Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Europe (
-   -   Southern France or Northern France for our first visit to France (

suze1 Apr 10th, 2007 04:57 PM

Southern France or Northern France for our first visit to France
I'm planning to go to France for the first time with my husband and the more I read the more I get confused about my itinerary. This might sound stupid to a lot of you but I can'd decide if we should go to Paris, then take a train to Normandy, rent a car, visit the surrounding sights including the Loire Valley, turn our rental car in and take the train back to Paris. Or, should we stay in Paris, take the train to Avignon and visit Provence and the French Riviera.

I know the questions will be do you like history or little quaint towns etc etc. Well, we like it all. So, for all of you that have traveled the Northern part of France and the Southern part of France which did you enjoy more? We do love beautiful scenery and good wines. We enjoy people and just hanging out. One thing is we do like to keep busy and we don't like tours, maybe an hour tour or so would be OK.

Please answer with your thoughts. Thanks.

cigalechanta Apr 10th, 2007 05:05 PM

I love Provence, first but Brittany second. BUT, you don't go to Normandy and Brittany for wine. you go for seafood. The food is very different.
No olive oil is used in cooking in Normandy and Brittany as is in the south
where the beautiful gnarled olive trees grow. The terrain is different so I suggest you read a guide book to learn what part of France is more to your tastes. Alsace is very beautiful but the food is not for me but the white wines, and beers are. You'll find all of us will have different tastes and takes on things.

Judy Apr 10th, 2007 05:14 PM

What time of year are you going? If all else is equal, maybe weather can help you decide.

julies Apr 10th, 2007 05:21 PM

I agree the time of year makes a difference. Our first trip was in March, so we flew to Paris and spent a few days there before flying down to the Cote d'Azur. seeing the traffic there in the off-season, we would never, ever visit in summer. Another March we just stayed in Paris for a week and a half.

Summers we've visited the Loire, Brittany (twice because it is our absolute favorite), Normandy, and the areas in southern France just over the Pyrenees from Spain.

Your interests sound similar to ours excepr that we also enjoy outdoor activities such as walking/hiking and biking.

travelbunny Apr 10th, 2007 05:25 PM

Cant answer without knowing month you plan to go..and for how long.

luvparee Apr 11th, 2007 07:09 AM

My first trip to Paris was just for 3 nights -- so not long enough for a major Francophile! Second trip was 16 days split into 7 in Paris and 7 in the Luberon/Vaucluse area of Provence. Third trip was 8 nights in Provence and then TGV back to Paris for 8 nights. LOVE BOTH!!!

Why not spend some time at a Border's or Barnes & Noble bookstore over several cups of coffee and do some reading about Paris and Provence. Paris is a beautiful city that will get into your heart where you can walk all day long! The Luberon/Vaucluse is a countryside where you drive from one cute village/town to another and just stroll the curving cobbled streets and feast your eyes on all the beautiful vineyards, lavender, sunflowers, olive trees (if in late June/July).

I don't know that I could go to France and not do both!



ira Apr 11th, 2007 08:57 AM

Hi S,

When and for how long?

I think that you should spend 1 week in Paris before you think about visiting France.


BTilke Apr 11th, 2007 09:03 AM

In April or May, I would pick southern France, no hesitation. In July or August, definitely the LV and Brittany (which I think of more as central France rather than northern). I personally find Brittany, Burgundy and central France more beautiful than Provence because I'm not keen on hot summers and I like things really green.
If you opt for Provence and you go in summer, make sure your accommodations come with AC or a pool or preferably both. And be prepared for a crowds and traffic jams in the most popular destinations (and good luck finding parking spaces in the most popular Provence villages).

suze1 Apr 11th, 2007 10:03 AM

We will be going late April, early May, I'm looking into this way ahead because I'll be using frequent miles.

I have all the guide books, I have read them but I want people's opinion, the guide books do not tell you which area is the most enjoyable. That's why I'm asking people that have been to France what their favorite place is.

Paris for 1 week would be too much for my husband, right now he's not too keen on going to Paris even though I know he'll love it once we're there.

My plan after doing Brittany, Normandy etc. was to take a local flight to Naples and train to the Almalfi Coast. Now if we did Provence we would probably take the train to the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre. We've already done Italy twice but my husbands wants to go back.

As far as foods and wine I'm sure we wouldn't have a problem anywhere, you can always find wine and food is really not a major. We love seafood, pates and cheeses and looks like that's plentiful.

So, as far as scenery and things to do, what is the preference, North or South. If we did go South should we make a stop at the Loire Valley before continuing to Avignon.

BTilke Apr 11th, 2007 10:20 AM

I wouldn't do the LV and Provence in the same trip unless you had 3 weeks or more. I don't think there's a direct TGV connection between the LV and Avignon (if there is, however, then a combo itinerary sounds a lot more possible, I hope a Fodorite train expert will post the definitive answer).
IMO, you might best enjoy taking the TGV from Paris to Avignon and picking up a rental car there. French TGVs have been in the news a lot lately because of the new speed record, so it would be fun for you to take one if you haven't done so before.
Late April/early May sounds like a wonderful time to visit Provence. We find the climate in the western Loire Valley to be very pleasant and mild, but it could be cool and rainy that time of year (and Brittany even more so)...Provence is more likely to give you perfect traveling weather.

suze1 Apr 11th, 2007 11:06 AM

OK, so you're saying to take the fast train to Avignon and stay in Provence area, is that the opinions of others.

Provence and the French Riviera is better to explore than Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley, OPINIONS PLEASE.

Would we base ourselves in Avignon to visit Provence or is there a better town to base ourselves.

nbujic Apr 11th, 2007 11:27 AM

Aix-en Provence has been suggested to me
rather than Avignon.
or you may wish to fly to Nice and explore from there. Most places in Provence can be reached from Nice in a few hours.
You may also consider driving east to Monte Carlo and Italy or talking a train.

MWag Apr 11th, 2007 12:11 PM

I love all of France. Normandy is very green, friendly, hilly and rustic with lots of cows and quaint villages and stone homes with chimneys and red gardenias scattered about. My favorites of what I've seen are Honfleur and Bayeux, and of course it has the WWII beaches. It's certainly worth a visit, but not at the same time as Provence. You'll be running too much to enjoy anything. (Nine days isn't nearly enough to enjoy Paris. See it yes, enjoy it no.) Provence is flatter, sunnier, manicured fields, gardens and tree-lined boulevards, lavendar and sunflowers, and a unique charm and beauty all its own. I've stayed in Avignon, Nice and Cannes. I found Nice a bit grungy. Cannes wasn't spectacular, but okay and it worked great as a base for visiting the other towns and villages around that part of Provence and the Riviera. I didn't care for Avignon. It is scenic here and there and from certain angles, but there wasn't a pedestrian-only area, the main square and town had cars buzzing around honking, and the people didn't seem to want to be bothered. I did visit Aix en Provence and it doesn't have any stand-out features, but a laid-back charm and beauty that makes it worth visiting. Don't miss St Paul de Vence and Les Baux de Provence either. Eze is also very nice, though similar and small. On future visits consider some Alsace and Strasburg, stopping by Troyes.

luvparee Apr 11th, 2007 01:14 PM

Hi Suze~

While in the Luberon/Vaucluse area of Provence, we stayed at a guesthouse/B&B in Pernes les Fontaines ( and found that to be very centrally located to all the villages/towns we wanted to see. Pernes is known for its 39-40 fountains and is a very charming little town to walk around in. Our guesthouse was about a 5-10 minute drive from central Pernes. The towns/villages were visited were St. Remy, L'Isle sur la Sorgue, Bonnieux, Menerbes, Roussillon, Gordes, Vaison-la-Romaine, Seguret, Gigondas, and we visited Pont du Gard one day. One day we drove to Cassis on the Mediterranean and that was our longest day trip. However, the boat ride out into the Calanques was a trip highlight!

Frankly, I have not been to any other area of France other than Paris and this area of Provence so can't give you any information. However, I LOVE this area and would return in a heartbeat.



Michael Apr 11th, 2007 01:19 PM

I would spend three full days in Paris and then visit Normandy and the Loire. These regions have more obvious history than the Provence. At the end of the trip, I would spend two full days in Paris. You would then see if, like many others, you love Paris, or if your last two days have a been there done that feeling.

Get the Michelin Green Guides for Normandy and the Loire valley. They offer car tour itineraries on the basis of how many days you have, and those itineraries might give you some idea of how to organize your driving trip.

suze1 Apr 11th, 2007 02:00 PM

Hi Luvparee, so far your trip sounds delightful to me. How many days were you in Provence.

I looked up, it's beautiful but the prices are too steep for us.

Can anyone recommend something charming around that area that's more reasonable than paying 165 Euros per night, I'd rather pay not more than 125 euros.

luvparee Apr 11th, 2007 02:36 PM

We were in Provence for 8 nights. As with any trip that you love, more days would have been wonderful!

Hope you find a beautiful spot to stay!


luvparee Apr 11th, 2007 02:39 PM

I just remembered another place I stayed in while in Provence in 2002 -- Villa Velleron in Velleron. It's a village between Pernes and L'Isle sur la Sorgue (wonderful market on Sunday morning!! - a don't miss). I don't know what their rates are but it is a jewel of a spot in the middle of a village.

Have fun planning - it's almost as fun as the trip!


Suspaul Apr 11th, 2007 02:50 PM

suze1: If you don't want to spend the entire week in Paris and are interested in visiting the Alsace region, there is a new high speed train that will be in service in June I think, it will go from Paris to Strasbourg in under 3 hours. Just another suggestion.

suze1 Apr 11th, 2007 02:55 PM

Thank you so much for all your help, if anyone knows of affordable cute hotels or B&B's in the Provence area please let me know.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 05:27 PM.