Paris and Beyond?
August 23, 2016 4:39 AM   Subscribe

Husby and I are running the Paris-Versailles on September 25. Where should we go after? Constraints inside.

Home base is Amsterdam, and we'll likely be taking a train to Paris. The race is on a Sunday, and husband has the week off afterwards. We are trying to decide what to do/where to explore that is within a 3- to 4-hour train ride from Paris/Versailles.

We haven't decided yet if we want to leave Amsterdam on Friday night or Saturday to head to Paris, but we do plan to spend (at least) Sunday night in a hotel near Versailles, both for post-race convenience, and because husband, who is a history nut, has never been to the palace. We'll likely do that on Monday after the race.

From then on, our plans are open. We could spend a few days in Paris afterwards, but we've both already been there and would prefer to visit someplace new. Then again, last trip to Paris was 2008 so I'm sure there's plenty new stuff to explore.

We were considering heading to Switzerland to go hiking but I have done no research on that and don't know the first place to start. We've also already been to Brussels.

So, seeking recommendations for either amazing destinations 3 to 4 hours from Paris (in any direction or country), or, specific recommendations for Paris itself. We like funky bars and restaurants, outdoorsy stuff (hiking, paddling, etc), wandering interesting cities and art museums. Thanks!
posted by Brittanie to Travel & Transportation around France (12 answers total)
I imagine you've already done London? If not, could go to London and take advantage of weak pound, and then take the train and the ferry back to Amsterdam (very cheap!)
posted by heavenknows at 4:47 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna be Paris-centric because I just came from there...

* I found a cute restaurant called L'Improbable in a covered courtyard in Paris, which is designed to look like a permanently-parked food truck. They had simple stuff like sandwiches and pastries.

* Giverny the Monet's Garden stuff is a very easy day trip if you haven't ever done that. I know that sounds touristy, and there are some touristy bits about it, but they're easy to dodge, and the town of Giverny itself has some interesting little side streets to wander on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on August 23, 2016

If you're history buffs, why not go up to Normandy, unless you've already been? Otherwise you could try Nord-Pas-de-Calaias - Lille and Arras are both less than an hour away via TGV and utterly charming.
posted by Tamanna at 5:07 AM on August 23, 2016

Welcome to my part of the world! I live an hour's walk from Versailles. There are a lot of neat hikes in the area – it's where the Impressionists lived and painted. A few beautiful day hike ideas in that link (but in French; it's not very well-known outside of France, which is kind of a shame). Also, as a history buff, prepare to want to spend an extra day to revisit Versailles :) I've been there three times already and still haven't seen it all. There is just so much. Nearby is Josephine's castle in Rueil-Malmaison (Château de la Malmaison).

If you're architecture or contemporary art buffs, you would also love La Défense, our business sector. It's filled with all sorts of sculptures, though the Grande Arche itself and one of my favorite sculptures, L'Araignée Rouge, are currently being restored. I come here every day for work and still manage to discover things. (People can critique Pokémon Go all they want, it's shown me a bunch of neat artwork hidden in plain sight.) It's not very outdoorsy as it's all glass and concrete, but it is a doable day trip as there are plenty of little restaurants throughout, and on weekdays we have food trucks at lunch. It's a bit like visiting another world.

History 2 hours from Paris: take the brand new TGV line from Gare de l'Est to Strasbourg! There is so much to do in and around Strasbourg for outdoor lovers. And the food is fantastic. Try baeckeoffe!

There is also Chartres not far from Paris, easily done in a day.

If you like champagne, Reims is also a good little day trip. Book a tasting with your favorite champagne maker.

Out west there's Rouen, a gorgeous little town with quite a lot of history as well. The traditional wood-frame homes are adorable.

In Paris, do be prepared to see visibly armed police, gendarmes, CRS, and army patrols, as well as bag checks everywhere.
posted by fraula at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you like hiking, nature and kayaking you could go check the Verdon Gorge, it's quite beautiful if a little packed during summer. I wouldn't know how to get there by public transport but I'm sure you can get there via train+buses.
posted by SageLeVoid at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nah you can't get to the Verdon by public transportation outside summer months. (Lived nearby before.) It's also MUCH longer than three hours from Paris. It is stunning though.
posted by fraula at 7:32 AM on August 23, 2016

Given your username, consider a trip to Brittany! Rennes is a 2-hour TGV ride from Paris. You could rent a car there and explore along the coastline, or you could change trains and continue on to Quimper or Brest. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, visiting picturesque villages, exploring used bookstores, etc. Here are some photos from my vacation there in 2005.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:34 AM on August 23, 2016

Another possibility: take the train to Lyon (2 hours) and spend a couple days there. The Gallo-Roman museum is alone worth the trip if you like museums, and Lyon is famed for its cuisine. From Lyon, you could also take day trips further south: Provence is an obvious destination, but I'd suggest Le Puy en Velay, in the Auvergne, which is a great walking city with a striking cathedral; it's one of the traditional starting points for the pilgrimage to Compostela.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:42 AM on August 23, 2016

+1 for taking the TGV to Strasbourg and then a bit of exploring the Alsace.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2016

Sancerre is about 3 hours from Paris by train. I went a couple years ago after last visiting in 1999. I liked it in the nineties, when I was a very naïve American teenager--it's the first place I ever had wine--and I loved it as a thirtysomething. Sancerre doesn't have the touristic crush of some of the other wine regions, and it's much more of an outdoors experience than, say, visiting the chateaux. But I mean, yes, wine.

There's a cyclorail (which was more fun than I'd expected), and we did a day-long kayak down the Loire (there are shorter and longer excursions). La Borne is nearby, a village that thrives on pottery cottage industries (I'm underselling it, it's a lovely place and there are a good number of studios that welcome you in), as is the surreal outdoor art gallery installation piece cathédrale de Jean Linard.

Swing back through Orléans to indulge the history buff, since everything imaginable is related back to Jeanne d'Arc and the end of the siege. Plenty of funky bars and such there, especailly along the rue de Bourgogne. You can get back to Paris by train in about an hour from the main train station, which is easy to walk to from anywhere in the city.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:48 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Like EmpressCallipygos I was recently in Paris, so I could give you some Paris-specific recommendations, but it sounds like you want to go somewhere else. One thing I would note that could change your plans, however, is that Versailles is closed on Mondays.

If you do choose to go to Versailles another day - and as a history buff myself it was totally worth going - show up early with a prepurchased ticket. We showed up at 8:30 am with Paris Museum Passes and it took about 10 minutes to get through security. When we left at 1:00 pm the line was at least 3 hours long.

BTW: good luck with your race!
posted by codex99 at 4:03 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Codex makes a good point - I thought I was getting to Versailles "early" at about 10:30 on a Weekday, but the line was still enormous and it still took an hour standing in a line just to get IN.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2016

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