Please help me plan my France trip this summer. Details inside.
January 5, 2014 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Yes, it's another France itinerary question. My husband and I are traveling to France this summer (late June) and I need some itinerary advice. I am trying to figure out how to fill four days of travel between leaving Annecy and arriving in Paris. On Day One, we check out of our hotel in Annecy. On Day Five, we have to take a train or drive from wherever we are and arrive in Paris by the afternoon. So, we have four full days of itinerary to fill. Specifics inside...

Here's what we know we'd like to do:

- Visit the Pont du Gard
- Outdoorsy activity on the Gorges du Verdon
- Wine activity involving Cotes du Rhone or Chateauneuf de Pape
- Scenic but not difficult bike riding
- Mindblowing food

Bonuses: Cheese caves (or some sort of excellent cheese tasting experience), Roman ruins, topless or nude beaches.

Given the above, are there any specific itineraries you would suggest? We like to keep it moving (the week leading up to this week will be quite leisurely) but don't want to move at a totally breakneck pace. We are open to driving, taking trains, or a combo of both. We would like to rent a car for a bit so we can do some country driving and exploring.

Thank you in advance!
posted by emily37 to Travel & Transportation around France (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you are going to Pont du Gare and like roman ruins, it's worth checking out Nimes (about 30 mins away) and Arles (a little further) as both have impressive ruins/restored ruins. In that area we found through the 1990s that most of the beaches were mainly topless but I guess that might have changed now.
posted by kadia_a at 11:01 PM on January 5, 2014

Another vote for Nimes - or, since I know it well, Montpellier - as a base. To cover off all your points efficiently you are going to need to hire a car. Montpellier is a very old university town that has a lively, go-ahead feel to it. You will have few problems tracking down great food and wine - either in it or anywhere around.

The distances you would need to cover by car to fit in all your destinations could be quite large. A trip to the gorges, to the Gorges du Verdon, to Chateauneuf de Pape and to the Pont du Gard would take you on a (long) day trip to the East. Other attractions - such as the cheese caves at Roquefort, would necessitate a trip out to the West (and could also encompass places such as Carcasonne or the castle at Peyrepetuse). If I were you I would think carefully before contemplating more than one such long day trip. At the end of your stay Paris can be reached in about 3.5 hours by TGV.

Some other specific places I recommend if you choose Montpellier as a base: an ascent of Pic St Loup, lunch and a swim in Roquebrun - maybe together with the beautiful Gorges d'Heric. A train ride to Sete. A bike ride out from Montpellier to the cathedral on the isle of Maguelone - and then to the nearby low-key nudist beach.
posted by rongorongo at 5:56 AM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Orange will be in reach, with its Roman theater and triumphal arch, for more Roman stuff. If you're in a car, could be done comfortably in the same day as Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Vaison-la-Romaine is off the autoroute a bit, but has a nice excavated Roman neighborhood in the middle of town, with an adjoining museum.

At Beaucaire, there's a winery at Mas de Tourelles that makes wine based on ancient Roman recipes. And on the old Via Domitia as well. Interested in wine? Roman heritage? It's a two-fer.

The previous two pretty much require a car.

Note that the first three of your five bullet points fill up a good chunk of the time you want to fill. Pont du Gard can be done in a morning, then you could spend the rest of the day exploring Nîmes.

Oh, and a fun small item to look for in Nîmes--tucked away in a regular neighborhood you can find the 'castellum', the end point of the aqueduct that the Pont du Gard was part of, and see the holes for the water pipe outlets.
posted by gimonca at 6:39 AM on January 6, 2014

You will want to stay in Dijon!

I can't recommend it enough.

The Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy is a great site and the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Dijon is fabulous.

Plenty of cute places to stay in town and the food was AMAZING!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:00 AM on January 6, 2014

Seconding the opinion that you've got a lot planned here. Annecy is not particularly near the Pont du Gard, as I'm sure you know. It sounds like from your trip you really want to see the Rhone, and not Burgundy which is on the straight line from Annecy to Paris. Definitely focus on one or the other; me, I'd drive down to the Rhone and the last day, drop the car off in Avignon or somesuch and take the TGV.

Near the Pont du Gard, I once had a lovely hotel stay at La Vieux Castillon. It's a short drive to the bridge. Amazing hotel, good restaurant, neat old town.

Valence and Avignon are both pleasant towns to spend a night in. I wouldn't plan a special trip just to see either, but if you're nearby and need a hotel and restaurant, they are good.

For mind blowing food, do you have a budget in mind? A general guide is to get a Michelin Guide Rouge and go to places with 3+ forks and/or 1-2 stars. If you want to go amazing + seriously old school, Paul Bocuse' Auberge du Pont de Collonges near Lyons is still excellent, at least based on a visit a couple of years ago. Serious food snobs may rightly consider it a bit dated, but Bocuse is a fucking legend and he's got two executive chefs working very hard for him now. Another restaurant worth a special trip is Restaurant Pic in Valence. Or at least it was a few years ago, and its reputation is still good last I heard.

If you're nearby, Les Baux de Provence is a good tourist stop.
posted by Nelson at 7:06 AM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

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