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Calling France experts - requesting input on 3 wk itinerary!

Calling France experts - requesting input on 3 wk itinerary!

Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 07:14 AM
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Calling France experts - requesting input on 3 wk itinerary!

I would very much appreciate feedback on this itinerary. Time constraints are removed due to my husband retiring and we’re very fortunate to be able to travel for a month. We’re looking at approximately 3 weeks in France and a week in Rome. My husband loves Rome and wanted to return – he didn’t have to twist my arm. This is a rough draft and I would love input on location order, taking into account the time of year we’re going, and whether or not to include a stop in the Colmar area. Is it too out-of-the-way….we’ve been to the Bavaria region – too similar?

I tend to plan ahead and I’m roughing out the itinerary now so I have the order/nights set by this summer in order to book the apartments. Currently we’re leaning towards leaving around the second week in September putting us in Rome for the first week in October….2012.

Day 1-5 Fly into Geneve – 5 nights in French Alps/Annecy area

Day 6-9 Colmar area?, worth the long drive from here to Dordogne….

Day 10 -17 Dordogne (gite rental for entire week)

Day 18-23 5-6 nights in the Loire Valley staying in or close to Amboise (if we stay 6
nights may split the stay to include Chinon.

Day 24-26 Paris?(not a definite, visited on a previous trip and feel it may be
easier to visit Fontainbleau from here - more flight options to Rome

Day 26-32 Rome – apt rental for the week, flying home from Rome

Thank you in advance for your advice/suggestions.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 07:59 AM
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It's kind of hard to tell without knowing why you picked these locations and what your interests are. Mainly I am wondering why you want to spend 5-6 nights in the Loire Valley near Amboise? This would be boring to me, but I don't find chateaux that particularly interesting, to be honest. Just touring big old, mostly empty stone houses where rich people lived isn't intersting to me (yes, I've done it, a couple were enough). But they must be of interest to you unless you have some other particular interst in that area, agricultural or something.

So, other than that comment, I think going from Dordogne to Loire to Paris makes sense. I wouldn't do the COlmar thing myself given it doesn't fit into your itinerary very well.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 08:27 AM
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Colmar is not in the French Alps area at all, so unless you have a very specific reason to go there, I would not consider that detour.

From the Alps, I would drive through the Massif Central to get to the Dordogne. It's worth spending a few days there on other than the autoroute.


I would spend fewer nights in the Loire valley, although there are many things to see there.


and if you start from the west and go east in the Loire valley, Fontainebleau is on the way to Paris and could be seen then. Or better yet, Vaux-le-Vicomte which cannot be reached conveniently on public transportation:


And if you visit the Loire valley from east to west, you might want to stop by Chartres:

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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 08:37 AM
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I did a ~10 day tour of the Loire, East to West, that included Fontainbleau at the beginning, and Chartres + Giverny at the end. Started in Paris, finished in Paris.

Not sure why you would base yourself anywhere. Assuming you have a car, why not drive the Loire, staying wherever your day finishes, which is what I did. By staying in Amboise only, you are limiting yourself.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 08:39 AM
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The Loire because we like exploring old castles/buildings, etc. Off the top of my head, I want to see Chenonceau, Chambord, Azay Le Rideau, Usse A Rigny and the town of Amboise & Blois, perhaps a wine class.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 08:48 AM
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Only two days in Paris because you have been before?
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 09:13 AM
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I would drop Colmar and spend no more than 3-4 days in the Loire. You can easily do what you have outlined, and more, in that time. The Loire is relatively boring compared to many other areas.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 09:52 AM
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I have spend loads of time in the Loire Valley and I think it is way overhyped and would suggest fewer days there and more someplace more gorgeous - the Loire has a slew of chataus and a few nice towns like Chinon and Amboise but the countryside IMO is tres ordinaire - boring in fact IMO - I have biked all over it several times because I have a home base in the Loire and that's my take. I'd spend a few more days between the Dordogne and the Loire or even go via Brittany, etc.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 10:20 AM
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Congratulations on retirement. My wife & I retired when we were in our very early 50s so we could travel more. We now spend 2 months in Europe most years - normally 5 weeks in June & 4 weeks in Sept. We have rented 43 gites in France (many of them multiple times), for a total of 74 weeks. We love staying in Gites.

I would fly into Geneva arriving on a Sat, and spend 7 nights on Lake Annecy in a gite. We rented a gite directly on Lake Annecy for 2 weeks in '08 & loved exploring the Alps (gite we stayed in is no longer a gite).

Then spend several days in the Massif Central - staying 2 nights in the Puy du Dome region. We stayed there for 2 weeks in a gite in '06. I'll put a "write-up" I did a while back, below this "section". Then 1 night in Bourges, and then 4 nights in the Loire. We've stayed in the Loire for 2 weeks in 2 different gites on two different trips, plus other 2-5 night stays in hotels. We love Chateaux, but I agree with St Cirq that the region is not very scenic compared to other places in France that you plan n visiting.

Then down to the Dordogne for a week in a Gite. We've stayed there for a total of 10 weeks. Take the train from Brive to Paris (after visiting Collonges la Rouge & Turrenne) OR drive to Toulouse, stay there overnight, and see if there is a flight from Toulouse to Rome.

Notice that that puts you Sat to Sat in Annecy, and Sat to Sat in the Dordogne. This gives you the most options for renting gites because most of them only rent from Sat to Sat (all 43 of the gites we've rented only rent Sat to Sat)

Puy de Dome

Here are some thoughts on the Puy de Dome.

In July ’06, we rented a Gite near Olby & spent two weeks exploring the area. In this region, the natural beauty is the main attraction. Compared to the villages & cities you’ve already visited in the Dordogne & Languedoc, the ones in the Puy de Dome are really not that interesting. Like I mentioned earlier, I would skip Cleremont-Ferrand entirely. Only old Montferrand was mildly worthwhile – but still nothing like Bordeaux, Perigueux, Sarlat, Toulouse, Albi, Pezanes, Bourges, or Troyes. When we were there, we visited about 15 chateaux, but unfortunately very few are open in May. I glanced at my “Route Historique des Chateaux d’Auvergene” brochure, and I found very few – if any - open in May. Here is their web site if you want to search for the few open

The Michelin Green Guide has many driving itineraries. Here are the sections we enjoyed the most
1. The D216/D27/D983 from the N89/E70/D941 intersection, past Orcival, all the way to le Mont Dore
2. The D983 from the above mentioned D216 to the N89.
3. The D922 from Tauves to Lagueuille
4. The small D640 from the D996, to the D150 to St Nectaire. This affords wonderful views of both St Nectaire & the distant ruins of Murol chateau.
5. The D36 from Besse en Chandesse to le Mont Dore.

Here are some of our favorite villages
1 Lavaudieu
2 Besse en Chandesse – probably the most interesting of the villages
3 Montpeyroux – this is an interesting village to explore. It’s right next to the freeway with a great view of it from the freeway
4 Brioude – interesting church also.
5 Blessle
6 Champeix
7 Billom – take the Michelin walk. Excellent Monday morning market. Nice store called Maison de Campagne on Rue Carnot

Some of our favorite sites
1 the Church at Orcival
2 Murol – it’s in ruins, but quite interesting.

The views from the top of the Puy de Dome are fantastic. We had dinner at the restaurant on top one evening, and watched a thunderstorm pass. If you get a chance, have dinner up at the top of the Puy. I’m a big foodie, and I expected the restaurant to be a little touristy – but it wasn’t. In fact, it was one of our 4 best meals in the region.

The other 3 best meals were l’Ours des Roches in Courteix near Pontgibaud, Radio in Chamaliers, & La Belle Meuniere in Royat.

Here are some drives/sites/villages we did not find as interesting as the Michelin Green Guide suggests
1. Gorges d’Aveze – especially if you visit the Gorges du Tarn.
2. The countryside east of the A75 freeway
3. Col de Ceyssat (too many tree trunks)
4. The Funiculaire du Capucin ride from Mt Dore. It was OK, but a little too time consuming

If I were to stay in one town, I would choose Besse en Chandesse. There are several Michelin listed hotels in town. Another option would be Mont Dore, but it’s a thermal/spa town and geared to that crowd. It’s somewhat interesting to visit, but I would not want to stay there. It seemed a little too “fake” to me. La Bourboule would be another choice, but it looked a little tattered & worn. Perhaps it was a more elegant town 100 years ago.

Here’s a nice itinerary to get to the Puy de Dome from le Puy en Velay.

Head northwest on the N102. Just past a large loop in the road, turn right on the D513 to Chavaniac Lafayette. The chateau there is the birthplace of the Marquis de La Fayette – who helped us in our war of independence. If you have time and the inclination, visit the chateau and the exhibits about the Marquis. It’s a self guided tour, and one of the few that’s open in May. It closes for lunch. I’m pretty sure they have a handout in English. After the chateau, head northwest on the small D21, through Paulhaguet, then on the D56 to Lavaudieu. Get out and explore this village – there’s a picture of it in the Michelin Guide. Continue on the D203/D20 to Brioude. This is kind of a perched town. You will first encounter a large parking lot. Park there & take the elevator up into town. We found the church there to be very interesting and a walk through town worthwhile also. See the Michelin Guide for suggested sites to visit in town.

After Brioude, gage the time, and perhaps visit Blesle if you have time & are not “villaged-out”. I would perhaps skip Blesle, and from Brioude, take the D5888 west and get on the freeway towards Cleremont Ferrand. Almost immediately, get off at exit # 17 and drive through St Germain-Lembron, head north a bit and turn left (west) on the small D125 to Chalus (note the chateau to your right), Villeneuve-Lembron (chateau not open in May), and then to Mareugheol, which is an interesting village. After Mareughol, head southwest on the D717, and then catch the D48 west and then the D32 northeast towards Vodable, then the D124/D23 north. At the larger D26 road at Chidrac, head west Besse en Chandesse – noting the interesting St Floret along the way. Most of the route I just described from St Germain to the D26 can be found in the Michelin Green Guide under “Issoire” It’s probably easier to follow the Green Guide’s description than mine.

For the next day explore the Puy de Dome, following the roads I mentioned above and visiting any sites that interest you. Just driving aimlessly in this region is rewarding.

When it’s time to leave the Puy de Dome for Bourges, get on the A75 freeway, but get off at exit #7 to visit Montpeyroux. My guess is that this charming village is inhabited by wealthy people working in Cleremont Ferrand, since freeway access is so easy. Wander around, and climb up the tower for some great views over the village & down into the back yards & gardens of the houses.

You will need map # 326 to explore the Puy de Dome. If you get an older map, it might not show that the A89 freeway has been extended all the way to the A71 freeway north of Cleremont Ferrand.

Make sure you visit Chateau Meillant on the way to Bourges. It could be one of the most interesting chateau you will have visited on this vacation. It closes for lunch. Opening times are in the Dordogne Green Guide.

Stu Dudley
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