Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Europe (
-   -   One month in one town in France (

ToujoursVoyager Oct 2nd, 2018 06:31 PM

One month in one town in France

For a while now I have been wanting to experience slow travel and base myself in France in one location for a month. My work structure, like many jobs in the USA, was not very keen on the idea. So after eleven years of working overtime, I solved the problem by suggesting I go part-time. While my big corporation decide what they would like to do with me, I started to look at pictures of my favorite places in France and places I have never been. Everything looks amazing.

I would like to have my two daughters (age 3 and 6) be in a French school during that month. The idea came while reading several blogs of Americans doing just that. One woman had her boys enrolled during the month of September in Lyon. I thought "Darn, we don't even have the language barrier since my daughters' first language is French, it would be a pretty neat experience." Yesterday, while I was waiting for my eldest daughter to finish her ballet class, a retired japanese ballerina told me how she enrolls her daughter for 2 months in a Japanese school after she is done with her American school year. My daughter finishes school at the end of May. The end of the school year in France is (depending on the regions) early July. We could enroll her during the month of June with the first goal being that she has fun, the second that she consolidates reading in French.

I have contacts in Paris, that would get her in one school in the 12 arrondissement. But I just can't decide if we should be in Paris for a month or somewhere smaller. My short list (let's call it the long list because I don't know where to go because I want to go everywhere) includes:

-Strasbourg because of the pedestrian city center and the emphasis on the bicycle. But I have never been.
-Sarlat-la-Cadéna. I visited in 2017 and promised I would return. It is such a beautiful area of France.
-Bonnieux. There is a poster named Kathy, who enrolled her 11 years old daughter for 6 months there. I very munch enjoy the Luberon, but I wonder if a village would be too small. Maybe not.
-Antibes. I have never been but I do love the ocean.
-Annecy for the access to the French Alps.

The biggest draw for Paris is the overflowing cultural opportunities. My sister tells me Paris is the center of the Universe, and she might be right. But I feel like my family would be more comfortable in a smaller town, closer to the countryside.

Where would you go if you could live in France for a month?

Sometimes just reading answers clarifies your thoughts.

Michael Oct 2nd, 2018 06:52 PM

Cost might be an issue. I would imagine that Paris is more expensive, although that would be offset by the fact that you would not need to rent a car. For a big city, Lyon or Toulouse might be better or Montpellier. If it's late spring or early summer, a gîte might be more comfortable, but it implies a car and more driving.

ToujoursVoyager Oct 2nd, 2018 06:57 PM

Thank you Michael. Yes, cost is an issue especially with my recent ultimatum. Paris would more expensive. I have never been to Lyon, Toulouse or Montpellier but I can read up on them. I like very beautiful pedestrian towns.

Sassafrass Oct 2nd, 2018 06:58 PM

Looking forward to suggestions by StCirq.
My experience is very limited by comparison with others, but I would love to spend a month in Aix en Provence. It is so pretty with great food and lovely markets, and weekend trips are easy, even without a car. The surrounding area and towns, the Camarque, Marseilles, Arles, Avignon, Les Baux, etc. etc. are all wonderful to explore. Close by you have history, art, old Roman architecture, gorgeous landscape, flowers and beaches.

ToujoursVoyager Oct 2nd, 2018 07:11 PM

Thank you Sassafrass. I have never been to Aix en Provence but the pictures are gorgeous and it might just be the right size!

kja Oct 2nd, 2018 09:40 PM

What a wonderful idea!

If I were you, I would want to make sure that the area I chose had easy access to public transportation, so one would not need to rent a car and could, instead, rely on public transportation when necessary in your chosen location and to get around to take advantage of nearby opportunities. Unfortunately, I think that would rule the Dordogne out.

Beyond that, I don't know enough to answer -- but I would definitely be looking at some decent guidebooks to get a sense of ease of public transportation, typical climate, and likely costs for basics.

Good luck!

bilboburgler Oct 3rd, 2018 12:37 AM

I like the idea of strasbourg, all pretty flat and not too big with plenty of cycle paths.

Belinda Oct 3rd, 2018 02:35 AM

I can tell you from experience that a month will fly by. Before I moved to Paris, I used to come here for the month of December. It was amazing how quickly it passes! Also, it doesn't necessarily have to be terribly expensive. You'll surely eat at home a lot and that is (in my opinion) cheaper than in the US (I shouldn't assume you're in the US... sorry!)

I recently visited Saint Malo and have been intrigued by spending a more extended time there. Weather might be an issue. But July should be nice.

StCirq Oct 3rd, 2018 02:36 AM

I have known a few people who have attempted something like this, and based on their experiences and my own knowledge of the practicalities of daily French living, I think the first thing you should do is lower any expectations you may have for what your daughters will get out of a single month's schooling in France. To be honest, I would expect very little (except for maybe the fun part). All of the folks I've known who've done something like this have noted that short-term students get very short shrift from teachers and administrators. Do I understand that French is your daughters' first language is French? That would certainly be a big plus.

I agree that unless you have a car you'll want to be somewhere with decent public transportation, so that does rule out Sarlat. Personally, I wouldn't want to take on the challenges of a huge city like Paris for just a month. By the time you get it all figured out it will be time to leave. And yes, it's expensive.

If you love the ocean, and love beautiful pedestrian towns, and given that it will be summer, I would probably pick an affordable (not Antibes) town in the Languedoc-Roussillon, on or near the Med. A place like Narbonne, where you won't be dealing with hordes of visitors, where the pace of life is fairly relaxed, where you're close to the beach, which is a "normal" French town and not a "name", and where you have great train connections to all over the south of France and even into Spain. I could be off base, but I think that easing young children into a totally new school routine in a foreign country would be far easier in a place like Narbonne (doesn't have to be Narbonne, but someplace like it near the water in that area) than in a big city.

bilboburgler Oct 3rd, 2018 05:26 AM

certainly not a big city

Christina Oct 3rd, 2018 09:05 AM

well you couldn't pay me to spend a month in Bonnieux, but I like what is available in a city. None of the places you dream of are appealing to me at all for a month. ALthough I only spent one day in Antibes so maybe didn't appreciate what it would be like to live there. Strasbourg is a bigger city, of course, but I just am not crazy about the Alsatien influence (don't like that cuisine), at least not if I wanted to experience France.

I agree with St Cirq, the whole schooling thing sounds questionable just something to do, but not really education. Of course for the 3 yr old, you don't care about that issue like you would for an older child. I am astonished that any public school would allow a tourist to put their kid in their local schools for a month, which are paid for by taxes from residents. Unless you are talking about private schools, and maybe they'll do anything for money. I'm surprised any school would allow a tourist to do that, actually.

It doesn't really matter what I'd do as your interests are different, and I wouldn't do that with children (expecting them to go to a local school for a month). Personally, I'd probably pick Paris because of the cultural opportunities which are important to me, and the good public transportation.

I'm not a fan of expat blogs, especially people who think they are so special because they are in France (or Paris usually) and yet they've never even bothered to learn the language before going even though they are supposedly so crazy about France. Not crazy enough to actually learn the language or know much about its politics and local life, as they can't even read the newspaper, either.

frenchaucoeur Oct 3rd, 2018 09:55 AM

What about Aix? Beautiful place, rich cultural life, good connections to various places around France, access to more rural areas like the Luberon, the Var, and Les Alpilles as well as the coast--or are my biases showing again? Best of all possible worlds--

Oops--sorry Sassafras, I overlooked your post. Great minds think alike.

hetismij2 Oct 3rd, 2018 11:03 AM

Somewhere like Aix would be good, but I think it is daft, and a little unfair on your 6 year old to want them to go to a French school for a month. The school system is so different, and it will be really tough on her trying to fit in to a new school for just a month, especially after having had a year at school already - she will be in need of a break too. I'm not sure any school, except possibly a private one, would accept her for just a month anyway. If she goes to school then so must the three year old - it is compulsory in France that all children from the age of three attend some sort of kindergarten.

StCirq Oct 3rd, 2018 12:35 PM

I think you're right, heti. I just did some very basic research and you can't just toss your kids into a French public school for a month except under very strict circumstances (and of course it's France and will involve preparing and delivering insane amounts of paperwork beginning in June a year before you're hoping for enrollment, which is only possible if there are "openings." )

I agree it's a bad idea, anyway. And I've no idea what the OP meant by "consolidates her reading in French," but that's not going to happen.

ToujoursVoyager Oct 4th, 2018 06:07 AM

Thanks for all the response. As I thought, answers on a forum such as this one puts in focus what is important to you and raise questions that you did not foresee.

@kja: I agree that public transportation would be best and it is time to go to the library and borrow a few good guidebooks.

@bilboburgler: Strasbourg is a city that I can see ourselves pedaling in the evening. It has the #4 ranking of bicycle friendly European city. And it has good public transportation.

@Belinda: Let me know if you decide to spend a month on St Malo... I agree a month probably will go fast. The way I am restructuring my work life, I could probably do this every year.

@frenchaucoeur: A second vote for Aix-en-Provence! I definitively need to spend some time studying that city.

@Christina: What I always liked about your posts on Fodor, is your frankness and your strong point of view. I agree that Bonnieux just might be too small for us. As for expats not learning the language or reading the local news, that is a sad reality. I have met many who have a fairy tale image of France, almost disneyesque, when it is a real country. My household is French, it's own island in the USA. I went to school in Paris until 12, when my parents moved to Montreal. But I was still in the French system and graduated with the French Baccalaureate (Terminal D) because my school in Montreal was under the direct supervision of l'Academie de Caen. World news in my house are from Le Monde and the ARTE Journal. I did not lean proper English until 18 years old, finally by going to an Anglophone university. You can say that I often feel between two cultures, the American one and the French one.

@StCirq: Regarding the six years old being in school for a month, you did echo some of my concerns since what is the most important for me is her happiness. There are two questions: 1) can it be done 2) should it be done. Can it be done? Probably, after all "Impossible n'est pas francais (I can't put the cedille or accents on this keyboard :( )Most of the time, I think it is done via close contacts/friendship with the Principal, Quebecker friends of mine did just that in Tailloires last year, again just for a month. Should it be done? I am not sure and I appreciate all the feedback regarding that issue. One one hand, my children have been very vocal (especially the five years old -she will be six soon) about having friends that can speak "their language". It was not until this year that my eldest finally became bilingual and felt comfortable in English. She is in first grade in an american school. I supplement in French by following the Grande Maternelle program and a bit of the CP. When we are in France for a month, I thought that instead of me homeschooling for an hour or two in the morning, she would enjoy being with in a French classroom, with other kids to play with during la recreation etc... But she is a more timid than my 3 years old, who is able to make friends anywhere she goes. A lot think about.

@hetishmij2: I agree that summers are for playing. Last year when my daughter got a summer packet from her school, I just ignored it and put it on a shelve and she traveled to France, Bali and Spain with us. Two weeks before school was starting in August, we get a message from the Principal reminding us to turn in the summer packet! We worked on it for two hours a day and got it done. But I actually do not believe in homework until the age 12. Multiple studies have shown that there is no real benefit. And last thing a child wants to do after school is more work! We take her out of school quite a bit during the school year. This year we are going to the Amalfi coast in October, there is a week of skiing in February, and during three weeks in March, she will be traveling in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. So adding an extra month at the end of the school year, does not sound excessive to in light of all the vacation days she has during the normal school year. You are the third person that suggests Aix-en -Provence. I really need to start looking at this town.

kerouac Oct 4th, 2018 06:43 AM

My own feeling is that with children to be put in school (and school has now become obligatory in France starting at age 3), the smaller the town, the better, because the children would get a sort of VIP treatment as an unusual attraction, from both the other children and the teachers. In bigger cities, there are too many social cases, recent immigrants, temporary gypsy children, to make your children anything else than a possible supplementary complication to the educators.

Then again, Paris is never a bad idea, except for the expense of staying here.

ToujoursVoyager Oct 4th, 2018 07:02 AM

Thank you kerouac. I can get her into a school in the 12th arrondissement in Paris, but I don't think it is the right fit, being such a big city. We can come back to Paris later when school is not a consideration.

hetismij2 Oct 4th, 2018 07:22 AM

OK, so your daughter doesn't get a full year's schooling anyway? Wow. That is illegal here in the Netherlands, and in many other European countries. You would face hefty fines here.

I still don't think it is fair on her to put her into a school for a month, even if you can organise it (which seems unlikely to me but still..) All the children will have been there for a year, and be friends with one another and it would be really tough on your daughter, no matter how good her French, to cope with that, especially at that age. An then if she does make friends she loses them again at the end of the month. CHildren don't start formal learning in France (or much of Europe) until they are six, even if they have to start school at three, so she may well be ahead of them in things like reading anyway, and could just end up bored.
Maybe when you have decided where you will stay you can search for a tutor for her for a couple of hours a week if you are determined she should receive some education.

Rocket79 Oct 4th, 2018 10:15 AM

A month in France? That is tough. Of your listed places, I've only been to Sarlat, and Annecy. Liked them both. Loved Sarlat, to which I also vow to return, although it's been many years since I've been there. I won't get into the fray about the school for your kids; I have no clue about this whole situation. But since you've gotten many replies about Aix, it seems that when I was in the area long ago it was known as a college and party town. It's also heavily touristed. That may be fine with you and things could be different now, but just thought I'd toss that out. I'd love to spend a month (or more!) in France. It would probably be somewhere in the Dordogne; I just love that part of the country. Good luck with your planning!

ToujoursVoyager Oct 4th, 2018 10:28 AM

Thank you for your input Rocket79

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:33 PM.