Small but lively French city?

Apr 29th, 2015, 10:30 AM
  #1  
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Small but lively French city?

We'll be renting a car for 5 or 6 weeks starting this September and thought we'd break up the trip into two parts and stay in a city (not Paris, though) for several days.

We're looking for a small to mid-sized city north of the Loire with a few days' worth of things to do that don't require a car. Since we're not really city people, we've never done much research on French cities unless it's to find a good restaurant. We usually stay in the countryside so would be looking for a quiet neighborhood to stay in.

Are there cities in the northern half of France that you find especially interesting to visit?
Coquelicot is online now  
Apr 29th, 2015, 10:35 AM
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Not north, but what about Lyon? http://www.en.lyon-france.com/

It is not "small" as in village, but it is smaller than Paris.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 10:41 AM
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Dijon is a very interesting place, and perfectly walkable, Burgundy villages to wander in your car. More or less north of the Loire. Well, east, really.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 10:56 AM
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Rennes is considered to be one of the most dynamic cities in France, particularly for its music scene. But frankly, I have rarely been there and cannot make a personal recommendation.

Being a "northeastern" person, I will most definitely recommend Nancy, Metz and Lille -- Lille being most certainly the busiest of the cities with a huge cultural life. Then again, Metz has the Centre Pompidou Metz which is amazing, and Nancy has the incredible art deco architecture...

Then again, Lens has the new Louvre, which is free, and then there are Valenciennes and Arras which have incredible Flemish central squares...
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Apr 29th, 2015, 10:58 AM
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Thanks for the two good suggestions.

In case I wasn't clear, for this part of the trip we won't have a car. We'll be relying on our feet or public transportation.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:02 AM
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The Burgundy Canal goes through Dijon and there are places to visit along it's towpath on foot, with local buses to return you to the city. Beaune is nearby by train.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:02 AM
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Kerouac, thank you. I'll look into Arras, Nancy, and Rennes.

Not sure about Metz and Lille.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:11 AM
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I found Nancy to be a real gem but I'd consider Reims for a couple of days - as lively as French cities get - weekdays till around 7-8 and Sat till 5 - then most are IME dead as doornails - Reims has several atrractions including of course its several famous Champagne Houses/caves to tour - each kind of difference IME.

Dijon is another city with lots to see but is not in northern France.

I spent a week in Chartres once - well waiting for a friend or I would not have and it wa just lovely lollygagging around the famous cathedral, seeing tourists come and go and a lively town center.

Rennes is unique in that it is capital of Brittany - and dits Celtic-origined people and I liked that.

Tours is to me a lively city as French cities go - lots of students and a Latin Quarter type restaurant and outdoor cafe ghetto in its center - easy day trips by train to Chenonceau/ Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon amongst others.

Not been to Arras but Amiens and I find northern northern French cities rather grim IME.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:32 AM
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"...I find northern northern French cities rather grim IME."

I haven't visited cities in the north because this was my impression, too, on a stay in Rouen years ago. But things may have changed since then so I defer to others with more recent experience.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:35 AM
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Not Rouen but the ones in the rust-belt and old insutrial area with slag heaps along the Belgian border I find rather grim - architecture too - maybe just me - Lille however would be an exception and OP may find a larger city offers more - Lille has a branch of the Louvre I think and if bored Bruges, Belgium is a short train trip away as is Brussels.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:36 AM
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I continue to prefer the northern cities to the southern cities of France, because the northern cities are full of activity every month of the year. The southern cities are totally dead in the winter months and overcrowded in the summer months.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:45 AM
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I'd shoot for Strasbourg...lovely old city with much to do and see. Want smaller? Then Colmar fits very well.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 11:54 AM
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Another vote for Rennes - one of our "top 5" cities in France (after Paris). Troyes is quite interesting also. Arras was raining & cold when we visited in early July - so we're returning for another visit this October. It was rainy/cold in Lille when we were there - the third week in July.

I'm assuming the OP was referring to the short section of the Loire river that goes through the famous chateaux region - and not the part of the Loire that then heads due south past Roanne, Lyon, & le Puy en Velay. We stayed in the Loire Departments 2 years ago - and there really aren't any active towns there. In fact, several waiters & such were asking us why we were there for 2 weeks. They don't get many American visitors (which is why we were there).

Stu Dudley
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:03 PM
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Strasbourg yes is an exceptionally underpublicized gem IMO - easy day trips yes to Colmar and along the Route des vins alsace wine road hitting wineries and wine towns every few kms - or over to Germany - say to Baden-Baden one of Europe's oldest spa towns or Freibourg or the Black Forest or Mez or nancy or Basel, Switzerland - all very close by car or train.

Strabourg oui, oui, ouway!
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:19 PM
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Actually, Strasbourg is super famous in Europe and therefore overcrowded most of the time. But I like it anyway.

http://tinyurl.com/sxb-2012
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:23 PM
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"The southern cities are totally dead in the winter months and overcrowded in the summer months."
It is rather the contrary. The locals take their holidays in summer like everybody else and don't stay in town. University towns like Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpellier are certainly not completely dead in winter. Nice is busy all year round. So is Marseilles.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:41 PM
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Nice est mort dans l'hiver? Well I guess only retired folks flock there then so if you want to say it's kind of dead that is partially right but not really IME of being there thrice in January - rather be there than in say Orleans at that time of year.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:48 PM
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Oh, so neither of you has ever noticed all of the houses and apartments with closed shutters, the closed restaurants and all of the tourist attractions that are only open during the warm months?

I am a big fan of Marseille, a bit less of Nice, but I wouldn't say that either of them qualifies as a "small" city since Marseille is the 2nd largest city in the country and Nice is the 5th largest.

And I only mentioned Strasbourg after others did because it is the 7th largest city in France.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:56 PM
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"Oh, so neither of you has ever noticed all of the houses and apartments with closed shutters, the closed restaurants and all of the tourist attractions that are only open during the warm months?"
Hardly, except for the tourist attractions. Who would want to go on a day cruise on the Med in mid January anyway? Shutters are closed or half closed in the South to keep the heat out.
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Apr 29th, 2015, 12:59 PM
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So, have you come up with a small city to recommend north of the Loire? It appears not to be the case so far.
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