From Paris to Geneva in a week - where to stop?
October 8, 2012 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Where would you go in France if you had a week to get from Paris to Geneva? My husband and I (early 30s) are planning a trip and am not sure how to fill that space or where to go. We would prefer trains to renting a car, and the only restriction is that we'd like to spend a night or two in Annecy.

Things we like = food, wine (especially dry crispy French whites), cheese, outdoorsy adventures, nature, art, music, off the beaten path exploring, nude beaches, and must-see historic and architectural sites. Things we're not really that big on = overdoing it on historic and architectural sites (aka, "chateau fatigue"), overly touristy and expensive areas, areas that are too quiet and/or cater to a mostly middle-aged or older crowd. Any suggestions for routes or activities that could make this a fun-filled and adventurous week?
posted by emily37 to Travel & Transportation around France (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a Google Map of the route. You could do very well spending a few days in Burgundy. Beaune is the big town in the middle of all the wine; Chablis is also a lovely small town to visit. Note that wine tasting in France is not quite the big business it is in the US, but there's certainly plenty to do. The Hospice de Beaune is worth a tourist visit as a break from drinking. And great restaurants all in the area. If you have a car there a large variety of lovely hotel / restaurants in the countryside; by train you'll need to stick to the bigger towns.

I forget how the TGV runs, but if Lyon is on your way it's a fascinating city worth several days visit all on its own. It's got a big university too, so not so stuffy.
posted by Nelson at 6:55 PM on October 8, 2012

Just a thought - we took a side trip from Paris to go to Amsterdam for a couple days. It would be perfect for a 3 day side trip, returning to Paris. The train takes about 3.5 hours each way.
posted by kdern at 6:58 PM on October 8, 2012

Aix-les-bains is quite beautiful. And Lyon is awesome.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:24 PM on October 8, 2012

The trip from Annecy to Chamonix via La Clusaz is - at least in summer - absolutely lovely. There are cattle who wear clarines, little clear-voiced cowbells, all over the hillsides. You go up to a pass called Col des Aravis through a narrowing valley. It is worth stopping at the top (there is, or was, a turn-out). During my drive up there I got lost, as one did in France before navis, and turned up at a village called Argonnex which isn't too far from the Dassault offices. A few hundred souls, a big stone church with a monument to the war dead. Across from the church there was a yard full of curious geese who honked at me. I asked one of the old men who was sitting on a bench in the sun why the monuments said Argonnex when the signs on the highway said Argonay, and he said "Argonnex sounds old and provincial; Argonay sounds modern and the young people prefer it." Shrug. Sigh. There was a lovely inn in Argonay and I ate there. It's a place I would stay, just to look at the shadows of clouds passing over the hillsides.

If you take this drive the useful and interesting side trip is to see the Roman aqueduct just at the edge of Pringy. You -will- be impressed.
posted by jet_silver at 7:52 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

A roughly anti-clockwise approach via Beaune, Lyon and Aix-les-Bains makes a lot of sense, as you get a good set of regional transitions over relatively short distances, all decently served by TGV or regional SNCF. Going further east to Jura (Besançon, Arbois) is another option, then hugging the Swiss border southwards, but that's much more of a driving trip and probably better pencilled in for another time.
posted by holgate at 8:32 PM on October 8, 2012

The obvious answer is Lyon. Fabulous city, and you won't find better food or wine anywhere in France. The Bocuse brasseries (nord, est, and sud, I think they ate called) will let you eat food from a multistarred chef at reasonable prices. Lyon also has a gorgeous renaissance central city and the old silk worker district is also nice.

Dijon would also be directly on the way, but I might skip that in favor of a day or two in Burgundy, a couple days in Lyon, and then Annecy.
posted by ohio at 11:03 PM on October 8, 2012

Mmmmmmmmm.... Lyon. So good. A bite sized Paris, but even better tasting.
posted by rumbles at 12:55 AM on October 9, 2012

I'd overnight in Lyon or spend a couple of days there too. I'd personally avoid Bocuse unless you like paying for the name - he is 86 and representative of quite a traditional style of haute cuisine. There's a good Chowhound discussion here and here and here.

If you want to make your money go further, dine well at lunch not dinner. By all means eat in a bouchon, because it's what Lyon is famous for, but you may find the offal-heavy traditional fare is not to your liking if you don't pick somewhere with a modern twist. Quenelles and andouillette are an acquired taste.

Lyon's metro system is cheap and easy to navigate, so don't worry about staying a little further out and having to go somewhere else to eat. It's generally not too hard to do. I wouldn't plan to go on a Sunday as a lot of places are shut and the centre of Lyon can be a bit of a dead zone although Vieux Lyon is more lively on Sundays. If you like food, make sure you go to Les Halles.

If you want a fun place to drink, then I'd head to the Croix Rousse - the old textile worker's district. If you want a fun night out with simpler fare somewhere atmospheric, you can't beat Les Demoiselles De Rochefort - a Lyon institution. It's exceedingly kitsch but fun.

If you are on a budget or more hipterish, then use the Petit Paume as your guide. It's distributed to students and is produced in Lyon for Lyonnais.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:35 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lyon is definitely fantastic. If for some reason you wanted another option, you have time to go the long way and head over to Alcase and work your way down via Strassbourg, Colmar, Mulhouse, and Besancon. The TGV will get you to Strassbourg from the Gare de l'Est and there are tons of regional trains in the area. Also great food and great wine, although you might have to work a bit harder to find it than in Lyon. On the plus side, maybe a better region for white wine (not that white Burgundy isn't great too). In either case, I always recommend the site Le Fooding for solid food recs in the slightly young bobo French direction, although I could well believe that Lyon has better internal guides.
posted by Schismatic at 6:44 AM on October 9, 2012

I'd never heard of Bourg-en-Bresse before my husband and I spent an afternoon there between trains, but we found that city incredibly charming and accessible and low-key. Downtown is picturesque and well-maintained, with lovely cafes and ancient cobblestone streets and cute schoolkids and a nice church and limited tourists and really nice people who were accepting of my mediocre French, and we even stumbled across a hot pizza vending machine (although I suppose you might find that anywhere). As our train time neared, we realized we had wandered too far from the station, so a marvelous French woman rushed us back there in her truly ancient Fiat.

So yeah, shoutout to Bourg-en-Bresse. There's not a lot of tourist appeal compared with other French cities, but it was a really nice place to be in.

Another fun thing: get a map and a local bus schedule (and be prepared to walk) and go visit villages around a city. We did this in the Belfort environs, but I imagine the experience might be similar around a lot of small cities. There's plenty of nice food and wine to be had in small towns, and the people you meet will tend to be very welcoming.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:51 AM on October 9, 2012

I have not been to Lyon. But both Lyon and Dijon are on the way and make for good stopover. If you are going to be driving - there are many interesting villages, wineries, hikes, monasteries et al - both between Paris and Dijon and around Lyon. Boujolais and Cote du Rhone villages will be nearer from Lyon, the Burgundian villages will be nearer from Beune or Dijon (Beune itself is a short train ride from Dijon and much closer to wineries and hikes than either Dijon or Lyon).

Since you are into dry, crispy wine - Chablis is very close to Dijon. I found Dijon to be very atmospheric, walkable and friendly. It has a large university population. On the other hand, there was a good amount of construction activities going on near the town center last month for building the tram lines. That's something to keep in mind.

Lyon is a bigger city and has more in-city sights than Dijon. It is supposed to be the food capital of France.

There are several beautiful villages and smaller towns in the area that you can base yourselves in - if you dont mind driving around (as some others in this thread suggested). But they may be too quiet at night (if that doesn't appeal to you)!
posted by justlooking at 7:20 AM on October 9, 2012

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