"Mostly southern" France trip

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Jun 14th, 2017, 09:22 AM
  #1
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"Mostly southern" France trip

Hi all,
We’re in the beginning stages of a “mostly southern” France trip for April-May of 2018 and need a lot of advice for this vast area, having never visited there. We’d most likely fly open jaw, into Paris and out of some airport in the south (or reverse). Throughout the trip we’d travel by train and maybe schedule some day trips that would combine some sights where train travel isn’t the most efficient or expedient way to get there. Having a car would be the least desirable option, but we would do it, if necessary, for a short while.

We’re thinking of visiting the following areas (not in order, but suggestions for order of travel would be greatly appreciated). I believe the cities/towns chosen have good access to trains, are central to sights, and might serve as bases, but I’m not sure. Should we consider others?

Provence, 4 nights staying in Arles or Avignon
Languedoc, 4 nights staying in Carcassonne or Albi
Dordogne, 4 nights staying in Sarlat or?
Loire, 3 nights staying in Tours or Amboise or Chinon
Paris 3-4 nights (we’ve been before but would like a few days)

Are we allotting sufficient time to see some of the more important sights in each region? Should we allocate more to any particular area? We actually have no real time restraint (retired!) so it would be easy to add to the trip. Thanks for any advice!
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Jun 14th, 2017, 09:40 AM
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Four nights in Carcassonne would be three too many for me. Albi is fine, but it's IMO essentially a daytrip. I would spend a few days in Toulouse.

It's barely possible to get around the Dordogne without a car, and you certainly wouldn't see any of the major sites by train. You really need a car here.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 09:42 AM
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If you start in Avignon or Arles, you can work your way to Paris on an interesting road trip.

You can either fly into the nearest ariport to Avignon (connecting flight from Paris), or take the train.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 10:13 AM
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We did similar trip over 4 weeks with the following itinerary; Paris, Limoges, Bordeaux, Sarlat, Toulouse, Albi, St. Remy de Provence. With a r/t out of Paris, it was easy to take the train from Paris-Bordeux where we stayed 3 nights, then drove to Sarlat for 5 nights; then Rocamadour for 2, then Albi (Lautrec museum fabulous) for a night; then Toulouse for 3 nts, lunch at Carcassonne before 4 nights in Provence, returning to Paris from the Avignon TGV. We stayed in Paris first. A night in Albi was worthwhile but only need a night; Carcassone you can do for lunch and continue to the next destination. Base in Provence, Toulouse, Sarlat, Bordeaux and connect the dots. We liked the size of St. Remy as a base rather than Arles or Avignon. You will want a car in Dordogne for sure. Driving was easy and well marked.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 11:23 AM
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StCirq, So, is Carcassonne just too cute? If so then should it be Albi for that area and a day trip over to Carcassonne? And, Is it getting to the caves that might require a car and/or also getting to the Chateaus? I assume rental cars would be available in Albi? I would like to go Toulouse at least for a short while, primarily to visit St Sernin Cathedral. Is there something in particular that you liked in Toulouse for a base?

Robert, Okay, so one idea is to check flights into cities in Provence, and possibly start south, in Arles or Avignon, and meander mostly by train to Paris. Another then might be TGV from CDG directly to Avignon, stay in Avignon as a base, then start meandering to another area and eventually work back up to Paris? So fly RT to Paris?

Alice, We thought about the Bordeaux region, but will save it for another trip. You also mentioned Toulouse. Would that be the base for this region and not Albi? Why Sarlat for 5 nights? What did you see/do for that region that you gave it more nights? We can add nights for that region if it’s desirable.

Car in Dordogne seems to be the consensus. Okay.

I appreciate all the advice so far. There’s a lot going on in these regions, and we don’t want to shortchange any area. Thanks!
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Jun 14th, 2017, 11:32 AM
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StCirq, I’m think I’m confusing what’s in which region. Caves in the Dordogne area is where we’ll need a car,correct? So probably rent the car in Sarlat, not Albi or Toulouse?
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Jun 14th, 2017, 11:57 AM
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I would never describe Carcassonne as "cute." You need to read up on its history and learn a bit about Viollet-le-Duc and decide if its authenticiy bothers you or not (doesn't bother me one bit - I think Viollet-le-Duc was a genius). Once you've seen La Cité, which I assume is your primary goal there, the lower town is worth a walk around. A night there up in the Cité might be interesting after the tourists leave, but it would also be fine to move on to Albi.

I am in Toulouse fairly often, so don't have a good perspective to point out a "base." It's just a very likeable city, with many different quarters, diverse, loads of history, and great food.

You cannot get much of anywhere - caves, abris, châteaux, or anywhere - in the Dordogne (by which I assume you mean the Périgord Noir) without a car. There are train stations in Périgueux, Les Ezies, Le Bugue, Le Buisson, and myriad places in between, but not a single one is accessible to a cave or a château or a troglodyte village, or an abri, or even a great restaurant. Five nights would be minimal to do justice to places like Font-de-Gaume, La Roque St-Christophe, Les Combarelles, Lascaux II and IV, Commarque, Castelnaud, Beynac, La Roque-Gageac, the Musée de la Préhistoire and the Pôle, markets in Sarlat and St-Cyprien and Le Buisson and Lalinde and Le Bugue and....

You'll have only one choice for car rental in Sarlat as far as I know - Europcar.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 12:16 PM
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No, Cute is definitely the wrong word. Apologies. Sorry.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 01:12 PM
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Sarlat was a convenient driving base to several villages over the five nights there, and the downtown has loads of amenities and charm, hotel in old city, walked to dinner every night. Drove to: La Roque Gageac, Chateau Marqueyssac, Domme, Beynac, Les Eyzies, Font-de-Gaume, Castelnaud. From there we drove east to see Loubressac, Autoire, St. Cere so stayed two nights in Rocamadour, before heading south to Figeac and St. Cirq Lapopie. It was a long drive from St. Cirq Lapopie along the curlique river to Albi which we reached at dusk; stayed there to see the Cathedral and Lautrec Musee before heading to Toulouse. Didnt make sense to pass Albi and drive back up from Toulouse. We parked at hotel in Toulouse and explored on foot, lovely, large city and best cassoulet ever. Toulouse, the city of a million pink bricks, home of the "pastel." Wish we'd had another day to experience Canal du Midi, but headed to La Cite of Carcassonne for day, then continued over to Provence. You must plot your destinations and time them out for what makes sense as to practicality. Also must note 'closing' days for museums, and make sure to hit the Saturday market in Sarlat and the one on ? in Toulouse -- fabulous. You can more easily drive on the A road directly from Sarlat to Toulouse, but oh, what you'll miss! I relied heavily on the Cadogan guide for Dordogne & Lot Regions -- it's another strata compared to others and that includes Michelin IMO.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 02:20 PM
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Totally agree with the recommendation for Cadogan Guides, especially the one called Lazy Days Out in the Dordogne and Lot.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 04:49 PM
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Alice and StCirq Thanks both of you for recommendations of Michelin w/Lazy Days Out in Dordogne, and Lot. I’ll go through them and plot out a route that might work for us using a combination of mostly train travel and a car where necessary. I’m going to try to minimize car travel as much as possible without jeopardizing a good journey. With what I’ve already read, Sarlat sounds like a very good base. Thanks for the description and additional advice to plot out our destinations with regard to events and openings of certain sights.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 04:51 PM
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for tons of good info on French trains and where to go by them check www.sncf/voyages.com - French Railways site for schedules and booking own discounted tickets or regular ducats - www.seat61.com; www.ricksteves.com and www.budgeteuropetravel.com -check out their France section in their free online European Rail & Planning Guide.

If traveling a lot on trains check out the France Railpass.
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Jun 14th, 2017, 05:12 PM
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PalenQ Thanks for the links! Will check them out.
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Jun 15th, 2017, 02:48 AM
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If you want to see Font-de-Gaume, which is the last of the original chromatic caves open to the public, email me at stcirq at aol dot com and I will get you tickets. They are almost impossible to get online; they will be available for 2018 beginning January 2018. I can also get tickets for Les Combarelles, but the tours are always at 10 am and only in French. You will not get them on your own; it is close to impossible.I will not be able to get you tickets until after January 1, 2018, so stay in touch.

You do not need a French Railpass for what you are contemplating.
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Jun 15th, 2017, 07:43 AM
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StCirq, Thank you! I will be emailing you about tickets to those caves. I had no idea that they'd be almost impossible to get on my own. Very gracious of you to help.
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Jun 15th, 2017, 08:28 AM
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Very gracious of you to help.>

Yes indeed - so so neat that someone would do that!
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Jun 15th, 2017, 11:45 AM
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Kathleen, I did not recommend Michelin, I find their guides rather 'unhandy' and uninformative to use. We did purchase the Michelin driving atlas for France which we kept in the car, but with navigation from our phones, didnt use it either. I did recommend the Cadogan guide which is much more detailed on the Dordogne and so did St.Cirq I believe, just a different edition than did I. Might have to order them online. But they're in a class of their own.
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Jun 15th, 2017, 11:54 AM
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Thanks Alice. Forgot to include that guide when I replied, but I had written it down to purchase and/or look through.
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Apr 24th, 2018, 06:58 AM
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Ttt
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