Backroad Experiences in France?

Old Jan 6th, 2008, 07:51 PM
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Backroad Experiences in France?

Like others, I am looking for advice on the best places to visit in France. My husband and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary; a trip to France for the entire month of April. An important trip for us as our anniversary is on 9/11 and we haven't really celebrated it since.

Flat in Paris (two weeks)
Two weeks to wander France

We love small quaint towns, castles, art and arms museums, out of the way places, local wine/cheese/food and non-fussy but comfortable lodging.

We are planning to drive through Normany, Loire, Dordogne, a long stay in Languedoc-Roussillon (for Cathar Castles), Provence, French Alps and back to Paris.

Advice for first-timers would be greatly appreciated (e.g., car rentals, routes, quaint towns, lodging, museums, other backroads sites, saving money!).

Many Thanks, Charlotte

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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 12:24 AM
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Hi C,

>We are planning to drive through Normany, Loire, Dordogne, a long stay in Languedoc-Roussillon (for Cathar Castles), Provence, French Alps and back to Paris.

Have you plotted your route at

That sounds to me like something a traveling salesman would be forced to do in 2 weeks.

ira is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2008, 01:51 AM
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two weeksin Paris is great....the wandering needs to be cut to maybe just one ( maybe two) of those areas, otherwise it will be a torture trip.

One can easily spend two weeks just wandering Provence , or wandering Dordogne, or wandering Normandy, or Loire, or Burgundy....but not all of them at once. Too much and way too little time.

Less is more. Maybe get a flat for a week each in the two areas that you want to see most & wander from that base? I think you would find that more rewarding,

Enjoy! Happy 10th!
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 05:48 AM
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Lucky you, to have a month. But you'll have a speedy two weeks covering all the places you listed after Paris. I can see doing this, but not enjoying it. It sounds like too much autoroute driving, which cuts you off from what you came to experience. Back road driving is fun if you pick scenic routes but you can't fit in everything on your list in two weeks of back road driving.

You don't need to plan lodgings way ahead in April in the countryside. Except on weekends, you probably can book rooms in the morning for that evening. Take advantage of having a car, which lets you linger where you like or move on to someplace better.
Just remember to book ahead for weekends.

Here are a few examples of driving tours in the areas you mentioned.

Our Michelin road atlas from 2006 shows a 240km driving tour of Le pays cathare taking two days. It's a circuit from Carcassonne to Perpignan.

In Normandy, the atlas suggests 3 days for a circuit from Rouen to the coast and back; 2 days from le Bec-Hellouin to Lisieux to the coast and back; 3 days from Avranches to Le Mont-St Michel, along the coast, down to Dinan, and back; and 3 days for the Norman alps.

The chateaux of Touraine route goes east and west from Tours and Hichelin allows 3 days. Not much if you wanted to see every chateau, but save some for next time!

La Roque-Gageac and St Jean-de-Cole are part of the Perigord noir & vert route--2 days.

For lodgings, go online to the Alastair Sawday website. Karen Brown is also good but last time I checked their website wasn't very informative. Sawday has several books for France--B&Bs, hotels and chateaux, holiday homes (gites). An establishments pays to be listed, but they must pass inspection.

See what guides your library has or can get for you on interlibrary loan. The Eyewitness guides are great.

Don't feel you HAVE to do what everybody else says. That includes alll the tourist biggies like the Eiffel Tower.

I'm glad you're going to see more of France than Paris. To us, the real France is in the countryside. Paris is a marvel, but there's such variety in the landscape and architecture. Regional character is pretty strong throughout rural France.

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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 06:11 AM
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I think you underestimate the size of France - it's pretty big!

Also, I suggest that you consider this your FIRST visit and not your ONLY one...
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 06:16 AM
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I did a 10-day driving tour of the Loire, including Chartres, Giverny and Fontainebleau, month of August.

I used the Michelin Green Guide and followed their East to West sugggestions. It was my favorite driving tour. Small towns, castle, vineyards, backroads, swimming in the Loire, caves, fresh fish for dinner, medieval fairs, getting lost multiple times and enjoying it,etc..

I agree with others that to you should limit your 'rural' trip to either one area thouroughly or two areas somewhat less. A recent thread suggested Normandy and the Loire, that would be nice. Have a look at the viamichelin site for distances, and then add in fact that travel will be slower as you leave main roads...and, you want to feel that you can pull over and spend time at sites that pop up as you go along (and they will!), and not feel you must keep going because you need to get somewhere else a distance away.

Out of the city, I had no problem finding accomodations, so whatever town I ended up in at the end of the day was where I stayed. I found that great because I did not need to worry about being anywhere, other than where I was at that moment.
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 07:12 AM
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If you are considering the French Alps, school holidays for the 3 zones start on April 4 and end May 4. You may have problems with accomodations in the area.
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 08:12 AM
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The way I do the math, you are going to try to do six entire AREAS of France in probably 12 days (assume you need to get back to Paris and spend a night before leaving)....and you're including in that "a long stay in Languedoc-Roussillon."

Does not compute.

If L-R is a highlight of this expedition, I'd drive south from Paris, maybe touring the Loire for a couple of days, spend 4-5 days in the Dordogne, then the same in L-R, and head back to Paris.
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 10:04 AM
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I realize the schedule is a bit much. We love to just drive and see the backroads even here in the US.

I am very pleased with this forum! Excellent advice from everyone THANK YOU! This gives me much to work from.

Top 3 quaint (less touristy) villages to see?

Anyone know of a remote and reasonable medieval castle (with medieval motif) for accomodations??

Regards, Charlotte
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 10:28 AM
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Top 3 quaint all of France?????
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 10:43 AM
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There are thousands of cute little villages in France - more than you could possible visit in a lifetime. Asking for the top 3 will yield hundreds of responses - depnding on the tastes and experiences of the people responding. Village in Brittany are quite different than those in the Pays Basque, which are different froom Alsace, which are different from Burgundy, which are different from the Alps, which are different from Provence, etc, etc, etc.

I April, I would want to head south to Provence and the Languedoc/Roussillon region. Take the 3 hr TGV to Aix, pick up a car, then head west. End in Perpignan and either fly home from there or take a train back to Paris. In 2 weeks, you'll barely scratch the surfice of this area. Personally, I would just stay in Provence for the two weeks.

I live in California in the San Francisco area & usually spend 2 months in France each year - in different regions. The "density" of things to do & see in France is far greatr than here in California, IMO. I don't think your experiences in driving backroads in the US is anything like what you will find in France. After over 25 years vacationing there, we're still finding new & interesting places to visit.

Stu Dudley
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 11:03 AM
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Dear Charlotte,

I have spent about 100 weeks of my life vacationing in France and I still haven't seen everything what you are planning to see in two weeks!

You find quaint villages, castles and scenic backroads everywhere in France, so I would suggest to follow a different approach:

First, think about spending two weeks in Paris. Although Paris IS a fantastic city, two weeks are pretty much - unless you include some daytrips from Paris into the surrounding area. I would recommend Versailles (of course), Chantilly, Fontainebleau. The ancient monastery of Vaulx de Cernay may also be a destination. But still 10 days may be enough in order to get some more time for seeing the countryside.

Second, start with selecting regions to visit. IF you really want to see quaint villages, castles and backroads, you should select not more than two regions in order to have seven days per region. If you cut your stay in Paris, you can see three regions.

Here are the main regions to consider:

- Provence. Mediterranean, somewhat arid landscape, sometimes spectacular (rivers, canyons, lakes). April is a good time because flowers will bloom. Lots of Roman ruins. Medieval history as well.

- Cote d'Azur. Spectacular coastline. Scenic drives. The world's stronghold of modern art. Mediterranean lifestyle. Something of everything. Warmest region in April.

- Loire Valley. Dozens of spectacular castles, mostly of renaissance time.

- Burgundy. Medieval cities (Beaune, Dijon), monasteries, castles, wine and food. Beautiful villages.

- Alsace. Historic towns and quaint villages. Wine and food. Mountains.

- Brittany. A taste of Celtic culture in France. Megaliths. Quaint villages. Coastline.

- Normandy. A few spots with beautiful coastline.

- Dordogne. A nice river valley, some quaint towns, prehistoric caves, truffles (not in season in April), foie gras.

- Aquitaine. Spectacular coastline. Wine, wine & wine (Bordelais).

- Champagne. Caves.

- Languedoc-Roussillon. The southwestern extension of Provence. Spectacular medieval towns.

- Savoie. The Route des Grandes Alpes is most spectacular. In April, some sections might still be closed.
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 11:09 AM
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YOu can also borrow a book from your library called something like the 100 most beautiful towns in France, which will give you an idea of what the regions look like.
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 11:27 AM
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Les 152 Plus Beaux Villages...
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 11:34 AM
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Both Stu and St Cirq have been on this board for years and give excellent advice.
I live in Alaska where we commonly drive 4 hours one way to spend the weekend on the Kenai River.
What one doesn't realize is that 4 hours at speeds of 70+ doesn't compute to where all you can go and what all you can see on the backroads of France.
France, I beleive, is bigger than Texas but even more densely packed than England.
Five days in any of the regions which you mentioned will barely scratch the surface. We spent a whirlwind 6 nights in Provence in 2005 and all it did was whet our desire to go back, and to go back as many times as we could afford!
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 11:45 AM
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If you're planning on renting a car for more than 17 days, you might consider a lease. You won't have to pay any value added tax and you get a new car with full insurance coverage. We did this last year and had no regrets. We used Auto Europe as our broker and leased a new Peugeot from Peugeot Open Europe.

Here's a link to Auto Europe:

To read about our trip in the country side and other parts of Europe, see our trip report here:
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Old Jan 7th, 2008, 12:38 PM
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>>France, I beleive, is bigger than Texas<<

Slightly smaller, according to Lance Armstrong.

Stu Dudley
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