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Ideas for July in Europe with a Car

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Mar 28th, 2016, 05:45 PM
  #1
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Ideas for July in Europe with a Car

We will be in France and have a leased car during the summer. We are thinking about where to go from around July1-August 1. Originally we were thinking of a big "circle tour", Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Prague Berlin and back. But as many of you know, big cities aren't necessarily the best ones to visit with cars, and it would be a lot of driving. So now we are kind re-thinking our ideas. We need to essentially start and end in Paris for personal/logistical reasons since we have a place to stay there, which luckily has parking. So we are thinking instead maybe exploring Alsace and parts of Germany, maybe renting a place for a week each in two smaller towns or cities, like Dijon, or Strasbourg or Nancy.

I would love your input of places you might like if you had a month with a car during the tourist season. My husband is French so we have spent many years exploring the Dordogne, Provence, and other popular destinations in France, but haven't spent as much time East and North. We are pretty sure we would prefer to go that direction this trip versus Spain and Portugal or Italy, since it is pretty hot there that time of year and pretty packed with people. But at the same time we don't want to be totally hanging out in a a place with too little to do. We are not so much into museums, etc. but really like more a slow travel, good food kind of vacation.

Thanks in advance for thoughts and ideas!
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Mar 28th, 2016, 10:39 PM
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It'll be summer, warm to hot, and most people, those who can, head for the beach or mountains. Where ever you plan on going, you need to make your reservations as quickly as possible, or loose out on your first choice.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 08:16 AM
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Yes I realize that we are going to have to move fairly quickly if we want to lock something in as our first choice. Luckily, we could choose to stay in Paris all of July as a "backup plan".

I would love to hear from folks who have spent some time in Alsace or black forest area or Rhine or places that basically are kind of "east" from Paris. We are probably more interested a smallish city like 100,000-300,000 people like Dijon versus a village/country/agritourism/gite. But we would love to base in a smallish city that could be a good base to explore from.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 10:18 AM
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We have been in several of those areas and really enjoyed:

Exploring the eastern parts of Belgium - staying in Spa for a couple of day and then Trier in Germany. Very pretty countryside, lots of small museums (many WWII) in small towns and we ended up in Trier (Germany) which is a charming typical town with a lot of Roman remains to check out. From Spa we visited Liege (lovely cathedral), Aachen (charlemagne's capital) and Koln. From Trier you can easily visit Luxembourg and several places in the Moselle river valley.

On another trip we stayed in Strasbourg for several days, exploring the city and taking day trips down to Colmar and the cute tiny villages on the wine route. Also near that we spent some time in burgundy - staying in Avallon, near a beautiful French national forest in an old mill converted to a gourmet hotel (Moulin des Ruats). From there we saw Vezelay which is not to be missed (esp the Abbey) and a number of charming castles and wineries.

We also spent 5 days in the Black Forest area, staying in a small gasthaus near Freiburg and visiting a number of the small, charming towns including the Schaffhausen Falls near the border in switz.

Sorry if this is somewhat disconnected but these are parts of 3 different trips (we have done MANY road trips in europe) and to give more details on some of them I would have to go back and look at my notebookds from severalyears ago.

In any case, this whole area is rally perfect for road trips since you have a lot of driving on small local roads, places to stop from medium size cities to tiny villages and options to do whatever you like each day - from sitting in a quaint town square to hiking up a hill/baby mountain/to just enjoy pretty countryside.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 11:03 AM
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nytraveler-this is exactly the ideas I am looking for-so thanks! Have you visited or based in any towns/small cities in the Netherlands. I have driven to Amsterdam a number of times from Paris but honestly haven't explored the country other than that.

I don't care if ideas are somewhat disjointed at this point-we are still exploring options that might appeal to us and right now we are will to be somewhat flexible still before we lock something in even if it means missing out on a "perfect" place by booking a bit late.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 12:46 PM
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We just came back from an 8-day mini-vacation in the Netherlands (and one day in Belgium). We flew from Bordeaux to Amsterdam and spent 4 days there in an apartment. Saw a lot of the city and took a train ride out one day to Otterloo to the Kröller-Müller Museum (wonderful, and we didn't have to stand in line in the cold and rain in Amsterdan to get our fix of Van Gogh at the Van Gogh Museum).Then took the train to Den Bosch, where we stayed for 2 nights and saw the JHieronymous Bosch exhibit there (excellent). Then took the train to Antwerpen for one night, marched all over town and had dinner at the oldest café there (1565). Next day took the train to Rotterdam, got in mid-afternoon and walked the city until 9:30 at night, stopping for a glass of wine and later a great meal in Chinatown. Next morning, up and to the bus for the Rotterdam airport, flight to Bergerac, train to Le Buisson, then train to Les Eyzies and home.

It was exhausting, mainly because we walked and walked and walked, nonstop for 8 days and had a few one-night stands at hotels, which is not at all our usual mode of travel, but we wanted to get a sense of what we could go back to, and we didn't have long-haul flights to contend with. I'm sorry we didn't get to Dordrecht or Utrecht or Leiden or Delft, though. Next time.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 04:42 PM
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Thanks St cirq-this is helpful! We might like to explore more of the Netherlands. I am also tempted to go as far as Berlin (where I have been but not my DH) and maybe even Hamburg since I liked that area the one time I visited.

St. Cirq, where is home these days for you. Don't I recall you were going to move or didI dream that?
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Mar 29th, 2016, 04:51 PM
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A number of years ago we had a leased Renault (which we picked up in A'dam) and used it to zip through Holland and Belgium down to Alsace, hitting numerous small villages along the wine route. It's pretty full of tourists in the summer too (a lot of Black Forest spillover from Germany) but it's still a pretty darn nice. And the food... omg.

Then we dashed down to Annecy and spent a week in Haute-Savoie and around Geneva and Lausanne. Gorgeous stuff. Lots of people, but terrific driving, and Annecy is a gem.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 05:04 PM
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Thanks Gardyloo. My brother-in-law lives near Annecy, so we have explored that area and I agree it is really nice!

Since food is one of my fav travel topics, did you like the food most in Holland, Germany Belgium or France on that stretch? Just curious since my hubby prefers French food over German but we have had some good meals in Belgium too
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Mar 29th, 2016, 05:21 PM
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Sorry - in Netherlands have only stayed in Amsterdam since one trip was business and the other was a quick stop before going to meet a friend in London for a drive around the UK.

We did visit Delft, Edam and the Hague but as day trips by train.

And IMHO in my experience the food in Belgium is the best by far in europe - bar none. I have never had a meal that that was not excellent and many were superb. Granted France has many places with very good food - but we have several times run into places that were mediocre - never happened in Belgium - even in casual cafes for a quick lunch.

In Germany on the other hand much of the food can best be described as hearty. Naturally there are some upscale places with really excellent food but while in casual places it is usually enjoyable - nothing like in Belgium.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 05:59 PM
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Thanks nytraveler. I tend to agree-supposedly Belgium has more Michelin stars per capita in Europe. I also agree about France. I have lived many years in Paris over the past 40 years and I keep telling people that the food is getting worse there and so much better in england for example! It is now possible to get a bad meal in France and just as sinful-bad bread! It is nice we now have great food bloggers writing about Paris so they can help curate at least. But it is true that I always think it is a shame to eat poorly in France. And it is particularly true during the high summer season. French news ran this whole expose last year about restaurants buying frozen lasagna and passing it off as "home made" and I read that they are now starting to certify restaurants that actually cook from scratch. So that means that it has definitely become a problem!
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Mar 30th, 2016, 03:45 AM
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Hi, jpie.

We have been living in St-Cirq, in the Dordogne, for almost a year. So no, you didn't dream it.

I agree with nyt that Belgian food is, generally speaking, the best in Western Europe. I was surprised at how good a lot of the food in the Netherlands was, though, much better than the last time I was there 8 years ago.

As an aside to the point about French restaurants now being certified as serving dishes fait maison, the catch is that the components of those dishes do not have to be fait maison, and that's a big loophole.
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Mar 30th, 2016, 04:31 AM
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Nice comments about Belgium.
I find however that restaurants are more expensive than in france.

Glad to read you had an enjoyable trip in NL.
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Mar 30th, 2016, 05:02 AM
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We didn't notice any difference in price between Belgium and France in top restaurants - no one is giving anything away anywhere. And we have not had bad food in France.

I think the difference is in moderate and casual places - and we'll happily pay a little more to have excellent food instead of mediocre. Not that there aren't good places in france - but now I'm never sure (unlike Belgium) unless I have seen reviews. And when traveling we tend to have a casual lunch near wherever we are - not make reservations or look at a dozen places before picking one. And really don't want to face an ill-prepared omelet or salad or whatever at lunch time.
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Mar 30th, 2016, 07:00 AM
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Since food is one of my fav travel topics, did you like the food most in Holland, Germany Belgium or France on that stretch? Just curious since my hubby prefers French food over German but we have had some good meals in Belgium too

The food in Alsace was for the most part terrific, but of course there's a great deal of German influence. I was in Strasbourg for a couple of days two or three years ago and once again thought the food was good, but we were coming straight from Brittany, in fact we'd been in Belon eating oysters on the beach two days prior, so it wasn't a fair contest. (I assume you've been to Brittany, which we found to be some of the best driving-around country in France, along with great local food.) I haven't spent enough time in Belgium to say anything definitively.

On the same trip where we started in A'dam we spent four or five days in Delft and I was pretty impressed with the food there. Dutch cooking doesn't have a great reputation but we found it fine.

I was looking at a map and thinking about your delicious conundrum. Where to go for a month with a car?

Maybe it's my North American disregard of long-distance drives, but what about a big loop (or "figure 8") - over to Alsace, then up through Germany to... Copenhagen? Then spend a week or two on Fyn and/or Jutland before returning to France via Holland and Belgium, something like this - https://goo.gl/maps/jdbP4y7K2g42

Denmark is terrific for small villages and country drives, it's certainly a gastronomic departure from the Low Countries cuisine, and the driving wouldn't be all that terrible spaced out over a few days.

Just throwing out a thought.
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Mar 30th, 2016, 07:17 AM
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Thanks Gardyloo-I will think about Denmark. If we decide to drive that far though I might just think about making our original "big" loop, munich, vienna, budapest berlin, and pick places to stay in the suburbs where the car isn't a big a deal to have.

We have been to Brittany. we are fortunate to have friends that have a lovely place in Dinard, and over the past years we have explored the coast all the way along Brittany down to La Rochelle. We love that region. In general we have seen much more of the south and west of France, and with my job I spent a lot of time in Nice, so saw a lot of the cote d'azur and Provence. So really Alsace and the north have been the areas we haven't spent much time. So I am looking forward to exploring those areas more.

Thanks for all the good input. I will everybody know what we decide and try to remember to write short report from wherever we end up!
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Apr 5th, 2016, 05:28 AM
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Check out Germany's event calendar. In July, for example, Düsseldorf hosts the Largest Fair on the Rhine, a huge week-long funfair. Might be lovely, if you're interested in traditional celebrations.
p.s. yesss, Michelin-starred restaurants are great, but the German hearty food - even at any beer garden - is well worth trying!
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Apr 5th, 2016, 05:39 AM
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What about exploring the north of the Netherlands, and northern Germany, maybe into Denmark along the Wadden coast, or from northern Netherlands head towards Lubeck/Schwerin area and down to Magdeburg before heading back west, maybe following the Mosel, or heading through the Eiffel and Ardennes back to France? That may be too ambitious a route but I am sure you could find a route that fits your needs in that direction.
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Apr 5th, 2016, 09:53 AM
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Having lived in France most of my life (even though I wasn't born here), I could easily spend an entire month in a car without even leaving the country since I drive in all sorts of loops on country roads and discover the most amazing things.

In reality, though, I very often dip into Belgium and Switzerland, a bit less into Italy, Germany and Spain, but I do a bit of that as well. But I have driven from Paris to Prague, Paris to Berlin, Paris to Amsterdam, Paris to Barcelona, Paris to Milan, Paris to Zürich, so I do try to get around.

I have never regretted any of my road trips, so I hope that it reassures you, but of course when you have arrived in any of the big cities by car, it becomes a burden the moment you are there. If you can park it somewhere free of charge, it is great, but often you will pay 30 euros a day in some of the cities, and it really does add up rather quickly.

Let me suggest just two or three extremely minor things to see in France that might whet your appetite to not just concentrate on the cities.

the château of Pierrefonds, about 100 km north of Paris : http://tinyurl.com/jhhy5q8

the gorges of Kakuetta in the Pyrénées: http://tinyurl.com/q8997dz

the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval not too far from Lyon: http://tinyurl.com/hz3f4hj
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Apr 5th, 2016, 10:19 AM
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I was going to suggest Nantes and the Vendee but that's west of course and you want to go north/east so I won't.

so looking at the map, and starting in Paris [do you have to end there too?] you could do a big loop up through Belgium and the Netherlands, then northern Germany [some wonderful castles plus the north sea beaches] then south down to Nuremberg, over to the Black Forest, Strasbourg and Alsace.

alternatively, perhaps if you don't need to go back to Paris, or even if you do, up through the Pfalz region picking up the Rhine and follow it to the Netherlands, up through Denmark into Sweden, and then back through northern Germany.

[oops - I see that Hets has suggested something similar - oh well, great minds!]
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