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France/France 4 -5 Week Driving tour

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QUESTION: Just booked our flights :) We are from B.C. Canada and will be arriving  in Marseille on September 24th Unfortunately, this is the only time of year I can get away..
We will be renting a car, doing a circle tour or depending on drop off rate leave in another location. Last year we were fortunate that drop off in another location was a free incentive.

We will then be flying to England either London or Bristol for 2 weeks before heading home.

We plan to divide trip into just 4 regions.. Provence ~ Dordogne ~ Loire Valley and Burgundy, although I am now wanting to add Colmar and Strasbourg into our trip.

We would like to base ourselves in or just outside a village for at least 4 nights in most regions, where we could perhaps drive 30 to 40 minutes in different directions to visit the various points of interest.

We did a driving tour of Spain and Portugal in 2010 and we found there were times 1 night just wasn't enough to see the town and drive to the next point of interest, it felt hurried in places despite being 5 weeks.

Obviously there will be times when we will spend 1 or 2 nights en-route to different regions stopping at worthwhile points of interest.
..
Any suggestions as to good locations, towns or Villages we can use as a base in each area? We prefer to mostly stay in B & B's..
Good wineries and cultural experiences in each region?

Provence: we get into Marseille late afternoon, thinking perhaps 2 nights near Aix and then drive for 4 nights near Gordes or Luberon, with a night in Arles or near Pont du Gard??
visit Châteauneuf-du-Pape
en-route to Dordogne visit Carcasonne and spend a night near  Albi, read that it's worth a slight detour to see, maybe a night there after visiting Carcasonne.
Dordogne, a base near or in Sarlat for 4 - 5 nights ?

Loire Valley - We thought 1 night Angers as furthest west we plan to stay before heading somewhere more central for the Chateau's we want to see. Chenonceau, Villandry,Chambord? As well as Castle of Angers i've read the tapestry is a must see.  Tours perhaps Wine Museum and Cathedral St-Gatien?  

After the Loire valley want to visit Chartres, drive across to Fontainlbleu? we want to fit in a few nights in Beaune and enjoy the villages and wineries, as well as somehow fit in Strasboug and Colmar. Obviously there's quite a few blanks to fill in and 'other overnight locations' to consider..

Must Do's for us are Visit or stay in some wineries in each region. We love scenery, history and architecture, we enjoyed our time in Spain visiting great works of art by Picasso and Hieronymus Bosch's garden of earthly delights, Gaudi's architecture in Barcelona, El Greco in Toledo and Dali in Figueres and Cadeques..
We'd like 1/2 day in Avignon, Visit Aix although perhaps spend a night here as I've read of a market/wine tour and a cooking class that sounds interesting.
We want to enjoy the food and wine of the regions....

Although I am the owner of over 90 pairs of shoes, I did choose to pass up shopping in Spain for visits to Castles and museums!! Hubby was happy! LOL So I did learn something about my priorities here...

Dordogne We would love to spend 1/2 a day in a canoe but think it might be too late in the season for that.

Hubby would love to do a culinary cooking class while in France, anyone done one and can share the experience? A photography day adventure would be good too.

At the moment I'm feeling overwhelmed as I've made so many notes and have a list of places I'd like to stop at I think we will need 4-5 months not weeks LOL

Hope you can help!!

ANSWER: Hi . . . Eileen from British Columbia!

YES!  I am  very, very happy to help, BUT, first you need me to be able to better understand your timing plan before you plan to fly up to England.  If you are to arrive in Marseille on September 24, then what date are you flying from France?  From which airport in France?  Have those tickets been bought . . . OR . . . are you open to maybe going by fast train in a little over two hours from Paris to London?  As you were running through ALL of the different places and stops you seek to do, I was getting totally confused and worn out.  

AND, all of that was just on paper as a plan!!  I cannot image what it would be like trying to do ALL of that list in real life with all of the stops, unpacking, packing back up, going and going, etc.  

You are loud and clear about your worry on rushing things too, too much.  You said and warned yourself smartly: "1 night just wasn't enough to see the town and drive to the next point of interest, it felt hurried in places despite being 5 weeks."

Too hurried??

Your overall challenge is "LOGISTICS"!  Things are not as close together in many parts of France, as they might seem on a paper map.   Your plan would have lots and lots of time behind the windshield in a car, driving and driving.  Then what and how do you want to “ENJOY" and "EXPERIENCE" things in France, etc?  Rush-rush and gulp it down like soda pop or beer . . . OR . . . sip and savor the moment like fine wine, doing people watching, sensing an enjoyment of life and the humanity, the architecture, history and charm? It's your choice.  I just wanted to be honest and cautious to make sure you understand your logistical challenges and trade-offs.

We have been in ALL of these different areas, including Provence, Dordogne/Sarlat, Loire Valley, Burgundy and the Alsace area.  

Of these five areas, how do you rank them in importance to see and do???  Which one is the top, highest priority?  Which the lowest in priority?  Which one do you rank second, third and fourth for your must-see rankings???

Below are some of my notes about options in these various areas.  Your challenge is to make things flow, be smooth and enjoyable.  

Tell me more about your budget, ages, personal and travel interests, past Europe and France travel experience, etc.   It sound like you are interested in history, right?   Museums, food, wine, art, music, shopping, architecture, culture, etc.?  How much of it in a leisurely style versus fast-paced?  Then, with more detailed and specific information from you, I can make better, more specific suggestions on what best fits your needs and interests.

Before dealing with a culinary cooking class and/or a photography day adventure, it is vital to get your overall trip "flow" smoothed out.  You don't want your trip to be either a "bore" or a "blur".  That is your first priority!!!  

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


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:
http://www.relaischateaux.com/en/search-book/hotel-restaurant/oustau/region 

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:
www.provencebeyond.com

Try Avignon’s official tourism office:
www.avignon-et-provence.com

For St. Remy:
http://www.saintremy-de-provence.com/anglais/ssomm.htm

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:
www.eze-riviera.com

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
www.autoeurope.com
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".
http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=FR
or
http://www.mapquest.com/directions/europe.adp?do=nw

RAIL SCHEDULES: You can go to this website
http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm
or
www.raileurope.com
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!


SOUTHWEST FRANCE HIGHLIGHTS/OPTIONS:
While there, we stayed overnight at the nearby Hotel Bônnet in Beynac overlooking the Dordogne River (hotel phone: 011-33-5-53-29-5001). The Sarlat-La-Caneda Market on Saturday is really great with its very attractive medieval quarter!  Hopefully Saturday will be one of your days there.

Sarlat-la-Canéda, or simply Sarlat, is in the heart of the wonderful Dordogne River valley areas in southwest France.  It is one of the most attractive and alluring towns with a population of a little under 10,000. Sarlat is a medieval town that developed around a large Benedictine abbey.  Because modern history had largely passed it by, Sarlat has remained preserved and is one of the towns most representative of 14th century France. The center of the old town consists of beautifully restored stone buildings and is largely car-free.  There are several large foie gras production places in the area and this adds to its appeal. They also produce other cherished products (confits, pâté, etc.) from these ducks and geese. It is that architecture and history as being the super-star for this great town.   Their town website: www.sarlat.fr

Among the other key options in the area are:

1. ROCAMADOUR- Perched on the side of a cliff with one of the most extraordinary sites in France, this village was one of the great pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.  This site is also a must-see at night.

2. BEYNAC - Large castle overlooking the Dordogne, it was the site of many battles during the Hundred Years War.

3. LES EYZIES - Known as the Capital of Prehistory, it has a famous national museum.

4. DOMME - Walled-town with spectacular overview of the Dordogne.  

5. ST-CIRQ-LAPOPIE - Village with a remarkable site perched on a rocky escarpment overlooking the Lot River valley.

There is also Cahors on River Lot, Cordes and a little farther away is the famed castle/fortress of Carcassonne;

There are other smaller castles, small town markets, wineries, etc.  It depends upon what you like to do and enjoy.  Just hanging out in and around Sarlat and doing nothing is fun and enjoyable.

For Sarlat, their tourism office is:
www.sarlat-tourisme.com/en
Contact them and let them know your specific interests and needs.
For the larger area, check at:
www.dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr  


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:
http://www.chambord.org/Chambord-en-idm-1-n-Accueil.html

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
e-mail: chateaubournand@hotmail.com


BURGUNDY: Famous throughout the world for its fine wines, Burgundy is about more than just vineyards.  Steeped in history, it’s a unique area with many different faces – vibrant yet relaxing, traditional yet contemporary.
The name Burgundy is synonymous throughout the world with fine wines, and the names along the Route des Vins read like a top-quality wine list with places such as Beaune and Chablis, Macon and Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Each of Burgundy’s four departments has its own special character, and there are a number of ways to take your time to explore and enjoy them. 
In Côte-d’Or, Yonne, Nièvre, or Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy is a paradise for both sport and leisure cyclists with more than 800 km of véloroutes (quiet cycling paths) and Voies Vertes (traffic-free green ways) to help you discover vineyards and villages, historic monuments and peaceful waterways, not to mention traditional Burgundian hospitality at inns along the route.

Burgundy’s incomparable wines include Chablis, which is also the name of one of the most charming villages in the Burgundian hills. Add to that some of the most scrumptious food in France, like Boeuf Bourguignon, and you find yourself in an unmistakably French environment that also stands out as quite unique and breath- taking!

The nice-sized town of BEAUNE can be wonderful with its famed wine areas, beautiful country, great history, etc.  You can check more from here:
www.ot-beaune.fr
www.beaune-burgundy.com
Or, for the overall Burgundy area:
www.cotedor-tourisme.com

Just outside of Beaune we stayed at the historic Château of Chorey les Beaune.  It has a moat surrounding the property and with its towers are dating to the 13th century.  The principal building dates to 17th century. Their website is www.chateau-de-chorey-les-beaune.fr and they provided a wonderful breakfast prepared by the owner.  This inn location is in a small village a couple miles from Beaune and it has its wine production there on this site.  We had dinner at Michelin one-star, Frommers three-star rated  Jardin des Remparts in Beaune.  

In the northern part of Burgundy, we stayed in Chablis at Hostellerie des Clos, a highly-rated three-star inn in the heart of this charming little village (pop. 2,300).  This inn has lots of history associated with it and is handy for walking around this charming village.   We had a wonderful dinner at this inn's Michelin one-star restaurant, run by chef Michel Vignaud.
Its famed Hospices de Beaune has a colorful roof, unique architecture and great history.  It dates to 1452 and its founding by the Duke of Burgundy as a hospital for the poor.  It also has some eloquent examples of Flemish art.  The town of about 22,000 people is very walkable with interesting shops, markets, etc. There are approximately 100 castles, medieval towns and chateaus around in the scenic Burgundy area.  Beaune is a great home base for exploring around the countryside, seeing wine places, etc.   They used the vines that were originally brought to Burgundy by Julius Caesar, meaning that it was the Romans who started these legendary wines of today.

Fontenay Abbey, a fascinating example of Cistercian architecture, is listed as a UNESCO world Heritage Site.


ALSACE/EASTERN FRANCE: If you're a French Riesling fan or love other types of Alsace wines, you will both love a trip to the Alsace region.  Or it can be great architecture, food, countrysides, etc.  There are lots of charming and pretty towns, accommodation and many beautiful, great restaurants there to spend and create a very special time.

In 2005, we stayed in a super great village of only 1200 people called Riquewihr. It is one of the best of THE BEST!!!  We saw why when we stayed there for two nights. Riquewihr has two different Michelin one-star restaurants.  We dine on the first night there at Table du Gourmet under Chef Brendel and it was totally out of this world in setting, service and great food!!!  What an enjoyable experience!  WOW!!!   We stayed at Hôtel De La Couronne, in the old town portion of this quaint, wood-timbered town in a building that dates back to 1550.  Their e-mail: couronne@hoteldelacouronne.com

We also enjoyed driving along the Alsace Route du Vin, seeing the Vosges Mountains and visiting the town of Colmar.  It is a well preserved city in Alsace with a population of 65,000.  We had a prime evening dinner at Michelin three star rated restaurant, Auberge de l'Il, in nearby Illhaeusern.  Auberge de l'Ill is one of only seventeen dining places in all of France and Paris to win this coveted and highest three stars from Michelin; it has won three stars continuously since 1967; only Paul Bocuse, just outside Lyon, has won that honor longer, since 1966!.  That was a great place, but the one-star in Riquewihr was as good and even better in some ways.  The town of Obernai is also great.  Really enjoyed its architecture, charm and character.  There is much to do and enjoy in this popular region.

For tourism info, check:
www.tourism-alsace.com



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Terry,

Thanks for your wonderful response with all those valid questions...

With regard to date we are flying from France, that is yet to be determined is which airport we fly from
We are both in our early 50򳠅 the only date set in stone so far is we are arriving Marseille Sept 24th and will be returning to Canada from London on Nov 12th We would like to fly to either Bristol or London (to visit family) sometime between October 24th -26th  give or take a day depending on how we pull the France itinerary together. We plan to go clockwise  Provence to Dordogne, Loire, Burgundy and touch on Alsace, or Alsace to Burgundy..
I am looking into flights to the UK, the airlines such as Easyjet don't seem  to have posted prices for late Oct. Again it's toss up to be determined ~ do we drive back to Marseille versus try to fly out of Lyon or better still Strassboug. Last year in Spain there was no penalty for Car rental Pick up and drop off at different location. If there is a penalty we need to weigh that up against extra driving hours and gas back to Marseille.
In the meantime I am trying to set out a route plan and accommodations up until the final few days.

We don't want as fast paced as 2 years ago which was for the most part 1 or 2 nights in most towns with 3 in Madrid & Barcelona. With what seemed so little time in Barcelona with all to see there we had to include a further 5 nights this past fall to feel we had most of it covered!  This year we tended to have 4 night bases with the odd 1 night en-route to some other region. Much more relaxing.
Although we are used to the vast distances here in Canada, we Don't really want to be driving for more than 4 hours in a day when heading for another region. While in the different areas we would like to feel that our driving time to a point of interest would be no more than 30 -40 minutes away from our base, unless we were connecting some villages on a scenic day drive that involved lots of stops in other words a circular drive day trip would be fine.
I had to smile at you gulp and down a soda pop comment we are most definitely the sip and savour the moment kinda people, as for soda pop, has been years since I had one! 󗨡t is this life if full of care. We have no time to stand and stare?.  For instance in hours Familia we spent over 3 hours  absorbing all the architecture and history. At Alhambra we spent 4 hours just in the Palacios Nazaires (Nasrid Palace)
Leisurely lunch, having time to stand and stare, that is why in the Loire I  we aren't are the sort of people that could fit in a 3 chateau marathon into our day. We would be fit enough to, but I doubt we would get much out of the experience.

I think you sum us up succinctly with your  "sip and savor the moment like fine wine, doing people watching, sensing an enjoyment of life and the humanity, the architecture, history and charm? It's your choice

As for the areas  Provence, Dordogne/Sarlat, Loire Valley, Burgundy and the Alsace area.  I honestly don't have a clue about highest priorities, or how to rank them, they all seem to have their own unique qualities and flavours.

One thing so far I have pretty much decided is that our base in the Dordogne should be in or near Sarlat, with a night or two on the outer edges .
Provence thinking perhaps 2 nights Aix and then a 4 night base in either Saint Remy, L'Isle sur la Sorgue, or ?
We originally thought we would have time in Cassis but coastal France isn't priority, we have no plans to go to Paris or Bordeaux.

Answer
Hi . . . again . . . Eileen from British Columbia!

Appreciate your quick follow-up and added, great info.  It is very, very good that you have nearly a full month for seeing these various parts of France for Provence, around Sarlat, the Loire, Burgundy and Alsace.  Over four weeks, even allowing for all of the driving, things should be possible to achieve in a reasonable manner.

Glad you appreciate the need to  "sip and savor the moment like fine wine, doing people watching, sensing an enjoyment of life and the humanity, the architecture, history and charm?"

Like your approach of perhaps two nights in or around Aix and then a four-night base near Saint Remy.  Yes, near or around Sarlat would be good.  Maybe two or three nights there and then up to the Loire Valley.  Then to Burgundy and up to the Alsace area.  Maybe you fly out there.  You could go to the Reims/Champagne Country area (see notes below), drop your car at de Gaulle airport and fly up to the UK.  Or consider a rail connection to London.  Definitely don't go back to Marseille for your flight.  Most of the main car firms in France will allow a pick up in one area and dropping in another city within this country.  

I would suggest studying more the various notes and options I gave to you.  Then work out a more detailed rough plan/schedule.  Let me see that rough draft and then I can offer any added suggestions and comments.

What are your needs for added information?  Be happy to answer other questions.  Appreciate your completing the evaluation section and giving me nice marks.

ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!  

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio  


REIMS-CHAMPAGNE COUNTRY:
The prime winery areas are east of the central city in Reims where the various and best champagne houses are located.  To see these various caves about 60 feet deep in the ground is something special, plus most of the caves are carved out of chalk.  Most of the better places have very interesting architecture and histories. After you see all it takes to craft Champagne, you better understand why it costs more to produce.  With a car, you will be able to see the lovely rolling countryside and small villages around Reims, many of which have smaller Champagne places that produce their magic liquid that is almost as valuable as gold.  From
http://www.maisons-champagne.com/traduction/english/visites_caves/visites_caves_
you can get more detail info on the various locations, etc., in this area.

Among the top names for tours in Reims:
Lanson, G. H. Mumm, Piper Heidsieck, Pommery (which we visited in 2005, nice!), Taittinger and  Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.
In Ludes: CANARD DUCHENE
In Tours sur Marne: LAURENT-PERRIER

Per TripAdvisor, they rate Brasserie du Boulingrin very highly.  We had dinner there and loved its charming interior style, etc.   They are at 48 rue de Mars, 51100 Reims, France, phone: 03.26.40.96.22 Website:  www.boulingrin.fr   It is considered an institution in the town since 1925.  It is renowned for its Art Deco interior, cheerful atmosphere and wholesome cuisine made with fresh produce.

Then there is the town Epernay, south of Reims, smaller and very spectacular, with its many key name places with great buildings, tours, etc.  Epernay has  top tours at Moet & Chandon (with its statue of Dom Perignon), Perrier-Jouet, Pol Roger and Mercier.  You can get more info from www.epernay.net.   

Reims also has its super great Cathedral with its Chagall and Great Rose windows.

For tourism offices, you can contact people in Reims by going to this site and then clicking on the “contact us” section of their site:
www.reims-tourism.com
And Epernay:
http://www.ot-epernay.fr/-Welcome-
For for the larger area, check:
www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk


We stayed at Château de Juvigny, built between 1702 and 1705 on site of original castle dating to reign of King Charlcs VI (1380-1422) with moat relics on site from One Hundred Year War. More info and contact for reservations at www.chateaudejuvigny.com  

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Terry Casey

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Most experienced for Paris, Loire Valley, Provence, Dordogne, Alsace, Burgundy, Normandy and Reims/Champagne Country. Terry likes helping travelers get trip "flow and pacing" right so your adventure is neither . . . a bore, NOR a blur! Make sure your timing works, fitting your interests, tastes, personal experiences and needs. Terry has planned and done great trips to the Baltics, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Ireland, England, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Norway, Turkey and Switzerland, plus South America and Cuba. Did wonderful April, 2007, week in Paris, summer 2008 southern England trip, summer 2010 fjords/North Cape, Norway coast, etc. Has visited twenty=two different countries in Europe. You can check out our Norway coast/fjords adventure with lots of great pictures from last summer at: www.boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1227923 This live/blog has gotten nearly 52,000 views. For Villefranche, ports in Italy and along the the Croatian coast, you can check this live/blog. We are now at 42,762 views here. www.boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1426474 France is great, but these other parts of the Europe are wonderful, too!!!

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There is much post 9-11-2001 worry about travel to Europe, but all reports and experiences say things are fine, with proper care and planning. From wide travels in many parts of Europe in 2005- 2008, my personal experiences are that things are good there and reasonably behaving Americans are treated well. See, enjoy the world and experience its great diversity! I have visited 20 countries in Europe and know that there's lots there to see and do. PROVIDE KEY BACKGROUND INFORMATION with QUESTION: To help me answer your questions better, please provide some info on your past France/Europe travel experiences, ages, general budget range, personal travel style/interests, number in your party, what you most want to enjoy and see, etc.

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Ohio State University grad

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