Florence, Chambord, and something in between
March 9, 2015 7:15 PM   Subscribe

In late May, I will spend a week with my family in Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice) and then I'm going by myself to the Loire Valley to gawk at castles. Where should I stop for a day or two in between: Nice, Marseille, Lyon?

My family's trip to Italy will be based around Florence (not my first choice, but it's my mom's favorite city in the world). On Sunday 5/24 she has planned a day trip to Venice. On Monday 5/25 they go to Pisa, where they'll stay overnight, and the following morning they fly from Pisa to Seville, where they'll spend the rest of their trip.

I don't have much interest in Spain, but I'm a huge Francophone and I spent two weeks in Paris in 2010 (the only place I've ever been in France), and this year I have my heart set on the Loire Valley because I <3 <3 <3 castles. But where should I go for a day or two (to break up that long train ride from Florence) in between?

It looks like Lyon, Marseille, and Nice are my main options. I like food and could certainly see myself spending $25 on myself for one nice meal in Lyon. I live in a beach town in California, so I'm not sure that Nice's beaches will be that novel to me. Oh, and I won't have a car--I'll be getting around on trains and buses.
posted by wintersonata9 to Travel & Transportation around France (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Other things I like: bookstores, walking, photography, history/art museums, BAKERIES/PASTRIES. Wow, I can't believe I forgot to mention that.

Things I'm not so interested in: partying, guided tours, shopping.

Also, I'm a female 20something of color, if that matters at all, and am college-fluent in French.
posted by wintersonata9 at 7:22 PM on March 9, 2015


I would fly to Paris and spend a couple of days there. But if you're set on the train, how about Geneva? The train trip through the alps would be stunning, and Geneva's french speaking and lovely. (I looked at options on Rome2rio.com - a fantastic way of playing with these options).

Look into renting a bike at the Loire. Great way to see the castles.
posted by kjs4 at 7:24 PM on March 9, 2015


Aix-en-Provence!
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:02 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think Lyon would win for me. The history of film and the architecture (Roman, etc.) would really be fantastic to see. And the gastronomy, of course. A little bit like Paris-lite.

Don't skip Villandry when you're in the Loire. Everyone prioritizes Chenonceau and Chambord, but Villandry is not to be missed.
posted by jph at 8:31 PM on March 9, 2015


Seconding jph's recommendation of Lyon. The métro and trams are fantastic for getting around; there's a Musée des Beaux-Arts right in the centre of the city, and a modern art gallery just outside the core; there's a million péniches on the shores of the river(s) to grab a drink (the shores themselves are nice to stroll down); there are fresh-air markets everyday of the week, and there's no ingredient you can't find at Les Halles.

Lyon is less touristy than Paris, and things happen at a slower pace there. Where you might get overwhelmed trying to see Paris in a day, Lyon doesn't feel like that.

Check out Le Petit Paumé for restaurants and such.
posted by invokeuse at 10:11 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, mon dieu! LYON. I lived in the Loire Valley for a year and I visited Lyon every chance I got. Vieux Lyon is delightful and very walkable; I had [what I still consider to be] the best meal of my life in a Bouchon there. And it was a prix fixe menu, something like 15 euros.

There is a museum of the miniature there if you enjoy tiny things. So many pastries. So many old and rare bookstores. So many Renaissance things. So many silk workshops that've been in business for hundreds of years.

Outside of Vieux Lyon, the metro is one of the cleanest, best-run public transits that I've experienced. In general, like invokeuse says, it is exactly like a less touristy Paris.
posted by witchen at 7:21 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


My husband went to Marseilles for a conference once. He does not ever want to go back there again.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Absolutely Lyon. The Lumiere museum is excellent if you like cinema. The weather will be great in May. Also the food is outstanding. Skip the Riviera if you're used to lovely sand beaches -- it's mostly pebbles.
posted by tractorfeed at 9:28 AM on March 10, 2015


nthing Lyon. Nice is boring. Marseille is quite rough, and though there are definitely sights to be seen and great food, I wouldn't go there as a single young woman, much too stressful. Lyon is rich in culture and food and architecture.
posted by mumimor at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2015


I lived in Orléans for a year and got to do the Loire top to bottom (and I also have lived in California beach towns for the last decade, and you're right). My recommendations of bits and pieces to keep in mind while you're on that end of your trip (of which I'm very envious):

Chambord: is grand, but isolated and huge = will eat up a lot of your time.
Amboise: one of my favorites, plus you get the bonus of Clos Lucé and the old town pressed right up against the castles. Chenonceau is nearby, and it's very hyped but still very engaging if you have time to visit. It hits most Americans right in the we-don't-have-these-at-home.
Azay-le-Rideau: a little off the beaten path for most of the castle tourism hordes, and the castle is a gem.
Orléans: if you happen to pass through, give a stroll down Rue de Bourgogne. French folks tend to talk about Orléans as a big of a dowdy town, but it's got a wonderful old quarter (and is still very much in love with Joan of Arc). Rue de Bourgogne has a big pedestrian stretch and it's managed to survive for hundreds of years without much structural change (plus it's a bit of a food and nightlife strip, very convivial).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:54 AM on March 10, 2015


kjs4 - Thanks for the link to Rome2rio.com! What a fantastic resource.

It looks like I'll be headed to Lyon! Thank you, everyone, for your input.
posted by wintersonata9 at 11:34 AM on March 11, 2015


Friendly follow-up: Lyon was great! As suggested, I flew from Italy to Geneva and then took the TGV from Geneva. It was a tight connection, but friendly passengers on the airport-to-train-station tram helped me out, and the TGV was delayed anyway. It was a lovely train ride and I got to Lyon no problem. I took the metro to my hostel, settled in, and walked around. I wasn't able to make it to the Roman ruins or Fourviere Hill, but had an excellent walk around Vieux Lyon and a classic Lyonnaise dinner (andouilette tripe sausage, salade lyonnaise, and Côtes du Rhône red wine) at a bouchon. Spent the night.

Then I took the train to Blois for a three-day stay. Saw the château there; took a cheap shuttle to visit Chambord and Cheverny; rented a bike to see Chaumont-sur-Loire (which itself was lackluster, but the bike ride along the Loire was magical). Then went to Paris for two nights and am home again. It was over too soon. :)

Thanks again to everyone for your help and advice! I want to go back to see Chenonceau, Amboise, Tours, Villandry, etc etc etc.
posted by wintersonata9 at 6:23 PM on June 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


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