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Hi Terry!

I was reading one of your posts on traveling between Tours to Mont St Michele and I would love your input on my trip!  Quick background, we are from Arizona and are both 25 yrs old and this is our first European travel.  

My husband and I fly into Paris (CDG) and will hop right on a train to Tours.  We plan to stay in Tours for 2 nights then head to Mont St. Michel staying one night there.  This part of our trip is where I would love your input.  Tours and Mont St. Michel are quick side trips (my husband wants to visit castles for a day, and I wanted to see the Abbey).

We ran into a snag when trying to book a train from Tours to Mont St. Michel and I read on your other post that renting a car may be easier for this trip as well as it may be easier to see the castles if we rented a car in Tours.  Our train from Paris gets into Tours around noon so we will have a half day and then the whole next day to explore.  My husband is most interested in Chambord, Cheverny, and Villandry.  Do you have any advice for this part of our trip?

Next, we would take the suggested rented car to Mont St. Michel.  Any suggestions on stops to make on the way?  We have to check out of our Tours hotel by 11am and can't check in to our Mont hotel until 4pm so we have a little extra time to putz around :) In addition, I know there are no cars allowed on the Mont and that it can get kind of tricky with where to park.  Again, any suggestions?  Lastly, we plan to go from the Mont back to Paris, which I think would be easiest by train, so which station would be easiest so that we can drop off our rented car?

Sorry for the long winded question, but this will be our first international travel and we are both excited and nervous!  Looking forward to your guidance!

Thanks,
Sarah

Answer
Hi . . . Sarah from Arizona!

Appreciate your reading earlier posts, plus these good questions.  

My quick suggestion would be to get your rental car when you arrive by train from de Gaulle airport.  Getting around the Loire by public transportation is very hard and challenging.  You can see things better and be more time-efficient by rental car.  Then you use the car to head up to Mont st Michel.  

Below are my notes on the wonderful Loire.  

After doing the visit to Mont st Michel (and I think there is a decent amount of parking there), I would do some other stops in the area, including the World War II D-Day landing site, etc.  See my notes below.  Then maybe driving to Vernon and do Monet's Giverny.  Drop the car in that town or another nearby in the northern area above Paris, then take the train into Paris.  That saves the challenges and hassles from trying to drive and park in Paris.  

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:
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


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:
http://www.rouentourisme.com/Default.aspx?tabid=2508&language=en-U

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.  

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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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