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35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Sacramento...
posts: 13
35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Hello fellow travelers,

I'm in the very beginning stages of planning our first road trip in Europe. We spent 3 weeks in Rome in 2007 and 4 weeks in Paris 2010/2011, but we mostly remained in the city and relied solely on public transportation. This time we want to explore the French country-side with a rented car, but I'm getting overwhelmed and confused by the options! I would appreciate it if the more seasoned travelers and road trip experts could look over my initial itinerary and see if it is even feasible!

For some background on us: we are a married couple (no kids) I'm 28, my husband is 38. We love culture (cafe's, museums, art, meeting locals and practicing French), history (especially Roman), wine, great food, would love to cycle a bit, we prefer to absorb and explore an area rather than whiz through and say "we've been there!" So, if any of this seems rushed, please let me know. We own a business, so we could add days, if necessary, but this works best for us financially. We're also looking at a total budget between $12,000-18,000 US.

As far as lodgings, we'd prefer small villages as bases to explore, please let me know if you have any ideas! (I will also post on regional forums once I have a route planned.)

We have 35 nights--- arrive June 13 fly out July 18, 2014.

So far the plan is:

June 13- 18 Paris

June 19 AM Train to Versailles half day (been before, but in Dec no fountains!) then on to base (B&B etc in area accessible to next stops) rent car for Chateaux???

June 20 Vaux-Le-Vicomte all day

June 21 Fontainebleau all day, return to Vaux-l-V for evening candlelight tour

June 22 Train to Toulouse (viamichelin makes it seem too far to drive in one day??) rent car drive to base village

June 23 Carcasonne and Norbonne (too much for 1 day?)

June 24- 27 Avignon Area- Arles, Nimes, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Orange, Aix-en-Provence

June 28-30 Grenoble, Chamonix, St-Etienne, Lyon-return car

July 1-3 Train to Colmar, Strasburg

July 4 Train to Mainz begin KD Rhine River Base in Bacharach/ Boppard/ Bignen

July 5 Explore Rhine and Castles in Day, Rhine in Flames in evening

July 6 More Rhine and Castles

July 7 KD Koblenz to Cochem

July 8 Cycle Along Moselle? Train? Boat? to Trier

July 9 AM Trier then Train back to Koblenz

July 10 KD to Bonn, explore, then onto Cologne

July 11 Dusseldorf

July 12 Train to Amsterdam

July 13- 18 Amsterdam

Also, I've been having difficulty with viamichelin route planning (maps are fine). It works great for about 10 mins then says "error due to long-running script" any ideas?

Thank you so much for your time. You are all an invaluable source of knowledge...thanks for taking the time to share it with the rest of us! :-)

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,247
reviews: 40
1. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Hi mastapeace

Welcome to the road trips forum.

I'm not at all sure why you're having problems with the viaMichelin website. I've encountered the odd problem with it, but not yours. It doesn't like being idle for too long, though. You might want to try the .co.uk version and see if that helps!

As to your route, I need to look more carefully at what you suggest, but I'm trying to work out how many different car rentals you have there and whether they are all loop rentals, back to base, or one way trips? Also, please would you tell me which destinations are 'musts' and which you'd consider alternative suggestions, depending on what I come up with? (I'm not saying I don't like your options, I just haven't really considered them yet much!)

France is a great country for road tripping, and a good place to do the first one ever in Europe. Is there a reason to not rent a car also in Germany rather than use trains?

Is the Rhine river cruise booked and dates committed? That's fine, I just need to know!

SWT

Edited: 6:37 am, August 16, 2013
Sacramento...
posts: 13
2. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Thank you SWT, I was hoping you'd give some advice!

I am using the .co.uk version of viamichelin and I did figure out that you have to refresh often! No problems after that.

Initially, I had one car rental throughout France (after Paris) but it seems it will take at least 10 hours (AutoRoute-fastest) and 3 leisurely days from Fontainebleau to Carcassonne. So, I'm now having trouble with this leg. The trains to Carcassonne or Toulouse all leave from Paris, so we'd be back-tracking an hour or so. The point, for me, was to see some of the countryside and wander a bit, but my hubby wants to get to the next stop. So I researched some flights that are surprisingly less expensive than the train (and only an hour an a half) but there goes the countryside idea. Suggestions for this leg would be nice.

Anyway, back to car rentals: I understand it is much easier to get to Vaux-le-Vicomte with a car, but the cost may not justify ease of arrival to that one Chateau if not using it to drive south as well? I've also read many suggestions not to have a car in Lyon, so I was thinking drop it off first before taking the train to Strasbourg.

Our *Musts*, so far :-)

Few nights in Paris; Vaux-le-Vicomte on Saturday; Carcassonne/Norbonne (Roman ruins); Strasbourg/Colmar; there's a lot around the Avignon region like Arles, Pont du Gard, Nimes, Orange; Rhine River; Trier; Amsterdam

We're dipping into Germany for the Rhine and Moselle rivers and would prefer to see it mostly by boat. I'm a little intimidated driving since I know zero German! I've heard the Moselle is a beautiful drive though. What would you recommend?

We are not into organized tours or cruises really, so we're planning on the KD hop on/off boats along the Rhine. Nothing is booked yet! We originally wanted to start in Amsterdam and go the route through France to Paris, but I understand the Rhine takes considerably longer that direction. We are definitely open to any suggestions or changes you may have.

Also, about the dates, June and July are when we get the most out of our vacation time so the days are "set" but like I mentioned we could add a few days without pay if needed.

Thank you again for your input and expertise!!

Penticton, Canada
posts: 4,383
reviews: 5
3. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

hi

if you wanted to do a road trip only, and not use the train you should look at this site for car leasing. http://www.renaultusa.com/ this is an all inclusive lease which requires min 17 days in europe. The drop off within france (geneva which is on French side) is free and reasonable for other countries. This is a brand new car from the factory; it is also a no hassle return. They do not look for scratches etc.... like they do for a typical rental. as far as driving the built in gps was invaluable. i studied the European road signs which have no language. so should not be an issue in Germany http://www.autoeurope.com/roadsigns/

and , 10 hrs on the autoroutes toll roads (usually at 120 km/hr will get you there really quick and you still have a car when you get there which the option of getting a train does not give you. And you do not have to organize you luggage etc...so doing 2 x 5hr days you get to stop along the way.

You could also do this trip in reverse since Amsterdam is a hub for NA flights with usually economical flights. Pick up the car after Amsterdam and drop off at CDG before you head into Paris.

For the Alsace; we stayed in Marlenheim, fr. at the start of the wine road that goes south to Colmar and took day trips to Strasbourg. We did half the road one day and then took the autoroute to Colmar. We then came back where we left off again using the autoroute to do the southern part. We did not find it hard to get a parking stall in Colmar for the night.

this is a google map with an outline so I could figure out if the driving distances would be too much to get done in 30 days. http://goo.gl/maps/VqVX1 The part in Germany only has some major cities since i do not now that part well; but even with that I only get 26 hrs of driving time. This should be easy driving to get to all your items on your list.

Sacramento...
posts: 13
4. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Thank you cbaarch for your thoughts as well! If we do end up driving most of the time, I think leasing will be a better, more cost effective way to go. Do you happen to know if the leased cars come with the security stuff that's required in France?

The road signs link was a big help also. It appears the signs in Germany will not be much different from France. Good news!

From what I've read in the forums, the autoroutes are pretty boring as far as scenery and there's often not many "sites" along the way. Would you agree? On viamichelin I used the route for sightseeing for the Fontainebleau-Carcassonne leg and it said 14+ hours. Would it be worth it to avoid toll route and use slower roads to see more countryside/villages/chateaux?

26 hours of driving over 35 days sounds pretty good! Thank you!!

Penticton, Canada
posts: 4,383
reviews: 5
5. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

hi

in 2010 when we did the Renault lease it do not require the road kit. If you email or call toll free (usa) on Renault web site they should have the answer. You need to book the car at least 1 month ahead so they can get the paper work done before you leave.

We only used the autoroute-autobahn system when we wanted to get somewhere faster; we like to wander so took the countryside roads which is where the gps comes in handy. it takes away the worry of "getting lost". Even though having paper maps as a backup is a good idea. Renault uses the TomTom. They only supplied the French maps in 2010 but I got a promo this year that said they now supply Europe maps but you want to check that before you sign up.

I use google maps for preplanning; it seems more flexible that the michelin site; then once decided i use michelin site which will export the route to the different gps units. Google view also give you an idea about the road condition. I use the 3D button between 2 destinations to do a fly over.

another note: if you decide on the car lease you should search this forum for "vignette"; it is a sticker that you need to get, usually available at the border; when traveling to different countries - it was discussed recently.

I found the Paris forum had lots of quite knowledgeable regulars with lots of info for day trip near paris and often beyond. For Château de Vaux le Vicomte; the blogger http://www.outandaboutinparis.com/ just did a blog on her visit there. I started following blogs for places we plan on visiting; the good blogs give you local insight and have great links. By commenting on their blogs you may find something in common and meet for coffee when you get there.

Edited: 5:06 pm, August 17, 2013
6. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

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Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 9,247
reviews: 40
7. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Unless you do revert to doing one long car rental, I cannot see how the various suggestions to lease a car can help. Also, if you do take this route, while lots of folk have had good experiences and seemingly very cost effective ones too, there are pitfalls to this option, so do your homework and compare prices carefully. Car rental will be more practical if you stick to several different short rentals. However, I do rather think that having a car for the whole trip might work better, if you pick it up after doing Paris and before doing Amsterdam. As you aren't doing a cruise but a series of boat hops (I was unfamiliar with this concept until you brought it to my attention), then there may well be bus services that get you back to where you started that boat trip or day to get you back to the car. The boat could well be great fun, but not all of the stretches of the Rhine are scenic so make sure you're doing a worthwhile stretch. Going down river makes total sense, time-wise, as it will still be a gentle and slow paced boat trip.

Back to the trip plans: I'm not sure I understand the problem with driving from Fontainebleu to Carcasonne. If you did it directly in one drive, via the autoroute, it would take well less than the 10 hours you quote, so could easily be done in a day. However, if you have the 3 days you mention elsewhere, then it can be a great, leisurely drive with some nice places to stop along the route, depending on what you're after - towns and markets, chateaux, wineries, churches/cathedrals/abbeys? How long have you allowed for Carcasonne? The walled UNESCO preserved Cite can take around half a day if you also do the museum (check the opening hours, though, it may be seasonal).

V-l-V is certainly a bit away from other places, but it's scenic enough to enjoy the drive.

Your 'must sees' are fine, a nice balance of major cities, smaller towns, and lots of history of a range of periods. If you are into food to go with the wine, don't forget to search out and check out some markets in the smaller towns, too.

Trier is a great place to stop, the Roman ruins wonderful. The Moselle area for wines is also worth exploring with quiet valleys and fewer crowds than other parts of Germany, to me much prettier than the Rhine.

Do beware of comparing flight times with train times. Train stations will get you city centre to city centre, airports can be a long way from the centre of any town, and the time spent in the airports plus expensive taxis to get into town to your hotel may cancel time and money savings.

Driving on autoroutes can be expensive, and doing much of your driving on fast expressway equivalents in any country can be boring. We don't use them much for just this reason, and much prefer to use the byways and enjoy our trips. A combination of fast trips to get you to somewhere then slowing down a bit while you enjoy the local scenery could work well for your trip.

Driving in Germany without speaking any German is not an issue. I speak only poor German, DH none to speak of. We have driven in Germany loads of times without any issues. Even the traffic cops speak English and love to help tourists out. In fact, the Germans generally speak far better, and far more or them speak much better English than you'll likely encounter in any part of France except possibly Paris. I've heard nightmare tales of folk trying to just buy a train ticket in France! Most road signs, as already commented elsewhere, are pretty much European wide, and most are pictograms rather than words anyway, so easy to learn.

Yes, if you drive in Switzerland, you will need an expensive vignette.

Have you had a stab at putting an itinerary together? If so, post it here and I can comment on how it looks as I think that might help folk focus on your plans more easily. I can also add perhaps other attractions to look out for.

SWT

Sacramento...
posts: 13
8. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

cbaarch- Thank you for your experiences! I will definitely be scouring the Regional forums soon!

Lyndal M- Thank you I'm very excited!!

SWT- Thank you for all the info! What are some of the pitfalls of leasing vs renting a vehicle, assuming we decided to keep it until Amsterdam?

I'm thinking now a car may be better suited for visiting multiple castles along the Rhine and Moselle. And like you said, use the boats along the most scenic portions. There are trains as well to get us back to the car.

I've read several posts suggesting the Moselle is more beautiful- would you suggest we spend more time exploring this river rather than more on the Rhine?

ViaMichilin.com suggested the drive from Fontainebleau to Carcassonne would be 10 hours via autoroute. How much time would you say it takes (on autoroute as well as smaller by-ways)? I'd prefer to go rather slowly in order to really see the small villages, the markets, Chateaux, wineries, and chat with the locals, if possible, but it seems to me we already have a lot crammed into this trip!

For Carcassonne, I was thinking 1 full day and a night and spend the next morning in Norbonne. Does this seem reasonable?

We are absolutely into food and I'm hoping to plan our village visits around market days as much as possible. Is there a single publication/website that lists market days for all of France (or by region) or must I go to each town's municipal page to find out the dates? Also about food: Surprisingly (and perhaps controversially :-) ) we found the food in Rome to be...sub-par and so I did tons of research on Chowhound to be sure we ate well in Paris. It turns out this was a complete waste of time, as we found every restaurant we stepped into serves amazingly delicious meals. So my question is: I assume the rest of France is this way as well, or should I look into the Michelin starred restaurants and well-known chefs outside of Paris?

As far as my tentative itinerary, it seems it changes slightly every day! Today it looks something like this:

June 13-19- Paris

June 19 Train to Versailles spend day and 1 night

June 20 Rent car and drive to V-l-V spend day and evening

June 21 Begin leisure drive South spend night along way

June 22 Carcassonne spend night

June 23 Norbonne-Beziers-Montpellier-Arles Base in area

June 24 Nimes-Pont du Gard- Uzes Back to Base

June 25 Aix-en-Provence Base

June 26 Avignon-Orange spend night somewhere along D94

June 27 Grenoble-Lyon Spend night outside city centre

June 28 Lyon AutoRoute to Colmar

June 29-July 2 Colmar-Strasbourg-Route du Vin

July 2 Drive to Bacharach/Boppard area Use as Base

July 3 -5 Explore Rhine/Castles/Vineyards July 5 Rhine in Flames

July 6 Cochem Spend night somewhere between here and Trier

July7 Trier all day spend night

July 8 Koblenz-Bonn

July 9 Cologne

July 10 Dusseldorf

July 11-17 Amsterdam (Return car)

Please let me know what you think about this itinerary and whether it's doable at a relaxed pace!

Thank you again to everyone who's helped so far! I really appreciate the time you've all taken!

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 51,336
reviews: 42
9. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

I also prefer Moselle to Rhine. We often play golf in Cochem and make it a long weekend. There are locks in the river that make the sail slow so I definitely would recommend to drive and take your time. There are so many restaurants with excellent whine en route. Suggest to stay overnight in Bernkastel-Rues. A lovely town but touristy. Don't let that stop you . Strolling around here is just awesome. Next day to Trier where you easily can spend a full day. You can park right in the center of town at one of the parkinggarages. Just in case you want to change your route. Luxembourg City also makes a great visit and is not far from Trier. You can drive through Luxembourg and through Ardennes on the way north then. Not sure you want to spend time in Dusseldorf or Bonn. Cologne is great imo. If you drive via Ardennes to The Netherlands you may visit Maastricht and Thorn north of Maastricht.

Tet

Sacramento...
posts: 13
10. Re: 35 night France-Rhine River-Amsterdam Road Trip

Tet- Thank you for your suggestions! I was hoping you would respond to this as well!

I was thinking about Luxembourg already since it's so close to Trier and I really like the idea of Ardennes and Maastricht.

So now I'm thinking (after Strasbourg)

2-3 nights near Bacharach

1 night Bernkastel- Rues

1 night Trier

Luxembourg

1 night near Ardennes

1 night Maastricht

1 night Cologne

4-6 nights Amsterdam

It seems everyone is in agreement that this is totally doable in 35 days. Yay!

Any other destination advice and/or accommodation recommendations would be great.

Thanks everyone for all the knowledge!