"30-Day Tour of France" France Travelogue by Beausoleil
France Travel Guide: 57,916 reviews and 156,746 photos
You will land in CDG or Orly. Take the train into town to your hotel and stay as centrally as possible. We planned 3 days in Paris at the beginning and 2 days at the end of our trip. The first time, we'd never been to Europe so it was a real adventure. We were also young enough to be poor enough to have to camp which turned out to our advantage. You experience an entirely different country when you get into the campgrounds. Country folks are not city folks in any country . . . and country folks are very friendly and helpful. This was our first experience of France and we've absolutely loved it ever since.
So . . . start in Paris.
We had leased a Peugeot so on day 4 we drove southwest to the town of Chartres. You must stop and visit the famous and beautiful cathedral in Chartres. It was a lovely sunny day so the stained glass windows were spectacular but I was even more impressed by the sunlight on the ancient stone floors. This started a lifelong love affair with Notre Dame de Chartres and we've returned many times over the years.
We left Chartres and drove south to Chateaudun where we stopped for lunch on the town square. It was market day so that was a nice plus. We found a bank and got money from the ATM . . . a first on the trip. Then we visited La Poste and bought postage stamps. At that point I think we really believed we could survive in a foreign country on our own. We walked into a tiny restaurant behind a fish market (so ate inside) and discovered we couldn't read the menu. Croque Monsieur sounded like something I'd heard on a language tape I'd studied so we ordered it. Loved it! We've gotten much better at menus over the years.
After lunch and feeling much better about our survival skills, we continued south to near Poitiers. Here we encountered our first French campground. It was near Futuroscope but we took our 3 days and visited Loire chateaus, abbeys and quaint villages. It was heavenly and the staff at the campground were wonderful.
We have returned often to a couple favorite chateaus, Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry. Chenonceau, the chateau of women, is also a must-see.
After exploring the Loire Valley, we drove south again, getting hopelessly lost in Brive. We ended up at an athletic field several times (with a map!) and finally managed to hail a passing bicyclist who gave us careful directions in French. Each of us understood about half the directions . . . but it worked and we were back on the road again.
We camped outside a tiny village called Belflou at a country Auberge / campground. It was cold (in July) and raining but we had our tent so we pitched it. The campgrounds in France have nice little restaurants and this particular auberge had a fabulous restaurant. Here we ate our first cassoulet and loved it. When Madame brought it to our table, we thought it was for the entire room and took only a small portion each. To our surprise, the casserole was set on the table and was just for us. It was delicious and hot, real comfort food. We ate more than we should have and waddled back to our wet tent.
We spent our time in this area visiting Carcassonne, Mirepoix and Foix and when we realized we needed reservations for the cave we wanted to visit and didn't have them, we substituted a visit to Parc Pyrénéen de l’Art Préhistorique, a really fun French theme park on prehistory. We acted like little kids and had a great time. We have since gotten to a real cave!
We loved the Languedoc-Roussillon region but we had our schedule so we headed south yet again to a campground near Narbonne. We had a terrible time finding the campground and later discovered there are two roads with the exact same number. We did find it and pitched our tent on an incredibly windy cold day (yes, still in July in southern France). The French restaurants seem to all close at 2 PM and we had passed the lunch witching hour so had to settle for Buffalo Grill with a very bad country western theme . . . and equally bad food. We've never gone there again but have often joked about it.
We did our first laundry in France at the campground. That was when we discovered laundry takes a LOT longer in Europe than at home. The clothes did get clean (very clean) and the wind quickly dried them.
We drove along the coast into Spain just to say we'd been there and it was a beautiful trip albeit very windy. Back in France we ate lunch and then stopped to wade in the Mediterranean Sea. That was fun!
We discovered Canet-Plage and vowed to return. We have and it's one of our favorite places in France. The beach is lovely soft sand and the views are incredible. On a clear day you can see Mt. Canigou. Beautiful . . .
We were trying to get a feel for the entire country in a month . . . an impossible feat, but we didn't know it then. Any experience in France must include Provence so we left our campground and headed east to Grasse in Provence.
This was our first experience on the AutoRoute of France as we had been avoiding it because of the tolls. Today we wanted to get to Grasse quickly so decided to use the AutoRoute. It's an excellent highway but they drive very fast! We zipped along, stopping in Arles for lunch and some sightseeing. We fell in love with Arles and have returned many times. There is history, scenery, friendly townspeople and great shopping. I always plan to do major gift shopping in Arles.
We arrived in Grasse on Bastille Day weekend and a warning light went on in the car. We took a wrong turn, fortunately, and ended up in a gas station. Ed opened the hood and discovered our oil cap completely gone and oil covering the engine . . . and dripping onto the very clean pavement of the station. The people at the station were very nice, even telephoning the Peugeot 24-hour assistance line and telling them the problem. I was still looking for the word for oil cap in my dictionary. Within 30 minutes, the man from Peugeot arrived with a new oil cap and several liters of oil. He fixed everything, cleaned up the engine and we were on our way. Good experience with Peugeot and we've used them ever since.
We splurged and spent a night at a pension run by an order of nuns. It was up on a hill and you could see all the way to the Mediterranean. We ate with the nuns and other guests. It was the priest's birthday so we joined the celebration. One of the waitresses spoke a bit of English so we knew what was happening. The birthday cake would have been a good hint though.
The next morning we visited the marvelous street market in Grasse and then the Fragonard perfume factory to which I have become addicted. It is another great place for gifts. There is expensive perfume but there are lots of inexpensive soaps and novelty items too.
We had a week at a timeshare in Jausiers in the French Alps and so left Grasse to head up into the mountains. The scenery that had been lovely became spectacular.
We easily found Jausiers and spent a wonderful dry week there visiting the Mercantour National Park, the Italian Alps, the Citadelle in Sisteron, the Penitants at Les Mées, taking long walks along the Ubaye River beside our timeshare and finally had to leave this idyllic place. Great week!
This is a very old photo but I love it. The Mercantour is an amazing place. You see all kinds of wildflowers, strange little animals, stunning vistas and even charming villages. Highly recommended.
Our nice dry, warm week in the Alps came to an end and it was back to the tent. Bastille Day was over and French vacations had begun so we had lots of company in the campgrounds.
Our next stop was a campground near Grenoble and we managed to drive into a bicycle race while driving there. It was very interesting! I'm not sure my husband saw much of the alpine scenery while dodging bicycles.
We arrived in Bourg d'Oisans and set up our tent by a rushing mountain stream. Drove into Bourg and found a fabulous restaurant where we sat beside the stream and had a lovely leisurely lunch as trout frolicked in the stream below. I did not feel guilty eating one of their friends.
The next day we drove into Grenoble, parked in the world's most beautiful parking lot and walked all over town. We visited the Musée Stendahl and the Musée de Grenoble. The art museum in Grenoble is really excellent. The works are diverse and very well lighted and displayed. Afterwards, we continued our walk around town. It's a clean lovely city with cafes along the river.
We bade farewell to Bourg d'Oisans the next morning and headed on to Annecy where we planned to camp by the lake. We arrived to discover the campground overflowing with humanity. We got in line without much hope but when we got to the head of the line, a couple tenters had just pulled out and we got their site. Hooray!
We quickly put up our tent and headed into Annecy where we found parking by the lake in a huge underground lot. That was where we learned about paying at the automatic caisse. We loved the town of Annecy and the beautiful park on the lake, did some gift shopping and had a fondue at Beau Soleil (our family name so a GREAT name for a restaurant). When we went back to parking, we drove to the exit and couldn't get out. A man came running over and saw our dilema. He walked my husband back to the pay station, Ed paid and then came back to rescue me waiting in the trapped car. No one honked or seemed the least upset during the entire process. We put our now-paid-for ticket in the machine and were free . . . and much smarter. Live and learn . . .
While in Annecy, we drove around the lake, visited La Clusaz and a neat Museum of Savoy Folk Life in Thône. Had a great lunch beside a ski run. The next day we drove to Geneva, Switzerland and walked around looking and got some chocolate for our son. We made a pilgrimage to Evian on the way back to Annecy. It is lovely and we have returned.
Our month was nearly gone but we had one more major sight. We were going to visit Burgundy. We packed up our tent yet again and got on the road toward Beaune where we stayed at the municipal campground. It was perfect with huge hedges separating very large tent sites and a nice little restaurant right at the campground. It's right in town so you leave your car there and walk all over Beaune.
We took a horse and carriage tour of Beaune and then walked all over town. We fell in love with Beaune too and have returned many times although we now stay at Hotel Grillon instead of the campground. We've seen the Hotel Grillon pass from father to son and undergo changes and improvements, but the friendly Grillons are incentive to return.
While in Beaune we visited the Abbey and museum at Cluny and spent a wonderful day in Dijon. Dijon is another provincial city with a super art museum. We were silly enough to get a pass for all 7 city museums and discovered you can't possibly visit 7 museums in one day. We did get to 6 of them although we literally ran through the 6th one and didn't see much except walls covered with paintings. No more multiple passes . . .
Our last day in Beaune we decided to take a scenic drive. This was how we discovered Vézèlay. What a magical village. This is another place we have returned to many times and will never tire of it.
Hard to believe our month was nearly over. We packed up our tent for the last time in France . . . literally. We've never camped in France again. We rent gites or stay in logis and the occasional hotel. You don't have to pack all your camping gear; you can stay in the country and have the comforts of home and you meet the same wonderful people who live in the countryside. Gites and logis are a treasured part of France for us.
We drove to Paris and checked into our hotel. Then we took the Metro to the Picasso Museum since it would be closed the next day. What a wonderful experience! We spent our last few days visiting musems and discovered the Batobus and the Luxembourg Gardens. Needless to say, we've been back to Paris many times. There is always something new to see and plenty you want to revisit.
It had to end, but we had a great time and learned a lot. We also were completely addicted to France and love the French people who have been unfailingly kind and helpful. We have also visited places we didn't see the first time. We missed Mont St. Michel, the D-Day beaches, Brittany, Normandy and the entire northeast. There is always a reason to return!
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