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Back from Paris, Burgundy, Loire and Provence-- thanks, and can I help?

Back from Paris, Burgundy, Loire and Provence-- thanks, and can I help?

Old Jun 17th, 2000, 08:18 AM
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Back from Paris, Burgundy, Loire and Provence-- thanks, and can I help?

To all of my traveling kindred spirits, many thanks for your input and insights in planning our trip. I printed various pages from these forums and took them along as references! I only discovered Fodors Forums about a month before we left, but I have told everyone I've spoken with since what a great resource and community it is.

Following is an abbreviated version of our itinerary. If anyone has any specific questions I'll do my best to answer them.

Day 1-7 Barge on the Canal de Bourgogne with side trips into Chablis area

Day 6-13 Paris, Giverny, overnight driving to Loire Valley

Day 14-18 Driving through Luberon area of Provence(Aix, Gordes, St.Remy, Le Baux, Arles, Avignon)

We had a fabulous trip! I wish the same for all of you.

Thanks again, Robin
Old Jun 17th, 2000, 10:14 AM
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We are planning on visiting Provence in
September. We're going to stay at Hotel Calendal in Arles. What do you think of making Arles our homebase to explore the region (we'll have a car)? What are some Provence sights that are "not to be missed?" Thanks!
Old Jun 17th, 2000, 12:25 PM
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Hi Amy-- Maybe it was my mood, but I was not thrilled with Arles. It IS is a good location, and would therefore make sense as a base. However, the town itself is not as appealing as some others. One exception-- they have bullfights and other related events (not necessarily ending in a dead bull), and some are held in the Roman arena at Arles. If this interests you, that's an added attraction for Arles.

Driving in this area is great. All sights are pretty close together, and it gives you a lot of freedom.

Let's see: Don't miss the Pont du Gard. It's a little off the beaten track, but an easy drive from Arles or Avignon, and it's truly impressive. You can walk around from almost all angles-- very important for photos! Roussillon is lovely, and kind of behind the main town (keep walking past one of the major parking areas) there is a sort of state park or nature preserve that shows off the colors in the land. It's really stunning. The town of Les Baux de Provence is pretty. It got crowded in the afternoon with tour buses, but was quiet and nice earlier in the day. We drove to Venasque, over the hill from Gordes. The town itself was pretty but not special, but the drive into the mountains is nice. It takes you into a diferent part of the region.

Hope this helps-- let me know if you need more specifics.

Old Jun 17th, 2000, 12:37 PM
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Dear Robin:
We want to do some driving this time in Provence (been there before but used public transportation).
What do you suggest as a good base town? (We weren't that keen on Arles as a base town - & stayed in Avignon before).
Avignon is very convenient (hop off the TGV from Paris & walk to nearby hotel). Can you suggest something similar? (We'd rent our car after we got to Provence.)
Old Jun 17th, 2000, 01:03 PM
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Susan-- Just to clarify, we didn't have one base town, we changed every night, staying in Aix-en-Provence, Gordes, Les-Baux-de-Provence and Avignon. So I'll make a guess. It occurs to me that a good option would be to stay outside of a well-located town, if you're driving, the reason being that when the goal is to get on your way to a new area every day or so, working your way out of a small village (or a larger town like Avignon) might be a bit of a headache. In Gordes we stayed at a place outside of town on the D2, with easy parking, and easy access back on the road (Mas de la Senancole). For us, being outside of town wasn't necessarily a positive-- we had to drive in. But for a long-term base it might be easier. Gordes may not be central enough for you, but the same logic would work elsewhere.

In general, what one views as the best location depends so much on what places you hope to see. The distances are easy, even at slower speeds, so you can get almost anywhere from almost anywhere! Avignon is certainly a great place to start. The car rental agencies are at the station (although verify hours of operation-- I know Europcar in Avignon did not stay open as late as they did in Paris), so it should be easy to make connections.

Old Jun 21st, 2000, 09:54 AM
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Hi Robin:
Can you tell me more about the barge cruise? I will be doing a 9-day next April on the Rhone Princess (new ship) with Uniworld. You didn't say much about the cruise. Was it not the highlight of your Provence tour?
Thanks, Betty
Old Jun 21st, 2000, 10:40 AM
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No, no, it was wonderful! I gave a really brief initial summary of the trip (pales in comparison to some of the other travel writing around here!) Let me spell the whole trip out in more detail, then I'll tell you what I can about the barge.

Arrived in Paris. One night in town on an exceptionally beautiful day/evening. We took a long walk along the Seine and then had a light supper at Angelina (where they have AMAZING hot chocolate!)

Barge trip: Took a train to Montbard, in northern Burgundy, where we were met by our barge hosts. Spent the next six days on the Canal de Bourgogne, in Chablis country. Traveled only 8-14 kilometers a day, mostly in the morning, with sightseeing in the afternoon. More detail below.

Returned to Paris, and spent six days there, except for an overnight drive to the Loire Valley. We took the train to Giverny, toured the usual stuff in Paris, and generally got caught up in the city. We also got to see/hear all the hype about the upcoming Johnny Halliday "Forty Years of Love" concert in front of the Eiffel Tower, which took place on Saturday June 10th, the day we left town.

Provence: Train to Marseille, where we picked up a car and drove. I've gone over some of the high points in previous postings.

Now, regarding the barge, I loved it! Although I was looking forward to it, I was a little concerned that there was a potential to get bored-- staying in a small area, no independent transportation, etc. Not at all. Betty, yours sounds like it might be a larger ship than this was. Ours was a private operation, run by a couple we met by coincidence. They were so gracious-- we felt all the while like we were guests in a wonderful home (which, actually, we were!) They have only two staterooms, so they never take more than four guests. This means only six people on a 90-foot barge! Before buying and rebuilding this barge (mostly themselves), they spent 13 years sailing around the world on a 42-foot sailboat, so their life experiences are fascinating. Anyone interested in this operation can look at their web site www.swancruises.com.

What is probably true of all barge cruising is the incredibly relaxing pace, and nice creature comforts. We had wonderful food and wine, lots of down time, and also interesting excursions off the canal. Kellogg and Diana maintain a small minivan which they move along with the barge, so that they can take their guests to see wineries, chateaux, churches, etc-- whatever is interesting. I saw other barges that seem to be doing the same thing.

Choose your location carefully, as you will be seeing a lot of it! On the other hand, one of the fun things for me was that for this part of the trip I had no knowledge or expectations of the area we would be seeing! I made most of the other travel arrangements, and had been obsessing about hotels, sites, etc. For the time on the barge I just put myself in their hands, and I loved the unexpectedness of that!

One other thing: I decided that I would not like to do this kind of trip in hot weather. These boats were not originally designed for passengers, so the air circulation below deck is just so-so. Moderately warm weather is great, but sleeping on one really hot night was a little trying.

Hope this helps, and I definitely recommend the experience.
Old Sep 14th, 2000, 12:50 PM
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Hi Robin,

I am also going to Loire Valley and would like to know what did you mean by "overnight drive to loire valley" ? Did you stay in a chateau ? If yes, then can you tell me which ones and how was the stay ?

Old Sep 18th, 2000, 10:42 AM
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When I said "overnight", I guess I was a little unclear. What I meant was that we drove there one day, and returned the next. We rented a car in Paris one morning, and drove to the chateau area. It actually turned out to be a rather long drive (mostly due to poor navigation and bad estimates of time!). We visited Azay-le-Rideau and Usse, and then drove to our location for the night. It was a chateau, and was very charming-- truly an old home where the proprietor decided to raise a little money by taking in guests. However, it was quite a distance forom the main Loire area. As I said, my map reading was a little weak. It's called Chateau La Vout, and it is mentioned in the Karen Brown guides. I would recommend it, but be aware that you're off in the country!

The next day we returned to Chenonceau, had lunch, and then took another little drive over to Gien, where there is an outlet for their faiencerie. We got back to Paris around seven.

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