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QUESTION: Wow.  Amazing website and your insight has already been of help.  We are taking our kids to France in June, starting in Paris and then a few days in Bordeaux - perhaps, depending on your thoughts- before we're off to Lyon for a week stay to look at possibly spending a semester abroad there.  My question:
In between the urban scenes in Paris and Lyon, we'd like to take our girls (16, 13 and 2) into a more rural setting.  The area around Bordeaux seemed an option as it has biking, canals, fields to run wild in, chateaux to be impressed by and (for the grown ups) wine tasting.  But it's a huge area.  Where to stay?  What to do?  How best to have activities and down time for all 5 of us.  The teens (who are both studying French) are no longer "into museums" - the the thought of staying in an old castle is exciting to them - and sounds "tres chere" to their mom (me).  They love swimming, biking, good books and facebook.  There is so much to choose from I was just wondering if you could shove me into the right direction.

Ever grateful for guidance,

Luanne

p.s. I biked through Burgundy several years ago, so I would like to explore something new.  And, while my husband and I love our wine, we are by no means wine experts....though a bottle of chateneauf de pape gets a big gold star in my book.

ANSWER: Hi . . . Luanne from California!

Between Bordeaux and Lyon, you have a number of good options.  The top two that come to mind are around the Sarlat/Dordogne River Valley and Provence.  Below are some of my notes on these two great regions of France.  Through a website such as
www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/europe
you can look for many different types of places in the various parts of France.  

It is hard for me to say which is best for you, fitting the needs and interests for all of the members of your family.  

I would strongly consider these two options. It would help break up your distance and travel between Bordeaux and Lyon.  

I would also suggest getting a visual book like Eyewitness France (maybe from your library), look at these areas and their pictures.  Get your daughters involved in researching these options, looking at things on the map, 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:
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  


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!





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

QUESTION: Thanks for all the helpful links.  I have just one more question:  Is it worth spending a few days in the Aqutaine area and then over to the Dordogne area - or are these places so close and similar that we should just get one rental place to explore both.  You've also inspired us to do a little time in
Provence perhaps - so what might be our best plan of action?  Thinking:

Train from Paris to Bordeaux.  Rent a car.
Drive towards west coast (Cap Ferrat area) Stay a few days
Drive to Dordogne Valley, stay a few days
Drive to Provence, stay a few days then drive to Lyon and get rid of our rental car.

I would love to hear your take on this plan.  Thanks again for all the links and inspiration.

Luanne

Answer
Hi . . . again . . . Luanne from California!

Sorry, but I have not been to the Aqutaine area.  My view is that most all areas of France are "worth it", but you need to determine if such a stop or going in that direction can fit and work in a reasonable way for your logistics and overall plan/needs.  

You plan could work.  If and if, maybe!!  You need to use a website such as
www.mapquest.com
to plot out all of your driving distances and times for each leg of that travel.  Some of the roads in France can be slow.  Not all quick, fast super highways.  

Many of the roads on your potential routing could involve going through many small towns, narrow two-lane roads, etc.  All nice and good, but they can take time and patience to make all of these logistics and driving work in a reasonable manner.

What are your needs for added information?  Be happy to answer other questions.

ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!  

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio  

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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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