France/Travel to Lourdes
QUESTION: Hello Terry,
I would like to bring my parents (early 80s, no health problems other than my mother cannot walk long distances/climb lots of stairs) to the Grotto in Lourdes. I am thinking of May 15-23 or July 9-16. What do you think of the idea of once landing in Paris, to rent car and drive half-way, then overnight in a B&B and then continue to Lourdes? Once there, I know of nothing else to see except the Grotto. My father likes countryside (he would prefer taking the long drive from Paris to Lourdes), anything to do with water (especially fishing). My mother loves churches, gardens and shopping. Any help you can provide will be much appreciated!
Rev. John Dietrich
ANSWER: Hi . . . Rev. John from Texas!
Appreciate your good questions on your many options in going down to Lourdes. First, I would lean more towards the May dates as the heat and crowds would less risky during these spring dates.
For going down and/or back, my three key options are outlined with various notes, tips, etc., as listed below. This includes the charming Loire Valley and then down to the Sarlat/Dordogne River Valley. There is also the option of Bordeaux, but that is not as handy. You could take the fast TGV train in about three hours from Paris to Bordeaux. Get you car there and go to Lourdes. Then come back towards Paris stopping in Sarlat and then the Loire.
Sorry on these options, the water options are not as close, but these options offer lots of charming towns, interesting villages, great architecture, good food and wine, awesome history, etc.
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
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:
Contact them and let them know your specific interests and needs.
For the larger area, check at:
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
BORDEAUX is famed for its wine and history. From the Grand Théâtre to the Palais de la Bourse, from the Place du Parlement passing the Porte Cailhau, formerly one of the main city gates, from the wide avenues of neo-classical neighborhood surrounding the Esplanade des Quinconces, to the narrow lanes of the Saint-Pierre neighborhood you will discover the history of Bordeaux, its grand families and celebrated guests. Among the key options within the city would be: Musée d'Aquitaine housing a collection from prehistory to today; closed on Monday and public holidays. Musée des Beaux-arts: A vast collection of paintings about the most important period of occidental art from the Renaissance to the 2nd World War; closed on Tuesday and public holidays. Musée des Arts Décoratifs: in an 18th century mansion, a collection of furniture, ceramics, glass, wrought iron and plates; closed on Tuesday and public holidays.
With 113,000 hectares, the Bordeaux vineyards are the largest fine wine region in the world, including many speciality wines to delight gourmets or more curious palates. Such great names as Yquem, Petrus, Margaux, Latour and Mouton are produced in this area. There are over 13,000 wine châteaux just in Bordeaux.
For Bordeaux’s tourism office:
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!
DINING: Assuming you're not looking for the high-end, pricy places, the great news is that most any place will be very good to great to excellent. It's hard to have a bad meal in France!! The secret is to do some asking where you are staying and/or of others you meet there for their local suggestions. Then apply the eyeball test! If it looks touristy and the people sitting there (or the staff) are bored and uninterested, then that place probably should be avoided. If it looks like there are locals there and/or they are enjoying it, then it will probably be very good. Or maybe even better!
Here's a good "balancing suggestion" for saving your dining budget. Grab your lunch at one of the many bakeries/boulangerie/patisserie shops. Most are very cute and wonderful. Great breads! Get a sandwich, pastry, drink. Maybe some cheese. Other nice fresh things. Maybe spend only $4-5-6 a person. Eat in a park area or bench in Paris or the country side. Like a little picnic! Saves money and time during a busy day. Allows a little more budget for dinner in the evening.
FINAL KEY POINT: Read up, in advance, with such books (maybe from your library) as Eyewitness France (great maps and pictures) . . . or the Michelin Green books . . . to help you target what you most want to see and enjoy to fit your needs and taste. Don't wait until you get there to decide what you want to do. And be flexible. There could be strikes, rain, etc. that will require you to be able to adjust quickly to take advantage of your best available options each day.
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QUESTION: Hello Terry,
Your description of Sarlat sounds wonderful and a must see.
Because all of these wonderful places you describe are unknown to me, What do you think of driving to Lourdes from Paris upon our arrival but stopping perhaps someplace mid-way or closer to Lourdes (Sarlat?) for over night before completing the journey to Lourdes? Can you recommend a place and perhaps even a hotel or B&B?
Thanks very much!
ANSWER: Hi . . . again . . . Father Dietrich!
YES! Great potential for driving to Lourdes from Paris with a stop perhaps in or around Sarlat before completing the journey to Lourdes. Would you be driving from the de Gaulle airport or central Paris? If you are going to arrive at the airport, get a rental car and then driving all of the way to around Sarlat after a long, trans-Atlantic flight, that might be too much, too long on limited sleep.
Tell me more.
I did offer one suggestion of staying overnight at the nearby Hotel Bônnet in Beynac. We stayed there and that worked well. Clearly many other options in and around Sarlat for where to stay.
Appreciate your nice comments and good ratings.
What are your needs for added information? Be happy to answer other questions. ENJOY! Merci Beaucoup!
Thanks. Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
I guess I am asking for more specific advice. After our flight, do you recommend a train directly to Lourdes? Do you recommend a train to a point somewhere half-way to Lourdes where we can rent a car, stay overnight (or two?), see the area and then to Lourdes? This is my most pressing concern right now: how best to arrange travel from Lory Airport to Lourdes.
Thanks so much!
Hi . . . again . . . Father Dietrich!
Which airport in Paris do you arrive at? De Gaulle? Or, Orly??
From de Gaulle, the train options are not as many as from main Paris. From Orly airport south of Paris, you have to go into the main part of the big city in order to catch your train.
Personally, I would go from de Gaulle to Tours by train, get my rental car at that suburban station. See a little of the Loire and then head south to Sarlat area and then Lourdes.
Or, Paris to Bordeaux by train, get your rental car, see some of that area and then head to Lourdes.
Lots of different options and easy to put together. Trying to get a train to Lourdes gets a little challenging with the different train changes.
Is this helping?
Thanks. Terry Casey