In 2017, we decided to take a family trip to France. We had taken the kids to France five years earlier (2012), when they were in pre-school, but as time flies, we wanted to go again and see a mix of old and new. This is our summary post.
Our 2012 trip to France included a full week in Paris and a second week in the South of France (effectively split between Avignon area and Nice). This time around, we wanted to try some other regions, including some where we could explore by car. But any trip to France seems to need to include at least a few days in Paris. Whether traveling with kids or not, Paris is always a treat to visit – and also a good place to get over jet lag. We scheduled 3 days in this city, and which would also give us an opportunity to take a day trip to Versailles.
From there, we had many options as to where to go, but one of our goals was to go to the Mt Blanc/Chamonix area. We could have gone straight there, but when analyzing the available transit options, we decided to take a slightly gratuitous side-trip to Bruges, Belgium and Amsterdam.
Part of this was powered by our realization that the places that we wanted to see in France would be better served by a one way car rental, our desire to get a quick taste of Belgium and the Netherlands, and the fact that Jeremy found a fairly cheap flight from Amsterdam to Geneva (which is fairly close to Mt Blanc area).
After our arrival in Geneva, we explored the French Alps, continued into the Loire Valley, see the D-Day sights in Normandy, and then return to Paris for our flight home. Why go to one country, when you can go to three instead? (especially when Jeremy is doing the travel planning) Note that if you are a more relaxed traveler, you should either turn this into a minimum of a 3-week trip, or cut out Bruges and Amsterdam.
The Basic Itinerary
Here is what our very fast-paced itinerary ended up looking like:
- Day 0: Late-evening flight from SF Bay Area.
- Day 1: Early-evening arrival in Paris. Evening stroll.
- Day 2: Full day Paris. Church service in Notre Dame, walk by Pont de l’Archevêché, thwarted visit to the Eiffel Tower, climb the Arc de Triomphe, visit Sainte Chapelle, see the Panthéon, dinner near St. Michel St., and stroll through Jardin du Luxembourg.
- Day 3: Full day Paris. Morning visit to the Louvre, lunch by Les Halls, stroll through Garden of the Tuileries, climb to Montmartre/Sacre Coeur, dinner in a park, and walk by the Canal and Place de la République.
- Day 4: Day trip to Versailles followed by an afternoon visit to Musée D’Orsay.
- Day 5: Morning train to Bruges. Canal boat tour, Choco-Story Museum, and dinner on the square.
- Day 6: Morning train to Amsterdam. Walk to Vondelpark, Van Gogh Museum, stroll by the Prinsengracht canal, failed attempt to go to Ann Frank House, evening walk.
- Day 7: Amsterdam bike ride. Walk towards Rijksmuseum, fun playground, long walk to the hotel.
- Day 8: Morning flight to Geneva, start our road trip with a drive to Annecy. Explore town and waterfront.
- Day 9: Drive to Chamonix. Aiguille-du-Midi, wander through town, raclette dinner.
- Day 10: Gondola to Hellbronner Point. Afternoon hike to Mer de Glace.
- Day 11: Drive to Loire Valley. Wander around Amboise.
- Day 12: Loire Valley. Château de Chenonceau, lunch in Cheverny, Château de Chambord.
- Day 13: Visit the ancient abbey and town of Mont St. Michel. Drive to Bayeux.
- Day 14: D-Day sites, including: Arromanches, Longues-sur-mer, Omaha Beach cemetery, Sainte-Mère-Église, and Utah Beach. Evening medieval festival in Bayeux.
- Day 15: Port town of Honfleur. Joan of Arc sights in Rouen.
- Day 16: Flight home.
Bruges and Amsterdam were fun to visit but a little gratuitous considering the length of the trip here; a short flight or train ride from Paris to Mt Blanc area (Geneva is fine) would have worked for this. Or you can get an open-jaw flight that flies into Geneva and out of Paris. You can read about some of our flight strategies.
With a some extra time to play with, it’s easy to spend more time in Paris. In fact, when the kids were in pre-school, we spent a full week in Paris and found plenty to do. If you really like castles, extend your time in the Loire Valley. If you are really into WWII history, add a day to Normandy. We could have easily sent more time hiking in the mountains as well. France had destinations for everybody!
Looking back, we could have even spent twice the time in the same number of places, but given our limited vacation time, and desire to get a glimpse of the different regions, we dealt with the trade-offs.
If you are driving, it might be helpful to have some rusty “high-school French” to fall back on, but if you are an adventurous and non-nervous type, you will probably be fine. You can read about some of our international driving experiences.