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France in 2 weeks- please help!!!

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Hello,

My daughter (10) and I are arriving in Paris in 2 weeks for our first time visit to France, and I am trying to do the last minute planning and bookings. I am having a hard time finalizing the itinerary as there is so much to see and do, and I am desperately trying to not spend all our time on trains, which will be our only mode of transportation. All comments and suggestions for the itinerary are much appreciated.

Paris- 5 nights, we have accommodations booked.
Loire Valley- 2 nights. Arrive early in the day but can't decide where to stay, Amboise or Tours? Dtr wants to spend time at one of the castles playing on da Vinci's working models, and we wouldn't mind seeing another castle or two.
Sarlat- 3 nights, accommodations booked.
Provence- 3 nights. Not sure where to stay, or how long? Once again, can't decide between Arles, Avignon, Aix... I've read threads, posts, but am none the wiser for it ;) I checked the train schedule, and depending on where we decide to stay, the earliest we would arrive would be around 16:00 hrs or later, thus not leaving too much time for exploring on that day. I'd like to see the lavender fields if its not too late in mid-August, the rest of the time we are happy just wondering and exploring around town. Ideally, I'd love to see small towns, villages.
Menton- Not sure why I picked this one over some other ones on coast. 3 nights. no accommodation booked yet.
Annecy or Colmar for 2 nights? Realistically, most of the first day would likely be spend traveling, so there would only be one day for exploring the city. Or given the time crunch is it better to leave it out and spend extra time somewhere else?
Back to Paris for the last 2 nights.

Could you also share your thoughts on whether its better to bring one small suitcase (my daughter's, carry on) and me carry a backpack, or both of us bring a suitcase. I am worried that if the walk turns out to be a long one I will get stuck with her suitcase as well ;) I've read one of the posts on this forum and am leaning towards the backpack.

Any other ideas and suggestions, especially the Must See! in these areas, are welcome.

Thanks so much

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    No - I would not bring a backpack - they are way to subject to having things stolen from them - since you have no clue what is happening behind you. If her suitcase is too much for her daughter then just reduce the amount of time she has to deal with it. When not on the train hop cabs to get to hotels - avoiding the need for her to schlep it with her on public transit. And check the bags so you don;t have to haul them to and fro in airports.

    As for your itinerary - have you looked into getting around in these areas. Trains are not great in the Loire - don't go to most of the chateaux - you will either need a tour or to hire a car. As for your daughter "playing" on Da Vinci's working models - there are a couple that can be operated - but most are displays only and not toys. And you will find them in the Clos Luce in amboise - a good site for a hotel since it has a fair number of hotels and restaurants as well a the Clos and the chateaux. The Amboise Chateaux is really more of a fortress (military buiding for defense of the town) than a true chateux (pleasure palace).

    For Provence I would stay at a place with a beach rather than a more historical town - but you know your daughter's likes/dislikes best.

    You are VERY late trying to get lodging and I would encourage you to do so immediately - making sure you pick places with AC (many don;t have it) since it seems that this will be a very warm summer. Also, find a place with a pool wherever possible.

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    Hi Sivan,

    first of all, welcome to Fodors! I hope you find the information you want here, and a warm welcome too.

    sounds like a great trip with you and your DD, albeit a bit busy for some tastes as I think that you are beginning to see as well with your comment about Annecy/Colmar; I agree that it's probably not worth the extra travel time and effort just for one day, and I think that you would be better spending the extra time in the SoF, where there is a lot to see and you are already short of time.

    Given your DD's interest in Leonardo, it makes sense to stay in Amboise which is a fine and convenient base for the Loire but as you only have 2 nights you aren't going to have much time to explore the area anyway.

    and do you realise that it's going to take at least 5 hours and 3 trains to get to Sarlat? and your onward journey to the SoF is going to take most of a whole day - I have found one train from Sarlat to Arles with only one change at Bordeaux arriving at 2pm but you have to leave at 6am, which may not go down too well with your DD.

    train timetables and costs can be seen here:

    http://uk.voyages-sncf.com

    Good luck!

  • Report Abuse

    "Tours" to Sarlat is just under 5 hours with only one 30 minute change in Libourne.

    One would take the originating train from the St.-Pierre-des-Corps station in Tours, not the main Tours station. They are only 5 minutes apart so it saves a transfer starting at St..Pierre.

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    Both the Dordogne and inland Provence are best seen by car. And the Loire would be easier.

    I find your itinerary very tight; you haven't allowed for transportation time between stops. Assuming that you don't plan to drive, your trip is even more crowded, because it will be difficult to see the sights -- like the lavender fields -- by public transportation. You can pick up local tours to fill in, but I'm not sure of the availability of these in (and to) smaller towns.

    The French Riviera part of Provence has very good public transportation along the coast, though Menton is not very central. Unless you want to go into Italy. Nice would be a better base.

    Is your daughter's bag not a roll aboard? If not buy her one, a lightweight one. She should be able to handle that

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    If your daughter has a special interest in da Vinci, you should stay in Amboise. You can get there direct from Paris gare d'Austerlitz in only a couple hours or less. They do have some da Vinci models in his residence there (Clos Luce), but I rather doubt they allow visitors to play with them as they are displays (although they are reproductions). Perhaps you know more about that than I.

    You are only there 2 nights, anyway, so you could spend one day in Amboise and another seeing another chateau. You do not have to rent a car or take a tour to see other chateaux, there are some accessible by train and/or bus. You can get to Blois from Amboise by direct train in only 20 minutes, for example, and the chateau there is walkable from the train station. You can easily take a taxi to Chenonceau from Amboise, it is only 12 km away (about 7 miles). By train, you'd have to go back through Tours. There is also a bus line but that takes a long time due to changes and schedule is infrequent, so I wouldn't try that route.

    As for Provence, any of those 3 cities would be fine, but no one else can decide for you, I'm afraid. It's just a personal choice or preference. If you can't decide, I'd choose Avignon as I think it is more central and will have the best transportation options. Tourist office will have info on any day bus tours to rural areas, I'm sure. It's a fun city, I like it. Not sure lavender will be good viewing by then, if any is not harvested (in that area, might b e some in Sault but that's too far away for you). It is true Arles is closer by train to Sarlat, though, but not as convenient for other reasons IMO if you want to do things east of the Rhone.

    Your itinerary seems rather ambitious given you haven't even made reservations or figured out where you'll stay. Sarlat is pretty far away from Provence. It takes 8-10 hours to get to there from Sarlat by train and a couple transfers. I'd drop Sarlat entirely myself since you have an interest in Provence and Menton. Even if you have something booked, I'd cancel and forget that whole thing, since you have no other bookings yet. I presume you didn't prepay for your stay, of course. Otherwise, I'd drop the whole Menton thing and go back to Paris from Avignon or wherever you are. I'd forget Annecy and Colmar, also. Then it would be Loire, Sarlat, Provence, back to Paris.

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    Oh yes - too many destinations, too much time spending for travelling. It is not just the time for the train rides - you have to pack, go to the station, ride the train, leave the next station, check into your next hotel etc. - it is time-consuming and strenuous.

    Let's go into details. 5 nights for Paris is o.k.

    2 nights for the Loire which means 1 1/2 days is a sacrilege. The only option for you is staying in Amboise. You will see the castle (which is, to be frank, second-rank) and Clos Luce, Leonardo's mansion and museum.

    Train travel to Sarlat takes at least 6 hours. Sarlat is a beautiful historic town (there are others, similarly beautiful, in France). The main attraction in the region are the prehistoric caves, especially Peche Merle. Without a car, you have to organize transportation to the cave.

    Then Provence. Provence is very beautiful, full of attractions - ancient Roman ruins, medieval cathedrals, the Papal Palace in Avignong, scenery, beaches...

    After your hurried itinerary, I would strongly suggest to spend the remainder of your time in Provence only. I personally love the Côte d'Azur but I would suggest skipping Menton. Spend the time in Provence, recover from your itinerary, enjoy the beautiful scenery, see the sights, have a swim in the Mediterranean Sea - and take the TGV back to Paris to fly home.

    BTW, in Provence, Arles would make a very good base - with many sights in town and good access to other attractions in the region. Think about renting a car for a couple of days.

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    Just shaking my head--2 weeks and still no itinerary nailed down.
    Do as suggested above--expand your times in the places you already have listed and don't add another.
    Rent a car somewhere.
    I think Avignon is a good base for Provence--or very near there.
    Don't miss a street market somewhere.

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