Touring by car on the Continent

Mar 5th, 2006, 04:05 PM
  #1  
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Touring by car on the Continent

Would appreciate some advice about planning to take 4 weeks travelling on the Continent by car.
We are 4 "60 somethings" , one American couple and one British couple, who have been friends for MANY years. In fact our last travel adventure together was canal boating in the UK. Our friendship survived almost 100 locks on the Cheshire Ring so this trip should be a breeze!
Also, I have a limited knowledge of basic French and Spanish and have travelled in several countries with no problems using my trusty language guide for each country. (The other 3 speak only English!)
People everywhere have been very helpful and kind to me and we managed to communicate via signs and a few words.

Questions:
Would May or June be better for travel in France,Germany, Italy, Spain?
We will meet in the UK so
we are thinking of taking the channel tunnel train to Calais and renting a car there to begin our "road trip"-sound like a feasible plan?
We are not sure that we will spend overnights in any cities- maybe villages outside of major cities if we want to do some sightseeing in the city.
We'd like to meander along without making reservations, going where the "spirit" takes us & staying as long as we want in each place-will lodgings be difficult to find?
We don't need 5* accomodations -just clean with ensuite facilities. B&B"s or small hotels are fine.
Has anyone done anything like this or have any advice?
Sorry this is so long, but I am just beginning to research this and we would leave the UK possibly as soon as the 8th May, 2006!
Thanks in advance,
Carol, South Carolina, USA
carolbookaholic is offline  
Mar 5th, 2006, 04:18 PM
  #2  
 
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I favor doing just as you are planning!!!! The wandering vacation is the best.
I would, personally, chose May over June, just 'cause it will be less busy, but not much difference really.
Wife and I and 2 teens have done it that way for about 6 trips to Europe. We HAVE to go in June 'cause wife works for the schools. So, we leave early June. We usually reserve a hotel for the first two nights in the city we fly intor, and then pick up a car and just wander. We never make a reservation, we usually only do the towns and countryside, and almost never have a problem finding a room.

We use a good Michelin road map, and on the computer, use www.viaMichelin.com (it is like Mapquest). We also use Rick Steves' books a lot, and of course.....Fodor's books.
Email me if you have any questions.
EK
ekellyga is offline  
Mar 5th, 2006, 05:24 PM
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Just for the sake of curiosity - what do you do when you do have trouble finding a room?

Pay for a more upscale place?

Sleep in the car?

Move on to the next town?

Take a room in a place that's not very nice?

Or just spend a lot of time finding a place?

And since this is 2 couplesin one car - won;t they need 2 rooms in the same place?
nytraveler is offline  
Mar 5th, 2006, 06:23 PM
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Dor and I cemented our relationship by determining that we can both go with the flow. We have hotel reservations if we do not have 'wheels' , but if we have 'wheels' we do not have reservations.
Twelve years and twelve trips later, this formula works for us.

Unfortunately, this coming September we can call ourselves a couple in our 40s.
icithecat is offline  
Mar 5th, 2006, 06:47 PM
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Hello carolbookaholic, well any two couples that can survive going through 100 locks on a boat can handle anything travelwise in my opinion, and I say that having owned a cabin cruiser for years.

If all of you are comfortable about not having day to day reservations I would go for it. I would strongly suggest that you have reservations for the first night and also for the last night. That should not be a problem as you will know where you are landing and where you are departing from.

I know that most people don't like the idea but my husband and I always travelled without reservations (except for the first and last night) and quite frankly it worked well. If you have to drive a bit more than anticipated no problem. If you have to check out a few places, that can be interesting. It is so nice to be able to stay longer if one wants to and to leave after one night if one has seen enough of that particular place.

If everyone is agreeable to "gamble" it can be fun. As far as months I would probably chose May. School is not finished and less chance of getting hot humid weather (at least in Italy). But if June is the only month that is possible I certainly would not have a problem with that.

I have done this more than once, for two months each, so my comments are backed up with the experience of not having reservations along the way.

One thing we did find helpful, some places will call ahead for you when you check out if you know where you want to go next, and make reservations for you. Not all lodgins will but many will. Best wishes, and have a wonderful time!

LoveItaly is offline  
Mar 5th, 2006, 07:25 PM
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Many excellent and even famous restaurants in Italy have rooms to sleep. I have invariably found them to be spotless and incredibly cheap and available without reservations. What I especially like about them is that I don't have to worry about driving after dinner, even in the countryside.

I also vote for May.

nessundorma is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 03:17 AM
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Definitely May if you're going to wing it on the accomodations.

You can almost always find a place to sleep without reservations. But depending on where you are, when you are there, what time of the day you start looking, and what local festivals, trade shows, sporting events, etc. are (or aren't) going on, you might or might not have to spend a good deal of time looking for a place.

It's a roll of the dice, though May shouldn't be too bad.

You might want to have a list of potential sleeping places along your route--maybe even call ahead while traveling.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 04:56 AM
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I wouldn't worry about finding places to stay. I've stayed in towns all over Europe without making advance reservations. Don't do something obviously stupid like arriving in a small town in the evening. In France, Italy and Spain, hotels are plentiful (I never understand how they all stay in business); in Germany, you should use tourist offices in big towns.
If you aim to find somewhere to sleep before mid-afternoon, you'll never have a problem because you have time to go to another town if a place is fully-booked. Check public holidays carefully because there are several in May and June.
GeoffHamer is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 06:02 AM
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In our last 4 trips to the continent, covering France, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Poland, &Czech & Slovak Republics, we've relied almost solely on the tourist info office for B&B-type accomodations. Exceptions were in Paris, Budapest, Vienna and Krakow. Otherwise, we prefer towns to cities. If all else fails, there's always a hotel somewhere. This worked fine on a trip thru France with my brother and sister-in-law, who live in England.
My one divergence is that, in a "unique" place like Moravia, I researched several "would be nice to stay here" places, so that IF we were in that town, we would check that place first, or at least compare it to the other choices in that town.
tomboy is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 06:21 AM
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We go in May because everything is so lovely and less crowded.

Try these folks for cheap car rental:
http://www.fastcarhire.com

One tip for you. You will be doing a ton of walking. Do any of you have any health problems that would qualify you for a temporary handicap parking pass? They are recognized world-wide. My husband broke his foot three weeks before our France trip and we had one. It made parking for us so much easier and allowed him to see places that we would have had to skip without it.
kelliebellie is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 07:52 AM
  #11  
ira
 
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Hi C,

You have a year to plan this trip.

Why spend precious time on your vacation looking for rooms in small towns when you can do it over the internet in the comfort of your own home and get the best ratesat the best places?

Keep in mind that if you pick up your car in France you will pay a high dropoff fee if you leave it in another country.

I suggest doing the trip in mid-May.

Have a great time.

ira is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 07:54 AM
  #12  
ira
 
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You're not thinking of 2006, are you?

ira is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 08:11 AM
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Booking everything in advance would mean eliminating the option of lingering in one place, quickly moving on to another when you discover you don't like the place you picked to visit, or going some place the locals tell you is far better than what you planned to do.

Is there something going on in Europe the rest of us don't know about that means we can't get on planes for Europe in 10 weeks unless we planned a year in advance?????
nessundorma is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 08:28 AM
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My husband and I always choose the free flowing option when we travel.
I know that Rick Steves and others make a big deal about how stupid travelers without reservations are, but we have never had a problem finding a room, and we travel across France in July, when it is more crowded. We prefer smaller hotels & Gites, mostly 2 star family owned hotels and have enjoyed our travels immensely.

We know and accept that there are times when no room is available because the villages hosting the Tour de France are so small, and for those days we set up a tent by the side of the road. Once we get away from the Tour route though we have no problem finding rooms. If you aren't following Letour, just stay a bit away from the route and you'll have no difficulty.

In a larger village or small city you can always go to the tourist office for information on lodging and many will even make the calls for reservations for you if you aren't fluent in the language.

With a good dictionary & phrase book you'll be fine. Most importantly you won't miss out on a serendipitous event because you have to leave NOW to make it to your next reservation.
Celticharper is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 08:41 AM
  #15  
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Yes, we are planning for May 2006. We have not had problems getting flights at a reasonable price from USA to UK as long as we book at least 3 weeks in advance. Possibly we will use FF miles for flights to UK.
Thanks for the replies so far. Any ideas about leasing versus renting a car as we will have at least 2 drivers and it seems one must pay extra for that as well as for travel in more than one country? The lease through RenaultUSA includes travel in over 29 countries and includes insurance, multiple drivers, 24/7 roadside assistance. Since we will be needing a car for 30 days it seems like a better deal than renting. We will definitely look for diesel and probably stick with manual versus automatic.
I will continue to research and pick up the Michelin Red guide.
Thanks again for all the suggestions...
Any more help would be appreciated...
Carol
carolbookaholic is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 08:49 AM
  #16  
 
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I believe that you will have to lease the car because such an arrangement is only available to non-EU residents. Doublecheck the cost, although I believe that for 30 days, leasing is cheaper; it is not for the minimum period of time. If you plan to travel more than 3000 miles, it is worthwhile getting a diesel. I estimate that 3000 mile is the break even point given the cost differential between a gasoline and diesel lease.
Michael is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 08:51 AM
  #17  
 
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For B&Bs in France, look up Gites de France: http://www.gites-de-france.fr/eng/index.htm. We used it with great success (see my report: http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...2&tid=34444403), but it does not work for the Dordogne. You could try to find the printed version of what they have on the web.
Michael is offline  
Mar 6th, 2006, 12:40 PM
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Booking in advance has its advantages, but oftentimes I have arrived and thought "wow, I wish i was next door" or spent so much time finding the reserved hotel when I could have just gone into the first one I saw.

May is better tan June, not only because of less crowds, but because you get the tail end of Spring. . . such a special transition.

I have done numerous road trips in Spain and we never had problems finding lodging. However, we had a hostel card, which is helpful. I wouldn't map the course too much, as it is nice to be able to roll with the punches, but do know the main things you want to see, because it is frustrating to have no reference whatsoever.
laclaire is offline  

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