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Trip Report: Basel, Jura, Dordogne, La Rochelle, Paris

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Trip Report: Basel, Jura, Dordogne, La Rochelle, Paris

Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:20 AM
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Trip Report: Basel, Jura, Dordogne, La Rochelle, Paris

In May we were in Turkey. At the end of that trip we flew back to Basel, rented a car through Kemwel from Europcar and toured the Jura on our way to the Dordogne. We returned to Paris by train and spent 5 days there.

When we arrived in Basel at 5:30 a.m., the flight leaving at the ungodly hour of 3:25 a.m. from Istanbul. The bus to the train station was right there, so we grabbed and it was only after we were on the bus that my wife told me that I was supposed to purchase a ticket from a machine on the platform. I suspect that many tourists do the same thing. We were not checked and arrived at the Basel train station where we stored our luggage (6 or 8 CHF depending on the size of the locker). This time we had to use a bigger locker because we had a third bag containing our Turkish purchases. Compared to the standard prices we had found in Great Britain (6 GBP per piece of luggage), the storage was a deal.

While in Basel we visited several museums: The Basel Art Museum ($35) (http://www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch/en/home/) for an exhibit of Soutine whom we had discovered in the Barnes Collection, the Fondation Beyerler (http://www.beyeler.com/fondation/e/h..._sta__main.php) if only for the Renzo Piano building (half price entry because half the museum was closed for installation), and the Basel Historical Museum: Haus zum Kirschgarten (http://www.hmb.ch/de.html) which has a great watch collection, period rooms, children's toys and doll houses in the attic, and other historical artifacts. The Music Museum mentioned at the beginning of my Turkey trip report is also very worthwhile. To get around, we purchased a day pass (I don't recall the cost but it is cheap) and we received a great gift of a free streetcar map from a passer-by who was helping us find the location of our hotel. We used it constantly, hopping on and off the street car without worries, whether we had to go two blocks or to the end of the line.

We stayed at the easyHotel. In another trip report (http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=35050229) I described the easyHotel in London. We were a little apprehensive, but it turned out that this room was bigger with a decent size bathroom. The lack of window was OK for an overnight stay, but I would not want to stay in such a room for more than one or two nights. The bathroom door is built out of translucent plexiglass, so that there is little privacy when using it. Taking a shower is a noisy enterprise, as the water falling on the plastic floor sounds like a thundershower on a tin roof. The lighting is all or nothing even though there are recessed lights behind the bed, but they are not on a separate switch from the overhead light. But the place was very clean and cheap. My recollection is that the room cost 42 CHF which was surprising because the easyHotel price in Zurich listed on the Internet was twice as much. The price includes a free transit pass for both days, apparently offered by all the Basel hotels. EasyHotel is strict about checking out on time and I suspect that the electronic codes are automatically changed at 10 a.m., which means that if one leaves the room at 10:05, one cannot get back in until 2 p.m. when the front desk is manned again.

With our free pass we simply checked out of the hotel--it's on a regular streetcar line--and went to the train station to use the lockers. We then spent the morning in the Basel Historical Museum, purchased items for a picnic lunch (there is a Migros supermarket in the train station), had one on a park bench and then took the public transit bus to the airport (using our transit pass). A word of warning: while we were not checked when using the bus from the airport at 6 a.m., we had our passes checked the next day. My wife and I were separated in two different cars, and I had the passes, but we were able to straighten everything when we got off the tram. We walked over to the French side of the airport and picked up our car from the Europcar agency. By reserving the car from the agency on the French side of the airport, we avoided cross-border drop-off fees since the car was to be returned in Brive-la-Gaillarde. However, we did have to pay a $52 airport fee (billed through our credit card), but taking the bus to Colmar or Mulhouse would have cost almost as much.

Restaurants are expensive in Switzerland. We ate in a chain restaurant down the street from the Barfüsserplatz, my wife had a plate of fresh asparagus (it was the season) and I had some forgettable main dish, probably with a beer, two desserts, and the total cost came to $80.

Photos are in my Switzerland album: http://tinyurl.com/5cqkdl
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:23 AM
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We had reserved the smallest car available from Kemwel, which was a Renault Twingo or equivalent. We got the equivalent--a Hyundai i10 diesel, standard shift--for a cost of $780 + $52 airport pickup for 31 days--the maximum allowable for credit card CDW coverage. The trunk is small and could barely hold our standard travel luggage. I did not take a picture but it was smaller than what we had in previous trips: http://europetogo.yuku.com/reply/8810#reply-8810. We had no problems either in the mountains or in the hills of the Dordogne where we were traveling with four in the car. We averaged 49 mpg according to my calculations.

We intended to visit the Jura by going from Basel to close to Geneva via France and then cross the Auvergne to get to the Dordogne. After picking up the car, we drove off, intending to spend the night in Pontarlier, the capital of absinthe production. Aside from the easyHotel in Basel and a fancy hotel in the Auvergne we had no reservations. It was the end of May and I figured that we were not traveling in high season. Pontarlier has three hotels, all of which were full with no logical explanation. We drove toward Besançon behind a German couple, and turned off toward the Loue valley, not wanting to be behind them each time we came to potential accommodations. It was getting dark and in one town my wife noticed the Gite de France (http://www.amiesenfranchecomte.com/pro_jan.htm) sign on a mill across the river. We went there, the sign on the door said complet, but as we were getting into our car a person came out, asking what we wanted. I explained that we were looking for a room and she offered to call her friend in Ornans to see if her B&B had room. So we found ourselves in Ornans in a nice if funky B&B (http://www.lejardindegustave.fr) 61.50€, and had an excellent meal in the restaurant le Courbet (http://www.restaurantlecourbet.com/) in town. From then on, we found Gite de France lodgings with no problem; prices ranged from 38€ to 60€. In Pupillin the B&B was full, but the owner insisted on driving us to another one within 200 yards that did have room (http://tinyurl.com/6jcb98) 48€. The one in St. Laurent (39.80&euro was out in the countryside, and although the business card has a Gîtes de France logo, I could not find a reference to it in the Gîtes de France web site. It probably was the plainest B&B with an en suite bathroom, but I have never been disappointed by the Gîtes de France B&B. On the other hand, we ate at the Hôtel de l'Abbaye (http://www.hotel-abbaye-jura.com), specializing in fresh fish from the lake, and I do not recall anything positive or negative about the meal(62.50€ perhaps we misordered. In Pérouges the cheaper B&B (62&euro (in the Gîtes guide it is Chambre n°G290502 - à PEROUGES (l'Ain)) had a room, which we never expected given that the town at the base of the hill was crawling with weekend visitors--it was a Saturday and Pérouges is one of the better known plus beaux villages within an hour and half of Lyon. The meal in town was forgettable, but there is a very fancy restaurant in that town for those who want to spend the money. We had the worst accommodations on our last night on the road in Tulle, and even these were acceptable--a two star hotel in the middle of town on a noisy street--I do not remember where we ate that night, but all the restaurants that looked interesting were either closed or were having a private party.

Our trip to in the Jura can be divided into three parts: The deep valleys of the Jura--in this instance the Loue river valley; the reculées as exemplified by Beaume-les-Messieurs; and the plateau itself with some Alpine scenery closest to Geneva. We also visited some of the plains area, particularly Arc-et-Senans. We left out areas we had already seen, such as Lons-le-Saulnier and Bourg-en-Bresse.

The Loue river valley and especially the source de la Loue and Ornans is a must to any person interested in Courbet. It's where he was born and where he painted many of his scenes. A copy of the painting is set up on the spot where he presumably painted the grotto where the Loue comes out. This area also advertises hiking trails, as does most of the Jura area. In the winter it is known mainly for cross-country skiing, even in the higher elevations near Geneva. Beaumes-les-Messieurs is located at the junction of three canyons at the edge of the Jura plateau. The monastery is not a great attraction by itself, but it is interesting that the living quarters have been turned into modern housing. The valley is nice, but it is the view from above that is most impressive. When driving from Arbois to Beaume-les-Messieurs, one can easily come to other overlooks above similar canyons, but the effect of the monastery is missing. There are some steep valleys and waterfalls close to Genera that are definitely worth the drive, but the town of St. Claude that is praised in the Michelin for its location, and is the French smoking pipe producing center, is very depressing and uninteresting.

Arc-et-Senans (http://tinyurl.com/5wjfrv) is a must if in that area (anyone coming down from Paris to visit Burgundy and then going to Alsace should visit the edges of the Jura at a minimum). It is a planned 18th century town (never finished) built around the production of salt. Only the first circle of buildings were finished, and then fell apart (some of them blown up in the 1920s) and have been restored as a museum. It includes a museum dedicated to the architect--Ledoux--who built quite a few mansions in Paris (most of them gone), had a fantastic imagination (a necropolis built as a half-buried ball?), and has a few structures still remaining in Paris. The museum contains models of buildings that were built as well as buildings that were only imagined

When traveling between Arbois and Poligny, I recommend taking the road that goes through Pupillin. After Pupillin, going south, the road is in the foothills of the Jura, overlooking the plain. It should be particularly scenic in the morning. The other reason for taking that road is that Pupillin is at the production center of the unusual Arbois wines, both vin jaune and vin de paille. Tasting is available, and the producer do not expect the visitor to go away with more than a bottle or two given the price of the wine (I purchased a bottle of each, and the price came to 48€--with the vin de paille in a less than 350ml bottle).

For those getting a little jaded by the heavily touristed areas, the Jura is definitely an area to explore, although I suspect that in the summertime it is also crowded, albeit mainly by French vacationers. Photos of this trip are found in my Eastern France album, starting with the picture of the RR tracks: http://tinyurl.com/557anf
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:25 AM
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From Pérouges, our last overnight in the Jura, we went to Moudeyres in the Auvergne. We had been there 16 years ago, and visited a farmhouse turned into a museum whose roof was being re-thatched. We had stayed at the cheap hotel in the center of the village and had noticed a fancy auberge at the edge of town which in those days already was non-smoking, perhaps because of its thatch roof. It looks like a converted farm house, but in fact was built from scratch about 30 years ago. We had some difficulty making a reservation at Le Pré Bossu (http://www.auberge-pre-bossu.com/) because in April they were not open for business, and it turns out that it was perhaps not necessary as the place was almost empty and they had just recently opened for the season. But it is not clear that they accept walk-in traffic, and any web search under Moudeyres or Le Pré Bossu will indicate that reservations are a must in high season. It is one of the fanciest places we stayed at--200€ for demi pension, with a total of 250€ when wine is added. The meal was excellent. They also provide picnic baskets for those who are staying there more than overnight and wish to take a hike in the countryside. Moudeyres feels quite isolated but is only a couple of hours from Lyon and thus has become a vacationing village on the eastern Auvergne plateau--I believe that it is a plus beau village. The museum is interesting but can only be seen with a guide because the tools and kitchen implements are lying around as if it were a 19th century working farm.

From Moudeyres we went to see Le Puy-en-Velay again. But I did not climb to the Romanesque chapel this time. The cathedral complex is interesting in that it is built on a steep hill with many adjunct buildings which give the impression of a maze. It also has what I consider an unusual black Virgin behind the altar. Definitely worth a visit. We continued across the Auvergne and spent the night in Tulle, in a so-so hotel and had a meal which I have completely crossed off my mind--it must have been absolutely ordinary. Here are the pictures of the Auvergne: http://tinyurl.com/6y5uxn

The house in the Dordogne had not changed, but the grass had not been cut quite as desired. It took me our entire stay to finish cutting it because we had a rainy June with few days dry enough to cut grass. It was cold enough to plug in an electric space heater, which we had never done before. When we left at the end of the month, our friends still had not opened their swimming pool. There is a nice thing about returning to the Dordogne. The cheese person at the local market always recognizes us, the fruit lady will now know us because we had a brief conversation about U.S. travel with her, the cheese man in Périgueux knows us even though we see him maybe twice during our stay in the area, and the butcher in Périgueux still recognizes us from our attendance at the repas des chasseurs a few years ago; there is that formal/friendly recognition that is a pleasure to encounter--we're not locals, but then we are not occasional vacationers either. A friend came to visit with her daughter, and we took her to Rouffignac where we had an excellent tour in English with only six people in the tour. We ate at Pierrot Gourmet in Périgueux, which is maybe a little more expensive than it should be, but is still a nice place for lunch after the market. We visited Bourdeilles and Brantôme and the village of St. Jean de Côle, always impressed by the interior space of its church. Our friends are both health professionals and really enjoyed the medical museum in Hautefort. We also ate at the Auberge de Mirandol in Sarlat which still has a 5 course lunch for 18€; the ladies thought it was too much food and chose the 13€ lunch menu which was more than sufficient--the cassoulet was plentiful and excellent. Speaking with acquaintances in the village, there is a consensus that in Sarlat one can get decent food at decent prices. For an anniversary we made reservation at Le Grand Bleu (http://www.legrandbleu.eu/LGB/index.php)--114€, which they somehow misplaced but sat us anyway. It's definitely worth a visit--it would be difficult to choose between that restaurant and l'Imaginaire in Terrasson if distance were not an issue.

I do not keep separate trip photographs for the Périgord and am anticipating enlarging the collection. So the pictures are now allocated to the Périgord Blanc http://tinyurl.com/6gwfgc,
Périgord Noir http://tinyurl.com/57t9ks,
Périgord Pourpre http://tinyurl.com/5asb29
and Périgord Vert http://tinyurl.com/5a4ko2.
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:29 AM
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We decided to break our stay in the Dordogne with a trip to La Rochelle. The weather broke for us on that trip, we had no rain. We stayed in one of the 2-star hotels by the harbor with a back room, hence quiet. We spent a day visiting the city and one of its museums. It is essentially a walking town with what appears to be as many arcades as Bologna. The central market is fantastic. If we had a similar market within reasonable driving distance of our house, we would install a stove (our house is limited to two gas burners since it was built). The butchers present ready-oven meats as I have never seen before. The seafood choice is of course exceptional including fresh scallops in the shell the size of a half-dollar which begged for a quick toss in a pan with garlic and parsley. The outdoor vegetable stands are paintings. On the way to the market we walked through the clock tower and then took an immediate right and then veered left toward the Hôtel de Ville where the walking street diverge. Close to that point there is on the left an amazing artisanale sweets shop for those who are amateurs of sweets. We really liked La Rochelle.

The Saintonge-Charente east of La Rochelle is interesting for two reasons: 1. it is the cognac area and it is possible to stop at local wineries to sample their cognac and pineau des Charentes. There are signs all along the road indicating the existence of such wineries. For those interested in cognac, it might be interesting to taste something that is not produced by the big companies (Rémy Martin, Hennessey, etc.) 2. The area has quite a few Romanesque churches that somehow missed being renovated through the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque period. The church carvings, especially on the outside, are worth a visit. To the west of La Rochelle is the Île de Ré, well worth a day's outing. St. Martin (buy your fleur de sel there) is a lovely town right next to a major penitentiary that used to be the shipping point to Devil's Island. We had lunch on one side of the prison and walked through its outer walls to get to St. Martin. We found some salt flats, but they no longer are what they used to be. Instead of breaking the dike and let high tide fill the flat, the water is pumped in. A roadside store offered oysters for sale, but we were not allowed to eat them there. They opened them up for us, we walked across the road (the major road going along the spine of the island) and sat on the sea wall overlooking the Atlantic while slurping them down (better than the oysters offered by the stand in the La Rochelle harbor). Our meals in La Rochelle were OK, but I would not feel that the restaurants need to be recommended; they're the type that is chosen by wandering around and looking at the posted menus--si ça vous chante.... There are no lack of restaurants near the harbor.

Here are the pictures of that long weekend. http://tinyurl.com/5dtkvv
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:30 AM
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We returned to Paris by train from Brive-la-Gaillarde. Its museum is worth a visit for the tapestries and the exhibits of traditional trades--skip the intermediate floors that deal with Brive's history and its famous people. The Europcar agency is within a 100 yards of the RR station and can't be missed. We stayed 5 days in Paris. For those on a budget, I believe that the Carnavalet is free all the time--at least it has been each time we went there; pure luck? I also recommend the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine in the Palais de Chaillot. From the middle of the 19th century onward, the national architectural school made life-size plaster casts of important monuments as teaching tools. These permanent exhibits are interesting to compare to the present state of the same monuments which may have been restored, sometimes removing the 19th century restoration. There is also a full-sized replica of a Le Corbusier apartment from the Cité radieuse. We barely saw any of the permanent exhibits because there was an exhibit of modern Chinese architecture which used up all of our time. We also heard part of a roundtable discussion, with Renzo Piano participating, of the projected renovations at Ronchamp. Unfortunately we had to leave before the fur started flying.

We went for a day to Chartres which we had not seen since 1967. It did not disappoint except that the front is covered with scaffolding, hence no traditional picture of the front of the cathedral (http://tinyurl.com/6ah3ef). We could have spent more time wandering around the town itself.

We had a few good meals while in Paris. While Chartier (http://www.restaurant-chartier.com/www/visit/atable.php) is definitely a tourist destination, it does offer some decent brasserie food if one is careful about the choice. Their roasted chicken is one of the cheaper main dishes and it looked rather pallid. I suspect that its quality is on par with Tyson's chickens. But stews and pork products are OK, although I would tread carefully with offal--no tripe in this place, although I could be wrong. Our really good meal was at Le Baratin, 3, Rue Jouye Rouve, 75020 Paris in the Belleville district (234€ for five, including two bottles of wine). It has an excellent wine list and fortunately we were with a friend who is quite a connoisseur. Le Troumilou, 84 quai Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris, is an old-fashioned bistro, and yes, its duck with prunes (mentioned in almost all reviews on the web) is exceptional.(Flash! Two months later: "Nous sommes allés avant-hier au TROUMILOU, le restaurant dont tu voulais l'adresse : la qualité a beaucoup baissé et nous avons été très déçus. Cette adresse ne mérite plus d'être communiquée, à moins que tu ne veuilles te fâcher avec ceux à qui tu la donneras. Il y a à côté une brasserie très sympa aussi : la Brasserie du pont Louis Philippe, 66, Quai Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris"). The Café Tournon (http://www.cafe-tournon.abcsalles.com/fiche.php?n=13930) is worth a look for those near the Luxembourg, it has good food and good wine, although it is not cheap: $107 for two. The restaurant at the Institut Arabe is a rip-off. The view is beautiful, so one should go to the terrace to enjoy the view. But while the food is good, the portions are skimpy and very expensive. The service was lousy: Drinks were pushed almost before we sat down, the North African wines were over-priced and when we declined even bottled water--there is nothing wrong with Paris tap water--service became practically non-existent. I had to get up to the reception desk to get my bill and pay for it.

I organized my Paris pictures in two albums locating them by arrondissement. Some of it might appear arbitrary, as when I I allocate the picture to the 7th arrondissement but it was taken from the 16th. I will accept any corrections that may be required. The first set is found here: http://tinyurl.com/63byyb

and the second set is here: http://tinyurl.com/6jxv54

We flew from Paris to NYC to visit family. We again took the subway museum (http://tinyurl.com/5zvged) tour, choosing a different line from our last tour. If there is one station that should be seen, it is the 81 St. local stop on the 8th Ave. line. The station is on two levels, and the upper level is above the earth and water, while the lower section is under water and below the earth. The stairs going above ground are the air. And here are my pictures of NYC taken obviously over the years. (http://tinyurl.com/669jm3)
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:25 PM
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Michael,

Great report--very helpful and well-organized. I am only on your Auvergne photos at present because there is something dreadfully wrong with my wireless connection. Enjoying them so far. Driving the Gorges du Tan looks, ahem, challenging.

I am envious that you are able to get away for so long...

Thanks for sharing all this!
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 08:39 PM
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The Gorges du Tarn pictures were taken on a previous trip. Gald you're enjoying them.
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Old Sep 15th, 2008, 10:21 PM
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Very nice trip report.
Some explanations/your difficulties to find some hotels in late May :
- since the law about the 35 hours, a category of people have changed the way they take their holidays... It's possible to cumulate some vacations days (called in France RTT : recuperation temps de travail) and so they take some long week-end, and often in the beautiful days, and out of season(so May/June and September/October) because it is less expensive...
-the same period is preferred by the retired , for the same reasons : less expensive...and also less people...
There is not a lot of problem in great towns or in turistic locations.
It can be a problem when you are in
some isolated sites(like Ornans, Beaume les messieurs,...).
B&B could be a nice choice in such
search, but also "logis de France", which is a french chain and could offer solution if there is no vacation(I think they have a politic of "coupons").
Continue to discover France in the way you have done it : the best way to find the real people...
Jura is one of the nicest region to hike in an easy way : small denivellation, nice scenery, a lot of "water" and always nice place to eat..
Erik
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Old Sep 16th, 2008, 05:48 AM
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Lovely report, Michael! La Rochelle is truly a jewel and I wonder why more people here do not include it in their France trips. But WHAT is that snak-ey thing on the beach???
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Old Sep 16th, 2008, 06:26 AM
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Thank you for a great report. Been considering another trip to the Dordogne where I visited many years a go. Your story and the fine photos have whetted my appetite to return.
I admire your willingness to do this difficult job.
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Old Sep 16th, 2008, 07:02 AM
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>>the Jura is definitely an area to explore, although I suspect that in the summertime it is also crowded, albeit mainly by French vacationers.<<

We were there (near Poligny) during the second week in July this year, and it was not crowded at all. We were also in the Doubs for 2 weeks after the Jura & it was not crowded. I think the people who live there go elsewhere, & not many people from elsewhere go there for vacations.

Stu Dudley
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Old Sep 16th, 2008, 08:09 AM
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The snake-y thing is a moray eel.
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Old Aug 4th, 2010, 10:46 PM
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The picture of the Jura trip are now in my Eastern France album:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/...7624529919999/
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