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Driving From Paris To Barcelona Via Andorra?

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Driving From Paris To Barcelona Via Andorra?

Postby aenedleah10 » Mon Nov 21, 2016 8:53 am

Hello - my boyfriend, sister and brother in law and I are going to Paris in February 2010, and flying out of Barcelona a little over a week later.  We are considering taking 3 days/2 nights to drive and have a bunch of questions:

- Is it more cost-effective to rent a car from Paris to the border of Spain v. all the way to Barcelona?  We don't mind taking a train for part of the journey.

- Are there any car rental websites you recommend?  I am having a hard time finding any that will allow pick up in Paris and drop off in Barcelona.

- What size car would we need for 4 adults with 4 medium sized backpacks?

- It's tempting to drive to Andorra just to hit another country.  :-)  Is this worth it?

- Do you have a recommended route considering we will have 2 nights/3 days?  Any "must see" sights?  

Thanks!

Stephanie(who used to live in Ohio - go Bucks!)

ANSWER: Hi . . . Stephanie!

You are raising some good questions that are starting to answer themselves.  

1. CAR RENTAL: As you are noting, it is not easy or cheap to find an affordable car rental circumstance that allows for pick-up in France and drop-off in Spain.  Even if you find it, you might not like the pricing.  The drop-charges can be high!   Below I will offer my suggestion that might work better and why. 2. CAR SIZE: If you are going to be doing a lot of driving, you don't want to pinch pennies too much and have a car that is too cramped.   You can check through AutoEurope.com on the website listed below.   Assuming you are getting a stick shift, the larger car model cost a little more, but the difference is not huge and can be worth the added comfort. 3. ANDORRA: Given your tight schedule, it might be too much trying to get to Andorra and then back on schedule.  Your overall challenge is "LOGISTICS"!  Things are not as close together in many parts of Europe, especially in these areas between SE France and Spain, as they might seem on a paper map.  You can use the MapQuest.com site to check you different distance mileage and timing factors to consider.    Then what and how do you want to 'ENJOY" and "EXPERIENCE" things in France, etc?  Rush-rush and gulp it down like soda pop or beer . . . OR . . . sip and savor the moment like fine wine, doing people watching, sensing an enjoyment of life and the humanity, the architecture, history and charm? It's your choice.  I just wanted to be honest and make sure you understand your options and trade-offs.

TELL ME MORE about more about your budget, ages, personal and travel interests, past Europe and France travel experience, etc.  How much are you interested in history?  Countryside vs. cities?  Museums, food, wine, art, music, shopping, architecture, etc.?  How much of it in a leisurely style versus fast-paced?  Then, with more info from you, I can make better, more specific suggestions on what best fits your needs and interests. POTENTIAL PLAN:  Based on the limited information I have right now, I would suggest doing Paris and then taking the fast and comfortable TGV Express train down in only two hours and 35-40 minutes from central Paris to Avignon in the heart of Provence.  That avoids driving in congested and confusing main Paris and its busy suburbs.  The sights between Paris and Provence are "OK", but not super outstanding.  Mostly it's lots of "windshield time" along superhighways.  Kind of boring and tiring in my view.  I would not consider it a great use of your time to make that long driving down.  Then get your car at the Avignon TGV rail station and see some of wonderful Provence.  Then head towards a town such as Narbonne, Beziers, Perpignan or Montpellier.  You could drop your car there and take the train into Barcelona.  That saves the challenges of battling the heavy traffic and confusion within Barcelona.  

As an example, from Beziers to Barcelona, one train option is a departure at 3:55PM, arriving at 7:59PM at Barcelona-Estacio De Franca station.  The cost is  $72 for second class and  $100 for first class.  

Below are some notes on Paris, etc.  Do you need some suggestions for Barcelona?  How much time are you planning there?  

Glad you have Ohio roots and like the Buckeyes!!!

Does this start to help a little? What are your reactions and needs for added information?  Be happy to provide additional info and answer other questions after learning more from you.  Be sure to complete the evaluation section so that our "bosses" on this volunteer service know we are working hard to make inquiring minds as happy as possible. ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio

PROVENCE: WHY IT IS A GREAT PLACE?  ITS WONDERFUL OPTIONS: Why do people love Provence?  It is a region having a love affair with the land, earth and environment.  The landscape is lush and verdant.  Open-air markets have baskets of fresh herbs, fruits, flowers, fabrics, etc.  The colorful spirit of the Mediterranean fills the air.  Provence is nature at its purest.  The sky is a piercing shade of blue.  Fields are abundant and the air is clear.  The climate ensures that spring, summer and fall yield magnificent and varied harvests.  Throughout France, Provence is known for the best of everything natural.  People in the area take great pride in these natural traditions for what they grow and how it is prepared in each village and every kitchen.

LOCATION: Provence has at its southern edge the famed Cote d’Azur with its wonderful coastline along the Mediterranean Sea.  Generally Provence is consider the area east of the Rhone River with the Alps being the eastern border.  Provence enjoys a southern sun that shines 320 days yearly, giving the region blue skies and mild temperatures year round.  It is most picturesque in the spring with its flowering trees and shrubs.  Summer offers local markets full of fresh harvests.  Mid July is when the lavender field are in full bloom, filling the country air with a soothing fragrance.  The Mistral winds can bring icy temperatures on bright sunny days. Getting lost can be fun in Provence.  You can stumble across a charming village, history abbey or great tree-lined roadway. KEY PROVENCE LOCATIONS: AVIGNON is "one of the great art cities of France".  Its old part of town has the Papal Palace, seat of Popes 1309-1377, street musicians perform near palace; art museum in Place du Palais open Wednesday through Monday, population of 87,000, town is on Rhone River. Once the religious, political and financial capital, Avignon is today a cultural capital and plays host annually in July to the largest festival of live theatre in the world. It has some of the best example of Gothic architecture in Europe.

AIX-EN-PROVENCE(population of 125,000) with Cezanne's studio on the road to Entremont; university town founded 122 B.C. as first Roman settlement in Gaul, near thermal springs, dining at Gu et Fils. An elegant and beautiful town, the visitor will enjoy discovering its ‘thousand fountains’ as he or she roams through its labyrinth of narrow streets. Aix-en-Provence is also renowned worldwide for its unique classical music festival.

Car travel to such nearby areas as ARLES, highest priority area city with Roman ruins, including 20,000 seat arena where bull fights are held in the summer; founded 49 B.C. by Julius Caesar, population of 52,000, Van Gogh's former home. Tarascon has its 15th century castle. LES BAUX is a very neat medieval village with great views that has no major population now, but tourist flock to soak up its history and great views. You should dine right near there at L'Oustau de Beaumaniere for ONE OF THE BEST MEALS YOU CAN HAVE IN FRANCE(lunch is more affordable). This website gives some excellent info on the area, plus this excellent Michelin two-star rated dining place: http://www.relaischateaux.com/en/search-book/hotel-restaurant/oustau/region NIMES was settled 121 B.C. and has a population of 140,000. Around the time of Julius Caesar, Nimes was a bustling city on the strategic Via Domitia linking Rome to Iberia/Spain. Nimes's arena, temple and nearby aqueduct are among the best-preserved in all of the former empire. Cars are banished from the compact old city dotted with other ruins, enhancing the feel of yesteryear. The Maison Carre is an almost impossibly pristine Roman temple.

ST. REMY has its Roman ruins, a population of 9000 and is the setting of world-famous literature.  Saint-Remy is one of the most representative of Provençal towns and allows the visitor to appreciate the true charm of this oft-celebrated region of the country. It comes as no surprise that Saint Remy, like Cannes or Saint Tropez, is a destination for many well-known personalities.  This Gallo-Roman village is on the plains 20 km south of Avignon. Residents more recent than the Romans include Dr. Schweitzer, Dr. Nostradamus and Van Gogh. The picturesque, old village is protected by the circular 14th-century wall which is lined by its protective circle of buildings.  Its dolphin fountain is located in the shaded square in front of a 16th century old convent.  This is a busy, active village, with a good selection of restaurants and hotels for the traveller. Among the shops are a few with some regional pottery, including some beautiful sunflower plates influenced by Van Gogh.  The road between St. Remy and the autoroute(at Cavaillon, 17 km to the east) is a scenic drive out of the past: the road is lined by plane trees .

PONT DU GARD(Roman aqueduct/bridge) to the west of Avignon is a must see with its well-preserved history and beautiful setting. Saturday AM market at Uzes near Pont du Gard can be totally charming and wonderful. Try good Provence website of:

www.provencebeyond.com

Try Avignon’s official tourism office: www.avignon-et-provence.com

For St. Remy:http://www.saintremy-de-provence.com/anglais/ssomm.htm

COASTAL SUGGESTION: The old village of Eze, along the coast between Nice and Monaco, hangs up in the mountains above the water and crowds. It's wonderful to visit. Great, great views! Totally charming! Have lunch or dinner there at one of the two great eating places and feel like you're sitting on the edge of paradise! At 1,407 feet above the Mediterranean, Eze offers commanding views of cliffs, sea, sprawling estates and off-shore islands. The village's narrow streets or more really paths among the buildings lead to the Jardin Exotique  It is a maze of paths flanked by mammoth flowering plants and spiky cactuses.  For about $3, you can walk up to the best view on the French Riviera. On a clear day, you can see Corsica!  It does not get much better than Eze.  Their tourism office: www.eze-riviera.com

CONGESTION, TRAFFIC WARNINGS: Be properly warned that Nice, Cannes, Monaco, etc. can and will be extremely crowded during their peak tourism periods.  Lots and lots of people(both residents and visitors), too many cars, too few highways and limited land between the mountains and sea to hold all comfortably and easily.  The movies have made these large cities seem attractive and appealing.  Do not Cary Grant and Grace Kelly seem to be having fun there?  So glamorous and exciting?!  For movies, they make it seem so wonderful.  If you are rich and in the “best, right” areas, it can seem and be wonderful.  BUT, that congestion might be a turn-off.  It depends on what are you expecting, seeking and willing to pay for to hang with the rich and avoid the mobs in these famed areas.

WEATHER/BEACHES FOR THIS AREA?  It is NOT always hot and perfect beach weather during all months of the year in this region, especially in the November to April period.  Also, the beaches are not all perfect, nice and sandy, gently sloped, etc., as some have experienced in Florida, the Carolinas, California, etc.  The movie images paint a perfect picture!  BUT, in many areas for some months, the beaches can be rocky and the weather mostly in the 50's and 60's.  Sunny, probably.  Windy, maybe.  Not trying to be negative, just realistic!  Timing in this area is important!  Movie-like expectations must be matched with reality and your timing for visits in this area.  Also some of the best beaches in a few peak areas are reserved for private hotel or resort use only.  Not all of the best beaches are open to the general public.

CAR RENTALS OPTIONS: We have had excellent success with

www.autoeurope.com

Their phone toll-free is 1-888-223-5555(North America only).

There are also rail-auto plan options through raileurope.com

Avis has lots and lots of location around France and Europe. Don’t assume one price will be the THE PRICE, best price.  Make an advanced booking at a good price, but keep check back as different specials will come up, especially in these fast-changing economic times. WEB-MAPPING FOR FRANCE:

Use this website to get any detailed maps you need. Scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the directions with your details on where are coming from and going to. It will give both graphic maps and written point-by-point instructions.http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=FR

orhttp://www.mapquest.com/directions/europe.adp?do=nw

RAIL SCHEDULES: You can go to this websitehttp://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm

or

www.raileurope.com

and check all of the various train options, timings and costs on rail travel within Europe through the "schedules" option on their web page.  For some routings, such as Avignon to Barcelona or Nice to Rome, it will not yield results.  You will be need to break it out into separate routings such as Nice to Genoa, then Genoa to Rome.  Great, very useful site!

KEY PARIS HIGHLIGHTS/FACTS/OVERVIEW: FAST FACTS:   Paris is 2.1 million people in the main heart of the city.   There are 10.9 million in the metropolitan Paris area or 18% of the total for all of France.   The Metro has 124 miles of track with 368 stations.

36 million tourists visit Paris yearly, with 60% of them from abroad.   Paris has two main airports, Orly and DeGaulle, handling over 70 million customers.

WHAT MAKES PARIS GREAT/UNIQUE:   With style and sophistication, Paris is correctly proud of its cultural achievements over the centuries.   This confidence is expressed in Parisian life, including its architecture from ancient structures to controversy over Hausmann's bold late 1800's master plan and more recent modern developments.

Paris has taken bold decisions, including the Lourve with is now well-accepted glass pyramid by I. M. Pei.

Although at the heart of Europe, Paris is very individualistic and intuitive.   The city has attracted great writers artists and thinkers.   Historically, it has been a city of unrest, rebellion and revolution(an idea they helped finance in America and that lead to the sharp-edged 1789 removal of the Royal family).   

Paris has a special style and soul.   It is a high-flying mix of architecture, fashion, history, idiosyncrasy, style, texture, color and atmosphere.   Paris is romantic, distinctive!

MAJOR PARIS HIGHLIGHTS/OPTIONS:

(Some times might have been adjusted slightly since this was put together a couple of years ago; plus there can always be strikes, budget shortages, etc. that affect scheduled openings in France.) 1. Louvre(closed Tuesday, open 9-6, Monday and Wednesday until 9:45 p.m.) with Cafe Louvre on site for lunch or dinner(and break or rest), plus food court area with wide mix of different items. This museums’s encyclopedic coverage is divided into seven departments covering ancient times to middle of 19th century; Pyramid entrance designed by I. M. Pei, opened in 1989; very big and can spend four days there and still not see everything; Denon(south) Wing on first floor has many of the key European paintings; Richelieu(north) Wing opened in 1993 and has large, covered sculpture courtyard in its middle; Sully Wing(east) has mostly Egyptian and other antiquities.  Over eight million visited the Louvre in 2006.  It’s very popular! From this website(www.louvre.fr/llv/commun/home.jsp?bmLocale=en), you can get more detailed information about its collection exhibits, facilities, etc.

PRIORITY

2. Notre Dame and Palais de Justice on island of Seine River at site of Paris' start; Notre Dame completed during the 1163-1345 period, tours 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; famous southern Rose Windows, climb up 380 steps of the tower for the best views of the city; Sunday night 5:30 p.m. organ concerts; famous Rose stained glass windows; Sainte Chapelle near Palais de Justice is 700 years old with outstanding stained glass windows; La Conciergerie is prison where many, including Marie Antoinette were held prior to being guillotined, is well-light at night with its unique architecture, functioned as prison from 1391 to 1914.  Cathedral is open every day of the year from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm(7:15 pm on Saturdays and Sundays).  Web site: www.cathedraledeparis.com. PRIORITY

3. Musee d'Orsay(door-say)(closed Monday, open 10-6, except Thursday 10 am-9:45 pm), covers 1848-1914 period and is especially great for Impressionist art.  It is a former railway station and hotel with an excellent cafe in museum(doing lunch in this spectacular dining room is a nice way to break up the visit, re-charge and get nice food service).  This dining area is a magnificent space defined by enormous windows, lighted by crystal chandeliers with gilded decoration bringing out the radiance of the sculpted ceilings.   Thursday night is perfect for walk from museum west toward Assemblee Nationale and cross Seine River bridge towards Place de la Concorde seeing all of the building lighted and then looking back towards Eiffel Tower; Place de la Concorde was designed in 1775. From this website(www.musee-orsay.fr/en), you can get more detailed information. PRIORITY

4. Eiffel Tower,(985' tall, 3rd floor at 305', built for 1889 Universal Exhibition). The vistas are magnificent and breathtaking from the topmost platform, especially one hour before sunset. Built in commemoration of the centenary of the French Revolution, weighing 7,000 tons, it was the world's tallest building until 1930. Nearly demolished in 1909 at the expiration of its 20-year lease, the Tower gained new utility as a perch for broadcast antennae and was saved. The Eiffel Tower is open every day all year long, ?from 9:30 am to 11:00 pm, January 1 to June 12 and September 1 to December 31?- from 9:00 am to midnight, June 13 to August 31. Web site: www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk

5. Seine boat trip(board at Pont Neuf), great views of famous Paris sights, especially at night as major buildings are lighted. From this website(www. vedettesdupontneuf.com), you can get more detailed information on one of the companies offering these trips.

6. Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, started 1806 to celebrate Napoleon's early victories, completed in 1836, 165' high and is the world's largest triumphal arch. It is at the center of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues, including the Champs Elysées. The Arc de Triomphe offers a vista seen the length of the Champs Elysées from the smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries Gardens and from the Obélisque de Luxor in the Place de la Concorde.  Since 1920, the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier has been sheltered underneath the arch and this site has an eternal flame for World War I & II fallen soldiers.  There are stairs climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe with great views over the city from this vantage point.   Website: www.arc-de-triomphe.monuments-nationaux.fr

7. Montmartre/Basilique du Sacre-Coeur(church started being built in 1875 on one of highest points in Paris, dedicated in 1910); dome is second highest point in Paris, took 35 years to build with public conscription, great views at dawn and dusk plus from dome area over city, area made famous by artist Toulouse Lautrec, cubism born there; do direct Metro here, nearest station is Anvers or Pigalle. With its narrow cobblestone streets, gardens, steep steps and view over the city, this area is the emblem of romantic Paris.  This church was mainly dedicated in the memory of those thousands who died in the uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71.

8. Luxembourg Palais and Gardens, built in 17th century for Marie de Medici, now houses French Senate, food available in gardens, great place for picnics. This 25-hectare green oasis on Paris' fashionable Left Bank has formal gardens populated with many statues(including one of Sainte-Gèneviève, patron saint of Paris), fountains and beautiful flowers.

9. Saint Germain Market, open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-7 p.m., open air, various food and meat items, near apartment; many galleries, cafes and antiques shops in area; rue de Buci street market.

10. St. Sulpice Church, second largest church in Paris, block from our apartment, famous for its organ and DeLacroix paintings, took 134 years to build, open 7:30 7:30.

11. LE MARAIS Area, NE of Hotel de Ville/City Hall, has Musee Picasso(structure built in 1659, opened in 1985 to settle his estate, open Wednesday-Monday 9:15 5:15) and Musee Carnavalet(built in 1540, two adjoining mansions with decorative arts from the various periods in Paris history), older area starting around metro St Paul station, has Jewish section in area with special foods and historic areas.  It has the super great park and architecture of the Place des Vogue area. The Place des Vosges was the prototype for the residential squares of European cities that were to come. What was new about the Place Royale in 1612 was that the house fronts were all built to the same design, of red brick with strips of stone over vaulted arcades that stand on square pillars. Cardinal Richelieu had an equestrian bronze of Louis XIII placed in the center of this charming park. Nearby is Brasserie Bofinger, one of the oldest and classiest places to dine.  It has a gorgeous domed stained-glass ceiling over the main dining room.

12. MUSEE RODIN, has nice scale in both the interior exhibit area as an old mansion, plus the gardens with the outdoor sculpture, at Varenne Metro stop next to Hotel des Invaldes, has third largest private garden in Paris, originally built in 1730, Rodin used as his studio from 1908 until his death in 1917, open Tuesday Sunday 10-5:45. 13. PALAIS-ROYAL, former home of Cardinal Richelieu who died there in 1642, old houses, restaurants, teas rooms and shops border the formal gardens on three sides, near Louvre.

14. POMPIDOU CENTER or Beaubourg Museum, opened in 1977, closed Tuesday; mostly post 1918 art work; duct-work and steel framing on outside. From this website(www.centrepompidou.fr), you can get more detailed information.

15. Paris Opera House/ OPERA GARNIER, opened 1875; 2nd Empire style, see its grand staircase and foyer, 2156 seats, large stage area, current home of Paris Ballet.  Wonderful place to do a tour.  It was just recently re-done for many of the key reception rooms with all of the great gold trim, etc. Spectacular to see! A model for many auditoriums around the world, this fine piece of design was constructed in the time of Napoleon III as part of Haussmann's city development scheme. Charles Garnier submitted the winning design and construction lasted from 1860 to 1875. Enjoy the marble Grand Staircase, the red and gold auditorium, the ceiling by Chagall and an 8 ton crystal chandelier. From this website(www.opera-de-paris.fr), you can get more detailed information.

16. MUSEE DE L'ORANGERIE de Tuileries, impressionism collection, including Monet's work; closed Tuesday, open 9:45-5:15 p.m.(www.musee-orangerie.fr). It has unveiled a fresh look, with its 19th- and 20th-century works relocated underground, and Claude Monet's famed Nymphéas displayed as the artist intended them to be: lit by sunlight, in large oval galleries that recall the shape of the garden ponds on his Giverny estate. 17. MUSEE MARMOTTAN, open most every day(except Jan. 1, May 1 & Dec. 25) 11 am-6 pm, with its excellent impressionist art, including Monet works. From this website(www.marmottan.com), you can get more detailed information.  At 2, rue Louis-Boilly, this Museum possesses the world's largest collection of works by Claude Monet. It has a very complete and representative group of works of theses artistic movements, including more than three hundred paintings, pastels, watercolors and sculptures of the Impressionists and Post-impressionists super-stars. 18. HOTEL LES INVALIDES, Napoleon' s tomb, 643 foot dome, built in 1676 by Sun King, Louis XIV, for old soldiers, many disabled, open 10-5:45.

19. ILE SAINT LOUIS, is one of the most charming little areas in all of Paris. So nice to stroll up its main street as you walk towards Notre Dame and other key highlights. Famed Berthillon ice cream: The only true Berthillon can be found at 31, rue St Louis-en-l'Ile, where it was born. This delicious ice cream has rich colors and equally intense flavors. It comes in myriad flavors, but the rum raisin, dark chocolate(chocolat noir) and mango(mangue) flavors are incredible. This is divine dessert territory.  Lots of Boutique shopping and dining places line this street in the heart of Paris.  Try Brasserie Ile St-Louis, 55 quai de Bourbon, 1er(tel. 01/43/54-02-59), that Frommers calls the last independent brasserie in Paris.  They note: “Far from the polished restaurants that masquerade as true brasseries, this one has as its heart old Paris.”

VERSAILLES: By suburban subway/train(RER-C5 line, from St-Michel, every 15 minutes) or train(30 minutes) from Saint Lazare; started being built in 1660's for Sun King Louis XIV(during 1661 to 1715 period, involved 32,000 to 45,000 workers) in French classical architectural style; conceived as a world unto itself as seat of government, permanent residence of the royal family and the cream of nobility, was previously modest hunting lodge in swampy area; palace highlight is 236-foot long Hall of Mirrors where the treaty was signed ending WWI; a three-year restoration of this spectacular Hall of Mirrors was just completed in June 2007; through 2020, they are completing a $455 million project to upgrade Versailles with cleanings, new roofs, other restorations, etc.; this property has 700 rooms, 2,153 windows, 352 chimneys and 28 acres of roof; in the huge garden areas are Grand Canal, Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Hameau used by Marie Antoinette; town population of 100,000; possible bus tour or car drive options out to Versailles; open 9:45-5, park open sunrise to sunset; tour palace first and gardens later(closed Monday). From this website(www.chateauversailles.fr/en), you can get more detailed information.

PARIS METRO/SUBWAY: Great, great system! Probably best to buy packets of ten tickets, rather than a multi-day, three or five day pass. There are fourteen different subway lines, plus the four different suburban RER rail options. It is important to know which line or lines you want to use, IN ADVANCE, and the name of the end station for your direction so that you go down the right set of stairs to be on the correct side of the tracks. It's not as simple as New York City with uptown or downtown! But it offers totally great, fast, frequent service. Very clean and nice!  Single tickets(1.60 Euros) may be purchased at the counters each time, but the better value is a carnet of 10(11.40 Euros), which will also save you waiting in line. For all day use, for adults(there is a cheaper children’s daily pass), the pass cost in euros is for one day(8.80), two days(14.4), three days(19.6), or five days(28.3).  Compared to London, the daily pass might not be the best value.  It depends on your needs.  WEBSITE for maps and other info/details: http://www.ratp.info/touristes/index.php?langue=en

PARIS MUSEUM PASS: Strongly suggest getting the Paris Museum Pass for access to 60 museums and monuments in Paris and the surrounding region. Multiple visits to the same museums are possible and there is no waiting in line. You get: * Entry into more than 60 Paris museums and monuments inside and outside Paris, including Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d'Orsay, Musee National du Chateau de Versailles, Musee National Picasso, Pompidou Center, Musee Roding, Chateau de Rambouillet, Basilique Saint-Denis, Chateau de Chantilly, Fontainebleau, etc.

* Multiple visits to the same museums or monuments at no extra charge * Validities: 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days * No admission charge, no waiting in line Paris Museum Pass, 2-Day Pass 32 Euro Paris Museum Pass, 4-Day Pass 48 Euro

Paris Museum Pass, 6-Day Pass 64 Euro You can get the Paris Museum Pass at the Paris Tourist Office, and in its reception offices in Paris train stations, and the Eiffel Tower or at over 60 museums and monuments concerned. More info:

www.parismuseumpass.fr

GIVERNY  is best known as Claude Monet's garden and home, sitting on the "right Bank" of the River Seine. The village lies 80km or 50 miles northwest of Paris on the border between the province of Normandy and the Île-de-France. Claude Monet noticed the village of Giverny while looking out the train window. He moved there, renting a house and in 1890, he saved enough money to buy the house and land.  He created the spectacular gardens he wanted to paint. Some of his most famous paintings, such as his water lily and Japanese bridge paintings, were of his garden in Giverny. This pond and bridge are actually separated by a roadway between this scenic feature and the main house/gardens. There is an under the road connector linking these two parts of this wonderful site.  Monet lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926. He is buried in the village cemetery. Monet's house and gardens were opened to public visit in 1980 It is open April 1-October 31, Tuesday through Sunday, closed on Monday.  You reach Giverney by taking the train from to Vernon. You can get more info about this area and its options from www.giverny.org. As per www.raileurope.com, two of the best rail connections to Vernon(Giverney's nearby town) are from St Lazare station at 8:20 am or 12:20 pm arriving in 46 minutes.  There are some other rail options, but they would involve changing trains at Mantes and this would take more time in getting to Vernon/Giverney.

South of Paris grand palaces and gardens: FONTAINEBLEAU is one of the largest French royal chateaus.  It is located 34.5 miles south of Paris. The palace is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards. The city of Fontainebleau has grown up around the remainder of the Forest of Fontainebleau, a former royal hunting park. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, began to transform Fontainebleau into a symbol of his grandeur, as an alternative to empty Versailles, with its Bourbon connotations. Napoleon hosted Pope Pius VII there in 1804, when he came to consecrate the emperor, and again in 1812–1814, when he was Napoleon's prisoner. With modifications of the château's structure, including the cobblestone entrance wide enough for his carriage, Napoleon helped make the château the place that visitors see today. At Fontainebleau Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814. Fontainebleau was also the setting of the Second Empire court of his nephew Napoleon III.

Their website, but only in French: www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr

VAUX-LE-VICOMTE, a baroque French chateau located near Melun, 55 km southeast of Paris, was built from 1658 to 1661 for Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister. This grand estate was the most influential work and most elaborate and grand house built in Europe in the mid-17th century.  Architect Louis Le Vau and landscape architect André le Nôtre worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of a new order: the magnificent manner that is associated with the "Louis XIV style" involving a system of collective work, which could be applied to the structure, its interiors and works of art and the creation of an entire landscape. The garden's use of a baroque axis that extends to infinity is an example of this style. The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but these characteristics proved tragic to its owner. The King had Fouquet arrested shortly after the famous party  on 17 August 1661, with Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux.  The celebration had been too impressive and the finance minister's home too luxurious. The King seized Vaux Le Vicomte, had his minster jailed and had its team of artists design what would be a much larger . . . the palace and gardens of Versailles!  For more info: www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

For Paris and nearby bus/coach tours, look at: www.pariscityrama.com/en

For private, personal tours, check with [email protected]

Or, her websites of www.lindamathieu.com/paris

EXCELLENT PARIS WEBSITES:

www.paris.org

www.travel-in-paris.com

www.paris-touristoffice.com

EXCELLENT PARIS WEBSITES, including hotels, apartments:

www.paris.org

www.travel-in-paris.com

www.paris-touristoffice.com

www.parisbandb.com

www.chezvous.com

www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/europe

www.parislogue.com

For hotels, you can try:

www.tripadvisor.com

www.hotels.com

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Hi Terry -

Great info, thanks so much for the speedy reply!  Here is some add'l info about the 4 of us:

- We are between 28-41 years old

- My sister and I have been to Paris many times but it will be the first trip for our significant others

- None of us have driven through France or been to Spain

- We don't have a set budget, but I'd say it's "medium"...nice and vague, right? :-)  We are trying to keep lodging to 100 euro night max if that helps.

- We are not gourmet eaters...we like little bistros, etc.  My sister and I are practically vegetarians.

Your idea about taking the train to somewhere outside of Paris and picking up a car is a good one.  Our initial thought was driving from Paris to check out a chateau or two in the Loire area on 3/2, then head south and try to find a cute place to stay between there and the Dordogne area.  Then on 3/3 drive down to the Dordogne area see some cute towns, maybe stop at Oradour-sur-Gland on the way and stay somewhere between there and Andorra, then hit Andorra the morning of 3/4 and get to Barcelona later that day to drop off the car.  We have no real reason to visit Andorra other than saying we hit another country...sort of like when I went to Leichtenstein.  :-)  

I have read that Collioure is a pretty town on the Mediterranean, so maybe we should head that way to drop the car instead of Andorra...

Having never been to Provence, the Loire Valley or Dordogne we really don't know the differences in sites, character, etc. Perhaps my best bet is to check with AutoEurope first and see where they will allow me to drop a car.  Maybe that will make the decision for us!  

Anyhow, thanks again and any other thoughts you have would be much appreciated.

ANSWER: Hi . . . again . . . Stephanie!

Thanks for the kind comments and added background. It is good your budget is "medium" as opposed to being too tight to non-existent.  Europe and France are not cheap given the current value of the dollar. You could take the train out to Tours, get a car and see the Loire, etc.  It's wonderful!!!  Below are some notes for that historic and charming area, plus ideas on the Sarlat and the Dordogne.  This would be an excellent option. On Andorra, on a paper map and as a bird flies, it seems easy and simple.  When you starting looking at the detailed maps, however, you realize that it takes time and lots of more challenging driving to get there.  If you've got lots of time and patience, it's easier and more possible.  Given your tighter schedule, I don't think it is very realistic to get to Barcelona via that routing.  

There are a number of good and nice-looking coastal options, including at Collioure. Overall, either doing the train down to Provence or going to the Loire and Dordogne are excellent.  Each has its super-star attractions.  It depends on what you and your party really like to see in the way of history, architecture, landscapes, etc.  Read through these notes and tell me more about your personal interests and travel style.  Provence might give you more time to relax, while in seeing the Loire and the Dordogne you will sample two different, key areas.  It's a personal choice/decision.   Hard to lose either way.  Both are winners!

Happy to provide other comments/reactions after getting added info from you. How much time are you spending in Barcelona?  Need info for there?

ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio

HERE'S SOME BACKGROUND ON THE WONDERFUL LOIRE VALLEY:

This is the major chateau and castle country southwest of Paris.  It is easy to reach during the a day-trip from Paris taking the quick and comfortable TGV Express train to the Tours suburban station of the St Pierre on the edge of town.  Then pick up your reserved rental car.  See and enjoy the area.  Then drop your car off in the evening, returning back to Paris in only an hour without having to battle the big city traffic.  This  area peaked in power in the mid 1400's to 1700's period; Joan of Arc helped win battle at Orleans in 1429 that spurred power of French monarch to unify the country and drive out the English; Blois has population of 50,000; Tours has population of 130,000 with half-timbered houses on Place Plumeneau; priority for lunch or dinner at Chateau de Beaulieu(4 1/2 miles SW of Tours, 18th Century country estate, phone 47-53 20-26); among the top chateaus to see(all rated as three stars by Michelin Guide) that we have seen and loved are: Azay-le-Rideau, 15 miles SW of Tours, built between 1518 and 1527 with Gothic elements combined with early Renaissance decoration set in wooded area surrounded by water on River Indre, "a romantic pleasure palace", exterior unaltered over centuries, open 9:30-6, night lumiere program during summer; called by Balzac as "multifaceted diamond set in the Indre";  PRIORITY

Chenonceau, 14 miles SE of Tours, built starting in 1513, structure stretches across waters of Cher River, early home for King Henri II's mistress; developed later by Catherine de Medici and five successor women associated with royal families, "a romantic pleasure palace", open 9:00-7 pm March 16th to September 15th, closes a little earlier late fall through winter, see first since it is closest to train station, avoid crowds and opens at 9 a.m., has one million visitors a year, and with the exception of Versailles, is the most visited castle in France; lunch or dinner at L'Orangerie on grounds.  www.chenonceau.com  SUPER PRIORITY Cheverney, eight miles SE of Blois, privately held by family with lavish interior furnishings, rich tapestries, hunt tradition, built between 1604 and 1634, open 9:15 noon and 2:15-6:30 p.m.; kennel feeding time of 5 p.m., except 3 p.m. for Tuesdays and weekends. PRIORITY  

These other two are also rated as "three stars" by Michelin: Villandry, 12 miles west of Tours, gardens are key focus, open 9-6 for chateau, last great Renaissance chateau built in Loire Valley;  Super wonderful gardens with many water features and other unique attractions!

Chambord, ten miles east of Blois, with curved exterior towers, double curved interior staircase and Italian influence, largest in Loire Valley with 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, begun in 1523, can rent horses here to ride in nearby woods, downside: few furnishing on interior and big to see in short visit; royalty of this period did not keep their furnishings at each location, they moved rugs, tapestries, furnishings, etc. as they shifted from location to location; open daily 9:30-11:45 a.m. and 2-4:45 p.m.  Chambord is at a little distance from some of the other locations.  Large, but a little cold because it is not as well furnished and lacks some of the comfort and charm seen with other chateaus.

Local tourism office/site: www.holidays-loire-valley.com

SOUTHWEST FRANCE HIGHLIGHTS/OPTIONS:

While there, we stayed overnight at the nearby Hotel Bônnet in Beynac overlooking the Dordogne River(hotel phone: 011-33-5-53-29-5001). The Sarlat Market on Saturday is really great with its very attractive medieval quarter!  Hopefully Saturday will be one of your days there.

Among the other key options in the area are:

1. ROCAMADOUR- Perched on the side of a cliff with one of the most extraordinary sites in France, this village was one of the great pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.  This site is also a must-see at night. 2. BEYNAC - Large castle overlooking the Dordogne, it was the site of many battles during the Hundred Years War.

3. LES EYZIES - Known as the Capital of Prehistory, it has a famous national museum. 4. DOMME - Walled-town with spectacular overview of the Dordogne.  

5. ST-CIRQ-LAPOPIE - Village with a remarkable site perched on a rocky escarpment overlooking the Lot River valley.

There is also Cahors on River Lot, Cordes and a little farther away is the famed castle/fortress of Carcassonne;

There are other smaller castles, small town markets, wineries, etc.  It depends upon what you like to do and enjoy.  Just hanging out in and around Sarlat and doing nothing is fun and enjoyable.

For Sarlat, their tourism office is: www.sarlat-tourisme.com/en

Contact them and let them know your specific interests and needs. For the larger area, check at: www.dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr  

DINING:  Assuming you're not looking for the high-end, pricy places, the great news is that most any place will be very good to great to excellent. It's hard to have a bad meal in France!! The secret is to do some asking where you are staying and/or of others you meet there for their local suggestions. Then apply the eyeball test! If it looks touristy and the people sitting there(or the staff) are bored and uninterested, then that place probably should be avoided. If it looks like there are locals there and/or they are enjoying it, then it will probably be very good. Or maybe even better!

Here's a good "balancing suggestion" for saving your dining budget. Grab your lunch at one of the many bakeries/boulangerie/patisserie shops. Most are very cute and wonderful. Great breads! Get a sandwich, pastry, drink. Maybe some cheese. Other nice fresh things. Maybe spend only $4-5-6 a person. Eat in a park area or bench in Paris or the country side. Like a little picnic! Saves money and time during a busy day. Allows a little more budget for dinner in the evening.

FINAL KEY POINT: Read up, in advance, with such books(maybe from your library) as Eyewitness France(great maps and pictures) . . . or the Michelin Green books . . . to help you target what you most want to see and enjoy to fit your needs and taste. Don't wait until you get there to decide what you want to do. And be flexible. There could be strikes, rain, etc. that will require you to be able to adjust quickly to take advantage of your best available options each day.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Hi Terry -

Thanks again!  I think I'm convinced that Andorra is not worth the effort on this trip.  Now we need to decide between Provence v. Loire/Dordogne!

My last questions...

It appears that my car rental will be the same $ whether I pick it up in Paris, Tours or Avignon.  I understand the ease of picking it up outside of Paris, but if we decide to save the money and get it in Paris, is there a "better"(meaning easier to drive out of) train station to rent from?  We haven't booked our lodging yet but I'm very comfortable on the metro so we can get to any of them.

If we decide to take the train to Tours or Avignon...I checked Rail Europe(TGV Paris-Avignon) and the French SCNF site.  The French one was *substantially* less - 100 euro v. $400 for the 4 of us.  Can Americans buy tickets directly from the SCNF site?  In the past I've always had a rail pass so this is new for me.

And finally, we would love your Barcelona tips!  None of us have been, and so far the only thing on our list is the Picasso Museum.  We might like to hit the beach, too - even though it will probably be cold in March we want to say we went to the Mediterranean, even if just to walk along it.

Take care,

Stephanie
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Driving From Paris To Barcelona Via Andorra?

Postby Adalson » Mon Nov 21, 2016 8:19 pm

Hi . . . again . . . Stephanie!

Yes, it is a challenge to decide between Provence v. Loire/Dordogne!  Both are excellent, but different.  You will be happy either way. You can drive out from main Paris.  I've done it.  Mid-day is better on traffic and you might consider getting your car at the Gare de Lyon station.  It is near the Quai de Bercy roadway that will get you head south on the better highway to move towards Provence, if you are going that way. I have used the SCNF site to get rail tickets in the past and it worked well.  Check both and see what works for you.  When using the SCNF site, I picked up the tickets at the train station prior to our journey.  

Below are some tips and ideas for Barcelona.  It's a great and wonderful city.  

On where to stay in Paris, location is important.  Why?  You can enjoy more charm and history by staying in great places such as the Marais, Left Bank, etc.  Some locations are not as handy, nor interesting.  Why waste time or not enjoy the great character of what makes Paris so wonderful.  Be position near a Metro stop that gets you to more of the places of interest.  Check this site: www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/europe

Happy to provide other help, if needed. ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio

BARCELONA IS SPAIN'S SECOND CITY, but it bubbles with special vibrancy in its narrow Gothic Quarter alleys and along the grand boulevards. This top Mediterranean trading center is also the capital of the proud region of Catalunya. With Franco's fascism now  history, Catalunyan flags wave once again and the stirring, patriotic Sardana dances are a weekly event at the cathedral. Barcelona has had an illustrious past as a Roman colony, Visigothic capital and 14th-century maritime power.  Just enjoy it.  LIVE IT! IF YOU'RE IN THE MOOD TO SURRENDER TO A CITY'S CHARMS, LET IT BE BARCELONA.

Stroll down the main street, the RAMBLAS. This grand boulevard, more than a Champs-Elysees, takes you from the elegant Placa de Catalunya to the rough port, a 20-minute walk. You'll find the grand opera house, ornate churches, plain prostitutes, pickpockets, flower stalls, artists, street mimes, an outdoor bird market, classy cafes, great shopping, and people eager to charge more for a shoeshine than you paid for the shoes. Rent a white metal chair for 50 pesetas and observe. The Ramblas, which means "stream" in Arabic, is an endless current of people and action.  Duck in the lively produce market on the Ramblas. Best in the morning, Mercat de Sant Josep is an explosion of chicken legs, bags of live snails, stiff fish, delicious oranges, and sleepy dogs. Try a tortilla espanola(potato omelet) and cafe con leche in the market's cafe.  Wander deep in the Gothic Quarter, a tangled grab-bag of undiscovered and grand squares, schoolyard plazas, art nouveau storefronts, baby flea markets, musty and classy antique shops, and balconies with jungles behind wrought iron bars.

The centerpiece of the Gothic Quarter is its colossal CATHEDRAL, a fine example of Catalan Gothic, started in about 1300 and completed 600 years later. Rather than stretching toward heaven, it makes a point to be simply massive. Don't miss the cloister with its wispy garden. Nearby, the Picasso Museum is on the pilgrimage route of modern art lovers. Far and away the best collection of Picasso's(1881-1973) work in Spain, this is a great chance to see his earliest sketches and paintings and better understand his brilliance. He'd mastered the ability to paint realistically when just a teenager. Follow his progress as his skill geometrically increased...to cubism.

GAUDI, another artistic genius, left his mark on Barcelona's architecture. The city is a scrapbook of the galloping gables and organic curves of this hometown boy. A devoted Catalan and Catholic, Gaudi's toil was for his soil. Completely immersed in each project, he often lived on-site.  Gaudi's most famous and persistent work is the unfinished Sagrada Familia(Sacred Family) church. From 1891 to 1925, Gaudi worked on this monumental church of eight 100 meter spires that will someday dance around a 160-meter granddaddy spire. With the cranes, rusty forests of rebar, and scaffolding requiring a powerful faith, it offers a fun look at a living, growing, bigger-than-life building. Take the lift(200 ptas) or the stairs(free) up to the dizzy lookout bridging two spires for a great city view and a gargoyle's-eye perspective of the loopy church.

Barcelona is a walker's paradise. It has old and new, sea and mountain, postmodern and primitive.  To saunter through its Gothic Quarter, along the dark, narrow streets and past the ancient artisans' shops, is to be transported back to the Middle Ages. Walk up Passeig de Gràcia, past the chic boutiques and the daring, whimsical buildings by Antonio Gaudí. This city is known as Spain's capital of design. This city spruced itself up considerably for the 1992 Olympic Summer Games, a face lift that is still paying off. Dozens of old factories and seedy restaurants that blocked access to the waterfront were torn down, creating a Mediterranean beach marvelous for strolling and sunbathing. Near the Old Port are a new aquarium and an Imax theater, excellent diversions for those with kids in tow.  In 1995, the city opened the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, a glistening white sun-drenched building designed by the American Richard Meier.

The Gothic Quarter resembles a maze, with surprises wherever one turns. On torrid summer days, the Cathedral's well-shaded cloister, with its cool stone and many plants, is the perfect escape. Cavelike bars, with sausages hanging from the ceiling, look like they came straight out of a Cervantes novel. The romantic should not miss two well-preserved squares: the Plaça del Pi, known for its cafes and guitar-strumming troubadors, and the Plaça de Sant Felipe Neri, an oasis of serenity with a gentle fountain.

Dine at the usual hour, for those in Barcelona, of 11 pm along with the waterfront.  The great seafood never tasted better in that setting, feeling the pulse of people, fun and enjoyment.  ENJOY!!

Best Dining Bets from Frommers:

Best Catalán Cuisine: This hip Gràcia town house, Jean Luc Figueras(tel. 93 415-28-77), offers a sultry Kama-Sutra dining experience. Traditional and innovative at the same time, the cookery here is a showcase for the talents of the clever chef and owner, Jean Luc Figueras, who stamps every dish--made from the finest raw materials--with his personal touch.

Best View: Part of the fun of going to Barcelona is dining with a view of the water, and Can Costa(tel. 93-221-59-03) not only offers that but also serves up some of the city's most succulent seafood. It has prospered since the eve of World War II, luring patrons who came to sample traditional recipes from the best baby squid in town to a classic Valencian shellfish paella.

Best Decor: Once Beltxenea(tel. 93-215-30-24) was a chic, elegant apartment in the Eixample, but in 1987 it was converted into a restaurant. The dining rooms still retain the atmosphere of exclusivity and elegance, and these days, the restaurant serves some of the best Basque cookery in Catalonia.

Best Value: The most celebrated restaurant in La Boquería, the covered food market of Barcelona, is Garduña(tel. 93-302-43-23). Originally a hotel, it was converted into a restaurant in the 1970s, today serving artists, writers, actors, and others in a blue-collar atmosphere. The food is super-fresh; you get hearty seafood medleys here at prices far below what most other restaurants charge. It also offers one of the best fixed-price menus in town.

Best Seafood: On the main thoroughfare of Gràcia is Botafumeiro(tel. 93-218 42-30), where you get the city's best array of seafood. The chief attraction is mariscos Botafumeiro, a myriad selection of the best shellfish in Spain, with one plate arriving right after the other. The fresh fish is flown daily to Barcelona, often from the coast of Galicia, where the restaurant owner comes from.

Best Continental Cuisine: In this chic part of town, chef Josep Bullick of La Dama(tel. 93-202-06-86) turns out a delectable cuisine that rivals many of the top restaurants of Paris. After sampling such dishes as the langoustine salad with orange vinegar, you'll be won over by his bold innovative cuisine. Peerless ingredients and a faultless technique produce such dishes as roast filet of goat, which may not sound appetizing, but in this chef's hands it becomes a dish of wonder.

Best French Cuisine: Jaume de Provença(tel. 93-430-00-29) boasts modern French cuisine that's often perfumed with the delicate spices and aromas of Provence. Chef Jaume Bargués enjoys a well-earned reputation as one of Barcelona's finest chefs. Haute cuisine is handled here with deft hands, and imagination and vision go into the constantly changing menus that depend on what's the best and the freshest in any given season.

Best for Creative Cuisine: Red-haired Mey Hoffmann, daughter of a German father and a Catalán mother, lures the most discriminating palates to Restaurant Hoffmann(tel. 93-319-58-89), in the Barri Gòtic. Her cuisine is the city's most creative, a perfect medley of dishes inspired by both Catalonia and neighboring France. Everything from her fine tarte with deboned sardines to her ragout of crayfish with green risotto tastes superb, each dish inventive and based on market-fresh ingredients.

Best Wine List: Neichel(tel. 93-334-06-99) enjoys a dedicated loyal following, drawn not only to Jean-Louis Neichel's French and Catalán cuisine, but also to the best wine list in the city--a medley of the finest vintages from both France and Catalonia, as well as throughout Spain. The sommelier helpfully guides you to the perfect wine for your meal, which might include filet of sea bass in a sea urchin cream sauce. He doesn't push the most expensive selections, either.

Best for Late-Night Dining: The good food at Els Quatre Gats(tel. 93-302-41 40) is prepared in an unpretentious style of Catalán cookery called cucina de mercat(based on whatever looks fresh at the market that day).This is the most legendary cafe in Barcelona, patronized by the likes of Picasso when he was wandering around the port at the tender age of 18. In the heart of the Barri Gòtic, it becomes particularly animated late at night, serving food and drink until 2am.

Best Local Favorite: Since 1836, 7 Portes(tel. 93-319-30-33) has been feeding locals its several variations of paella, including versions with rabbit or with sardines. It offers one of the most extensive menus in Barcelona, and is a classic, mellow place with waiters wearing long white aprons.

Best Desserts: There's no contest. Imagine a restaurant, Espai Sucre(Sugar Space)(tel. 93-268-16-30) that does nothing but create spectacular desserts, except for a few savories. Barcelona's most unusual restaurant weaves magic with an array of dessert concoctions that are daringly inventive and great tasting.

Best Picnic Fare: There's no better place for the makings of a picnic than the Mercat de la Boquería, in the center of the Rambles. Also known as the Mercat de Sant Josep, it's one of the world's most extensive produce markets, an attraction in its own right. Dating from 1914, it offers aisle upon aisle of attractively displayed produce from both sea and land. Many of the ingredients are already cooked and prepared, and can be packed for you to carry along in your picnic basket.

Tip from an E-Mail of a visitor there in 1997:

Quatros Gatos(the 4 cats).  It's in an alley in the old section of the city off Las Rambles. It's hard to find and most cab drivers don't know about it.  It feels like you've stepped into a Hemingway novel.  It was a hangout for artists around the turn of the century-Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, et al.  The food is great and we were the only non-Spanish speakers.  I was with a restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Examiner.   Had a monk fish dish that we both agreed was the best fish either of us had ever eaten.  I ordered a second, but Rebecca ate most of it.   You should go to the harbor and eat paella on the terrace too.

Where to Eat from 1998 NY Times:   For a spectacular view of the Mediterranean and equally impressive seafood, Cal Pinxo is the place to go. Situated in Barceloneta, an up-and-coming neighborhood originally built for fishermen's families, this restaurant, at 124 Baluard,(34-93) 221-5028, has excellent paella, sea bass(lubina) and esquexada, a seafood salad full of olive oil and cod. Try a bottle of Yllera, a smooth red wine from Old Castile. Dinner for two costs about $65, with wine.   A popular place for business executives and artists is Senyor Parellada, a bright yellow room filled with plants. The restaurant, at 37 Argenteria,(34-93) 310-5094, has excellent hake with donostiara sauce, containing olive oil, butter and lemon, and angler fish with burnt garlic. Dinner for two: $65, with wine.   Widely considered one of the best tapas bars in a city famous for tapas, Cal Pep, 8 Plaça de les Olles,(34-93) 310-7961, has seafood galore. At night, there are often lines for the bustling marble bar, but it is worth the wait. Try the succulent baby squid(chiperones), the grilled shrimp, the mussels and the spinach with garbonzo beans and garlic. Dinner for two: $60, with wine.  Budget-minded tourists might try Agut, 16 Gignas,(34-93) 315-1709, with an $8.50 lunch menu with entree, wine and dessert included. At night, menus are à la carte. The vegetable pie with tomato sauce was tasty, as were the filet of hake with Provençal sauce and the lasagna with escalivada, a mixture of grilled peppers, eggplant and onions. Dinner for two: $40, with wine.   The $6.50 lunch menu is a stunning bargain at El Convent, in a converted medieval convent, at 3 Jerusalem,(34-93) 317 1052, just behind the colorful Boqueria food market. One recent lunch time, appetizers included lentil salad, baby squid salad and asparagus with garlic mousse.   For a sense of what Barcelona was like at the turn of the century, when it was awhirl with intellectual ferment and a passion for design, try a romantic dinner at the Quatre Gats, 3 Montsio,(34-93) 302-4140, a tavern that opened in 1897. While a teen-ager, Picasso designed its first menu. Ask for a small table on the wrought-iron balcony, overlooking the pianist and violinist. Unfortunately, the food is not as impressive as the ambiance. Dinner for two: $60, with wine.  
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Driving From Paris To Barcelona Via Andorra?

Postby Rosston » Wed Nov 23, 2016 9:26 pm

Hello - my boyfriend, sister and brother in law and I are going to Paris in February 2010, and flying out of Barcelona a little over a week later.  We are considering taking 3 days/2 nights to drive and have a bunch of questions:

- Is it more cost-effective to rent a car from Paris to the border of Spain v. all the way to Barcelona?  We don't mind taking a train for part of the journey.

- Are there any car rental websites you recommend?  I am having a hard time finding any that will allow pick up in Paris and drop off in Barcelona.

- What size car would we need for 4 adults with 4 medium sized backpacks?

- It's tempting to drive to Andorra just to hit another country.  :-)  Is this worth it?

- Do you have a recommended route considering we will have 2 nights/3 days?  Any "must see" sights?  

Thanks!

Stephanie(who used to live in Ohio - go Bucks!)

ANSWER: Hi . . . Stephanie!

You are raising some good questions that are starting to answer themselves.  

1. CAR RENTAL: As you are noting, it is not easy or cheap to find an affordable car rental circumstance that allows for pick-up in France and drop-off in Spain.  Even if you find it, you might not like the pricing.  The drop-charges can be high!   Below I will offer my suggestion that might work better and why. 2. CAR SIZE: If you are going to be doing a lot of driving, you don't want to pinch pennies too much and have a car that is too cramped.   You can check through AutoEurope.com on the website listed below.   Assuming you are getting a stick shift, the larger car model cost a little more, but the difference is not huge and can be worth the added comfort. 3. ANDORRA: Given your tight schedule, it might be too much trying to get to Andorra and then back on schedule.  Your overall challenge is "LOGISTICS"!  Things are not as close together in many parts of Europe, especially in these areas between SE France and Spain, as they might seem on a paper map.  You can use the MapQuest.com site to check you different distance mileage and timing factors to consider.    Then what and how do you want to 'ENJOY" and "EXPERIENCE" things in France, etc?  Rush-rush and gulp it down like soda pop or beer . . . OR . . . sip and savor the moment like fine wine, doing people watching, sensing an enjoyment of life and the humanity, the architecture, history and charm? It's your choice.  I just wanted to be honest and make sure you understand your options and trade-offs.

TELL ME MORE about more about your budget, ages, personal and travel interests, past Europe and France travel experience, etc.  How much are you interested in history?  Countryside vs. cities?  Museums, food, wine, art, music, shopping, architecture, etc.?  How much of it in a leisurely style versus fast-paced?  Then, with more info from you, I can make better, more specific suggestions on what best fits your needs and interests. POTENTIAL PLAN:  Based on the limited information I have right now, I would suggest doing Paris and then taking the fast and comfortable TGV Express train down in only two hours and 35-40 minutes from central Paris to Avignon in the heart of Provence.  That avoids driving in congested and confusing main Paris and its busy suburbs.  The sights between Paris and Provence are "OK", but not super outstanding.  Mostly it's lots of "windshield time" along superhighways.  Kind of boring and tiring in my view.  I would not consider it a great use of your time to make that long driving down.  Then get your car at the Avignon TGV rail station and see some of wonderful Provence.  Then head towards a town such as Narbonne, Beziers, Perpignan or Montpellier.  You could drop your car there and take the train into Barcelona.  That saves the challenges of battling the heavy traffic and confusion within Barcelona.  

As an example, from Beziers to Barcelona, one train option is a departure at 3:55PM, arriving at 7:59PM at Barcelona-Estacio De Franca station.  The cost is  $72 for second class and  $100 for first class.  

Below are some notes on Paris, etc.  Do you need some suggestions for Barcelona?  How much time are you planning there?  

Glad you have Ohio roots and like the Buckeyes!!!

Does this start to help a little? What are your reactions and needs for added information?  Be happy to provide additional info and answer other questions after learning more from you.  Be sure to complete the evaluation section so that our "bosses" on this volunteer service know we are working hard to make inquiring minds as happy as possible. ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio

PROVENCE: WHY IT IS A GREAT PLACE?  ITS WONDERFUL OPTIONS: Why do people love Provence?  It is a region having a love affair with the land, earth and environment.  The landscape is lush and verdant.  Open-air markets have baskets of fresh herbs, fruits, flowers, fabrics, etc.  The colorful spirit of the Mediterranean fills the air.  Provence is nature at its purest.  The sky is a piercing shade of blue.  Fields are abundant and the air is clear.  The climate ensures that spring, summer and fall yield magnificent and varied harvests.  Throughout France, Provence is known for the best of everything natural.  People in the area take great pride in these natural traditions for what they grow and how it is prepared in each village and every kitchen.

LOCATION: Provence has at its southern edge the famed Cote d’Azur with its wonderful coastline along the Mediterranean Sea.  Generally Provence is consider the area east of the Rhone River with the Alps being the eastern border.  Provence enjoys a southern sun that shines 320 days yearly, giving the region blue skies and mild temperatures year round.  It is most picturesque in the spring with its flowering trees and shrubs.  Summer offers local markets full of fresh harvests.  Mid July is when the lavender field are in full bloom, filling the country air with a soothing fragrance.  The Mistral winds can bring icy temperatures on bright sunny days. Getting lost can be fun in Provence.  You can stumble across a charming village, history abbey or great tree-lined roadway. KEY PROVENCE LOCATIONS: AVIGNON is "one of the great art cities of France".  Its old part of town has the Papal Palace, seat of Popes 1309-1377, street musicians perform near palace; art museum in Place du Palais open Wednesday through Monday, population of 87,000, town is on Rhone River. Once the religious, political and financial capital, Avignon is today a cultural capital and plays host annually in July to the largest festival of live theatre in the world. It has some of the best example of Gothic architecture in Europe.

AIX-EN-PROVENCE(population of 125,000) with Cezanne's studio on the road to Entremont; university town founded 122 B.C. as first Roman settlement in Gaul, near thermal springs, dining at Gu et Fils. An elegant and beautiful town, the visitor will enjoy discovering its ‘thousand fountains’ as he or she roams through its labyrinth of narrow streets. Aix-en-Provence is also renowned worldwide for its unique classical music festival.

Car travel to such nearby areas as ARLES, highest priority area city with Roman ruins, including 20,000 seat arena where bull fights are held in the summer; founded 49 B.C. by Julius Caesar, population of 52,000, Van Gogh's former home. Tarascon has its 15th century castle. LES BAUX is a very neat medieval village with great views that has no major population now, but tourist flock to soak up its history and great views. You should dine right near there at L'Oustau de Beaumaniere for ONE OF THE BEST MEALS YOU CAN HAVE IN FRANCE(lunch is more affordable). This website gives some excellent info on the area, plus this excellent Michelin two-star rated dining place: http://www.relaischateaux.com/en/search-book/hotel-restaurant/oustau/region NIMES was settled 121 B.C. and has a population of 140,000. Around the time of Julius Caesar, Nimes was a bustling city on the strategic Via Domitia linking Rome to Iberia/Spain. Nimes's arena, temple and nearby aqueduct are among the best-preserved in all of the former empire. Cars are banished from the compact old city dotted with other ruins, enhancing the feel of yesteryear. The Maison Carre is an almost impossibly pristine Roman temple.

ST. REMY has its Roman ruins, a population of 9000 and is the setting of world-famous literature.  Saint-Remy is one of the most representative of Provençal towns and allows the visitor to appreciate the true charm of this oft-celebrated region of the country. It comes as no surprise that Saint Remy, like Cannes or Saint Tropez, is a destination for many well-known personalities.  This Gallo-Roman village is on the plains 20 km south of Avignon. Residents more recent than the Romans include Dr. Schweitzer, Dr. Nostradamus and Van Gogh. The picturesque, old village is protected by the circular 14th-century wall which is lined by its protective circle of buildings.  Its dolphin fountain is located in the shaded square in front of a 16th century old convent.  This is a busy, active village, with a good selection of restaurants and hotels for the traveller. Among the shops are a few with some regional pottery, including some beautiful sunflower plates influenced by Van Gogh.  The road between St. Remy and the autoroute(at Cavaillon, 17 km to the east) is a scenic drive out of the past: the road is lined by plane trees .

PONT DU GARD(Roman aqueduct/bridge) to the west of Avignon is a must see with its well-preserved history and beautiful setting. Saturday AM market at Uzes near Pont du Gard can be totally charming and wonderful. Try good Provence website of:

www.provencebeyond.com

Try Avignon’s official tourism office: www.avignon-et-provence.com

For St. Remy:http://www.saintremy-de-provence.com/anglais/ssomm.htm

COASTAL SUGGESTION: The old village of Eze, along the coast between Nice and Monaco, hangs up in the mountains above the water and crowds. It's wonderful to visit. Great, great views! Totally charming! Have lunch or dinner there at one of the two great eating places and feel like you're sitting on the edge of paradise! At 1,407 feet above the Mediterranean, Eze offers commanding views of cliffs, sea, sprawling estates and off-shore islands. The village's narrow streets or more really paths among the buildings lead to the Jardin Exotique  It is a maze of paths flanked by mammoth flowering plants and spiky cactuses.  For about $3, you can walk up to the best view on the French Riviera. On a clear day, you can see Corsica!  It does not get much better than Eze.  Their tourism office: www.eze-riviera.com

CONGESTION, TRAFFIC WARNINGS: Be properly warned that Nice, Cannes, Monaco, etc. can and will be extremely crowded during their peak tourism periods.  Lots and lots of people(both residents and visitors), too many cars, too few highways and limited land between the mountains and sea to hold all comfortably and easily.  The movies have made these large cities seem attractive and appealing.  Do not Cary Grant and Grace Kelly seem to be having fun there?  So glamorous and exciting?!  For movies, they make it seem so wonderful.  If you are rich and in the “best, right” areas, it can seem and be wonderful.  BUT, that congestion might be a turn-off.  It depends on what are you expecting, seeking and willing to pay for to hang with the rich and avoid the mobs in these famed areas.

WEATHER/BEACHES FOR THIS AREA?  It is NOT always hot and perfect beach weather during all months of the year in this region, especially in the November to April period.  Also, the beaches are not all perfect, nice and sandy, gently sloped, etc., as some have experienced in Florida, the Carolinas, California, etc.  The movie images paint a perfect picture!  BUT, in many areas for some months, the beaches can be rocky and the weather mostly in the 50's and 60's.  Sunny, probably.  Windy, maybe.  Not trying to be negative, just realistic!  Timing in this area is important!  Movie-like expectations must be matched with reality and your timing for visits in this area.  Also some of the best beaches in a few peak areas are reserved for private hotel or resort use only.  Not all of the best beaches are open to the general public.

CAR RENTALS OPTIONS: We have had excellent success with

www.autoeurope.com

Their phone toll-free is 1-888-223-5555(North America only).

There are also rail-auto plan options through raileurope.com

Avis has lots and lots of location around France and Europe. Don’t assume one price will be the THE PRICE, best price.  Make an advanced booking at a good price, but keep check back as different specials will come up, especially in these fast-changing economic times. WEB-MAPPING FOR FRANCE:

Use this website to get any detailed maps you need. Scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the directions with your details on where are coming from and going to. It will give both graphic maps and written point-by-point instructions.http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=FR

orhttp://www.mapquest.com/directions/europe.adp?do=nw

RAIL SCHEDULES: You can go to this websitehttp://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm

or

www.raileurope.com

and check all of the various train options, timings and costs on rail travel within Europe through the "schedules" option on their web page.  For some routings, such as Avignon to Barcelona or Nice to Rome, it will not yield results.  You will be need to break it out into separate routings such as Nice to Genoa, then Genoa to Rome.  Great, very useful site!

KEY PARIS HIGHLIGHTS/FACTS/OVERVIEW: FAST FACTS:   Paris is 2.1 million people in the main heart of the city.   There are 10.9 million in the metropolitan Paris area or 18% of the total for all of France.   The Metro has 124 miles of track with 368 stations.

36 million tourists visit Paris yearly, with 60% of them from abroad.   Paris has two main airports, Orly and DeGaulle, handling over 70 million customers.

WHAT MAKES PARIS GREAT/UNIQUE:   With style and sophistication, Paris is correctly proud of its cultural achievements over the centuries.   This confidence is expressed in Parisian life, including its architecture from ancient structures to controversy over Hausmann's bold late 1800's master plan and more recent modern developments.

Paris has taken bold decisions, including the Lourve with is now well-accepted glass pyramid by I. M. Pei.

Although at the heart of Europe, Paris is very individualistic and intuitive.   The city has attracted great writers artists and thinkers.   Historically, it has been a city of unrest, rebellion and revolution(an idea they helped finance in America and that lead to the sharp-edged 1789 removal of the Royal family).   

Paris has a special style and soul.   It is a high-flying mix of architecture, fashion, history, idiosyncrasy, style, texture, color and atmosphere.   Paris is romantic, distinctive!

MAJOR PARIS HIGHLIGHTS/OPTIONS:

(Some times might have been adjusted slightly since this was put together a couple of years ago; plus there can always be strikes, budget shortages, etc. that affect scheduled openings in France.) 1. Louvre(closed Tuesday, open 9-6, Monday and Wednesday until 9:45 p.m.) with Cafe Louvre on site for lunch or dinner(and break or rest), plus food court area with wide mix of different items. This museums’s encyclopedic coverage is divided into seven departments covering ancient times to middle of 19th century; Pyramid entrance designed by I. M. Pei, opened in 1989; very big and can spend four days there and still not see everything; Denon(south) Wing on first floor has many of the key European paintings; Richelieu(north) Wing opened in 1993 and has large, covered sculpture courtyard in its middle; Sully Wing(east) has mostly Egyptian and other antiquities.  Over eight million visited the Louvre in 2006.  It’s very popular! From this website(www.louvre.fr/llv/commun/home.jsp?bmLocale=en), you can get more detailed information about its collection exhibits, facilities, etc.

PRIORITY

2. Notre Dame and Palais de Justice on island of Seine River at site of Paris' start; Notre Dame completed during the 1163-1345 period, tours 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; famous southern Rose Windows, climb up 380 steps of the tower for the best views of the city; Sunday night 5:30 p.m. organ concerts; famous Rose stained glass windows; Sainte Chapelle near Palais de Justice is 700 years old with outstanding stained glass windows; La Conciergerie is prison where many, including Marie Antoinette were held prior to being guillotined, is well-light at night with its unique architecture, functioned as prison from 1391 to 1914.  Cathedral is open every day of the year from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm(7:15 pm on Saturdays and Sundays).  Web site: www.cathedraledeparis.com. PRIORITY

3. Musee d'Orsay(door-say)(closed Monday, open 10-6, except Thursday 10 am-9:45 pm), covers 1848-1914 period and is especially great for Impressionist art.  It is a former railway station and hotel with an excellent cafe in museum(doing lunch in this spectacular dining room is a nice way to break up the visit, re-charge and get nice food service).  This dining area is a magnificent space defined by enormous windows, lighted by crystal chandeliers with gilded decoration bringing out the radiance of the sculpted ceilings.   Thursday night is perfect for walk from museum west toward Assemblee Nationale and cross Seine River bridge towards Place de la Concorde seeing all of the building lighted and then looking back towards Eiffel Tower; Place de la Concorde was designed in 1775. From this website(www.musee-orsay.fr/en), you can get more detailed information. PRIORITY

4. Eiffel Tower,(985' tall, 3rd floor at 305', built for 1889 Universal Exhibition). The vistas are magnificent and breathtaking from the topmost platform, especially one hour before sunset. Built in commemoration of the centenary of the French Revolution, weighing 7,000 tons, it was the world's tallest building until 1930. Nearly demolished in 1909 at the expiration of its 20-year lease, the Tower gained new utility as a perch for broadcast antennae and was saved. The Eiffel Tower is open every day all year long, ?from 9:30 am to 11:00 pm, January 1 to June 12 and September 1 to December 31?- from 9:00 am to midnight, June 13 to August 31. Web site: www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk

5. Seine boat trip(board at Pont Neuf), great views of famous Paris sights, especially at night as major buildings are lighted. From this website(www. vedettesdupontneuf.com), you can get more detailed information on one of the companies offering these trips.

6. Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, started 1806 to celebrate Napoleon's early victories, completed in 1836, 165' high and is the world's largest triumphal arch. It is at the center of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues, including the Champs Elysées. The Arc de Triomphe offers a vista seen the length of the Champs Elysées from the smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries Gardens and from the Obélisque de Luxor in the Place de la Concorde.  Since 1920, the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier has been sheltered underneath the arch and this site has an eternal flame for World War I & II fallen soldiers.  There are stairs climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe with great views over the city from this vantage point.   Website: www.arc-de-triomphe.monuments-nationaux.fr

7. Montmartre/Basilique du Sacre-Coeur(church started being built in 1875 on one of highest points in Paris, dedicated in 1910); dome is second highest point in Paris, took 35 years to build with public conscription, great views at dawn and dusk plus from dome area over city, area made famous by artist Toulouse Lautrec, cubism born there; do direct Metro here, nearest station is Anvers or Pigalle. With its narrow cobblestone streets, gardens, steep steps and view over the city, this area is the emblem of romantic Paris.  This church was mainly dedicated in the memory of those thousands who died in the uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71.

8. Luxembourg Palais and Gardens, built in 17th century for Marie de Medici, now houses French Senate, food available in gardens, great place for picnics. This 25-hectare green oasis on Paris' fashionable Left Bank has formal gardens populated with many statues(including one of Sainte-Gèneviève, patron saint of Paris), fountains and beautiful flowers.

9. Saint Germain Market, open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-7 p.m., open air, various food and meat items, near apartment; many galleries, cafes and antiques shops in area; rue de Buci street market.

10. St. Sulpice Church, second largest church in Paris, block from our apartment, famous for its organ and DeLacroix paintings, took 134 years to build, open 7:30 7:30.

11. LE MARAIS Area, NE of Hotel de Ville/City Hall, has Musee Picasso(structure built in 1659, opened in 1985 to settle his estate, open Wednesday-Monday 9:15 5:15) and Musee Carnavalet(built in 1540, two adjoining mansions with decorative arts from the various periods in Paris history), older area starting around metro St Paul station, has Jewish section in area with special foods and historic areas.  It has the super great park and architecture of the Place des Vogue area. The Place des Vosges was the prototype for the residential squares of European cities that were to come. What was new about the Place Royale in 1612 was that the house fronts were all built to the same design, of red brick with strips of stone over vaulted arcades that stand on square pillars. Cardinal Richelieu had an equestrian bronze of Louis XIII placed in the center of this charming park. Nearby is Brasserie Bofinger, one of the oldest and classiest places to dine.  It has a gorgeous domed stained-glass ceiling over the main dining room.

12. MUSEE RODIN, has nice scale in both the interior exhibit area as an old mansion, plus the gardens with the outdoor sculpture, at Varenne Metro stop next to Hotel des Invaldes, has third largest private garden in Paris, originally built in 1730, Rodin used as his studio from 1908 until his death in 1917, open Tuesday Sunday 10-5:45. 13. PALAIS-ROYAL, former home of Cardinal Richelieu who died there in 1642, old houses, restaurants, teas rooms and shops border the formal gardens on three sides, near Louvre.

14. POMPIDOU CENTER or Beaubourg Museum, opened in 1977, closed Tuesday; mostly post 1918 art work; duct-work and steel framing on outside. From this website(www.centrepompidou.fr), you can get more detailed information.

15. Paris Opera House/ OPERA GARNIER, opened 1875; 2nd Empire style, see its grand staircase and foyer, 2156 seats, large stage area, current home of Paris Ballet.  Wonderful place to do a tour.  It was just recently re-done for many of the key reception rooms with all of the great gold trim, etc. Spectacular to see! A model for many auditoriums around the world, this fine piece of design was constructed in the time of Napoleon III as part of Haussmann's city development scheme. Charles Garnier submitted the winning design and construction lasted from 1860 to 1875. Enjoy the marble Grand Staircase, the red and gold auditorium, the ceiling by Chagall and an 8 ton crystal chandelier. From this website(www.opera-de-paris.fr), you can get more detailed information.

16. MUSEE DE L'ORANGERIE de Tuileries, impressionism collection, including Monet's work; closed Tuesday, open 9:45-5:15 p.m.(www.musee-orangerie.fr). It has unveiled a fresh look, with its 19th- and 20th-century works relocated underground, and Claude Monet's famed Nymphéas displayed as the artist intended them to be: lit by sunlight, in large oval galleries that recall the shape of the garden ponds on his Giverny estate. 17. MUSEE MARMOTTAN, open most every day(except Jan. 1, May 1 & Dec. 25) 11 am-6 pm, with its excellent impressionist art, including Monet works. From this website(www.marmottan.com), you can get more detailed information.  At 2, rue Louis-Boilly, this Museum possesses the world's largest collection of works by Claude Monet. It has a very complete and representative group of works of theses artistic movements, including more than three hundred paintings, pastels, watercolors and sculptures of the Impressionists and Post-impressionists super-stars. 18. HOTEL LES INVALIDES, Napoleon' s tomb, 643 foot dome, built in 1676 by Sun King, Louis XIV, for old soldiers, many disabled, open 10-5:45.

19. ILE SAINT LOUIS, is one of the most charming little areas in all of Paris. So nice to stroll up its main street as you walk towards Notre Dame and other key highlights. Famed Berthillon ice cream: The only true Berthillon can be found at 31, rue St Louis-en-l'Ile, where it was born. This delicious ice cream has rich colors and equally intense flavors. It comes in myriad flavors, but the rum raisin, dark chocolate(chocolat noir) and mango(mangue) flavors are incredible. This is divine dessert territory.  Lots of Boutique shopping and dining places line this street in the heart of Paris.  Try Brasserie Ile St-Louis, 55 quai de Bourbon, 1er(tel. 01/43/54-02-59), that Frommers calls the last independent brasserie in Paris.  They note: “Far from the polished restaurants that masquerade as true brasseries, this one has as its heart old Paris.”

VERSAILLES: By suburban subway/train(RER-C5 line, from St-Michel, every 15 minutes) or train(30 minutes) from Saint Lazare; started being built in 1660's for Sun King Louis XIV(during 1661 to 1715 period, involved 32,000 to 45,000 workers) in French classical architectural style; conceived as a world unto itself as seat of government, permanent residence of the royal family and the cream of nobility, was previously modest hunting lodge in swampy area; palace highlight is 236-foot long Hall of Mirrors where the treaty was signed ending WWI; a three-year restoration of this spectacular Hall of Mirrors was just completed in June 2007; through 2020, they are completing a $455 million project to upgrade Versailles with cleanings, new roofs, other restorations, etc.; this property has 700 rooms, 2,153 windows, 352 chimneys and 28 acres of roof; in the huge garden areas are Grand Canal, Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Hameau used by Marie Antoinette; town population of 100,000; possible bus tour or car drive options out to Versailles; open 9:45-5, park open sunrise to sunset; tour palace first and gardens later(closed Monday). From this website(www.chateauversailles.fr/en), you can get more detailed information.

PARIS METRO/SUBWAY: Great, great system! Probably best to buy packets of ten tickets, rather than a multi-day, three or five day pass. There are fourteen different subway lines, plus the four different suburban RER rail options. It is important to know which line or lines you want to use, IN ADVANCE, and the name of the end station for your direction so that you go down the right set of stairs to be on the correct side of the tracks. It's not as simple as New York City with uptown or downtown! But it offers totally great, fast, frequent service. Very clean and nice!  Single tickets(1.60 Euros) may be purchased at the counters each time, but the better value is a carnet of 10(11.40 Euros), which will also save you waiting in line. For all day use, for adults(there is a cheaper children’s daily pass), the pass cost in euros is for one day(8.80), two days(14.4), three days(19.6), or five days(28.3).  Compared to London, the daily pass might not be the best value.  It depends on your needs.  WEBSITE for maps and other info/details: http://www.ratp.info/touristes/index.php?langue=en

PARIS MUSEUM PASS: Strongly suggest getting the Paris Museum Pass for access to 60 museums and monuments in Paris and the surrounding region. Multiple visits to the same museums are possible and there is no waiting in line. You get: * Entry into more than 60 Paris museums and monuments inside and outside Paris, including Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d'Orsay, Musee National du Chateau de Versailles, Musee National Picasso, Pompidou Center, Musee Roding, Chateau de Rambouillet, Basilique Saint-Denis, Chateau de Chantilly, Fontainebleau, etc.

* Multiple visits to the same museums or monuments at no extra charge * Validities: 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days * No admission charge, no waiting in line Paris Museum Pass, 2-Day Pass 32 Euro Paris Museum Pass, 4-Day Pass 48 Euro

Paris Museum Pass, 6-Day Pass 64 Euro You can get the Paris Museum Pass at the Paris Tourist Office, and in its reception offices in Paris train stations, and the Eiffel Tower or at over 60 museums and monuments concerned. More info:

www.parismuseumpass.fr

GIVERNY  is best known as Claude Monet's garden and home, sitting on the "right Bank" of the River Seine. The village lies 80km or 50 miles northwest of Paris on the border between the province of Normandy and the Île-de-France. Claude Monet noticed the village of Giverny while looking out the train window. He moved there, renting a house and in 1890, he saved enough money to buy the house and land.  He created the spectacular gardens he wanted to paint. Some of his most famous paintings, such as his water lily and Japanese bridge paintings, were of his garden in Giverny. This pond and bridge are actually separated by a roadway between this scenic feature and the main house/gardens. There is an under the road connector linking these two parts of this wonderful site.  Monet lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926. He is buried in the village cemetery. Monet's house and gardens were opened to public visit in 1980 It is open April 1-October 31, Tuesday through Sunday, closed on Monday.  You reach Giverney by taking the train from to Vernon. You can get more info about this area and its options from www.giverny.org. As per www.raileurope.com, two of the best rail connections to Vernon(Giverney's nearby town) are from St Lazare station at 8:20 am or 12:20 pm arriving in 46 minutes.  There are some other rail options, but they would involve changing trains at Mantes and this would take more time in getting to Vernon/Giverney.

South of Paris grand palaces and gardens: FONTAINEBLEAU is one of the largest French royal chateaus.  It is located 34.5 miles south of Paris. The palace is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards. The city of Fontainebleau has grown up around the remainder of the Forest of Fontainebleau, a former royal hunting park. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, began to transform Fontainebleau into a symbol of his grandeur, as an alternative to empty Versailles, with its Bourbon connotations. Napoleon hosted Pope Pius VII there in 1804, when he came to consecrate the emperor, and again in 1812–1814, when he was Napoleon's prisoner. With modifications of the château's structure, including the cobblestone entrance wide enough for his carriage, Napoleon helped make the château the place that visitors see today. At Fontainebleau Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814. Fontainebleau was also the setting of the Second Empire court of his nephew Napoleon III.

Their website, but only in French: www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr

VAUX-LE-VICOMTE, a baroque French chateau located near Melun, 55 km southeast of Paris, was built from 1658 to 1661 for Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister. This grand estate was the most influential work and most elaborate and grand house built in Europe in the mid-17th century.  Architect Louis Le Vau and landscape architect André le Nôtre worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of a new order: the magnificent manner that is associated with the "Louis XIV style" involving a system of collective work, which could be applied to the structure, its interiors and works of art and the creation of an entire landscape. The garden's use of a baroque axis that extends to infinity is an example of this style. The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but these characteristics proved tragic to its owner. The King had Fouquet arrested shortly after the famous party  on 17 August 1661, with Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux.  The celebration had been too impressive and the finance minister's home too luxurious. The King seized Vaux Le Vicomte, had his minster jailed and had its team of artists design what would be a much larger . . . the palace and gardens of Versailles!  For more info: www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

For Paris and nearby bus/coach tours, look at: www.pariscityrama.com/en

For private, personal tours, check with [email protected]

Or, her websites of www.lindamathieu.com/paris

EXCELLENT PARIS WEBSITES:

www.paris.org

www.travel-in-paris.com

www.paris-touristoffice.com

EXCELLENT PARIS WEBSITES, including hotels, apartments:

www.paris.org

www.travel-in-paris.com

www.paris-touristoffice.com

www.parisbandb.com

www.chezvous.com

www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/europe

www.parislogue.com

For hotels, you can try:

www.tripadvisor.com

www.hotels.com

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Hi Terry -

Great info, thanks so much for the speedy reply!  Here is some add'l info about the 4 of us:

- We are between 28-41 years old

- My sister and I have been to Paris many times but it will be the first trip for our significant others

- None of us have driven through France or been to Spain

- We don't have a set budget, but I'd say it's "medium"...nice and vague, right? :-)  We are trying to keep lodging to 100 euro night max if that helps.

- We are not gourmet eaters...we like little bistros, etc.  My sister and I are practically vegetarians.

Your idea about taking the train to somewhere outside of Paris and picking up a car is a good one.  Our initial thought was driving from Paris to check out a chateau or two in the Loire area on 3/2, then head south and try to find a cute place to stay between there and the Dordogne area.  Then on 3/3 drive down to the Dordogne area see some cute towns, maybe stop at Oradour-sur-Gland on the way and stay somewhere between there and Andorra, then hit Andorra the morning of 3/4 and get to Barcelona later that day to drop off the car.  We have no real reason to visit Andorra other than saying we hit another country...sort of like when I went to Leichtenstein.  :-)  

I have read that Collioure is a pretty town on the Mediterranean, so maybe we should head that way to drop the car instead of Andorra...

Having never been to Provence, the Loire Valley or Dordogne we really don't know the differences in sites, character, etc. Perhaps my best bet is to check with AutoEurope first and see where they will allow me to drop a car.  Maybe that will make the decision for us!  

Anyhow, thanks again and any other thoughts you have would be much appreciated.

ANSWER: Hi . . . again . . . Stephanie!

Thanks for the kind comments and added background. It is good your budget is "medium" as opposed to being too tight to non-existent.  Europe and France are not cheap given the current value of the dollar. You could take the train out to Tours, get a car and see the Loire, etc.  It's wonderful!!!  Below are some notes for that historic and charming area, plus ideas on the Sarlat and the Dordogne.  This would be an excellent option. On Andorra, on a paper map and as a bird flies, it seems easy and simple.  When you starting looking at the detailed maps, however, you realize that it takes time and lots of more challenging driving to get there.  If you've got lots of time and patience, it's easier and more possible.  Given your tighter schedule, I don't think it is very realistic to get to Barcelona via that routing.  

There are a number of good and nice-looking coastal options, including at Collioure. Overall, either doing the train down to Provence or going to the Loire and Dordogne are excellent.  Each has its super-star attractions.  It depends on what you and your party really like to see in the way of history, architecture, landscapes, etc.  Read through these notes and tell me more about your personal interests and travel style.  Provence might give you more time to relax, while in seeing the Loire and the Dordogne you will sample two different, key areas.  It's a personal choice/decision.   Hard to lose either way.  Both are winners!

Happy to provide other comments/reactions after getting added info from you. How much time are you spending in Barcelona?  Need info for there?

ENJOY!  Merci Beaucoup!

Thanks.  Terry Casey in Columbus, Ohio

HERE'S SOME BACKGROUND ON THE WONDERFUL LOIRE VALLEY:

This is the major chateau and castle country southwest of Paris.  It is easy to reach during the a day-trip from Paris taking the quick and comfortable TGV Express train to the Tours suburban station of the St Pierre on the edge of town.  Then pick up your reserved rental car.  See and enjoy the area.  Then drop your car off in the evening, returning back to Paris in only an hour without having to battle the big city traffic.  This  area peaked in power in the mid 1400's to 1700's period; Joan of Arc helped win battle at Orleans in 1429 that spurred power of French monarch to unify the country and drive out the English; Blois has population of 50,000; Tours has population of 130,000 with half-timbered houses on Place Plumeneau; priority for lunch or dinner at Chateau de Beaulieu(4 1/2 miles SW of Tours, 18th Century country estate, phone 47-53 20-26); among the top chateaus to see(all rated as three stars by Michelin Guide) that we have seen and loved are: Azay-le-Rideau, 15 miles SW of Tours, built between 1518 and 1527 with Gothic elements combined with early Renaissance decoration set in wooded area surrounded by water on River Indre, "a romantic pleasure palace", exterior unaltered over centuries, open 9:30-6, night lumiere program during summer; called by Balzac as "multifaceted diamond set in the Indre";  PRIORITY

Chenonceau, 14 miles SE of Tours, built starting in 1513, structure stretches across waters of Cher River, early home for King Henri II's mistress; developed later by Catherine de Medici and five successor women associated with royal families, "a romantic pleasure palace", open 9:00-7 pm March 16th to September 15th, closes a little earlier late fall through winter, see first since it is closest to train station, avoid crowds and opens at 9 a.m., has one million visitors a year, and with the exception of Versailles, is the most visited castle in France; lunch or dinner at L'Orangerie on grounds.  www.chenonceau.com  SUPER PRIORITY Cheverney, eight miles SE of Blois, privately held by family with lavish interior furnishings, rich tapestries, hunt tradition, built between 1604 and 1634, open 9:15 noon and 2:15-6:30 p.m.; kennel feeding time of 5 p.m., except 3 p.m. for Tuesdays and weekends. PRIORITY  

These other two are also rated as "three stars" by Michelin: Villandry, 12 miles west of Tours, gardens are key focus, open 9-6 for chateau, last great Renaissance chateau built in Loire Valley;  Super wonderful gardens with many water features and other unique attractions!

Chambord, ten miles east of Blois, with curved exterior towers, double curved interior staircase and Italian influence, largest in Loire Valley with 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, begun in 1523, can rent horses here to ride in nearby woods, downside: few furnishing on interior and big to see in short visit; royalty of this period did not keep their furnishings at each location, they moved rugs, tapestries, furnishings, etc. as they shifted from location to location; open daily 9:30-11:45 a.m. and 2-4:45 p.m.  Chambord is at a little distance from some of the other locations.  Large, but a little cold because it is not as well furnished and lacks some of the comfort and charm seen with other chateaus.

Local tourism office/site: www.holidays-loire-valley.com

SOUTHWEST FRANCE HIGHLIGHTS/OPTIONS:

While there, we stayed overnight at the nearby Hotel Bônnet in Beynac overlooking the Dordogne River(hotel phone: 011-33-5-53-29-5001). The Sarlat Market on Saturday is really great with its very attractive medieval quarter!  Hopefully Saturday will be one of your days there.

Among the other key options in the area are:

1. ROCAMADOUR- Perched on the side of a cliff with one of the most extraordinary sites in France, this village was one of the great pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.  This site is also a must-see at night. 2. BEYNAC - Large castle overlooking the Dordogne, it was the site of many battles during the Hundred Years War.

3. LES EYZIES - Known as the Capital of Prehistory, it has a famous national museum. 4. DOMME - Walled-town with spectacular overview of the Dordogne.  

5. ST-CIRQ-LAPOPIE - Village with a remarkable site perched on a rocky escarpment overlooking the Lot River valley.

There is also Cahors on River Lot, Cordes and a little farther away is the famed castle/fortress of Carcassonne;

There are other smaller castles, small town markets, wineries, etc.  It depends upon what you like to do and enjoy.  Just hanging out in and around Sarlat and doing nothing is fun and enjoyable.

For Sarlat, their tourism office is: www.sarlat-tourisme.com/en

Contact them and let them know your specific interests and needs. For the larger area, check at: www.dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr  

DINING:  Assuming you're not looking for the high-end, pricy places, the great news is that most any place will be very good to great to excellent. It's hard to have a bad meal in France!! The secret is to do some asking where you are staying and/or of others you meet there for their local suggestions. Then apply the eyeball test! If it looks touristy and the people sitting there(or the staff) are bored and uninterested, then that place probably should be avoided. If it looks like there are locals there and/or they are enjoying it, then it will probably be very good. Or maybe even better!

Here's a good "balancing suggestion" for saving your dining budget. Grab your lunch at one of the many bakeries/boulangerie/patisserie shops. Most are very cute and wonderful. Great breads! Get a sandwich, pastry, drink. Maybe some cheese. Other nice fresh things. Maybe spend only $4-5-6 a person. Eat in a park area or bench in Paris or the country side. Like a little picnic! Saves money and time during a busy day. Allows a little more budget for dinner in the evening.

FINAL KEY POINT: Read up, in advance, with such books(maybe from your library) as Eyewitness France(great maps and pictures) . . . or the Michelin Green books . . . to help you target what you most want to see and enjoy to fit your needs and taste. Don't wait until you get there to decide what you want to do. And be flexible. There could be strikes, rain, etc. that will require you to be able to adjust quickly to take advantage of your best available options each day.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Hi Terry -

Thanks again!  I think I'm convinced that Andorra is not worth the effort on this trip.  Now we need to decide between Provence v. Loire/Dordogne!

My last questions...

It appears that my car rental will be the same $ whether I pick it up in Paris, Tours or Avignon.  I understand the ease of picking it up outside of Paris, but if we decide to save the money and get it in Paris, is there a "better"(meaning easier to drive out of) train station to rent from?  We haven't booked our lodging yet but I'm very comfortable on the metro so we can get to any of them.

If we decide to take the train to Tours or Avignon...I checked Rail Europe(TGV Paris-Avignon) and the French SCNF site.  The French one was *substantially* less - 100 euro v. $400 for the 4 of us.  Can Americans buy tickets directly from the SCNF site?  In the past I've always had a rail pass so this is new for me.

And finally, we would love your Barcelona tips!  None of us have been, and so far the only thing on our list is the Picasso Museum.  We might like to hit the beach, too - even though it will probably be cold in March we want to say we went to the Mediterranean, even if just to walk along it.

Take care,

Stephanie
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