France/4 days in France
QUESTION: Party of two females late 50s on a tight budget. Travelling from Southampton by air or sea. No knowledge of France but have travelled fairly widely between us. Will be travelling very light and leisurely. Prefer countryside - interested in natural beauty sites, history, wine and food and some shopping. Can drive. Can you suggest some interesting places for us and best mode of transport. Thank you.
ANSWER: Hi . . . Sheri from Southampton/UK!
Understanding your wishes for low-cost, countrysides and only four days available, I have some suggestions, but I will need some added information from you.
First, when are you planning this trip? The time of year makes a big difference on where to suggest as what might work best. Second, would you drive your car from England . . . OR . . . rent a car after arriving in France? Third, how much are you liking history, architecture, culture, etc.?
With only four days and such a limited budget, you probably cannot go to the wonderful Provence or south of France region. Probably need to be more focused for the Loire Valley, Normandy, Reims/Champagne County and/or Alsace regions that are closer.
Tell me more on your timing, others needs/interests, etc. Then, with more detailed and specific information from you, I can make better, more specific suggestions on what best fits your needs and interests.
Below are some notes, ideas, tips, etc. for the Loire, Normandy, Alsace, etc.
To really explore the countryside areas and be time-efficient, YES, a car would be best in these areas.
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
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
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:
For for the larger area, check:
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
Normandy: This is an area with many great potentials, including its 360-mile coastline, historic cities, beaches, lush farmlands, fine cheeses, nice ciders and many Gastronomic delights! This includes calvados, an apple brandy and Camembert cheese, a local specialty. It was part of ancient Gaul, conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC. The name of Normandy is derived from the settlement and conquest of the territory by Vikings ("Northmen") from the 9th century. Architecture in upper Normandy is typified by half-timbered buildings that also recall vernacular English architecture.
For the area, here’s more tourism info: www.normandie-tourisme.fr
In our one day-trip there, we did:
Giverny: This is a pilgrimage for art lovers in this picturesque village (just east of Vernon where the train from Paris took us and we got our car for our day-trip in this area). It is on the banks of the Seine and was the home of French impressionist painter Claude Monet. Visitors can wander through Monet's spacious house and the exuberant gardens. Near these garden is the famed pond and bridge, the inspiration of his famous water lily series.
Bayeux: This charming town is built around the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame and is home to the 200-foot long Bayeux Tapestry. This is a world famous masterpiece whose cartoon-like scenes depict the epic tale of William the Conqueror's expedition conquering England in 1066 AD. We had a wonderful lunch at the Lion d’Or, a former coaching inn dating back to 1770. The town/area tourism website is: www.bessin-normandie.fr
World War II Landing Beaches: The largest military landing in history took place in Normandy on June 6, 1944 with 130,000 troops landing that day on the beaches. Monuments, museums and bunkers are a living commemoration to the Battle of Normandy. The American Cemetery is located near Colleville-sur-Mer on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion) and the English Channel. It covers 172 acres and contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations. The graves face westward, towards the United States. This cemetery is very moving and is maintained in an incredibly beautiful manner.
Mont-St-Michel (mohn-san-mee-shel) is a unique abbey perched precariously on a 264-foot high rocky islet connected to the mainland by a causeway. Surrounded by over half a mile of massive walls and reached by a steep climb up winding streets, it remains one of the greatest sightseeing attractions in Europe and the second only to the Eiffel Tower as the most visited place in France. Its fortifications enabled the islet to withstand repeated English assaults during the Hundred Years' War. The abbey served as a prison during Napoleon's reign. Restored after 1863, and connected to the mainland by a causeway in 1875), Mont-St.Michel is also known for its tides, the highest on the continent. For more tourist info/options: www.ot-montsaintmichel.com
We took the TGV Express train back from Rennes in Brittany at the end of our day-trip to this wonderful area with many great sites and sights!
There are also options at:
Rouen: A thriving industrial and commercial center and the third largest port in France, Rouen is steeped in history. Both William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc died in the town Victor Hugo called it "the city of a hundred spires". Rouen is home to many museums as well as its famed Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame, immortalized by Claude Monet’s paintings.
You can also check the tourism office for Rouen at:
Dieppe/Fecamp/Etretat: As the oldest seaside resort in France, Dieppe has its history retold in the castle museum. The Benedictine Palace & Museum, home of the famous Benedictine liqueur, is Fecamp's main fame, along with its picturesque marina. A short drive down the coast is the village of Etretat, nestled between striking white cliffs.
Deauville/Trouville: The glamorous resort town of Deauville, home to the rich and famous, is a thriving vacation spot of luxury hotels, casinos, race tracks, golf courses and polo grounds. Its twin city, Trouville, separated from Deauville by the Touques river, is a more sedate fishing village. Both towns boast wide sandy beaches. Another town named Honfleur is the birthplace of impressionist painting. Honfleur is a charming harbor village with narrow timbered houses. Monet and Baudelaire are two of the many artists who spend time in this 11TH century town.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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, dessert. 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.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Wow - thanks for so much detailed information. In answer to your question we are expecting to travel at the beginning of August. We would obviously like to be able to stay longer than 4 days, but we have work commitments and can only get off for 4/5 days. We would be more likely to hire a car in France than take a vehicle over. As for the interest in history - my friend is more interested than me, so we will have to compromise on the trip. However, as long as I can get a good meal and some fine wine as part of my day trip I will be happy ;-). We also like to do a bit of holiday shopping as most women do. I think we will travel by ferry from UK to northern France then either hire a car and travel that way or travel by train? However, I gues the train may not take us to the more rural areas? Also interested in the vinyards. Thanks again
ANSWER: Hi . . . again . . . Sheri from Southampton/UK!
Appreciate the added information and background. Yes, early August can be busy and more costly as lots of people in France and nearby are traveling and trying to working in their vacations, etc.
I don't mean to be too blunt or rude, but there is a serious question on timing. I understand what you are seeking, but with only 4-5 days, you will probably have two of those very limited days consumed with your "logistics" getting from (and back from) where you live, crossing the channel, traveling to where you seek to be, etc. Is that "net" time of only two or three days in France really worth the effort, cost and time to attempt this trip to France right now??
If you are interested in the better vineyard and wine areas, those are not as quick and handy to the Normandy areas. Some are in the Loire areas, but the better/best wine areas are a little farther away in Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne areas, etc.
Reactions? Am I raising the right questions/issues?
What are your needs for added information? Be happy to answer other questions. 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
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thanks very much for the follow up. You are probably right in saying our available time is not enough. We may postpone our trip to France until we can spend longer or just make it a short break to Paris.
We appreciate the time and effort you put into your answers and will keep this information for when we eventually go for a longer period.
Hi . . . again . . . Sheri from Southampton/UK!
Appreciate your follow-up and glad that my comments have helped you focus on the best timing options, potentials, needs, etc.
Keep researching and planning.
Let me know any added questions.
ENJOY! Merci Beaucoup!
Thanks. Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio