First timers to France

Feb 6th, 2004, 08:38 AM
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First timers to France

Better early than late, but we are planning a trip to France during the summer of 2005.

We have no idea where to begin and would welcome your ideas, favorite places and hazzards to avoid.

Here is the framework we are dealing with: We're traveling as a family of four (2 in their mid teens). We have 17 days and need to travel during the summer months for schooling reasons. We are not that big on cities, but obviously need to see Paris if not just to say we were there. We have access to a cottage in Antibes for a week on the south coast. Date is flexible.

If you would like to take a shot at an itinerary, please suggest away.

four2travel is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 09:01 AM
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We had the same amount of time for our trip in 2002. We spent one week in Provence, stayed in a cottage,rented a car and saw the sights.We then took the train to Paris. I wasn't big on cities either but we fell in love with Paris and are going back this year. Dividing our time gave us the overview of France that we wanted.Researched lots on fodors
JackieA is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 09:24 AM
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I may be in the minority here, and YES I do love Paris, but if you feel that way about it and since your time is limited to 10 days other than your week at Antibes, I'd say don't go to Paris. (I'll bet you'll want to next trip!) I can't think of a WORSE reason to go anywhere than "to say we were there".

Try to fly into and out of Nice. Arrange with Auto-France for a 17 day lease on a car -- pick up and drop off right at the Nice airport. Begin with two nights in Nice to get your bearings. It's one of the easiest "cities" in France because there is so much tourism, English will be easy.

From there I'd take the remaining 8 days to explore southern France -- some of Provence (although you can do a lot of that from Antibes as well), Dordogne, and maybe up to Chamonix, the Alps, and maybe Annecy. You need to get some good travel "picture books" and see what areas appeal to you the most.

Save the apartment for the final week when you're a little more comfortable with France -- since you will have less "help" than in a hotel. From there you can explore the rest of the Riviera and southern Provence as well. And you'll be able to drive right to the Nice airport, turn in your car, and return home.

Sounds like a lot of fun -- and you are wise to start planning more than a year ahead. For now, go get some books from the library, including travel guides. Maybe rent some travel videos and even movies set in France.
Patrick is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 09:51 AM
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I agree - - you need books and books and more books, This is the one time in the planning process that the internet doesn't really hold a candle to the library or bookstore.

You need to formulate - - in 25 words, or 250 words... I don't really care - - why you THINK you want to go to France. And then, as you read, and look at the pictures, and learn about the food, and the history, and the geography and the culture and legacy of France - - is this place that you THINK/THOUGHT you want to visit, actually the place you thought it is/was?

Don't get me wrong - - I'm not trying to talk you out of traveling to... or falling in love with France (I suppose you don't have to the latter to accomplish the former). It IS unusual to hear someone say they want to go to France, but don't care all that much about Paris. I certainly DO agree; you don't HAVE to go to Paris. People go to Niagara all the time, without going to Manhattan, right?

The best thing you can do is to try to determine if there is some vague match between the place you think you want to go, and what that place is actually like. The Riviera is not Miami, nor Myrtle Beach, nor Santa Barbara. Antibes IS a great destination on the coast, and a relatively good "base" if you have a "beach vacation" (or a partial one) in mind. Chances are, the cottage is not ON the beach, but that's still okay.

I would try to get up in the "uplands" of the Var, or the Alpes Maritimes, and you will most likely be delighted with the contrasts in geography that the south of France has to offer. I won't try to gauge how much YOUR teens, specifically, will like it - - but I think that the Corniche de l'Esterel is a particularly cool stretch of the coaswe from Frejus to Cannes.

The one other part you ought to strive for is to get your kids invilved in the planning and the appetite-whetting. We have traveled with two or (all) three of our kids from ages 14 to 22, and it has been a highlight of our family time together in their "second decade" (now spilling over into their third).

Come back here often, and I hope you will feel increasingly comfortable with questions from all quadrants; more specific ones, and more fishing in the dark for info on places you know little about.

Best wishes,

Rex Bickers
Floyds Knobs, Indiana
rex is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 09:57 AM
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Hey - you took my name!
4totravel is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 10:25 AM
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You've gotten some terrific advice already. I agree with the idea of saving your Antibes cottage for the end of the trip when you're more famiiar with things. While I agree going to Paris just to say you've been is daft, I think you should fly into Paris & fly out of Nice if you can.

You say "summer months". Be aware that all of France is on holiday in August. That means many things are closed in Paris then & many Parisians leave the city (I have friends who say their favorite time in Paris is in August It also means hotels will be more expensive & crowded outside of Paris in August.

I think to even have a start at places to visit you should start doing some reading. You might want to read some trip reports from other Fodorites. (type trip report AND france in the text search above).
mclaurie is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 12:14 PM
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I can sympathize with the Paris feeling. The first time we went, my husband wanted to visit Paris and all I could think of was "big city" and wanted nothing to do with it. We finally compromised by spending three days when we arrived, traveling throughout France for 3 weeks and then three more days in Paris before we left. This was supposed to take care of "jet lag" and make it easy to get to the airport . . . at least that was his reasoning to get me to stay in Paris at all.

I fell in love with Paris. All it took was a walk down Blvd. d'Hospital, turn left onto Quai St. Bernard and walk along the Seine until we saw Notre Dame for the very first time. I was transfixed and have never gotten over it. Last November we went over just to visit Paris, to show you how far I've come.

There have been excellent suggestions above and I'd like to reinforce one in particular. Involve your teens in the trip planning. We used to have everyone in the family (us included) write down 5 things each one wanted to see or do. I put them all into a long list and mapped everything out regarding cost, place and time and fit in as much as we could do comfortably. We each usually got to do at least three things on our personal list so no one complained when we were doing someone else's "thing." This lets everyone buy into the trip and avoids a lot of complaining.

A second thing we did was tell the kids they had to spend their own money. Our kids had paper routes and in their teens all played instruments that sometimes paid. They also had birthday and Christmas money they saved. This made them budget far more carefully than they would if spending Mom & Dad's money. You could also pay for chores, etc. I'm sure you've dealt with the money issue already.

On the subject of Antibes, if you are there during high tourist season, plan on Los Angeles type traffic jams. I didn't know this the first time and was horrified. We battled our way to our apt. and when we finally checked in, I sat down and cried. We walked a lot the next day to avoid driving in the ghastly traffic. By the third day, we were timing our trips to avoid traffic and I was okay, but we had left LA to get away from traffic and pow, here it was. I would go back and the area is just beautiful, but I wish someone had warned me so this is your warning in hopes you won't waste two days whining about traffic as I did.

Do take your teens to see the Picasso "War & Peace" in Vallauris. It's one of the most moving things I've ever seen. It is painted on the walls and ceiling of a vaulted room. When you stand looking at "Peace," you become aware of a threatening presence behind you. You look back over your shoulder and "War" looms behind and above you. Really gets the point across!

You should have a wonderful trip since you've already started planning. Good luck.
SalB is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 12:58 PM
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We're not big on cities either, and so when we're in France it's usually Burgundy or Provence or Brittany. Don't feel you MUST go to Paris; there's a lot to be said for experiencing more rural France, getting to know how things work, meeting some of the people, and then perhaps spending a few days in Paris.

The thought of staying in a cottage in Antibes makes my mouth water. We have friends who live just below Grasse and have spent a week here and there with them and absolutly loved it--there's so much to see in the area. Antibes itself has a very well known open-air market, and it's great fun to walk along the marina and look at all the very fancy yachts. From Antibes you can easily visit Nice (a big city, yes, but full of life and character), take the scenic drive over to Monaco and back, see quite a few quaint and charming perched villages, and do any number of things that your teens would enjoy.

But don't go in August! June or September would be ideal in terms of avoiding the heat and the crowds.
Underhill is offline  
Feb 6th, 2004, 01:27 PM
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Underhill, excellent response about the heat. I keep forgetting that. We live in southern California inland and 115 is not unusual so when we go to "hot" places, it doesn't bother us. It does bother most people and is a serious consideration.

We were there in July and it was very warm. I can imagine August would be worse. June or September would probably be much better if they can schedule it.
SalB is offline  
Feb 7th, 2004, 09:09 AM
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You have received some excellent replys here and I especially liked what Rex had to say.

I have been to France five times and have seen much of the country. On my first trip I had the same feeling about Paris. I don't think it took me more than 5 minutes to fall in love with that city. I also liked the small towns and villages in France, but on each return trip I spend at least a week in Paris. You might consider some side trips from, like Versailles, Normandy or Mont Sainte Michelle.
Randy is offline  
Feb 7th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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We live in the Sacramento Valley and are used to hot summer temperatures, but both of us grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and have body thermostats set for about 80 degrees max! Hot is okay with good a/c, but unfortunately we can't take it around with us when outside.
Underhill is offline  
Feb 9th, 2004, 12:23 PM
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Thanx all for your great responses. On my way to the library now to begin our(teens too) research.

Keep the ideas coming.

four2travel is offline  
Feb 9th, 2004, 12:52 PM
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We did a similar trip a few years ago with 2 teens. Had a wonderful time. You'll get plenty of advice, but here's my 2 cents.
Everyone said the French are snobs. We did not find this to be true.....but...and experienced friend told us to learn 2 phrases in French. Learn to say "excuse me, I don't speak French." "do you speak english?" or "can you help me?"
I guess they get a bit miffed when the americans just walk up and start speaking english to them, which results in them acting a bit ornery.

Paris is great. After a few days in and around Paris, we wanted to try the overnight train, just for fun. We left Paris at 11pm in our own "cabin", headed for Chamonix. We slept so soundly that the porter had to wake us up!!! Chamonix was beautiful (Alps). We picked up car after 2 nights there, and drove to Lake Como in northern Italy. A one day's drive thru some wonderful Swiss scenery....then...the awesome scenery of Lake Como.

On the down side...we then drove back to Provence, and I must say we weren't thrilled with it. Found it kind of boring...but others seem to like it a lot, so, take that opinion with a grain of salt.
ekellyga is offline  
Feb 9th, 2004, 12:56 PM
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Dear four2,

You must, absolutely must, stay at least 5 nights in Paris, if only so that if you die you won't be disappointed.
ira is offline  
Feb 11th, 2004, 03:52 PM
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Ira, Paris is obviously high on your list... How should we spend our time there. What to must we see and what must we do. What makes you so passionate about this city?
four2travel is offline  
Feb 11th, 2004, 08:58 PM
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I rarely tell anyone that they HAVE to do anything but you and the fam MUST SEE PARIS. That said, borrow a copy of the book for European history that is used at your kid's high school. Then make sure that they study the french revolution, Napolean and Medieval Europe. That will give context to Musee de Moyen Age (cluny), Les Invalides, Louvre (historically a palace for the Kings of France before it was a house for the amazing collection of art). Discuss the french resistance movement from WWII and then don't miss the Deportation Memorial behind Notre Dame. Spend some time in the Marais. Discuss the plight of occupied countries during a war.
If you have time and a car or go to the little town of La Roche Guyon. It is a day trip that you could combine with Giverny if you are willing to drive. It is a chateau that was occupied by Rommel and is now a fantastic sight with art, medieval history and WWII history all wrapped up in a beatiful village on the Seine.

In Paris an offbeat place to visit is the Musee de la Monnaie. It traces the history of Money. What kid doesn't love money.

I would make sure to spend your first 5 nights in Paris.

I am not Ira but what makes me so passionate about Paris is 2000 years of history right in the middle of the most beautiful city you have ever seen. The tallest structure in the city of Paris the Eiffel Tower. The buildings themselves are only 7 stories tall so the city has a very accessible scale. Although there are thousands of cars, Paris is a wallking city and the pedestrian has the advantage. The subway is easy to use, you can get everywhere easily, quickly and affordably. The people are diverse, and much more friendly than their reputation.
tinarose is offline  
Feb 12th, 2004, 06:32 AM
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>Ira, Paris is obviously high on your list... How should we spend our time there.

Simply walking around and experiencing the city

>What to must we see and what must we do. <

Start with Fodors miniguide to Paris. They have your first 3 days. Look up Degas's walks

Get tickets for the Batobus (

Have Sunday brunch at the Jacquemart-Andre' museum and visit the Parc Monceau.

>What makes you so passionate about this city?<

In addition to tinarose's comments, It is the most alive, vibrant and exciting place I have ever been.

My wife and I always stay at the Hotel Bonaparte, 61 Rue Bonaparte
Tel 33 (0)1 43 26 97 37
FAX 33 (0)1 46 33 57 67

ira is offline  
Feb 12th, 2004, 06:45 AM
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I must add to Ira's and Tinarose's advice. You must try Paris. It is simply the most wonderful experience. I love the French countryside and try to find a new place to visit each time we go, but I can't go to France without returning to Paris. The city is not only monuments and museums, it is a the streets and the parks and the cafes and the Parisiens enjoying their city. I suggest as early in the summer as you can go to avoid the possibility of heat and the masses of Europeans on vacation in August. With 17 days, you have plenty of time to spend 4-5 days in Paris, a week in Antibes and still have a week to explore another part of France.
mamc is offline  
Feb 12th, 2004, 08:38 AM
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I'll add on to the above sentiment; there is no other city like just gets in your blood, whether it's at the first glimps of Notre Dame like SalB or seeing the view of the Arc de Triomphe when you "surface" from Etoile's metro (me).

We prefer the French countryside, but always spend 3 days of acclimation-time in Paris upon arrival. Not only is it great for the aforementioned reasons, but we tend to wake up at weird hours initially and there is always something to do in Paris at any hour. One of DH and my fondest memories is a pre-dawn walk one Feb. along the Seine holding hands and smooching on the Pont des Arts with the stars still overhead, just us and the quasi sleeping city.

Ultimately you'll have to decide what fits your family's needs best. With your time limited and if this was a first trip abroad for you, simpler would maybe be better and save Parisfor another time. If you feel you may never get back, I'd throw Paris in if even just 2 days.

Good luck, it will all be a great experience no matter your decision.
klondike is offline  
Feb 12th, 2004, 05:03 PM
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For those unaware, the Pont des Arts is the little pedestrian bridge just below th Ile de la of the lovliest spots in the city.
RonZ is offline  

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