Oh how refreshing. A question about travelling to France.
May 2, 2007 1:20 PM   Subscribe

TravelinginFranceFilter: I know there have been loads of questions about France. We're looking for beautiful places in the countryside, great cheap food and reasonable accommodations. I'd love to have the perfect trip that matches my favorite things:

We're spending 18 days in France during June. We're planning around a week in Paris which leaves another 10 days or so for just traveling the countryside.

We're both really into food. I love open air markets. I'm crazy for fruits and vegetables, so places where those are particularly fresh or delicious would be great (I'm sure that's all over France, but there must be some markets that knock you flat).

Also I love cheese. What are some places famous for their cheeses, especially cheeses which, for legal or logistical reasons, are difficult to get anywhere else?

I love cooking, so if anyone has a suggestion of a good place you can stay that has a kitchen -- or even, dare I say it, cooking lessons? -- that would be fantastic.

Speaking of food, I've heard that a lot of dishes are cooked with bacon or lard in France. As a non-pork eater, is there any way for me to make sure that there isn't pig in my food?

My friend is a music lover, both punk/indie and world music, so if there are any towns that are small but known for their music scene, that would be great too.

I'm quite into stuff that is underground, so suggestions of catacombs and caves and other underground areas would be great. We also like hiking so that would be very cool too.

Neither of us is that into wine. Don't worry, I will be drinking it with meals, it's just visiting a vineyard for its own sake does not appeal to me.

Also, we are not planning on renting a car so ideally the place would be accessible by train or other forms of public transportation.

Outside of Paris, we'd like to stick to a budget of $50-60 per person, per day (that is, $100-120 total). Is that at all possible? We care a lot more about the quality of our food than the quality of our room.

Sorry this post is so long, and I realize this is really a bunch of questions (although all of them are really the same question: What should we see and do in France? just made a little more specific). Thanks all!
posted by Deathalicious to Travel & Transportation around France (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Reims, about 144 km from Paris, had a fine open market when I was there several years ago, with a magnificent selection of bries.

But there's no reason to go out of your way to find cheeses and nice markets. Many medium-size towns have 'em.

To save money in rural areas, make a quick tour of the fromageries and boulangeries (cheese shops and bakeries) in the center of the town you're visiting. Stock up on cheeses and baguettes. Then buy fruit at a supermarket. That'll make for a fine lunch at a very modest cost.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:49 PM on May 2, 2007

Response by poster: But there's no reason to go out of your way to find cheeses and nice markets. Many medium-size towns have 'em.

Oh, but I want to go out of my way! I've been living in Cairo now for around 2 months (will have lived there 3 1/2 months when I get to Paris) so tiny towns are exactly what I'm looking for...
posted by Deathalicious at 2:55 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: Underground stuff in Paris - across the square in front of Notre Dame is a little underground museum where you can see the original Roman era foundations of the earliest settlements of the area. It's kinda cool, not a long visit, and the price is included in the Paris Museum Pass. (and if you're doing much museum-going in Paris, you really should get the Pass. You buy it for a certain amount of days, it gets you into just about everything, and you can usually jump ahead in entrance lines with it.)

There's also a Paris Catacombs, though I did not go to it. At some point in the past they relocated all the cemeteries in Paris to make room, so there are these catacombs with piled-up bones. I've seen pictures and it looks very eerie.
posted by dnash at 2:56 PM on May 2, 2007

You'll need this.
posted by Dr.Pill at 3:09 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: My wife and I spent a really enjoyable week driving around the southwest of France. Lots of great underground activity -- the underground river at the Gouffre de Padirac, and of course the magnificent cave paintings -- you can only see a replica of the most famous, Lascaux, but there's another one that's still open to the public; I think it is the one at Les Eyzies. As for food, when you're in the Dordogne, Quercy, and Langedoc, you are in the world capital of foie gras. And, more generally, really fine, hearty country food, lots of duck, lots of prunes, yeah, lots of pig, and lots of cheese.

Lots of beautiful small towns with medieval centers, too. (I believe I remember Sarlat-le-Caneda as being particularly charming.) And if you like mountainous scenery, you're very close to the Pyrenees; the Cirque du Gavarnie is beautiful, and on the way there, you may get to see the cyclists training in the mountains for the Tour de France.

The one warning is that a lot of this area is rural and I'm not sure how easy it would be to get around without a car. So as a second choice, I've always heard that Lyon is the finest gastronomic city of France, and you can get there on the fast train from Paris; no first-hand experience, though.
posted by escabeche at 3:23 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: Roquefort, which in Aveyron, and the Languedoc. Cheese that cannot be imported to America made in caves. Beautiful. Fun. Great food.
posted by dame at 3:32 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: MrCheese!!! has asked a few European cheese questions in the past.

Here's a thirteenth-century castle being built by modern folks.

Here's a special program that lets you rent a brand new car for way less than a rental would cost, for a period between 17 and 160-something days.

Exhaustive, non-commercial French railway resource here.

Final tip: I don't know how good your French is, but I really liked this book when I was there - it's sorted by subject, explains common signs, is well illustrated, has a pretty good menu reader, and is overall a nice mix of dictionary, phrasebook, and travel guide.
posted by mdonley at 5:03 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: Underground: In Paris, see the catacombs and tell me how they were, because it's been closed everytime I've been in Paris. Also go to les égouts de Paris, known in English as the SEWER TOUR. Paris has one of the world's oldest and biggest sewer systems. The tour is a nice walk-around going through tunnels of various ages with lots of historical information (Paris and sewer) and cool engineering and technical feats. You'll enjoy them even if you're not a civil engineering nerd.

Countryside: I can't recommend highly enough les Baux de Provence. If you end up down that end of the country, check out this beautiful plateau and its Roman ruins. It's not a hiking place, but it's outdoors, the ruins are neat, and the wind is so strong you can try to fall forward and be caught at a 45° angle. Very contemplative place. Love it! Not terribly easy to get to by transport, but it's feasible if you want to go.
posted by whatzit at 5:49 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: Spent about 2wks in Normandy last fall (plus a wk in Paris) and we are heading back to Paris in about a week (totally on a whim). This will be our 4th trip to France.

I have always prefered to pick one spot, Aix in the south or Bayeaux in Normandy and then explore around our homebase. If you can rent a gite or hotel with kitchenette I think you will be very happy. We are veggies, so we hit a market town every day and ate a wonderful home cooked meal every night.

We enjoyed Normandy but we really loved Aix-en-Provence area and Avignon. The best levain bread (hell best bread) I ever had was in Avignon in the south. Nice thing about Aix is that it is small city (35,000?) and has an excellent market daily but a bigger second one on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Just took Gourmet Shops of Paris out of the library. Lots of interesting and neat places in it. Not worth buying as it is pretty much a coffee table book. But if you can find it at your local big box book store, sit down and copy the addresses listed in the back.

Whatzit: I loved the catacombs, just wished there was some sort of guided tour for it.

Also feel free to email me, my addy is in my profile.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: By train, from Paris, you are never farther than 6 hours to almost anywhere in France.
In June, I would definitely go South, either in Provence (South-East, by train to Aix-en-Provence) or PĂ©rigord (South West, by train to Brive, PĂ©rigueux or Sarlat). From any of these towns you'll find buses to almost any destination.

I would choose the South-West (I was born there). The valley of the Dordogne River and the valley of the Lot River are wonders with beautiful villages, great food in small restaurants and great places with castles everywhere. You have to see Lascaux at least once in your life, even if only the reproduction can be visited. It's like the first cathedral: it's beautiful and very moving to be there.

Lodging: high season is July-August, so you'll be fine in June.

Cheeses: there are more than 400 cheeses in France and they are made in every region. Try to find the locally produced ones at the local outdoor markets (generally 3 times a week: Tuedsay, Thursday and Saturday). In any small town, ask for a Fromagerie and you'll find great cheeses from all over France.

Music: if you are lucky enough to be in France on June 21st, it's "National Day of music" with non-stop concerts in every town for 24h. I have been there 4 times in different towns and it is a wonderful experience: you have musical groups from classical to folk to rock to rap to jazz all day and all night long, indoors and outdoors. Magical night.
posted by bru at 6:15 PM on May 2, 2007

They may be a little above your price range, depending on where you look and book, but canal boats are a terriffic way of seeing the French countryside. You move along at a steady 4 to 6 kph, and you can often just step off the barge, go for a stroll or shopping in a town you're passing through, and catch up with the boat by fast walking, or taking an overland shortcut between points of a canal bend. Some boats even have bicycles you can grab to go off for your day adventures, and will tell you what time to meet them at pre-arranged points up ahead.

For those not renting cars, it can be a wonderful way of seeing a lot of France, and if you find the right boat, can be fairly reasonable , in terms of cost. I spent 10 days on a boat owned by a husband & wife team, and while it was anything but plush, the accomodations were clean (if very small and simple - one "head" & no bath/shower), and it was one of the best, if not the best vacations I've ever had. Some days I sat on the roof and read most of the day. Other days, I grabbed a bike and my camera, and took off, bringing back wine, bread, and food which the boat master's wife would put into the communal dinner (and she was a phenonmenal simple country cook!).
posted by paulsc at 4:22 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: They may be a little above your price range

...from the website:

4 person US $22,470

Yes, that is definitely above my price range.

I mean, I'm sure there are cheaper trips. In fact, I really don't see how they can possible charge so much. That's almost $500 per person, per night.

Still, a wonderful idea and I will look into cheaper versions of that option.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:25 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone!
posted by Deathalicious at 7:13 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: UPDATE:
What I ended up doing:

We went to Parc Asterix, which was a total riot. I recommend it heartily; if you stay at the hotel there (which is also lovely) make sure the park is open the next day, otherwise there will be no shuttle to take you back to Paris. We ended up having to pay 35euro for a taxi.

The town that I personally enjoyed the most was Pau, which is nestled up in the hills near the Pays Basque. It's near a very cool underground cavern with an exciting train ride leading out of it. The food in Brasserie Le Berry is unbelievably good and cheap. The steak tartare, crudites, fish dishes, and salads are all worth trying twice.

We also went to Perpignan, which was nice but a bit more crowded...from there we went to Collioure which is a lovely beach town with winding passageways and stairs giving you lovely views down onto typical Mediterranean styled houses and of course the stunningly blue sea.

As far as Paris: we bought the museum pass. Our favorite was probably the Picasso museum; it's a must see. We did go to the crypt near the Notre Dame, which I found fascinating (possibly one of my favorite "historic" sites I visited) we made the catacombs, which are a long walk. It's interesting but gets a bit monotonous after a while...you can only pile up bones in so many ways...

Although I should have gone budget instead I totally splurged on food as is my tendency (and yes, I am still paying off my credit card as a result). Everything was pretty delicious.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:39 PM on October 4, 2007

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