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Driving in South France

Old May 8th, 2018, 04:40 PM
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Driving in South France

Hello, I would like to surprise my wife with a nice trip to France in August. We are arriving from Boston to Paris on 8/25 at 11 am and leaving on 9/2 at 6pm. We both love France and have already visited Alsace and Champagne regions. Our favorite style of traveling is driving through the small towns via scenic routes, staying at B&B with locals, experiencing the local food, wine and culture, versus spending lots of times in museums. Here are some initial thoughts I had: take a train (OR should we fly?) from Paris to Toulouse OR Montpellier (need your advise), rent a car there and drive to Nice. Return car in Nice (I aware about extra cost) and take a train back to Paris to catch the plane.
I would love to hear some of your ideas - scenic routes, city/town we can stop at on our way, pretty fields, vineyards, etc. Thank you!

Last edited by 4dimad; May 8th, 2018 at 04:42 PM. Reason: change topic
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Old May 8th, 2018, 05:18 PM
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I found it about as cheap to fly into Marseille and drive to Paris and fly out of Paris. Just a thought, rather than all the extra travel.
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Old May 8th, 2018, 05:20 PM
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Do you plan to spend any time (other than 1 night) in Paris??? Where did you get the idea that returning a car in Nice will cost extra?? If you want to visit Nice & perhaps the Cote d'Azur, why are you considering training to Montpellier or Toulouse instead of Avignon or Aix? Do you plan to spend time in either of these cities??

If this was my trip, I would fly to Nice. Then spend 4 days along the Cote d'Azur & 4 days in Provence. Take the TGV from Avignon back to Paris Gare de Lyon. Stay near the Gare & have dinner at Train Bleu, See a (very) little of Paris then next day, and then fly home.

My wife & I have vacationed for 43 weeks in Provence & the Cote d'Azur. I developed a 35 page itinerary that describes our favorite villages, farmer's markets, scenic drives, restaurants, etc. I have sent this itinerary to over 3,000 people on Fodors - 15 in the past 3 days. If you would like a copy, e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach one to the reply e-mail. Specify that you want the Provence/Cote d'Azur itinerary - I have others including Toulouse, Montpellier, & the Languedoc.

Stu Dudley
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Old May 8th, 2018, 05:26 PM
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Europcar usually does not charge a one-way fee, at least if the rental is done through autoeurope.com
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Old May 8th, 2018, 07:23 PM
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A surprise trip to the south of France in August would be my definition of a nightmare, and I live here, not in your romanticized vision of the south of France, but in the real one.

Follow Stu's advice if you do this. You don't have to pay extra to drop off a car somewhere different from where you picked it up.
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Old May 8th, 2018, 07:30 PM
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I don't understand how the south of France would be a nightmare even in August. I have traveled a number of times in the south of France in August and it was fine. A little hotter than what I am used to but it was fine. We didn't seem to have a lot of problems with crowds. I would follow Stu's advice as well.
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Old May 8th, 2018, 07:50 PM
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Well, you probably don't have the rest of the year to compare it to, as I do, so fine....I get really really tired of traffic and crowds and lines to see things, so I tend to stay home in August and let the hoards work it out among themselves.
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Old May 8th, 2018, 07:57 PM
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I can understand what you are saying. If you live there you see it from a different perspective. However, travelers or tourists don't have the same opportunity to travel any time as locals have.
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Old May 8th, 2018, 09:49 PM
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It's late August - hopefully some families have returned home already for schools starting September 3.
We have always taken holidays in the south of France in summer - you have to when your kids are in school. If that's the time you have, you make it work.
Just bear in mind that August 31 and September 1st could be very busy on the roads, with people going back north after their holidays.

I would also fly into Nice from Paris. Spend 2 days in Nice, then rent a car for the surrounding area, driving to Aix to get a train back to Paris.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 12:04 AM
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You're right, tulips, the crowds will have abated because of school schedules. And we, too, took our kids to the Med (not the Cote d'Azur, but the Camargue and near Sète) every summer, and yes, we made it work.

But the OP is planning a romantic surprise trip, which is different from a family summer holiday. Instead of the south of France at that time of year I would be heading to the Lipari Islands or Sardegna or the spa towns of the Midi-Pyrenées, or the coast of Le Pays Basque.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 01:31 AM
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For a week's driving holiday, Normandy and Brittany would be great too.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 01:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Tulips View Post
For a week's driving holiday, Normandy and Brittany would be great too.

I would also recommend Brittany.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 03:42 AM
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Thank you everyone for the great ideas!!! After reading your responses I thought maybe I should pick another region to visit due to the busy time on the roads? What would be your choice for the romantic gateway in the end of August? The coast line and beaches would not be my first choice since we are from Atlantic ocean region, so small towns, spas, wine, food and scenery would be great to experience. Thank you again everyone for the great advises!
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Old May 9th, 2018, 03:43 AM
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Thank you StuDudley! I will email you.

Last edited by 4dimad; May 9th, 2018 at 03:50 AM.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 04:26 AM
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I nearly always go to Provence at the height of the tourist season -- but generally not along the coast. Anyway, late August is already the end of the busy season for most places. The absolute busiest time in France is 14 July-15 August. You could take a train from CDG to Avignon or Montpellier and pick up a car there.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 06:26 AM
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I don't really understand why you would take a train to Toulouse from CDG instead of flying. That's a major airport and it will take you longer to take the train if you are already at the airprt and just book it as a connecting flight. In fact, I just booked that flight on UAL going through Brussels from the US (they fly direct from BRU to TLS). My connection time in BRU is about what most people build in at the airport before taking a train (actually less, some people on Fodors recommend 3 hrs or so, I think). By train, it will take you 8 hours for the train trip alone!!! and you have to transfer at Montpellier or Marseille anyway.

So I would never take the train from CDG to Toulouse. I could see doing it to Montpellier, though, as that's only a 4 hr train trip from CDG, or Avignon. Take your pick, based on your plans. I've rented cars at both those train stations, actually, for driving around Provence or the Gard.

Personally, given what you said you like to do, I could see you flying into TLS, maybe spend a couple days there and THEN rent the car and do some of that type of driving around the area west of the Rhone and Toulouse (Occitanie region), not going to Nice, etc. and that busy area east of the Rhone. You said you aren't that interested in beaches anyway. But if you want something less busy, avoid the coast and you could drive around the Drome and Gard areas picking up a car in Avignon.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 06:59 AM
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I agree that taking a train from CDG to Toulouse would be a nonstarter and waste of time. But once in Toulouse you could also go south or east or both and enjoy the Midi-Pyrenées or Languedoc-Roussillon (Narbonne, Perpignan, Collioure...)

Or take the train to somewhere like Rennes in Brittany and explore the Atlantic side of France (La Rochelle, Ile de Ré, Saintes, Arcachon, Cap Ferret, Dune du Pylat...), or if you don't care about the coast go inland from there to Cognac country or the Dordogne.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 07:13 AM
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Frankly, I do like coastal areas, but almost never the Mediterranean coast. When I want to see the ocean, I almost always go north from Paris to the Hauts-de-France, or else Trouville-Deauville in Normandy. If I am in the mood for "California style" beaches, I go to the Landes area, anywhere from Arcachon to Biarritz. The Med is for the German tourists.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 08:21 AM
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Given your preference, I'd take Stu's suggestions to fly to Marseilles or TGV to Avignon and then stay in a smaller town with a car, say in the Luberon or base in the southern Rhone (for the wine -- Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, etc) and drive to the various regions. There are a number of wonderful small auberges/hotels, some with spas and top restaurants (e.g., Capelongue in Bonnieux) but of course booking can be an issue.
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Old May 9th, 2018, 04:00 PM
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If you want to fly into Toulouse from the US, I would suggest flying through Amsterdam instead of the nightmare that is CDG. I had a 1-hour layover with checked luggage. Both my luggage and I made it to TLS on the same flight.
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