Paris to Sauternes and back
April 2, 2012 2:36 PM   Subscribe

I have to be in Paris for an academic conference on May 31 to June 1st. On June 2nd, there's a marathon in Sauternes, which appears to be about 6-7 hours south-west of Paris by car. My question is (1) having never been to France, and never traveled around Europe except by train and since college, can I get from Paris to Sauternes in time to run the race at 8:30am the next morning realistically? And (2) can you help me logistically plan this ahead of time so that it minimizes risk of getting lost, missing the race, and spending a lot of money? I will be flying out of Paris, fyi, and haven't booked any flights yet.
posted by scunning to Travel & Transportation around Sauternes, France (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite indicates you can travel by train from Paris to Langon via Bordeaux, on June 1st at either 3:18pm or 5:25pm. This brings you to Langon, the small town next to the race, within 4-5 hours travel. I would advise booking your train ticket at the first train station you meet when you arrive in Paris (any will do, including the one at the airport).

No chance to make it on June 2nd itself, of course.

The race's web site suggests accommodation in the area. You probably want to speak some French in that area, I wouldn't trust this rural area to be easy on foreigners.
posted by knz at 3:12 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have time to travel on the day before the marathon? I would take the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux, then rent a car and drive to Sauternes. It'll be faster and less stressful than driving the whole way, particularly avoiding driving near Paris. A quick search shows several TGV options in the 3-4 hour range. I'd rent a car but you can probably take a second train from Bordeaux to somewhere near Sauternes like Langon or maybe even get off the TGV one stop before Bordeaux to be closer. But then it's a question of where you're staying and what ground transportation you need.

If I were doing this I'd buy the TGV ticket online and book a car rental and hotel in advance. Be certain the car rental place is open when you arrive; many city offices are only open a few hours a day.
posted by Nelson at 3:12 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would actually go with Nelson's advice and rent a car in Bordeaux. Moving around in a small town in the evening is a nightmare, and the accommodation you will find may not be within walking distance of Langon's train station.
posted by knz at 3:14 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone. I'm in a talk right now but will be looking at the links and advice given. I am very appreciative. I had some general questions quickly though. With regards to language issues. I have never autonomously gone off the beaten path in another country. What are some issues I need to know were I to do the car option from Paris to the race site? Assume I'm even more ignorant about internatIonal travel than you think is possible in 2012. Issues with getting lost, accidents, not speaking french, etc. what are the most likely risks and how do I manage that beSt? I like the idea of renting a car. I would need to plan the route ahead of time. What would you probably do? Thanks so much everyone.
posted by scunning at 4:46 PM on April 2, 2012

With regards to my pre race schedule. I don't know my schedule yet -- I know the lineup but not the times. What is the last possible hour I could make this trip, though? (just trying to figure our my constraints).
posted by scunning at 4:48 PM on April 2, 2012

Is flying to Bordeaux an option?
posted by kettleoffish at 5:21 PM on April 2, 2012

I've driven around extensively in France as a tourist and seldom find navigating difficult outside of big city traffic. It helps a lot to have a good map and ideally some sort of driving directions / smartphone GPS guidance. I've mostly done it with another person in the car, though, which makes a big difference in workload. You can get by without French, particularly in a big city like Bordeaux, but it takes a bit of patience.

If I were doing this trip I'd take the earliest train I could to get to Bordeaux on the day before the run, both to give myself time and to be sure I could get the rental car before the office closes and then get to a hotel before evening. I would want to be in Bordeaux by 4pm at the latest. Then I'd head out of Bordeaux to a decent hotel with a restaurant nearby. I don't know the region but looking at the map Langon would be a good bet. Alternately, it'd be totally utilitarian but there's probably some sort of motel near the A62 autoroute, like a Formule 1 or the like, where you could find a cheap no-stress place to sleep for the night that's near the start of the marathon.

You sound pretty anxious about doing this on your own. (Reasonably so; it's a moderately challenging journey given the time deadline.) Have you considered contacting the local marathon organizers for some help? Folks are pretty friendly in the French countryside, particularly around Bordeaux. Maybe if you reach out they could find someone who'd help you find your way, a place to stay, etc. Or maybe you could find someone else in Paris who wants to go and share the trip.
posted by Nelson at 5:39 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Getting lost: Get yourself on GPS here! You can get a Europe card for a US-purchased Garmin/Tomtom, or get yourself data/G3/etc service for your iPhone or Kindle or other device. GPS can also be rented with a car.

Language: Learn "bonjour" and use it when you approach anyone. Then struggle. Plenty of people speak English, and a lot speak just a little bit of English. Everyone enjoys charades.

Transportation: Don't even buy your ticket at the first train station, buy it online, now, to save money. The train company's website ( is easy to use; you can get a confirmation number to print the tickets on arrival, just like going to the airport.

But if you choose to go by car, know that almost all cars here (including rentals) are MANUALS. Automatic cars are hard to come by and will often cost more as a rental because they are bigger or fancier cars. More, don't rent a car IN Paris. Find an agency at the end of the metro or out in the suburbs and leave from there to save money, time, and headache. Advice of renting in Bordeaux is good.

(I live in Paris.)
posted by whatzit at 3:13 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whatzit makes an important point: it's hard and expensive to rent an automatic car in France.

When I go to Bordeaux and need to rent a car, I get it at the Avis agency at Bordeaux St. Jean (the main train station in Bordeaux). It's right there, and it's easy to get to the rocade (ring road) around Bordeaux. Except Sundays and holidays, it has excellent opening hours.

Driving in France is easy once you realize that navigation aids emphasize your destination, not the road. The signs will point you toward your destination (or initially, the closest large town). Google Maps directions now include the signposted direction as well as the road. You could also use for directions.

However, if I were doing that trip, and I could leave Paris in the early afternoon on June 1, I would take the train to Bordeaux and then change for the train to Langon. You can buy your tickets online at; just be sure to print them out, because to get them in a station, you need a credit card with a chip and pin, or you'll have to wait in line at the counter, which can take quite a while.

I'd arrange for a taxi to meet me and take me to the lodging I had pre-booked. This place is a mile or so from the start of the marathon, which would be a nice warm-up walk. They don't have many rooms, though, so they may be booked. You could also find a hotel in Langon and arrange for a taxi to the start of the race, though it might be a little steep to get a cab that early (you would need to pick up your race number--dossard--between 7 and 8 a.m.).

It's worth writing the tourist office to ask what they recommend and whether there will is a bus, or any kind of shuttle, from Langon to the race start. If there is, your trip will suddenly become much simpler.

Note that according to the rules, you need a doctor's note, dated within a year of the race, certifying that you are in good health to participate in a running competition.

The wine region of the Gironde gets scads of tourists, and English is very widely spoken. Learn a few words and phrases (hello, goodbye, sorry, excuse me, numbers from 1 to 100, and "I don't speak French. Do you speak English?"). The BBC has a good starter site for French.

Good luck, and have fun!
posted by brianogilvie at 4:44 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Im going to be in Biarritz that weekend and wanted to do this marathon, but my running buddy pulled out. You still planning on doing it?

If I were you, I would definitely take the TGV or plane. Its a long long drive, and probably as expensive with tolls etc..
posted by marcthomas at 7:49 AM on May 10, 2012

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