Third Trip To Europe With Children - France 2009

(Note; Anyone interested in following our upcoming trip to Italy in a few weeks, or in a more detailed record of our more recent trips can send me a Personal Message and I will be happy to share our family travel blog address) Since we succeeded (just barely) to come home from Scandinavia in 2008 without debt, I knew it was at least possible that we could return to Europe again the following summer if we kept to our frugal ways both at home and while traveling. Although we loved the experience we had in Scandinavia, we definitely did not want to repeat the pacing of that trip. We wanted to return to having week-long rentals as much as possible. After some thought (and the realization that France has A LOT of rentals to choose from - and the tiny bit of French my wife remembers from college) we decided that France would be our target for 2009. We bought our plane tickets using IcelandAir again because we were very satisfied with the experience we had the year before - plus they fly into Paris. Rather than using an open-jaw flight like we did so effectively in Scandinavia, we decided that since we wanted to do a roughly circular route in France, we could stick with flying in and out of Paris. At this point, our children were 13, 10 1/2 and 6 1/2. (continued...)

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1507 posts

(Continued...) Since we were so enthusiastic about week-long rentals as well as numerous locations around France, we were left with a bit of a scheduling problem; there was simply no way to get to as many places as we wanted to get to in just three weeks, staying in any one place for a week (much less MORE than one place for a week). The solution presented itself when I realized how much money we would be saving by traveling slow vs the way we traveled in Scandinavia. We would cook our own meals and use a rental car instead of rail passes. Since traveling that way is so cost-effective, we could afford to add time without it really adding costs. We would spend 30 days. We decided early on to end the trip with a week in an apartment in Paris, because that would put us there during Bastille Day. What better way to end a trip with children than a huge fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower! But that meant that we had to begin our trip by leaving Paris right away. We went from CDG to the city just to catch the TGV to Colmar in the northeast. From Colmar, part of Switzerland is practically on the way to Provence, so we decided to spend two nights in Mürren also. So here is the whole itinerary; 2 nights in Colmar (rent car for three weeks) 2 nights in Mürren, Switzerland 6 nights in a rental in Provence (near Vaison-La-Romaine) 1 night in Carcassonne on the way to... 7 nights in a rental in the Dordogne 1 night in Amboise in the Loire Valley 1 night in Chinon in the Loire Valley 1 night on Mont St Michel 1 night in Honfleur (return car while in Chartres the next day)
7 nights in a rental in Paris It turned out to be a perfect combination of long stays and short stays, allowing us to see A LOT of different spots without ever feeling rushed. (continued...)

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1507 posts

(continued...) Colmar was delightful - a fantastic place to chill out and get over jet lag, yet still see some really cute towns. The drive into Switzerland was easy. We stopped in Bern long enough to stroll the center and have lunch before continuing on past Interlachen and into the valley to Mürren. The evening we arrived was lovely with amazing views, but it rained lightly the whole next day. Even though we did hike a little, it prevented us from really enjoying what the area has to offer. Note to others; give yourself more than one full day there. We then drove south, back into France, stopping in Annecy for lunch, on our way to our rental in Provence. The tiny village of Crestet was such a perfect place as a home base for day trips by car. We made it around the Cote du Rhone, the Luberon, Marseilles and Cassis, Arles, Avignon and the Pont du Gard. What an amazing place! I would love to return again some day. We deliberately chose to cut the week-long rental short by one day in order to spend that last night in Carcassone on the way to the Dordogne. Rick Steves' suggestion to arrive late and leave early served us well. We enjoyed our time in Carcassone (staying at the youth hostel there) rather than simply surviving it. The Dordogne was wonderful in a completely different way. Although we took a couple of longer drives to catch more distant sites (like Racamadour), overall we stayed closer to our home base (with a pool!) located just a 1/2 mile from the river and just a few miles from Sarlat. We did the classic family canoe float down the river with castles around every corner. We scheduled our trip to occur early June to mid-July precisely because that made the rentals about 40% cheaper than just a few weeks later. We saved over $1500 overall simply by traveling a month earlier than usual. (continued...)

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1507 posts

(continued...) We then took the unusual step of doing four consecutive 1-night stays between the Loire Valley and Normandy. Ordinarily, I wouldn't be a proponent of scheduling things that way, but sandwiched between two week-long stays, it actually worked quite well. Miraculously, we managed to find a single hotel room (a couple were actually multi-room rooms) for each of the 1-night stays. We saw Mont St Michel in much the same way we saw Carcassonne - arriving late and leaving early to avoid the day-trippers. Staying on the island - while expensive - was clearly the best way to do it. The food was awful though. Pack sandwiches... We did the Normandy beaches and American Cemetery all in one day on the way to Honfleur. Then drove to Giverny the next morning to see Monet's Garden before noon. Then we drove an hour to Chartres to see the cathedral and drop the car rental. A late afternoon train took us into Paris for our week-long rental there. The apartment in Paris was tiny and a tad shabby, but adequate, and most importantly, had a great location, just a 2-minute walk to Notre Dame. While in Paris we spent a day at Versailles, but otherwise just did all the typical sites in the city - most of which we simply walked to from our apartment. I loved going to the Monoprix every couple of days to get supplies for our meals, knowing that we weren't spending much more on food in Paris than we would be at home. "Foodies" would cringe at the thought. But this is how a family of five can afford to spend a week in paris - a tiny apartment and Monoprix food. We were in Paris, after all! Bastille day was the perfect ending to an almost perfect trip. 30 days in France wound up costing exactly the same overall as the 21 days we spent in Scandinavia, and we got to see so much more, yet in a much more relaxed way.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1346 posts

These are great trip reports, Randy. I can't wait to read your blog posts from Italy.

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1050 posts

Thanks for posting, Randy. I too am looking forward to reading about your Italy trip.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3196 posts

I really enjoy reading your trip reports Randy, especially this one because I love France. Thank you for taking the time!

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1507 posts

Thanks all. Though I would hesitate to choose a favorite among our last several big trips, this one to France had the best pacing. That, combined with great sites and good weather left really pleasant memories. We purposely chose to pace this summer's trip to Italy in much the same way. I hope it has the same effect.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1507 posts

We leave for Italy in 10 days! Trip reports will follow, as will daily blog entries. Send a PM if you would like to follow along.