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31 replies
Paris to Gimmelwald
monique
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The backpacks have been put away for almost 9 years and we are finally looking to take our first family trip to France/Switzerland this summer with our then 8-year-old. Looking for itinerary advice. Thinking about starting in Paris and ending in Gimmelwald, Switzerland. We have been to Paris several times and it’s my favorite city. I’m excited to return there with a child, savoring parks and discovering things in a different way from our past museum-heavy trips. We went to Gimmelwald once during historic rains and flooding of central Europe; it was foggy/rainy and we missed the view entirely. I am dying to get back there; we have also become hikers since that trip, I can hardly contain myself for the amazing hikes there that we missed entirely. I’m wondering where we should stop in between, or other favorite spots in France (not Switzerland)? I would love to go to Provence, the Rivera, or Mont St-Michel but none of those are on the way. I would love to see a village, and a ‘real’ castle is a must for our daughter (not Versailles)! We are thinking 2 weeks, would prefer to travel by train but car is not out of the question. How many days should I plan for Paris and Gimmelawald? It has to be July/August because I am a school nurse and that is the only time of year when I get 2 weeks off. I can’t chance late June in the unlikely event we have crazy snow days. I’m concerned about crowding/lodging issues due to the summer holiday, Bastile Day, the Tour de France, and Swiss Day (though I would love to be there for those things). I can deal with the crowds, it’s more the lodging issue. Thanks for any tips, I need them before the bag of money arrives on my doorstep so I can book airfare. Smile

I am leaving from Boston and traveling for 15 days
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Cil
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Monique, just some random thoughts:

For a castle: Fontainebleu is easy a short train ride through a forested area. But there are others such as Chateau de Vicennes and one I’ve never been to but would love: Chateau Vaux le Vicomte. Maybe you could take a couple days for the chateaux in the Loire Valley?

I wonder if a stop-over in Dijon would work between the two destinations, and along the way, Flavigny (movie Chocolat was filmed there) is one of the Les Beaux Villages. I’ve never been to Dijon but I’ve been told it is worth a visit. I’m not sure of all the transportation logistics, though.
Have you explored Bahn yet?

FWIW, we were once in Obernai for the beginning of the Tour de France and it was pretty cool (not too crazy, crowded or anything like that, some friendly French people actually invited us up to their top floor apartment to watch the proceedings.) As you say, it’s planning and lodging that might be tricky.

I’m not really sure how much time should be allotted to each spot. If you could take 16 days total, giving you two solid weeks, you could do something like 4 days Paris with a day trip, 2-3 days Flavigny/Dijon, 3-4 days Gimmelwald, and then loop back to Paris by way of Montreux or Thun (better yet, fly home from Geneva if possible.) All of this is very theoretical, Oldlady or Don or others might be able to give you more practical advice.

As a complete aside, we went on a beautiful hike in the Picos de Europa over Christmas.

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Thanks, Cil! What are your most favorite places in France? Picos de Europa looks great!

I have looked at Bahn.de for timelines but how can I get an estimate on the prices? Perhaps I should consider Chamonix instead of Gimmelwald.

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Some random thoughts…
Mont St.Michael is doable as a day trip from Paris, but it’s tough. There are numerous tours available, some by bus and some that take advantage of the high speed trains (some even set up to allow you to use your rail pass to pay for the train portion) and then switch to bus. Buses that go directly to the causeway are timed to meet the high speed trains from Paris, so you can also do this on your own. Definite downside is that you’ll be spending 7 or 8 hours of your day on bus and/or train. That probably wouldn’t be a real fun day for an 8 year old.

Rhine valley might be a way to see castles. You could take the train to Koln, then take the Rhine river cruise (KD cruise line is covered by a rail pass). You’ll see dozens of castles along the Rhine and can get off the ship to visit castles at stops like St. Goar or Bacharach. You can stay overnight in or adjacent to either — hostel in one, hotel in the other (don’t remember which is which). I’d suggest checking out any Rick Steeves guide that covers Germany for a Kilometer by Kilometer guide for this section of the Rhine. Not sure if these castles will seem “real” to an 8 year old if she expects Disney. You could catch a train to Frankfurt and continue to Switzerland from there.

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Great advice from Oldlady. Mont St Michel is truly magical,though yeah it would be tough as a day trip from Paris. And the Rhine certainly would offer much in the way of castles.

Chamonix might be a good alternative. Let me talk to my kid and see what he thinks.

For France faves, I absolutely loved Brittany as well as Strasbourg. There are wonderful hikes on the Brittany coast. A town we quite enjoyed was Nantes: Good energy, wonderfully pedestrian friendly, and the artists’ colony at Trentemoult was cool. Nantes seemed very kid as well as arts’ friendly. Your 8 year old might enjoy the Elephant exhibit plus there is a beautiful garden and nice castle. Link We couch-surfed there and our host showed me her daughter’s daycare, which was in a boat on the Loire.

Pic I took in Brittany:

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Another random thought…
The Grand Trianon or the Petit Trianon (on what’s referred to as Marie Antoinette’s estate) at Versailles may come a little closer to “real castle” for your daughter although neither is the turret and parapet medieval style she’s probably expecting. http://m.en.chateauv…
Fountainebleau palace is another day trip possibility from Paris and, IMO, it looks slightly more like a castle than Versailles. http://www.musee-cha…

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If you buy train tickets ahead of time, you are locked into that specific day, but sometimes you can save money. I can’t remember the exact cost, but our recent train tickets from Toulouse to Pau were not that bad. RailEurope says it would be $44 a person, and I know it was nowhere near that much.

If you go as far south as Toulouse (another favorite of mine), you could take the early train to Carcassonne and stroll through the old Cité. I did this with my son and we had the place entirely to ourselves (but it’s doubtful this would happen in July!)

The Pyrenees might be a good hiking consideration for you. Last month we enjoyed seeing Henri IV’s chateau in pedestrian-friendly Pau (your daughter might like the tortoiseshell cradle), and I am sure there is great hiking around there.

Another idea: In 2009 we took the TGV from Paris to Angoulême. I think I’ve uploaded a little tidbit about Angoulême here (maybe it’s in my profile?) Anyway, this was a very cool place, the old centre ville is high on a hill surrounded by medieval ramparts, there is plenty of historical architecture, but the coolest thing about this town is that there is incredible urban artwork/cartoons, just randomly done here and there on this or that wall. Our little one-star hotel had a beautiful mural on one side.
From Angoulême we rented a car and drove up the coast to La Rochelle and Île de Ré (there are other islands as well, and I’m sure there are trains up the coast.)

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You might consider a stop in Montreaux and a visit to
Chillon, a well preserved castle with even a dungeon.

I rather preferred Gimmelwald to Chamonix. The train ride to Chamonix is very scenic, the town is below the mountains, where at Gimmelwald the cable car is scenic, and the village is up on a mountain with better views of the other mountains if the weather is decent. I wouldn’t turn down a chance to revisit either, though.

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oldlady If we did Mont St-Michel I would love to stay on the island. I imagine it’s magical there at night, when all the tour busses leave. Rhine valley sounds neat. I don’t think she is expecting Disney, she knows that’s not a ‘real’ castle. Really any chateau will seem grand, I’m sure. I think I’d rather stay in France for most of this trip. The reason I say not Versailles is simply because we have already been there and I want to see something new. But we did not see Marie Antoinette’s estate.

Cil WOW, that is quite a photo, I can’t stop looking at it. Can I live in that house?? Carcassonne, Pyrenees, there are just too many great places!

cleveland Thanks for your feedback, Gimmelwald is where my heart is for this trip, I simply have to go back there.

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I think staying on the island at Mont St. Michael is pretty expensive, but probably quite the experience and much better than trying a day trip. If you have time for the overnight and budget is an issue, there are some nice, small B & B type hotels that are quite near. Possible amenities include car service to bus station and the island, fabulous views of the island, bike rentals, top notch food, etc. Several are listed under the “hostels” tab here.

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I absolutely think Mont St-Michel is worth making an overnight trip to — it was absolutely one of the most magical places I’ve visited (in terms of what it is, only Carcassonne rivals it in terms of places I’ve been). I didn’t stay on the “island” (inside the gates) because, as oldlady and others have said, it was pretty expensive (at least it was outside of my backpacker’s budget… if I recall, there were still “affordable” places in there). Instead, I stayed at a B&B called the Jacotiere, located at the bottom of the road to the island, which I would highly recommend. http://lajacotiere.f… is their website.

One great thing about Mont St-Michel in July and possibly August is that they do candle-lit/music-accompanied admission through the castle/cathedral after like 7pm or something (you can find information on their website). I went in early July and at this time, while there were still plenty of tourists, it still felt like I had a lot of the place to myself. I highly highly recommend doing the evening visit to Mont St-Michel.

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Also, you can’t do it on this trip since it’s too far out of the way, but I’d so highly recommend a trip to Carcassonne if you or your daughter have any interest in the medieval castle feel. Stay in the HI-hostel in the old city — it’s cheap, and you get to actually stay right in the heart of the old walled city. It was an incredible experience (also helped by the fact that I lucked out and saw one of the most spectacular sunsets that evening!)

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Ravidel Thanks for the feedback. I was looking at Jacotiere the other day, sounds great. The candlelight sounds amazing!! How far is the island from that B&B? I would love to go to Carcassonne! I didn’t even think about staying in hostels, that sounds like a good one for families.

I think I am vasty underestimating what this is going to cost… I’m shocked at how much trains cost now.

I am thinking it would be wise to do:
Paris
Mont St-Michel
Loire Valley
Dijon or Beaune
Gimmelwald

and saving the southern regions for another trip (and we could go back to Cinque Terre on that trip… which I love). I have a hard time not trying to cram in everything.

I am leaving from Boston and traveling for 15 days
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Monique, I think that itinerary looks workable. I agree that saving the southern regions for another trip is a good idea, (anyway, Cinque Terre is still rebuilding after their storms.)

Another place right in Paris that is very atmospheric: Your daughter might enjoy the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cluny Museum.

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Monique Yes, trains in France are very expensive these days. You almost certainly want to invest in a rail pass for both France and Switzerland (Switzerland especially). My girlfriend and I rented a car in Paris to get to MSM (and also see some of the countryside), which was certainly more convenient than train/bus-ing to MSM. From the Jacotiere, it was like a 5 minute drive at most (VERY short). I imagine it would be a 20-30 minute walk at most, although we never walked it.

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*Cil * Thanks for pointing out the unicorn tapestries! She will love that and we haven’t been to the Cluny, perfect.

Ravidel What is the parking situation at MSM? Is there a bus from B&Bs or would car/walking be the only options? Or perhaps a cab?

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I don’t remember if there’s a bus — I’m pretty sure there is from somewhere nearby, but we had a rental car so I never really looked into it (I’m sure you could find out with Google). The parking situation was fine for us… there was plenty of room and it wasn’t prohibitively expensive (5-10 euros for the afternoon + evening I think?).

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This B & B type place advertises transportation to MSM, station at Pontorson, plus bike rentals: http://www.eurotrip….

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Help, I still can’t decide and I found direct airfare that I am almost ready to jump on… Paris-MSM-Loire-Burgundy ONLY, or all of that and ending in Gimmelwald??

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Sorry, I was out of town. Did you jump on the airfare?
I am inclined to say skip Gimmelwald, but that’s just me. I know my husband loved the place.

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No I didn’t, just can’t decide. I’ve spent some time at bahn.de and am realizing just how much travel all these stops would be, basically 4hrs every time we move, longer to Switzerland. Also wondering about train prices, there doesn’t seem to be a resource for that, I always used to be able to see the price (I thought on bahn.de?). How about car rental? How can I figure out the cost of that, plus gas and tolls? Husband is not crazy about spending this much money to go to Europe – neither am I but I live for travel and have been waiting to do this again for 9 year. We could do a shorter trip of Paris-only but the airfare is so high it makes sense to stay. I’m concerned about not being able to find a place to stay in Paris, with it being July and Bastille holiday and Tour de France coming through. And I thought renting an apartment might be a more affordable option but those seem to be no cheaper, and not sure my daughter will want to sleep on a couch all week. Air conditioning is a necessity for my husband, so that adds a higher cost and limits hotels/rentals. Also thinking we should tone it down and just do Paris, Beaune and Gimmelwald, OR Paris, MSM, Loire, Beaune. Lots of thoughts in my head. At this point I’m worried we won’t go, it seems just around the corner.

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Random thoughts:

We were in France during the 2006 Tour de France and actually were able to enjoy it quite a bit (some French people invited us up to their apartment to see the start of the race) but we had booked our hotel in Strasbourg in advance, and taken the train to Obernai to see the Tour.

Doesn’t Google maps mention tolls? Not sure. We usually just do the tolls/gas as we go along, European car rentals are fairly good with mileage, but one thing I do know is that when you rent a car, it is very expensive to pick up a car in one country, and drop it in another.

Another thing we always try to do is never drive/train longer than 3 hours, preferably keeping it to 2 and a half. That’s just how we like to do it during our vacations.

It was really, really helpful for us having a car both in the Loire as well as Brittany/Normandy.

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I’M GOING TO EUROPE!!! FINALLY, AFTER 9 YEARS! Did everyone hear me? Smile Still can’t believe it. We start in Paris and fly home from Zurich, can’t wait!! Not sure on the exact itinerary, worried about hotels. Ravidel, La Jacotiere is booked. Frown

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Congrats! I’m very happy for you… I definitely think you’ll enjoy the Jacotiere and your trip to MSM.

After much debate, I’m off to south-east Asia for a chunk of the summer Smile Happy travels!

Post a tentative itinerary when you figure it out!

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Congrats! Do post an itin when you have something figured out.

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Ravidel – no, I meant it is fully booked by other people. Hopefully we can find something else.

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So far I have narrowed down the beginning and end of the trip, now have to figure out the middle:

1 Depart from home
2 arrive Paris early morning (5 nights)
3 Paris
4 Paris
5 Paris
6 Paris
7 ?Pick up rental car and drive to Mont St-Michel?
8 ?Mont St-Michel and ?
9 ?Loire?
10 ?Loire?
11 ?Dijon or Beaune? would only have a half day here. Would love to rent bikes here.
12 Travel to Bernese Oberland by train (4 nights)
13 Bernese Oberland – hiking, Schilthorn, Jungfraujoch, Trummelbach falls…
14 Bernese Oberland
15 Bernese Oberland
16 Train to Zurich, leave for home (late afternoon flight)

I think I have found an apartment in Paris on Ile St Louis, waiting for the contract. In Switzerland I am leaning toward staying in Murren instead of Gimmelwald; I know the pool in Murren will be a highlight for our daughter, and hiking trips will go a lot more smoothly if there is the promise of a swim to look forward to every day. Smile Has anyone stayed at Chalet Fontana in Murren? The other choice would be Walter’s in Gimmelwald. I am so glad I decided on Switzerland, the more I research the more I realize that my heart is in the Alps. Here’s hoping for sunny days this time!

Days 7-11 are undecided. I feel strongly about MSM, but it seems so far of a drive just for a few hours of sightseeing. Would love to see Chenonceau in Loire Valley. Beaune seems like a natural stop on the way to Switzerland. Colmar also interests me, I have considered skipping Normandy/Loire and doing Beaune and Colmar instead (less driving and slower pace, wouldn’t need a car). But MSM is calling my name, especially the candlelight procession…

Comments?

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Loved both, but I’d save MSM/Chenonceau for another trip.
I like the idea of you doing Beaune and Colmar instead. (I’d love to read a trip report, too.)

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We decided on MSM, Loire, Burgundy. Ravidel, we got La Jacotiere, there was a cancelation! I can’t wait to arrive there after the long drive, sit in the side yard with some cider while we watch our daughter turn cartwheels with MSM in the distance! We got a teeny weeny apartment on Ile St-Louis in Paris, so magical! We have a hotel with a pool in the Loire which our daughter will absolutely adore. Found out the Murren pool will be closed most of the summer for a refurbishment – but is scheduled to open on our 3rd day… and the Swiss are about the only people in the world that you can trust to be done on schedule right? I was bummed because pools are usually the highlight for kids, and what better way to entice her to finish a hike but a swim in the pool? The only thing I haven’t booked is Beaune.

1 Depart from home
2 arrive Paris early morning (5 nights in an apartment)
3 Paris
4 Paris
5 Paris
6 Paris
7 Pick up rental car and drive to Mont St-Michel (1 night)
8 Head to Loire (2 nights in Chenonceaux)
9 Loire
10 Head to Beaune/Dijon (2 nights)
11 Beaune
12 Travel to Bernese Oberland by train (4 nights in Murren)
13 Bernese Oberland – hiking, Schilthorn, Jungfraujoch, Trummelbach falls…
14 Bernese Oberland
15 Bernese Oberland
16 Train to Zurich, leave for home (late afternoon flight)

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Paris, Pontorson, Amboise, Beaune, Gimmelwald
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Yay!

Monique, so you are already all booked for Chenonceaux? We stayed here in 2009 and loved it. It reminded me of Fawlty Towers, but in a good way. Maybe you could at least have dinner there.

La Roseraie

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That’s where we’re staying!! I wanted to stay in Amboise, but I think the pool here will be a very wise choice for our daughter. New owners a year ago and it still gets good reviews. And within walking distance of the one chateau I want to see most. I am thinking of stopping in Villandry on our way into the Loire, then heading to La Roseraie from there. Then on our full day in the Loire we will stay on the east side. Is a ticket for Chenonceau good all day? Wondering if we can go in the morning and then go back at night. I was really lucky to get my first choice of lodging in every single city, I was worried since we are so close and it will be high season. Any recommendations for Beaune or Dijon?

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I’ve never been to Beaune or Dijon, I could ask my kid though, I think he’s been to both.

So glad you’re staying a La Roseraie—it was charming and comfy and dinner was good (of course you don’t have to eat there, but I wanted to.) We loved Chenonceau.
I don’t know if one ticket is good for all day, we just spent a few hours there and were done.
We did Villandry, but we were coming from the west so it was on the way. Absolutely amazing, the gardens were staggeringly beautiful.
Your daughter might enjoy the outdoor Da Vinci garden/display at Clos Luce in Amboise. They have built several of Da Vinci’s inventions and you can try them out.