Going to the Loire Valley and Normandy

I have booked a short vacation to France in July, from our temporary home in the Cotswolds. We are flying from Bristol to Paris, then driving to the Loire Valley for five nights. Then we drive up to Normandy, stopping on the way to see the Bayeux Tapestry, something we have both always wanted to see. Four nights in Normandy, then back to the Paris airport to fly to Bristol.

In the Loire we will be staying Les MortiersThree vacation rentals (gites) on a farm near Parcay Les Pins in the Loire Valley. Onsite owners are British. Eco-friendly. Great for families. We were lucky that they had a week free. I assumed we would have to rent it for the whole week, but asked if it was possible to rent by the night, and it was – so that made our decision. It is always worth asking. I follow the owner Jean on Twitter @FrenchHoliday.

We had a nine night period in early July for our vacation and we needed to figure out where to go. At first we chose Devon because it is close and we already have a car here, so would not be expensive. But then I realized that June would probably slip by without us going to France (we are having too much fun here and never want to leave) and we needed to get to France (because we really want to see more of France), so our decision was France.

I was looking at the Dordogne in the south west but then read yet another book about “I bought a house in the Dordogne and you didn’t” and decided July might be too hot and crowded. So I looked north. I chose Normandy because it was close and we could easily take the ferry from Calais (but after the decision was made we decided to fly).

I thought this would be a good chance to see the Loire Valley because my friend Chris (Best Trip Ever) loves it and I enjoy reading Ken’s blog Living the Life in Saint Aignan about the Loire. Steve has been to the Loire Valley before (I haven’t) but it was over 30 years ago and with a previous girlfriend, so I thought it was about time we replaced those old memories of his with nice, new, Pauline-based ones.

Eastleach Turville, Cotswolds
Eastleach Turville, Cotswolds

Using Slow Europe to Find Vacation Rentals

I always use my own site, Slow Europe, to search for vacation rentals. It gives me a good chance to make sure our entries are up to date and gives good vacation rental options. We don’t have many reviews yet and reviews are a great way to help decide – so send in your reviews! (I know you have already sent them to SlowTrav.com and Trip Advisor, but if you have an extra minute, send us a short one.)

Using Twitter to Make Travel Decisions

I have been on Twitter for two years, enthusiastically at first, reluctantly in the last year. Sometimes Twitter exhausts me, but that is because I follow all these young travel experts who seem to have endless energy to travel frequently and write. I feel all the words leave me when I read them. I really have to get myself off Twitter.

I follow a lot of vacation rental owners because it is good for me to see the business from their point of view. When looking at the list of vacation rental options on Slow Europe, I found myself looking at websites for people I follow on Twitter. I think it is because I am reading their tweets and get a feel for them and their area, and then want to stay there. We are staying with two of my Twitter “friends” (in quotes because I don’t know them, they don’t know me).

Transportation – Fast not Slow

We wanted to take a ferry to France. The idea was to drive to the ferry port, park the car, travel as foot passengers, then rent a car on the France side. We cannot take our leased car to the continent, and even if we could, I am not prepared to confuse my poor driving head like that.

I looked at ferries that go from Portsmouth to Normandy and Brittany in France, but the travel time is long and the schedules infrequent. Then I considered the Dover to Calais ferry. We took this once about 20 years ago and it was fun. After much googling and looking at schedules, I found out that the hovercraft ferries have gone out of business – it is only car ferries that cross the channel. Then I read some freaky things about the Dover-Calais ferry on Fodors. Ferries are for people with cars, they are not setup for foot passengers – or so it seems to me.

Some websites indicated that the Eurotunnel train takes foot passengers, but this is not true. Again, this is for people and cars. There must be a lot of British cars on the highways in France! So cross off the idea of driving to the Eurotunnel station near Dover, parking, and taking the train.

Did I mention that if you are renting a car in Calais, the rental offices are closed on Sunday and from noon to 2pm Monday to Saturday, so you have to add this into your calculation?

Next I searched for trains. We could get a train from Bath, but we would have to change stations in both London and Paris, and I tend to avoid big cities in the summer. The Man in Seat Sixty-One explains how you can take the Eurostar to Lille, then change to a local train there, but the only TGV for the Loire (to Tours) goes from Paris not from Lille. This option works best for TGVs to southern France.

A train/plane option is to fly to Paris then take the TGV to Tours, but would put us in downtown Tours on a Saturday night and we would have to get our rental car immediately because offices are closed on Sunday. If we were flying on another day this would have been a good option – spend a night in Tours, then pickup a car and drive to our first vacation rental.

So, in the end, we did the obvious – booked a flight on Air France from Bristol (only an hour from us) to Paris, where we get a rental car and drive 3.5 hrs to the Loire Valley. I wanted to avoid airports and I especially wanted to avoid the car rental lineup on a Saturday afternoon at a major European airport because we have done that twice and both times were ugly, but here we are. I did some googling and came up with some not-so-expensive airport parking at Bristol.

What About the Cat?

It is strange being here with our cat Buddy. I am used to doing longer trips, one to three months, and leaving him at home with our house-sitter or visiting friends. Since we are here for five+ months, and have rented out our house in Boulder, we brought him with us. Just having the cat makes it feel like we are living here instead of visiting. Also setting up an office so we can both work makes this not our usual vacation.

We have a nice neighbor here who would look after Buddy (we looked after her cat last week), but I think nine nights is too long to leave him since he still a bit skittish about being here. So we enticed two friends from Florence to come to the Cotswolds and have a vacation in our cottage while we vacation in France! Let’s hope for perfect weather so we can get them to do this again for a fall trip.

Buddy will be basking in the glow of attention from our Italian friends while we are jetting around France.

Swans and Rivers

The photo at the top is from a lovely hike we did a couple of weeks ago from Eastleach-Turville in the Cotswolds. River, swan, historic bridge. I guess they have things like that in France?

Is it just me or does it take everyone about a week solid to plan and book even a short vacation?

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

7 thoughts on “Going to the Loire Valley and Normandy”

  1. It’s just you 🙂 We decided on a short vacation last week from our 3-month home here in Spain, and we just piled in the car and went. We like spontaneous holidays, just stopping wherever we feel is nice and moving on when we feel like it, but it does have its downsides. You get the odd nasty surprise, but on the other hand lots of unexpected nice stuff too 🙂 We stayed in B&Bs mostly, which were very pleasant — no problems with any of them — but it made me realise how much nicer (and cheaper!) it usually is to stay at campsites or in vacation rentals.

  2. And it takes at least a half day for me to study the plans and routes for the vacation you’ve just spent a week planning and booking! I can’t resist looking at every detail, you know.

    This looks like a lovely trip, except for the airport part. I could swear you used to be able to get from Lille to Tours without changing trains in Paris, but I just checked and you’re right, you can’t. Flying is a better alternative than making that train connection in Paris!

    I’ve never been in the exact area of the Loire where you’re staying, but you’re well positioned to see the sweet little chateau villages west of Tours without being sucked into the Tours traffic. I love Villandry for the amazing formal vegetable gardens, and I remember liking Chinon too. If you venture further out to the other side of Tours, Chenonceau is my favorite chateau, quite close to where we always stayed. We’ve always been in the Loire Valley off-season, so you’ll probably encounter more tourists. Are there walking trails where you’re staying?

    Your Normandy location looks wonderful, too. I’ve never been in that area, except to Rouen.

    Have fun!

  3. Hi Veronica! I think it is not in my nature to be that spontaneous 🙂

    Hi Chris! Thanks for the recommendations. I bought the new Footprints guides for the Loire and Normandy and have to get reading. Steve remembers hideous Tours traffic from 30+ years ago! For the first time in years we don’t care about walking trails! Normally we want to do trips based around walking, but we are doing so much walking here in the Cotswolds (and previously in Boulder) that a week without any hikes will be welcome. But I did read that from the Loire place we can walk into the village and I am sure we will find some places to walk.

    It was remembering your description of changing stations in Paris that put me off doing that – plus we did this last summer in London. I can’t see being in Paris just to change trains – and not spending a few days there. So easier to just drive around it, I think.

  4. Hi Pauline, sounds like a wonderful trip. It’s so interesting reading your planning process. My trips always starts with something I’ve read or seen and sometimes for me it can be the smallest of things that gives me the biggest inspiration to spark a trip. It’s great fun. That photo is very beautiful. I was actually wondering about your cat buddy and then scrooled down to read how you’ve worked that out.

    Thanks so much for sharing and have a wonderful time in France.

  5. Pauline,

    It is so interesting to see the planning process from a travel pro’s perspective.

    It sounds like a wonderful trip! I will be following along with your adventures.

  6. We leave on Saturday. We have our maps out, marking the towns we want to see and making a list of Chateau. I hope it is not too hot next week, but if it is then mornings out exploring and afternoons at the pool!

  7. Nancy emailed me with the places they stayed last year:

    http://www.grandhoteldelabbaye.com/ Grand Hotel de l’abbay Beaugency

    http://www.chateaudesormeaux.fr/ Chateau des Ormeaux (across the Loire from busy Amboise) in the Manoir Room Albinoni … very nice/sweet and private

    http://www.chateaudebeaulieu.fr/ Chateau de Beaulieu Saumur … soooo delightfully wonderful. Mary and Conor (smart, wonderful couple from Dublin Ireland) are the perfect hosts at this B&B Chateau.

    http://www.chateaudechampvallins.com/ Chateau Champvallins in Sandillon (just outside Orleans). It is just as pictured.

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