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What time of year for Paris?

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I decided against France this December but recent threads on Paris have made me want to visit sooner rather than later. (Cheap flight alerts have played a role there, too!) So preliminary planning questions:

What is the best time to visit? I was thinking possibly summer because it would be fun to venture out to the countryside and beaches a bit. But how hot/humid and crowded does it generally get? Is June better than September? Or vice versa?

How many days do you generally recommend to a first time visitor? Where else do you recommend visiting? Is there any good hiking or outdoorsy destinations? I had considered doing a week in France and a week in Germany (there's quite a bit in Germany that I will not get to see in December because of weather). However, perhaps I'd be better off doing two weeks just in France? I can already tell December will not be my only trip. There are so many places I want to see in Europe! Barcelona, the Alps, and the Netherlands are fairly high on the list as well.

I really enjoy bicycling, hiking, gardens, architecture, and history. I initially wanted to visit Paris for Notre Dame and the Louvre, but the more I research Paris, the more I want to visit it for the city itself (if that makes any sense).

Is it fairly easy to get around rural France by train? Especially if one doesn't speak French? It's probably the language I have the most difficulty with in terms of pronunciation. I did take it in high school but "mangle" is one way to describe my skills. I'm a little worried about inflicting that on an unsuspecting local;)

What are your favorite places to visit in France other than Paris? Where have you been and where would you go back to?

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