Ok. Flights to France were very reasonable this spring. Yes! Roger and I hadn’t been to France in over 15 years, time to go, time to see and experience all things new and all things old and familiar. We booked a flight for 15 days at a really low price and started to make plans.
Where Should I Go in France?
You may be wondering about a trip to France. Should you spend all your time in Paris? Should you fly to Nice and spend all your time on the French Riviera? What about Provence? And what about all those great WWII sites you promised yourself you’d see one day on the beaches of Normandy? Answers to these questions and more depend lots on what kinds of things really interest you. But, something to consider…if a European came to America for two weeks and wanted to know where to go and what to see, would you advise them to spend all their time in New York City? Exactly… seeing only cities in the USA isn’t really seeing the USA. The same is true in France.
France is roughly the size of Texas, so its not a place that you can cover quickly. France has so much to offer, you’ll find yourself struggling to narrow it down and make good use of your time. There are 15 or so regions of France and, of course, there’s Paris. Hmmm… what to do? I suggest looking into what the various regions offer and focusing on a couple in addition to Paris. There are museums, medieval villages, festivals, markets, wine tours, Roman ruins, WWI memorials, WWII memorials, historical spots, beaches, mountains, palaces, castles, chateaus, rivers, farms and restaurants galore. Do a little research online or look through guidebooks at your local Barnes & Noble and then be selective, do the things that will mean something to you and save the rest for another trip. Trying to “see it all” is impossible and will wear you out. We always travel with the idea that if we don’t get to it, we’ll see it next time.
Is France Safe?
As I said, Roger and I took a trip to France this spring (2016). FYI – we had no problems or issues as traveling Americans in France. The only differences we noticed were the plethora of police, security people and military walking around the major sites in Paris and the Riviera and the security lines at every attraction. Our travel antenna were up, as always, but we felt very safe.
Car or Train?
We planned our trip around things we hadn’t seen before such as Nice and Monaco and things that we loved the last time we were in France like Provence, Normandy and Paris. There is always the car vs train debate, this time we decided to rent a car. We knew we were going to cover a lot of ground, but thought that all the sightseeing we planned to do along the way was worth it. Looking back now, we drove too far, around 4,000 km or 2,500 miles. Yikes! But we saw lots and many things that would have been difficult to see if we had taken trains. Remember, once you get off the train, you’re not at your destination, you’re at a train station with your bags and the choices of taking a taxi, bike, tour or walking. Also, if you are staying over 17 days, leasing a car may be worth looking into, especially if there are more than 2 in your party. We were able to get a good car rental deal from Budget for $220 for two weeks. Compare that to the cost of train tickets, then transportation once you get there. If you have lots of distance to cover driving, you need to include the cost of tolls. Staying on the main highways like the A1 are fast, but costly. Add around $300 to the cost of the car.
Another option for covering more of France without driving all over might be to fly into Nice and fly out of Paris or vice versa. If this were the case, you could experience lots going from Nice to Paris or Paris to Nice, but only drive across the country one way. Its called multi-city travel or open jaws. This would really reduce the amount of driving, yet allow off the main road types of experiences. You definitely don’t need a car in Paris, so subtract the amount of time you plan to spend there from your total amount of days of your trip to get how many days you would actually need a car. Day trips from Paris such as Versailles don’t require a car either, but going out to the Normandy beaches does.
Paris at the Beginning or the End?
Personally, after doing it both ways, I enjoy Paris much more at the end of the trip. There’s a lot of tromping around up and down stairs including metro stairs and hotel stairs and museum stairs. All that walking, gawking at art in museums and all those stairs are better after you are used to the time difference and are completely over jet lag. I really appreciate paintings, sculpture, tapestries, etc, but I’m much more able to absorb and understand what I am looking at and why it is so important to history and the world of art when I’m more myself and less busy looking for a place to sit down and take a nap. Also, I have my “sea legs” and am much more used to tons of walking.
How Tightly Should I Plan my Days?
Well, if you’re like me, you can get overwhelmed by a too tightly planned schedule. Typically, Roger and I plan no more than two activities per day. That includes museums/castles/ruins, you name it. We used to plan from dawn till midnight and found that we just got exhausted and didn’t really enjoy what we were seeing. Now, we try to get up at a reasonable time, have breakfast, walk through the local market and then head to our first stop. We have lunch, see another point of interest and either enjoy the fresh air and people watching in a park or go back to the B&B or hotel and put our feet up for a bit. Restaurants in France don’t serve dinner until 7:00pm, so we relax until then. We remind ourselves that, yes, we are in a fabulous place, but it is our vacation and we need to take time to immerse ourselves in its culture and people. Its smart to have at least one day be a vacation from your vacation, where you basically goof off from your itinerary. This kind of leisurely approach allows time for you to sit in a cafe, meet the locals, have a conversation and remember that you are there to soak up France, not check off boxes.
Can France be Done on a Budget?
Definitely, France can be a great experience, even on a budget. Lots depends on your interests. If you love wine and want to discover each region’s best, it will cost you more than if you can get by on tap water, market produce and crepes. Not every meal needs to be five courses, some can come from the local grocery store, Carrefour or Monoprix. Same for shopping, Nice has fabulous stores that are fabulously expensive. Instead bring back interesting souvenirs from museum shops or unique items from local markets. Paris is by far more expensive than any place you’ll visit in France other than Nice or if you head over the border to Monaco. Still, there are ways to save, like buying a Paris Museum Pass at the airport when you first arrive and buying a pack of subway tickets, 10 at a time called Carnet.
You can judge a lot by hotel costs. The minute you drive out of Paris, all your hotels and B&B’s will be cheaper. This time we branched out and stayed on a farm in Normandy. Not only was it less expensive, but the breakfasts were by far the best we ate the entire trip. The serenity of the farm, the large comfy guest rooms and the down home sweetness of our host made it a relaxing and peaceful stay.
The time of year makes a big difference as well. Spring is cheaper than summer, well really, any time is cheaper than summer. October, end of March through April and even May will be less expensive. Those shoulder seasons can mean the weather might not be perfect, but the crowds will be much less. There are trade offs for any season of travel. The south of France will not necessarily be warm enough to swim in the Mediterranean, but Paris will not be miserably hot and it will take less time to visit many of the attractions. And occasionally, you might get a photo or two without tons of other tourists walking through your view. 🙂
The Euro is currently down and the Dollar is up, thus a great time to visit your favorite European destination. France is beautiful, educational, romantic and culturally and historically significant. Consider it for your next European adventure.