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France scares me! (A request for planning help)

France scares me! (A request for planning help)

Feb 2nd, 2006, 12:44 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
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France scares me! (A request for planning help)

Yep. I am working on planning my first trip to France for this summer (I know - a little last minute). I used these chat boards extensively when planning my trip to Italy in '04 and found the advice here to be invaluable. That said, I'd been mentally planning a trip to Italy for almost 10 years. France is next on the list, but I feel like I'm shooting in the dark, even with my guidebooks and websites. Hopefully I can steal some more good info this time around! (Have I sucked up enough yet? =P )

The plan: 10-14 days split over Paris, Provence and possible Nice in late July - early August for my boyfriend and I.

The itinerary: TBD. My initial thought was 5 nights in Paris and 3-4 in each of the other stops.

Likes and "want to do's": Just about everything that I can fit in. I like museums, art, food, night life, markets, shopping and just spending time somewhere with a cup of coffe, watching the world go by. I hate being firmly attached to a schedule and prefer flexibility in my day to day activities.

Budget: Also a bit up in the air. I expect to spend 1000-1500 on airfare (especially if we go open jaw) and anywhere from 100-200E per night (although 150 is the preferred cap).

What I am looking for - recommendations of all kinds. A few specific questions that I have:
- Do you need to rent a car to get around in Provence (I am a bit afeared of driving over there!)? What are other transportation options?
- Is Avingnon the best place to stay for a first-timer?
- Can you easily get from Provence to Nice?
- Hotel recommendations...I like clean places with my own bathroom. Budget is stated above... I got some great suggestions on this point last time (and am already compiling a list from other threads on here). Where would you stay?

Any other helpful hints and tips? Does it make more sense to move more time to one city or another? Should I only do 2 places in th e given timeframe?

Thanks in advance for all your responses!
jcolem2 is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 02:48 PM
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Try Montpelier, you will never forget it.
Waldo is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 02:56 PM
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Your basic plan of 5 days in Paris and 3-4 in the two other locales is good. To answer some of your questions:

Yes, you should rent a car. There is nothing scary about driving in France, especially around areas like Provence where presumably one of your goals will be to discover the delightful villages.

Getting in and out of Avignon with a car, and finding parking if your hotel doesn't haave it, though, could be a challenge. I wouldn't stay in Avignon, either. I'd stay in a place like St-Rémy or some other village/town with a real provencál feel to it - unless you really prefer to be in a city, which is ok of course.

You can take a train from Avignon to Nice or drive directly there on the autoroute - both very easy.

If you do a search here for hotels Provence you will get enough information to read for a couple of weeks.
StCirq is online now  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 03:22 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 40
There comes the french guy for advice :
1) Do not worry about France (and i can say a huge traveler not only because i live there) : no issue of security at all, good airlines and trains, safe roads, lot of excellent (but expensive) tollways, manual gear is very easy and you can find automatic, more and more people speaking english everywhere (40 or less is a huge majority)...as long as you try to make efforts on the first words (i am sure you read/heard about our pride...especially with our american friends). No anti american feelings as you may think, more anti W arguments (mainly typical "bar" discussions where we also complain about food in Holland and UK). You will find that even if level of service is now good in France, the attitude of people working for those services may sound awful for americans (we also find it awful !)

Now out of clichés. Your budget is fine. Paris is lot more expensive than the rest. For 200€, you'll get a very nice room in Paris and for 120-150 in south of France (with a clean bathroom ;o)

For itinerary, yes start in Avignon and yes rent a car, mandatory to enjoy your stay. I would drive all the way to Nice and do the following :
2 nights in Avignon/St Remy area
1 night in Aix en Provence
1 night in Cassis
1 night in St Tropez/St Raphaël area
2 nights in Nice

All those are max 2/3 hours drive. Enables you to mix cities/landscape/sea.
To visit Avignon, Les Baux, Lubéron villages (Gordes, Roussillon...), Aix, Cassis. To drive from Cassis to St Raphaël on the coast road which is superb.
You can also choose to spend more time inland as in Lubéron and drive directly to Nice via the tollway (autoroute) depending on what you like. The coast in Cassis and in Nice are very different.
Finally you're not last minute but don't wait too much for hotel bookins, especially on the coast where it gets very crowded in summer.
benjinho is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 03:29 PM
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by the way, here is an interactive map of Provence with nice photos of each place :
benjinho is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 03:53 PM
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St.Cinq is right. Driving in Provence is a must to really get a feel for the countryside. And it is easy; the signage is great; you can't get lost. If you do, that's even better!

Avoid driving and/or staying in Avignon. It's difficult to get around with a car, and parking is almost always a distance from your hotel. There are smaller towns close to Avignon where you could stay. Avignon has many sights you will want to see, but it's dirty and not particulary charming (I'm sure others will disagree!). We took the TVG from Paris to Avignon TVG station, picked up our rental car, and drove to Uze. We ended up staying at Hotel Marie d'Agoult in Arpaillargues, just outside Uzes. It is a former castle or chateau of some kind. Very nice and might be within your budget.

I would recommend skipping Nice and heading to Nimes, Arles, Carcassonne, Narbonne, Albi, Frontfroid Avvey, etc. Sites closer to Avignon to visit would be Orange (very interesting Arch and Theater), Uze, Pont du Gard (a must-see). We always took the "back roads" to get to our daily distinations. Get a good map (Michelin or whatever) and just make every day an adventure.

We found that if we just tried to use our limited French, it was appreciated. We never encountered any anti-American bias at all, quite the contrary. We stayed at chambre-d-hotes and got acquainted with some absoltely wonderful French folks. We're returning in April and can't wait!
toulouse is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2006, 04:06 PM
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I agree with St Cirq on staying in St Remy instead of Avignon, and Benji's itinery will give you a good look at the south of France.

You will be in Provence during Lavender season, so plan to drive towards Sault to see lots of Lavender fields.

I have a 20+ page itinerary for the Provence & Cote area, which describes the lavender fields, outdoor markets, scenic drives, villages, and it has a Provence Fabric section. E-mail me at [email protected] if you want a copy.

I don't know how much you will be able to "wing it" in this region in August - it is quite crowded then. Also remember that Paris sorta clears out in August - some visitors prefer that time, others don't.

Just a thought - I prefer Paris in the off season (if there is one) when it's not so hot & crowded. High temps kinda exhaust me & I get tired after about 4 hours of walking. You might consider spending the entire 10-14 days just in the Provence/Cote regions. You won't run out of things to do in that time. We've spent over 23 weeks there recently, and we are still discovering new things & places.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2006, 07:53 AM
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Wow - thanks so much for all the advice! I had always heard that it was less acceptable to fumble your way around the French language than in other European countries. Guess I'd better start studying up! I love learning languages.

Stu, I'll be emailing you shortly to grab that itinerary. It sounds like I will have to conquer my fear of driving abroad to effectively see the south of France. I imagine it won't be any harder to get over than my fear of buying a train ticket same day in Italy last summer (which was seriously quite easy)!

I've heard great things about St. Remy, so I think I'll start looking there for hotels over Avignon. I will have to do at least a couple nights in Paris, as that's the boyfriend's *only* reason for wanting to go! It sounds like there is a ton of little places to go though, so we may have to opt for the 14 day trip instead of 10.

Question - what airport do you fly out of from the southern regions (or do people generally travel back up to Paris to leave)?
jcolem2 is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2006, 08:10 AM
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Regarding the airport question, it depends to some extent where you're flying back to - there are direct flights from Nice, for example, back to the States. Or you might want to take a flight from Marseilles back to Paris for a connecting flight.
StCirq is online now  
Feb 3rd, 2006, 08:45 AM
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The train is also an option. It's only 3 hrs from the Avignon TGV station to the Paris Airport, and the cost round trip can be as little as $100.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2006, 11:43 AM
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Internation airport in Paris is Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 45min north of Paris

National airport is Orly 20 minutes south of Paris.

However, CDG has connections to Nice and Marseille but every 3/4h instead of every hour.

Seating in CDG Air France lounge right now waiting for my flight ;o)
benjinho is offline  
Feb 9th, 2006, 12:22 PM
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I booked the tickets today!! Thanks for all the help thus far.

The itinerary is still being finalized, but here's the latest version (building off of benjinho's first post).

7/22 Fly out
7/23 Arrive CDG and check into hotel in Paris. Spend 5 nights in Paris
7/28 Train to Avignon, pick up car and drive to St Remy for check-in
7/30 arrive Aix en Provence
7/31 arrive in Cassis
8/1 arrive in St Tropez
8/3 arrive in Nice
8/5 fly home

This gives us Fri and Saturday in Avignon/St Remy to hopefully avoid the closing of all the better shops. Any suggestions for changes? Is there anything that seems completely not-doable?

I've come up with a "short list" of hotels based on other threads here and a few other sites. I'd love feedback on any that you feel really strongly about. They are all in the right price range, just curious to see if anyone has big differentiators. Big drivers in hotels are good location, parking (anywhere other than Paris), and overall charm/atmosphere. Nothing horrifically Americanized if at all possible. Also, I didn't find much in Nice and Aix - so additional suggestions there would be much appreciated.

Hotel de Varenne - http://www.varenne-hotel-paris.com/e...the-hotel.html
Hotel le Sainte-Beuve http://www.hotel-sainte-beuve.fr/eng...-rooms-01.html
Duquesne Eiffel http://www.duquesneeiffel.com/rates.htm
Hotel du Champ de Mars - http://www.hotel-du-champ-de-mars.com/champs2.html
Villa de Estrees 185-260E - http://www.parisby.com/estrees/pages/apart.htm

St Remy:
Domaine de Valmouriane - http://www.valmouriane.com/anglais.htm
Chateau des Alpilles - http://www.chateau-des-alpilles.com/#
Hotel Photo - www.hotelphoto.com
Le Mas des Carrassins - http://www.avignon-et-provence.com/h.../gb/index.html

Hotel La Perouse http://www.hotel-la-perouse.com/rooms-suites/index.html

Hotel le Manoir - http://www.hotelmanoir.com/

Royal Cottage - http://www.royal-cottage.com/english/chambres.htm
Les Jardin de Cassis - http://www.hotel-lesjardinsde-cassis...lish/index.htm

St. Tropez
Hotel Residence des Lices - http://www.nova.fr/lices/
La Bastide Antoine - http://www.labastideantoine.com/
Hotel Lou Cagnard - http://perso.wanadoo.fr/hotel.lou.ca...ez/page12.html
jcolem2 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2006, 06:30 AM
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ttt once in hopes of reponse!
jcolem2 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2006, 08:51 AM
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Here are a couple more suggestions for a hotel in St Remy. The second is not in St Remy itself (several kilometres from there actually), but the first one is right in town and charming. I live near St Remy, so if you have any other questions feel free to email me.

Hotel Gounod Ville Verte

Originally a "relais", already well frequented in 1660, this charming hotel is across from the church in St Remy. In 1863 the composer Charles Gounod, a friend of Frederic Mistral, stayed there while he wrote the opera "Mireille".
The entire hotel has been renovated and restored. The rooms are comfortable and well appointed and the bathrooms are very well done. Rooms start at 115 euro for a double room in season and include breakfast. A/C
There is also a charming tea room on the ground floor.

Tel: (33) 490 92 06 14 Fax: (33) 490 92 56 54

Domaine de Bournissac (11 kms from town in Paluds de Noves)
Restored Mas, with a view of the Alpilles, Luberon and Mont Ventoux. Nicely furnished rooms. Small shop selling local products
Restaurant with an excellent reputation... with a terrace under a large old fig tree.
13 Rooms 175 - 230 euro
[email protected]

PBProvence is offline  
Feb 10th, 2006, 08:58 AM
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You call 5 months ahead "last minute"! I booked my apartment in Buenos Aires 5 days before I left. You have plenty, plenty of time to prepare.
Art_Vandelay is offline  
Feb 15th, 2006, 07:28 AM
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Dear jcolem2, I just wanted to add that you should say 'hello' (well 'bonjour') whenever you go to a restaurant, store, hotel desk, etc. To not say hey is considered very rude. If you speak any French try to do it slowly, otherwise you'll get a totally incomprehensible answer! If you enjoy France even half as much as we have on our 3 trips there, you have a stupendous time!
donco is offline  
Feb 15th, 2006, 07:33 AM
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St. Jean Cap Ferrat is a jewel of a location. Biking around the area is nice and the houses will floor you. Some you can visit, sort of like the Newport mansions here.

laclaire is offline  
Feb 15th, 2006, 07:48 AM
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We stayed in Hotel le Sainte-Beuve last Sept. and loved it: it's well-located, the rooms are clean, comfortable and the staff are very accommodating. As well, our stay at Le Mas des Carassins in St-Remy was delightful. You can't go wrong at either place.
muskoka is online now  
Feb 15th, 2006, 09:17 AM
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I've made progress! After a freakish mixup (and quick fix) to our plane tickets, I have started reserving hotels. And yes Art...5 months seems like such short notice to me, mainly because it is a trip to somehwere I have never been! I planned my trip to Italy almost a year in advance (hotels and flights) and then spent all the months inbetween researching those cool, "do not miss this" things that take time and reservation effort. What can I say, I like to plan!

Thus far, I've reserved rooms at the Hotel Le Grimaldi in Nice, the Hotel le Manoir in Aix, and the Royal Cottage in Cassis. I've been unable to find anything in St. Tropez thus far (all booked up) and am still waiting for responses from hotels in St. Remy.

We are also waiting to choose a Paris hotel for a couple days. I am thinking about inviting my grandmother for a portion of the trip and Paris seems to be the most logical choice as she had a horriffic trip to the UK when she had to switch hotels everyday (due mainly to a really bad tour company). Odds are that she'll turn me down, but my hotel locations might change if she decided to come!

I am currently trying to pick a book/course to work on my French. I love to learn languages - even if it's just tourist vocabulary!
jcolem2 is offline  

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