Best things about the trip
- Every destination was terrific to visit – Paris, Normandy, Loire Valley, The Alps, Arles, Cannes, Nice, Menton, Portofino,
Worst things about the trip
- Not having an exit strategy was the worst part of the trip. We were flying home out of Milan and didn’t know hotels were ridiculously hard to find near the airport.
- Eating was sometimes a challenge – finding a reasonably priced restaurant and finding one that was open when we were ready to eat
- Winging it without a destination or reservation the last week of the trip wasn’t good. Where we stayed turned out to be great, but we wasted a lot of time trying to find a hotel in our budget.
- The only local people who interacted with us were those who had to – hotel and restaurant staff. Well, we kinda expected that.
Our flight was into Paris and out of Milan. We planned 7 nights in Paris to see all we could while getting over jet lag the first few days.
The first night was at Rick Steve’s “favorite” hotel – Hotel Leveque, in the 7th arrondissement. We expected to stay 7 nights here but after checking out the room and discussing changing the accommodation with the hotel staff who said “the rooms are all alike“, Steve showed them the brochure and asked “Where is the room in the picture?” HaHaHaHa.
Enough said, we spent our first afternoon looking for a suitable hotel and found one – Hotel de Seine, a short walk across a bridge to the Louvre and a short walk to a major metro station St. Michael.
Tip: Always stay in the area close to where you’re going to spend the most time. The hotel in the 7th arrondissement was not only horrible, it required changing metros at least twice to get anywhere.
We loved room 22 at Hotel de Seine. After checking in we walked over to the spend the day at The Louvre.
Tip: Get your museum pass in advance. You can avoid the long line in front of the pyramid and get into the Louvre without a wait by using the side door.
Versaille is a great excursion from Paris, a quick 30 minute train trip takes you to the opulent world of the King Louis XIV, the Sun King. We spent a very full day at the palace and grounds doing the guided tour, audio tour, and walked everywhere around the grounds. If we weren’t the last ones to leave, it was pretty close to it.
Tip: Cheap Eats in Paris pointed us to some great places. Prix Fixe (fixed price menu) were good values.
Steve had a lot of other destinations for us on this trip so 7 days in Paris was just right. We picked up the rental car near the hotel and headed north for Normandy.
France Driving Tour – Paris to Normandy, Loire Valley and on to Provence
World War II, Bayeux, Mont St. Michelle, St. Malo
The road system in France is great! Thanks Napoleon! There are clearly marked signs pointing into and out of any town and once out of Paris driving was a breeze.
Steve had heard about staying in Chateau’s and had reservations at several for the next 5 destinations.
Tip: The Chateaux we stayed at were not expensive and a great change from a hotel.
Bayeux hotel for 2 nights: Chateau de Bellefontaine
Visiting Normandy was a very moving experiences, seeing the beaches, towns, cemeteries and remnants of World War II. Steve’s father, Sam Rosenbaum was a medic in Collecting Company B, 104th Medical Battalion, 29th Infantry Division that stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day. We thought about Sam a lot when we were there. And we had to try Calvados – the apple brandy Sam loved.
Head south from Normandy to see the famous Castles in the “garden of France” which is also a huge wine producing area – the Loire Valley. Touring castles during the day and dining with terrific local Vouvray wine in the evening – perfect Loire Valley experience. We stayed two nights in the delightful carriage house of Chateau de Montgouverne in Rocheboron near Vouvray.
The next stops on this road trip were Auxerre and then Beaune, with a night in each place. Auxerre has interesting half-timbered houses and a walking tour to see the sights was welcome after the drive.
Roman ruin alert! Stop off at the ruins in Autun on the way to Beaune.
We didn’t plan on spending lots of time in either Auxerre and Beaune. In Beaune we toured the 1443 hospital and in the evening had way too many choices for dinner any one of the many restaurants around the square.
Out of Beaune and up to some very different scenery – the French Alps! Annecy was charming.
Orange, Avignon, Arles, Nimes, Les Baux, St. Remy
Down from the Alps heading toward Arles, stopping along the way to see some great roman ruins in Orange and to visit the “other vatican” – the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
Arles was our base for the next 4 nights in the charming Hotel d’Arlatan. Great day trips from Arles to the surrounding area, plus interesting roman ruins to visit in Arles itself.
Nimes – did you know that is where denim originated? It was a material “of Nimes” aka “de Nimes”.
Pont du Gard – fabulous Roman aquaduct not to be missed on a driving excursion out of Arles.
Les Baux was fascinating, and the Village des Bories was quite a change of pace.
Arles was the last place we had a hotel reservation in advance so now we were winging it. We didn’t have a particular city in mind for the night and drove through many coastal towns, ending up in Cannes. We were clueless, and lucky, the Cannes Film Festival had just ended or we would never have gotten a room. Our luck held out with the lovely Hotel Splendid and we spent 2 relaxing nights there, enjoying the ocean views from our top floor balcony right in the center of Cannes.
The next place we wanted to stop was Nice, and with no reservation we checked out the recommendations from the helpful Hotel Splendid staff. Their suggestions didn’t match our budget so now it was checking out the guidebook’s budget picks which didn’t match our criteria for a pleasant experience or safety. Prominently on a hill with ocean views was Hotel Suisse, which turned out to be a great pick. Would have loved to stay more than one night but they were booked through the weekend.
Heading east from Nice to Monte Carlo is beautiful scenery of the mediterranean coast from the car window and we stopped at a few choice places. The Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens was a great place to tour.
Monaco, Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo seemed like a good destination for the evening, but was NOT due to the upcoming 2000 Grand Prix on June 4. Preparations were in full swing with streets fenced off with chain link and other barricades. After a visit to the casino (don’t miss the toilets!) and the yacht harbor it was on the road again.
Late in the afternoon we drove through Menton, crossed the Italian border and said “What are we doing?”, turned around and parked in front of the Hotel Royal Westminster. What a find! A charming room with an ocean view. We really enjoyed Menton, it is a very relaxing place.
Next stop – Portofino! Wait a minute, why are we sitting in all this traffic? Should we turn around? The traffic was due to the limited number of parking spaces in the Portofino parking lot. We stuck it out and in an hour were parked and seeing Portofino for ourselves. Truly a beautiful place. And every hotel booked.
On the drive out of Portofino there was still a line of cars trying to get in. We stopped at Hotel Paraggi and were delighted to get a room, maybe a little out of the budget but not too bad at the time.
Above the road from Paraggi to Portofino is a beautiful path winding through woods and emerging to fabulous views. We walked back to Portofino for dinner on the lovely trail and there was more magic in store – the trail was lit with hundreds of glowing fireflies dancing overhead.
We could have spent another night in Parragi, but I was concerned about the road and how long it would take us to get to the airport outside of Milan if we left Parragi the day of our flight. So we headed to Milan to do some sightseeing there, expecting to get a hotel that evening near the airport.
Uh-oh, an unexpected surprise when we got back to the car from Milan sights – it was booted!
Tip: Make sure you check the streets and the other cars in the area you are parking in. If all the cars on the street have a pass displaying in the window, you’re going to need one too.
Obviously going to the policia to pay the fine for illegal parking was not a the happiest experience, but the police station was conveniently in the area we just came from and the wait to pay our fine and get the boot off the car was only – 1.5 hours.
28 Days Touring Around France Summary
It was on this trip that we discovered we are much happier having our accommodations pre-booked – we don’t waste time trying to find a place, plus we don’t just keep driving!
Always have an exit strategy
Why “always have an exit strategy” is an important strategy – we headed from Milan in the direction of the airport thinking we’d just find some hotel along the way. Nope, these aren’t California freeways lined with cities, billboards and “Exit Here for Hotel” signs. Plus it was late, and dark. And we were tired and annoyed due to the big fine for illegal parking. After two and a half hours of checking out likely exits we finally found a place to lay our heads down and get some rest before the flight home the next day.
Of course this trip was before smart phones and travel apps that make life so much easier today!