Trip #33-Itinerary For 2 Months In France

Hot air balloon view of Chateau de Castelnaud (J. Chung)

What would your choice be for a 2 month visit in France? Stay in one place or travel around the country? This past Spring, I stayed for an extended period of time and decided to travel around the country because there is so much to see. Here is my itinerary for 2 months in France with information about:

  • preparing for a 2 month stay
  • my accommodations
  • favourite tours and visits
  • my itinerary and route (which covered a lot of France) with information about the weather during the week, my accommodations, sightseeing highlights, and recommended restaurants
  • final thoughts and travel tips that can help you in planning your long stay in France.

When Did I Travel To France?

Bastille Day Fireworks (J. Chung)

Bastille Day Fireworks (J. Chung)

Dates of trip: May 10-July 15, 2019

Duration: just over two months (65 days)

Why did I choose this time period? Most of the time (May and June) is considered shoulder season, so it isn’t as crowded or as expensive as you would find in July and August. And I was hoping the weather would be good for travelling—-not too hot. As you will discover, my wish almost came true. I also wanted to end the trip on a high note—-in Paris, on Bastille Day because my birthday is July 14. What better way to celebrate than with fireworks by the Eiffel Tower!

The Weather In May, June, And July

In 2019 there was a heatwave like the one in 2018; however, it came and went and depended on what part of France you were in. Fortunately,  “la canicule” (heatwave) did not go on week after week.

While you might assume the south of France was warmer than the north, this wasn’t always true. I encountered very cool, pleasant weather in Cassis, partly due to being by the Mediterranean. In the Pyrenees mountains, which are also in the south, I FROZE when I got off the Little Yellow Train to do some hiking. At the base of the mountains it was about 23° C. Up top? 10° C! So temperatures depended on the location and time of year.

Preparing For A 2 Month Stay

While I have many posts about planning for your trip, there were additional things I arranged in advance. They included:

  1. Arranged to have someone (my sister agreed) to take care of my place and my cat (I am forever indebted to her! 9 weeks is a long time)
  2. Booked my accommodations in advance as were my modes of transportation (leasing a car, 3 trains). This ensured that I would not waste time doing research on where to stay while I was travelling. Most often my accommodations were for a full week—primarily Airbnb and HomeAway but some B and B’s and hotels.
  3. Took collision insurance off my car as no one else would be driving it while I was away. I saved a couple of hundred dollars.
  4. Leased a car (Renault Eurodrive) instead of renting. As my car hire was longer than 3 weeks it was cheaper to lease a car. In a future post, I’ll share with you all the advantages. You can book this through my affiliate link with Auto Europe
  5. Registered my trip with Registration of Canadians Abroad which allows the “Government of Canada to notify you in case of an emergency abroad or a personal emergency at home. The service also enables you to receive important information before or during a natural disaster or civil unrest.” There are similar services in other countries such as the State Department’s “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” in the United States.
  6. Notifying banks and credit cards of my absence and use of debit/credit cards in France
  7. Photocopied my passport, credit cards, and contact phone numbers for my family in case I lost everything. I also kept a copy on me and emailed a copy to myself.

Accommodations

Beynac Airbnb (J. Chung)

Beynac Airbnb (J. Chung)

I stayed in Airbnb and HomeAway apartment rentals in Cassis, Bonnieux, Sarlat, Beynac-et-Cazenac, Arcachon, and Paris. All included free or low-cost parking (except Paris where I didn’t need parking). The rest of the accommodations were in B and Bs or hotels. I was happy with all my accommodations. (Contact me if you would like more information about the Airbnb or Home Away apartments I rented).

Paris Apartment Rental Difficulties

Booking a Paris apartment was a challenge at the beginning but ended well. I spent ages searching for places that had lots of reviews, no cancellations, and preferably were Superhosts (Airbnb) or Premier Partners (HomeAway). They are less inclined to cancel and typically have excellent ratings. The other criteria? Air conditioning and located in a decent area.

As there was a horrible heatwave in June/July 2018, air conditioning was a must. In October 2018 I booked a great Airbnb. 1 month later I got a message saying the owners had to cancel my booking because “the mayor of Paris says that we can’t rent anymore our apartment in 2019”. I believe there must have been a crackdown on Airbnb owners who were booking their places for more than 120 days (the rule in Paris). This Airbnb had a registration number and was legit; however, I guess it didn’t matter.

So I booked another one and within 1 day THAT Airbnb reservation was cancelled. While I am grateful that the cancellations didn’t happen a week or day before my arrival, this put a bitter taste in my mouth for Airbnb, certainly in Paris.

So, I booked an apartment through HomeAway. The owner had a contract (none with Airbnb) and the place was spectacular—-air condition, balcony, great location, 1 bedroom with a sofa bed, full kitchen with a washing machine and dishwasher, a decent sized bathroom and shower and an elevator in the building! I was extremely pleased with the rental, but I keep hearing horror stories of last-minute cancellations in Paris, so I am very careful now when booking. If you decide to book an Airbnb, at the very least, choose an owner who is a Superhost. They are less inclined to cancel and typically have excellent ratings.

21 Of My Favourite Tours And Visits

Chateau d'If (J. Chung)

Château d’If (J. Chung)

One of the advantages of visiting France in the off or shoulder season is that for most sites and events you can just show up and get in. I was in France in the shoulder season and just little into the high season (in Paris). There were some popular places I did not want to take a chance on missing out and so I booked the tour (guided or self-guided) in advance. These are given an asterisk. Here are 21 of my favourite tours/bookings:

  1. Bateaux Parisiens Dinner Cruise on Bastille Day* (booked 4 months in advance and even that was late)
  2. Versailles Marie Antoinette Spectacles* (booked 4 months in advance)
  3. Le Petit Train Jaune* booked first thing in the morning when the ticket office opened)
  4. Hot air balloon ride in the Dordogne* (booked a few days in advance)
  5. Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles caves *(booked first thing in the morning when the ticket office opened)
  6. Bike Ride Along The Canal du Midi
  7. Kayaking in the Dordogne* (booked a few days in advance, but wasn’t really necessary)
  8. La Barbacane Restaurant* (Michelin-starred)
  9. La Roque St-Christophe
  10. Lascaux IV* (booked 2 months in advance)
  11. Carrieres des Lumières at Les Baux -“Van Gogh-La Nuit Etoilée” sound and light show
  12. Trip to Château d’If -made famous by the Alexandre Dumas book (and movie), “The Count of Monte Cristo” where the main character, Edmond Dantès is imprisoned on at Château d’If for 6 years.
  13. Grotte de Niaux*
  14. Château Quéribus
  15. Château de Peyrepertuse
  16. Renting a bike to ride the Voie Verte from Sarlat to Cazoules in the Dordogne*
  17. Jardins de Marqueyssac
  18. Château de Beynac
  19. Château de Castelnau
  20. Château des Milandes
  21. Jardins Panoramique de Limeuil

2 Months In France: The Itinerary

Week 1: Lyon and Roanne (Region: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes)

Fresque des Canuts, Lyon (J. Chung)

Fresque des Canuts, Lyon (J. Chung)

Dates: May 11-18     Temperature: 17° C, sun and clouds

May 10-Flew to Lyon

May 11-1 night in Lyon ( Ibis Styles Lyon Center Part Dieu) -right around the corner from the Part Dieu train station; excellent breakfast and room

Highlights:

  • Boat ride on the Bateau Lyonnais Croisieres-“Cap Ile Barbe” itinerary seeing the Vieux Lyon
  • Les Théâtres Romains (Roman amphitheatre)
  • Notre-Dame de Fouvriere
  • Seeing the Fresque de Canuts wall mural

May 12-Afternoon train Lyon to Roanne

May 12-18-Roanne: French immersion course at Ecole des Trois Ponts (Classes every morning and two afternoons for 2 hours each)

Highlight:

Week 2: Cassis (Bouches-du-Rhône-Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region)

Route des Cretes (J. Chung)

Route des Crêtes (J. Chung)

Dates: May 18-25     Temperature:18-26° C, mostly sunny

May 18-Train from Roanne-Lyon-Marseille; picked up a leased car in Marseille

Highlights:

  • Boules competition in the centre of town
  • Hiking the Sentier du Petit Prince to Presquile with views of Port Miou
  • Hiking to Pointe des Lombards (where the hotel, Chateau de Cassis is) for excellent views of Cassis
  • Trip to Chateau d’If near Marseilles
  • “Les Feeries de Cassis”: Sound and light show with fireworks
  • Drove the Route des Crêtes from Cassis to Ciotat over Cap Canaille—more outstanding views
  • Littte Yellow Train (Le Train Jaune)
  • Hiking The 3 Calanques Near Cassis: Calanque de Port Miou, Calanque de Port Pin, and Calanque d’En Vau

Week 3: Bonnieux (Vaucluse-Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region)

Van Gogh La Nuit Etoilee-Carrieres des Lumieres (J. Chung)

Van Gogh La Nuit Étoilée-Carrières des Lumières (J. Chung)

Dates: May 25-June 1     Temperature:  23-27° C, sunny

Highlights:

  • Day’s Outing from Miramas to Marseille via the scenic Train Côte Bleue
  • Carrieres des Lumières at Les Baux-“Van Gogh” exhibition
  • Hiking from Bonnieux to Lacoste and back with a drink at Cafe de France
  • Musee de la Camargue and drive in the Camargue area
  • Chateau la Canorgue to taste wine (note: they filmed the movie, “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle here)
  • Visited Pont Julien – a 3-arch stone bridge from Roman times (3rd century BC) still in existence but automobiles can no longer use it
  • Moulin Cooperative de Mouries—to taste and buy olive oil
  • Excellent lunche at “Le 19 Vin” (plat du jour) in the town of Pertuis and at “Le Terrail” (veal stew) in Bonnieux.

Week 4: Autignac (Hérault-Occitanie Region)

Celebrating Moliere in Pezenas (J. Chung)

Celebrating Molière in Pézenas (J. Chung)

Dates: June 1-4     Temperature: 21° C, sunny

Highlights:

  • En route from Bonnieux to Autignac, stopped in Nimes and visited the amphitheatre.
  • Hotel: Château Autignac
  • Dinner at Le Café Co (Commerce restaurant) in the town of Autignac. Excellent friendly service and food-(grilled fish with vegetables, rice, and rosé wine)
  • Faugères Grands Vins de Nature (hike and wine tasting)
  • Wine tasting at Domaine Prés Lasses, located on the Château Autignac property
  • Excursion to the lovely medieval town (highly recommend) of Pézenas and lunch at Chez Hansi (excellent entrée + plat with a 25cl carafe of wine for 17.5 €)

Week 4: Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales-Occitanie Region)

Villefranche de Conflent (J. Chung)

Villefranche de Conflent (J. Chung)

Dates: June 4-8     Temperature: 23-27° C, sunny

Highlights:

  • Hotel: Prades: Maison 225 – breakfast and wine/beer included; great location
  • Enroute from Autignac to Prades, stopped to visit Abbaye de Fontfroide a large former Cistercian Abbey which makes its own AOC wine and has a garden with 2000 roses
  • Visited 3 “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” villages in the area: Villefranche de Conflent, Eus, and Evol. All are quite lovely but the latter two were particularly quiet, perhaps because it was actually quite cold/windy when I visited.
  • Journey on the Little Yellow Train (Le Petit Train Jaune) to see the Pyrénées and hike in the area
  • Saw the giant “Four Solaire” -world’s largest solar furnace in the town of Odeillo
  • Château Quéribus and Château de Peyrepertuse-impressive Cathar castles high on the rocks and originally part of the “Five Sons of Carcassonne”—fortresses which were built to defend France against the Spanish from the 1200s to the 1600s.
  • Excellent dinner at “Restaurant Bar L’Alegria” in Prades-delicious “Cassoulett” which are meatballs in a tomato sauce with beans, potatoes, and red peppers. A take on Cassoulet. With an amuse-bouche, 25cl wine and dessert for about 25 €

Week 5: Tarascon-sur-Ariège (Ariège-Occitanie Region)

Tarascon-sur-Ariege (J. Chung)

Tarascon-sur-Ariège (J. Chung)

Dates: June 8-10     Temperature: 19-26° C, sunny

Highlights:

I chose to stay in Tarascon-sur-Ariège because of its proximity to many sites worth visiting and it was a good place to stop between Prades and Carcassonne.

  • Hotel: Tarascon-sur-Ariège: Hotel Terranostra– in the centre of town; easy free parking across the street
  • I spent time walking along the L’Arège river which runs through this very pretty town and walked up to the fortress, Castella Tarasconnais, that was built in 1775 for excellent views of the area.
  • Drove to Foix and walked around the lovely historic centre of town. Unfortunately, the château was closed for renovations.
  • Grotte de Niaux-no photos allowed. Excellent English-speaking tour to see ORIGINAL  paleolithic painted caves from 13,000-18,000 years ago within a very deep, slippery, and complex cave system. Everyone carried torches (big flashlights).

Week 5: Carcassonne (Aude-Occitanie Region)

Chateau de Lagarde (J. Chung)

Chateau de Lagarde (J. Chung)

Dates: June 10-14     Temperature: 19-25 ° C sunny

Highlights En Route:

  • Camon- (another “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” village)
  • Mirepoix-famous market square, “Les Couverts” is surrounded by centuries-old houses and stores
  • Château de Lagarde, called the “Versailles of the Pyrenées” because of the elaborate design of the chateau and landscaping. Today, the château is in ruins, however, this is what makes the site so interesting.

Highlights While Staying In Carcassonne:

Week 5: Rocamadour (Lot-Occitanie Region)

Rocamadour (J. Chung)

Rocamadour (J. Chung)

Dates: June 14-15     Temperature: 16-18° C, cloudy

Highlights:

  • On my way to Rocamadour: visited the town of Cahors and it’s famous bridge, Pont Valentré
  • Rocamadour is a town situated on a cliff and as you approach it by car, you’ll see how impressive it is. I had been before but wanted to see it again and take more photos. I visited the ramparts of the château and Notre Dame chapel. Many people make pilgrimages to Rocamadour to see the famous Black Madonna that is carved in black wood. If you are not religious, you’ll still be in awe of the town that has been built into the cliffs. Be prepared for a lot of walking up and down. In addition to walking the circuit around the town I also walked around at night time to take photos of the village.
  • Hotel: Rocamadour: Relais Amadourien– excellent location on top of the village by the château; very good breakfast
  • Dinner at the Bellevue Restaurant -located outside of the historic centre; reasonable prix fixé dinner for 28 € including wine

Week 6: Sarlat-la-Canéda(Dordogne-Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

Reproduction of cave painting-Lascaux IV (J. Chung)

Reproduction of cave painting-Lascaux IV (J. Chung)

Dates: June 15-22     Temperature: 25-38° C, sunny

Highlights:

  • On my way to Sarlat: visited Gouffre de Padirac—an excellent cave with an underground river
  • Went to both the Wednesday and Saturday market in Sarlat—famous in France where much foie gras, walnut oil, and other local products are sold.
  • June 21: Fête de la musique in Sarlat
  • Lascaux IV-reproduction of the original prehistoric cave. Extremely well done.
  • Kayaked from La Roque Gageac to the area near Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, passing some of the Dordogne’s most famous châteaux such as Château Beynac and Château Castelnaud
  • Jardins de Marqueyssac in Vezac-17th century château and gardens that overlook the Dordogne valley
  • Visited Le Moulin du Tell (where walnut oil is made)

Week 7: Beynac-et-Cazenac (Dordogne-Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Beynac-et-Cazenac (J. Chung)

Beynac-et-Cazenac (J. Chung)

Dates: June 15-22     Temperature: 25-38° C, sunny (This was the hottest part of my trip)

Highlights:

  • Château de Beynac-at the top of this amazing town stands the château. There’s a steep incline up but worth the views
  • St. Cyprien Sunday market-large with a great selection of foods
  • Château de Castelnaud-large fortress with excellent medieval displays
  • Domme-designated as one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France and excellent panoramic views of the Dordogne valley
  • Château des Milandes-worth visiting as there are many things to see besides the gardens. American-born French entertainer (and French resistance agent), Josephine Baker bought the château and lived there. Today there is a museum in the house with displays of her costumes. The story of her life is very interesting. On the grounds, there are also entertaining birds of prey show.
  • Hot air balloon ride in the evening. We saw many châteaux as we quietly floated by (ie. Château de Beynac, Château de Castelnaud, and the gardens of Marqueyssac.
  • Tremolat-drove to Le Cingle de Tremolat (views of the Dordogne were OK but not as good as some other places)as I had read the views of the Dordogne are spectacular. 
  • Jardins Panoramiques de Limeuil. The town is another one designated as one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
  • La Roque St-Christophe- loved this place. So interesting to see a troglodyte town with rock shelters from Neanderthal times 50,000 years ago
  • Font-de-Gaume prehistoric cave-with polychromatic paintings. Excellent English-speaking tour, but line up early to get one of the few tickets sold each day.
  • Les Combarelles cave-with drawings of animals etched into the stone walls. Bought a ticket for the tour here at the same time I bought my ticket for Font-de-Gaume.
  • La Roque Gageac- a beautiful town built into the rocks by the Dordogne river and designated one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
  • Bicycled the Voie Verte from Sarlat to Cazoules-a former railway line
  • Robert Doisneau photography exhibit in Carlux which I came upon during my Voie Verte bike ride.

Week 8: Arcachon and Bordeaux (Gironde-Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region)

Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)

Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)

Dates:  Arcachon (June 29-July 1) and Bordeaux (July 1)     Temperature: 22-25° C sunny

Highlights:

  • On my way from Beynac to Arcachon, I did make a detour into Bergerac, the town associated with the character, Cyrano de Bergerac. It was market day and the town has a pedestrian section with half-timbered houses and interesting shops. If I had had more time, I would have enjoyed spending a night there.
  • I had two nights in Arcachon, the popular seaside resort located just west of Bordeaux.
  • Sunday market in Arcachon
  • Bicycled to Dune du Pilat and climbed the sand dune
  • Walked along the beach at Gujan-Mestras
  • Returned the leased car at the Bordeaux airport, took the shuttle into town, and spent the day walking around town.
  • Hotel: Bordeaux: Ibis Bordeaux Gare Saint-Jean– walking distance to the train station; very clean and comfortable
  • Bordeaux was very busy, maybe too busy. I much preferred visiting in January and enjoyed La Cité du Vin. During this trip, I just walked around looking for good photo ops like the Jaguar automobile hanging out of the car park (it’s an art installation) at Place Victor Hugo.
  • Dinner at “L’Autre Petit Bois”.

Week 8: La Rochelle and Ile de Re (Charente-Maritime-Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region)

Phare des Baleines-Ile de Re (J. Chung)

Phare des Baleines-Ile de Re (J. Chung)

Dates: July 2-5     Temperature: 28-34° C sunny

July 2: Train from Bordeaux to La Rochelle

Highlights:

  • Hotel: Hôtel Saint Jean d’Acre-air conditioned, superb location, right on the port, close to many restaurants
  • Walking around the old town and harbour
  • Bicycled on Ile de Ré for the day. Took the bus from La Rochelle to Saint Martin where I rented a bike. Lots of oyster farms and seaside villages with restaurants. Biked to the far end to see the Phare des Baleines (lighthouse) and Ars-en-Ré, another Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
  • Walked from La Rochelle to Pointe des Minimes for lunch at Bistrot des Robinsons-the starter, shrimp in curry was excellent. The main (bavette de boeuf, with fries) wasn’t (beef was tough)
  • Dinner at L’épi de blé for a galette, salad and wine
  • Besides the port, I think La Rochelle should be known for its ice cream. It was hot in La Rochelle and there were tons of ice cream shops, some with long line ups (ie. at Ernest le Glacier).

Week 8 and 9: Paris (Ile-de-France Region)

Marie Antoinette Le destin d'une Reine -Versailles Spectacle (J. Chung)

Marie Antoinette Le destin d’une Reine -Versailles Spectacle (J. Chung)

Dates: July 5-15     Temperature: 23-33° C, sunny

July 5-Train from La Rochelle to Paris

Highlights

  • Arts et Metiers Museum (free on the first Sunday of the month)-very interesting museum highlighting science, communication, inventions, and machines. The Foucault pendulum  (1851) is the star attraction as it demonstrates that the earth is rotating.
  • Carnaval Tropical (Caribbean Carnival) down the Champs Elysée -celebrating Caribbean culture, music, and dance from France and the Antilles (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, Guyana).
  • Seeing the beautiful mural located at 3 rue Froissart in the 3rd arr, by Jean-Jacques Sempé, the celebrated French cartoonist
  • Watching impromptu dancing (Guingettes) along the Seine
  • Grande Mosquée de Paris in the 5th arr. for ice cream
  • Château de Fontainebleau
  • Lunch at L’Enfance de Lard (21 rue Guisdard in the 6th arr)-bistro serving traditional French cuisine
    • avocado with shrimp and grapefruit
    • roasted chicken with mashed potatoes
    • shared a 50cl carafe of rosé wine
    • 38 € (not cheap, but a really delicious lunch and highly rated)
  • Lunch at Bouillon Chartier, the classic French brasserie founded in 1896
  • Versailles Marie Antoinette-“Le Destin d’une Reine Spectacle” (The destiny of the Queen Spectacle with fireworks)
  • Versailles Water Fountain and Music Show
  • July 14 Bastille Day parade down the Champs Elysee
  • July 14 Bastille Day dinner cruise on Bateaux Parisiens ending with fireworks by the Eiffel Tower
  • July 15-Flew home

Not A Perfect 2 Month Trip To France, But Really Close

While the trip was fabulous, there were a few hiccups. If you read my post about my debit and credit card problems: Encountering Credit and Debit Card Problems In France, I do have an update: 10 weeks after reporting the double withdrawal problem I was finally reimbursed by Tangerine Canada for a whopping 500 €!

I made a big mistake in booking Uber to take my friend and me to the airport from Paris. The driver couldn’t find us, had to walk to where the apartment was to bring us to his car but couldn’t remember where he parked. That wasn’t the worst part: Uber added a 2.6 X surcharge. This is called dynamic pricing where the cost of a ride is increased during busy, high-demand periods. They are supposed to show this increased cost in the estimate; however, I did not see it. I was not able to get some money back, so instead of a 50 € charge, the trip cost about 103 €. In the future, I’ll be using the G7 app and taxi service.

This was the best trip I’ve ever had (so far) in France. 2 months was perfect and while I was eager to go home, I can’t wait to go back to see more!

[I will be adding links as I add more posts to this trip page, so be sure to bookmark it to refer back to it.]

Have you ever taken an extended vacation in France? How did yours go?

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Trip # 33 To France-Itinerary For 2 Months In France