Return to France-3 Week Itinerary

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Nov 27th, 2016, 12:51 PM
  #1
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Return to France-3 Week Itinerary

It will be 10 years! since we have been to France, and we are planning a 3 week trip for next September. We have 21 days on the ground in France. This is a bit of a shortened version, since I am accustomed to planning 5 week trips, so it has been difficult deciding what our must-sees are and what to leave out.

We like to keep a pretty steady pace as my husband gets bored easily of seeing "more of the same". When I make our itinerary, I usually like to vary between country and city, just to switch things up. We are experienced at driving in Europe (google map is my friend, I now get to watch the scenery instead of the map), and really enjoy road trips.

As well as driving through beautiful countryside, we like art, architecture, food, history, all the usual things.

This itinerary is bringing us back to places we have visited before, Paris, the Dordogne, Provence, as well as a few places we haven't visited, being Marseille and the Cote d'Azur.

So here goes:
Land in Paris, Sept 10 a.m. Stay 3 nights Paris.

Train to Brive-la-Gaillarde pick up rental car, drive to Sarlat
Stay Sarlat 4 nights

Drive to Figeac through Cahors and the Lot River Valley, stay 1 night Figeac

Drive to Cordes-sur-Ciel, stay 2 nights, daytrip to Castelnau Montmiral and Albi

Drive to Carcassonne, through Graulhet and Saissac, stay 2 nights
Daytrip from Carcassonne- thinking train to Toulouse to break up the driving, or Collioure, which may be too far for a comfortable day.

Drive to Avignon, stay 5 nights, visit 3 areas-Les Baux, St. Remy one day- Vaison-la-Romaine and area another day, Gordes, Bonnieux a third day. Maybe train to Aix for a 4th day trip.

Drop car, train to Marseille, stay one night.

Train to Nice, stay 4 nights.
Fly out of Nice

I usually plan day trips but we don't always feel like going out for the day, so we might just stay in town for a day instead.

I like Avignon, because it's central to the places we want to visit, and we can stay in one place for the whole time. And it has a good variety of restaurants. But I'm open to suggestions.
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Nov 27th, 2016, 01:08 PM
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Don't neglect Arles too - can take train or base in this sweet but smaller than Avignon city.

anyway looks like a swell trip outline.

You need no car in the Nice area -lots of trains and buses going everywhere. I would suggest staying in a smaller town like Antibes and taking the train along the coast or buses to the iconic hill towns. Antibes is an old-looking town unlike brashly modern Nice with its many high-rises along the coast.

a great day trip from Nice that is rather off-beat take the narrow-gauge Chemins de fer de Provence (a k a Trein les Peignes) into the hinterlands of Provence for the day- for lots on this train and Cote d'Azur in general check www.budgeteuropetravel.com - their online European Planning & Rail Guide France section and www.ricksteves.com and www.seat61.com.

If you want a taste of Italy take the coastal train over to say San Remo or even just Ventimiglia and its popular outdoor market.

Into easy hiking - the flat paved footpath from Cap d'Ail train station to Monaco is a few mile gorgeous walk along a pristine section of coast line.
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Nov 27th, 2016, 01:27 PM
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Thanks Pal I thought we might not want to stay right in Nice. Also the walk sounds great-something we love to do.

We have been across into Italy, just never stopped in the Cote d'Azur yet.
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Nov 27th, 2016, 02:53 PM
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St Remy is very central for visiting those hill top towns and has lots of cafes and restaurants. We stayed there in September 2015 and found it a wonderful base for exploring the area. Might be a good option instead of Avignon ( only half an hour away when you drop off the car and catch the train to Marseille.)

Your trip sounds great !
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Nov 27th, 2016, 04:01 PM
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Nice trip! I doubt I can make it any better but here are a couple of comments.
Rather than visiting Toulouse (which I don't know but have heard is somewhat industrial) go to Albi. Albi is a very attractive middle sized town. It has the largest red brick cathedral in Europe and was the bishop's seat for the region back in the day. The cathedral, related buildings, and adjacent grounds are wonderful. The cathedral and town center are very walkable. (We have friends there and visited last year.) The train station isn't far from the cathedral.
Smart to drop the car before Nice. We were there in 2012. The best part of Nice is the connections to Monaco in one direction, Cannes in the other, and all the villages in between. The train is good if you want to go to those specific places and the bus is better if you want to see along the way. (The bus cost ~1.5 euro.)
Nice itself is mostly fun for its history and fame, essentially the promenade and old Nice. Unless you know Sean Connery personally and get invited to a party there's not much else. The tourist restaurants, while outdoors and cute, all seem to use the same menu - pizza in 99 different ways.
Have to admit that I harbor a grudge about Nice. My pocket was picked there and my wallet stolen. We lost an afternoon going to the police station to report it. It happened at the bus stop for the trip to Monaco. I did everything right and the b--- still got me. So beware of crowds there. (Note, we took the bus trip the next day, this time on our guard. We saw two "gypsy looking" men in the crowd waiting for the bus. All they were doing was checking out people's behinds. Looking for more wallets, I'm sure. They didn't get on the bus.)
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Nov 28th, 2016, 07:16 AM
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Helsie thanks for the suggestion about St Remy. We have stayed in a beautiful B&B near there, and also in Avignon. We liked both, and I'm torn between the two.

Mitch good to know about Nice. I'm open to suggestions on an alternative.

We have Albi included in our trip already, but good suggestion.

Any ideas on Carcassonne; staying inside or outside...
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Nov 28th, 2016, 07:34 AM
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I'd do a bit of fine-tuning. I would stop in St-Antonin-Noble Val on the way to Cordes-sur-Ciel and stay there (Cordes) only one night. OR get tickets to Pech-Merle and go see that on your way to Cordes. Castelnau-de-Montmiral will take all of 15 minutes to visit, and you can then move on to Albi. And I would devote as much time to visiting Toulouse as you possibly can. Ignore the hearsay above about it being industrial (all French cities are to some extent). It's one of my very favorite cities in all of France. I would not give it short shrift.
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Nov 28th, 2016, 08:52 AM
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>> Toulouse (which I don't know but have heard is somewhat industrial) <<

Don't accept any additional advice from whoever you heard this from!!!!! Nothing could be further from the truth. We spend two months in France every year, and Toulouse is our second favorite city in France. We were there this year for our 5th visit.

sundried. Do you have my 20+ page Dordogne itinerary or my 30+ page Languedoc, and 30+ page Provence/Cote d'Azur itineraries???. If not - e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach them to the reply e-mail. Specify which ones you want.

I would keep the car for the first 2 days in Nice and explore the fabulous Nice Hinterlands. You have no "mountains" in your itinerary - so the area north of Nice (Alps) would be a good chance to do so. Lots of remote interesting villages, mountain ridges, fabulous gorges, rivers, etc. Details are in my itinerary.

Stu Dudley
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Nov 28th, 2016, 09:45 AM
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"brashly modern Nice with its many high-rises along the coast.

Sorry, don't recognise that as Nice! There are one or two hotels that have several storeys ; however, most of Nicoise architecture is pretty traditional and nowhere do you see a US style skyline.

"Into easy hiking - the flat paved footpath from Cap d'Ail train station to Monaco is a few mile gorgeous walk along a pristine section of coast line."

Did this walk yesterday but longer version by getting bus 100 to Cap D'Ail and starting at Plage Mala. Good walk.
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Nov 28th, 2016, 09:48 AM
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"The tourist restaurants, while outdoors and cute, all seem to use the same menu - pizza in 99 different ways."

Believe me, you DO harbour a grudge because that comment is nonsense!
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Nov 28th, 2016, 10:45 AM
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St Cirq StuDudley thanks for the confirmation on Toulouse.
And St Cirq I will try to work those changes in to my itinerary. I love the Lot River Valley, but we have been before, and as well, have seen Albi, but it's been 10 years, and both are pretty impressive, but not absolutely necessary.

Stu I will email you for at least one of those reports, thank you. I have read a whole heap of trip reports in researching this vacation, so have read some of your suggestions already.

jtpj777 I must admit that Nice looks the most attractive to me for our last 4 nights in France. What I am really yearning for is a hotel/chambre d'hote with a view of the water, where we can relax a little in between sightseeing. And we dislike tourist restaurants very much, but I'm sure with some research we can find some fine dining

A day touring the Hinterland would be very nice too. Maybe we can rent a car for a day instead of trying to park in Nice?
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Nov 28th, 2016, 11:10 AM
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Views of the water?

Obviously cost more!

The Westminster, the Meridien , I'd probably prefer Hotel Suisse or Perouse, at the end of the Promenade des Anglais.

For a smaller budget, and a bit more left field: The Saint Paul to the East of the port - not as far away from the action as it may at first appear - 30 minute walk to Old Town but bus service also- and in a less touristy part of Nice. It is an old seminary but has had recently a 1 million euro facelift; although I haven't actually stayed there.

Also the Hotel Welcome in Villefranche - with the advantage of a small village feel, if that's your thing; although it is really just a suburb of Nice and still reasonably handy to do day trips.

There are many "tourist" restaurants in Nice; however, Nice is a large city and must cater for its residents. It isn't difficult to find OK restaurants that don't do "99 types of pizza"!

Of course, I am biased because I am currently living in Nice!

Can't really recommend hiring a car, I would look to using buses to access the Nice hinterland.
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Nov 28th, 2016, 05:20 PM
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>>I would look to using buses to access the Nice hinterland.<<

Not for anyplace deep in the Nice Hinterland. If you visit St Paul - sure but you'll see lots of villages similar to St Paul in Provence. One village we liked (Gorbio maybe) had only 1 bus arrival a day and only 1 return. Probably with lots of other stops too. That would not possibly work. Nothing at all through the fabulous Gorges de Daluis and the Gorges du Cains.

Stu Dudley
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Nov 28th, 2016, 05:46 PM
  #15
kja
 
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FWIW, I wanted a full day in Albi and was glad to be there after day-trippers had left. If you decide on a day trip, keep in mind is exceptionally long siesta -- hours with nothing open.... But it sounds like you've been there before?

No plan to visit Toulouse? It's one of my favorite small cities anywhere, with so very much to see and do! I wish I'd given it more than the 2.5 days I gave it....
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Nov 28th, 2016, 08:30 PM
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>>Toulouse? It's one of my favorite small cities<<

Small? It's the fourth largest city in France.

Paris. Population: 2,249,975. ...
Marseille. Population: 850,636. ...
Lyon. Population: 491,268. ...
Toulouse. Population: 447,340. ...
Nice. Population: 344,064. ...
Nantes. Population: 287,845. ...
Strasbourg. Population: 272,222. ...
Montpellier. Population: 264,538.

Stu Dudley
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Nov 28th, 2016, 08:42 PM
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Forgive my lack of detailed knowledge of French population statistics or the fact that the context in which I place my remarks is far broader than France. My point -- that Toulouse is a favorite for me -- stands.
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Nov 28th, 2016, 08:57 PM
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Thanks kja for the suggestions. Since Albi is only 1/2 hour drive from Cordes Sur Ciel we should have the better part of the day there before we return to Cordes. We have seen Albi before but would like to visit again. I remember waiting for the Toulouse Lautrec museum to open, (afternoon break) and giving up because we had to get on our way.

As for Toulouse, I am thinking that if we take the train from Carcassonne early, it takes only 1 hour and we will arrive in the center, again with the better part of a day to explore. Does that seem plausible? At least we will get a taste and know if we want to go back.

Stu, I am just wondering, since we only have 4 nights in Nice, is a day enough time to get into some of the small towns and the gorges that you mentioned? I have no idea of the distances here.

And yikes! Nice is much bigger than I thought...have only flown by on the superhighway between Italy and Provence before.
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Nov 28th, 2016, 09:30 PM
  #19
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If you have any interest in Toulouse-Lautrec, do make time for the museum of that name in Albi! It holds some wonderful pieces, including some very unusual ones, and the building is worth seeing, too.

It is, IMO, certainly plausible to day-trip to Toulouse. Given my interests, I would have found doing so frustrating, as it would have been like walking by a delicious buffet with no time to savor any of the wonderful options, but that's just me. ;-)

Obviously, you can't see everything you might want to see. No bad decisions -- just difficult ones.
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Nov 29th, 2016, 12:10 AM
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You can get buses deep into the Nice hinterland: 740 to St Etienne de Tinee; 750 to Isola ; 770to Beuil/ Valberg.

It is self - evident that busses are not as convenient as a car; however a taste of what the Nice hinterland has to offer can quite easily be done using public transport. This info is important for people who might be nervous about driving some of the roads in this part of the world.

And the other factor is that these busses only cost 1.5 euros each way!
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