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Summer trip to France for family of 4 - itinerary ideas

Summer trip to France for family of 4 - itinerary ideas

Mar 7th, 2008, 10:24 PM
  #1  
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Summer trip to France for family of 4 - itinerary ideas

I just scored frequent flyer tickets to Paris for this summer. Yeah!

We have 2 days of travel to/from the US and 18 days in France.

We want to spend a week on a self-drive barge, with bicycles on the boat to venture into small towns along the way. Have noticed Canal di Midi is recommended by fodorites for this, but have no idea of other options...

We want to take a few days to travel to Normandy. Also want to see Mont St. Michel.

Would like to spend up to a week in Paris. Parents have been there before and would like to show the sights/museums to teenage boys 13 and 15 years old. Considering Segway tour and Mike's Bike City Tour to appeal to the youngsters.

Can anyone suggest an itinerary that makes sense? I don't have a sense of the geography at all.

Any suggestions to appeal to the kids in any of these places?

Thanks so much!
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 8th, 2008, 08:58 AM
  #2  
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ttt
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 8th, 2008, 09:15 AM
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..I have not taken a boat trip along the Canal de Midi but have driven along it and stayed in towns along it. I think your plan with bikes on the boat sounds absolutely great with kids..also a nice change from Paris. re Paris- would suggest you book an apt. I am not an apt at all cost person but I think with a family it would work very well. You might even leave the apt empty for one night while you visit Mont St Michel or do the Normandy part at the end of the trip which might make more sense.
travelbunny is offline  
Mar 8th, 2008, 09:20 AM
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Can't help you with the barge or Normany part of it, but having taken our son to Paris loads of times, I can help you with that. Son finds it necessary to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower every time we go, so that's a given. While I can't get him anywhere near a museum here in L.A. (except recently to see the Bob Dylan exhibit while he was down from college), he LOVES Monet (good taste!), so he loved Musee D'Orsay, the Marmotten (I think that's the name of the Monet museum) and the trip to Giverney. Wanted to do Mike's Bike last time -- tell me how your kids liked it. Your sons are at the PERFECT age to visit the Catacombs in the 14th. In fact, I was just talking about that to my mom last night -- she's going to Paris in October to celebrate her 80th, and said this is something she's been wanting to do for some time. I told her she'd dig it (no pun intended), but bring old tennies and a flashlight and beware of what my son refers to as the "bone juice" dripping on your head. (She works out 3x a week and is in better shape than me!). If you are going around Bastille Day, all the better to be in Paris -- lots of fun stuff for them to do, not to mention the fireworks. Also, if your sons are into music, you might want to check out some of the Paris venues and see what's playing -- their favorite band just might be there and it is very cool to go see a band you like in Paris. Last time we were there, my son got to see Jim Morrison's grave in the morning, and go see two of the three remaining Doors (Ray Manzarek & Robby Krieger) play that night.
Surfergirl is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 06:38 AM
  #5  
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Thanks for your replies, travelbunny and Surfergirl.

I am looking for an apartment in Paris - I agree it is so much nicer for a family than 2 hotel rooms.

Funny, but when I asked my kids what they wanted to do, the 13 year old said, "isn't there a restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower? I want to go there". I have no idea where he heard this, but it's now on our list.

The Catacombs sound like a great outing for us. The boys would love it.

If anyone else has any suggestions, I'd love them. Thanks!

travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 07:47 AM
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The restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower is the Jules Verne. The price fixed menu is 75 Euros, x 4 and at current exchange rates thats more than $450. Would your son be happy with a hot dog on level 3?

I have no personal experience with self-drive canal trips with teenagers. But, in our several trips we have met many families who all seem to report the same experience. When told they are going to spend a week on a canal, the reaction ranges from skepticism to "You'll have to carry me onto the plane." At the end of the week, the children need to carried off the barge.

Be certain to have bicycles so that children can peddle ahead to the next lock or into town to purchase supplies.

We loved the Canal Du Midi, but there is no need for you to go to the South of France to have a wonderful time on the canals. Consider the Canal du Nivernais, a 45 minute train trip from Paris, or the Canal and River Saone. You would start that trip from the vicinity of Epinal if you want to go down canal.

A one way trip going down canal would be my suggestion for a first trip. We always found going down locks easier than going up. Also, because of the relatively high number of locks, I would suggest you avoid the Burgundy canals for a first trip.
Jeff801 is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 08:26 AM
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Jeff801 - Thank you for your excellent advice, especially about the barging. Last summer, we biked 200 miles along the Danube River, so the kids have a bit of an idea what to expect. I tried for another long bike trip this year and they veto'd it, so I think they are relieved it will be barging instead. They had a good time biking, but aren't up for it again so soon.

After posting, I spend a couple of hours yesterday researching the geography (realizing the Canal Du Midi is 450+ miles from Paris) and finding out other possible areas for barging in the north. I will check out your suggestions. Thanks for pointing out that Burgundy would not be a good choice.

I am debating going to Jules Verne. I know it's pricey but it's something I have always wanted to do and so funny that my son knew about it. I feel like I've been checking things off my 'bucket list' and this may be one of them.
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Mar 10th, 2008, 08:27 AM
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They loved the idea of having bikes on the barge, just not bicycling all day.
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Mar 10th, 2008, 09:53 AM
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Unless you really want to travel to Southern France for a specific reason, I would consider doing the canal closer to your base area...Brittany has a nice canal system and each company has a different port base so you would need to do some research into companies.

We can personally recommend Locaboat (www.locaboat.com), and their bases are Redon/Pontivy. Crown Blue (www.crownblueline.com) is well know as well. Their for-hires in Brittany run Messac/Dinan or Messac/Josselin, which has a chateau.

Or you could consider the Loire region where Locaboat has 3 bases and you could visit Angers (chateau).

Or the Charente area--Saintes has something for everyone, abbeys, roman ruins, shopping and Cognac has more than the manufacturing of Cognac to visit.

They all have specific days their hires "start" and "stop" so be sure to check that out when sorting through all the info. And Bikes are worth it-at least 2 if not 4.
klondike is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 10:11 AM
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Looking for an apartment in Paris? Try vacationinparis.com They have several options in several arrondissments. You pay in advance, with American dollar, and will have key in hand when you leave the US. We used them, as have other friends, and had a good experience. Good luck with your trip!!
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Mar 10th, 2008, 10:13 AM
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Travelgirl,

I was thinking about the Saone when I saw your reply. While it was our first cruise, I still think about going back there for a number of reasons.

You should be able to reach Epinal easily by train from Paris. Epinal is an interesting city which has the distinction of being the only large town in France twice liberated by American troops in the 20th century.

The people there are particularly welcoming of Americans, including one woman who was George Patton's telephone operator during two months in 1944.

There is a cruise port some 20 kilometers south of the city in Fontenoy-le-Chateau. The first part of the trip is on a raised stone canal, with expansive views to the east during many parts of the trip.

Eventually, after you pass through a several kilometer tunnel, you will be on a river with locks far apart. The river has several nice ports on it, we were particularly fond of Auxonne and Gray, and a nice range of services are available at just about any place where you might want to tie up.

We ended at Port Sur Saone, and took a train from there to Dijon, where we took the TGV back to Paris.

While you are in Paris, consider making reservations for dinner at the Hotel La Terrass. The food is very good, and the prices are reasonable. More importantly, the roof terrace, which has a capacity of only 70, has a view across all of Paris (from Montmartre) including the Eiffel tower. Having a dinner there late enough to enjoy the sunset and the lighting of the tower might be a good substitute for dinner at the Jules Verne, or a supplement to it. You can reach them at [email protected]. If you choose to go, be certain to check the Paris weather and make your reservations well in advance, especially for a weekend.
Jeff801 is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 10:15 AM
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We did a self-drive boat trip on the Burgundy Canal. I was the organizer and chose that route because it was a one way rental and it contained a number of sights along the way (2 chateaux, a hospice built at the same time as the hospice de Beaune, Buffon's old forge, etc.). None of these sights required the use of a bicycle. While it is nice to have a bicycle, someone will always have to drive the boat. In one week we covered maybe 70 miles and went through 50 locks. We were not rushed, but we could not take the day off for a bike trip without feeling that we had to do some catch-up in terms of our river trip. We used Rive(s) de France. One picture in this album (http://tinyurl.com/2qcfh4) gives you an idea of the boat we had, which slept 6 adults.
Michael is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 04:01 PM
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klondike - by adding your recommendation, you've just about convinced me that I do not want to travel to the south of France. Since I had only heard of the Canal du Midi, I thought that would be the 'best' place to go barging. Thanks for reassuring me that there are nice places up north also.

Sunnyshine - will check them out. It is nice to pay in $. And I've never heard of having your key before you leave the US, which is also nice.

Jeff801 - how many barging trips have you done? It sounds like you are quite taken with this type of travel! I am going to check out the exact route you've described. It sounds like it might be perfect for us. I will also check out Hotel La Terrass. We would love the view. One of my favorites, on a 20th anniversary trip with DH, was climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night.

Michael - I almost cried when I looked at your pictures. The places you visited were so charming. I can't wait! The boat looks good. Excellent point about not being able to take a day off just for bike riding. I wasn't really thinking that there is a certain amount of ground we have to cover in the boat each day.

Thanks all and keep the ideas coming!
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 05:30 PM
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Hi Travelgirl2 - You are sooo lucky!

We took our family of 5 (13 & 20 year old daughters, and our 17 year old son) to France last summer and had a ball. We stayed on Rue Cler and the kids loved to wander the streets nearby. Just so you know - we are not shoppers.

Paris highlights were the Tour Eiffel to the top, and then classic photos with berets and french bread; the Latin Quarter for Super Ass gyros and trinkets. We took the Segway Tour and even though it was a bit pricey, it was one of the highlights of the trip-sooo much fun! Our kids are still talking about it. You get to see the sites and you are part of the scene!

We sent to the top museums (Louvre, D'Orsey, etc.), knowing that we would only have their attention span for the top pieces - so that was just enough. We liked climbing to the top of everything, including Notre Dame, and the Arch de Triumph.

Versaille offered a chance to wander in the gardens and row in the Grand Canal. If you go with kids, don't spend too much time inside - make sure to go way to the back of the property to see the picturesque Austrian village.

We stayed overnight on Mont St. Michel - an incredible experience -you get to see the tide come in and out and you have the whole island to yourselves! There are so many passageways up and down and all around - the kids can wander and you know they are not leaving the island. Make sure to see the church/abbey. The huge scale of the place in unbelievable.

We spent 2 days in Normandy with a full day tour of the American beaches with Battlebus Tours. Dale was our guide and he made history come alive for our kids. As we stood on Utah Beach, he drew the battle plan in the sand! They talked about how now it made sense to them. They were awed and respectful at the American Cemetery. It is a must.

There is also a climbing adventure park south of Caen called AJ Hackett - which has zip lines/ bungee jumps and climbing aparatus. We did not have time for this - not really a French experience - but something boys would like.

We had a great trip - hope this is helpful! dlynn
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Mar 10th, 2008, 05:37 PM
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Only three pictures are related to the barge trip.
Michael is offline  
Mar 10th, 2008, 11:15 PM
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Travelgirl, while you are researching the various canals, you might want to note which ones are electric and which ones are manual.

We did a portion of Canal de la Marne, starting at Lutzelbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. It was beautiful with all the flower-decked houses, bridges, etc. typical of the wine route. What we really appreciated as "older" folks alone was that the locks are electronic-you raise or lift a bar to start the locking process. Very simple.

The portions of the Burgunday canal we have visited at St. Florentin and those on the Midi canal were manual. It looked like more work than we would prefer as a two-some, but we would gladly do them if our 2 sons went with us. Even though there are lock keepers, you are expected to get out and help turn the wheel. This is something that might be fun for the teenagers, since by contract, they aren't allowed to drive, and might look for other acitivites i.e. riding the bikes to the next lock to work the gates and be ready for the rope handling.

Besides the interesting sights to consider, be sure to count how many locks there are on the route. There is a wide variance, and some people don't want to "work" as much as others when on vacation!
klondike is offline  
Mar 16th, 2008, 07:51 AM
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Thank you so much for your advice.

Our trip is now booked as follows. All locations and dates were worked around availability of the barge:

7 nights in Paris - apartment in Marais (will report on this when we return)

2 nights in Normandy - Chateau de Bellefontaine

7 nights barging - in Brittany, we didn't want to waste time driving to other places, since we'll be in Normandy. I'd love to cruise Burgundy (Saone looks great) and Canal du Midi someday.

1 night on Mont St Michel - Auberge Saint Pierre

1 night at CDG airport - Sheraton, got great rate by bidding on Priceline
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 16th, 2008, 07:57 AM
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Thanks for the full disclosure, Michael - I still loved the pictures.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 17th, 2008, 06:22 AM
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Any suggest on places to see in: Redon, La Gacilly, Malestroit, Josselin?

Any farmers markets in those towns on certain days?

travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 17th, 2008, 07:42 AM
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Look for monsters on the Josselin cathedral roof.

http://tinyurl.com/2zjdl6
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