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Three week tour of France report: mid-Sept to early Oct 2021

Last month we were able to take our thrice rescheduled trip to France. It was really a fabulous experience. I had been there years before, but my partner had never. I'm a rather verbose person, so I'll try to 1) keep it shorter, and 2) I will post in two or three parts, following this initial post. I hope it can help others with their planning. We found the “crowds” to be nonexistent- even in Paris. What a great time to go.

A little backstory: I am on immunosuppressing drugs, and have been for almost 2 years (including 18 years of low dose chemo). I had been vaxxed fully with Moderna, and avoiding people and crowds (neither of us are working right now) but I still tested positive and had a symptomatic case exactly 21 days before departure to France. Although 'mild' actually means no urgent care or hospitalization needed, I can say it didn't 'feel' mild. I lost all sense of smell and tasted on the 5th day and was freaking out that I wouldn't be able to taste anything in France! After about 14 days, I felt better, although very fatigued (my running really took a hit pace-wise when I returned) and it did end up causing other problems for me in France, combined with my drugs--which necessitated several visits to the pharmacies and one to a Dr. in Strasbourg. My thoughts on the medical system to follow in the post. (spoiler, very good)

We found France to be immensely beautiful, the people very friendly and welcoming, everywhere, even in Paris. The food was divine, the wine even better, and had very good weather, with just a bit of rain on the front end that didn't bother us at all (except for the drive from CDG to Amboise, where it poured for the first two hours of that drive.) The Pass Sanitaire was asked for 90% of the time, and we felt very safe on the occasions (not tons) where we ate inside. The weather was so lovely that we ate outside much of the time, and picnicked almost every day, either for lunch or dinner. My partner is already researching areas to 'retire' to, haha. A history major, he was in his element.

We rented a car straight out of CDG for 16 days, and it was great. A bit of tense driving in Paris at rush hour the am we landed due to some accidents on the autoroute that was a trial by fire 😆, but otherwise, very easy driving. A very small car, Fiat 500 but we travel extremely light and it was perfect. Very easy and fun to drive, easy to park, great gas mileage. Dropped car in Reims, took the TGV back to Paris, easy peasy. We used the Metro in Paris, and also walked a ton.

Our route was basically:

CDG to Amboise, 2 nights;

the Dordogne for 5 nights;

St Cirque Lapopie for 2 nights;

Carcassone, 1 night;

Nimes, 1 night;

Vienne, 1 night;

Colmar, 1 night;

Ribeauvillé, 1 night;

Strasbourg, 1 night;

then 6 nights in Paris.

It might take me a couple days to post all the info here, but maybe not ha. I'll see how wordy I get!

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Part 1: CDG arrival through the Dordogne Sept 15th arrival through 22nd

Days 1 and 2: Arrived at CDG at 7:10am, off plane and through immigration in 8 minutes. Took longer to walk to EuropeCar place, then 45 minute wait to get car. Off to Amboise. ViaMichelin kept re-routing us due to traffic accidents and traffic, so much that we wasted probably at least a half hour driving through rush hour am Paris traffic and we finally got back on the Autoroute and just manually mapped ourselves with the slow moving traffic. POURING RAIN, ugh, but the last 45 minutes to Amboise were sunny. Got to Airbnb at 1pm, after a couple stops, took a nap for an hour or so, then explored Amboise and then had drinks with a lovely view, sparkling wine provided by our host. Went to bed early. Next day explored Clos Luce, had a sidewalk drink, then the chateau at Amboise, and dinner. We were right in the old town, and a two block walk to a fabulous boulangerie, that is still one of the best of the trip. The quiche and coffee, magnifique! Very uncrowded at all times. We went there for coffee and breakfast just after they opened, around 7:15-7:30, and had the square and streets to ourselves completely, literally. Our Airbnb was excellently located and very comfortable.

Days 3-6: Stayed in another wonderful Airbnb in the medieval part of Beynac. What a prime spot. Private terrace that overlooked the Dordogne, with views of sunrise AND sunset. Unplanned stop on the way in Uzerche and spent a couple hours wandering that lovely town. Very few tourists, we practically had it to ourselves. After arrival, we enjoyed some delicious wine left for us by this host as well, then had a wonderful dinner and wandered up to the chateau after dark. Walking the old part of Beynac, right out of our 14th century building was amazing. We encountered NO ONE and it was as if we were transported back in time. Such amazing memories.
We daytripped to La Roque Gageac, Castlenaud, Domme, Sarlat- the market there was SO fun. We toured the Beynac chateau in the day, and bought a great piece of art (that whew we had a time packaging and shipping, as the dealer didn't do it but we managed!) and took a guided boat tour on the Dordogne. It had rained very hard prior, so was very high and no one was canoeing on it.

Then off to Cahors and Point Valentre and St Cirque Lapopie. We had a picnic on the riverside of Point Valntre, which was very pleasant. In Cahors, we found a craft/party supply store with a very accommodating woman employee who let us cut corrugated wrapping and bubble wrap with her scissors and razor and tape up our package to go, plus she loaned us a sharpie to write our address. We were a sight on the floor there, working hard. Enough that a local french man thought we were employees and asked us for info on where something was, ha! We then found a UPS drop off in a boulangerie, where a teen who spoke very good english helped us get it shipped as it needed a special label and qr code. We bought delicious food there as well, then went on to Au Sombral in St Cirque Lapopie, which I highly recommend. Excellent location, and Marian is very gracious and served us several pots of coffee in the am, along with her delicious breads and pastries. We got up very early and went running, in the fog and it was wonderful. We had walked the town the night before, when it was deserted, then ate an early lunch on the top of the lookout, then went to Pech Merle which was great. By the time we got back, the crowds were leaving and we had a wonderful dinner. By crowds, I mean very few.

Part II to come.

ETA: omg how could I forget Chenonceau 😆 Before Clos Luce, we went to that gorgeous chateau. Were there with pre-bought tix at 9:15 am, barely anyone else there. Had a lovely time, then ate lunch in the picnic area by the parking, again, alone. So nice.

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Thank you for posting. Our 2020 trip that included the Dordogne and Lot River areas was of course postponed. We hope to stay at Auberge du Sombral in 2022. Glad to hear it was a good experience.

And so glad you have recovered from your breakthrough case.

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Thanks for the trip report, Aimee! I look forward to the next chapters. Really appreciate the level of detail.

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Part II: Carcassone, Nimes, and Vienne Sept 23 -25

Alsace (beginning) Sept 26-27

We arrived in Carcassone in the later afternoon, after driving through Albi and a stop in Cordes sur Ciel: it was a fun walk around, it was not very crowded at all. I found a pottery shop there with the most GORGEOUS pottery. He wouldnt ship :sob: so I bought just a few things and he carefully wrapped them for me.

We stayed inside the walls in Carcassone at a RS rec, at Hotel le Don Jon. It was fine. We walked the city in the daylight, had a nice dinner, and then walked down to the point on the bridge to see it lit up. We then hit out fairly early to drive to Pont du Gard. There was almost no one there when we first got there, we did not go to the museum, but we spent a fair amount of time walking under it, noticing the original and then where it was 'added' on to later on. It was really cool.

We got to Nimes I think around 2:30, it was bustling. We stayed in a very meh Airbnb, which was extremely cheap (when I was booking, there wasn't much available) but to be fair, it was very clean and served its purpose, although the building was under construction and it was kind of sketch walking up four flights. There were some very nice doors on the upper floors, and it was smack in the center, about 2 minutes walk from the Arena. We walked around there, visited the aforementioned Arena, Maison Carree, and the Tour Magne. Then we walked back through the Jardin de la Fontaine. It was really pretty, and just nice and relaxing.

Next day onto Vienne, we stayed at Grand Hotel de la Poste. It was funky and fun, and then we walked around Vienne. The cathedral was unfortunately wrapped up quite a bit, but we saw several cool things, and had a nice sidewalk cafe drink on the main drag. During that, we saw a very small protest against masks, where almost everyone just ignored them or watched them with amusement. A young woman went by and yelled something akin to Hooray for masks! in French, and got a round of applause from the crowd. There's a nice laundromat right next to the hotel too.

We hit the road fairly early, and stayed in an Airbnb steps from la Petite Venice in Colmar next, arriving in the early afternoon on a Sunday. We had a grand time walking around Colmar, enjoying all the pretty and interesting houses and shops. We had a pleasant and relaxing drink and snacks along the canal, where we got several "Bon appetit!" and claps from people walking by, apparently wishing they had thought of it. Honestly, one of our favorite things to do once we were settled somewhere was to take a bottle of local wine (is there ANY bad wine in France? I think not!) and accoutrements and just relax a bit in the afternoon wherever we were. Occasionally we cafe-ed it. It was even prettier that night, for dinner and walking around. We really liked it.

We wanted to stay another night but it was booked, so we headed up the Route de Vin early the next morning, starting in Eguishem. We really enjoyed Kayersberg too, went up to the old ruin and we did stop in Riquewihr. Interestingly enough, it was crowded, but no one followed RS's suggestion about entering at #18 on the main drag, to see the collection of 200 year old iron stove plates and the iron signs. The courtyard was empty, as it was around 3pm (maybe?) between lunch and dinner, and we pushed open this immense gate. It was really special to be alone. There's a giant and old wine press back in the corner. It was cool to have it all to ourselves. Either in Keyersberg or Riquewihr, we drove up out of town to a lookout above the vineyards, to see the golden afternoon light. It was very pretty. On we went to Ribeauville, which we really enjoyed. We stayed at Hotel de la Tour, parking was a bit aways but very nice. Right off the main square. We had a picnic dinner, and then walked around some more. In the am, we hiked up to one of the old castle ruins.

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Part III: Alasce (cont), Strasbourg, Verdun Sept 27- 28

In Ribeauville, it became apparent that I was suffering a secondary infection, likely due to the whomping covid gave my immune system, and the weekly high dose of Humira I take. I found a pharmacy there, and a very kind and empathetic pharmacist who gave me some meds, and told me to see a dr if not improved in the next day or so. I found him extremely helpful. Re: the hike up to the first of the three ruins-- it's a decent hike, and the trail really becomes well, a trail. Much like I would find backpacking. If you are unsteady on your feet, re consider, and definitely wear shoes you can navigate rock etc on. It's not a smooth path, and it's a bit of elevation gain. We were the first ones up, and met several people on the way back down coming up. Some had footwear that they were unsure of, as evidenced by their ginger steps.

Strasbourg-- wow. We really loved it. The hotel, Hotel Suisse, was fantastic. We had to park in the big underground garage by the cathedral, but it wasn't a bad walk for us. They let you pull up to unload, but with our light packs, we didn't need to. The ladies at the front were SO NICE, and as my symptoms had gotten worse in fact, when I asked if they could find me a dr they found me one right around the corner. We could see the cathedral from our room. We arrived in early afternoon, and the dr's hours weren't until 5pm so we went into the cathedral. There's a high school right there, and all the students were sprawled out on the square, enjoying the fine weather. What a place to go to school. The colors of the cathedral are stunning. We just couldn't get over it. There was a man playing cello in the square, and as people with season tickets to our symphony (which hadn't played since the pandemic began) we just loved hearing this music in this setting.

Then we walked all around Strasbourg, to see the shipping canals and Little France, and went back to the dr's promptly at 5pm. I entered an old door, into a small waiting room. There were two people ahead of me, and two more came after me. I really loved how everyone said "Bonjour" immediately to everyone entering. Oh how polite and friendly the French are! After about 15 minutes, and some panic as I couldn't understand the dr's rapid-fire French, I finally got to see him. I knew what was wrong, but with my limited French and his non-english, he didn't really understand me. He was very nice, but I didn't get what I needed. I am positive my lack of French is the reason. But it was only 25€- amazing! Unfortunately, my symptoms were preventing me from eating and drinking normally, so it was a bit depressing but we did try to have a nice dinner. As we walked around the city in the dark, we turned the corner and oh my. The cathedral, face on, lit up as you turn the corner is breathtaking. It was one of our favorite moments.

The breakfast by the very kind and concerned ladies the next morning was superb. Way beyond the typical hotel breakfast, and I highly recommend the hotel.

We left early to make Verdun. As I'm hitting the "maximum number of characters", I'll make a new post. So much for my non-wordy report. 🙄

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Part IV: Verdun Sept 29

The day started out nice, but quickly turned grey. Along the autoroute to Strasbourg I forgot to mention, we had an exciting moment where a convoy passed. By the black mercedes with completely tinted windows, the bumper to bumper formation, and the police escort including motorcycles, and a LOT, we figured it was some government higher up from either France or Germany or elsewhere, on the way to possibly the EU parliament. It was very exciting to watch them stop traffic on the on ramps and we felt very Jason Bourne lol.

By the time we got to the town of Verdun, it was raining. It actually helped the somber feeling. We are so glad made this decision to go. We visited the cemetery in the town proper, then drove to the battlefields and the new museum. Then we drove along the battlefields. Honestly, the sight of the cratered ground, the remaining trenches, the vanished town of Fleury-- we were so moved. The museum is EXCELLENT and we could have spent much more time there. The woods seemed different even; I can't describe it, but it's almost like they are watchful sentinels, full of the horror and sadness and tragedy that the ground still holds, as if it's grown up in them. We visited the Wounded Lion, the elephant head near by, and the Ossuary, and Fort Douaumont. The French flag flying in the breeze in front of the ossuary, in that endless sea of white crosses. Well. I can't really describe it. I guess that's what Normandy is like. To us, it made all the WWI memorials that are EVERYWHERE very real, and we ached for the loss France sustained in that horrible war. To see the EU, French and German flags flying together at FD was also very moving, and a touching testament that nations can heal their wounds and move on. It was one of our- well, favorite seems the wrong word, but most memorable days in France.

We reluctantly left and booked it to Reims, as we hoped to catch the 4xxpm train to Paris. We dropped the car, unfortunately we did not have time to see the cathedral, and took the TGV, which was easy and quick. No one asked for our Pass Sanitaire, just our tickets. We arrived at Gare L'Est around 5 or 5:30, and took a taxi to our hotel on Ile St. Louis.

I will do Part V, Paris, tomorrow.

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I love your report, don’t worry about being too wordy. I am sorry for your health concerns and hope you are stable now.

I’m bookmarking to aid in my planning to see this part of France. One of these days. Only thing is I don’t like Airbnb in America so I don’t know if I would feel better about it in France.

Great report!

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Beautiful, fantastic report, Aimee! I'm enjoying it immensely and can't wait for Paris! Magnifique!

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Lovely report! Getting me more excited for my trip to France next April! Hope the crowds stay away!

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Paris: Sept 29-Oct 4

Hoo boy. How do I describe this? Paris was wonderful. We stayed on Ile St Louis, at Hotel Lutece. Our taxi took us to the front door easily. We had drinks at sunset and then dinner at La Flore en I'lle. It's a great spot to watch the sunset and the people. We had a front row seat to the bridge. We revisited a few times for afternoon drinks, and at twice at the St. Regis, where we got to know the owner and a wonderful server. I know the French have a reputation for not really engaging with their clientele in restaurants/cafes, but we definitely felt like we had a connection with them. Probably made the first night, when we went all out and also, in my asking whether the lamps that had a pink glow inside in my poor french were heat lamps, the owner thought I wanted them turned down and we all had a good laugh after that. They have good outdoor tables for drinks and people watching too. The boulangerie right across was surprisingly good, run by a young man in Nike athletic wear. Proof you can't judge a book by it's cover, ha.

We did a LOT of walking everywhere. We walked to almost everything, including the Eiffel Tower one day- that day was almost 16 miles. We picnicked with wine and sandwiches in Luxembourg Gardens, at the Tuileries, (my fave) and occasionally got coffees in the afternoon too. We visited Sainte-Chapelle, (the trial was going on and the National Police have barricades up during trial hours, and we had to show our passports to get through it. We walked through the Sorbonne area, to the Pantheon, we walked pretty much everywhere on each bank, although we metro-ed to the Catacombs, and to Arc d'Triomphe. We did the Orsay, L'Orangerie, Musee d'Armee and Napoleon's tomb. We did NOT do the Louvre, although we walked through it. I've been there, and my partner, while he really wanted to go, decided that he'd like to devote much more time to it that we felt we had. He said we'd save it for our next visit- hard to argue with that!

We also visited the Opera Garnier, Place de la Concorde, the Arc -- which was wrapped a la Christo, and hmm. I'm not sure how I felt about that. I've seen it before, and at night too, and I admit I think I liked it better without, but it was interesting to see it this way. Partner kind of wished it wasn't wrapped, but he still appreciated the size. It's really hard to remember all the things. We walked most of the Marais, too, and had a wonderful lunch at Carette. Worth all the hype, imo. We liked the Catacombs, for something different, and we also saw a very nice concert at Sainte Chapelle on Saturday night. We had done the Orsay prior, then it started raining and we were in St Germain neighborhood to stay close, and found this great cafe with a view of St Germain des Pres (which we also visited) under an awning, and had a really enjoyable time. You're packed so close, and most of the time, people keep to themselves, but sometimes you just end up having fun with your 'neighbors'. We really appreciated the quiet 'formality' of Paris; it is very vibrant, and engaging, yet relaxed, and just, I don't know, accepting. We loved how the cyclists, cars and pedestrians all moved in tandem, and the one near miss between cyclists was so politely handled in 2 seconds. Most big cities operate in some ways like this, but there's just something special about Paris. Maybe it's the ambiance, who knows.

We spent a lot of time just soaking it in. We would wander streets, eating and drinking as we felt, and found a fabulous place, coffee and such by day, cocktails by night. It had been raining, and the eclectic interior, with awesome jazz, and all ages inside, from young fashionable couples to a family to a group of young women just made it fun. It was literally the best coffee of anywhere in France we'd had. it was L'Hirondelle, and mmm. Highly recommend!

To be cont

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Paris: part II

We also did a night boat trip with Vedettes du Pont Neuf, LOVED it. Perfect way to see the lights of Paris at night, although we also enjoyed walking around at night. We did some picnicking on the banks of the Seine, and watched a street dancer making a video. We found two artists, who we bought little paintings from. The one gentleman, when I turned to my partner and he said "I don't have any cash", as it was the second to last day, ran off (to get a coffee it turned out.) I really wanted the pic, so partner ran off too to the atm. When the painter returned, he was aghast I'd waited and that he'd left. He ended up giving us a second painting, and even walked it to our hotel as we had tickets for the catacombs and couldn't be late. He drew us a wonderful cat on the envelope and signed it. TBH, I know about the photocopy scams, so I was careful to check and see if any of the colors would run if wet (they did), and you could hold them up to the light and see all of it was clearly painted, and not just a few strokes here and there. I love both of the paintings from both artists.

-- medical break to finish the pharmacy/medical thing: I ended up going to the pharmacy three more times. Two older women, one older man. I knew what I needed, based on the first female pharmacist I talked to in Paris. I unfortunately needed more, and the older man refused to give it to me, insisting I needed a dr's scrip. I admit to being so frustrated to the point of near tears. My partner said to me "We're finding a female pharmacist. Come on". And we did, and she gave me enough of the med to last me until I got home and had a dr appt scheduled. Thank goodness. She saved my trip!

It was really a perfect ending to a wonderful trip. I'm sure I'm forgetting tons of things, (see Chenonceau above 🙄) but it's been almost a month now. I'm just recovering from the secondary infection I developed, so it's taken me a bit to get to this. The architecture is so fabulous, and partner was stunned at how big the Louvre was. Same with Palais de Justice.

My partner was also intrigued that we saw no police, other than at the trial area. In most big American cities, you see them everywhere. Frankly, it didn't seem needed in Paris. I'm sure maybe they were there, and we just didn't see them, but I think we walked somewhere around 60 miles in Paris and never saw any but at the Palais de Justice, due to the trial.

Paris is just a wonderful city, with so much to do, yet very easy to relax in. It was really uncrowded, even on the metro, and especially at the museums. Imo, it's a fabulous time to travel. We saw less than 5 American tourists, mostly French, some German, and a few Brits. We also really appreciated the non-issue masks are there- No one fussed at wearing them, at showing vax proof with the pass, I mean, NO ONE. Everyone just does it. Very refreshing change from here in the U.S.

I'm so grateful we got to go. Life is very short, and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Even in the pandemic, medical care is high quality there, and I wouldn't be deterred by that fear at all. I know most of us already know that, just bears repeating for those that are worried.

Vive la France!

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Great trip report, am enjoying reading it very much indeed. Thanks. Yes, the mask is a non-issue in France. I too would have applauded with the crowd when the young French woman yelled out in approval re: the wearing of the mask.

"...Paris is just a wonderful city...." It is, isn't it? C'est un endroit.

"...the French and German flags flying together...." Bravo ! In 1986 at the 70th commemoration of the horrific battle of Verdun, the French President Mitterand (a Socialist, if that is supposed make any difference), invited his West German counterpart, Chancellor Kohl (of the conservative CDU) to participate in this remembrance and reconciliation, (the Germans call this "Aussoehnung") which goes back to 1963 when this enlightened policy was initiated by De Gaulle with Adenauer. Mitterrand and Kohl in 1986 at Verdun was a first, with both heads of state in attendance.

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"...the WW1 memorials (that) are EVERYWHERE...." So very, very true. You do see them literally everywhere...Versailles, Reims, Albert/Somme, in the villages the size of pin head on a map. From Arras to Ypres the cemeteries (British) keep increasing the further north you go.

I don't recall a village where I went through that did not have some sort of WW1 memorial in the town square, main street, or along side of the road. The large British WW1 cemetery is in Arras.

In Lorraine going from Verdun to Metz you see along the side of the road the German gravesites with their black crosses from 1870 and WW1. The Prussian military cemetery is in Gravelotte, a village west of Metz which I saw in 1999.

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Aimee, thanks for sharing your wonderful experience despite some of your medical challenges. You are certainly an inspiration to those who are planning their next journey! Be well & keep traveling! Merci.

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Love reading this report Aimee……hubby and I LOVE Paris as well… glad to see that you stayed on the Ile St. Louis in Hotel Lutece….we always do as well and love that location. We see the o get our walking in too as its so easy to take off and not even realize that you quickly have 3-4 miles under your belt before you know it. Thank you for all of the words and sharing!

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Aimee, thanks for sharing your wonderful experience despite some of your medical challenges. You are certainly an inspiration to those who are planning their next journey! Be well & keep traveling! Merci.

I don't know about an inspiration, but what I've learned is that life happens whether you stay home or not. I would have developed this infection regardless of whether I had canceled my trip or gone, like I did. "Stuff happens", and I would obviously consider things differently if I were traveling to a country with less medical resources readily available, say like Africa, etc (I hope that is taken the way I mean it). In those circumstances, it is wiser to have contingencies and plans that are beyond somewhere like a EU country like France or Germany. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, let alone next spring etc. I just want to do as much as I can while I still can.

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Thanks for sharing your trip with us, Aimee!
I agree with Janis, IMO you are an inspiration to many!
There’s nothing worse than getting sick when traveling so far for home, but you managed to roll with the punches and carried on with your plans. I think you’re amazing!

Thanks for writing such a magnifique trip report!

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I’m not really a fan of downplaying one’s feelings/grief/struggles in the name of “it could always be worse”, because I think these are valid, and sitting in it, recognizing it, allowing yourself some grace is more than ok. It’s necessary.

That said, some years ago I was on a regular run, that was a fairly difficult one in terms of elevation and such. I was feeling quite sorry for myself, it was one of those mornings where I was super stiff and just feeling the effects of a chronic disease. As I was approaching the top of the worst hill, I came upon a man, roughly my age, who was really struggling physically with major disabilities. I don’t know if he’d had an accident, stroke, born that way- it didn’t matter. He greeted me with such a cheerful attitude, I was instantly ashamed of myself, because at that moment those struggles of mine seemed so inconsequential. That was one of the moments I learned I wanted to really live and do what I could. It really helped my perspective, which needed some adjustments.

We all just do what we can!