castelnaud very special and memorable. We had a great time in France, and managed not to be victims of pickpockets and the "dropped ring" scam. The food was always good, and at the restaurants we ate at, very reasonably priced. Of course, there's a lot of variability, and at one restaurant that had a very tasty 15 Euro three-course Menu we were shocked to find that a simple cafe au lait was 5 Euros.
As it was back in 1991, Rick's guide book on France continues to be an essential tool for planning a trip to France. Given the sheer number of facts and changes from the time the book goes to press to the time that people undertake a trip, some errors/omissions are unavoidable. When we arrived at Gare de Lyon in Paris and got on the No.87 bus that Rick recommends taking to the Rue Cler area where our hotel was, we found out that the bus does not go there on Sundays, which is when we were there. Never mindthe friendly bus driver told us where to get off, which bus to take from there, and gave us transfer tickets. Who says that Parisians are unfriendly??

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Hi Webmaster - glad to see a trip report from you here! What did you think of the medieval ruins at Carcassonne and La Roque? I used RS's Paris book to plan my 2012 trip with my sister and even though I was in Paris in 2007, the book came in extremely handy. It helped me plan the 2012 trip the "right" way, basically in terms of everything: planning a museum-visiting schedule based on closed days, finding 2 great hotels, getting to Versailles on the RER-C, etc.

Posted by Wray
Boston, ma, usa
157 posts

Robert, This sounds like a wonderful route and trip. I might follow your lead.

Posted by Robert
Thornhill, Ontario, Canada
1 posts

As he said in a posting, the Webmaster very kindly posted my report on France; he can't be held responsible for its content ;-) I took LOTS of photos on our trip, but have only made a start on posting them on a web site. These are some of the ones taken at Versailles: http://www.pbase.com/phile/versailles_2013&page=all. When I get around to it, I'll post ones taken in the Loire Valley, Dordogne, Carcassonne, etc. and provide links here. About the route: I had originally planned to drive all tha way from Paris to Nice and then back to Paris by way of Beaune and Annecy. But as I thought more about it, I kept thinking what a long drive that is. Taking the train from Nice to Paris made that part of the trip much less stressful, and gave us an extra day to spend in Paris. The TGV was a bit of a disappointment, though. I remember taking one of these trains from Paris to Geneva, and it seemed quite luxorious. When I booked this train I had in mind images from movies involving the Orient Express. This was just an ordinary train, with no restaurant car, just a snack bar. Still, it was peasant enough, and fast. Robert

Posted by Webmaster
Edmonds, WA, USA
241 posts

Hi Sarah, the trip report isn't actually mine. A fellow contributor was having some trouble so I posted it on his behalf. I'm hoping he'll add a reply here so that he can take recognition for this great write-up. I've been to France several times myself... maybe I'll write about one of my trips sometime. ;)

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

"maybe I'll write about one of my trips sometime."

Webmaster, that would be great if you do! I'd love to read it!