France/Driving between Cote D'Azur to Mont St Michel
QUESTION: Hi Terry
I have enjoyed your answers to other questions and I hope that you may be able to assist with my query.
We are travelling to Europe October-November 2013 and hiring a car for 17 days (lease with Citroen) as a family of 5 (2 adults and 3 children - 2 teenagers & a 10 year old). My husband and I drove through Provence for a week in 1996 when the big petrol strike was on and absolutely loved our time exploring and getting lost and finding amazing things to see.
We have chosen to drive as we enjoy the freedom and independence it gives us and enjoy driving. We come from South Australia, so are used to long drives.
Have you ever attempted to drive from Provence to Brittany/Normandy - we will have 4-5 days and wondering how realistic this is.
I am toying with staying in the Lot area first night or two (found a gorgeous place at Nabirat). Not sure where to go next and finally end up near Pontorson in Normandy.
Would love to take the kids and husband to Chenonceaux - I understand that we wont be able to really do the areas well, but it could be a good entree to a future repeat visit. We will end up with a week in Paris.
I'd appreciate any points of view/advice.
ANSWER: Hi . . . Carolyn from South Australia!
Appreciate your nice comments on my earlier responses and your good question today.
Doing the long drive up from Cote D'Azur to Mont St Michel is certainly possible to do over that time period. As with most things, there are always pro/con, various trade-offs to consider. I hope your car is large and comfortable enough to do five people, plus luggage, etc.
Personally, I would do a mix of some rail and some driving. That's me. Driving that long of a distance, even over a number of days can get a little old. Lots and lots of "windshield time"!!! The faster routes on the superhighways tends to be more boring with a lack of scenic highlights. The more charming, country roads are much slower and time-consuming.
We have not driven ALL of this way up from Nice to Brittany/Normandy. BUT, but we have done lots of driving in many various parts of France. My bottom-line is that it's a personal choice and much depends on your family, the size of vehicle you have, family styles, likes and dislikes, etc.
Below are my notes on the Loire Valley. YES, Chenonceaux is super wonderful.
Going DOWN UNDER?? In early 2014, we are going to be on a cruise from Sydney to Auckland. Looking forward to our first time in your area. Our cruise will visit Tasmania, then cruising New Zealand’s Milford Sound and Fiordlands National Park (9-10 am), then Doubtful Sound (1:30-2:30 pm) & Dusky Sound (4:30-6 pm); then going up the NZ coast with day-long stops at Dunedin, Christchurch/Akaroa area, Wellington, Napier/ Hawke’s Bay, Tauranga, Bay of Islands and finishing at Auckland. What are your key tops, secrets, ideas, suggestions for us in Sydney, Australia and NZ in early 2014? Am considering flying down and doing a couple days in Queenstown after our cruise ship docks in Auckland. We will be doing some pre-cruise options for Kangaroo Island near Adelaide and then the Great Barrier Reef before departing from Sidney’s scenic harbor. Ideas, insider secrets, tips for Australia??
Reactions to these various ideas and options???? Look forward to hearing back from you with more details and specifics.
Does this start to help a little? What are your needs for added information? Be happy to provide additional info and answer other questions after learning more from you. Be sure to complete the evaluation section so that our "bosses" on this volunteer service know we are working hard to make inquiring minds as happy as possible. ENJOY! Merci Beaucoup!
Thanks. Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio
HERE'S SOME BACKGROUND ON THE WONDERFUL LOIRE VALLEY:
This is the major chateau and castle country southwest of Paris. It is easy to reach during the a day-trip from Paris taking the quick and comfortable TGV Express train to the Tours suburban station of the St Pierre on the edge of town. Then pick up your reserved rental car. See and enjoy the area. Then drop your car off in the evening, returning back to Paris in only an hour without having to battle the big city traffic. This area peaked in power in the mid 1400's to 1700's period; Joan of Arc helped win battle at Orleans in 1429 that spurred power of French monarch to unify the country and drive out the English; Blois has population of 50,000; Tours has population of 130,000 with half-timbered houses on Place Plumeneau; priority for lunch or dinner at Chateau de Beaulieu (4 1/2 miles SW of Tours, 18th Century country estate, phone 47-53 20-26); among the top chateaus to see (all rated as three stars by Michelin Guide) that we have seen and loved are:
Azay-le-Rideau, 15 miles SW of Tours, built between 1518 and 1527 with Gothic elements combined with early Renaissance decoration set in wooded area surrounded by water on River Indre, "a romantic pleasure palace", exterior unaltered over centuries, open 9:30-6, night lumiere program during summer; called by Balzac as "multifaceted diamond set in the Indre"; PRIORITY
Chenonceau, 14 miles SE of Tours, built starting in 1513, structure stretches across waters of Cher River, early home for King Henri II's mistress; developed later by Catherine de Medici and five successor women associated with royal families, "a romantic pleasure palace", open 9:00-7 pm March 16th to September 15th, closes a little earlier late fall through winter, see first since it is closest to train station, avoid crowds and opens at 9 a.m., has one million visitors a year, and with the exception of Versailles, is the most visited castle in France; lunch or dinner at L'Orangerie on grounds. www.chenonceau.com SUPER PRIORITY
Cheverney, eight miles SE of Blois, privately held by family with lavish interior furnishings, rich tapestries, hunt tradition, built between 1604 and 1634, open 9:15 noon and 2:15-6:30 p.m.; kennel feeding time of 5 p.m., except 3 p.m. for Tuesdays and weekends. PRIORITY
These other two are also rated as "three stars" by Michelin:
Villandry, 12 miles west of Tours, gardens are key focus, open 9-6 for chateau, last great Renaissance chateau built in Loire Valley; Super wonderful gardens with many water features and other unique attractions!
Chambord, ten miles east of Blois, with curved exterior towers, double curved interior staircase and Italian influence, largest in Loire Valley with 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, begun in 1523, can rent horses here to ride in nearby woods, downside: few furnishing on interior and big to see in short visit; royalty of this period did not keep their furnishings at each location, they moved rugs, tapestries, furnishings, etc. as they shifted from location to location; open daily 9:30-11:45 a.m. and 2-4:45 p.m. Chambord is at a little distance from some of the other locations. Large, but a little cold because it is not as well furnished and lacks some of the comfort and charm seen with other chateaus. Their website:
Local tourism office/site: www.holidays-loire-valley.com
MAJOR LOIRE VALLEY CITIES/OTHER OPTIONS THERE
ORLEANS: Once France's second largest city and now the vinegar capital of France, a direct result of the region's wine industry, Orleans was liberated from the British by Joan of Arc in 1429. Each year in May a celebration commemorating her exploits is held; the house in which she stayed during the ten-day siege of Orleans can be visited. The city also features the Hotel Groslot, a brick and stone Renaissance mansion which served as the Town Hall, and the Gothic Cathedral of St-Croix. Places of interest to visit in the surrounding area: the castles of Chamerolles and Sully-sur-Loire.
BOURGES: Located at the geographical heart of France, Bourges is a rich historical town of paved stone streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture, ancient ramparts and the remarkable Gothic Cathedral of St-Etienne which dominates the hilltop. Places of interest to visit in the surrounding area: the château o' Meillant, George Sand's House in Nohant, and Noirlac Abbey. And of course, Sancerre and its famous white wines.
BLOIS: Its famous castle has been linked throughout the centuries as the center of court intrigue during the 15th - 17th Centuries and with the history of French Kings. Its mixture of architectural styles is extraordinary: from flamboyant gothic to classical. Nearby: the châteaux of Beauregard and Chaumont-sur Loire, which holds a famous International Festival of Parks and Gardens from mid-June through mid-October.
TOURS: At the junction of the Loire and Cher Rivers, Tours is a busy university town and the traditional point of departure for exploring the Loire Valley. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the great pilgrimage sites of Europe. Today, the city boasts wonderful Renaissance and neo-classical mansions, which are clustered around the famous Plumereau square, fine museums including a collection of craftsmen's masterpieces and the Cathedral of St-Gatien. Famous wine region, especially Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil... The most interesting sites in the Surrounding area are the châteaux of Azay IeRideau, which reflects on the river, Villandry, surrounded by Renaissance gardens, Ussé, said to be the original Sleeping Beauty's castle, Langeais and Loches, as well as the splendid medieval city of Chinon.
AMBOISE: Huddled under the shadow of its impressive royal castle, Amboise is a pretty town with white stone houses dating from the 15th century. Also of interest is the Cbs Lucé, the former residence of Leonardo da Vinci. A few miles away, the Château of Chenonceau, also called the Ladies Castle, has a famous viewing gallery, built by one of France's great Queens, from which to admire an impressive view of the Cher River.
Chinon: Its massive, 400 meter-long castle towers over the town’s medieval quarter.
Chateau de Chaumont: Its sets on a bluff overlooking the Loire. Its most famous feature is the luxurious Ecuries.
Chateau d’Amboise: The rocky outcrop on which it sits has been fortified since the roman times.
Musée des Beaux Arts de Tours: Tour’s Fine Arts Museum, housed in the 18th C. Palais de l’Ancien Archevéché, has an excellent collection of paintings from the 14th to the 20th C.
NEARBY CHARTRES CATHEDRAL
The world-famous Cathedral of Chartres which Rodin called the Acropolis of France, is a remarkable testament to medieval architecture. Musts include the sculpture, the 12' and 13' century stained glass and the collection of ancient musical instruments. The Old Town of medieval cobbled streets, gabled houses and charming footbridges lies at the foot of the cathedral.
LOCAL TOURIST OFFICES:
In each town and for many of the better villages, they will have a local tourism office. You can use Google.com to search for that tourism office. As example in the cute and historic town of Chinon (west of Tours in the Loire), you can do this Google search with these key words: "Chinon tourist office France" and it will yield this result for their local office: http://tourisme.chinon.com/indexgb.php
Go to that site (or for whichever town you are seeking) and then you can contact them (probably by e-mail) for the dates you are seek, type of accommodations, etc. Some will have detailed info on the options there, etc.
In 2005, we stayed at Chateau Bournand, a 17th century restored chateau with seven-acre walled grounds and gardens, near Chinon and Saumur; the Tour de France passed in front of this Chateau, July 4, 2:36 pm. We had three nights here. It might be a little farther west than what some seek and like. Website: www.chateaubournand.com
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Terry,
Thanks for your prompt reply, apologies that mine came so late - unfortunately ended up in my spam folder and only just found!
Thanks for the information provided, just what I needed to read. We are hiring a 7 seater car - equivalent of what we drive here - for comfort sake. Hubby and I feel that the trade for time driving versus cost of training the whole family is something we can wear. It was a far more reasonable proposition when we were only 2 adults, but now the children are over 'child' ages it is quite expensive...from what I've been researching. If I am missing something obvious, please tell me.
In regards for your trip - wonderful. I have been to Queenstown and it is stunning and well worth the trip.
Sydney is just a visually stunning place to be also, the harbour is worth getting out onto - taking the ferries to Manly or Bondi is fun. They also have one of the most picturesque Zoo's anywhere and is worth a wander through. I would recommend the rocks area - it is a little touristy, however, it is the heart of the original Sydney and very interesting.
I am in Adelaide, and Kangaroo Island is very dear to us South Aussies. It is absolute pristine wilderness that is not found in many places in the world now. Lots of history of whalers and sealers in the area, with Americans settling in American river on the Island. Emu Bay, Penneshaw, Kingscote and of course Seal Bay are lovely and all very different for such a tiny Island.
If you get over to the mainland, South Australia is renowned for it's wine regions and ease to get around. McLaren Vale is on the Fleurieu Peninsula and the whole peninsula has a lot to see and offer. The city is beautiful and it reminds me a little of Nice, nestled between the hills and the ocean.
All the best
Hi . . . again . . . Carolyn from South Australia!
Appreciate so much your follow-up, added info on your car plans/set-up and the info on Australia. All good and very helpful.
As you outline your ground logistic options, you clearly have considered the pro/con factors on car versus a train/car mix. Either way can work. There are clearly trade-offs and each family needs to pick what best fits their needs and budget.
Will save your notes, comments and ideas for Australia in my computer file for this trip. Very good and matching many of the other comments that others have suggested.
Let me know any other France questions.
ENJOY! Merci Beaucoup!
Thanks. Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio