Where would you travel to with extra time in Europe?
April 27, 2023 9:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for ideas for a side trip from Paris in late May. What are your favorite villages, small towns, and character-filled places to walk around, look at pretty. architecture, read, paint, or have a relaxed wander around?

I'll be bumming around Paris for two weeks and might have more time after that before I need to be home in the US. If I still have an empty calendar a few days before I fly home, I may just stay on this side of the Atlantic for 3-7 days. I'm looking for pie in the sky new ideas of somewhere that looks good to go.

Requirements are must be an easy train ride or non-stop flight from Paris and able to book a hotel room or apartment last minute. I'm a very experienced traveler (like 'travel to Uzbekistan alone' experienced) and have already seen most of Western Europe's capitals and Czech Republic, Hungary, and Turkey in the East. I've also spent a lot of time around the UK, Spain, and Scandinavia. I'm not really interested in Germany, Poland, or Portugal right now.

I will have spent a ton of time in Paris museums, though I do love them. I'm not looking to hike or be outdoorsy. Recently I had some time in London and took a side trip to the little town of Rye and it was a nice pace. I'm looking for something like that but a bit larger is fine. So far I'm toying with Morocco, Croatia/Bosnia area, a South or West France, or even a small town in Scandinavia although I've been before and it's a bit expensive (though I love a lot of Scandanavia). Riding a bike around windmills on Ærøskøbing doesn't sound the worst. I speak English and a little Spanish but am not worried about language. Where would you go and why?
posted by Bunglegirl to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Amiens, for wandering around, and markets, and parks, and the amazing cathedral. Not far from Paris. Also Jules Verne's house if you're into that sort of thing, and not museumed-out.
posted by pompomtom at 10:28 PM on April 27, 2023 [3 favorites]

I would take a train to Toulouse, rent a car, and go back and take another cooking class at Gascony Cookery School in a small rural village called Gramont. I spent a week there and it was absolutely one of the most incredible trips I've ever taken.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:30 PM on April 27, 2023

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, and optionally Verdon Gorge, "the Grand Canyon of Europe" has been on my list for a long time. The village is only like 700 residents though, which may be a bit more rustic than you're looking for. It's a train from P to Marseille, then a bus-or-whatever ride into the mountains, maybe an hour. Alternatively: Marseille!
posted by rhizome at 10:30 PM on April 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

In May, I would stay in France, or just cross the border to Italy. Ventimiglia, which is literally just cross the border, is underrated IMO. I'm not a great fan of the Riviera, but Ventimiglia manages to keep its small-town vibe in spite of the tourism.

Staying in France, Bordeaux is on the top of my to do list. I haven't been there yet, so this is more what I would do now.

I been in Provence a lot, and can strongly recommend, specially the towns away from the coast, like Aix-an-Provence, Avignon, Nimes, or smaller places like Draguignan.

Other great smallish places in France are Beaune, and Quimper.
posted by mumimor at 12:12 AM on April 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend french resident Tim Traveller for some ideas - and maybe particularly his recommendation to take the Aubrac line from Béziers to Clairmont Ferand. - in this case, he was heading for Les Cabrils - the least visited station in France - but the line would offer many other potential stopping off points of the sort that might interest you.
posted by rongorongo at 1:39 AM on April 28, 2023

Sarajevo, for cafe culture, hearty food and a fascinating architectural mashup. You'll walk through Soviet, Viennese, and Ottoman influences all within a few blocks. I moved there knowing English, Spanish, plus some pleasantries and food words in the local language and did fine.

You can take a side trip to Mostar if you wish, to see the bridge.
posted by champers at 2:59 AM on April 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Lyon is a short train ride from Paris and has a different (imo preferable) vibe. It makes a good base for exploring the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region. Grenoble and especially Annecy fit your request for picturesque. In the other direction, Normandy and/or Brittany. Mt St Michel lives up to the hype. I remember standing there waiting for the tide, getting kind of bored, and then the tide came in and it was like boom!
posted by basalganglia at 3:24 AM on April 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

Reims and epernay - very fast train from Paris and touring the champagne caves is fascinating!
posted by tardigrade at 3:38 AM on April 28, 2023

I enjoyed my day trip to the cathedral and town of Chartres - - if you plan to be there on a Friday you can walk the labyrinth.
posted by fairmettle at 4:53 AM on April 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Dijon is a lovely small city very close to Paris, with enough museums and other sights to keep you occupied for a couple of mornings. It might be good for 3 days, but definitely not 7. I would pair it with some place else in France, Switzerland, or Germany.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:57 AM on April 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Easy train ride: get yourself to the Euregio (European border region) along the German-Dutch-Belgian borders and explore. Easiest connection from Paris would be to Liège via Brussels.
The Euregio day pass gives you unlimited use of public transport in the areas of Liège (BE), Aachen (DE) and Maastricht (NL), and you get to explore interesting bits of three countries in one go.

Lille is also a quick(er) train ride from Paris. It's more relaxed than the capital, has plenty to keep you occupied, and there are a lot of regional trains to the Côte d'Opale coastal region along the English Channel if you're in the mood to switch to that atmosphere.
posted by pendrift at 6:14 AM on April 28, 2023

I have a few recommendations!

Brittany is sort of its own thing with a culture unique to France (it was its own country for a long time). You could do Brittany and Nantes in this time, including:

Rennes. If you're into food and history this is a great destination. Quaint medieval downtown. The Saturday food markets are the second largest in France and seriously has some of both the best baked goods and best ingredients I've ever tasted. If you want to explore Brittany this is a great gateway city with a lot of connectivity.

Nantes. There's the big castle downtown, Les Machines de l'Ile des Nantes (which has to be seen to be believed) and the Jean Jullien installations at the Botanic Gardens, just for starters. Nantes connects well to both Paris and Rennes.

St. Malo A walled seaside town with some truly excellent crepes. (You will say, "But I've been to Paris - I know crepes!" This is a bit like saying, "I've never been to a bagel bakery in New York or Boston, but I've gotten grocery store bagels, I know bagels!" I assure you, you do NOT know crepes until you've been to St Malo.) It's very scenic, and at high tide the waves crashing against the walls are truly impressive. Not coincidentally, it's also a popular surfing spot.

Quimper Also great for crepes and history. The art museum took my breath away and the history museum was fascinating. The great crepe restaurants are all near La place au Beurre.

Carnac Location of the menhirs, a notable prehistoric site. I've been to Stonehenge. Carnac was in some ways more impressive because it's just kind of there, and also because there is SO MUCH of it.

And if you can rent a car for a day in Rennes I can't recommend Univers du Poète Ferrailleur enough. Photos can't do it justice.

My other recommendation would be Luxembourg. Roman ruins, great wine, lovely landscapes, and the city is fascinating to explore. I have always wanted to explore the casemates, the network of tunnels under the city that date back to 963, but I've never been there when they were open to explore. However, it may be too close to Germany for you.
posted by rednikki at 7:04 AM on April 28, 2023

Consider Collioure. It's not big, but so so pretty! Easy to reach by train (directly from Paris or maybe 1 change), and sufficiently far away from Paris that it feels like a different country (it kind of is, being in Catalonia and all). A beautiful coastline with a background of the Pyrenees.
posted by snusmumrik at 8:59 AM on April 28, 2023

Disclaimer: not an expert on France. I do love medieval cities, and one I’ve longed to visit is the walled city of Carcasonne. Looks like pretty good train connections.
Have fun wherever you go!
posted by dbmcd at 9:55 AM on April 28, 2023

I'm fond of the Quercy - the former French province centered on Cahors. You could fly or take the TGV to Toulouse, rent a car, and explore some of the cities and villages: Cahors itself, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Rocamadour, Marcilhac-sur-Célé, Cajarc. The Peche-Merle caverns, which contain stunning prehistoric cave art, can still be visited (reserve ahead). If you haven't visited Toulouse, there's plenty to do there, too.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:14 PM on April 28, 2023

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