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Loire Valley, Normandy, Paris--need help with itinerary


Jan 9th, 2012, 10:46 AM
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Loire Valley, Normandy, Paris--need help with itinerary

We'll spend 16 days in France, end of June beginning of July. We are a family with two children--15 and 10 years old. We would like to drive in a loop through Loire Valley and Normandy (8 nights) and end in Paris (8 nights). We would like to keep the number of hotels we'll change at the minimum possible. Here is the initial plan with some questions.

Days 1-4
Loire Valley. We would like to base ourselves in Amboise and explore from there via rental car. Should we get to Tours on TGV and rent a car there to get to Amboise or rent a car from CDG airport and drive to Amboise? My husband will already be in Paris and will meet us at the airport. He won't be too tired from a flight to drive if that's the better option.

We do not plan to check every single palace and chateaux but to focus on the most interesing ones and take our time to enjoy. We may want to reduce our stay here to 3 nights if Normandy is worth 5 nights.

Day 5
Leave Amboise in the morning and drive to Mt St Michel, stay overnight.
We thought it was in Normandy but it turns out it is in Brittany. In any case, it is a place we would like to see. Just by looking at the map we decided that it would be nice to drive to Dinard or St Malo, have lunch there and continue on to Mt St Michel. See it in the evening and again in the morning, then continue to Normandy. Is it realistic?

Days 6-8
Normandy. We are struggling to find the most interesting and convenient base town. Should it be Bayeux or Honfleur?

Day 9
Leave in the morning and head to Paris (or Versailles). On the way we plan to stop at Giverny to tour Monet's museum.

Is overnight in Versailles worth it? We visited the place about 12 years ago on a half-day tour from Paris and felt very rushed, didn't have time to see everything we wanted to see. We would like to go back and see it at our own pace, especially that my daughter has not been there and wants to see it. We know that by staying overnight we can explore the town better but it's another hotel change, which we'd like to make only if it's worth it.

If we go to Paris and return the car, we will have 8 nights there and will do Versailes as a day trip. Otherwise, we'll have 1 night in Versailles and 7 nights in Paris. I know that there is a nice evening show with fireworks in the palace gardens over the weekends. We can do it only if we do a day trip from Paris on the weekend because, otherwise, the day we get there if we drive directly from Normandy is a week day. Is it worth it to do a day trip vs. overnight just for that?

Many questions, I know. Thank for your help.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 11:53 AM
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Actually, I believe Mont St. Michel IS in Normandy, but only by a few hundred meters. The drive from Amboise will be 3.5 hours or thereabouts, so getting to the Mont in the afternoon should work out fine. Keep in mind, its an Abbey, not a castle, but it is definitely worth the visit, IMO. It'll be packed in late June early July, especially in the morning.

As for a base town in Normandy, it really depends on what you are wanting to see in Normandy. If it's D-day sights, definitely Bayeux.

As for Versailles, keep in mind the chateau will likely be very busy as well. I'd do it as a day trip from Paris. Simply catch the first train out to Versailles that arrives before it opens. Allow 15-20 minutes to stroll from the train station (Rive Gauche) to the chateau. In summer, I'd definitely recommend touring the gardens and Marie's Hameau.
When you're finished, take a train back to Paris.

Good luck and enjoy!
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Jan 9th, 2012, 12:03 PM
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I would probably pick the car up in Paris and drive to Amboise, but if you have any reservations about that, picking it up in Tours works well, too.

I think 3 days for the Loire and 5 for Normandy is perfect.

If the focus of the Normandy portion is on DDay sights, Bayeux makes the better base. You might want to spend a night in Honfleur on the way or the way back, though - lovely town.

I wouldn't spend the night in Versailles.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 12:31 PM
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Car rental
We pickup our car at CDG and really dont find it difficult navigating out of the Paris perimeter.

Both choices are great, but we like Bayeux best

Loire: Amboise is very nice, however if you have a car you can also look to split your time and dont forget to consider some of the VERY nice hotels in the countryside

I too wouldnt spend the night at Versailles as its a easy daytrip from Paris

tip: Mt St Michel will be a ZOO in June, so plan accordingly
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Jan 9th, 2012, 12:46 PM
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Re Versailles, if you stay overnight on a Saturday, you can do "the Grandes Eaux nocturnes" which is tough to do as a day trip from Paris.

The official site does not have the info for 2012 yet. It is about €22, starts around 9pm. Some non official sites with some info:


but you really want to use the official site when they get around publishing the summer info.: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage
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Jan 9th, 2012, 03:20 PM
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Loved Honfleur!
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Jan 9th, 2012, 05:17 PM
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I would do three nights in the Loire and five nights in the Normandy region. I would split up the Normandy/Brittany portion with two/three nights around Dinan/Saint-Malo and two/three nights around Bayeux. I'll have some info tomorrow about what you can see and do near Dinan and Bayeux.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 06:28 PM
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I liked 5 nights in Loire, needed max one more in Normandy to add to the two we had.

Mt. St. Michel isn't really Normandy - it's about an hour or so west of Bayeux so it's not just around the corner.

Get a car at CDG if hubby's not going to be jetlagged.

Stay in Amboise - central Loire, close to Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny and its eponymous chateau; not far from Blois to the east or the Abbey of Fontevreaud to the west.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 07:30 PM
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Vote for Bayeux. I enjoyed wandering the old streets, seeing the Bayeux tapestry, and visiting the cathedral. First weekend in July is Renaisance festival in Bayeux. There were crowds, but I found it fun. Streets covered in hay, great hunks of meat cooking on spits in open fires, crafts of all sorts, fire eaters, men and women in costume on stilts, horses, colorful tents, lots of people inedieval dress. The kids might really get a kick out of this.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 08:08 PM
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Be sure to visit Leonardo Da Vinci's last home in Amboise. It is called Clos Luce. The museum there features his many inventions so this might interest your kids.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 02:55 AM
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We did a similar trip in September. We picked up our car in Paris and drove to the Loire Valley. We stayed in Amboise for two nights, but probably could have used a third night.

We loved Villandry's gardens (didn't go in the chateau), Chenonceau (great gardens and interior-we wnet first thing in the morning), Chaumont-sur-Loire and Azay le Rideau. Chambord was more crowded, but we got there later in the afternoon (lots of tour buses.

Enjoy your trip!
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Jan 10th, 2012, 05:25 AM
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I'll give you an itinerary you might consider. Do three nights in the Loire. Head on to Mont Saint-Michel as you planned but on the way stop in Fougères, which has a nice old medieval town and one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe. The drive from Amboise to Fougères takes about 3 hours.


If you left Amboise at 9AM you could be there around noon, just in time for lunch. Lunch and a visit of Fougères should take about 3 hours, plus or minus. You'll have long daylight hours while you're here so you could still do a little sightseeing on the way to MSM. You could take the D155 out of Fougères and make a stop in Bazouges-la-Pérouse, officially designated as a Petite Cité de Caractère (small village of character).


About 15km west of there is Combourg, designated as a Ville d'Art et d'Histoire (village of art and history). It also has a château you can admire from the outside.


Then you can head on to MSM for your overnight.

Next day you can visit the abbey in the morning and then head on to Saint-Malo. From MSM head to Dol-de-Bretagne, a nice little medieval village.


You don't need to spend too long here. It's just a nice town for a quick visit and a stroll. Head to Canacale next for lunch. It's famous for its oysters.


Next head to the scenic viewpoint Pointe du Grouin and then do the scenic coastal drive from here to Saint-Malo. Overnight in Saint-Malo. If you have any extra time this day do a visit of Dinard.


On your next day what you do depends on whether you want to spend two or three nights in this area. I'll lay out some options and you can decide. I would personally trade a visit of Dinard for Dinan. Dinan is a lovely walled medieval town and it has way more charm than Dinard, which is nice enough but is mostly known for its 19th century villas for the rich folks.

Head south for Dinan and make a stop on the way at Saint-Suliac, designated a Plus Beau Village de France (most beautiful village of France). It also has an Enlos Paroissiaux (parish enclosure)



From here what you do would depend if you wanted to stay another night in this area or move on to Bayeux. If you want to end up in Bayeux that evening then do your visit of Dinan and then head to Bayeux. If you want to stay another night then do it in Dinan.

From Saint-Suliac head south and pick up the N12 to Jugon-les-Lacs, another Petite Cité de Caractère.


You could eat lunch here and then nearby you can drive past (or even visit) the medieval fortress ruin of Château de la Hunaudaye.


Head east from here and pass through the tiny village of Saint-Méloir-des-Bois, an official Commune du Patrimoine Rural (rural heritage village).

Before arriving in Dinan you could stop a few km south of there to visit another Petite Cité de Caractère called Léhon.


Then head to Dinan.


There's loads more you could do in this area and here are a few links to help you. The first link brings you to the tourist office site for the area near Dinan. The second link is to a 56 page downloadable pdf doc that tells you everything you need to know and more about the area near Dinan.




I've got some other ideas for near Bayeux (besides D-Day stuff) if you're interested.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 05:56 AM
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I had the wrong name for the festival in Bayeux. It is the Bayeux Medieval Festival. This year it is June 7-8. Google it and you will find pictures and other info.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 08:08 AM
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Wow! Thanks to everybody so much for the valuable information. We will reduce Loire Valey stay to 3 nights and spend 5 nights in Brittany/Normandy. All those little cute towns seem so charming. Thanks for the links.

For Bayeux, we plan to do a half day D-Day tour with a guide, the tapestry museum, and explore the rest of the town on our own. What are the other ideas near Bayeux?

The festival sounds interesting. You mean, it is July 7-8, not June.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 01:40 PM
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You are lucky to have a well-rested husband to meet you on arrival. Take advantage of that and start your trip by having him pick up the car at CDG before he meets you, and then get on the road. Those who need to nap can nap for a while.

FMT has given you really good suggestions. Fougeres is terrific from the top of its hill down to the medieval fortress and half-timbered buildings. Dinan and its surroundings are really interesting. Your kids might enjoy the after-school bustle there with all the kids and their parents shopping for their dinner and anything else. Léhon is so close to Dinan it would be a shame to miss it since it's really pretty. It seems to be a short walk, but we haven't done it on foot.

If you are book nuts, I would add a stop at Becherel, a hilltop village which qualifies as a book town.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 02:02 PM
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Fougères is a terrific town. We also loved nearby Vitré.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 02:43 PM
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If you do three nights near MSM/Dinan that gives you two nights in Bayeux. After your 3rd night in Dinan you can head to Bayeux and see the tapestry museum and visit the town. The tapestry museum will be open until 6:15 and you want about 1-1/2 hours for a visit, so you should be in Bayeux by 4:15. The drive from Dinan to Bayeux is about 2 hours so if you left by 10AM you've got about 4 hours to play with. You could stop in Villedieu-les-Poëles and stroll around and then lunch there.



After Villedieu you might take some backroads to Bayeux and enjoy some nice country scenery and pass through small villages. I would take the autoroute and get off at exit 39 and head north in the direction of a village called Tessy-sur-Vire. If you look at your Michelin (which you need to do this) you'll notice a bunch of designated scenic roads in this area. I would plan a route that takes in some of these roads. Making the route go through as many small villages as possible makes the route more scenic. Wander in a general north direction to the D572 east of Saint-Lô. This is the main route to Bayeux.

Another option for this day is to head right to Bayeux and do some self exploration of D-Day sites, or do your half-day tour. Maybe that's even a better idea.

If you did your half-day tour on your arrival day you've got a full day the next day to see the tapestry museum
and then you could either explore some more D-Day sites on your own or do a scenic country drive. About 40-50km south of Bayeux is a scenic area known as Suisse-Normande (Swiss Normandy). You'll notice a bunch of scenic roads in this region centered around Thury-Harcourt. South of here are some châteaux you can drive by.


You might find some useful info for trip research on the Bayeux tourist office website.


If you click on the "visits" tab on the website you'll find all kinds of info about what to see and do in that area. There's loads of info about D-Day sites and museums, list of the tour guides, info about châteaux and abbeys in the area that you can visit, nature activities etc., etc.

After your first night you can do your D-Day guided tour the next day. On your way back to Paris the next day you could stop in Honfleur or visit Giverny. Or if you wanted to do a countryside drive and wander around some scenic landscapes and small villages I could make a few suggestions if you're interested.

I mentioned the Michelin maps earlier and you'll need these for whatever region you travel in France. You want the ones of the scale 1:200,000 (regional maps) or 1:150,000 (departmental maps, more detailed, cover slighty less area). Use them to figure out how to wander around the backroads between places I mentioned and you'll learn how to make the drives scenic and interesting once you learn how to read the icons on the map. Here's my canned speech about Michelin maps and all things Michelin:

Get your hands on the Michelin maps (scale of 1:200,000 regional maps or scale 1:150,0000 departmental maps) for whatever regions you visit. The Michelin maps have icons for all kinds of historically/touristically interesting things such as châteaux, ruins, churches, abbeys, scenic view points, caves, Roman sites, megaliths, designated scenic roads and many other things. Usually when I'm exploring various regions in France I just look at the map and I am able to plan interesting and scenic drives just reading the map. For instance, I usually look for a designated scenic road, which are highlighted in green, and I especially look for towns with the historic church and/or château icon. I also try to make sure the route goes through as many small villages as possible. Usually putting all these things together I find interesting and scenic drives without even knowing where I am going and with no assistance from a guide book. Often these places are never mentioned in guidebooks and remain completely unknown to many tourists.

You can buy the Michelin maps from their website and here is a link to the page that shows all of the maps of France: http://tinyurl.com/4bt96ev

You could also buy them here but then you can't do research beforehand. The maps can be bought in many places such as bookstores, news stands, magazine stores, larger supermarkets, department stores, hypermarkets and in the full service rest areas on the autoroutes, just to name a few.

You can go to the website viamichelin.com and get info on drive times and distances, toll and fuel costs and suggested routes (i.e. scenic routes). The drive times given do not consider stops (fuel, food, bathrooms) nor do they consider bad weather and traffic.

Here is some other general advice for you. You should google some of the town/tourist office websites for any towns you may want to visit. You will find loads of info on these websites including hotel/accommodation and restaurant info as well as what to see and do in the area. Occasionally the websites have English versions. In doing a google search enter the name of your town followed by the words "site officiel" or "office de tourisme" and this will bring the town to the top of your search. Another thing I like to do to see if a town may be worth visiting is enter the town name in a google search followed by the word "photos". Sometimes I visit a town if I find it looks charming/interesting in photos.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 07:16 PM
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This is so much helpful info. Thanks so much. Fougères is very photogenic, I searched the photos and loved it and if so many of you think it's good, I guess, it has to be. So is Dinan. I am afraid 5 days will hardly be enough to see what the area has to offer.

One more question, please. I have heard about the cheese farms in Normandie. Are they worth a stop? If yes, do you know one that's good? Thank you very much.
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Jan 11th, 2012, 05:13 AM
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There are plenty of places in the region where you will be able to buy local cheeses. There are many stores that sell only regional products and they are quite frequently found near the rotaries at major crossroads. There is a region in Normandy called the Pays d'Auge and this region is known for its Route du Fromage and Route du Cidre (the wine and cheese trail). It's a lovely area. The Pays d'Auge begins south of Deauville and extends a good distance south from here. I have visited a couple of cheese farms here. Here is some info about those two farms. I'm cutting and pasting from another thread so keep in mind some of the info is relevant only to the other OP's question:

"If you can make it to the museum in Camembert at the end of the day this will free you up the next morning. There is one other option you could consider for this day after MSM. Since you have Camembert as a destination I assume you might be interested in the cider/cheese trail. If so then after MSM head straight to a place a few kilometers south of Camembert called Fromagerie Durand. This is the last farm in Normandy where the Camembert is still made by hand using traditional methods. In the morning you can watch (through a window) as Monsieur Durand pours the raw cheese into their moulds. You'll probably be too late to see that but there are plenty of signs in English there detailing the various stages of the cheese making process and it's quite informative. You can sample/buy some cheese and cider too. Here is some info about that farm:


The other cheese/cider related site to visit is further north of here called Saint Hippolyte:


It is a 16th century manor/estate with large fields, grazing cows, apple orchards and a cheese production facility that you can tour. A really lovely place. They have a great store in the office there with all kinds of local food products (cheese, cider, calvados, patés and much more) and if you brought some bread and fruit you could get whatever you need for a lovely picnic lunch on the grounds. Perhaps you might just head from MSM to here and have your lunch and then head to Camembert to see the museum."

It really is kind of far from where you are staying in Bayeux but there might be places closer to Bayeux where you may be able to visit a farm and do cheese sampling. This website might help you:


The place mentioned above is in the town of Isigny-sur-Mer, about 30-35km west of Bayeux. The real cheese producing area in lower Normandy is in the Pays d'Auge, so really a bit far from Bayeux. You may be able to stop at some other local produce places in the Suisse-Normande if that interests you. Go to the website I gave you for that region and click on the "gastronomie" tab and then on "produits du terroire" and you'll find out about some local farms in that area. They mostly concentrate on meat and cider/calvados/pommeau products though.

If you really must go to the Pays d'Auge here is a link to a thread where myself and other posters have given some tips about that area:

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Jan 11th, 2012, 05:49 AM
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This is great! Thanks so much.
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