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Hello Terry!

What an amazing site- thank you for your time and effort- so appreciated.
My boyfriend and I have five days from staying in the Loire Valley until needing to be in Venice.  We were thinking about leisurely rolling down by train and taking in some sites- Dordogne? Provence? Switzerland?  However, we like to spend more time checking out spots- rather than traveling to them.  Should we consider flying rather than train travel?  What would you recommend seeing if you had five days (we both have already been to the cinque terra- LOVED!)  
Otherwise we are game for anything!!  Our interest center around wine so we rather not rent a car :).  We are traveling mid May.

Thank you, Thank you
Erika

Answer
Hi . . . Erika from wonderful British Columbia!

Sorry for my delay in responding.  You have raised a very good question on getting from the spectacular Loire Valley to Venice.  Many options and so many great potentials for your five flexible days.  

There are a variety of trade-offs and factors to consider.  There is no one perfectly right or wrong answer, way to do these logistical things.  As you can see in the summary below, the trains in France and Europe can be wonderful, but they are less flexible/ideal to reach and cover the more "rural", less-developed areas.  

Personally, as a broad over-view and generalization, I would do a mix of rental car around and in certain parts of France and then fly into Venice. WHY?  You can get Italy and Venice by rail from some parts of France, but there can be train changes, slow schedules, etc.  Not all smooth and quick.  

Below are some of my notes/ideas on the Loire, Burgundy, SW/Sarlat, Champagne Country, Alsace, etc..  Here are a few examples/options to consider:

1. Do Loire and then go back to Paris and do time in nearby Reims/Champagne Country, then fly from DeGaulle to Venice.  

2. Do Loire and then go by car down to SW France (where the train service is more limited), then fly from Toulouse to Venice.  

3. Do Loire and then go back to Paris and do Burgundy, then back to Paris DeGaulle to fly to Venice.  

4. Maybe Loire, Champagne Country, Burgundy, then fly to Venice, etc.

5. There also Alsace, then Switzerland and down to Venice either by rail or air.   

As you can see, there are many options.  Much depends on your travel style, budget, etc.  We have visited all of these areas and they have many pluses there to see and do.  

Tell me more on your more specific interests, needs, budget, past Europe experiences, etc.  Hope that I have not given you too much info.  

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


RAIL vs. AUTO REALITIES: In France, overall, the trains are great, especially along certain key routes with the fast and comfortable TGV Express train service.  Between Paris and Avignon, as an example, it is only a two hour and 40 minute trip that zooms this route by traveling up to 199 mph.  On other TGV routes, the top speed is around 186 mph.   These super nice and fine TGV trains are not, however, on all or most routes, nor to all cities.  For other routes, mostly between larger cities, the service can be good to very good.  BUT, in many rural areas and to connect among various smaller village and country areas, rail service is not available and/or fairly slow or limited.  There might be several train changes needed to cover some routings.  There is "some" bus service in France, but it is done by many different private companies and it does not have a centralize website, nor fast, frequent service.  Because elements of the rail service are so good, it has made it harder to have equally good and frequent bus service in most parts of France.  

To be more efficient with your limited time, some combination of rail and car can be better to cover and reach many of the villages, country and rural areas.


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.   Its walls are built out of cut chalk as the "stone" used in construction.  More info and contact for reservations at www.chateaudejuvigny.com


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



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.



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  

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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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