France/Trip to France/ Switzerland / Italy
Hi, I am Nitin from India. I and my family, a group of 6 people are planning to visit Europe starting from 4th Week of June. We are planning to fly into France and then go to Switzerland & Italy We have only 15 days for this trip and we are on a tight budget, as in we are planning to stay only in the 3/2 bedroom apartments. This is our first trip to EU, so we just want to visit the best possible places.
The schedule we have is France - 4 days, Switzerland - 4 days, Italy - 4 days, rest 3 days i have kept for internal logistics movement
Please help me with the following.
1. What are the best places to visit in the three countries, we would typically NOT be interested in too much of Museums. We would like to see more of culture, traditional fooding, some night life.
2. What is the best the best location to stay in each of the countries (France, Switzerland & Italy), so that we can use the public transport and view the city as well as take one day trip to nearby areas
3. We are also open to hire vehicle to travel around. But dont know the cost part of it
4. What is the best ways to commute between countries?
Your help is most appreciated.
Hi . . . Nitin from India!
Appreciate these good questions. BUT, to be honest, what you seek to do and how is not an easy or simple task. You will need to make some serious choices and determine your exact priorities to fit your personal needs, interests and travel style.
Part of it is logistics. You are allowing three days for the "internal logistics". Yes, that's important. Europe is not as small and close as it looks on a paper map.
Second, is that blunt fact that BOTH France and Italy have so many and much in great and super options that you could spend the full and complete 15 days in each of these two countries and not see it all. Switzerland can be done in a shorter period of time. It all gets back to what you most want to see and do!! You have share some on your interests.
Tell me more about your other personal and travel interests, past Europe and France travel experience, etc. How much are you interested in history? Countrysides vs. cities? Shopping, architecture, etc.? How much of it in a leisurely style versus fast-paced? Then, with more detailed and specific information from you, we can make better, more specific suggestions on what best fits your needs and interests.
Third, budget is a serious challenge, too. With more budget flexibility, you can travel and handle your logistics in a quicker, better and easier manner. If you stay in more convenient places, such as in Paris, that puts you closer to the key attractions, make dining places easier to reach. The cheaper places to stay might not be as handy, requiring more time and effort for your in-city logistics.
Overall, my quick suggestion, without know more details from you, would be to do this rough plan:
1. Fly into Paris, do four days there, maybe staying in an apartment through
Maybe do a day-trip from Paris to the Loire Valley or Versailles.
2. Then train to Zurich, Switzerland, getting a rental vehicle down to Lucern and/or Interlaken.
3. Then, take the train down to Florence, Italy, doing some time there and maybe in nearby Tuscany, then by train to Rome, time there and fly out of that city.
This is not a perfect or easy plan as the rail travel for six people can add up and not always be cheap, cheap. Doing a rental vehicle can get costly with a group of six and luggage. Six people cannot fit into a simple, regular rental car. You might need two cars or a larger van. It all adds up and costs real money.
Trying to do all of the travel by rental vehicle is possible, but when you pick up in one country and drop in another, the "drop charges" can add up very, very high.
You could skip Switzerland and just focus on doing France and Italy in a better and more in-depth manner, etc. If you did this option, you could fly from Paris to Florence, Venice and/or Rome to make some of those logistics better. If you buy all of the air tickets open-jaw, in advance, that might makes those logistics and costs better.
Lots of options and variables.
Below are some notes on some popular and great France options. We have done lots and lots in France, Italy and Switzerland. Only sharing just a small amount, awaiting more information from you.
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
FAST FACTS: Paris is 2.1 million people in the main heart of the city. There are 10.9 million in the metropolitan Paris area or 18% of the total for all of France. The Metro has 124 miles of track with 368 stations.
36 million tourists visit Paris yearly, with 60% of them from abroad. Paris has two main airports, Orly and DeGaulle, handling over 70 million customers.
WHAT MAKES PARIS GREAT/UNIQUE?: With style and sophistication, Paris is correctly proud of its cultural achievements over the centuries. This confidence is expressed in Parisian life, including its architecture from ancient structures to controversy over Hausmann's bold late 1800's master plan and more recent modern developments. Paris has taken bold decisions, including the Louvre with is now well-accepted glass pyramid by I. M. Pei.
Although at the heart of Europe, Paris is very individualistic and intuitive. The city has attracted great writers artists and thinkers. Historically, it has been a city of unrest, rebellion and revolution (an idea where they helped finance in America and that lead to the sharp-edged 1789 removal of the Royal family). Paris has a special style and soul. It is a high-flying mix of architecture, fashion, history, idiosyncrasy, style, texture, color and atmosphere. Paris is romantic, distinctive!
MAJOR PARIS HIGHLIGHTS/OPTIONS:
(Some times might have been adjusted slightly since this was put together a couple of years ago; plus there can always be strikes, budget shortages, etc. that affect scheduled openings in France.)
1. Louvre (closed Tuesday, open 9-6, Monday and Wednesday until 9:45 p.m.) with Cafe Louvre on site for lunch or dinner (and break or rest), plus food court area with wide mix of different items. This museums’s encyclopedic coverage is divided into seven departments covering ancient times to middle of 19th century; Pyramid entrance designed by I. M. Pei, opened in 1989; very big and can spend four days there and still not see everything; Denon (south) Wing on first floor has many of the key European paintings; Richelieu (north) Wing opened in 1993 and has large, covered sculpture courtyard in its middle; Sully Wing (east) has mostly Egyptian and other antiquities. Over eight million visited the Louvre in 2006. It’s very popular! From this website (www.louvre.fr/llv/commun/home.jsp?bmLocale=en), you can get more detailed information about its collection exhibits, facilities, etc.
2. Notre Dame and Palais de Justice on island of Seine River at site of Paris' start; Notre Dame completed during the 1163-1345 period, tours 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; famous southern Rose Windows, climb up 380 steps of the tower for the best views of the city; Sunday night 5:30 p.m. organ concerts; famous Rose stained glass windows; Sainte Chapelle near Palais de Justice is 700 years old with outstanding stained glass windows; La Conciergerie is prison where many, including Marie Antoinette were held prior to being guillotined, is well-light at night with its unique architecture, functioned as prison from 1391 to 1914. Cathedral is open every day of the year from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm (7:15 pm on Saturdays and Sundays). Web site: www.cathedraledeparis.com. PRIORITY
3. Musee d'Orsay (door-say) (closed Monday, open 10-6, except Thursday 10 am-9:45 pm), covers 1848-1914 period and is especially great for Impressionist art. It is a former railway station and hotel with an excellent cafe in museum (doing lunch in this spectacular dining room is a nice way to break up the visit, re-charge and get nice food service). This dining area is a magnificent space defined by enormous windows, lighted by crystal chandeliers with gilded decoration bringing out the radiance of the sculpted ceilings. Thursday night is perfect for walk from museum west toward Assemblee Nationale and cross Seine River bridge towards Place de la Concorde seeing all of the building lighted and then looking back towards Eiffel Tower; Place de la Concorde was designed in 1775. From this website (www.musee-orsay.fr/en), you can get more detailed information. PRIORITY
VERSAILLES: By suburban subway/train (RER-C5 line, from St-Michel, every 15 minutes) or train (30 minutes) from Saint Lazare; started being built in 1660's for Sun King Louis XIV (during 1661 to 1715 period, involved 32,000 to 45,000 workers) in French classical architectural style; conceived as a world unto itself as seat of government, permanent residence of the royal family and the cream of nobility, was previously modest hunting lodge in swampy area; palace highlight is 236-foot long Hall of Mirrors where the treaty was signed ending WWI; a three-year restoration of this spectacular Hall of Mirrors was just completed in June 2007; through 2020, they are completing a $455 million project to upgrade Versailles with cleanings, new roofs, other restorations, etc.; this property has 700 rooms, 2,153 windows, 352 chimneys and 28 acres of roof; in the huge garden areas are Grand Canal, Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Hameau used by Marie Antoinette; town population of 100,000; possible bus tour or car drive options out to Versailles; open 9:45-5, park open sunrise to sunset; tour palace first and gardens later (closed Monday). From this website (www.chateauversailles.fr/en), you can get more detailed information.
PARIS METRO/SUBWAY: Great, great system! Probably best to buy packets of ten tickets, rather than a multi-day, three or five day pass. There are fourteen different subway lines, plus the four different suburban RER rail options. It is important to know which line or lines you want to use, IN ADVANCE, and the name of the end station for your direction so that you go down the right set of stairs to be on the correct side of the tracks. It's not as simple as New York City with uptown or downtown! But it offers totally great, fast, frequent service. Very clean and nice! Single tickets (1.60 Euros) may be purchased at the counters each time, but the better value is a carnet of 10 (11.40 Euros), which will also save you waiting in line. For all day use, for adults (there is a cheaper children’s daily pass), the pass cost in euros is for one day (8.80), two days (14.4), three days (19.6), or five days (28.3). Compared to London, the daily pass might not be the best value. It depends on your needs. WEBSITE for maps and other info/details: http://www.ratp.info/touristes/index.php?langue=en
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
PROVENCE: WHY IT IS A GREAT PLACE? ITS WONDERFUL OPTIONS:
Why do people love Provence? It is a region having a love affair with the land, earth and environment. The landscape is lush and verdant. Open-air markets have baskets of fresh herbs, fruits, flowers, fabrics, etc. The colorful spirit of the Mediterranean fills the air. Provence is nature at its purest. The sky is a piercing shade of blue. Fields are abundant and the air is clear. The climate ensures that spring, summer and fall yield magnificent and varied harvests. Throughout France, Provence is known for the best of everything natural. People in the area take great pride in these natural traditions for what they grow and how it is prepared in each village and every kitchen.
LOCATION: Provence has at its southern edge the famed Cote d’Azur with its wonderful coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Generally Provence is consider the area east of the Rhone River with the Alps being the eastern border. Provence enjoys a southern sun that shines 320 days yearly, giving the region blue skies and mild temperatures year round. It is most picturesque in the spring with its flowering trees and shrubs. Summer offers local markets full of fresh harvests. Mid July is when the lavender field are in full bloom, filling the country air with a soothing fragrance. The Mistral winds can bring icy temperatures on bright sunny days. Getting lost can be fun in Provence. You can stumble across a charming village, history abbey or great tree-lined roadway.
KEY PROVENCE LOCATIONS:
AVIGNON is "one of the great art cities of France". Its old part of town has the Papal Palace, seat of Popes 1309-1377, street musicians perform near palace; art museum in Place du Palais open Wednesday through Monday, population of 87,000, town is on Rhone River. Once the religious, political and financial capital, Avignon is today a cultural capital and plays host annually in July to the largest festival of live theatre in the world. It has some of the best example of Gothic architecture in Europe.
AIX-EN-PROVENCE (population of 143,000) with Cezanne's studio on the road to Entremont; university town founded 122 B.C. as first Roman settlement in Gaul, near thermal springs, dining at Gu et Fils. An elegant and beautiful town, the visitor will enjoy discovering its ‘thousand fountains’ as he or she roams through its labyrinth of narrow streets. Aix-en-Provence is also renowned worldwide for its unique classical music festival.
Car travel to such nearby areas as ARLES, highest priority area city with Roman ruins, including 20,000 seat arena where bull fights are held in the summer; founded 49 B.C. by Julius Caesar, population of 52,000, Van Gogh's former home. Tarascon has its 15th century castle. LES BAUX is a very neat medieval village with great views that has no major population now, but tourist flock to soak up its history and great views. You should dine right near there at L'Oustau de Beaumaniere for ONE OF THE BEST MEALS YOU CAN HAVE IN FRANCE (lunch is more affordable).
This website gives some excellent info on the area, plus this excellent Michelin two-star rated dining place:
NIMES was settled 121 B.C. and has a population of 140,000. Around the time of Julius Caesar, Nimes was a bustling city on the strategic Via Domitia linking Rome to Iberia/Spain. Nimes's arena, temple and nearby aqueduct are among the best-preserved in all of the former empire. Cars are banished from the compact old city dotted with other ruins, enhancing the feel of yesteryear. The Maison Carre is an almost impossibly pristine Roman temple.
ST. REMY has its Roman ruins, a population of 9000 and is the setting of world-famous literature. Saint-Remy is one of the most representative of Provençal towns and allows the visitor to appreciate the true charm of this oft-celebrated region of the country. It comes as no surprise that Saint Remy, like Cannes or Saint Tropez, is a destination for many well-known personalities. This Gallo-Roman village is on the plains 20 km south of Avignon. Residents more recent than the Romans include Dr. Schweitzer, Dr. Nostradamus and Van Gogh. The picturesque, old village is protected by the circular 14th-century wall which is lined by its protective circle of buildings. Its dolphin fountain is located in the shaded square in front of a 16th century old convent. This is a busy, active village, with a good selection of restaurants and hotels for the traveller. Among the shops are a few with some regional pottery, including some beautiful sunflower plates influenced by Van Gogh. The road between St. Remy and the autoroute (at Cavaillon, 17 km to the east) is a scenic drive out of the past: the road is lined by plane trees.
PONT DU GARD (Roman aqueduct/bridge) to the west of Avignon is a must see with its well-preserved history and beautiful setting. Saturday AM market at Uzes near Pont du Gard can be totally charming and wonderful.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape translates as "New Castle of the Pope" and is entwined with papal history. When in 1308, Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papacy to the city of Avignon, future "Avignon Popes" did much to promote wine growing, especially the viticulture in the 5–10 km north of Avignon area close to the banks of the Rhône River. The blend is usually predominantly Grenache for this area. Wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. has promoted the wines of Châteauneuf and helped inflate their populartiry and price. A 2007 New York Times story noted: “A good Châteauneuf-du-Pape is first and foremost a wine-lover's wine. Other wines can give you gloss and symmetry, the sort of good looks that are obvious even if you aren't much of a wine drinker. But Châteauneuf does not lend itself to smoothness and polish.”
Try good Provence website of:
Try Avignon’s official tourism office:
For St. Remy:
COASTAL SUGGESTION: The old village of Eze, along the coast between Nice and Monaco, hangs up in the mountains above the water and crowds. It's wonderful to visit. Great, great views! Totally charming! Have lunch or dinner there at one of the two great eating places and feel like you're sitting on the edge of paradise! We ate at the Château Eza. Its website: www.chateauezarestaurant.com. At 1,407 feet above the Mediterranean, Eze offers commanding views of cliffs, sea, sprawling estates and off-shore islands. The village's narrow streets or more really paths among the buildings lead to the Jardin Exotique It is a maze of paths flanked by mammoth flowering plants and spiky cactuses. For about $3, you can walk up to the best view on the French Riviera. On a clear day, you can see Corsica! It does not get much better than Eze. Their tourism office:
CONGESTION, TRAFFIC WARNINGS: Be properly warned that Nice, Cannes, Monaco, etc. can and will be extremely crowded during their peak tourism periods. Lots and lots of people (both residents and visitors), too many cars, too few highways and limited land between the mountains and sea to hold all comfortably and easily. The movies have made these large cities seem attractive and appealing. Do not Cary Grant and Grace Kelly seem to be having fun there? So glamorous and exciting?! For movies, they make it seem so wonderful. If you are rich and in the “best, right” areas, it can seem and be wonderful. BUT, that congestion might be a turn-off. It depends on what are you expecting, seeking and willing to pay for to hang with the rich and avoid the mobs in these famed areas.
CAR RENTALS OPTIONS:
We have had excellent success with
Their phone toll-free is 1-888-223-5555 (North America only).
There are also rail-auto plan options through raileurope.com
Avis has lots and lots of location around France and Europe.
Don’t assume one price will be the THE PRICE, best price. Make an advanced booking at a good price, but keep check back as different specials will come up, especially in these fast-changing economic times.
WEB-MAPPING FOR FRANCE:
Use this website to get any detailed maps you need. Scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the directions with your details on where are coming from and going to. It will give both graphic maps and written point-by-point driving instructions. You can also look lower on the page for other options such as a shorter route in miles that might take more time and be more "scenic".
RAIL SCHEDULES: You can go to this website
and check all of the various train options, timings and costs on rail travel within Europe through the "schedules" option on their web page. For some routings, such as Avignon to Barcelona or Nice to Rome, it will not yield results. You will be need to break it out into separate routings such as Nice to Genoa, then Genoa to Rome. Great, very useful site!