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Discover France by Train or Tour

SmarterTravel

The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.

Clay writes, “Hope you are well, enjoy your column. My request: My wife and I have airline tickets to Paris departing the U.S. on July 2nd and returning on July 13th of this year. We have had the good fortune to visit Paris on several occasions but have not visited other parts of France much. So many different options. I was hoping you could help us track down a good deal with a reputable tour company.”

I’m not one to typically play favorites, because I love all destinations and travel-related questions equally, but France holds a very dear place in my heart and would definitely get the last slice of apple pie if I had to choose. Needless to say, I’m very excited to help you discover what lies beyond the City of Light.

An escorted tour may take a lot of the guesswork out of your trip, but can also keep you on a strict itinerary and may not be the most affordable way to go. However, if your time is money, then a company like Trafalgar Tours offers several options for ways to explore France, including a nine-day tour through Northern France. Prices start at $1,899 per person for travel in June, and include hotel, transportation in a touring coach, a multilingual tour director, airport transfers, and 11 meals (seven breakfasts and four dinners). Plus, the tour covers a great deal of sightseeing stops—highlighting places such as the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, Joan of Arc’s hometown of Rouen, and wineries in the Loire Valley.

If you want to be a bit more of a free spirit (or at the very least keep your budget down) but want to avoid navigating the roads, you can ride the rails with an Anytime Anywhere France RailEurope pass, which makes it easy to book city-to-city routes up to three months in advance or on a complete whim. This ticket is ideal for those traveling to more than two cities in France, but not for those doing extensive travel throughout the country. The initial cost is $159 per person for a first-class seat, and an additional $50 for each destination after that if you book an e-ticket. If you plan on visiting several cities and making many stops, a France Rail Pass for second-class travel to unlimited destinations for up to nine days of travel and to be used within one month, starts at $250 per person, which may be a more affordable option.

As for lodging, even if you allow up to $100 per night ($800 for eight nights) for rooms you find on a site like hotels.com, your total for transportation and lodging for two people would be $1,300, or nearly $600 less than the price of just one ticket for the guided tour. Be sure to read other travelers reviews of hotels on our sister site TripAdvisor to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Taking the train may be the more affordable option, but as I mentioned earlier, you will have to do a lot more planning and that will require research. Start by getting to know the ins and outs of the French tourism website, which provides endless amounts of information about the different regions, historical sites, food and wine, and places to stay. France is a smorgasbord of different flavors, cultures, histories, and landscapes, and it can be difficult to narrow it down to just a few places. For instance, do you want to smell the lavender in Provence, sip wine in Bordeaux, experience the history of Normandy, or live like royalty in the Riviera? Well, as my grandmother used to say, “your eyes are always bigger than your stomach,” or in this case, bigger than you have time for, so try not to do a whirlwind tour, but instead focus your time on a certain region. You may not see as much, but your experience will be richer.

Once you know where you want to go, you can plot your course for the train (be sure that the places you’ve chosen are easily reached by the rails, or you may end up spending extra money on a cab), find hotels, and decide what you want to see when you get there.

The best part is that no matter where you go or how you choose to get there, I can almost guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

As for my other readers: Have you toured France in a way that Clay might enjoy? Or do you have any particular tips on where he should go or how to get there? Please don’t be shy, and tell us about your own travels through France, as well as any questions you might have about any upcoming trips below.

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All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns hotels.com.)

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