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Initial Draft: France & Belgium; Please critique. Thanks!

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Sep 21st, 2013, 11:37 AM
  #1
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Initial Draft: France & Belgium; Please critique. Thanks!

My husband and I are planning a 24 day trip (plus travel time) to France with 5 days in Belgium in May 2014. This will be our eighth time visiting France (have never visited Belgium) and we'd like to visit areas which we haven't seen before. A visit to Bruges in Belgium (accommodations booked) and some of the Battlefields near Ipers are must-sees as is the National Park and surrounding area of the Midi-Pyrenees.

We realize there's a considerable distance between these 2 points and don't mind driving several hours from one place to another. In our itinerary we've tried to be aware of driving time and of having at least 3 nights in each area.

We've visited Paris and southern France (Luberon ... love!) several times and have also spent time in the Charente Maritime, Languedoc Roussillon, Dordogne and the French Basques Country.

We've managed to get a great deal on return tickets to Paris (large penalty to change) and are seriously considering a 'lease buy back' which has worked well in the past. (at CDG) We would really appreciate your critiques of our initial itinerary. We'd also like to hear about alternate areas/places to visit as well as suggestions for B and B's in any area we've listed. Depending on the country we're visiting, we've rented cottages and have also enjoyed B and B's, hotels/inns and home stays. This time we've decided to opt for the informality and social aspects of comfortable B and B's. Many thanks!

Day 1. Arrive Paris CDG 8:30 a.m.; drive A1 for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes to Albert and overnight; we don't want to drive far after a long haul flight and do have concerns about driving anywhere the first day at all. Suggestions/Comments?

Days 2 & 3 Visit Beaumont Hamel (Newfoundland Memorial) a.m.; afternoon drive to Ipers (Belgium) for 2 nights

Days 4, 5 & 6. Bruges (Belgium)

Days 7, 8 & 9. Beaune area??? Or ??? suggestions?

Days 10, 11, 12, 13. Luberon??? Or ??? suggestions?

14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. Midi-Pyrenees National Park and surrounding area

20, 21, 22, 23. Toulouse area (likely Albi as friends live nearby)

Day 24. Drop car at Toulouse airport; TGV to CDG; overnight nearby (prefer not to drive Toulouse to CDG route for 8+ hours)

Day 25. Fly home at 1:30 p.m.
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Sep 21st, 2013, 12:46 PM
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Seems fine to me, you seem to know the things you want to see in NE France and Belgium. I don't know any reason your first day wouldn't work (driving to Albert from CDG).

Since you apparently have never spent any time in NE France, Alsace, etc, it would seem a natural to include that rather than going to the Luberon or Beaune. I really like Nancy, also, and of course there is Strasbourg, etc. If you want wine and that is the reason you are going to Beaune (I can't think of any other), there are plenty of vineyards in Alsace. Of course, maybe you don't like that kind of wine, it's just something to consider since you haven't been in that area or the Lorraine region.

Personally, I'd probably fly Easyjet from Toulouse to CDG instead of an all-day train trip to CDG, it's about the same price. I just don't like long train or plane rides, even though the train is not as cramped, 6+ hrs on the train isn't the way I want to spend a vacation day. Since you are just staying at a CDG airport hotel, anyway, there is an Easyjet flight that doesn't leave Toulouse until around 7 pm so you'd have all day there and still get to CDG around 8:30 pm, plenty of time to check in to an airport hotel and maybe have dinner somewhere.
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Sep 21st, 2013, 01:09 PM
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I took the train to Toulouse a couple of months ago, and I love train rides like that. Of course, I have to admit that I worked for an airline for 35 years and almost never had a chance to take the train during those years. Now I jump at any opportunity to take the train rather than flying because I absolutely cannot stand the ridiculous security procédures in airports, and I also love going from city center to city center.

I went to Ypres a while back and made a photo report about it: http://tinyurl.com/p2jk3h2

You might also like the battlefields and cemeteries in the French Ardennes: http://tinyurl.com/q6pa5oo

You are spending at least one day too many in Bruges, which is lovely but small.
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Sep 21st, 2013, 01:48 PM
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Christina, thanks so much for your comments. We don't have a strong reason for including Beaune. It just seemed like a good half way point before heading south to the Luberon. I actually did give a little thought to Nancy and Strasbourg but thought it would be an even longer drive to get to the Luberon. But I think I'll do a little more research on that idea. If we did decide on Strasbourg or Nancy where would you go from there as a 2 to 3 day stop on the way to Pau?

We quite like the train but I'm also going to think about the Easy Jet idea too. It will give us more time in Toulouse. Thanks for your suggestions. I'll post again later.

Kerouac. I can really relate to your comment about security in airports. DH even more ... he really dislikes it! We've found travelling in SE Asia and Africa and certain parts of Europe that airport security is far less stressful. Thanks for your link to Ypres. We'll take a look. Did you visit Vimy and Beaumont Hamel? The latter holds particular interest for us.
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Sep 21st, 2013, 02:03 PM
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No, sorry, I have not been to Vimy or Beaumont Hamel yet. I do not get around as much as I would like.
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Sep 21st, 2013, 02:33 PM
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I think your best bet for a 2 1/2 day stopover between Belgium & Provence is Burgundy/Beaujolais. My favorite city in France (after Paris) is Dijon (perhaps my least favorite is Pau). Beaune is on my "top 5" medium cities list. Auxerre is extremely interesting too. I'm a big wine fan - but I never do any wine touring while in France (we live 2 hrs from Napa/Sonoma) - but there is plenty of other things to explore there. Lots of Chateaux. Minimal "cute little villages" however, compared to Provence. Excellent restaurants in Burgundy - but not cheap. We spent 4 weeks in Burgundy/Beaujolais a few years ago.

Stu Dudley
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Sep 21st, 2013, 03:10 PM
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Thanks Stu. I remember how helpful you were when we were planning our trip to the Dordogne. A belated Thank You! Yes my initial research seemed to indicate Dijon or Beaune as a good stopover point along the way. I like to have lots of feedback and put all of it into the mix before deciding what the best choice might be for us. Our interest in the Midi-Pyrenees is primarily the National Park. We love the mountains. And living on an island with beautiful mountains set alongside vast numbers of ponds and lakes makes us rather partial to both.

Kerouac. Thank you for sharing the link to your amazing photo essays of Ypres and the French Ardennes. They are a poignant reminder to the tragedy and futility of war. We've visited many memorial sites in our travels and those that stand out for me are Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Oradour in France and Mai Lai in Vietnam. All leave an indelible impression ....
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Sep 21st, 2013, 03:49 PM
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We were in the Pyrenees for 5 weeks last year (3 different locations) - but I don't know where the National Park is located.

Stu Dudley
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Sep 21st, 2013, 04:49 PM
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We're still researching things to see and do in the National Park. Caterets looks as if it might be a good base. Any comments or other suggestions?
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Sep 21st, 2013, 06:02 PM
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Cauterets is 11K from the gite where we stayed for 2 weeks in early July 2012. It was quite overcast most of the time we were there - not much sun.

We had a very nice dinner in Cauterets at Asterides Sacca hotel, and also just outside of Cauterets at l'Abri du Benques. Restaurant La Grange aux Marmottes in Viscos was quite nice. My wife had her birthday dinner at les Viscos in St Savin.

There was a nice glass "folly" from the Paris World fair in Cauterets.

We enjoyed the Pont d'Espagne - spent a lot of time there.

Probably the best Birds of Prey show we've ever seen was "Donjon des Aigles" in the area.

We spent what few sunny days we had visiting all the "cols" in the region - Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque, Soulor. Lots of free roaming horses, sheep, goats, cows in the area.

We enjoyed the town of Arreau and the stuffed "people" in Ste Marie de Campan. The old Spa town of Eaux Bonnes attracted my wife - she likes old decaying spa towns.

I think Cauterets got hit pretty hard by the freak storm that hit France this year in mid-June - the one that wrecked some vineyards in Burgundy. We were in the Gers at the time. Cauterets was in the news as an area that received quite a bit of damage. You might investigate to see if any of the damage was permanent.

We leave for Spain tomorrow.

Stu Dudley
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Sep 21st, 2013, 06:36 PM
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You asked about WW1 battlefields.

We spent our first night in Paris, then took a morning TGV to Arras where we picked up a car. We stayed in a small village (Duisans) near Arras. It's an easy drive from Arras to Vimy Ridge, where we spent the afternoon. There's a small museum, a restored trench; unfortunately it was too early when we visited for the tunnels to be open.

From Arras we took a day trip to Ypres; if you're in Belgium already, it should be easy to fit in (see below), and it's a must do, as there's a great museum (In Flanders Fields) and a short drive away, Paaschendale and other sites. En route between Arras and Ypres (shortly after crossing the border) there's a restored trench, this time a wicker trench.

Beaumont Hamel is due south of Arras. Free tours are offered. I wonder if the "NL" in your handle is the clue to your special interest?

Anyway, a little further due south yet is Thiepval, also the location of a small but fabulous museum. This part of the trip really indicates the extent of the Somme battlefield. We did both Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval en route to Les Andelys, but after your night in Arras you could spend until early afternoon on these sites and then head to Belgium to do Ypres.

Enjoy your trip.
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 12:32 AM
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3 days is a lot for Brugge, but since you have a car you can explore. If the weather is nice, drive to the coast at Knokke-Heist, there are some good restaurants and shops. Particularly good on a Sunday, as all the shops will be open there.
There's also the Zwin nature reserve, or you can rent bicycles to cycle along the coast.

Or visit Gent - but from Brugge, this would be easier by train.
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 01:14 AM
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You should try to visit Albert and Perrone,excellent WWI museums. and there is a new museum outside Paris Le Musee de la Grand Guerre. I forget the name of in suburb , will look it up.Excellent exhibits and location.
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 01:17 AM
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M
www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 06:39 AM
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Stu. Thanks for the information. Seems to be lots of good places to eat in and around Cauterets. We've also identified Pont d'Espagne as a place we'd like to visit. I'll check to see if there's been any permanent damage in the area. Enjoy your visit to Spain!

Sue. Thanks so much for this. I think I'd prefer an overnight in or near Paris too after a long haul but DH thinks he won't have a problem driving. He's done it many times before in other European cities. I've thought about staying overnight and taking the train to Arras but we can only pick up a Peugeot 'lease buy back' in Paris. It sounds as if you may have done your own tours of the Battlefield area ... great information to think about! You've identified the areas we're most interested in although I'm sure all of them are special. And yes, you're spot on about the NL in my screen name. Newfoundlanders have been holding 11 a.m. memorial services on July 1 since WW1 and then celelbrate Canada Day (which was proclaimed years later) after the noon hour. Tradition is alive and well here.

Tulip. We've always wanted to spend time some leisurely time in Brugge and especially so after visiting the Battlefields. And we're slow travellers at heart!

Avalon2. Albert is where we plan to spend our first night and visit Beaumont Hamel next morning. I hadn't heard of the Peronnne museum but the name is very familiar. Several street names in our hometown are named after famous battles or towns including Peronne, Beaumont, Monchy and Haig. I looked at your link to Musee de la Grande Guerre and believe it's a museum that I'd particularly enjoy. I must check that out. Thanks! May I ask ... is Avalon2 a reference to location?
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 08:34 AM
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'We've always wanted to spend time some leisurely time in Brugge'

If the weather is good, consider a day of cycling to Damme, or a trip to the seaside in Knokke. You don't have to plan that, just see how the weather is.

And keep in mind the bank holidays of May 1 and May 29, when shops may be closed, and there could be a lot of tourists (especially around the May 29 holiday).
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 09:29 AM
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It should be mentioned that in May 2013, most of the mountains passes in the Pyrénées were not yet open due to having one of the coldest springs in 50 years. Passes like the Tourmalet were still completely closed until the beginning of July. Something to think about for 2014!

http://midi-pyrenees.france3.fr/2013...ve-267617.html
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Sep 22nd, 2013, 11:11 AM
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Tulip. Thanks ... great tips. Thankfully we'll miss both bank holidays. The seaside sounds lovely!

Kerouac. Thanks for this. I'll keep an eye on the weather and road reconstruction. I've read comments on TA that said travel in the area was good this month but they are still dealing with damage from the storm. We do sooo want to go to the Pyrenees. However I understand the follies of unpredictable weather and how it can affect one's travel plans. Thanks for the link.
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