Guest Notes for Episode 489: A 21-Day Solo Adventure Through France

Category: Solo in France

Date of trip:          September 29 to October 20, 2022.

My final itinerary (initial plans were different):

  • 6 nights in Paris
  • 2 nights in Rouen
  • 3 nights in Bayeux-Caen area
  • 3 nights in St. Malo
  • 4 nights in Strasbourg
  • 3 nights in Nice

Rank your favorite activities and places on this trip (list at least 10)

  •          Chartres Cathedral
  •          Mont St-Michel
  •          Lots of food!
  • St Malo – walking the ramparts, going out to the island at low tide
  • Van tour of Alsatian countryside – villages, Haut-Koenigsberg castle, etc. Such a beautiful place especially in October!
  •          St-Paul de Vence
  •          Strasbourg Cathedral
  •          Strasbourg’s museums
  •          Walking around Rouen
  •          Walking around Nice, the view from the castle hill
  •          Seeing Paris again, even if I was incapacitated for a lot of it
  •          D-day beach tour
  •          Gustave Moreau museum
  •          Getting breakfast at the boulangerie

I stayed at hotels, generally medium-to-cheap (on the lower end but a step up from hostels).

Paris – Hotel Arvor – pretty good neighborhood, it’s not the most central but an easy subway ride from most things and it has a ton of good restaurants. The décor is pretty bland though and it does feel old.

Rouen – Mercure central. Excellent location, it’s a very business-style chain hotel but it works.

West/central Norman countryside – La Fermes de Ranconnieres. I regretted staying here, it might be nice for couples looking for a getaway but the location isn’t great otherwise. I should have stayed in Bayeux and it tied me to a car too much. The restaurant was also not my type.

St Malo – Grande Escale Oceania. A good hotel. There is another location they own a little closer to the old town I might stay in if I go again but it’s fine, not too far a walk or bus ride.

Strasbourg – Hotel du Dragon – good experience here, good location and helpful staff.

Nice – Hotel Garden Nice. A good way to finish my trip. The staff is friendly and they have a nice courtyard.

Did you have favorite restaurants? Please list them and say what city they were in.

To be honest, it has been long enough now that I don’t remember the name of a lot of them. Generally I think Nice was my favorite in terms of food (but keeping in mind I was incapacitated for a lot of Paris).

I will find some of the names as I took pictures of a lot of them and can send them to you before we record.

What were your favorite foods on this trip?

I really enjoyed Nice’s food – a great combination of French heartiness and complexity with Mediterranean freshness.

Also my daily croissant of course, and lots of cheese plates!

Really enjoyed the crepes in Normandy and Brittany, or especially the galettes – sweet crepes are good but galettes are the real star.

Had a souffle at one Paris restaurant I really liked.

How did you get around? Trains? Car rental? Metros? Walk?

It varied. I used train (or Paris metro) as much as possible. In cities I mostly walked but sometimes took the bus. I drove for a few days and Normandy and even that felt like too much – I don’t like driving in Europe.

What did you learn about France on this trip?

I learned how varied and diverse the many places of France are. Also learned a lot of history, especially in Alsace.

Did you make any mistakes on this trip?

I did not enjoy staying in a countryside hotel in western Normandy. For most people I would recommend basing in Bayeux for that area.

Relatedly I forgot that I generally do not enjoy driving in Europe, especially because I am not used to the narrow roads. I only drove a few days, but I could have done even less. I got a flat tire from hitting a curb that delayed me a couple hours. I won’t say I’ll never drive in Europe again because some places need it, but I will keep it to a minimum in the future and find alternatives whenever possible.

I tried to do too much my first couple days in Paris while jetlagged, which burnt me out and likely part of the reason I got sick. In future trips to Europe I might spend my first night or two at a small place (like Chartres, which I would loved to spend a little more time in) near the big city to make jetlag easier to manage.

Which brings me to the biggest snag on my trip, even if not exactly a “mistake”: I got sick in Paris. It was a mild cold, nothing serious, but I had to spend some time resting it off. I rested enough that I was more or less recovered by the end of Normandy.

Finally, my original itinerary was overambitious and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it with how much I tried to fit in. Getting sick made me rethink and revise it, so it actually worked out for the best.

Is there something you didn’t like very much and wouldn’t recommend?

I visited the Picasso museum in Paris and didn’t really enjoy it. It’s good for someone who’s a big Picasso fan, but for me he’s someone best enjoyed in small doses and not all at once.

Otherwise, see above. I can’t think of any other sites that weren’t worth it.

What tips do you want to share with other visitors?

For most adults I would not recommend French hotel breakfasts unless you’re in a hurry that day (catch train, etc) or have to eat a big breakfast – the food is generally fine, but it’s expensive and you can just go to the boulangerie around the corner instead. Which is cheaper, more authentic, and often better than “fine” in quality.

Don’t push yourself too much while jetlagged! I did this my first couple days and it might have contributed to getting sick.

American guidebook itineraries are overambitious and you should not try to follow their pace. Slow down. My final itinerary still felt somewhat fast, but it was manageable – if I had stuck with the original and gone any faster (which had more 1-2 night stays and day trips) I think the trip would have stressed me out.

Also don’t go to places just because you feel obligated to check it off. One of my last-minute changes while I was sick was replacing Provence with Alsace, and I’m glad I did – I loved Alsace and don’t think I would have enjoyed Provence as much, partly because I would have needed a car. Pick what really interests you, not what you feel like you’re “supposed” to do.

Overall was your trip restful or stressful?

Restful! Physically exhausting, but I really enjoyed it and still miss it. It started a little rough with getting sick in Paris and a mistake or two in Normandy, but the whole second half of the trip (Brittany, Alsace, Nice) was fantastic.

Also, I had been to Paris for six nights before so missing out on seeing much wasn’t the end of the world.

How did the podcast and other trip reports help you prepare for your trip?

I did a lot of research with guidebooks, online resources, and your podcast. It helped me pick which places to see and gave me some useful cultural background.

Feel free to add anything else you think would be helpful to prepare for our conversation.

Overall I think getting sick in Paris made the rest of the trip work out better, because it forced me to reevaluate my itinerary and revise it to slow down.


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Category: Solo in France