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Ideas for France vacation?

Old Jun 10th, 2005, 05:55 AM
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Ideas for France vacation?

My husband & I are planning a trip to France the 2nd week of Oct.(8-16th). My first time in France & husband's first time overseas. We'd like to spend 3 days in Paris and the remainder in another region, my problem is deciding where!

We'd like to do some day hikes, wine tasting, & explore art, castles, old churches (I'm a medieval/Renaissance art historian & love to tromp around ruins & such). I've narrowed it down to either Burgundy, Loire Valley, Dordogne or Provence. Would 1 of these areas be better for what we want to do, or would it be better to split the time between 2 places? We'll take a train from Paris, and possibly rent a car - is car rental terribly expensive, and is the driving difficult? I'm a bit nervous about the driving bit!

Thank you so much for any advice!
cris2 is offline  
Old Jun 10th, 2005, 06:17 AM
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If you have 9 days, I'd spend 4 or 5 of them in Paris and the remainder in the Loire Valley or somewhere else...I'm sure others will have good suggestions.

As a rule, I think it's better not to move around too much on limited time, but I know on my first trip I saw a LOT of cities in 3-4 days because I wanted to cover some ground (perhaps feeling like I had to make up for the fact that I didn't make it to Europe until I was in my mid 30s). I ended up going from London to Istanbul in 23 days, stopping in London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens and Izmir on the way. It was something of an expedition, that's for sure.

In September, we're going back to London for a few days (it was cooler than I thought it would be and therefore deserves a 2nd visit), then we're meeting our parents in Paris for a week. We were in Paris for 3 days in 2003, and realized it just wasn't NEARLY enough time for such a beautiful city.

If I were you, I'd get Rick Steves France 2005 book and take a look at some of his recommendations for a 8 or 9 day stay. He has good recommendations for budget and not-so-budget hotels (the favorites book up well in advance in Paris, so you'll want to reserve asap) and I think he provides a very good overview of what to see for those who haven't been to Europe before.

Happy Travels,

jules4je7 is offline  
Old Jun 10th, 2005, 06:46 AM
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Hi Cris,

Your first time to Paris and you think 3 days is enough?

May I suggest planning the whole time in Paris with one or 2 daytrips?

ira is offline  
Old Jun 10th, 2005, 06:54 AM
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HI cris2--altho I cannot help re:your chosen destinations, I can tell you we did almost the same thing in March of '04. We spent 3 nights in Paris and then 4 nights in Strasbourg--the Alsace, not one of your chosen spots. What I can tell you is that the timing was fine. I can see ira's point, but my husband wanted more variety. Of course, we had been to Paris before, but from strictly a logistical standpoint, such a split can be fine!! I will leave it to others to give advice on the places you cite. I will also be vicariously participating, b/c we are going in September and are trying to pick the place where we will spend ~4 nights after Paris....So thanks for posting a similar request ot mine!!
socialworker is online now  
Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:09 AM
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I agree with most of the others--3 days in Paris is not enough. You could just stay in Paris and take one or two day trips. And particularly since this is a first for both of you. Another thing to think about for your time plan in Paris--decide what you are going to do and make your hotel reservations soon. This is the fashion time in Paris and things get filled up with the industry.
You will find PLENTY of art and archaeology in Paris itself. Or you could take a tour to the Loire chateaux. As far as rentals are concerned, driving out of Paris could be daunting. Rentals do not need to be expensive but need to be made in advance--over the internet at least.AutoEurope is an excellent rental source. If you rent for less than 3 days it could be more expensive.
Gretchen is online now  
Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:14 AM
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You have about 8 or 9 days. Like Ira, I would probably want to spend all 8 in Paris but that is because we've been many times to Paris and the countryside and love Paris best. For your interests, you might consider 4 to 5 days in Paris and 4 days in either Burgundy or Provence. If you are a real wine lover, Burgundy. For good wine and to accomodate your other interests, Provence. If you go to Provence, take the TGV to Avignon and rent a car there. It is really much easier to see the countryside with a car. Early October is a nice time to go!
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:27 AM
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Hi mamc--I am piggy backing on cris2's request, (hope that is ok w/you cris, if not say so and I will re-post). We have decided against Provence only b/c of the distance involved and b/c we do not want to shortchange it, so will save for a future trip. However, we are very interested in Burgundy. Do you have any favorites there--hotels and/or restaurants?

Again, cris--just tell me if you do not want me on "your" thread....I just thought we could do a "twofer" since we are seeking virtually identical info.
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:37 AM
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no problem, social worker! By the way, did you like Strasbourg? I was also thinking of going there.
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:47 AM
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Thanks, cris2---We absolutely loved Strasbourg!! We stayed at a hotel on a pedestrian street right near the Cathedral, the Rohan, which was recommended by some on this board. (In fact, that was when I first discovered this msg board and have been hooked ever since!!) We went w/o a car and then took the local train to one of the Alsatian villages, Obernai, on one of the days we were there. There are also many tours of the wine villages but since it was mid March, we did not do that. However, our own little day trip to Obernai was lovely w/unseasonable warmth. I know that October is probably very busy there, as I think that is the wine festivals time, altho I am not sure exactly when those take place....
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:58 AM
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Burgundy might be a good bet. Get the Michelin Green Guide, work out driving routes on

One of my favorite little hotels is the Grand Chauminere in St Florentin, which is near Auxerre. Last year doubles were 85 E. Michelin* restaurant which is excellent and a good value too.

Nearby is the Chateau Ancy le France which is decorated in the style of the Italian Rennasiance---there is nothing else quite like it in France.

If you end your trip in Dijon, there is a good hotel near the train station and a 6am train to CDG.

I would come up with a workable driving itinerary and then see how many days you can devote to Paris.

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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 08:03 AM
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socialworker - hmm, now I"m considering more time in Paris and going to Strasbourg/Alsace. Are there some nice places for day hikes or walks? Thanks!
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 08:44 AM
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Burgundy is great for art and architecture: the ducal palace in Dijon has an excellent collection of paintings and sculpture, and the cathedral in Autun is absolutely magnificent, with superb carvings by Giselbertus. The basilica at Vézelay is important historically and architecturally, and the ancient abbey at Fontenay will give you the feel for what a monastery was like in the medieval period, as most buildings are still intact (unlike at Cluny). You will also find Roman sites in Autun, and the Château de Tanlay is a 3* edifice. Finally, you could visit the medieval village of Pérouges, so typical that it's been used in a number of films.

So I'd split the time with 5 days in Paris and the remainder in Burgundy, where you can do quite a bit of sightseeing in 2 days.
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 08:46 AM
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Though I know it's very possible to spend 10 (or 100?) days in Paris and not see everything, I understand you wanting to visit other places as well. On almost all of our trips, we spend some time in a big city, and some time in the countryside.

If you're interested in wine tasting, AND art, castles, old churches, etc., then Burgundy may not be the top choice for you. Obviously, it's a wine center, and very good for that (now when I drink a Gevry-Chambertin, I can remember what their hillsides look like), but it's not strong on your other interests. (Though there's definitely stuff other than wine there, just not as much as in other regions of France, IMHO.)

Consider the Dordogne. You could take the train from Paris, visit the Bordeaux area, then move further east to the Dordogne, which has many fascinating medieval castles (and pre-historic stuff as well). Great food, too. After visitng this region, it's my favorite part of France (thanks, StCirq).

Or, closer to Paris, the Loire Valley has the Vouvray wine area (as well as others, I'm sure, that I'm not familiar with - I'm not the wine-lover of the family), plus all those great later-period chateaux. IMHO, it doesn't have the stuffning scenery, however, of the Dordogne or Provence.

Provence works well too, especially if you're interested in Roman ruins, though there aren't a huge number of other castles or medieval/Renaissance art. But it's a beautiful area...

We've done all these trips - one where we began with a night in St. Emilion, then spent 4-5 days in the Dordogne, then ended in Paris. Another in which we began in Paris, then spent 4 days in the Loire. And lastly, on a third trip, we started in Italy, then went to Provence, then a couple of days in Burgundy (more than enough for me), and ending in Paris. All of them were great trips!

Re day hikes, we've always had a more difficult time finding these in France, partly because while we hike a lot at home in the U.S., we're more interested in food and culture in France! We did a couple of nice walks in the Dordogne, though.

(I've considered Alsace-Lorraine, especially since some of my ancestors came from Alsace, but I just couldn't work up enough interest in the most German-style cuisine.)

To help you narrow things down, think about what kind of wine you like, and what kind of wine you'd like to taste, and how important the castle- and church-viewing is to you.

You'll have a wonderful time no matter which place you pick.
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 08:53 AM
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There is lot of presumption in the response, so far.

If the original poster only wants to spend 3 days in a monstrously large city, then it is most certainly "enough" - for them.

Who has the nerve to tell someone that their allotment of time for a particular destination is not appopriate?

Some people might never want to set foot in paris and only want ot visit rural France, or a particular region or city of interest. Others might think 3 months straight is not enough.

Offering advice should not extend to telling people that they are not spending enough time in a particular location to meet the advice giver's needs.
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 09:16 AM
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I'm with Underhill! (don't ask why.. ;-) ) "If you're interested in wine tasting, AND art, castles, old churches, etc., then Burgundy may not be the top choice for you. Obviously, it's a wine center"
Burgundy is NOT just a wine center, Dijon itself is called the city with 100 church towers (very old ones like St Bénigne VI°) and convents and monasteries all around. I'm sure Underhill knows more about all that than I do but I want to stand up for my town! and Dijon is only 1h30 by TGV from Paris... pictures on my website you search well)
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 09:46 AM
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If you want only three days in Paris, then spend three days there - it will almost certainly whet your appetite for another trip, but that's a good thing.

The Dordogne would meet all of your criteria and then some. BUT you would absolutely need a car. Take the train to Bordeaux or Périgueux and pick up a car there, then the train back to Paris. If you're apprehensive about driving, you definitely don't want to drive in and out of Paris.
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 11:57 AM
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Back to the OP's question: if you don't want to drive out of Paris, don't! If you choose Burgundy, it's easy to take the TGV to Dijon and pick up a car there. Driving in Burgundy is easy and the scenery is beautiful, especially along the Burgundy canal.

Here are links to articles on Burgundy that I wrote for the web site—hope the information is useful.

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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 01:38 PM
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To cris2 re: hikes and walks in Alsace. We did tons of walking but I guess I would not call it hiking. However, from Strasbourg, there are many tours to the Black Forest, that I am sure might include a hiking component. The day we went to Obernai on the train, we walked all over the town, and enjoyed it a lot. We estimated that we had probably walked >8 miles that day, so it was good exercise.

Re: the comment that the food there is German-style. While it is different than other French regions--each has their own cuisine-- I would have to say that I have been to Germany on more than one occasion and if the food there were like Strasbourg, I would have gone to Germany more often!! In other words they may be "cousins" in that they share some of the same heritage, but for me (and DH too who grew up in a German family) they are very distant cousins!! Now I may have tortured that metaphor to death, but I thought the food there was heavenly!!!
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 06:48 PM
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To socialworker...

I'll be in Obernai for three days this August. Any suggestions?
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Old Jun 10th, 2005, 07:21 PM
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Hi Cris2 - you are getting lots of different advice - so here is my two cents. I had the same issue - where to go beyond Paris. I decided on Provence because I gauged that the best bet for good weather in mid to late May would be to head south. It paid off cause we had perfect sunny 75 to 80 degree non humid weather every single solitary day.

This was our first trip to France. May 18th to 30th. We spent 3 days in Paris and the remainder in Provence based in the town of St. Remy. We like to do many of the same things that you describe. Old churches, ruins, towns, scenery, wine, food, people. Not so much art.

We live in downtown Chicago so we tend not to spend a lot of time in other big cities. We saw the typical highlights of Paris, walked our feet off, and loved every minute of it. I was anxious to get to the countryside but fell in love with Paris more than i even expected. The cafe life is for me and we do plan to return in the future with our son when he is a bit older.

We did not have a car in Paris but rented one at the airport after our three days and drove from Paris to St. Remy. Why drive and not take the train??? Because my husband LOVES to drive and especially loves to drive overseas. It was a 6 or 7 hour drive. The previous poster who recommended taking the high speed train to Avignon and renting a care in there gave you good advice. We drove down via Lyon and returned via a route that took us over the new Milau Bride. My husband wanted to see it. The route back took us through the Languedoc/Rousilon (sp) area which looked beautiful. Long drive but we dont mind.

You asked about driving in France.. Don't worry about it. Its not that different than driving here in the US. The roads are marked extremely well. We really did not notice much difference. The left lane is theoretically used for passing - not cruising - but we noticed that many people used the left lane to cruise along just like here at home. Different story in Italy where you really get tailgated at 120 mph within an inch of your life if you hang out in the left lane too long. So - its not at all something to worry about and no need to be nervous. For a rental agency - we used Autoeurope and found them to be reasonable with great service. The fuel cost is higher in France though - we get a diesal car which is somewhat less expensive than a gasoline fueled car.

We stayed in St. Remy and did day trips to Les Baux, the Luberon, Glanum, Pont Du Gard. You could also go a bit north and visit wineries of the Cote du Rhone. (Gigondis for example) No shortage of wine in Provence for sure. We visited abbeys, ruins, tiny medieval villages and loved it.

SO, is all this advice making it harder or easier? Planning is half the fun but it can be hard to make a decision.

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