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Welcome to France! This little itinerary is designed to give you a quick overview of a three-week driving trip through France. This is a long trip because there’s a lot to see and I wanted to make it a relaxing one too, just in case you’ve been saving your vacation time. But it can easily be condensed or broken up into separate trips. I’ve listed options to make this into a two-week or one-week trip and I’ve included activity ideas for each day to give you some mix-and-match alternatives. Of course, the best kind of journey is the one that happens in moments of pure discovery, in between activities and reservations, but I hope this itinerary inspires you to explore and experience new cultures and places.
This trip was a long time coming. For over a year, I’ve been researching my family ancestry and tracing their journey to the U.S. – and to me. My paternal ancestry was particularly interesting to me because of the precision with which the French kept their records and I’ve been able to trace it back to the 1500’s thus far. For over three hundred years, our family lived in France. And aside from being a self-confessed Francophile, I knew I wanted to experience the places they lived to strengthen the personal connection to my past, to my roots. I wanted to breathe that same air, to walk through those same streets, and sit in the churches where their most celebrated life moments took place.
So how did we decide on these particular destinations? The paths of my family’s migration guided our journey through France for the most part. Epperly Travel (we’ve been using their services since our honeymoon) tied everything up perfectly for us. And piles of travel books and hours on travel websites finished the rest. My husband and I both felt this was the most visually stunning, beautifully planned, and well organized way to experience much of France; it’s for this reason we can recommend our little route 100% to you. In the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing in-depth, photo-filled posts on each city/region we visited so you can get a better picture of the places you might be interested in.
When you read this itinerary, take note of the restaurant mentions; they were mostly my husband’s choice to experience, but even if you’re not a foodie they are important because food is such an integral part of the French culture. France possesses the perfect climate for agriculture within its beautiful borders and over thousands of years, the French people have cultivated an appreciation of food as both an art form and a way to bring people together. If you travel there, it’s important to understand this.
I didn’t always understand why people appreciate dining experiences so much. In fact, I remember an evening when my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I had finished law school classes for the day and after picking me up, he asked me where I preferred to eat. My response? “Panera or Chipotle.” I will never forget the astonished (and truthfully, probably horrified) look on his face as he stared at me. But I was just being honest. Until my late twenties, I just didn’t care about food that much. I didn’t appreciate the subtle flavors in wine and I didn’t think it was worth adjusting my budget to accommodate a few nice dinners out. I should note this was a much better outlook when it comes to fitness goals… But I was missing out on so much! I missed out on the art that is gastronomy and the way it can bring people together over the most simple act: eating. While we were driving, we stopped to fuel up and eat at a gas station outside Montbèliard and it was one of the most delicious sandwiches of my life; you just have to trust the French when it comes to food… They know what they’re doing! Whether you’re eating at a street-side café or a Michelin starred restaurant, set aside time to sit down and truly enjoy the experience.
If you travel to France, learn a bit of the French language beforehand (Duo Lingo is a favorite learning app of mine), take in the breathtaking architecture and history, and immerse yourself in the art of French cooking and winemaking. Be curious. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can while you’re there. And you’ll walk away having had the best experience possible.
4 Days for 3-Week Trip, 2 Days for 2-Week Trip, 1 Day for 1-Week Trip
Day 2: Plan for a low-key first day as you adjust to the time change. Check into your hotel and spend the day taking in the stunning Palace of Versailles outside Paris or, if you’re more into treasure hunting, browse the French antiques at the legendary Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market. Travel lovers will love a nighttime boat tour along the Seine, taking in the sparkling lights over a glass of wine and making notes of places to visit the next day. Foodies will appreciate a dazzling dinner out; the Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse is an experience (at my favorite hotel in Paris) you will treasure forever.
Day 3: Plan for a full day of sightseeing if this is your first time in Paris. Some Paris must-sees: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Notre-Dame, Musée de Orsay, and Centre Pompidou. Don’t be afraid to throw on your comfiest shoes and schedule a group tour or hire a tour guide for the day; this really is the best way to see all the sights when you’re short on time! If you’re into the theater, snag seats to a ballet or opera performance in Paris; the breathtaking talent present in this incredible city is worth witnessing!
Day 4: Enjoy a relaxing last day in Paris with no strict plans; in my opinion, this is the best way to truly experience the Parisian culture! Wander the streets of Montmartre or window shop along the Champs-Elysées and Rue Saint Honoré. Eat lunch at a café and watch the Parisians stroll by. Bring a book and relax in the Tuileries Garden. Walk along the market stalls near the Seine and pick up a little watercolor painting to take home.
3 Days for 3-Week Trip, 2 Days for 2-Week Trip, 1 Day for 1-Week Trip
Day 5: Check out and drive the 1.5 hours to Reims. Check into your hotel and head out to explore this little city. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the old Hôtel Dieu were favorites of mine. Enjoy dinner overlooking the hustle and bustle of the city center. Le Gaulois was one of my favorite Reims cafés with a lovely view of the fountain and plenty of people watching.
Day 6: Drive to Épernay and walk along the Avenue de Champagne, home to some of the most famous champagne houses in the world. In the afternoon, meet up with a tour guide for a local champagne vineyard tour. I recommend beginning with a small, family-owned vineyard. Foodies would enjoy dinner at the Michelin-starred L’Assiette Champenoise with Chef Arnaud Lallement; he creates food you’ll be dreaming about for years!
Day 7: Schedule another tour with a guide or spend a relaxed morning enjoying the grounds of your hotel. In the afternoon, meet up with a tour guide for a large champagne vineyard tour; it’s nice to compare a more commercial, large-scale experience with that of the small, family-owned experience the day before. Take one last walk through the city before dinner. For the foodies out there, I recommend dining at Le Millénaire; their presentation and attention to detail is something special.
3 Days for 3-Week Trip, 1 Day for 2-Week Trip, 1 Day for 1-Week Trip
Day 8: Check out and drive the 3.5 hours to Beaune in the beautiful region of Burgundy. Check into your hotel and enjoy relaxing on the grounds or wander the streets of Beaune in the afternoon before enjoying dinner at a restaurant in the village.
Day 9: Meet up with your guide for a morning tour of Beaune. The Hospices de Beaune, Basilique Notre-Dame, and the Musée du Vin were favorites of mine. In the afternoon, take a tour of the Joseph Drouhin cellars with a wine tasting to finish. Enjoy dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant in Hostellerie Levernois; it was my favorite restaurant of the trip! The cheese course is unbelievable.
Day 10: Spend your last morning in Beaune enjoying a leisurely breakfast and take a tour of one of the beautiful chateaus or abbeys in the Burgundy area. In the afternoon, make time to walk around the village of Beaune and pick up a few souvenirs for loved ones; mustard, wine, and seasonings are some treasured items from this area. Plan to take a cooking class in the evening.
2 Days for 3-Week Trip, 2 Days for 2-Week Trip, 1 Day for 1-Week Trip
Day 11: Leave Beaune early and enjoy a breathtaking drive into the mountainous Jura region. Baume-les-Messieurs (one of the most beautiful villages in France) and Montbéliard (take a peek at remnants of the Duke’s palace) are beautiful stops to make along your way, but allow at least 2.5-3.5 hours’ drive time depending on the route you take. Check into your Geneva hotel and enjoy dinner overlooking the vineyards at Domaine de Chateauvieux in nearby Satigny.
Day 12: Plan for a day of sightseeing and a little shopping. In Geneva: St. Pierre Cathedral, the Reformation Wall, Place du Bourg-de-Four, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Patek Phillipe Museum are a few favorites. In Lausanne: Hermitage Foundation, Olympic Museum, and the Lausanne Cathedral. Walk along Lake Geneva near the port of Ouchy. Whatever you do, you must experience true Swiss fondue for one meal; ask your hotel for their favorite local spot. And be sure to enjoy lunch, cocktails, or dinner at the beautiful Beau Rivage hotel overlooking Lake Geneva.
5 Days for 3-Week Trip, 4 Days for 2-Week Trip, 2 Days for 1-Week Trip
Day 13: Make a stop in the lovely lakeside village of Annecy an hour outside of Geneva as you make your way into the Provence region. Walk along the turquoise lake, meander through the winding streets with flower-filled bridges over the canals, and enjoy lunch at one of the outdoor cafés. Continue your drive, check into your hotel, and enjoy alfresco dinner at the charming Le Château des Alpilles in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Day 14: Enjoy exploring and shopping in the pretty little village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence; their market days are energetic and lively. Take in the nearby Roman ruins of Glanum or take a tour of St. Paul de Mausole where Van Gogh was treated after he cut off his own ear. Then venture to the cliffside Medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence where you can spend the afternoon wandering the winding streets, shopping for souvenirs, and exploring the breathtaking views and ancient temple at the top. Take in the multimedia show Carrières de Lumière as the sun goes down.
Day 15: Organize a vineyard tour and wine tasting at the beautiful Chateau Vaudieu, one of the older vineyards in the area with the unique advantage of vineyards and production all within a contiguous plot of land. Enjoy lunch with a view at Hostellerie des Fines Roches. In the afternoon, take a tour of the ruins of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, then experience a wine lesson and tasting with one of the local master sommeliers; the Châteauneuf wines are world-renowned. In the evening, take a cooking class in Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Day 16: Meet a tour guide for a day of sightseeing in Avignon. Don’t miss the Palais des Papes; the new iPad tour brings the space to life! Make dinner reservations at the playfully inventive Restaurant Fanny Rey in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Day 17: Experience Gordes, another Provençal cliffside village. Gordes has a charming market, lovely shops, and great places to grab a drink or lunch. If you haven’t had lunch, enjoy it at Bistrot le 5 in nearby Ménerbes. Ménerbes is another photo-worthy village, full of twisting streets. It’s a worth a walk to the top for the views and the Truffle House. Make dinner reservations at the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence restaurant L’Aile ou La Cuisse; I am still dreaming over the lamb.
4 Days for 3-Week Trip, 3 Days for 2-Week Trip, 1 Day for 1-Week Trip
Day 18: On your way to the Riviera, stop at the village of Apt and the city of Aix-en-Provence. Check into your hotel (we stayed in Èze) and explore the hilltop Medieval village of Èze in the afternoon. Looking for a romantic dinner? Enjoy it at Hôtel Cap Estel with the waves crashing just beyond the your table.
Day 19: The Riviera is about relaxation, so spend the morning relaxing on the rocky beach of the Mediterranean Sea after breakfast. There are so many nearby villages and towns to explore along the Riviera: Nice, Monaco, St. Tropez, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cannes. My advice? Divide them between your last two afternoons and have fun exploring! Consider taking a perfumery tour or organize a sunset cruise along the coast.
Day 20: Spend another morning relaxing on the rocky beach, catching up on a great read and hunting sea glass, perhaps?! Then explore more coastal towns in the afternoon and have a relaxing last-dinner-in-France by a restaurant along the water. We went for comfort food at a little Italian place in the Port de Beaulieu-sur-Mer and it was the perfect ending to our trip!
Day 21: Travel Day