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Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Aquitaine, & maybe Dordogne to Toulouse???

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This is long, but I am trying to consolidate all of my questions into one long post.

We will be visiting primarily the Aquitaine, Poitou Charentes area for three weeks in October, flying from the US into Bordeaux and out of Toulouse. I’d asked here a while ago about a possible cycling trip in the area and got lots of good advice. I think we have settled on a self-guided cycling trip in the Entre Deux Mers area. (I’ll say right now that I have no idea how to add the accent marks to names.)

Cycling trip—Starts from Bordeaux, leaving town on the Roger Lapebie cycle path towards St. Emilion where we will spend one night. Day 2—Ride on back roads and cycle paths and end up in St. Macaire where we will have two nights. Day 3—Take the Garonne canal path to Fontets and Meilhan sur Garonne to La Reole and get to the canal again at Castets back to St. Macaire. Day 4—Cycle to Langon and Chateau Roquetaillarde to Uzeste , ending up in Sauternes for the night. Day 5—Reach Barsac appellations to Cerons and then to Cadillac towards Portets , and spend night in Martillac. Day 6—Follow the Route de Vignes to the Pessac-Leognan appellation before returning to Bordeaux. Does this sound like an interesting route for people who want to see a variety of interesting villages and landscapes? While we enjoy wine, we are not so much interested in visiting a lot of the famous chateaux or appellations.

I’ve also spent many hours here reading comments on the entire larger area. As always, there are way too many places to see and things to do to fit in everything that sounds good.

After our cycling trip we’ll pick up a car. I know for sure we will want to spend time in La Rochelle and have some cycling time while we visit Ile de Re (and possibly Ile de Oleron). So, this is probably another 5 or 6 days. Arachon and Cap Ferrat and the dune I am vacillating on since we’ve been to the ocean plenty of times, and we tend to not enjoy standard tacky beach towns that could be anywhere. Our preference is for quaint, authentic, harbors, perhaps tidal areas rather than wide open ocean.

We need to end up in Toulouse where I assume I should plan for a couple days (even though we are not huge fans of big cities) before flying out. Albi sounds great, but it is on the other side of Toulouse.

Other places I have read about that sound interesting are Rochefort, Blaye, Saintes, Cognac, Angouleme, Perigueux, Bergerac, and Monbasillac. When booking the trip my original plan had been to fit in perhaps a week in the Dordogne between Bordeaux and Toulouse, but then I found out about La Rochelle and all of these other marvelous places. I have done zero research on the Dordogne and am wondering if it would be best left for a future trip.

I know for sure already that between the cycling trip and our first few nights in Bordeaux to recover from jet lag, 8 nights are gone. If I devote another 5 or 6 to the La Rochelle/Ile de Re area and 2 to Toulouse, that means I have only 6 to 7 nights left for the Dordogne or other areas we want to visit.

We tend to be less is more, slow travel people who do not like strict itineraries. And, in fact, on most of our trips we tend to operate by the how the spirit moves us type of planning, often getting up in the morning and deciding what to do or deciding the previous evening. We also much prefer base type trips where we have longer in one place to get to know it rather than moving around frequently driving from place to place frantically running around trying to see all of the tourist sites all of the time. Finally, I am very tempted to leave open my time between the cycling trip and flying out of Toulouse to just wing it, visiting what happens to appeal to us and taking the weather into account.

Will we want to spend more time around the Bordeaux area and want to see more than what we’ll see while cycling? Should I plan for more time in the area? If so, where should I think about locating?

Should I just skip the Dordogne altogether this trip?

Am I guessing right that I’ll need at least two nights in Toulouse? Or, should we skip it and just get there to get to the airport?

Which of the places I’ve mentioned (or others I’ve not thought of) should I insert time for?

Can you give me a suggestion for some places that might be good to base ourselves for 3 or 4 nights to see some of the other areas we want to visit?

I will really appreciate any comments you have.

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    I adored Toulouse, which I found beautiful and engaging and filled with some outstanding architecture and some wonderful works of art. Two nights were far from enough for me. Albi is also delightful, IMO; you could easily see it as a day trip from Toulouse if you give yourselves enough time. (It's only an hour away.)

    From what you've said, it doesn't sound to me like you have time for the Dordogne this trip, particularly if you like a slower pace.

    If you don't already have it, I strongly recommend the Michelin Green Guide for the area.

    Hope that helps!

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    Just a few comments and caveats:

    I'm not a cyclist and I'm not fond of the château country areas around Bordeaux, so that part of the trip would not appeal to me. I know it's a huge draw for many people; it's not for me.

    Arcachon and Cap Ferret (not Ferrat) and the dune are IMO not standard tacky beach towns, far from it. The whole Bassin d'Arcachon is beautiful, and as a map shows, not wide open beach, but tidal. I'm fond of La Rochelle and the Ile de Ré, but neither is "quaint." You can find "quaint" on the Ile d'Oléron as long as you are OK with it looking scruffy compared to La Rochelle and Ré.

    As for Rochefort, Blaye, Saintes, Cognac, Angouleme, Perigueux, Bergerac, and Monbasillac: all are worth a stop (except Cognac, which IMO is an unappealing one-trick town), but Périgueux is the front runner, with an exquisite old quarter, a fine market, and stupendous Gallo-Roman antiquities. The old waterfront part of Bergerac is a pleasant and historic place to spend half a day. The others I wouldn't be pained to miss but would be happy to find myself there.

    Doesn't sound as though you have near enough time for the Dordogne on this trip.

    Two nights in Toulouse would be a bare minimum for me. It's one of my favorite cities in France. And surrounding towns like Castelnaudary, Revel, Graulhet, etc., are lovely.

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    Thanks all!

    I've been following up on your comments and doing some more research. I've got the two different Michelin guides to the area, the last published (why oh why don't they make them any more?) Cadogan guide, and the DK guide to the area.

    We do not want to have a trip where we spend our time in a car driving from place to place and getting out for an hour or two. Nor do we want a total relaxation type of trip because we want to immerse ourselves in new environments. We want a balance of activities and sights, and a balance of active time with some down time.

    After our cycling trip and visiting Bordeaux itself, Arcachon Basin sounds exactly like the type of place we would enjoy--water-based activities, possible boat trip, Victorian architecture, small quaint harbors, walking, nature etc. My Cadogan guidebook says that some of the small towns on the back basin area could come from a 16th century Dutch painting, so I think we'd like to stay in that area for three nights. Does anyone have any suggestions for a town to base ourselves? We are the type of people who will choose a fabulous location with dumpy (well, there is a limit...) accomodation over a fancy place in a mediocre location. And, our usual preference for a stay of three nights or longer is an apartment or gite so we can spread out. We also prefer B & Bs or small family run hotels over big, fancy, anonymous places.

    Then we'd drive up to the la Rochelle area for activities there. We'll want to spend at least a day cycling on the Ile de Re, and a couple days in La Rochelle itself, plus maybe a visit to Ile d'Oleron. So, I am guessing maybe five nights. I'd love to just stay in one place rather than splitting my stay between La Rochelle and Ile de Re. What are your thoughts? Should I split the stay or just stay in one of the two locales? If so, which one would work out best? We are not nightlife and fancy restaurant people, but we want good central locations where we can walk to some low-key, non-tourist restaurants and/or find some great shops to get our own food.

    Then, perhaps up to Bergerac as a base for other towns in the area. It seems to me that staying in Bergerac would allow us the greatest flexibility in visiting places within a reasonable radius.

    Then, we'd make it down to Toulouse for three nights, giving two full days in the city. I haven't counted out days yet, but I am thinking that this general route and plan might work, maybe.

    Thoughts on this possible plan for an October holiday? Thanks again.

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    Sorry, don't know of any "Dutch painting towns" anywhere in the area. That sounds like some tour guide nonsense. But I might just not know.

    Up to you how you split your time around La Rochelle. Ile de Ré is rock-star territory (think Johnny Depp), so if you're looking for "quaint" places, that ain't it. Neither is La Rochelle, though it's very pretty. Driving between Ile de Ré and La Rochelle over the bridge isn't arduous, but it gets old pretty quickly, and it gets dark early in October, so I'd pick on over the other. Or go to Ile d'Oléron, which is much calmer and more authentic. You won't find "great shops" anywhere on Ile de Ré, La Rochelle, or Ile d'Oléron IME, unless your idea of "great shops" is different from mine or far more expensive. You'll find plenty of good food and plenty of shops, and fresh markets, but depends on your standards for "great shops." Seems like you're looking to avoid being a tourist in most places but still want all the goodies tourists want. A bit of a conundrum.

    Bergerac is a lousy base...for WHAT other towns in the area? Apart from the minuscule old quartier down by the river (great boat tour, btw), it's a total bore. And what other towns do you envision visiting in the "reasonable radius?" There's nothing of much interest at all.

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    No, I am not at all into shopping, and we don't do souvenirs!

    I want nice local places where we could take out some pre- made food, like you might find in a charcuterie. You described exactly what I am looking for--good food and fresh markets.

    I've just spent some time with Google maps. Tell me if what I calculated is about right.

    If I base in la Rochelle, I could see that and make reasonable day trips to both Ile de Re and Ile d'Oleron or Rochefort.

    Thank you for filling me in on the reality of Ile de Re. That is certainly not us! We just returned from a midwest vacation to a summer hotspot. The place where we always choose to stay and locate ourselves is away from the craziness and well-known/publicized places in the area. And, we stay in a pretty dumpy place because it has a great setting that more than compensates for its total lack of upscaleness.

    Ile d'Oleron perhaps does sound much more like us, but I think it would be difficult to operate out of if we want to visit any other locations simply because of distances. We'd love to cycle or walk and visit small harbors etc. so if there is a lot of that on Oleron it might work for us (we don't need biggie sights or tourist attractions but also don't want to just sit and veg).

    Theoretically, the day we leave la Rochelle we could make stops at Saintes and Angouleme and end up in Perigueux. Google maps says this is three and a half hours of driving. Whether this time estimate is correct I have no way of knowing. Would this give us enough time for those stops?

    With a base in Perigueux, if we wanted, we could make day trips to Bergerac, Monbazillac and Monpazier. Right?

    I am just trying to get a handle of different combinations and possibilities that might work out logistically.

    Thanks again.

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    We're on vacation in France w/ only an iPhone for Internet, do this w/b short. We recently spent 2 wks in a gite in La Flotte on the ile de Re. I don't see it as a rock-star haven esp in Oct. A lot of pleasing towns to visit & if you like oysters/seafood you'll be in heaven. Many small ports feature wonderful understated restaurants. BUT in Sept 2014 it cost 16 euros (only paid in 1 direction) to cross the bridge to the mainland - toll MAY be lower seasonally. Everybody cycles all over the lace.

    We loved Rochefort and Cognac and La Rochelle & were underwhelmed w/Saintes.

    Agree that Bergerac isn't a good base. Perigieux isn't that great a base either. Stay near Sarlat.

    Use via Michelin to estimate drive times - not Google.

    Adored Arcachon.

    Stu Dudley

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    Great to hear from you Stu and to get your perspectives since I know you've done a lot of France and can make comparisons between places.

    I think I am now going to first focus on finding a place in the Arcachon basin area for three or so nights since everyone agrees that is a fabulous area. Then I'll start thinking about the Ile de Re/la Rochelle and further on dilemma. The bridge toll to Ile de Re reminds me of the toll to Sanibel in Florida--probably intended to keep the "rif raf" out was our take on the toll.

    My husband and I talked last night and agreed that we are not wanting a trip that is devoted primarily to real sightseeing. Yes, we want to do some of that but we also just want to enjoy ourselves in intriguing, low-key places that provide us with opportunities to enjoy the different environment that France is. We've kind of agreed to pre-book Bordeaux city and a hotel in Toulouse for the end of the trip, do our cycle trip, and then book some nights in Arcachon area. For the middle portion we are going to wing it creating our itinerary assuming that in October we should be able to find acceptable lodging just a few days ahead of time.

    We are seafood lovers so that really makes the area sound much more desirable. And, since we are from the upper Midwest and love coastal areas, this may end up being a trip that focus primarily on those areas rather than moving inland. Brittany is one of my all time favorite areas of France, and this area sounds as though it may compete.


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    Ile d'Oléron WILL pose challenges getting in and out, true. But so does Ile de Ré. And yes, in October you probably won't notice the rock-starness of Ile de Ré, but you'll still feel the rock-star prices.

    Agree that Google maps is close to useless. Use I doubt you'll find enough of great interest in either Saintes or Angoulème to make you want to linger, but yes, you could fit that into a day's drive. There are much more interesting smaller places to visit, though.

    Yes, you could use Périgueux as a base for Bergerac, Monbazillac, and Monpazier, but be aware that getting in and out of Périgueux is a huge pain. Loads of roundabouts and lots of traffic and really unpleasant industrial surroundings. But for the things you've pinpointed seeing, Sarlat would not be an ideal base. And Périgueux is really delightful and non-touristy once you're parked there, unlike Sarlat, which is tourist central all year long.

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    While we stayed in La Flotte on Ile de Re for 2 weeks in late Aug/early Sept we dined out at the port 8 times!! By FAR the best restaurant (all seafood) was L'Ecallier - In fact we ate there 5 times. According to the current Mich guide the lunch fix price menu is 41E & Dinner is 47 to 63E. We also ate at the 'Chai nous comme Chai vous' which was excellent. The fix price menu there is 25-42E.

    The OP can decide if these are workable for her.

    Stu Dudley

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    I just watched a youtube video of someone cycling on Ile de Re. Looks like a place we might be interested in for a three night stay. Would three nights there and three nights in la Rochelle be overkill, especially if we would have already had three nights in the Archachon area? Ideally I'd like to find a small place with a kitchen for stays both places.

    Has anyone visited the Marais Potevin area not too far north of la Rochelle? If so, what did you think of it, and how about in October?

    Stu--When you mention the port, exactly where are you referring to on Ile de Re? I assume this is a different part of the island from where you stayed.

    St. Cirq--Thanks for the warning about getting in and out of Perigueux. I can already hear the fuming and language coming out of my husband's mouth if we would want to do this several times. So, now I am kind of at a loss. Would it be better to base somewhere else and try to make one long day trip into Perigueux? Or, kind of give up on this area and do something else?

    For those of you who know the area, what would your recommendations be for someone who needs to travel from the la Rochelle area to Toulouse (I am thinking of about three nights and two full days in Toulouse) and who doesn't want to make just a series of one night stops on a driving trip? I am thinking I have maybe 4 to 5 nights for this area. Or, if I would do stays in both Ile de Re and la Rochelle, this would only give me a couple nights between these locales.

    I am starting to find, as I so often do when planning these trips, that there are way too many places to visit and things to do for the amount of time we have.

    Thank you.

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    Yes, I think 3 nights in La Rochelle and 3 nights on the Ile de Ré would be overkill. I would allocate maybe 4 nights for both places. I think Stu was referring to the port in La Flotte.

    A 41-euro lunch, btw, to me reflects "rock star" prices. We can have an absolutely divine 5-course lunch at L'Espérance in Le Buisson (1 Michelin star) for 28.

    As for Périgueux, I hate to say it, but if you're not going to actually hunker down and visit the Périgord for a good many days, I'd just forget it. It will be a tease. And I find it strange that your other two choices are Monbazillac (what's the big deal? A castle? They're everywhere) and Monpazier (OK, it's a gorgeous bastide town, but a kind of pick-out-of-a-hat choice in an area rich with other such places). IMO you're trying too hard to stay off the beaten path and missing some really good stuff by doing so.

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    My cycling trip and Bordeaux are the only things I already have any reservations for. And, I need to get home from Toulouse where I think I am hearing I need three nights and two days. So, that leaves me about eleven nights in between. Where would you recommend that we go in those eleven or so nights without making this into a marathon driving /road trip? (Or, to get more days I could also just skip visiting Toulouse altogether and just end our trip at the airport there. We've sometimes done that in the past--just skip visiting the city we are flying in or out of.)

    Please tell me what the really good stuff is. That is what I am trying to figure out. Are you suggesting that I give up on all other locales (Archachon, la Rochelle, Ile de Re etc.) and just spend my time in the Dordogne since that had been my initial thought when booking my plane tickets and where everyone seems to go? Bottom line: We are looking to visit a variety of areas with interesting overall ambiance and activities because that, rather than say a famous church or monument or museum, is what stays in our memories long after the trip. We do not want a trip that is limited to getting out of the car and visiting a church, getting back in, driving to the next place and walking through a small town for two hours, and then going to a museum and getting back in the car to move on again.

    And, I am having a difficult time guesstimating about how long would be a good match for staying in places. That is one of the reasons I am seriously contemplating just winging it in the middle portion of the trip. While I have time at home I want to do in-depth research about places and the lodging possibilities in places that we might end up going. Then, if we decide to go with the winging it option, I can have a list of possible bases and possible places to stay in each of those locales.

    By the way, I too kind of gasped at those food prices wondering if it was going to cost us this much to eat all over the area. But, we are the ones who often will eat very modestly, stopping in bakeries or doing take-out or dining in smaller neighborhood places.

    I appreciate the thoughts.

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    I think you could skip La Rochelle and Ile de Ré. They will take you out of your way if Toulouse is the ultimate destination. You can get a nice taste of the seaside in Arcachon and Cap Ferret. Maybe 3 nights in that area, then head straight into the Périgord (you can stop at Monbazillac on the way, and Bergerac, too) and spend 4-5 nights in/near Sarlat. There are literally hundreds of things you can do in the area, and October is usually a lovely month.

    From there you could wind your way down to Toulouse through Rocamadour, Collonges-la-Rouge, Martel, the Gouffre de Padirac, Figeac, Villefranche de Rouergue, La Salvetat, Cordes-sur-Ciel, then Albi, and finally Toulouse. You could pick a central place like Villefranche and branch out from there for a couple of nights, or just wend your way slowly south.

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    Great--very helpful!

    I have also been thinking about the weather factor here and realizing that in the coastal areas so many of the lovely things to do I read about seem to be predicated on having non-rainy weather. October, of course, can be quite iffy for rain. The more I think about it, it seems reasonable to me since this is shoulder season and we are not the kind of people who absolutely need to stay at that one little exquisite gem of a place for lodging that we make our plans just a few days out once we know what the weather forecast is like.

    We typically are not fans of big, bustling cities with the shopping streets of the usual suspects of international chain stores and lots of office buildings and modern sprawl. We don't need nightlife or fancy restaurants. We prefer smaller, more manageable places with nice, easy walking to neighborhood restaurants.

    Toulouse is my ultimate destination only because we are flying out of there. Shall I set aside three nights there or devote my time to other possible places? I know Toulouse is a big city. That is why I am wondering.

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    I agree about the iffy weather. In early Oct several years ago, I scraped ice off my car windshield in Provence. La Rochelle is probably north of where you live in the upper Midwest. Here in Carennac on the Dordogne river today the high temp is 95F & sunny. Same forecast for tomorrow. Wednesday is forecast to be high of 64 & rainy most the day. So you just never know for sure about the weather regardless of the season. Good idea to have a Plan B for the cycling.

    Stu Dudley

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    The last two Octobers here have been warm, sunny, and dry. This summer has been the driest in the region since 1959. There are few predictions that October will be much different. The wine crops are ruined. The farmers are despairing. I would not expect a difficult, rainy, cold October, although one never knows.

    Toulouse is NOT a city with international chain stores and office buildings and the usual stupid schlock you find all over Europe. It doesn't have a big-city feel to it, and has incredible cultural treasures. Plus, it's not a major tourist draw, so in October you'll have it to yourselves. If for some reason you find it too city-ish, you can easily get outside it to Auch or other nearby places of interest.

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    A drought? So sorry for all of the farmers because they have no control whatsoever over the rain that can make or break their crop. Your last sentence is especially so true in today's world--one never knows. Weather patterns seem to be unusual all over the world.

    Toulouse is sounding pretty good. I think I may just go ahead and book three nights now and assume we'll enjoy it.

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    St Cirq--

    I just had to follow up on the "Duthch paintings " aspect in reference to the Archachon basin. I knowyu live in the area and visit often. You might want to keep this in m ind for your next visit.

    I found this info on a blog/website called invisible Bordeaux--essential Gironde.

    "Arcachon Bay fishing ports
    Before moving on, be sure to take in the full breadth of the Bassin d’Arcachon’s fishing heritage by visiting some of the charming ports which are dotted around the bay, and perhaps enjoying a bite to eat in the authentic no-frills restaurants that you’ll find there. A good starting point is Gujan-Mestras which boasts no less than seven specific ports: La Hume, Meyran, Gujan, Larros, Canal, Barbotière and Molle. They are all within easy reach of each other and, combined, form a pleasant drive or cycle ride. The oldest of the Gujan ports is Port de Larros, founded in 1882. Its focus has gradually shifted from sardine and mackerel to oyster farming. Other notable ports can be seen in Le Teich, Lège and Andernos-les-Bains, the latter being a lively resort (during the holiday season at least) which offers a slightly smaller-scale alternative to Arcachon. In fact, in some areas Andernos even manages to outclass Arcachon: stretching 232 metres out to sea, its jetty is one of the longest in Europe!"

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