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Need help extending plan beyond France

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Please help me, I'm paralysed by indecision planning my vacation (yes I know this silly and that most people in the world have many more serious problems !!).

Originally I was going to spend approximately 4 weeks in france from the start of May, however due to work commitments I had to delay my trip, so now my trip will begin in late May. Fortunately I've been able to extend my trip by another 10 days or so.

I'm pretty confident with my France plan (although I'm happy to receive suggestions). The outline is

Paris (7 nights) Visit usual attractions plus day trips to Versaille and Giverney
Bayeux (3 nights) include day trips to Normandy landing sites and Mont St Michel
Amboise (3 nights) visit Chateaus. (Also thinking about adding nights and staying in Chinon)
Sarlat-la-Candeda (3 nights)
Carcassonne (2 nights)
Collioure (1 night)
Avignon (4 nights)
Nice (5 nights)

(my trip was going to end here). The logical extension would be to visit parts of Italy such as Florence and Venice, however I have visited there before. But, I haven't visited Rome and anywhere South of Rome. So I'm wondering about travelling from Nice to Rome (long day on a train) spending some time in Rome and then looking at some more relaxing parts of Italy along the adriatic coast ? I also haven't been to the Amalfi Coast.

The other options I was looking at were Spain or possibly Switzerland (both of which I've never visited before) or even a part of Germany or Austria.

I have quite a strong preference for Scenery and outdoors over busy cities and museums. I love landscapes and old castles and the like. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy looking around big cities (in limited doses). Also I really enjoy swimming and I'm guessing the weather is going to really be heating up, so it would be good if I could visit some lakes or seaside locations where I can have a chance to swim and cool off.

Thanks for any suggestions !

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    A natural extension of your trip would be s sidetrip to Northern Spain from Collioure (which is very close to the border).

    You will love the rugged coastline of the Costa Brava aroud Cap de Creus (the local Salvador Dali called it "a delirium of a landscape"). Cadaques is perhaps Spain's most beautiful "white town". There is a lot of art connected with Salvador Dali like his eccentric home in Port Lligat and a museum in Figueres.

    In the area, there is also the medieval castle of Perelade which gives you the impression of a typical Spanish castle. (There is also a winery making excellent white and sparkling wines.)

    You can easily extend your trip to Barcelona - a city which has a lot to offer.

    Another easy extension would be northern, not southern Italy. From Nice, you easily reach Torino, Milano and the beautiful North-Italian lakes:

    - Lake Garda has a steep coast which is as dramatic as the Amalfi Coast. The coastal road in the Northern section of Lake Garda is incredibly scenic, which picturesque historic villages like Limone and splendid villas.

    - Lake Como is also scenic (albeit not as dramatic as Lake Garda) but has the most magnificent villas and gardens on its shores.

    - Lago Maggiore has Isola Bella with an incredible palace on it.

    If you want to see Rome I would suggest to take a flight from Nice to Rome.

    Otherwise, I have a few tips for your itinerary:

    - You want to spend a lot of time in Paris. You may cut one or two nights in order to have more time at other places.

    - On the way to Bayeux, make sure to see Rouen and Honfleur (both picturesque historical towns) and the dramatic chalk cliffs of Etretat (you will have a rental car, will you?).

    - In Amboise, try to add one night. You will be amazed by the multitude and by the variety of castles in the region. Must-sees are Chenonceaux, Chambord, Azay-le-Rideau. For a completely different style, you may also visit Loches.

    - In Sarlat, I would probably cut one night. The main attractions in the area are the cave Peche-Merle with prehistoric paintings and the old town of Sarlat.

    - If possible, add a night in Avignon. The wealth of Roman remnants in the area is breathtaking: Nimes, Arles, Orange, Pont-du-Gard, Les Antiques... Besides, it is a pleasure to drive the small roads through the beautiful countryside.

    - Nice has a big-city feeling. There are other places on the Côte d'Azur. Antibes is a smaller town and would make a perfect base for daytrips in all directions. Also Cannes or the hinterland of Cannes might make a good base. The most scenic stretch of the coastline is between St. Raphael and Cannes. The coastal road is one of the most scenic drives on the planet. I would also recommend hiking in the coastal mountains - you will have dramatic views.

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    Thoughts
    You might prefer Saumur over Chinon (i do)
    You are probably short changing Bayeux and environs (add a day)
    I might look at the Picos in Northern Spain and the whole run of scenery either along the north coast, Bilbao or in the hinterland would make a good holiday and east to access from your present route. Alt. you could look at Barcelona and the countryside around there.

    Switzerland, well can be good in the country. If it were me I might go to say the Jura and south in the French alps for the same sort of scenary without the price tag. You'll need a car for this.

    Germany, from France the whole Mosel/Pfalz/Black forest plus a bit of Alsace would make a could hill/mountain/river/castle sort of trip.

    Austria, sure but instead why not Slovenia or the Dolomites in Italy.

    Decisions. If it were me I'd have to think about other holidays coming and plan a way of covering the whole place. :-)

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    Staying in France, you might want to go to Brittany from Bayeux before catching on the rest of your trip.
    Brtittany is all about landscape and some dolmens, menhirs and other celtic souvenirs.
    I suppose there are some castles too.

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    What about the Spanish Basque country, bordering France? Beautiful landscapes, fabulous coastline, excellent beaches, pictoresque villages and the finest food. Also cities such as vibrant Bilbao, Belle epoque and seaside San Sebastian and inland Vitoria: http://tourism.euskadi.eus/en/

    The 11th century Butrón Castle: http://www.viator.com/Basque-Country-attractions/Castle-of-Butron/d798-a2535

    "Castle and Cars": http://www.tripadvisor.co.za/ShowUserReviews-g227874-d7142405-r164317890-Torre_Loizaga-Vizcaya_Province_Basque_Country.html#REVIEWS

    The 500 years old Arantzazu sanctuary in Oñati, and the university from 1540: http://www.euskoguide.com/places-basque-country/spain/onati-arantzazu-tourism/

    The "Castle rock", San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: http://www.euskoguide.com/places-basque-country/spain/san-juan-de-gaztelugatxe/

    Major international airport in Bilbao: http://www.aena.es/csee/Satellite/Aeropuerto-Bilbao/en/Home.html

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    There a lots of flights from Nice to Rome, and from there it is not difficult to continue on the Amalfi coast. So you might consider that kind of travel day: Fly to Rome, continue on to the Amalfi, and ultimately end your trip in Rome to fly home.

    Given that you don't much like cities, something to which you might give serious consideration is to fly to Rome, and then take the train to Salerno, and continue on Paestum for 2 or 3 nights there before continuing on to the Amalfi by bus or ferry. You might also consider spending some nights on one of the islands (or two of the islands!) before heading back to Rome to fly home. Obviously, if you do all that, you are not going to have time to see anything in Rome -- so if you want to see Rome, then spend less time (or none!) in the other places I mentioned.

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    personally, I think that you are not staying long enough in the places you have already mentioned from excluding Paris, Avignon and Nice.

    <<Bayeux (3 nights) include day trips to Normandy landing sites and Mont St Michel
    Amboise (3 nights) visit Chateaux. (Also thinking about adding nights and staying in Chinon)
    Sarlat-la-Candeda (3 nights)
    Carcassonne (2 nights)
    Collioure (1 night)>>

    By the time you've factored in travelling times and your planned day trips, you are not actually allowing yourself very long in any of these areas. I would definitely add another stop in the Loire and stay for 3 nights in Saumur. Then I would double the nights spent in or near Sarlat, or choose another base in the Dordogne and add 3 nights there. 2 nights in Carcassonne is probably ok [I might choose 1 just to be able to see it without all the trippers] but then I would want to stay longer in or near Collioure.

    From there i would go to Spain - an obvious choice - unless you just spend more time between Collioure and Avignon. i would also leave Italy for another trip.

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    I disagree with the need to spend much time in Collioure, unless you feel like kicking back and relaxing for a few days with nothing to do. The town is very small, and the sights of art interest are very compact and brief.

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    I wouldn´t add anything, but would start to subtract and spend more time in the places you have listed. I could add many locations to your list but there comes a point when you spend more time getting there than being there.

    For example, Carcassonne takes a couple of hours, not 2 days.

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    Here is something I wrote about the many, many things to do in the Collioure area.

    Head east on the N116 down the Tet River to Villefranche de Conflent* (see the GG under “Conflent” for this route, and Villefranche for the town). Villefranche is another of TMBVoF. It has some very interesting ramparts+ encircling the town – don’t miss exploring them. There are some sclocky tourist stores in a few places, but they don’t interfere with your enjoyment of the medieval architecture. There is another Vauban fort* perched high above the town (we didn’t visit the fort).

    After visiting Villefranche, head south on the scenic D116 to Vernet les Bains* (GG under Conflent for the route). Vernet is another Bains (bath) town, but a flood many years ago washed out many of the old grand hotels – what’s left is not that exciting. However, there are some very interesting streets with colorful houses up the hill to where an old church stands. We approached Vernet from the “other” side on the D27, which is where the Church is located, so we walked down and then up again along the various streets in this town. If you approach town from the D116 you will walk up to the church and then back down.

    Now, check your legs. It’s close to the end of your trip, so they should be in good shape. If they are not, or you don’t have about 3 hours to do this next site, then skip it. Visit the Abbey St Martin du Canigou** (see GG). There is a large 2 page picture of this abbey in the front of my Green Guide on the Introduction page – about page 20. There is a 45 min climb up to this abbey, and portions of the walk are very steep, but they are on switchbacks. It’s a very scenic walk, however. You can be driven up to the abbey (see GG), but we watched them do this & it seemed a little scary to me. There is a lunch closing for the abbey, so don’t do like we did and walk for 45 mins, only to get there just as they closed for lunch. The wait, however, allowed us to catch our breath. After we toured this abbey, we were glad that we walked up because it gave the abbey a greater sense of remoteness – something that adds to the enjoyment of the place.

    After visiting (or “passing”) on the abbey, take the D27 from Vernet to Prades, passing the Abbey de St Michel de Cuxa* on the way. We didn’t visit the Abbey, but we took a picture. Head east on the N116, and look for the perched village of Eus on the way – it’s worth about 2 photos from the N116 road (we didn’t visit the town). About 2 K before Ille-sur-Tet, take the D618 south. This drive is described in the GG under Aspres*. Visit the Prieure de Serrabone**, especially if you did not visit the Abbey St Martin. We enjoyed the Prieure quite a bit & it’s easy to access. Continue south on the D618 towards Amelie les Bains, visiting the small Trinite church in Prunet el Belpuig along the way (it won’t take you more than 5 mins).

    At Amelie les Bains, head to your hotel. We stayed in a Gite close to Ceret for 2 weeks in June ’04, so we don’t have any experiences with hotels, except that we know the area a little & can point you to towns/areas that you would enjoying staying in. I would recommend staying in one of two places – in Ceret if you want to be close to the mountains, or in Collioure if you want to be close to the beach & Mediterranean. Both towns are very nice – Collioure is the most popular, because beaches are usually a more popular destination. In Ceret, I would not recommend the Terrasse au Soleil, unless you want to be a little remote. The setting is pretty, and the views from many spots (not from the restaurant, however), are quite nice. It has a pool, and rooms are 217 to 265.

    If you are staying in Collioure and the weather is nice, one of the outdoor restaurants would be a fun spot for a “tourist oriented” dinner where you can watch the crowds, the beach, and the Med. We dined at the Michelin 1 star Neptune* restaurant, which has nice views of the town. Perhaps the most interesting place we dined was at the simple Hostalet de Vives in the town of Vives just north of Ceret. There are signs on the D115 directing you to this restaurant which is on the second floor of an old stone building in the hamlet. We dined twice at Al Fanal et Hotel El Llagut in Banyuls (reserve ahead).

    Wednesday

    We stayed in this area for 2 weeks, and never ran out of things to do. I’ll describe 3 separate driving & sightseeing itineraries, which you can follow or combine anyway you like. Roussillon is a very scenic area – at the foot of the Pyrenees and next to the Mediterranean. However, there are a few sections that are not as scenic as the remainder of this region. Look at the #344 map. The rectangle east of the A9, north of the D618, and south of the D627 from the A9 #40 exit to Leucate is an area that gets some sprawl from Perpignan, and along the coast there are a lot of mass vacation developments that are not real pretty (there’s even a nudist resort). The beach is very nice white sand, but the hundreds of vacation homes, campgrounds, and high-rises, are not what I enjoy experiencing. Perpignan is certainly worth visiting, however. Also, Amelie les Bains on the Tech river is not worth a visit (I was pre-warned of this by my internet friend & confirmed by us when we drove through Amelie many times).

    Mount Canigou*** can be seen from almost anywhere in this region – at least it seems that way. You won’t have any trouble spotting it.

    Route #1 – the Tech river area.
    Find le Perthus on the map – it’s on the France/Spain border. In fact, one side of the street is in Spain & the other in France. The Spain side has a lot of discount shops, but the “scene” is horrible – I would not waste any valuable vacation time trying to save a few Euros on cigarettes, wine, trinkets, etc. Look up “Boulou” in the GG and take drive #2. As you approach le Perthus, there is a parking lot on your left just before you hit the traffic & pedestrian snarled main section of the town. Turn left just past the parking lot & take this drive #2 east as far as you can. It’s marked as the D71. We drove it twice – in the morning & again in the evening (the morning sights were better because of the position of the sun). If it’s a clear day, there are spectacular views on this drive. It is also a popular place for picnics. Return to le Perthus, and then to Ceret on the N9 and D618. Visit Ceret*. There is a famous Musee d’Art modern**, but since we’re not modern art fans, we didn’t visit it. The town, however, is worth a stroll around. There are some nice plane trees in town, with some outdoor cafes. Saturday is market day. Ceret is the center of the cherry growing region, and you’ll see dozens of stands selling cherries in late May/early June.

    Look up “Vallespir*” in the Green Guide, and take the D115 west along the Tech River. Just past Arles, you’ll see signs for the Gorges de la Fou** (in the GG under “Arles sur Tech”). Park the car in the lot & walk along a metal grate suspended above this gorge. The gorge is only about 3 ft wide in spots – it’s an easy & interesting exploration. Return to your car & head east on the D115 for about 1 K & then turn left (north) on the D43 at Arles. This route is described as “Round tour west of Arles” under “Arles” in the GG. The first part goes through some forests, but later there are nice views. When the D43 hits Corsavy, take the D43 north (departing from the itinerary in the GG). After about 8 K or so, turn the car around & retrace your route – there are some very nice views from this road. When you get back to Corsavy, turn right on the D44 and continue on the GG route to le Tech. This will join the D115 west (very pretty in this section) to Prats de Mollo* (see GG). Park the car & explore Prats – follow the walk described in the GG.

    After visiting Prats, continue west on the D115 to the Col d’Ares. At the Col, turn the car around & retrace your route east towards Arles – this is a pretty drive. About 4 K before reaching Arles, take the D3 south towards Coustouges (see GG under Arles). Continue past the town of Coustouges into Spain on the D3 which becomes the GI503 in Spain. My internet friend who lives in Roussillon suggested this drive – it’s quite pretty. Continue on the GI503 until it hits the GI504 & take this north to the #2 entrance on the A7 freeway, where you will return to France. Don’t take the N9 into France unless you like lots of stop & go traffic at Le Perthus.

    Thursday

    Route #2 – cute village, scenic gorges, wonderful countryside, and Cathars castles.
    This is an ambitious itinerary, so get an early start. If you’re staying in Collioure, drive toward Ceret on the D114, D618, and then D115. Take the D615 north of Ceret towards Thuir. Use the map & get on the D48 west to Castelneu+. Explore Castelnou (GG under Perpignan). One of my guidebooks described it as “St Paul de Vence without the tourists”. It’s a cute town. After a visit, take the D48 west and then the D2 to Ille-sur-Tet. Continue past Ille-sur-Tet on the D2 and when it crosses over the N116, you will approach les Orgues+. There is a picture of les Orgues in my Michelin Guide under Perpignan. You may have to take the D21 a bit towards Belesta to get some good views. Turn around on the D21 and then take the D2 back to Ille and get on the N116 heading west (you will have to go through Ille a little to do this – follow the signs to Prades). Continue west to Prades, taking a picture of Eus if you have not done so yet. Take the loop north around Prades and then take the D619 north. Look up Fenouilledes** in the Green Guide. Follow the described route from Prades to St Paul – it’s quite picturesque. When you intersect the D117 at St Paul, take the D117 west – this road is quite scenic too. At Axat, take the D118 south through the Gorges de St Georges*. When you get as far as the D16 fork near Rouze, turn the car around and retrace your route all the way back to St Paul. At St Paul, take the D7 north through the spectacular Gorges de Galamus** (see GG under Galamus). There is a picture of this gorge in the guide. At times, the road is only 1 car width wide. We were there in mid June & we didn’t encounter another car – I don’t know what happens in July or August when there are more tourists.

    At Cubieres, take the D14 towards Chateau de Peyrepertuse***. If you have not already done so, read about the Cathars faith in the Green Guide (or other guidebook) and learn about their religion, life, and fate. Visit this chateau, but be aware that some climbing & walking is necessary. The French don’t like to install escalators or paved walkways to get to their historic sites, so you’ll have to walk along dirt paths, over rocks, & through some low hung trees to get to the chateau. Also, walking around the Chateau is treacherous at times – but worth it. Plan on a 2 hour visit. There is a picture of the Chateau in the Green Guide. After visiting the Chateau, head east on the D14 towards another Cathar’s stronghold – the Chateau de Queribus*. As you leave Peyrepertuse & drive to Queribus, search the crest of the ridge to your right & try to find Peyrepertuse hidden among the rock formations. We did not visit Queribus – Peyrepertuse was enough hiking & climbing for the day. The view of Queribus from the road is spectacular. Take the D19 south towards Maury – this road is very scenic. At Maury (famous for their sweet wine) head east on the D117 & then back to the hotel. It’s difficult to get on the A9 freeway from the D117 – we tried to do so on two occasions & got lost both times.

    Friday

    Route #3 – Collioure, Banyuls, Costa Brava in Spain, and Perpignan
    If you are staying in Collioure**, then you will have explored this town thoroughly by now. They have an OK Sunday market. It’s very difficult to park in Collioure, so we usually like to visit it early in the morning, or later in the day when there are fewer day trippers. If you are starting this drive from somewhere other than Collioure, take the northern most exit to Collioure off the N114 – it’s more scenic. After visiting Collioure head south on the coast road past Port Vendres to Banyuls*. When you get out of Port Vendres, the route to Banyuls becomes very scenic. Banyuls is noted for their sweet wine, and you’ll see lots of vineyards along the way. However, they look like abandoned vineyards & you will wonder how they could possibly get grapes to grow on them – somehow, they do!!. Stop in Banyuls for a visit if you like – we didn’t, so I can’t comment on Banyuls, except that they have a nice restaurant in town – we dined there twice. Continue south on the N114 & into Spain. The coastline is quite spectacular here. Continue to Llanca, where you will run out of map. Take the GI612 and the GI613 to Cadaques**. Park the car & explore this coastal resort town – it’s quite nice. There are lots of café’s, and the town’s buildings are all painted white – quite different than the villages in France. After visiting Cadaques, take the GI614 west to Figueres, where you will get on the Freeway heading north to Perpignan.

    Perpignan** has quite a bit of urban sprawl, but the old part of town is well worth exploring. Be patient when you drive into town & find a place to park. We got lost twice. If you are visiting Perpignan in the morning, have a coffee at one of the outside cafes next to le Castillet. If you are here at lunchtime, there are lots of outdoor cafes on Quai Vauban along the river. Quite a few shops attracted my wife’s attention on R Mailly. I enjoyed the musee Hyacinthe-Rigaud. The Palais des Rois de Majorque was worth a visit. Follow the suggested walking plan in the GG – starting at le Castillet however.


    Fort de Salses** See “Salses” in the Green Guide. If you can possibly fit this into your schedule, then by all means, do so. Read about it in the guide. There is a guided tour, and the guide spoke English when asked to do so.

    Stu Dudley

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    Also, I would not cut any time in the Dordogne/Sarlat. If anything, I would at least double your time there. I have a 20 page itinerary that describes "stuff" to do in the area (there are more things to see/do than just caves). If you would like this itinerary, e-mail me at StuDudley@aol.com & I'll attach it to the reply e-mail. I've sent my various itineraries to over 5,000 people on Fodors.

    Stu Dudley

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    What I posted was part of my 35 page itinerary for Languedoc/Roussillon.

    TMBVoF was fully described earlier in the itinerary - but I didn't include that portion. It's The Most Beautiful Villages of France. An official "designation" in France, that can also go by other names in the French language.

    Stu Dudley

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    I know some people recommended I slow down and add more days in the France part of my plan, and yes I agree this is probably good advice, but I go to Europe so rarely I just can't resist adding to my plan. I'm really tempted to extend into the Spanish Basque country.

    From Sarlat-la-Caneda, I'm thinking about heading West and then travelling down towards San Sebastian and Bilbao. Next I would continue across to Barcelona, then back into France via Cadaques. I would then resume my original plan travelling along the Mediterranean before ending in Nice.

    Are there any obvious flaws I've overlooked ? Thanks so much!

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    Sounds like an excellent plan!

    I can also recommend a visit to small Tolosa in the Basque country, just inland from San Sebastian and at the foot of the Aralar mountains? http://www.euskoguide.com/places-basque-country/spain/tolosa-tourism/
    Aralar Mountains/Nature Park: http://www.basquecountry-tourism.com/nature-aralar.php

    A fabulous video intro to the hearty food culture in Tolosa; the best steaks in the world and the famous Tolosa beans:
    Tolosa steaks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOaLtnbKOos
    Tolosa beans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAoT3fPIACc

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