I LOVE travel planning. Figuring out the overall itinerary for a trip is so much fun for me. It heightens the excitement and anticipation! This post is about our two week itinerary for France.
I say that I am a Type A planner so that I can be a Type B traveler. It is simply more relaxing for me to know where I’m going, how I’m getting from place to place, and where I’m sleeping when I arrive.
This was our first time to travel to the beautiful country of France. As I present our France itinerary I’ll give you my reasoning behind my choices and tell you the things that we did right as well as what we missed.
Hopefully this will give you ideas and inspiration to figure out your own itinerary for France!
Overview of our France itinerary:
We aren’t full-time travelers because of a pesky little thing called, “having to make a living.” Therefore, when we go to Europe we typically have between 10-14 days on the ground.
Notes on how we like to travel:
We are neither fast nor slow travelers. I don’t like to do one night stays in a location, but we also don’t have the time to spend weeks. Maybe someday! I try to plan our trips so that we don’t feel rushed, but also so that we don’t leave feeling as if we didn’t get to see and do enough.
It’s a fine line.
Planning Our Itinerary For France
Why were we going to France? I mean, besides the very important fact that we had always wanted to go to France?
Two words. Cheap flights. My husband came home one night and mentioned that he had read that some of the airlines were have a big sale to Europe from some of the smaller cities in the US.
Wouldn’t you know, I live in a smaller city in the US!
I immediately hopped online and there they were! Flights to Paris from Little Rock for about $360. There were seats available through the end of May. We could go in May! I checked and double checked to make sure the price was real and then booked them.
We were going! Now the real fun began. It was time to narrow things down a bit further. It was time to plan an itinerary for France!
Deciding where in France to go
Paris was a given for both of us. In addition to Paris, my husband had only one request. He wanted to go to Normandy and see the D-Day sites.
We had decided that we had time to go to 4 places so we had 2 more to select.
We pored over maps.
Yes, I definitely suggest that you look at maps when planning your travels. Places can be much closer together or farther apart than you might imagine. Plus a map will help you determine the most efficient route.
I pored over travel books:
At the initial planning stages I like to use a book for my research rather than blogs. Most blog posts are better for the micro-planning. We were still in the big picture stage.
Where else would we go? I really wanted to see the south of France. Provence! But after some more reflection we decided to stay closer to Paris on this trip.
We added the Loire Valley and Burgundy to our list. If you look at a map you will see that we basically made a loop in the northern part of France.
Ahhhh Provence. I will see you next time!
Deciding how long to stay in each location
We now knew which country we were going to see and the areas in that country that we wanted to visit and how we would be getting from place to place. That’s a lot of planning already done! Now it was time to figure out how long we would stay in each location.
We allotted 4 nights in Normandy because this was of high interest to my husband. We allotted 5 nights in Paris because it was of high interest to both of us.
We both wanted to see castles but knew ourselves well enough to know that we could easily get castled out. So only 2 nights in the Loire Valley. Then, Burgundy? Well, wine! We love French wine. So three nights there.
The key here is to follow your heart and your interests.
Once the locations were decided it was time to get into the nitty gritty…the micro-planning! This would include things like reserving a transportation, deciding on accommodations. Making sure that the museums or chateaux or whatever we wanted to see weren’t closed on the days we were there, scheduling any food tours or classes we wanted to do, etc.
I don’t usually make restaurant reservations in advance, but if there is a restaurant you really want to experience then you will want to make reservations for that, too!
Planning done, the month of May finally arrived, and it was time to go!
Here is our two week itinerary for France.
Normandy France Itinerary
- Transportation: We drove from Charles De Gaulle airport to Bayeux in Normandy. It was a nightmare getting out of Paris. Our trip did not get off to a good start. How would I do it differently? I would take a train from Paris to a town in Normandy and pick up our car there. I would NOT drive out of Paris again.
- Where we based our stay in Normandy: We selected the beautiful city of Bayeux as our base for this area. This was an excellent choice! Highly recommended. Bayeux is a gorgeous town with good food and things to do. It is near all the D-Day sites. It is easy to come and go by car from there. The town is a quiet and peaceful and a pleasure to wander.
- Length of stay: 4 nights. I think that this was just the right amount of time for a first time visitor with an interest in D-Day. However, I loved Normandy more than I ever expected and hated to leave. I would definitely return to this region just to explore more of the cider route and the small towns and the beautiful scenery.
- Our accommodations: Hotel Particulier Poppa. Loved it! We enjoyed the location on the Place Charles de Gaulle which is a large and quiet park. The hosts were kind, the beds were comfortable, the breakfast was delicious. What more could you want from a bed and breakfast? Here are more options for places to stay in Bayeux.
- Restaurants: Sadly our first meal in France was eaten in a rest stop restaurant. It was probably the best rest stop food I’ve ever had, but the ambiance left something to be desired. We found the food to be very good in Bayeux and excellent in Normandy in general. Check out this post to learn more about the food in Normandy and the restaurants we tried.
What we did in Normandy France
There are so many things to do in Normandy! It is easy to fill up a 4 day Normandy itinerary. You can explore the lovely cities in the area, see the D-Day sites, drink cider on the cider route, or go to Mont St. Michelle.
Here is what we did in the area:
- Farmer’s Market: Our first full day in Bayeux was Saturday and our bed and breakfast hosts suggested that we visit the market. Great suggestion. We love the local farmer’s markets at home and visiting one in France was even better.
- Bayeux Tapestry: You will definitely want to see the Bayeux tapestry. It is the story of the conquest and adventures of William the Conquerer woven into a long tapestry. I found it fascinating.
- Visit Honfleur: We enjoyed our visit to Honfleur tremendously. It was picture perfect. If you are wanting to get even closer to the ocean and see a fabulous landscape then take a visit to Etretat as well.
- Take a D-Day Tour: Of course, you can go to the beaches and the museums on your own, but I recommend taking a tour. We very much enjoyed our D-Day Battle Tour with Ellwood von Siebold and felt that it helped us to understand the big picture as well as all the little details and stories that make the stories come to life. As we stood on the D-Day beaches Ellwood even had photos and visual aids to help us to see where the boats and men came ashore and to better understand the opposition they were facing. It was great to have an expert who was able to answer our many questions.
Favorite things in Bayeux and what we missed
- Favorites: Besides just being in Bayeux my favorite was the day we spent in Honfleur. It was beautiful and sparkly and something about the entire day made me feel giddy. My husband said he would never forget our tour of the D-Day sites. His father was a B-29 pilot and although he wasn’t based in Europe my husband has always been fascinated by WWII. Perhaps because his father wouldn’t talk about it much.
- What we missed: I can’t tell you how much I loved Normandy. I could have puttered around the area for days more. But our biggest regret is not getting to go to Mont St. Michele. We just couldn’t figure out how to fit it in to our agenda. But I wish we had worked a little harder to make a visit there.
Loire Valley France Itinerary
- Transportation: We drove from Normandy to the Loire Valley of France. It was an easy drive with excellent highways.
- Where we based our stay in the Loire Valley: We stayed in the town of Amboise. When I was doing my research I had read that some people feel that Amboise is too touristy. We actually didn’t feel that way at all. It has it’s own chateau so of course it will attract tourists, but Amboise is a charming town, easily walkable, with great food. It is also the location of Leonardo da Vinci’s burial place and the home he lived in during his last years of life. It was easy to get to many of the other chateaux in the area from there.
- Length of stay: We spent 2 nights in the Loire Valley. It was the right amount of time for us for this trip. If you want to see more of the castles you will need to stay longer.
- Our Accommodations: We stayed at Le Vieux Manoir. This was an enchanting 18th century estate home turned bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, the owners are older and their health is failing. According to Rick Steves they have put the house on the market and will be closing down. In the meantime there are many amazing accomodations in Amboise.
- Restaurants: We loved our meal at L’ilot while in Amboise! It was one of our favorite meals while we were in France. This is a great food area. You can read here about some of the other restaurants in Amboise that we enjoyed – and one that we didn’t! I also was impressed with the local wines. I knew that this area grew grapes, but didn’t know much about their wines. We thought they were excellent.
What we did in the Loire Valley of France
- Chateaux and more Chateaux: Most of the magnificent chateaux in this area weren’t even lived in year round! These were hunting lodges and summer homes for the royalty across the years. In some cases they were also where the kings housed their mistresses. There are so many to choose from! I have made a list of the best chateaux to visit. If you only choose one – I would suggest Chenonceau.
- Chateau du Clos Luce: Clos Luce is called a chateau, but is more of a manor house. Very grand, but not on the same scale as the other chateaux that we saw. It was so interesting! It was the final home of Leonardo Da Vinci before his death. It is in many ways a museum about Leonardo and his life and work. They even have small replicas of some of his inventions on the lower floor of the chateau as well larger replicas on the grounds. If you are traveling with children this would be a great place to bring them.
- Chedigny: Chedigny is a small and stunning village in the Loire Valley. Although you know that it is real you can’t shake the feeling that you have stepped into a Disney fairytale. Chedigny is the village of roses. If you are there in the spring the scent will waft around you as you walk the old streets. It is a pretty and easy drive from Amboise and a charming place to see anytime, but especially during rose season.
Favorites and what we missed:
- Favorites: One of my favorite things about our time in the Loire Valley was seeing Chenonceau and eating at a L’ilot. The kitchen of this small restaurant is located right in the middle of the space. We had a perfect evening there drinking wine, eating delicious food, and watching the chef cook for us. Kevin really like Chateau du Clos Luce and learning more about Leonardo Da Vinci and all of his inventions.
- What we missed: We saw people kayaking on the local rivers. Some kayaked right under the arches of Chenonceau. If we were to return we would definitely like to do this!
Burgundy France Itinerary
- Transportation: We drove from Amboise in the Loire Valley to the wine region of Burgundy. We made a stop on the way at the castle of Guedelon. I highly recommend a visit to Guedelon for anyone who loves history and architecture and especially for anyone who is traveling with children. Even with our detour the drive was easy.
- Where we based our stay in the Burgundy region: Beaune was centrally located and easy to get to by car. It was once a walled city and is circled by a ring road that follows the exterior of the old walls. Don’t be surprised if you have to make the loop a couple of times to find where you are staying! Several portions of the ancient wall are intact and walkable. If you like wine you will love it here. We like wine. We had a couple of rainy days during our stay and still found plenty of interesting things to do.
- Length of stay: We spent 3 nights in Beaune and this was just right for us. Be aware that most of Burgundy is very food and wine centric. Especially wine. I have written a beginner’s guide to the wines of Burgundy if you are interested in learning more. In addition to food and wine this area has gorgeous landscapes, charming villages, and some fascinating museums.
- Our accommodations: We stayed at Le Jardins de Lois. This bed and breakfast is a lovely mix of old and modern and is located just outside the city walls of the historic center of Beaune. All we had to do was cross the street and we were in the old town. Our room was spacious and quiet with an incredible modern bathroom. The hosts were gracious and breakfast was delicious. Another benefit was the onsite parking which made it easy to come and go from the city.
- Restaurants: The food in this area is delicious. You will be surprised at how many restaurants there are to choose from in Beaune. A couple of times we just popped into little places for lunch without researching or checking reviews. There was never a miss. We had a delicious dinner at 21 Boulevard which is located in an old wine cellar. The wine list is gigantic, but our server was really good about helping us choose. Another excellent meal was at Le Cheval Noir. This is where we had snails for the first time.
What we did in Burgundy France
- Hot air balloon ride: I have always wanted to take a ride in a hot air balloon and we decided that Burgundy was the perfect place to make that dream come true. It was even better than I had imagined. Really one of the best evenings of my life. You can read all about our hot air balloon ride here.
- Wine tasting: As I’ve mentioned Beaune and Burgundy are all about the wine. Burgundy has some of the most expensive wines and wine growing land in the world. There are many places to taste wines in the city. Some you can just pop in to and some will require reservations. We had some rain while we were in Beaune so we selected Patriarche Pere et Fils. They have over 5 kilometers of vaulted cellars which date back to the 1200’s! According to the brochure there are more than 2 million bottles of wine. Basically you pay and are given a tasting cup then you are left to your own devices to wander through underground rooms and tunnels passing thousands of dusty aging bottles of wine as you go, eventually reaching a set of underground tasting rooms. It was a very unique experience that you can read more about here.
- Hospices de Beaune: Hospices de Beaune was a hospital built in the 1400’s for the poor of the area. Although it was a charitable institution the founder wanted it to be nice, like a hotel for the sick and impoverished. It has graceful courtyard and a flamboyant tiled roof. Due to wealthy benefactors and being placed under the auspices of the catholic church it survived the years and was a hospital well into the 20th century. Now it is a fascinating museum that covers both the building, the hospital, what health care was like in the past, as well as the wines that the hospital is famous for creating and promoting.
- Farmer’s Market: Saturday had arrived again by the time we were in Beaune so we got to visit the Farmer’s Market. Although I loved seeing all the vegetables and meats and cheeses I had the most fun walking through a section of the market that was a cross between a fancy flea market and an antique market. I especially loved flipping through the multitude of old postcards that seemed to be everywhere.
Favorites and what we missed
- Favorites: The balloon ride was the favorite for both of us.
- What we missed: I wish that we had planned some more time in the city of Dijon. Perhaps even made that our base for the area. We had a couple of quick hours in Dijon which is famous for it’s mustard and is in the northern part of Burgundy. It was such an interesting city and we decided that two hours wasn’t nearly long enough to explore Dijon and sample some of it’s wares.
- Transportation: We drove our car from Beaune to Dijon where we took the train on into Paris. SMART move. After our drive out of Paris I was thrilled to NOT be driving back into Paris.
- Where we based our stay: It can be hard to decide where to stay in Paris. It is a large city with so much to see. Should you stay near the Louvre or perhaps the Eiffel Tower? We ended up choosing the 6th Arrondissement which is Saint-Germain. This was a chic area with excellent restaurants and close to many of the Paris landmarks. However, when we go back I think we might stay in Le Marais. I fell in love with this vibrant arrondissement. It has so much character. I would even consider Montmartre because it has more of a neighborhood feel.
- Length of stay: This was a 5 nights Paris itinerary! Our last day was an early departure day so it was really only 4 full days in the city. This was perfect for us. Of course it is impossible to experience everything Paris has to offer in only 4 days but we felt that it was enough to allow us to get a feel for the city and soak in the atmosphere. The Paris itinerary for the hardest one to plan because there is SO much to do.
- Our accommodations: We splurged in Paris. At least, it was a splurge for us. We stayed at Hotel de l’Abbaye Paris in Saint-Germain. I loved this hotel! Each time I stepped into our room it made me happy. The staff was unfailingly pleasant and helpful. The location is superb. It is very close to things but is also exceptionally quiet which I’m told is hard to find in Paris.
- Restaurants: To be honest I didn’t do much research on where to eat in any of the other regions in France, but for Paris I had done my homework. We enjoyed walking through the city so much that we only made actual dinner reservations on one evening. Here is my list of great Paris restaurants that don’t require a reservation. As you might imagine it was great fun researching this list! If you want to eat at some of the Michelin starred restaurants you will need to make reservations well in advance, but you can eat great food in Paris without breaking the bank or making a reservation 6 months in advance.
What we did
There is so much to do in Paris! With only a 5 night, 4 day Paris itinerary I think it is really important to not try to see everything. Take your time and soak up the ambiance of this gorgeous city. Walk through parks. Have a picnic along the Seine. Take a look at this post which gives you a list of all the best things to do on your first trip to Paris. It also gives you permission to skip certain things!
Here are some of the more interesting things that we did. In addition to these we walked the city, explored several of the arrondissements and enjoyed sitting in the cafes:
- Take a boat tour down the Seine: Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too touristy. Sure, it’s touristy. It’s also fun. Tip: Go at dusk so that you can watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle.
- Take a food tour: We choose the Paris by Mouth food tour, the taste of Saint-Germain. I recommend doing this early in your visit to Paris as it will help you to know more about the cuisine of the city.
- Take a wine class: If you are at all interested in wine then I highly recommend Thierry’s class, Wine Tasting in Paris. This is an education! He gives you an overview of the wines in France. It was the best wine class we have ever attended.
- Find a view over Paris: My suggestion is to go somewhere other than the Eiffel Tower. Why? The lines are long at the tower and the Eiffel Tower isn’t in the view from the Eiffel Tower.
- Learn to make croissants: We took a croissant making class with La Cuisine Paris. It was a fun and delicious morning. If you don’t want to make your own croissants be sure to eat your share of them.
For a more complete list of what we did in Paris check out this post!
Favorites and what we missed
- Favorites: Just being in Paris. I’m serious. Just being there. Paris was better than I expected and my expectations were pretty high. My husband and I both thought it was one of the most beautiful cities we had ever seen. Paris is just so…well…so darn Parisian. It feels like the pictures look.
- What we missed: Honestly? A ton. There is so much to see and do in Paris. We didn’t go to the Louvre. We didn’t get to spend much time shopping. We didn’t take any day trips – I would have loved to go to Versailles. Paris simply can’t be seen in one trip.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our itinerary for France and that it will give you incentive to plan your own France itinerary!
There isn’t much that we would have done differently. When we look back we remember a trip that was pretty perfect. I hope yours is too!
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