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Different Regions in France

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My daughters and I have visited Paris before and loved it. We want to get to know other places in France better, with the intention of possibly moving there a few years down the road. We are going again to visit in August as this is the only time we are able to go together. Can anyone recommend a couple of regions to visit that have a good balance of city/country like feel to visit? We are going for a couple of days to Colmar, as our great grand parents were born there. We would also like to see Nice and the Meditteranean for a couple of days. Some people say to see Bordeaux, some say Lyon, Montpellier or Beaune. We are not interested in Normandy - not into history and we think the weather would be too unpredictable. Our method of travel will be solely by train. Would appreciate some help! Thank you.

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    If you really want to see France then you need to understand that trains only connect major destinations and will stop at the larger towns along the way in between. And if you want to supplement that with buses then you need to know that buses are mostly designed for the local commuter population and school children and not with the needs of tourists in mind, meaning there will be one or two buses in the morning and afternoon with maybe one or two around lunch time. Fewer buses will run in the summertime since kids are on school vacation and don't need buses to get to/from school.

    While there are a few regions in France where you can get around OK to some places using public transport the majority of France can only truly be seen by renting a car. If you are just interested in hitting major cities/destinations then train travel will be fine. And the Côte d'Azur (where Nice is located) is one of the regions where you can get up and down the coast (but not too far inland) fairly well by public transport. But then there places like the Dordogne or Languedoc-Roussillon where it is next to impossible to explore by train or bus.

    In short, with a few exceptions you can not explore France by public transport and some of the best in what there is to see in France is going to require a car. If you plan on moving here I would think you'd want to know what lies in the vicinity of wherever you're going to live and you need a car for this.

    I'm not trying to discourage you from traveling but just want to let you know what your limitations will be if you plan on sticking to trains and buses to get around France. All the places you mention (Colmar, Beaune, Lyon, Nice, Montpellier) can be seen using public transport so if it's just the large places you want to see you shouldn't have too much trouble sticking to trains. But if you want to explore the countryside and see the multitude of small, charming villages and off the beaten path places that France has to offer you need a car.

    Lastly, since you don't seem to know what to see and do I would suggest you go to your local library and get some guidebooks and study up on France to find out what places interest you. If you ask 100 people on this forum where you should go in France you'll get 100 different answers. Once you figure out what areas interest you and what places you might want to visit then you'll need to check to see if it is logistically feasible and time efficient to visit these places via public transport. Good luck with your research and I'm sure we'll all be happy to assist you with any further questions.

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    Well it may well be that you limit yourself a bit by not having a car but I think you should still be able to have a nice trip using the train. The area around Nice is wonderful and there are alot of daytrip options in that region alone . You don't say how many days you have total but I'd say 5 days in the region of Nice, then maybe a couple of nights in Arles or maybe the Lyon / Beaunne area. Those are areas I am familiar with - have done Nice and Arles by train and bus and "investigated" spending time in the Lyon / Beaunne area as well. I find Rick Steves guides valuable for planning trips either with or without a car.

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    Thank you all for your advice. To tell the truth, I never thought about how we would get around places other then the big cities with public transportation. I am going to take your advice and investigate exactly where we want to go and consider renting a car in those regions where mass transit is not an option. Honestly Bianca, I have lived in the northeast all my life (55) and now that my girls are grown and I am divorced from a person who always had to have his way, I am looking for something totally different in life. I have no family anymore - my parents both passed away and I am glad that I am close to my daughters and that they are on board for wherever we land up next. I have also been laid off of my job within the past year and it looks like my field of work (medical transcription) has been eliminated by voice recognition, so I will be making a new start in that respect as well. Its kind of scary, but I really need a change. I really can't say where we will land up. Anyway, I do really like Rick Steves and his shows. I think I will also pick up his book on France and Backdoor travel. Lyon/Beaunne area sounds like a good idea. Thank you all again!

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    Sorry to both you all again, but I was wondering if I did rent a car, is there a particular map or book that would be good to use to get around? I would think a good map would be necessary especially with all signs obviously in French which we only know a bit of. How do most people who drive do it? Thanks!

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    Hi ledhead. Good for your for taking life by the reins and starting over. I did the same thing a few years ago. Just dropped everything and moved to France. I've got some basic tips to share with you about how to get around France. But first, if you could share with us what your arrival and departure dates are (at least roughly if flights aren't confirmed) that would help people in making suggestions for you. Also, if you do plan on driving then a GPS is a good idea. I personally never use one but I now a lot of people like them and certainly if it's your first time driving abroad I think it's an excellent idea to have one. Now for some other tips. Here we go.

    Get your hands on the Michelin maps. You want the ones of the scale 1:200,000 (regional maps) or 1:150,000 (departmental maps, more detailed, cover slightly less area) for whatever regions you visit. A nice feature of the 1:150,000 maps is they show the starred attractions in the corresponding Michelin Green guidebooks. The Michelin maps have icons for all kinds of historically/touristically interesting things such as châteaux, ruins, churches, abbeys, scenic view points, caves, Roman sites, megaliths, designated scenic roads and many other things. Usually when I'm exploring various regions in France I just look at the map and I am able to plan interesting and scenic drives just reading the map. For instance, I usually look for a designated scenic road, which are highlighted in green, and I especially look for towns with the historic church and/or château icon. I also try to make sure the route goes through as many small villages as possible. Usually putting all these things together I find interesting and scenic drives without even knowing where I am going and with no assistance from a guide book. Often these places are never mentioned in guidebooks and remain completely unknown to many tourists.

    You can buy the Michelin maps from their website and here is a link to the page that shows all of the maps of France:

    The above link takes you to the page showing the scale 1:200,000 maps but you can search the site for the 1:150,000 scale.

    You could also buy them here but then you can't do research beforehand. The maps can be bought in many places such as bookstores, news stands, magazine stores, larger supermarkets, department stores, hypermarkets and in the full service rest areas on the autoroutes, just to name a few.

    You need good guidebooks for whatever region in France in which you will be traveling. I like The Michelin Green Guides but get whichever ones you like best. If you need restaurant info then get The Michelin Red Guides, which cover restaurants.

    And speaking of Michelin, you can go to the website and get info on drive times and distances, toll and fuel costs and suggested routes (i.e. scenic route, fastest route etc.). The drive times given do not consider stops (fuel, food, bathrooms) nor do they consider bad weather and traffic.

    Here is some other general advice for you. You should google some of the town/tourist office websites for any towns you may want to visit. You will find loads of info on these websites including hotel/accommodation and restaurant info as well as what to see and do in the area. Occasionally the websites have English versions. In doing a google search enter the name of your town followed by the words "site officiel" or "office de tourisme" and this will bring the town to the top of your search. Another thing I like to do to see if a town may be worth visiting is enter the town name in a google search followed by the word "photos". Sometimes I visit a town if I find it looks charming/interesting in photos.

    I know somewhere in my list of bookmarked pages I have a website that talks about driving in France and gives pictures and explanations of the various types of road signs you'll encounter. I'll look for that later. I'll stop now and let you digest this and then come back when you have more questions.

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    Your idea of a reconnaissance trip sounds great. I do the same thing in France; I mentally look for a house to buy. I don't kill the dream by looking at actual prices.

    So you want to travel around seeing as much of France as possible in the time available this August. Do you prefer mountains, hills, flat country, rolling green agricultural land--because France has them all. Tell us what you like or think you like and maybe we can advise you.

    I second or third renting a car. You will see so much more and getting around should be less stressful and maybe even cheaper. Are your daughters old enough to help drive or at least navigate?

    Presumably you would (well, let's say "I would") want to live in a small city or town in France. What impresses us about France is how even small towns have none of the stress of cities but have most of the amenities, on a smaller scale of course. Here at home we are 30 miles from the only bakery in our county. One of our favorite towns (5000 pop) in France has five good bakeries, not to mention two bookstores, multiple women's clothing shops, lots of bars, a wine shop, organic food shop.... Oh, and real estate agents.

    If this is your first trip to France outside of Paris, why not make this a trip primarily to see France's great sights--chateaux of the Loire, Mont Saint Michel, medieval hill towns, great cathedrals, whatever you like, and while you are in a region for purposes of tourism, look around and see if it calls to you as a place to live.

    There would of course be many hurdles before you are actually sitting on your own patio in France lifting a glass to the sunset, but you can have a great trip this August with your girls. Be sure and report back to us.

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    I love your spirit and enthusiasm for a new life. I recently read "A Castle in your Backyard" by Betsy Draine about moving to France.

    There are many books of this type and I so enjoy reading them. It's not possible for us to move to France, but we do travel there every year for a new adventure. In between trips I search out all the books on moving there.

    We've driven in The Loire, Provence & the Riviera. Actually the driving is quite easy in the countryside and small towns. It sometimes gets a bit difficult in the larger towns, but as long as you are not in a hurry & have good maps it's possible to do.

    We're going to The Dordogne after Paris this fall and I will take some of the advice given above with us.

    Good luck and maybe I'll be able to read your book on moving to France in the future----an idea for a new career.

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