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Where as my 3rd France home base?

I am coming to France from Toronto with my partner for about 2 weeks, and want to see a variety of cities that are food focused but can only stay in 3 cities. We are on no particular budget.
We are for sure staying in Paris for 4-5 nights, then SOMEWHERE for 4-5 nights, then Nice for 2 nights.
So I am finishing up my research on Paris and Nice and will be back with questions soon on those, but my immediate question is where would make the most sense to stay as a middle home base considering the following:
-we will have a car to travel
-we would like to see:
Burgundy*
Provence*
Loire valley*
Rhone valley*
Strasbourg *
Bourdeax*
- the city we stay in should be the one w the best access to some of these cities AND a lot of great restaurants for dinner (since we usually will want to eat wherever we stay at night time so we aren't driving home too late)

Thank you so much in advance!

Abbey

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  1. Hi Abbey,

    We recently faced a similar decision (10 days in France last month) and investigated spending time in Lyon as the ‘happy medium’. I note that most of the areas are wine regions, so I’m ‘assuming’ you intend to imbibe. Which raises the issue of possibly driving ‘home’ after the meal. Driving in cities is tricky (even with a GPS), so, to jump to the conclusion, we ended up driving a circular route from/to Lyon, staying at a new place almost every night, so we didn’t have to drive (too far) . That also meant we could take the train from Paris to/from Lyon and shorten the car rental period.

    On a previous trip to the Loire we stayed centrally and, because we had to drive home after each meal, we found we couldn’t really relax completely over dinner, which detracted from the trip.

    Of course, if you plan to rent an apartment and cook for yourself, then the above doesn’t apply (except for the driving in cities bit).

    I have visited, and stayed in, all of your proposed areas (except Provence – which you could probably do from Nice anyway) and most have attractions that are worth seeing/doing. I place Bordeaux FAR at the bottom. Mostly industrial and although the top wines are justly famed, you won’t be able to visit (or afford) them without strong contacts. Also it’s the weakest area for food.

    How important is ‘sightseeing’? The villages of Alsace and the Loire chateaux are spectacular – but scattered. Burgundy & Rhone are much more food destinations, but e.g. Beaune is very small and may not be worth 5 days.
    If you want 3 star dining then Rhone and Burgundy are both excellent choices. In planning our trip I think I discovered that 15 different 3* Michelin places are within a 4-hour drive from Lyon – not that I recommend sticking to those – there are multiple local places also. However, the odd 3* is worth it!

    I’ll add more after other people chime in and I can assess what balance of food & tourism (and fine dining) you’re looking for.

    1 Reply
    1. re: estufarian

      Beaune may be small, but there is easily 5 days worth of sightseeing, wine tasting and dining to be had in the area. However, if you wish to taste at Burgundy wineries, you need to set that up ahead of time through your local wine merchant, who can hook you up with distributors and importers.

      Lyon is a wonderful food city -- not so much for wine itself, but nearby to Beaujolais, the Maconnais, and the upper Rhone Valley. Some of the finest dining in the world is to be had in that region. There are more 3* restaurants in that region than anywhere in France outside Paris, and the prices are much more friendly.

    2. I'm prejudiced about such matters, but I couldn't suggest a better place than Marseille--great access to the rest of Provence, wonderful choice of restaurants, and . . . Marseille 2013: European Capital of Culture!

      1. Two good suggestions so far, but I'd add Toulouse as a third option.
        Lots of good restaurants & stuff to do. Car not needed in the city, but plenty of sights to visit within easy driving distance.
        As an alternative you might consider a smaller city like Albi or Montpelier. Both very interesting with a selection of good restaurants.
        Finally, consider a week in a gite. There's much to be said for shopping at the markets & doing your own cooking as well as trying the more rural restaurants.

        1. I have to question, how well traveled are either of you in France? Makes a big difference in my recommendation.

          From Paris, head to Caen. Embrace the butter, cheese, and seafood of Normandy. Quick trip to Mont Ste. Michel for lamb and more seafood. A slow drive up the Loire valley for world famous wines, liquors, castles and chateaus. I have taken this trip 4 times by car and have enjoyed it every time. Always something new to experience. The knowlegeable Hounds of France can direct you to current worthy establishments.

          If your prime purpose is the gustatorial side of France, your best bet is Lyon. Start at the traditional Bouchons and advance north or south for great wines and fantastic food. This is a target rich environment. Plenty of Michelin stars to add to your list.

          And don't underestimate the regional public transportation to get you to and from vinyards and restaurants without the dangers of alcohol dehanced driving.

          Which region of France do I personally prefer? Whichever one I am in at the moment.

          1. What time of the year is your trip?

            1. Thank you everyone for your responses. I will be there at the start of September.

              How traveled are we here? I have never been before to France, but I do want an incredible food/wine experience.

              I met with my travel agent today and I think we will do Lyon and MAYBE (if my partner will allow another hotel), a night in Strasbourg.
              So that means a few nights in Paris (To be confirmed)
              MAYBE a night in Strasbourg
              A few nights in Lyon
              And a few nights in Nice

              Once I finish my preliminary research I will be back with restaurant questions. Thank you all!

              1. Strasbourg, many fond memories.

                For a Michelin star, head to Au Crocodile. North of the Cathedral. For more typical Alsatian, I recommend Maison Kammerzel on the Cathedral square. Also is part of a hotel, but I never stayed there. I am more of a find it on the fly 'Chambres' traveler.

                Definately try Gewurtstraminer and Riesling wines. Sylvaner and Baccus varieties for something you may not be able to get back home.

                1. Nobody is going to agree on this one. What city (large or small, lost in time or up to the minute, in every guide or a gem about to be discovered) is THE ONE is totally subjective. Which brings me to my suggestions:
                  As to larger cities, I'm afraid I totally disagree with estufarian. I don't now when he last visited Bordeaux, but from a vinous backwater 10 years ago, it has now become the "must see" city of France. The fantastic new tramway system makes all parts of it accessible while the historical center is delightfully walkable, the restored quayside bustles with life (and cafes),on every side is wonderful architecture (a provincial Paris), and a vibrant restaurant/cafe scene is in the making . You won't have time on your schedule to visit wine chateaux (and anyway, in this area, the better ones must be booked ahead), but no problem - the new interactive Maison de Vin is informative and fun. Gastronomically, it can't measure up to the number of places in Lyons, but then it isn't as expensive or anywhere near as overwhelming in size.
                  You are in travelling distance of Perigueux (1 1/2 hours) - now HERE is a town trapped in time, a living museum of limestone medieval and renaissance buildings and charming restaurants, where foie gras is on every other menu at hometown prices. You are also 1 1/2 hours from La Rochelle (more history and luscious Atlantic seafood).
                  All of these places are a real contrast to both Paris and Nice in size and atmosphere - more so than Lyons.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Piggyinthemiddle

                    I heartily agree about Bordeaux. Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in France, stunning architecture (even in the suburbs with the gorgeous 19th-c wine workers' houses), lots of good life, the highest number of restaurants of all French cities (per citizen), and a great atmosphere.

                    I disagree about the food... I much prefer Bordeaux cooking than Lyon cooking. It has wonderful beef, unique wines, lots of spices and aromatics, fantastic fish, oysters and other seafood (including the semi-freshwater lamprey, eels and grey mullet from the Gironde), makes great use of all sorts of wines, and is at the crossroads of many precious food influences and traditions: Spain, Gascony, Périgord, Charente, and the courtly tradition of wine châteaux. It is far richer in its inspiration than Lyon food but the people of Bordeaux also have a British streak in their system so they like to keep cool about their own treasures and don't usually boast about their cooking as Lyon people like to do.

                    But, sincerely, I'd rather eat in Bordeaux rather than in Lyon any time, and I've never had a bad meal there (not saying that you can't find one, but with places like La Tupina, La Brasserie Bordelaise, Le Petit Commerce, L'Auberge des Vignes in Sauternes and the fantastic Lion d'Or in Margaux (technically in Arcins), you've already enough to bite on without risking a bad experience.

                    And wow - those wines.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      I've been to Bordeaux twice (but not in the past 5 years). So I may not be up-to-date. While I was fortunate enough to visit a few of the more famous chateaux, this is typically not available to most visitors.
                      The food was not memorable enough that I recall anything in particular (although I do recall restaurants in other areas from the same trip(s) specifically Burgundy, Loire & Alsace - my Rhone trip recently did not involve a visit to Bordeaux). I also recall that most of the available wines (at prices I can afford) were of very recent vintages and while some indeed matched well with the food, in most cases only local wines were offered - this is not a criticism of the wines themselves - only the choices available.
                      To each their own - good on you for defending your choice. I also criticized the Lyon area for its 1-dimensional food choices. The Lamprey was also good, but I have preferred eels from elsewhere. And although I'm sure I had beef - there's no recollection of it - contrasted with, say, the Auvergne where the best single dish I had featured local beef (Salers).
                      So there's my (not completely up-to-date) impressions. After two visits I haven't felt compelled to return, as there is so much more to investigate (both in France and elsewhere).
                      FWIW I wouldn't return to Lyon either (for the food), although it did provide a base for many culinary explorations.

                      1. re: estufarian

                        If you find the phone numbers of most of the wine châteaux in Bordeaux, including the big dudes, and if you use them, you might be surprised at how many of them will be happy to welcome you.

                  2. I really love Provence (but then I really love almost every place in France). On the first trip I had outside of Paris we spent a week near Avignon (easily reached by TGV from Paris or the airport) and had a rental car. We were able to see a lot without feeling any sort of rush. And then you can drive to Nice from there.

                    I also love Alsace - just back from there a little over a week ago. The wine route has many adorable (sorry, no other word comes to mind) little medieval towns and Strasbourg is beautiful.

                    I do think it is pretty subjective. I've been back to both of the above; I've not been back to Burgundy or the Loire (and of course Avignon is right on the Rhone so that was part of what we explored when we stayed there). Foodwise for me Provence had it all over Alsace, but then I don't eat pork so that was sort of going to be the case no matter what. I think you can't really go wrong with any of the places you've picked. Just try to promise yourselves that you'll go back in 5 years and do another part of the country. Can't wait to hear what you end up doing - have a great trip.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LulusMom

                      Thank you all!
                      We are finalizing where all we will be able to pop into, but as a home base it only made sense to stay in Lyon since it was between both Paris and Nice.
                      I will report back after the trip with restaurants reviews but if you have any recommendations you could kindly share, please see my other thread here:

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/903582

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        I did not know about your other thread. Feel like a total idiot as my two favorite places in Strasbourg are the first two on your list. Have a great trip.

                    2. I may be a bit late, but my vote is Beaune in Burgundy. Great town, lots to see nearby, and a wonderful place to eat (and most of all) heaven on earth to drink.

                      Second choice would be somewhere in Provence other than Nice. Maybe Bandol.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Mike C. Miller

                        Before seeing MCM's post I intended to ask if you are tied to Nice. On my first trip to Europe, in 2001 with a friend, our first three bases were Paris, Avignon, and Cannes. We had booked Nice but at the last minute a friend of hers suggested Cannes as a better (smaller and charming) option and once we saw both we were very glad we made the switch.

                        1. re: GourmetWednesday

                          Unfortunately, yes. My partner is set on it- he's always wanted to go.

                          1. re: hungryabbey

                            Nice is a wonderful place and you won't regret it. Cannes is interesting for its market and the Lérins islands, but it is also very close to Nice.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              I'd take Nice and its vibrant food scene any day. Cannes is for conventioneers.

                        2. re: Mike C. Miller

                          Beaune is a great choice, itself lovely and compact, with good eateries, and with nearby … well, everything, you name it: fermes-auberges, vineyards, castles, listed plus beaux villages…
                          Ditto Arles, for much the same reasons, but in a Provençale version.
                          If the three bases are Paris-Beaune-Nice or Paris-Arles-Nice, the transport would be streamlined too, with maximum contrasting food scene and landscape and minimum driving.

                        3. Try nissarda food while you are in Nice.