France/euro advice

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QUESTION: hi Terry Im planning to go to Lourdes, Portugal and Spain coming from LA which is the better route( time and cheaper fare)for me to go first among these 3 places considering I have a 3 yo and have 3weeks to enjoy it?

ANSWER: Hi . . . Benj from Nevada!

Your questions is fairly short and simple, but to answer it fully require a little more information/background.  

First, where all, specifically, in Spain do you want to visit?  Spain is a fairly big country and area.  

Second, the "logistics" between Portugal, Spain and the southern part of France where Lourdes is located is not simple, quick or easy.  Those mountains between France and Spain complicate that travel.  Can't fly like a bird between such locations.  

Good news?  You have three weeks to accomplish your goals when flying form LAX.  

BUT . . . tell me more about your budget, personal and travel interests, past Europe and France travel experience, etc.   How much are you interested in history?  Countrysides vs. cities?  Museums, food, wine, art, music, shopping, architecture, culture, etc.?  How much of it in a leisurely style versus fast-paced?  Then, with more detailed and specific information from you, I can make better, more specific suggestions on what best fits your needs and interests.

Budget is a key factor.  With more money, it is easier to make the "logistics" and travel around in these areas work better, be smoother, more comfortable, etc.  

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


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

QUESTION: Hi Terry,

I am travelling with my wife and 4 yo daughter on june 2014. Budget is a big factor but we will make sure we enjoy our travels. We love history. Never been to france. We went to turkey and Greece last year but through an agency. Right now we will do it on our own since no agency will accept a 4yo child on a trip. We don't really have a specifics on country side or cities.. We just read what the people are talking and I research it then if we like it then that's part of our itinerary. For france, we only want Lourdes for now. For spain we want to go to Barcelona, Madrid, and I found some tours that travels to Seville, cordoba, Toledo, grabada, costa del sol, ronda and the Gibraltar. For Portugal, we want to go to lisbom, evora, porto, Fatima, sintra. Pls advice which hotel to stay at least near the public transport. It will be our first time in all the countries.

Thank you so much,
Benj

Answer
Hi . . . again . . . Benj from Nevada!

Appreciate the added information you have sent.  That helps so much!!  Some of my potential tips, especially on hotels, will be limited for Portugal, Gibraltar, Lourdes, etc., as I have never visited those specific areas.  

On LOGISTICS, I do not know that there is any one, perfect, easy, simple ways or routes to see and do ALL of these many and different stops.  Many, many options for lining up the connections, where you start with first, etc.  

My first "gut reaction" (or a close cousin to guessing), would be to start by flying in from LAX to Portugal/Lisbon.  Then, maybe do a rental car or rail to reach Fatima and the many other stops nearby to there.  As I mentioned, I have not been to Portugal (it's on our future, must-do list).  Have visited 22 different countries in Europe, but not yet to Portugal.

Then, probably fly or rail (last time I checked, it's long, long distance by train).  Just checked and the only rail option seems to be a 9:27PM departure from Lisbon Estacion Oriente and arrive at 8:10AM at Madrid Chamartin.  That takes 10 hours and 43 minutes.  Flying would be much quicker.  Also, with overnight trains, not everyone sleeps that well on such train trips.  Trade-offs??!!

From Madrid, the wonderful, historic city of Toledo is only about an hour away.  Maybe you do that by car.  Could drive down to Seville, etc.  We did that when there in 1999.  Then, maybe fly to Barcelona.  You could also take the high-speed train down from Madrid to Seville.  Lots of options on the corridor.

From Barcelona, I would take a train, maybe, up to Narbonne, France; get a rental car there and head west along the E80 highway, towards Lourdes.  Could you take a train all of the way from Barcelona to Lourdes?? Yes, but it will involve a number of train changes and be fairly slow and challenging.  With a car, you've got so much more flexibility to see a wider variety of places and sights in this SE part of France.  You could see some of Sarlat and the Dordogne River valley.  And/or in and around Bordeaux.  You could then fly out of Bordeaux or Toulouse.  From either of these cities, it might involve a connecting flight back Paris or another larger airport, but it can work fairly well for getting back home.

My strong suggestion to get your overall plan or "flow" figured out, FIRST.  You can worry later on what to stay and other details.    

See some notes below for SW France, etc.     

Reactions to these various ideas and options????  Look forward to hearing back from you with more details and specifics.

Be happy to provide additional info and answer other questions after learning more from you.

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  


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:
http://www.bordeaux-tourisme.com/index_uk.html



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 instructions.
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
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!


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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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!!!

Experience

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.

Education/Credentials
Ohio State University grad

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