THE BAOUS OF ST. JEANNET
Trout is writing today about our travels this fall to France.
Schnitzel's knee problems precluded our usual spring trip to France, but once she gave me the go-ahead for a fall trip, I hit the computer to start planning.
First of all, finding flights. We have been able to use frequent flyer miles for many of our trips thanks to credit card offers and earned points. Many airlines offer 40,000 miles to take out their card with Chase, etc., and even up to 100,000 by British Air. This sounded good but I did not realize that BA charges for a fuel charge on top of fees and taxes so a free flight with them costs close to $800+. Still a savings over the usual $1000 ticket price. I usually start looking as soon as I can, like a year in advance, I think, for the best selections. What is nice about using miles is that you can cancel and redeposit the miles for a pretty cheap fee of $40+ a ticket.
I had close to 80,000 miles on AA, so that is where I went for flights which offered a good selection out of Tampa to JFK and then to CDG at 40,000 miles a ticket, a good price. I had to buy a few miles but we still saved over $1,200 for two tickets.
Once we had our dates for mid October for 2 1/2 weeks, next was "gîte" (apartment) hunting. We have rented over 14 gîtes over our trips to Italy and France and only twice (once really) were we disappointed in what we found. What is nice about a gîte is that you have your own space with a kitchen, bath, LR and BR, laundry, and privacy. We go out for a fresh baguette in the morning for breakfast and usually eat in at night so this is handy.
I generally use Gîtes de France to search for a gîte. They have 1000's that they have reviewed and rated (1-5 ears from low to high amenities) before listing on their pretty good web sites. It is easy to confirm a gîte, get answers to questions, get contract copies by email, make payments via a PayPal like system with no fees and hassles like getting a bank wire or draft. I have also used VRBO with success, French Connections, Chez Nous, etc. I like to rent at least 3 star gîtes and/or those with good references from previous renters as found on their web pages or in SlowTrav where I have reviewed many of the gîtes we have rented and found those other travelers have liked.
It was pretty easy to find gîtes near Nice for our first week and Les Arcs for our second week, since it was the low season. For a high season rental, I would book as early as possible for a good selection. These are 7245 and g1915 in the Gîtes de France search system. Check out www.les-trois-baous.com for 7245. This means three pinnacles like that as shown above. It was about the nicest we have even rented. We had 3 days at the end of trip in Paris and I found a studio (meaning tiny) in a great location through www.paris-rent.fr. We paid $529 and $364 for the gîtes for a full week each (low season) and $307 for 3 nights in Paris.
Now that we have our flights and housing, we needed a car. I have pretty much always used Auto Europe as a broker for a rental with no problems and good prices. Again, start early and check often for price changes and get on their e mail list for offers. We paid $286 for a compact for 12 days, I believe. $80 for gas for the 2 weeks, $25 for extended damage insurance and $60 for an emergency medical policy through American Express was in addition to the car rental.
When we did our first trip to France, I rented the car at CDG and did the nerve wracking drive out of Paris to Burgundy/Provence. I got smart and found out about the great train service in France so we took the bullet TGV train from Avignon straight into CDG and our flight home.
Now we look for train connections out of CDG to wherever we want to end up and then back for our time in Paris or flight home. Look into a great article at Parisbytrain.com/tgv-tickets/ for great advise on how to book tickets for the trains and also for the Paris Metro, RER trains from CDG downtown, etc.
You can only book a train no more than 90 days out, so on the 89th day at 4pm (remember France is 8 hours ahead of mountain time making it 12am there), I was at the Anaconda, Montana library to use their computers to bring up the reservation site. Bingo, great prices of 30E per ticket going. Two weeks later, I did it again for the train back to Paris and paid 40E each. A month later or more, I would have paid 3-4 times those prices. You may have to pay a bit more for a train out of CDG, but it is worth I think rather than taking an RER train downtown to Gare de Lyon.
The time and dollar savings but less chance of a nervous breakdown by not driving is substantial. From Paris to Nice would have taken 9 hours (933K) and we would have paid and estimated 106E for gas and 72E in tolls each way. Close to 400E vs 140E for the train.
If you plan on spending any time in Paris, you must learn the metro system. There is a metro stop within 20 minutes of any place in Paris, I was told, and it is easy and fun to get from A to B and back.
All of this takes a fair amount of computer time to research and book ( I love the Fodor's site for posing questions of other travelers and finding ideas for touring,) but highly satisfying when we look back on the sites we saw, wonderful meals, getting around safely and finding nice lodging as cheaply as I make it and meeting the great people of France and fellow travelers. We would not give back a second of the great times we have experienced in Europe. Next year we are taking a break but look out 2014!!!