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The Back Room => The Diner => Topic started by: XB-70 Valkyrie on February 22, 2019, 05:11:31 PM

Title: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on February 22, 2019, 05:11:31 PM
Despite all of our other European travels, my wife and I have never been in France, but I think this is the year to go. Living on the west coast of the U.S. makes a trip to Europe a big undertaking due to expense, time, etc, but at this point in our lives, we want to try every other year. We are trying to keep expense down and will likely stay in AirBNBs, as the prices are often dramatically less than hotels (esp in Paris). Our friend who just returned did this and was extremely pleased with the value for the money as compared to hotels. We also love food and wine, and will likely try a few of the more expensive/renowned places, but we generally want to keep this cost down as well--easy to do I'm told as all the food, including cheap bread, cheese, crepes, are excellent. I am trying to avoid renting a car. We drove around Ireland for three weeks in 2017, and it was great, but not driving also appeals to me (partly because I live in the HELL A area, and am completely sick of the driving and every other facet of life here)

We plan to spend a bit over a week in Paris--maybe 9 or 10 nights to give us a little time to settle in and soak up the local culture before hitting the obvious tourist sites. We are adventurous and generally prefer to see things ourselves as opposed to going on tours--however, a tour here and there can certainly be helpful in avoiding driving and obtaining some good knowledge. We would likely take a tour to Versailles, Giverny (Monet's garden), and Champagne. In Paris itself, we of course want to see the Louvre, Musée D'Orsay, Pompidou Centre, Nortre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Saint-Sulpice, and any other church with an interesting organ recital on offer. I also want to trace some of Atget's footsteps and look at some of the other gardens and locales he photographed: St. Cloud, Sceaux, Luxembourg Gardens, etc. As in other European cities, I realize that a museum pass can save countless hours standing in line.

We could go on to Lyon or any other cities, but after a week or more in Paris (or any other big city), I get tired of crowds, bus fumes, cigarette smoke, etc. I am a nature lover at heart in any case. We think it would be great to visit Alsace, the Alps, Rhone, etc., but I am most attracted to Brittany. This is due to the scenery, coastline, seafood, and Celtic culture. We will likely stay in Cancale for 4-5 days, and go over to Mont Saint Michel. We also want to see some of Normandy, but will steer clear of the dates of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day (would like to see the cemetery and memorial however).

Aside from that, I am interested in any advice. In Brittany, we would like to see as much of the coastline as possible and soak up as much of the local color and food as possible. Where else would be good towns (prefer to avoid big cities) in Brittany to stay for a few nights?

How is driving in France? Driving in Ireland was not too bad despite driving on the left side, the extreme narrowness of some roads, and the very expensive rental rates. I am guessing nothing can beat renting a car for independence and being able to see as much as possible. (but then again, I hate and detest rental car agencies, but the ones in the U.S are far worse from my experience!)

The other issue is WHEN to go--We basically have from mid-May to mid-August, and I suppose there will not be a huge difference in tourist density within this time span. We have read plenty of articles that advise that everything is closed in August (due to vacations); but then again, we have known people who went in August who said that is complete and total BS--confused about this! 

Any other advice on Paris, Brittany, and Normandy would be appreciated.
(and yes, I do plan to learn some French--just as I learned Russian, Italian, German, and even Norwegian for other trips)
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: JBS on February 22, 2019, 05:18:52 PM
I have spent a total of three hours in France, all of it in Charles DeGaulle Airport, so I have no real info to give.  But everytime I considered a trip there, I was always attracted by the river cruises between Paris and Normandy. At least some of them stopped at Giverny, so that would help tick off one item on your list.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on February 22, 2019, 05:21:43 PM
I have spent a total of three hours in France, all of it in Charles DeGaulle Airport, so I have no real info to give.  But everytime I considered a trip there, I was always attracted by the river cruises between Paris and Normandy. At least some of them stopped at Giverny, so that would help tick off one item on your list.

Thanks. I have heard from many travelers that CDG is the absolute worst--but compared to what? Try coming to LAX sometime and making a connection to another airline in another terminal--an absolute zoo of the very worst kind.

River cruises do look tempting, but we are very independent and probably would not want to do more than a few days. One of my friends who did one informed that all of the rates you see in the brochures are the sucker sticker; they reel you in and then charge you triple--suckers!!!
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: André on February 22, 2019, 05:57:22 PM
From what you write, you will be traveling in the northern half of the country. Champagne and Alsace are truly unique areas with very distinct cachet, but they are in the opposite direction from Normandy and Brittany. Champagne is easily doable in 3-4 days max. Alsace: you won’t regret spending a whole week there.

Although my ancestors came from Brittany 3 generations ago (my last name is pure breton), I have not traveled the region - yet  :D. The only real tourist spots every visitor go to are the Mont Saint Michel and the Carnac menhirs (France’s Stonehenge). They are at opposite ends of Brittany (north and south respectively). Traveling to Brittany will take a week if you go from one end (Mont Saint Michel)  to the other (the Guérande salt pans) and don’t stint on touring local attractions.

I hope you realize how much time this all entails. Despite much shorter distances, traveling Europe takes a lot more time than North America. Make sure you do your homework 📚 before taking the road  :D. The best the country offers is often found in small villages. There are books about the french villages. Worth making some detours !

(https://cdn.artphotolimited.com/images/58bd704f04799b000f623d31/1000x1000/les-marais-salants-de-guerande.jpg)
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: mc ukrneal on February 22, 2019, 05:58:16 PM
Oh Boy. I'll tell you what I think, but you (and others) may have different ideas.

Time of year: May/June would be my choice. It's always crowded, but I prefer the weather at this time. Still cool (ish) at night and nice during the day. Hotels/rooms do not always have A/C so check on that (if it's important to you). Though it can be cooler in the northern regions.  August can be nice, but some places (particularly family run places and such) can be closed. It's not as bad as it used to be and still way more activity compared to winter months (for example). It will be more noticeable outside of Paris.

Driving: I've done it several times with no problem (having lived and driven in big cities all my life). Once you get used to it, it shouldn't be a problem. Directions are not always clear (to be nice about it), so good to have studied the roads a bit before you go. You'll get lost, but you probably already know that. And sometimes, those are the most memorable bits. But you don't need a car in Paris at all.

Paris - I never loved Versailles. Don't get me wrong it's amazing, but it's a lot of walking and sometimes waiting on lines (buy in advance here for sure). The problem is that half the world wants to see it and everything is filled with people despite its enormous size.  I much preferred Chantilly or Fountainebleu for example. There are many day trip possibilities here. Pretty much all of them are good. I think 4-5 days in the city itself is enough to hit most of the key spots. Keep in mind that lines for security checks can be huge! We skipped Notre Dame last time, because the line wrapped around the whole square. Yet, there will be small miracles as well, as St. Chapelle was virtually enpty just an hour before. You get lucky sometimes. Just don't be surprised and be ready with alternatives (for weather changes too). Make sure to book a ticket to Eiffel Tower in advance. That line can be hours. I kid you not. I actually thought the Notre Dame visit to the roof was tons of fun. And going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe was surprisingly fun too. Don't miss the Rodin museum if you like sculpture. Very manageable in size too. There is so much to see, so just depends on your interest. The Opera (the old one) is just a brilliant visit, either for a concert or on a tour.

Alsace is awesome. Lots of beautiful little towns, wineries, castles, etc. It's a brilliant place, but then so is pretty much anywhere you listed. Loire Valley is fun too - one of my favorite places with some amazing castles and gardens if you like that. Outside Paris, Alsace and Loire are our favorites.

I'll leave others to talk about Brittany/Normandy as I was last there quite a while ago. You'll have fun no matter what you do.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on February 22, 2019, 06:16:35 PM
From what you write, you will be traveling in the northern half of the country. Champagne and Alsace are truly unique areas with very distinct cachet, but they are in the opposite direction from Normandy and Brittany. Champagne is easily doable in 3-4 days max. Alsace: you won’t regret spending a whole week there.

Although my ancestors came from Brittany 3 generations ago (my last name is pure breton), I have not traveled the region - yet  :D. The only real tourist spots every visitor go to are the Mont Saint Michel and the Carnac menhirs (France’s Stonehenge). They are at opposite ends of Brittany (north and south respectively). Traveling to Brittany will take a week if you go from one end (Mont Saint Michel)  to the other (the Guérande salt pans) and don’t stint on touring local attractions.

I hope you realize how much time this all entails. Despite much shorter distances, traveling Europe takes a lot more time than North America. Make sure you do your homework 📚 before taking the road  :D. The best the country offers is often found in small villages. There are books about the french villages. Worth making some detours !

(https://cdn.artphotolimited.com/images/58bd704f04799b000f623d31/1000x1000/les-marais-salants-de-guerande.jpg)

Thanks very much, sounds great, especially the Carnac menhirs. I am fascinated with stone circles and the earlier portal and passage tombs. In Ireland we saw Newgrange, the Kenmare Stone Circle, and the Poulnabrone Dolmen--all of which were fascinating and have a very special aura (I'm not into mysticism or religion, but there is a certain feeling there). As for detours, we always leave extra time. I'd rather soak up the culture than run around like crazy trying to check off boxes.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on February 22, 2019, 06:30:51 PM
Oh Boy. I'll tell you what I think, but you (and others) may have different ideas.

Time of year: May/June would be my choice. It's always crowded, but I prefer the weather at this time. Still cool (ish) at night and nice during the day. Hotels/rooms do not always have A/C so check on that (if it's important to you). Though it can be cooler in the northern regions.  August can be nice, but some places (particularly family run places and such) can be closed. It's not as bad as it used to be and still way more activity compared to winter months (for example). It will be more noticeable outside of Paris.

Driving: I've done it several times with no problem (having lived and driven in big cities all my life). Once you get used to it, it shouldn't be a problem. Directions are not always clear (to be nice about it), so good to have studied the roads a bit before you go. You'll get lost, but you probably already know that. And sometimes, those are the most memorable bits. But you don't need a car in Paris at all.

Paris - I never loved Versailles. Don't get me wrong it's amazing, but it's a lot of walking and sometimes waiting on lines (buy in advance here for sure). The problem is that half the world wants to see it and everything is filled with people despite its enormous size.  I much preferred Chantilly or Fountainebleu for example. There are many day trip possibilities here. Pretty much all of them are good. I think 4-5 days in the city itself is enough to hit most of the key spots. Keep in mind that lines for security checks can be huge! We skipped Notre Dame last time, because the line wrapped around the whole square. Yet, there will be small miracles as well, as St. Chapelle was virtually enpty just an hour before. You get lucky sometimes. Just don't be surprised and be ready with alternatives (for weather changes too). Make sure to book a ticket to Eiffel Tower in advance. That line can be hours. I kid you not. I actually thought the Notre Dame visit to the roof was tons of fun. And going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe was surprisingly fun too. Don't miss the Rodin museum if you like sculpture. Very manageable in size too. There is so much to see, so just depends on your interest. The Opera (the old one) is just a brilliant visit, either for a concert or on a tour.

Alsace is awesome. Lots of beautiful little towns, wineries, castles, etc. It's a brilliant place, but then so is pretty much anywhere you listed. Loire Valley is fun too - one of my favorite places with some amazing castles and gardens if you like that. Outside Paris, Alsace and Loire are our favorites.

I'll leave others to talk about Brittany/Normandy as I was last there quite a while ago. You'll have fun no matter what you do.

Thanks! Loire was on our list too, maybe journey through there between Brittany and Paris--but we only have so much time and money for this trip. As for Versailles, I would not mind skipping it--I am kind of ambivalent. It would be great to see, but as you said, the lines and crowds get really old really fast for me. I don't have a really big appetite for royal residences either. We saw Peterhof in St. Petersburg and it was very interesting (not overly crowded), but, really the highlight of that trip was the Hermitage and the trip to Novgorod to see the old churches and the Museum of Wooden Architecture.

As for driving, I would never do it in any large European city! We did not have a car in Dublin but did fine as pedestrians. I got lost briefly in Kilkenny, but we arrived early and only planned on maybe 200 km per day at most between towns. I read about people who get off the plane after a transatlantic flight, then hop into a rental car-crazy!! I need to get to my hotel, take a brief nap (not too long to adjust to local time zone), a shower and relax. We got horribly lost in Ennis at night, but fortunately, we met a couple nice young people who drove ahead of us to show us the way back to our B&B. I think it would be much more relaxing to just do trains, cabs, and walking--very tempted to skip the car. We will never see everything in any case. Not to pick on Europe, I dread and avoid driving in downtown HELL A, and only go down there for jury duty! Would never think of driving in Chicago, NY, although I was fine in Toronto and living in Vancouver for four years.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Jo498 on February 23, 2019, 12:53:24 AM
Driving in Paris must be a nightmare and it is also unnecessary because of the Metro. But driving in the "country" in France is rather unproblematic in my limited experience.

I also recall Versailles as impressive but somewhat boring (although it's been a long time, I was in Paris in 1992 and 2000 and the second time not to Versailles, I think). With the big museums one needs a little luck to avoid long queues and it is often helpful to go "unusual" hours. Unfortunately, they are usually worth the wait. But make sure to walk around in Paris, the smalle parks and the two famous cemeteries (Montparnasse and Pere Lachaise) and generally the atmosphere of the city.
The only other French region I am somewhat familiar with is Alsace which is nice (and the Unterlinden Museum with the famous Altar great) but it is somewhat of a mix between France and Germany culturally (and could at another occasion be visited from South/West Germany or Switzerland), so I'd rather go to Brittany or the Loire castles or whatever that is more quintessentially France.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Papy Oli on February 23, 2019, 01:14:21 AM
If you are planning to stay in Cancale, you are near the heart of the touristic area of the northern Brittany coast with many key sites to visit nearby :

* Saint Malo (rebuilt town with superb remparts walk, big harbour)
* Dinard - posh residential seaside town (point of note : balade du Clair de Lune, along the beach/coast)
* Usine Marémotrice de la Rance (Electricity-generating dam), linking Dinard and Saint Malo
* Dinan - old beam houses, very quaint, nice creperies, small lovery harbour, the steep Jerzoual street towards the harbour needs to be descended and re-climbed. The bakery had the bottom will offer strength building local patisseries before the return ascent  >:D
* Cap Frehel - rugged coastal view point with lighthouses

Brittany have been heavily advertising in the medias in recent years and the touristic levels have surged in the last few years (even more popular than it was before). My parents retired to this area 6-7 years ago and they avoid Saint Malo in the summer at all cost  ;D...but it does need to be done if you are there. Grin and bear it  :laugh:

Slightly further west from Dinard, I can recommend some much smaller and calmer coastal towns and villages with lots of cachet and more relaxing beach/coastal walks. From east to west : Saint Lunaire, Saint Briac, Lancieux, Saint Jacut de la Mer, Saint Cast, Sables d'Or, Erquy, Pleneuf Val Andre.

There is a trekking path called GR34 that goes all around the britttany coast, and therefore along the coastal towns listed above. Wherever you pick that GR34 from, you will enjoy that stunning bit of France.

if you stretch your trip to Alsace, you can get a real feel for the place and its character in a very small perimeter : Colmar - Riquewihr - Hunawhir - Ribeauville - Castle of the Haut Koenigsbourg...and all the small villages around that area.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Mandryka on February 23, 2019, 01:48:26 AM


Any other advice on Paris,


Paris in August may be stifling. If it were me planning this trip, I would try to avoid July and August.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Biffo on February 23, 2019, 02:00:38 AM
I have a lot of experience of Brittany and Normandy and could recommend either though you seem drawn to Brittany.

Starting with Mont St Michel - I don't want to seem negative as I have been several times but it is busy all year round and from May onwards it is heaving with tourists. It is a spectacular building with amazing views from the top but beware - according to the official guide only 30% of visitors make it to the top. It a fairly steep climb up a winding path that is largely steps.

There is so much to see in Brittany it is difficult to know where to start, perhaps you should get a guide book and choose a few places in advance. On my first visits to Brittany I stayed fairly near to Cancale and visited it several times. Within reasonable driving distance there is St Malo, Dinan, Dinard (already mentioned), Dol with its ancient cathedral and Fougeres with a magnificent castle but more or a drive. Scenically, western and southern Brittany are more beautiful than the area around the Bay of St Michel which is rather flat.

If you get chance, on your way out of Paris to Normandy/Brittany you should visit Chartres Cathedral.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: ritter on February 23, 2019, 02:18:21 AM
I concur with the opinions above: do try May or June, and avoid July and August.

If in Brittany, a night or two on Belle-Île-en-Mer is well worth it. It’s on the West coast, just off the Quiberon peninsula, not far from Nantes. The little port town of Vannes is also close by, and is delightful.

Belle-Île:
(https://www.tourismebretagne.com/app/uploads/crt-bretagne/2018/10/0-port-de-le-palais-belle-le-en-mer-yvon-bolle-640x160-crop-1541434308.jpg)
(https://www.tourismebretagne.com/app/uploads/crt-bretagne/2018/10/belle-ile-en-mer-aiguilles-de-port-coton-yvon-bolle-640x360.jpg)

Vannes:
(https://www.tourismebretagne.com/app/uploads/crt-bretagne/2018/11/vannes-2-640x160-crop-1542189068.jpg)

My prime recommendation for provincial France is quite the opposite from Brittany, though: the Provence. Town after town of sheer beauty (Avignon, Nîmes, Arles, Orange, Uzès, Saint-Rémy, Les Baux, Aix-en-Provence, Cassis—next to Marseille, the Pont du Gard, the Camargue marshlands...), with all the Roman heritage, and breathtaking landscapes... :).

Have fun!
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Florestan on February 23, 2019, 03:01:11 AM
My prime recommendation for provincial France is quite the opposite from Brittany, though: the Provence. Town after town of sheer beauty (Avignon, Nîmes, Arles, Orange, Uzès, Saint-Rémy, Les Baux, Aix-en-Provence, Cassis—next to Marseille, the Pont du Gard, the Camargue marshlands...), with all the Roman heritage, and breathtaking landscapes... :).

Seconded wholeheartedly. Nice (the city, that is) as well, and from there you can take the train to Monaco / Monte-Carlo, or even fjurther West to San Remo in Italy. Worth a day.

Also the mountainous areas around Grenoble (Isere Department) and Chambery (Savoie Department) are superb. They shoud greatly appeal to a nature lover. Plus you get Annecy (Haute-Savoie Department), one of the loveliest towns I've ever seen.

(https://www.edeis-gestion.com/administration/Fichiers/pages/054902093545annecy-canals-photos-france-10.jpg)

In Northern France the Loire Valley and its castles, centered around Balzac's native city of Tours, are marvelous.

I have seen Saint-Malo and Mont Saint-Michel and second the options.

Paris is very nice but overcrowded. Very good public transportation makes a car useless.

In Southern France there also the beautiful region around Toulouse, including the splendid Carcassone, one of the two Europe's medieval fortressses still inhabited  (the other one being Sighișoara, Romania).

(http://vinenvacances.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Carcasonne-round.jpg)

 Further south you get to the Occitan region (Perpignan, Montpellier, Beziers, Cap d'Agde) which is also very nice.

Actually, the whole France is wonderful and you can't go wrong with any region, but if you like natural scenery the Alps and the South are first options in my opinion (which is based on almost two years of uninterruptedly living in, and visting, France --- my headquarter was in Grenoble).

Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Mandryka on February 23, 2019, 03:49:28 AM

Any other advice on Paris, Brittany, and Normandy would be appreciated.


Think about Arcachon and Île de Ré. And inland the Camargue -- hole up somewhere like Arles or Carcassone. 
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on February 24, 2019, 06:37:04 PM
Thanks to all for the great information! It's tough to choose between all the wonderful towns, regions, and attractions. I will look through this more carefully when I have time and follow up!  8)
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: André on February 24, 2019, 07:00:09 PM
To prove you’ve actually made the trip, you’ll have to show us some of your pictures   :D
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: JBS on February 24, 2019, 07:20:03 PM
To prove you’ve actually made the trip, you’ll have to show us some of your pictures   :D

There's a thread for that
http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,1307.20.html

Or alternately
http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,23022.0.html
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Ghost of Baron Scarpia on February 25, 2019, 10:07:20 AM
I can't say I'm an experienced traveler in France. Once for a scientific meeting I went to Montpellier, which I found beautiful. It has the oldest medical school in Europe (we got to have meetings in the historic lecture room of the medical school). It is a medieval town with different layers of history whose economy was originally based on trade with the Levant. I don't know if it is a significant tourist destination, but when you walk out of the the hotel one blink of the eyes and you are unmistakably in France. Everything from ornate public buildings to squalid looking old apartment buildings such as you would see in the now demolished neighborhood used as the backdrop for the old film Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon).
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Florestan on February 25, 2019, 10:31:02 AM
I can't say I'm an experienced traveler in France. Once for a scientific meeting I went to Montpellier, which I found beautiful. It has the oldest medical school in Europe (we got to have meetings in the historic lecture room of the medical school). It is a medieval town with different layers of history whose economy was originally based on trade with the Levant. I don't know if it is a significant tourist destination, but when you walk out of the the hotel one blink of the eyes and you are unmistakably in France. Everything from ornate public buildings to squalid looking old apartment buildings such as you would see in the now demolished neighborhood used as the backdrop for the old film Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon).

Montpellier is indeed a lovely and fascinating city. I visited it in a single day only but it's certainly worth more.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: listener on February 28, 2019, 06:11:16 PM
I found Michelin Green Guides invaluable.  The Red Guide with hotel and eating places is also useful as it has small maps of little towns too.

Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on March 04, 2019, 06:47:19 PM
On the Trip Advisor forums, I was advised, ordered, commanded to RENT A CAR for exploring Brittany, and to do it by taking the Train to Rennes and picking it up, and then driving to the St. Malo area (the alternatives Papa Oli recommended sound really good!) I realize that public transport and /or cabs are in short supply in the more rural areas, however, given that the St. Malo/Dinard/Cancale area is a huge tourist mecca, I would think we would be ok to take the train to Rennes then on to St. Malo, hang out a few days, and THEN rent a car to explore, and then drive down to Carnac.

AT this point I'm envisioning:

Paris: 9 nights
- Train to Rennes, St. Malo
St. Malo area: 5 nights
-drive to Carnac-
Carnac: 4 nights
-drive to Rennes or Vannes to drop off the car, then train to Paris
Paris: 3 nights

Is that reasonable?

We also want to see Chartes cathedral--I guess there are tours from Paris, but maybe it would be worth a night?
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Ken B on March 04, 2019, 06:59:55 PM
On the Trip Advisor forums, I was advised, ordered, commanded to RENT A CAR for exploring Brittany, and to do it by taking the Train to Rennes and picking it up, and then driving to the St. Malo area (the alternatives Papa Oli recommended sound really good!) I realize that public transport and /or cabs are in short supply in the more rural areas, however, I given that the St. Malo/Dinard/Cancale area is a huge tourist mecca, especially with MSM so nearby--I would think we would be ok to take the train to Rennes then on to St. Malo, hang out a few days, and THEN rent a car to explore, and then drive down to Carnac.

AT this point I'm envisioning:

Paris: 9 nights
- Train to Rennes, St. Malo
St. Malo area: 5 nights
-drive to Carnac-
Carnac: 4 nights
-drive to Rennes or Vannes to drop off the car, then train to Paris
Paris: 3 nights

Is that reasonable?

We also want to see Chartes cathedral--I guess there are tours from Paris, but maybe it would be worth a night?

I have never been to France but I would kick myself if I missed Chartres. Salisbury was a highlight of being in England, and I was able to do it in a day trip from London, but it was a tad rushed. We stayed in York and so saw the monster at length, which was better.  Chartres will be crowded too, so more time might be a good idea.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on March 04, 2019, 07:06:50 PM
I know what you mean, but there are tours and there are tours. Some tours herd you around like cattle giving you little time to explore or step out of line. I hate those generally, although sometimes they are the only way to go--in so many European countries, there is just so much to see, and we have limited time, money, and knowledge, and willingness to drive, park, figure out access, etc.

Then there are tours like some of the ones we took in Ireland: from Dublin to Glendalough was just a bus that dropped you at Glendalough and you were on your own for four hours to do whatever. I felt it was enough time, but there are certainly things I'd like to explore more next time. But by god, in Ireland, when they say the bus is leaving at 3, they mean the doors are closed and the driver is flooring the accelerator at 2:59:59! We took another tour to Newgrange with great tour guide who let us take our time. Also, she had guaranteed entry to the tomb, whereas if you just show up, you MAY get in or maybe not; they limit the number of people admitted.

Research pays off though to distinguish what type of tour it really is. We will be on our own 90%+ of the time though!

In England, we took the Stonehenge/Salisbury tour and it was a bit rushed. Like you, I was in York later on (Different trip) and took most of the day to train from Manchester and explore the York Minster at my own pace, followed by a pub lunch! Great day!

[in Manchester in 2012]
XB-70: What is there to see and do in Manchester?
LOCAL semi-acquaintance: Hmmmmm, don't know! Why don't you... Why don't you go to YORK for the day!? Oh, it's lovely!


Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: André on March 04, 2019, 07:22:20 PM
Will you cut across from St-Malo to Carnac, or follow the coast toward Brest, and then drive on the south coast toward Carnac-Quiberon ?

Chartres is not far from Paris and AFAIK there is not much else to see around. Unless you fancy a visit to the Maison Picassiette... recommended by Trip Advisor. Millions of ceramic scraps make up the building, furniture, gardens, etc.

(https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/0d/a4/45/80/from-the-main-entrance.jpg)
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Biffo on March 05, 2019, 02:15:52 AM
On the Trip Advisor forums, I was advised, ordered, commanded to RENT A CAR for exploring Brittany, and to do it by taking the Train to Rennes and picking it up, and then driving to the St. Malo area (the alternatives Papa Oli recommended sound really good!) I realize that public transport and /or cabs are in short supply in the more rural areas, however, given that the St. Malo/Dinard/Cancale area is a huge tourist mecca, I would think we would be ok to take the train to Rennes then on to St. Malo, hang out a few days, and THEN rent a car to explore, and then drive down to Carnac.

AT this point I'm envisioning:

Paris: 9 nights
- Train to Rennes, St. Malo
St. Malo area: 5 nights
-drive to Carnac-
Carnac: 4 nights
-drive to Rennes or Vannes to drop off the car, then train to Paris
Paris: 3 nights

Is that reasonable?

We also want to see Chartes cathedral--I guess there are tours from Paris, but maybe it would be worth a night?

Carefully check your train times as services in Brittany outside peak times are pretty hopeless.
Visiting St Malo, Dinard and Cancale without a car is a non-starter
Plan your journey from St Malo to Carnac using a route finder such as Michelin
I don't know what your driving experience is like but drop your car off in Vannes if possible, driving in Rennes is hell.

I hope that doesn't put you off, there is so much to see in Brittany.

Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Papy Oli on March 05, 2019, 03:19:06 AM
On the Trip Advisor forums, I was advised, ordered, commanded to RENT A CAR for exploring Brittany, and to do it by taking the Train to Rennes and picking it up, and then driving to the St. Malo area (the alternatives Papa Oli recommended sound really good!) I realize that public transport and /or cabs are in short supply in the more rural areas, however, given that the St. Malo/Dinard/Cancale area is a huge tourist mecca, I would think we would be ok to take the train to Rennes then on to St. Malo, hang out a few days, and THEN rent a car to explore, and then drive down to Carnac.

AT this point I'm envisioning:

Paris: 9 nights
- Train to Rennes, St. Malo
St. Malo area: 5 nights
-drive to Carnac-
Carnac: 4 nights
-drive to Rennes or Vannes to drop off the car, then train to Paris
Paris: 3 nights

Is that reasonable?

We also want to see Chartes cathedral--I guess there are tours from Paris, but maybe it would be worth a night?

one possibility : After your tour in the carnac/quiberon area, why not continue down towards Guerande et Le croisic/pornichet along that coast on that last day then end you car trip in Nantes (instead of Rennes). you can then get a direct train from Nantes to Chartres easily one morning, visit Chartres in the afternoon and get an other train to Paris that same evening or next morning.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Marc on March 07, 2019, 09:22:38 AM
Veules-les-Roses, Normandy.

I liked it a lot.

https://www.francethisway.com/places/veules-les-roses.php
https://www.francethisway.com/photos/gallery.php?place=Veules-les-Roses
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: NikF4 on March 07, 2019, 10:54:55 AM
I've only ever been to Paris, although not to work (ZOMG he never shot fashion in Paris?!) but I did have a girlfriend who was from Millau - the place with the viaduct - and so I've nothing to offer the thread in a geographical sense.

But my reason for posting is because I know XB-70 Valkyrie is a photographer and although he'll probably already be well aware, when he's shooting stuff he shouldn't put all his eggs in one basket. That is, although I've never, ever had any brand of card fail on me I'd rather shoot a bunch of 32 MB cards than a smaller number of 64s.
Apart from that, enjoy your trip.   8)
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on March 07, 2019, 11:59:23 AM
Just checking in quickly--will write more detailed replies later.

Yes, it's certainly good advice about the cards. The largest ones I use are 32 MB and I back up all photos onto my laptop at the end of each day--if I'm not too exhausted from sightseeing. I am not impressed with the huge cards--256 Gb and such. Maybe if you're just shooting 8 fps all day long at 50 MP or hours of 4K video, I'm sure these are useful. For a landscape/travel/nature photographer who takes his time, it is certainly too many eggs in one basket.

In answer to another question--we will likely just drive from St. Malo area to Carnac and stop along the way for lunch and sightseeing. Maybe there is a town in between we should check out for an overnight stay. It looks like maybe 150-200 km, depending on the route. We would not plan on driving more than that in a single day in Europe. It is very tempting to head out west, but time and money are always a consideration...As it is our plans extend to three weeks.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: The new erato on March 07, 2019, 01:40:20 PM
I drove  St. Malo (superb city) area to Carnac this summer With a stopover in Quiberon.

After Carnac we drove up the Loire with its magnificent castles, stayed the night in charming Chinon before arriving for a week in Paris. Very nice and rural drive with the possibility of fitting in Chartres, one of my favorite European cathedrals.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on March 07, 2019, 01:52:36 PM
Sounds like a great trip. How did you enjoy the Carnac Menhirs (I assume that's why you were there)? I am thinking of three or four nights in Carnac. I will look into Quiberon--what is there to see/do there for an afternoon/evening?

I think we are going to take a train day trip from Paris to Chartes and back in the late afternoon/early evening if the train schedule permits. I do not like tours for churches--for St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London, St. Isaac in St. Petersburg, etc. we took several hours and don't like to be rushed. On one day in Manchester (business trip) I took the train to York and back, spent a few hours at York Minster followed by a lovely walk around town and train back in the evening--I hope something like this will work out for Chartes.

I would love to go through Loire as I love Vouvray (wine), but, maybe another trip.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: The new erato on March 07, 2019, 03:14:02 PM
It was just a convenient way to go to the Loire. I,'ve seen the menhirs and Quiberon i n the 7ies.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Biffo on March 08, 2019, 01:50:15 AM
Sounds like a great trip. How did you enjoy the Carnac Menhirs (I assume that's why you were there)? I am thinking of three or four nights in Carnac. I will look into Quiberon--what is there to see/do there for an afternoon/evening?

I think we are going to take a train day trip from Paris to Chartes and back in the late afternoon/early evening if the train schedule permits. I do not like tours for churches--for St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London, St. Isaac in St. Petersburg, etc. we took several hours and don't like to be rushed. On one day in Manchester (business trip) I took the train to York and back, spent a few hours at York Minster followed by a lovely walk around town and train back in the evening--I hope something like this will work out for Chartes.

I would love to go through Loire as I love Vouvray (wine), but, maybe another trip.

Looking again at the route planner the journey should take you 3 hrs max  which I don't think is too bad, add in some time for a meal or coffee. You might consider stopping for a break in Pontivy. It is a pleasant town though its most noteworthy site, the chateau, is closed - part of it collapsed into the moat after heavy rain. The major problem with most French towns is finding somewhere to park; most have ample provision but it always seems to be full.

As a Yorkshire chauvinist I could say that now you have seen York Minster you can die happy. However, Chartres really is worth a visit - absolutely stunning.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: XB-70 Valkyrie on March 25, 2019, 06:44:00 PM
Hi,

Have been meaning to get back here for a while. We bought our plane tickets--three weeks in June-July. (saved about $500 on Norwegian vs Air France, even after adding luggage, priority boarding, seat assignments, meals) I am told the weather will be pretty nice then, and the really hot weather often happens in August. I would imagine it would be cooler on average in Brittany. As much as I love rain, I am hoping for not too much on this trip. We also just booked a great AirBNB in Paris very close to the Louvre.

We did find out that Chartes is an easy day train trip to/from Paris and there is Malcom Miller, who has been giving tours of the cathedral for 60+ years. We will definitely try to go on one of his tours, or maybe even book a private on in advance. We are also taking the train to Giverny and Reims on different days.

I am still really confused about the need for a car in St. Malo area and Carnac. I certainly understand the need for a car if exploring the countryside, but St. Malo area is quite touristy, and I'm told that cabs and busses (e.g., bus from ST. Malo to Mont St. Michel or to Dinan) are readily available. Still, some have said that a car is a "must" in St. Malo--but another very experienced travler in this area told us it is not! What am I missing here? I would not mind renting a car on our last day or two in St. Malo area, driving out west a bit to explore some beaches and towns. Then we will drive to Carnac or Vannes for our stay there. Any more thoughts on the rental car?

Also, we are now looking at lodging in Brittany, and some of the advice here--St. Lunaire, etc--sounds really great. We are trying to figure out how to divide our time in Brittany, and I think five nights in St. Malo area and three in Carnac would likely do the trick:

 We were thinking

Day 1: Dinan, St. Malo sightseeing

Day 2: MSM, followed by more wandering around, Cancale oysters

Day 3: Day trip to Guernsey (??)

Day 4: Drive out to the west and explore beaches, coastline

Then, drive to Carnac and have two days to explore the Menhirs, coastline, and maybe some time in Vannes.

Any suggestions? Thanks!
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: André on March 26, 2019, 05:13:59 AM
If you rent a car, a side trip from Vannes to Guérande (a one hour drive) might be worth your while. Two of my cousins traveled the area and said it was one of the highlights of their stay in Brittany.
Title: Re: First trip to France (Paris, Brittany)-any advice appreciated. . .
Post by: Biffo on March 26, 2019, 05:41:11 AM
Hi,

Have been meaning to get back here for a while. We bought our plane tickets--three weeks in June-July. (saved about $500 on Norwegian vs Air France, even after adding luggage, priority boarding, seat assignments, meals) I am told the weather will be pretty nice then, and the really hot weather often happens in August. I would imagine it would be cooler on average in Brittany. As much as I love rain, I am hoping for not too much on this trip. We also just booked a great AirBNB in Paris very close to the Louvre.

We did find out that Chartes is an easy day train trip to/from Paris and there is Malcom Miller, who has been giving tours of the cathedral for 60+ years. We will definitely try to go on one of his tours, or maybe even book a private on in advance. We are also taking the train to Giverny and Reims on different days.

I am still really confused about the need for a car in St. Malo area and Carnac. I certainly understand the need for a car if exploring the countryside, but St. Malo area is quite touristy, and I'm told that cabs and busses (e.g., bus from ST. Malo to Mont St. Michel or to Dinan) are readily available. Still, some have said that a car is a "must" in St. Malo--but another very experienced travler in this area told us it is not! What am I missing here? I would not mind renting a car on our last day or two in St. Malo area, driving out west a bit to explore some beaches and towns. Then we will drive to Carnac or Vannes for our stay there. Any more thoughts on the rental car?

Also, we are now looking at lodging in Brittany, and some of the advice here--St. Lunaire, etc--sounds really great. We are trying to figure out how to divide our time in Brittany, and I think five nights in St. Malo area and three in Carnac would likely do the trick:

 We were thinking

Day 1: Dinan, St. Malo sightseeing

Day 2: MSM, followed by more wandering around, Cancale oysters

Day 3: Day trip to Guernsey (??)

Day 4: Drive out to the west and explore beaches, coastline

Then, drive to Carnac and have two days to explore the Menhirs, coastline, and maybe some time in Vannes.

Any suggestions? Thanks!

Whenever I have been in this area I have been in a private car and couldn't contemplate doing it on public transport. Looking again at the Michelin route-finder, St Malo to Mont Saint-Michel is a distance of 48.6 km (1h  41m) by the shortest route). Personally, I think it would be prohibitively expensive by taxi).

I have stayed numerous times in the Auray area and we used to take the train to Rennes, Quimper and Nantes but have now given up as the frequency of the service has deteriorated. In the past we also went Dol to Rennes but I suspect the service is now pretty poor.

I don't want to sound too negative but apart from very local bus services public transport is a non-starter.