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2 Week Trip to France - Please Help Me Stu Dudley

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Hi Stu,

I have been trying to create a trip itinerary for my 2 week trip to France this summer. I fly in to Paris in the middle of July and will be renting a car for two weeks. Just to give you some more background, I rarely stay in any city (regardless of how big and great) for more than 2 nights. I was recently able to visit a large portion of Spain and Portugal in a two week period and during that trip, Rhonda and Toledo were my favourite cities by far. I stumbled upon your response to a blog from a while back where you ordered your favourite cities / towns in France as follows:

Cities with a population greater than 85,000

1. Paris
2. Dijon*
3. Toulouse**
4. Rennes*
5. Strasbourg*
6. Avignon* or **
7. Aix-en-Provence**
8. Rouen*
9. Montpellier**
10. Lyon*
11. Nice**
12. Nancy*
13. Bescancon**
14. Bordeaux**
15. Nantes*
16. Marseille**
17. Perpignan**
18. Tours*

Cities with a population greater than 10,000 but less than 85,000
1. Sarlat***
2. Colmar**
3. Beaune*
4. Auxerre*
5. Chambery*
6. Vannes*
7. Annecy* or **
8. Troyes
9. Albi***
10. La Rochelle*
11. Figeac***
12. Perigueux**
13. Arles**
14. Bourges
15. Dinan
16. St Malo
17. Quimper

During my research, it had seemed that Annecy seemed as one of the most exciting towns to see yet you have it so far down on your list. You also stated that "when ordering these cities, we did not consider the “setting” of a city, like the beach at Nice or the lake at Annecy." To me the setting of the city is important. For example, you can't beat a cute mountain town such as Innsbruck.

Anyway, I was hoping you could help give some ideas of a trip Itinerary considering I can probably cover a lot more ground than your average traveller. Some other cities that caught my eye close to the France border was Murten and Gruyeres Switzerland. Last but not least, the only place I have already been to in France is Nice and the surrounding area, Monaco, etc. and I would rather see other places I have not been to yet.

Please help me Stu!

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    We have a two week trip planned for late August-September. A week in Paris and most of a week in Beaujolais, one of the more beautiful places in France. Slow travel but more pleasant if you don't want to be on the go for a substantial percent of the trip.

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    OK - here is an idea!!!

    - Land at CDG and take the TGV to Bordeaux & stay 1 night. Don't stay at a hotel near the train station - not the best part of Bordeaux.

    - Mid-day, pick up a car at the train station & drive to Perigueux & stay 1 night

    - Drive to Sarlat and stay 2 nights (lots & lots of stuff to do/see in the Dordogne). Many "cute little villages" also. Do you have my Dordogne itinerary??

    - Drive to Figeac & stay 1 night

    - Drive to Toulouse & stay 1 night

    - Head over to Provence, but stop in Carcassonne for a 2 hr visit on the way, and stay in Aix-en-Provence for 1 night.

    - Drive to Arles and stay for 3 nights (lots to see in Provence also). Visit Avignon. Do you have my Provence itinerary??

    - Drive to the Avignon TGV station, dump the car, and take the TGV to Lyon & stay 1 night & 1 good day. Stay in the "old section" of Lyon - not near the Part Dieu train station where the TGV arrives. Stay just north of the Perrache station (train/taxi between Part Dieu & Perrache area)

    - Take the train to Beaune & stay 1 night.

    - take the train to Dijon & stay 1 night

    - take the very early TGV from Dijon to CDG airport in time for your flight home.

    Personally, I would not follow this itinerary myself. I would spend 6-7 nights in the Dordogne/Sarlat region and then 6-7 more in Provence, and then hit Dijon on the way back to CDG.

    Annecy - the interesting/old section of Annecy is quite small. We've visited it about 3 times prior to '09. In 09 we rented a gite close to Annecy for 2 weeks & visited Annecy many times for dinner, sightseeing, market, etc. The setting is lovely, and the canals are interesting - but the town will be VERY touristy/crowded - especially in July (we we were there in mid-June). At nights, the streets a chock full of elbow-to-elbow people walking around (pushing strollers), and about 30 ice cream stands and an equal number of outdoor inexpensive cafes in the streets. This "scene" was interesting for us when we were in our early 30s on our first trip to Annecy - but not that exciting to "old foggies" in our 60s. We like Vannes a lot more than Annecy. If you add the lake and surrounding Alps to the equation - then I would rate Annecy a lot higher.

    Stu Dudley

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    "Old foggies" Stu? Does this refer to your San Francisco base, or the state of your thinking (-:

    Did you know the derivation of "old fogey " is French?

    Greetings from another old foggie in the Bay Area. Apolgies to all for getting off topic.

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    Drive to the Avignon TGV station, dump the car, and take the TGV to Lyon & stay 1 night & 1 good day>

    Well I would consider taking a regional train right from the cneter of Avignon - from the old non-TGV station to Lyon - not that far and you can just show up and buy the ticket - TGV tickets can vary widely and can be hard to get.

    But I do like Stu's itinerary though for some it would be too fast - pas moi!

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    Well it takes 45 minutes longer all told to go from the old Avignon-Centre train station to Lyon Part-Dieu so the TGV route is quicker (though you have to get out the few miles to the out of town Avignon-TGV station - but if you can get a cheap fare from say or then go for it but if not the older and slower route could be cheaper and about as quick all told with one less change (from taxi or bus to TGV train).

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    First off, thank you Stu for your quick response. I might try and kidnap you to take you with me on my trip.

    I have a couple of comments from your itinerary. First off, I always travel with a car (unless I am in Venice) because I like the flexibility to go wherever I want at whatever time I want. Is there a reason you suggested all of the train rides? I will most likely be renting a car for the entire trip and don't plan on taking any trains unless I absolutely have to (except for perhaps when I am touring Paris for 2 nights).

    Second, I am extremely interested in seeing the French Alps and perhaps even cross the border to stay in Murten and Gruyeres (Switzerland). Is there any reason you didn't recommend any places in the French Alps? Perhaps I can drive from Paris to Sarlat (and skip Bordeaux and Perigueux) so I can have some time in the Alps?

    Third, any reason you skipped Montpellier even though I am in the area?

    Finally, if you were in my position and had only seen Nice in all of France, would you consider going North of Paris instead of South?

    I will definitely get your Dordogne and Provence itineraries. Thanks again for your insight!

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    >>Well I would consider taking a regional train right from the cneter of Avignon<<

    If happlby is staying in Arles, the Avignon TGV station is actually closer than the in-town station. Also, with this tight of a schedule, I would purchase the TGV tickets well in advance - and get discount PREMs.

    CaliNurse - so that's how you spell "fogeys"!!! Not "foggies" like summers here.

    Stu Dudley

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    - Land at CDG and take the TGV to Bordeaux & stay 1 night. Don't stay at a hotel near the train station - not the best part of Bordeaux.

    The streetcar's terminal when going toward the center of town is in the large square in the center. It's easy to get there and back to the train station.

    The car rental agencies are now on the other side of the tracks from the main train station. There is a pedestrian tunnel to gt there.

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    To give a brief answer to almost all of your questions - you don't have nearly enough time to do everything you want to do.

    The trains are really a no-brainer, IMO. We rent cars for almost everywhere we want to travel - except when we need to travel a long distance in a short amount of time. I hope you really don't plan to arrive at CDG, pick up a car, navigate out of CDG (difficult), and then drive around Paris (during rush hour) and then continue on a 6 hr drive to Bordeaux or a 6 1/4 hr drive to Sarlat - in a jet-lagged state. That would not be something I would ever do - even in my youth.

    Same with the leg from Avignon back to Paris. It is a 2 1/4 drive from Arles to Lyon (train is 1 hr w/ hourly departures) and then you must drive into Lyon - which is a challenge. And what are you going to do with a car in Lyon??? Then you must get out of Lyon, and head to Beaune - 1 3/4 hr drive. It is a 3 1/2 hr drive to CDG from Dijon but an easy 1 3/4 hr TGV trip directly to the airport (only 1 departure/day - otherwise take the TGV to Paris) - not the car return area. The only place you might need a car in the Lyon/Beaune/Dijon area is Beaune - to see some vineyards - but I bet you won't have time to do that.

    You will pass by (or close to) hundreds of small cute villages more interesting than Murten & Gruyeres - no need to add more time to your trip just to see them, IMO. We've visited both of these villages twice - as recently as '09 for Murten. I would not place either in my top 20 village list. You can get through the Alps somewhat fast on the autoroute - but that's not the way to enjoy the Alps. Travel on the "Grande Route des Alpes" to see them at their best - but you'll need a LOT of time to do that. We've spent 4 weeks in the Alps within the last 3 years.

    North vs South - there is no comparison. Last year we spent 1 week in Picardy (north), 2 weeks in Normandy (northwest), and 1 week in the Pas de Calais (way north). This area took a lot of hits in WWI & WWII. Not to many "cute little villages" and not many interesting large cities except for Rouen in Normandy. We visited Lille last year, and I would not put it in my top 15 large cities in France.

    Montpellier - ya gotta drop something - you just don't have the time.

    I hope this answers some of your questions.

    Stu Dudley.

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    Stu, you are amazing! You should get an award or something for man of the year or something!

    Ok, all your points are well taken. I actually just sent you an e-mail but I have another question. I just saw a "drive in the French Alps" Youtube video and I am freaking out about how good it looks. Does the Grande Route des Aples only cover the French Alps or both the French and Swiss Alps? I know you mentioned that you need LOTS of time to take that drive, but what would you estimate is the absolute minimum time you would need to drive on the Grande Route, even to get just a little taste?

    I understand that in the a perfect world, I would take different trips to Provence and the Alps, but I only have 2 weeks of vacation each year, and I have a huge list of places I want to see. I will have to live to 450 years old to be able to see everything. That's why I keep on trying to fit everything into one trip.

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    Happleby, are you on coke or meth, or what? Get real. I don't even think you got the fact that Stu's original proposed itinerary for you was a complete joke. Stu is trying, gently, to tell you that you can't see all you want to see in 2 weeks. You can't, and some of your ideas like driving the whole way are just madness IF you DO want to see all this stuff.

    I don't know why you think that you have to fit so much into a single trip. Assuming you have two weeks a year for vacation, the pathetic allotment of most Americans, go spend those two weeks in ONE PLACE each year and slow down and get to know something about a place. Zooming around the way you propose in Europe is a special kind of stupid from the points of view of money, culture, and time.

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    >>Does the Grande Route des Aples only cover the French Alps or both the French and Swiss Alps?<<

    Just France. It goes from Menton on the Cote d'Azur, to somewhere on Lake Geneva (Evian perhaps).

    >>I know you mentioned that you need LOTS of time to take that drive, but what would you estimate is the absolute minimum time you would need to drive on the Grande Route, even to get just a little taste?<<

    We drove almost the entire route about 5 years ago and it took us 5 nights. Like I stated above, we returned in '09 for 2 weeks and then in '10 for 2 weeks and enjoyed the Alps a lot more then, when we could take chair/gondola lifts up to the top of mountains for fabulous views.

    If you want to visit the Alps, skip Bordeaux, Perigueux, the Dordogne, Figeac, Toulouse, and Carcassonne. Just visit Provence, Alps, Beaune, and Dijon. Even that is too much for us - but you seem to want to play the energizer bunny, so perhaps it's possible for you.

    Less is more!!!

    Stu Dudley

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    On our trip, we started the day in Provence. First night we stayed in Embrun, then Briancon, then Bonneval, then Chamonix, then Annecy. We stopped 3 nights between Chamonix and Provence/Cote d'Azur and Michael recommends stopping for 2 nights between the two. His pace would definitely work if you want to be more "on the Go" than we were.

    One goes to the Alps for the mountain experience - not for "cute little villages" and interesting cities. Embrun is OK, so is Barcelonnette. Both St Veran and Briancon are quite interesting. Annecy would be the only other city that you might want to explore. Chambery is one of our favorites - but it is a little out of the way.

    Stu Dudley

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    Happleby, are you on coke or meth, or what? Get real. I don't even think you got the fact that Stu's original proposed itinerary for you was a complete joke.>

    I read it and re-read it and fail to see how Stu was playing a joke on Happleby - Stu was your response satire and sarcasm or for real as I took it and Happleby did too? Complete joke? Hopefully not!

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    Thanks again Stu. I just finished reading your Dordogne and Provence itineraries. Very impressive. You should seriously consider writing a book if you haven't already. To be honest, your Dordogne itinerary sounds magical, even more exciting than Provence. If you had to choose between Dordogne and Provence, which one would you recommend?

    Assuming I replace either Dordogne or Provence with the French Alps, would you still recommend that I take trains in certain areas. Do most of the rental car companies in France allow you to pick up at one location, say Paris and drop off at another location like Annecy? Could I rent a car in Paris, drive to Provence based on your original itinerary and then drive your French Alps route to Annecy (drop off the car) and then train back to Paris?

    Is the route you took in the French Alps a section of the "Grande Route des Aples"?

    Did you find driving in the French Alps safe? Were the roads in good condition? I did watch one video on youtube where there was one lane in the French Alps for traffic going both ways (not sure how that works?).

    I also read that the weather can completely ruin the French Alps section of the itinerary. What are you thoughts?

    Sorry for the all of the questions, but I am super excited.

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    Do most of the rental car companies in France allow you to pick up at one location, say Paris and drop off at another location like Annecy>

    If taking trains much investigate the SNCF's Car + Drive Pass - giving you a certain number of unlimited auto days (24 hour periods) and X number of unlimited calendar train days - and pick up at zillions of stations, drive to another, return and hop on train - AVIs car rental.

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    Here is what the itinerary should look like of you want to visit the Alps:

    Get the Michelin Green Guides for Provence and another for the Alps.

    Day 1 - Land at CDG and take the TGV train directly from CDG to either Aix or Avignon. If you arrive on a Sunday - take it to Avignon and stay in St Remy. Aix & Avignon will be dead on a Sunday - like other large & medium sized cities in France. Take my "lavender route" in my itinerary, the "Luberon drive", etc.

    Spend however many days in Provence as you would like.

    - Leave Provence & head over to Enbrum, visit, then on to Briancon & stay the night.

    - Next night in Bonneval

    - Next night in Chamonix

    - Next 2 nights in Annecy. If you decide to do this, get back with me & I'll suggest some scenic drives around Annecy.

    - Next 1-2 nights in Beaune

    - Next night in Dijon after dumping the car in Dijon. Stay near the train station. The car rental offices are there.

    - Next morning take the very early TGV back to CDG for your flight home

    If you have a morning flight, take the TGV to Paris from Dijon, stay at the Terminus hotel next to the Gare du Lyon, & have dinner at the Train Bleu at the gare - a feast for the eyes.

    I enjoy the Dordogne & Provence equally. I would give a slight nod to Provence in July because the lavender will be blooming. Provence fits into your itinerary much better if you want to visit the Alps.

    Only tricky part about the Alps Route is around St Veran (which you should visit). The Route des Grande Alps is noted in the Green Guide.

    We've usually had good weather in the Alps - but we stay there for 1 or 2 weeks in one spot & a day of rain is no big deal. Weather is usually better in the morning.

    We've rented perhaps 50 cars in France & have had to pay a drop-off only once - in Biarritz.

    Stu Dudley

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    Chamonix is a place IMO you need to spend more than just one night - so much to do in that area - a whole day I would recommend - trek to glaciers, mountain trains, trains up Mt Blanc, etc - a few hours will only whet your appetite to come back for longer stays. I do think Stu's alpine itinerary is swell though otherwise - and again there are Fodorgarchs who insist you must stay 3 or 4 nights in each little town but that would bore many folks!

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    SO - here is how long I think you should spend in each area:

    Provence - 4 of my favorite cities/villages are in this region - Aix, Avignon, Arles, Uzes. But don't just explore the cities - the countryside is what beckons our return.
    1 - Aix en Provence
    2 - St Remy or Arles
    3 - St Remy or Arles
    4 - St Remy or Arles

    5 - Briancon
    6 - Bonneval
    7 - Chamonix
    8 - In the afternoon after a morning Mt Blanc gondola ride, Annecy
    9 - Annecy

    10 - Beaune
    11 - Beaune
    12 - Beaune
    13 - Dijon
    14 - Paris
    15 - Toronto

    If you are not fans of castles/chateaux, I would add a day to Provence & subtract one from Beaune.

    Stu Dudley

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    Here is an itinerary I put together for a friends who were staying for 1 week near Briancon, 1 week near Annecy, and 1 week near Beaune. They started the trip in Nice.

    Alps & Burgundy

    Standard warning about visiting cities & villages in France
    Almost all non-food shops will be closed on Sundays, and most will be closed on Monday morning also. Some will open Monday afternoon around 2:30. Large grocery stores are usually closed Sundays. Most Mom & Pop groceries are open Sunday morning, but close around 1PM. Villages that almost solely depend on tourism may have shops open Sunday & Monday. Old Town in Briancon will have shops open, but most shops in Beaune will be closed. Everything will be closed in Dijon on Sunday. We never visit a large city (like Dijon) on Sundays or Mondays. Annecy has a farmer’s market on Sunday – so some shops will be open in the area where the market is located (canal area), but most of the shops on the pedestrian shopping street will be closed.

    The word “Col” is used frequently. In France, a col is a mountain pass. The “highest” point on a mountin road where the road stops going up & starts going down. Often there are monuments, cafes, viewing platforms at cols.

    Pick up the car early & head out toward Entrevaux.

    Use Map 115
    Head north on the N202. Once out of the immediate Nice area, this is a very pretty drive. Stay on the N202 as it swings west.

    In early July of ’07, we stayed in a Gite just outside of the old town of Entrevaux*, and explored the beautiful canyons, mountains, and small villages in the area quite thoroughly. Entrevaux is only 1 hr from Nice along the Var River. The town of Entrevaux is quite remarkable. Look up Entrevaux in the Michelin Green Guide for the French Alps and you’ll see a picture of the town. However, it’s more dramatic than the picture shows. There is a huge rock spur that sticks up along the northern bank of the Var River. A Cathedral sits on top of the spur, with a fortified zig zag wall (built by Vauban) running down to the medieval village below – it’s quite a sight to see. For the best view of Entrevaux and the surrounding area, drive into the large parking lot (looks like a strip mall) that’s opposite the drawbridge entrance to medieval Entrevaux – on the opposite side of the N202. The entrance to the lot is at the extreme west end of the lot. Immediately to your right as you enter, there is a restaurant/café and then a very steep road heading uphill just after the restaurant. Follow this road up & up – admiring the views of Entrevaux as you climb. There are several areas to pull out & take a picture – which you’ll want to do. Keep going till you can’t see Entrevaux anymore and then return to the “strip mall”, park the car, & walk over the drawbridge into the medieval village and explore Entrevaux. There are a few cafes for lunch there, but there are better ones just east in the town of Puget Theniers (village not worth exploring).

    After visiting Entrevaux, drive through the very scenic gorges in the area. We made several drives along these gorges – taking advantage of the sunlight at various times of the day. These gorges are quite spectacular and different from the gorges closer to Nice. The sheer walls are red slate – a very dark red-rust colored rock. From Entrevaux, take the N202 west. Then head north on the D902 (which changes to the D2202 when it crosses into the Alps Maritimes dept) through the Gorges de Daluis**. The views are better going north than south. As you exit the gorge at Guillaumes, head east on the D28 to Valberg, then on to Beuil. Drive south through the Gorges du Cains*** on the D28. Visit the cute village of Riguald near the south end of the Gorge. When the D28 hits the N202, take the N202 east to Touet sur Var*. You will see Touet perched up above the road, but you’ll have to drive past the town to find the access to the town. Drive up to Touet & explore this picturesque village. Continue east on the N202 & then take the D26 to Villars sur Var. This town has some very interesting passageways. After visiting Villars, continue north on the D26 and visit the cute town of Bairols, and then the town of Clans. These are all miniscule villages, and you’ll be surprised that they are even inhabited today – we enjoyed visiting them. Continue north on the D2205, then east to St Martin-Vesubie*. You may not complete this entire drive today, but get as far as you can. Do not miss the Gorges du Cains. Take the N202 west to the the D908 to Annot and stay there for 1 night. The hotel is on your right (east of the road) – easy to find. . Annot is an interesting town to explore. The hotel has a nice restaurant.

    Other villages that we’ve visited & enjoyed in the area are Annot*, & Roubion*.. Castellane* is a popular town and a center for exploring the Gorge du Verdon. It has good “bones” but is very touristy. The main street through town has some of the tackiest stuff that I’ve seen this side of Mt St Michel. Villages that were mentioned in various guide books, but we didn’t find that interesting were St Sauveur sur Tinee, & Roure.

    Switch to map 334
    Leave Annot heading north on the D908 past Mealles to Colmars. Meailles* is interesting, but more picturesque from the outside than inside. Visit Colmars*+ (see the Michelin Green Guide). This is a very interesting town to explore – one of our favorites in the region.

    Continue north on the D908 to Barcelonnette*. This is a nice town – perhaps a little touristy, but there are some worthwhile shops (including 1 home décor shop with lots of color-themed display rooms), and the main square is very pretty.

    Take a driving tour of Lake Serre-Poncon***. This is a “man made” lake – and quite scenic. See page 518 in my Alps Green Guide. From Barcelonnette, head west on the D900 to Lauzet-Ubaye. Drive along the road that circles the lake clockwise. There are several viewing platforms along the way. Some are even down short roads. Our favorites were belvedere Ivan-Wilhem and the view from Sauze de Lac.. Make sure that you drive on the D954 on the east side of the lake. You may have to do an “out & back” on this.

    Now, head to Embrun* Embrun can be a little touristy mid-day, but the main square & the streets through town are worth visiting. If you have trouble finding the B&B, call the proprietor and she will meet you. She speaks English & she is Asian. Spend some time in the park close to the hotel, which overlooks the valley.
    Market day in Enbrum. It is not a huge market, so it won’t take much time.

    Drive on the small roads that are just east of the Enbrum, but way down below town. There are some very good views looking “up” at Enbrum from this vantage point. You will probably have to get a map of Enbrum from the tourist office or from the B&B proprietor to find these roads. The view is only good in the morning – so make sure you do this on Saturday morning. -

    Lets pick up part of the “Route des Grandes Alpes” – but first a stop in Mt Dauphine*. Read about Mt Dauphine on Page 443 to see if this interests you. Ellen is a big Vauban fan – so we visited this site. From Enbrum, head northeast on the N94 and follow the signs to Mt Dauphine. As I recall, it was somewhat scenic getting there. After Mt Dauphine, take the D902 past Guillestre. We explored all these roads in the Queyras*** region on the way from our Gite in Enbrum to our gite is Cervieres. See page 478. Drive to Ceillac, then the Combe du Queyras. Visit Chateau Queyras* then visit St Veran** - the highest village in Europe. It will take about 1 hr to visit this quaint village. Take your time. Then drive along the D947 – out & back.

    Head over the Col d’Izoard** to your gite in Cerviers. Get on the B902 heading North, When you get to the Col d’Izoard, get out of the car & walk around a bit. Enjoy the views. Now drive down the Col to Cerviers. As you approach Cerviers, note that there is a left turn that heads to Briancon. At this left turn, go straight (don’t follow the left turn) over the bridge into Cerviers. Take a road up & look for the gite. It is not too far past the bridge. There are no groceries or restaurants or really any commerce in town. I think there is a restaurant between the Col & Cervieres – very close to Cervieres. Perhaps pick up something to eat at the Enbrum market.

    See page 223 for scenic drives in the Brianconnais**
    Vallee de la Claree** pg 225 . This was a very restful drive on a lazy Sunday. We stopped at either Val des Pres or Nevache and explored the town a bit & had a nice lunch out on a lawn. Continue on this drive until the road narrows too much.

    I will give you a map if Briancon & will indicate the best route to take to this & other sites. You could also visit Briancon today – but it will be more crowded on Sunday than on a week-day.

    Other days – depending on weather
    Tour 1 – do this on a very clear day. It was the most spectacular gondola ride & views in the region
    Map 333
    See page 460 for a description of L’Oisans*** region
    Glaciers de la Meije*** pg 373 Chairlift 1 hr 10 min RT do not miss
    Oratoire du Chazelet*** pg 373

    Tour 2 - clear day
    Col du Lautaret** pg 465 See map on Pg 224
    Route du Galibier*** pg 358

    Tour 3
    Briancon** pg 216 Market day is Wed – but it is not in the old section of town. It is in a parking lot on your right as you follow my suggested route to other sites.
    Brianconnais - Route 4 pg 223
    Chair lift to le Chalvet** 10:30 to 6:30

    Tour 4 - clear day
    Cable car from Chantemerle** pg 517

    Saturday – On to Lake Annecy.

    Here are a couple of options for getting there.

    1. If you did not have nice enough weather to drive over the Col & Route du Galibier on previous days – do that now. Then pick up A43 Autoroute, then the A430 towards Albertville, then the N212 & N508 to Lake Annecy. This drive should take around 3 ½ hours without any stops.

    2. If you want a relief from mountain roads, head to La Grave & continue along the N91 through the Gorges de la Romanche. Then pick up the A41 northeast of Grenoble to Chambery, then the A41 to Lake Annecy. If you have time, stop in Chambery** pg 245 for a visit – it is our favorite city in the region. Skip the Chateau. This drive should also take around 3 ½ hours, and it is mostly freeway

    3. If you want to drive over more beautiful mountain passes, head to La Grave and stay on the N91. Past Le Bourg-d’Oisans, take the D526 and the D926 over the Col de la Croix de Fer*** pg 302. Head to Lake Annecy as in #1 above. This drive should take around 5 hours without stops.

    Annecy market on Sunday morning– one of the best in France according to the GG
    Gorges du Fier** pg 144 9:15-5 after the market

    Tours – in order of preference (roughly)

    Tour 1 – Mt Blanc*** – the tallest mountain in the Alps. Page 430 & 255
    This will be an all-day event, and only do it on a clear day. It will take about 1 ¼ hrs to get from Annecy to Chamonix – mostly using the freeway. Head north from Annecy, and catch the A41 heading east to Chamonix. There is really nothing of interest in the town of Chamonix – it is only a base for Mt Blanc. Take the two lifts up to the Aiguille du Midi*** . Also, take some other lifts – perhaps le Brevent***. If it overcast when you get to Chamonix, don’t go up & find something else to do.

    Tour 2 – do on clear day and get an early start (8-9am) so the sun won’t be in your face for the most scenic part..
    Take the N508 southeast from the south part of Lake Annecy. Go to Ugine. Take the D109 northeast from Ugine to Flumet. Now the most scenic part starts. Take the D909 northwest from Flumet over the Col des Aravis**. If you want to hike, the Col des Aravis wold be a good place for one. Just past the Col, take the D16 west through Manigod to Thones. Then back to Lake Annecy on the D909. Once on the lake, take the lake road clockwise. Stop & visit Tailloires (it is on the west side of the lake). Then continue clockwise back to your Gite.

    Tour 3 – Route de la Foclaz*** pg 150 (but the map route in the GG is not correct). Do this on a clear day and in the morning. It will only take a half-day
    Head southeast on the N508 again. Take the D42 (just past Doussard) north over the Col de la Forclaz. Stop at the Col for great views. Continue north & follow the road back to the lake. Head clockwise, and visit Tailloires if you have not visited it yet. The views from the east side of the lake are better in the morning.

    Tour 4 – best in the afternoon. Perhaps visit Annecy in the AM
    The Semnoz** pg 153. Follow the route in the Green Guide

    Other things you might want to do:
    - Boat trip on the lake – but you can see everything from the shoreline.
    - Drive around the lake – but you will probably do this going & coming from your tours
    - Chateau de Menthon* close to Annecy Pg 152. We enjoyed this chateau. Nice views.

    Use map 328
    Leave Annecy by heading north on the A41, then west on the A40 toward Nantua, then southwest on the A404 , and then north on the A40 towards Bourg en Bresse. Stay on the A40 as it turns west towards Macon.
    Switch to map 320.
    Head north towards Dijon on the A6. At exit # 27 near Tournas, get off the freeway & follow the roads to Cormatin. It is circled in red on my map (the bluegreen marks indicate towns with restaurants we considered dining at). Visit the Chateau Cormatin** (pg 162) – this is one of our favorites. The interior & especially the gardens are fantastic. Look at the brochure titled “Route des Chateaux en Bourgogne du Sud”. Cormatin is in there. Note that there may be a lunch closing. Don’t miss this chateau.

    Visit another chateau if you have the time – perhaps Couches or Sully (see the brochure). Or head to Beaune for a visit.

    Visiting Cheateaux in the brochures:
    Save your ticket for the first chateau, and you will get a discount on the second chateau. Save the ticket on the second chateau & you will get a discount on the third, etc, etc, etc. This was the case for the chateaux in the “Route des Ducs de Bourgogne”, and it may be the case for chateaux in the “sud” chateaux brochure

    According to my calculation, you will arrive in Burgundy on Sept 17. If so, you are in luck!!!. This is Patrimonie weekend in France. This is a big deal in France. It is the celebration of their heritage, and almost all the cities & towns have something going on. Many public & private places that are normally closed, will be open on this weekend. We’ve visited Beaune, Dijon, and Rennes on Patrimonie weekend. By far, the best stuff was in Dijon (Beaune had the least going on). You probably won’t have much time remaining on Saturday to do anything, but first thing on Sunday, head into Dijon. Park near the train station, and walk east on Av Marechal Foch/R de la Liberte to the Place de la Liberation. Look around and you may see some activity. Most of the places open for tours will have something set-up outside – usually with a line to get in. You can probably pick up a brochure at one of these places, that designate the other sites that are open. If you don’t find anything, go to the tourist office at # 34 on pg 175 of my Green Guide. #34 is also a fabulous building. Plan to spend most of the day here – but besides the things open for Patromonie, the rest of Dijon will be ‘dead” so don’t let this be the only day you visit Dijon.

    Find your Gite on the outskirts of St Romain – just west & a little south of Beaune. We usually accessed the Gite from Beaune using the very scenic D17. There is a wine barrel making complex on the D17. When you see that, take the road southeast up the hill. On the 320 map the road is small and at the end there is a white dot and three black dots. The black dots indicate an old chateau – in ruins. You can walk to the chateau from the gite – great views.. I will try to provide a map of this route to the Gite. As you get to the top of the “hill” you will end at a road with a winery on the left & your gite on the right. Note the picture of the gite from the web site.

    There is a Champion grocery on the road to Beaune – just before you get to the old section of Beaune. It is a couple of blocks to the right – look for the signs. I am pretty sure it is not open on Sunday.

    Getting on the A6 & A31 freeways/peages from the Gite.
    Don’t drive through Beaune – lots of congestion & traffic, especially north of Beaune. Instead, take the ring road south & east of Beaune and get on the freeway at exit # 24.1.

    Patrimonie in Dijon

    Monday (remember, shops close in Dijon & Beaune).
    Leave the Gite & take the D17 south to La Rochepot – this is a pretty drive. The town of Orches is quite cute (noted on my map). Continue on the D17 to La Rochepot or Nolay.

    Market in Nolay. This is a very small market, but the town has several antique shops. If this interests you, go there. I think the shops are open on Monday because there is a market there on Monday

    Vist Chateau Rochepot*. Pg 279 in my Green Guide.. Note that it closes for lunch

    Visit Chateau Sully* (pg 305 in GG) or Chateau Couches .

    Visit Beaune*** in the AM. This is one of our “top 5” medium sized cities in France. Spend the better part of the morning there. The “popular” Hotel Dieu*** gets a lot of attention and it is quite elegant from the outside – but only OK on the inside. But it deserves a visit on the inside.

    Afternoon – one of the chateaux you didn’t visit yesterday.

    Head out northwest on the A6. Get off the A6 at Exit # 21 and head towards Tanlay

    Get the “Route des Ducs de Bourgogne” brochure. Remember about saving the entrance tickets.

    Visit the Chateau de Tanlay**. This was our favorite chateau in the region. Tours start at 10 – so get there then . It is about a 1 ¾ drive from the gite (1 hr of freeway).

    Next, drive to Noyers & explore this cute village. Note on villages in Burgundy - compared to Provence, Dordogne, and many other places you have visited in France – there are not as many “cute little villages” in Burgundy. This is one of them, but not in the “top 50%” in France.

    Visit Chateau Ancy le Franc** Note that it closes for lunch – that’s why I have you visiting Noyers during lunch. If you can get to Ancy le Franc by 11:30 when their last tour of the morning departs – do that if you don’t mind back-to-back chateaux.

    Visit Abbaye de Fontenay*** if you like abbeys.

    Take the D980 south from the Abbey to Semur en Auxois*. See pg 296 in the GG. This village is more interesting from the outside than from the inside. As you take the R de Paris from the D980 toward Semur – there is a very nice view of the perched village. If you want to see the “scene” pictured on pg 298 of the GG. Circle clockwise around the exterior of the village to where I have marked “fantastic view” on the GG map of Semur. Next, drive toward the informatioin center (marked on map) & park your car outside the “gate” of town & explore the old section of Semur if you like.

    Visit Dijon*** This is our favorite city in France – after Paris. Find the “Dijon the Owl’s trail” brochure I sent you & follow this walk. The walk is fantastic. The “centerfold” has the route for the walk.. This may be market day in Dijon at Les Halles – but only in the AM. Lots of interesting sites to visit.

    Head out north on the A6. Take the exit #22 and find your way west to Vezelay** pg 314. We did not approach Vezelay from this direction – we visited Vezelay after Auxerre. But I figured that on your last day in the gite, you might only want to do a half-day – so I “cut out” Auxerre – which is too bad because we really enjoyed Auxerre.

    After Vezelay, head south on the D958 on a pretty drive to Chateau Bazoches. I mentioned Vauban earlier – this is his chateau. There is a “self guided” tour, but note that it closes for lunch.

    Stu Dudley

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    If going to Chamonix be sure to spend a half day taking what to me is the most incredible aerial gondola ride in Europe if not the world - the incredible journey from Aiguille de Midi to Pte Heilbrenner (sp?) in Italy and back - the small gondolas at times stop and you dangle in eerie silence a few hundred feet above a sea of ice - a large glacier you cross for several miles.

    this is one reason you need more than one night in Chamonix - so many things to do here in one of the Alp's primo resorts.

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    Stu you are truly a hero of mine. What an impressive response to a Fodorite query! I am forever grateful for your "how to guide" to finding and booking a gite and subsequent stay in a v affordable, v comfortable apartment overlooking the vineyards in Pernand Vergelesses - sheer bliss. Merci beaucoup.

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