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France outside of Paris - where?

  • j

Im going to have the opportunity to travel in France for a week with my daughters (in addition to some time in Paris, which Ive visited before) - This is a first trip, and Id appreciate any suggestions of a region or area that might be particularly rewarding for a vac of this sort - culturally and foodwise. Delicious but not break the bank (not interested in making the three-star circuit). where should we go?

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  1. b
    Bill Strzempek

    Lyon is a fantastic destination both culturally and food wise. You have the great Roman ruins and museum, Old Lyon with the second largest complex of preserved Rennaissance buildings in the world, the silk weavers' traboules and museums, the Beaux Arts museum, the stunning Basillica, and lots of other unique museums like the fabric museum, the museum of the resistance, and the Lumiere household where motion pictures were invented. It's a city full of cheap and astronomically priced eats, also, beginning with a wander through the overwhelming Halles market on to "Mere" bouchons and great relaxing wine bars, brasseries, and one two and three star standout restaurants. The pastries are pretty darn good too. Between the markets and the pastry shops you can easily save money for a bigger splurge on dinner. If you want to wander farther afield you can meander through the beaujolais wine district nearby and do wineries and simple country bistros along the way. I'm actually heading back to Paris and Lyon tomorrow as I can't get enough of them!

    I also found the Dijon area to be similarly impressive, but where one could easily linger in the Lyon area for a good four or five days and still not do everything, Dijon is do-able in fewer days.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Bill Strzempek
      Peter Cherches

      Interesting how individual perspectives can differ. I was composing my response which blew off Lyon probably as you were making a case for Lyon.

      I was also not too thrilled with Dijon & Beaune.

      1. re: Peter Cherches

        Any particular reasons on why you didn't care for Dijon and Beaune? Just those cities in particular or did it extend to Burgundy in general? I'm curious because I have the area on my list.

        1. re: emily
          Peter Cherches

          Dijon is pretty but not much going on. Beaune is one of those cutesy little places with not much to do beyond a day trip. I do have an urban bias in my travel preferences. I didn't get around Burgundy otherwise. I went to Dijon for the Foire Gastronomique, then to Paris. I wrote about the Foire and a bit about Beaune in my blog referenced in my post above.

          1. re: Peter Cherches
            Bill Strzempek

            Peter, not quite sure if your urban bias is for or against urban areas? It's the urban feel of Lyon that I found so appealing, sort of a big town, small feel, besides eating there's opera, theatre, classical and jazz music, film, lots of night life too.

            1. re: Bill Strzempek
              Peter Cherches

              Actually, an affirmative urban bias, which I meant in relation to more bucolic holidays. Being a New Yorker, though, what I often look for are smaller cities that retain a combination of very specific placeness with a certain cosmopolitanism (e.g. Sevilla, Bergen & Strasbourg), but also the cosmopolitan bigger cities with strong personalities and high energy (Paris, Madrid , Hong Kong). For me neither Lyon nor Dijon had the vibe that clicked with me.

      2. re: Bill Strzempek

        Wow, that's exactly the trip I envisioned for my next trip to France: Paris-Dijon-Lyon. After all, Lyon is considered THE food city in France. Looking forward to a report.

        1. re: Bill Strzempek

          I would vote for Lyon too for the combination of history, wine and food. Best doner kebap I've ever eaten was from a small hole-in-the-wall here for something a little different when you tire of French food. It was a good entry and return point for exploring the Rhone Valley.

          I love Beaune, haven't spent enough time in Dijon to comment. But Beaune is close to my heart because I love Burgundy wines and the restaurant cellars are very deep with vintages there. Also, the local cheeses are smelly and excellent, and I adore the small bistros and food purveyors. I've only been to France four times, and three of those trips I squeezed Beaune into my itinerary.

          Alsace is a bit far away, yet the countryside and the little towns are some of the most picturesque. My ideal of what wine villages should look like and great bang for the buck in food and wine.

          Bordeaux offers some great history and culture, though the countryside is not that scenic or interesting except for St. Emilion. This is a place to go for the wine. I didn't have a single piece of cheese here in four days of eating that was properly matured, maybe just my bad luck. No meals that were memorable for the food either, but again, lots of great wines. Can't seem to bring myself to post about it since the food wasn't that good.

          The area around Toulouse and Carcassone has a lot of history and sightseeing to offer, pork-laden food, and deliciously inexpensive country wines. More vegetables served here. I'd return there before Bordeaux, but for the wines of Bordeaux.

          Haven't been to the Loire Valley or Champagne yet myself. If I wanted to stay close to Paris, those would be my picks. Among my friends in the wine trade, touring Champagne or Alsace tend to get the top marks for the combination of wine, food, and economy.

          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        2. p
          Peter Cherches

          Lyon is great for food, but otherwise not a great holiday destination.

          I love Strasbourg & Alsace, and the food can be great, but really heavy.

          Ultimately, I'd go with Provence as a recommendation. Wonderful food (especially seafood), less likely to give you a coronary than other regional cuisines, and Arles, Aix & Avignon all are close to each other and have very particular characters. I stayed in Arles & Aix, and loved both. In Arles I stayed at the Hotel Calendal, which is a delightful place, a great bargain, and very centrally located.

          I'm hoping to do Britanny & Normandy next year.

          Link: http://petercherches.blogspot.com

          1. I enjoyed Provence very much (we were in the area around Vaison). Seguret is one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. A great inexpensive B&B (110 euros) in the area is Vieux de Figuier, set in the vineyards, very comfortable, and serving delicious breakfasts.

            Dordogne, imo, is about just as beautiful as Provence. Not as touristy, though. We didn't see any other Americans there last fall, which is always surprising in Europe. We were stationed in Beynac at Residence Versailles. Another inexpensive B&B, but a little lower in comfort than Vieux de Figuier (probably wouldn't stay there again now that I've given up on trying to save money on hotels). But, very good for 55 euros a night with gracious hosts and tasty breakfasts. We canoed down the Dordogne, ate duck confit for the first time, visited the huge market in Sarlat that's filled with foie gras and walnut products, and saw the prehistoric cave paintings in Font de Gaume.

            1. Have stayed in Provence (apartment in the Luberon) and travelled around the Dordogne twice staying in small B&Bs and farmhouse gites. You can't go wrong with either but I'd go back to the Dordogne first -- fewer tourists, AMAZING food, very friendly people (in part because they are less overrun, probably). Feel free to email me as this is likely to get non-food related rapidly.

              3 Replies
              1. re: GretchenS

                We're off to Paris/Provence/The Ardeche next week so I'll report back if anyone is interested. Gretchen, we'll be in the Luberon region - staying in St. Saturnin Les Apt but plan on seeing many of the villages as we follow market days. Can't wait! If you have any advice for inexpensive bistros or markets we need to visit I'd love to hear them!

                1. re: EMZ

                  We stayed right outside Apt last September. All the markets are fun, but we really enjoyed the large one at L'Isle Sur Sorgue although the parking there is tough at times. There was so much to see and sample. Feel free to email if you have any questions on that area. We traveled around a lot!

                  1. re: zuriga

                    Agree that the market at L'Isle sur la Sorgue (Sunday) is outstanding. We also really liked the one at Gordes (Tuesday, I believe). If you have time you might want to try and get your hands on a book called Markets of Provence by Long/Wakely which lists all the markets and which days they are open.

                    One thing we learned was that if we wanted to get a rotisserie chicken at the market (there's always someone selling them) we had to reserve one fairly early on and then return late in the morning to pick it up. We never had any luck without a chicken reservation.

                    Have a great time and please post a report when you get back!!

              2. I'll toss Languedoc into the ring, you didn't say how old your daughters were or what interests them, but it's a diverse and undervisited region.

                Beaches, mountains, castles, canals, chateaux, wineries, olive oil coops, windy roads, Spain, Andorra (a great been there passport stamp), fishing on the Med., and great people.

                We spent a week and a half there and still missed out on things.

                Alternatively rent a boat from Crown Blue lines and cruise from market to winery to restaraunt to bakery to market...

                Link: http://www.frenchconnections.co.uk/fo...

                1. I'd opt for Alsace. It's beautiful, full of vines and flowers. It also melds French and German culture and characteristics. Food can be heavy but also very good. If your kids are above 10, I'd say to scrap your idea of not eating at a 3 star restaurant and take them to Auberge de L'Ille. It's generally regarded as the most affordable of the 3 stars. It's also highly approachable with an almost family feel to lunch on Sunday. If it's warm you can have an apertif outdoors while you order in the most beautiful garden with weeping willows alongside a creek. It will be an experience you and your daughters will never forget.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: JmVikmanis

                    thanks these and the many other ideas sound lovely- my girls are 20-21 the younger is just coming off a year studying in paris, and they certainly appreciate fine dining, espec on someone else's dime - we will be doing some of that but I was hoping also for some recommendations out of the top tier.

                    wondering, aside from the red michelin which I feel I understand, from using it on several early trips around Italy, what are some good food guides to the french provinces?

                    1. re: jen kalb
                      Peter Cherches

                      As far as guidebook recommendations for budget restaurants are concerned, I've found Guide Routard (the French Let's Go or Lonely Planet, but with writers who actually care about food) to be a good source. Not specifically a food guide, though. Sometimes a Guide Routard sticker in a restaurant window will be a hint that it'll probably be good and affordable.

                      Link: http://petercherches.blogspot.com

                  2. Good question Jen, what we have found is eating and staying in the smaller towns in good B&B/Inns make the trip enjoyable. The Innkeeper will let help you find all the good places to eat and markets to visit. And if they speak English, you will usual have Brits staying there, so conversion at breakfast is always interesting.

                    And plan some kind of activity in addition to eating and drinking, such as hiking, biking, kayaking or whatever.

                    1. I might as well put my two pence in, too. I love both the Dordogne and Provence. You won't regret visiting either of those and it's easy to also see Bordeaux if traveling in the former. I'll put in another suggestion - the Loire Valley. It's another beautiful region with lovely places to eat, however I think a week is a long time for just that alone.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: zuriga

                        I will have a week and will be driving - so I dont need to limit myself to one area this time - would like to move around and catch some highlights and develop a feel for future visits.

                        Im appreciating all the suggestions.

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          With a week and a car I would head to the Loire valley area to take in some of the chateaux and gardens and then head north to Normandy staying in Honfleur before returning to Paris with a stop at Monet's garden in Giverny. Consider staying in a chateau hotel (happy to provide suggestions if you e-mail me) or at least dining in one or more--e.g. near the gardens of Chenonceau where you can dine in a beautiful place or at Chateau Chissay where you can dine in a castle, or, if you want to splurge have a one star dinner at La Choiseul (sp?) just under the castle at Amboise with views out to the Loire river flowing by. From Honfleur (which is beautiful on its own) you can travel through the charming countryside of Normandy on the cheese and cider route, then soak up the decadence and opulence of the seaside villages of Deauville and Trouville where Gaston took Fanny for holiday--and have dinner at the charming earthy bistro Les Vapeurs. Again, happy to furnish suggestions for hotels and other sightseeing opportunities. Food choices in both areas will be quite wonderful. With 7 days, I'd say to allot 3 to the Loire valley, 3 to Normandy and 1 to the trip back to Paris. Enjoy. I took my son to Normandy for a long weekend while he was working in Paris and he and we had a wonderful, relaxing time.

                          1. re: JmVikmanis

                            Just noticed that I am confusing my Collette heroines. Gaston took Gigi, not Fanny, to Deauville and Trouville. I think Fanny wound up with Maurice in Marseille.

                      2. f
                        Fois gras fan

                        I vote for Bordeaux. It's a beautiful city with great museums, theater, architecture, food and of course wine! It's about an hour from the Atlantic and the great oyster beds of Arcachon (lovely Victorian era seaside resort, but beware huge crowds in July and August). Only a couple hours from the dordogne, too, and the Pyrennes. Wherever you decide have a great trip!

                        1. If you want your family to see the most beautiful things in France, go directly to the Loire Valley and visit the chateaux: Chambord, Chenonceaux, Blois, Amboise, Chaumont, Azay-le-Rideau. If your daughters don't fall in love with France after visiting these wonderful places, visits to Dijon, Lyon, Provence, and Dordogne will do nothing for them. Wine and foods of this area will please you all enormously as well: Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil, MontLouis and MontRichard wines are wonderful. I don't intend to disparage the other areas of France, which I know quite well after 47 years of traveling in France, but start with this, then do Bretagne, Normandy, and Provence. But in a week's time, the chateaux of the Loire Valley will enchant you all and will be the most memorable of first visits.

                          1. I think a trip down through the Loire valley (hitting a chateau or two--don't overdo it by seeing them all in one trip) toward Nantes and then around Brittany would be a great road trip (in fact, I've done it myself).

                            If you had the time, you could then loop back via the north toward Mont Saint Michel and Normandy. You would cross over quite a few different regional cuisines this way and get to see some truly beautiful countryside and coastline.

                            1. The Alsatian wine villages per Melanie's suggestion. Also Colmar in Alsace.

                              I'd also consider Provence. Loved the small restaurants in Avignon.

                              1. Go South. The cuisines of Provence or the Dordogne are justifiably famous. Often copied, but this is your opportunity for the real thing. Absolutley do not have to eat expensively.

                                Since Chowhound is not for sightseeing, I'll be happy to give you more info by PM.

                                1. Hope it's not too late but no one seems to have mentioned the Aveyron region. The region has ten of France's "plus beaux villages." There's great food, lots to do and it's reasonably priced. I esp. recommend Najac, Conques and Belcastel. If you and your daughters like roquefort, perhaps a visit there as well.