Best region to explore without a car?

Jun 22nd, 2009, 07:17 PM
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Best region to explore without a car?

Hi all, I've recently asked for some feedback on our France itinerary, and have made a bit more progress with the planning, and am back again with more questions.

For those that hasn't read my first post: I am part way through planning a trip to Europe, including around 9-10 days in France at the end of September for my husband and myself. We are hoping to spend four full days in Paris, plus a day trip to Versailles. After this we would like to go out into the countryside, and experience as much of the scenery and ambience of rural/regional France as we can. We'll have about three full days.

I had been considering the Loire Valley, but others have also pointed me towards Normandy and Provence. We have however decided not to hire a car, so I'd love some advice on which of these regions (or you might prefer others?) you think are best able to be explored either on local public transport, hiring bicycles or doing organised day tours (probably our least preferred option).

We're not really museum/art gallery people, we would much prefer to do small walks/hikes, wander the streets and admire architecture, enjoy small cafes, etc. I'd also like to get out of major towns if we could, as we're not really city people either. It would be great if there was a smallish village that was central that we could base ourselves in. We would be looking to spend around 50 euro a day for tourist activites (total), plus around 20 euro each for food/drink.

Many thanks for any advice!
mmemarmalade is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 07:22 PM
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You might want to check out thursdaysd's trip report for some ideas (all done with public transport):
yk is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 09:33 PM
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Some great ideas and great places in that trip report, thank you!
mmemarmalade is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 09:18 AM
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It isn't really that easy to explore any rural area without a car. HOwever, there are some parts of France that are less well served by rail lines than others (like the SW, a

The problem is you can't do a lot from a small village without a car. A small village will not have a train station, for starters. So you'll have to get there some other way. And they won't have much bus lines. But, if you can get there, you can do things by bike, sure, in which case the Loire isn't a bad idea. To be honest, I don't think it makes much difference if you want a small village and to do things on your own with a bike or hiring local people to drive you. You aren't really going to get a lot of architurecture in a small village, either. It's really your personal taste as for which area you like and what appeals to you in that area. Normany is very different from Provence.

I wonder if by small village you really mean small city or something. I think of a village as less than 10,000 population. I think St Remy in Provence would be a good choice for you as it is flat around there, and it is a village, more or less (and does not have a train station, but some bus lines).
Christina is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 11:06 AM
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Hi m,

Avignon, Beuane and Nancy are three smaller cities easily reached by train.

ira is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 11:19 AM
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Hi Mmemmalade -

There is a tour company called Paris Vision that offers day trips to Versailles and Monet's garden and house in Giverny.
BobbyPam is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 11:37 AM
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You've said that you like to wander the streets, sit in cafes, hike, etc. then I would not take an organized tour. You won't have the leisure time to see what is offered by the tour company and to wander the streets and enjoy time in cafes.

Senlis and Chantilly are small towns to the north of Paris. They are not what I would term "villages" as they have sights, shops, some tourism, etc. You can get to both via public transportation - train from Paris to Chantilly and then bus to Senlis (ask at tourist info at the train station for bus times). Chantilly has a chateau and the horse museum which you might find interesting and there are a lot of grounds to walk on; Senlis has half timbered houses and is a smaller town.

While in that area you can also visit Compiegne which also has some half timbered houses. If you're into history this is the place where the WWI armistice was signed (outside of the town). There is also a chateau in the town Compiegne. I went there a few years ago and found the area and towns very interesting. You might be able to walk to the clearing where the train car is located (site of the armistice) or if the walk is too long the tourist office will arrange a taxi to take you there. I don't think there are any buses to the site.

All three of these towns are not on the main tourist trail so they might be what you are looking for - accessible via public transport, charming,and not overrun with tourists.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 03:41 PM
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You won't need in a car in Aix. It's beautiful.
BarbSG is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 04:16 PM
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You really have to decide whether you want to be in a town or small city (accessible by train and probably with decent inter-city transportation system) or a village (how will you get there? What will you do?).

You just can't expect to really explore and meander through rural France without a car. The local bus systems are limited, and their routes are planned for locals needing to get to hospitals, shopping centers, etc., not for tourists wanting to see pretty scenery.

Adrienne's given you some great ideas for day trips out of Paris, to which I'd add Auvers-sur-Oise, Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomte. ira's given you a few small cities you can access by train and get around in easily, plus someone else mentioned Aix. I would add to those Sarlat, La Rochelle, Biarritz, Lille, Annecy, Angers.
StCirq is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 05:29 PM
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I reommend Quimper in Brittany. It's not a small village, granted, but it's a lovely small town with good transportation. I think there are good flights from Orly to Quimper, or you could take a four-hour train ride. Plenty to do in Quimper -- the faience factory, a good art museum, nice shopping. And I remember there was quite good bus service to some great smaller villages, especially Concarneau and Locranon. If there's time, I'd also recommend a short train ride to Vannes, one of my favorite towns.
fbc34 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 06:08 PM
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Oh yes, fbc34 has a great suggestion. I'd forgotten about Quimper. Only drawback might be that it's almost "not French." It's really got its own Celtic scene (and language and music and food and everything) going on, so would almost be like visiting another country. But Brittany is very scenic and historically interesting.
StCirq is offline  
Jun 24th, 2009, 01:46 AM
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Hmm, you have all given me much to think about.

Maybe I do mean 'small city' (sorry, it's so objective I know!). I suppose I was after a town that had a more homely feel and that you could easily get out of for day trips by train or by bike (- whichever applied). I don't think I've been anymore objective, so I probably still haven't made much sense!

I know for seriously getting out into the countryside, we will need a car (and maybe we will end up doing this, we just aren't very confident with it as we are from Australia and don't drive on the right, plus speak very little French.) I thought that maybe the Loire Valley might be an exception to this, as we could get to Tours (St Pierre des Corps) via TGV, and then to Amboise by regional train, and then doing bike rides from there.

Maybe I should drop this idea, and instead think about some other cities that we could get to easily, and do day trips out of. I will look into the suggestions you have all given, and see if any seem to be what I'm after. I also just noticed another topic regarding small cities, so I might look into some of those too, and come back once I've got a smaller list of possibilities. Thanks for you input, it is appreciated.
mmemarmalade is offline  
Jun 24th, 2009, 01:57 AM
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Sorry, I should have previewed the post before I submitted it! I meant that my definition of 'small village/town/city' is so subjective, so I've probably made it difficult to understand what I am after. And then my explaination probably didn't help matters further! I am now off to research the many suggestions that have been given...

Thanks again all!
mmemarmalade is offline  
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