People always find it bizarre that despite all the less-traveled, off-the-beaten-path places I have been, I have yet to travel to France.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to go to France.  In fact, I always assumed I would fall in love with Parisian café culture, the storybook-esque French countryside and, of course, French food and wine.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve had the opportunity to work Paris into a trip, but I am a bit of a romantic at heart and I was waiting to travel to France with that “special someone.”  I know I could have a fantastic time anywhere in the world with my girlfriends, but France seems like a truly romantic country that I wanted to experience for the first time with my husband.

Despite the fact that I have been married for nearly two years, my husband and I haven’t made it to France yet.  Although, the country would have made a lovely honeymoon destination, our honeymoon was in late November and I was dead-set on heading to South Africa.  But here we are, still newlyweds by most people’s definition, and we are headed to France next month in late May!  I’m sure you’ve heard all about the joys of Paris in the springtime.  However, that’s not why we are headed to France next month.  In fact, I would much rather have avoided the absurd prices for international airfare and lodging and saved our trip for more predictable and warmer weather in June.  Although blooming flowers on vacation sounds delightful, gloomy skies and rain showers do not.  Like most of my travel, this trip was planned around our work schedules.  Although we will pay more to travel over Memorial Day, the higher prices (unfortunately) are worth it to us to take less time off work.

The “typical” France itinerary for first-timers seems to be several days in Paris before heading west to the beaches of Normandy and exploring the castles of the Loire Valley.  Another popular trip is to travel through the south of France to Nice and the French Rivera.  Surely, these are popular itineraries for a reason, but my preference is slightly more atypical when it comes to travel.  We have decided to rent a car for greater flexibility in our itinerary and head east instead of west or south.  Although we are on a tight timeframe, we intend to explore Paris, Burgundy, the French Alps and the Champagne Region.  As you may have guessed, this route focuses on food and wine more than your traditional sightseeing trip.

Our international flight direct from Atlanta to Paris came with the hefty price tag of $1,800.00.  (OUCH).  Luckily, I had been stockpiling Delta Skymiles!  If we were willing to have a layover, we could have paid about $1,300.00 for a ticket on another airline, but I couldn’t stomach an 8 hour flight becoming 22 hours of travel time with layovers.  Given that traveling to Paris in the springtime is peak season, I had anticipated paying about $1,400.00 for the flight, but I assumed this would be the cost of a direct flight.  Options for direct flights on our travel dates were far and few between, which is unusual given that we live in an airport hub city.  Additionally, I estimate that our car rental will be in the $400.00 range, but this doesn’t take the high cost of gas in France into consideration.

After much research and debate, we have settled on the following itinerary:

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3 nights in Paris.  This one is self-explanatory.  If it’s my first time in France, I HAVE to spend some time in Paris.  I figured that three nights would be the minimum to spend in Paris to get a feel for the city, but to still have time to explore other parts of central and eastern France.  We have decided to stay at Hotel du Cygne for $155.76 per night.  From its website, Hotel du Cygne doesn’t seem to be anything too special – and I’m okay with that since we plan to spend the majority of our time out and about exploring the city.  We chose this particular hotel because we wanted to stay under $200.00 a night and we wanted a fairly central location.  Because the season we are traveling, many hotel rates were nearly double what they were just a few months prior, and many were sold out.  This hotel gets good reviews, is a block from the metro, and is near the Louvre.

5031571021_2e0beac697_z2 nights in Beaune.  Even before I had heard of the city of Beaune, it was Beaune that inspired this trip.  Beaune is often revered as “the heart of burgundy wine country.”  The region is famous for their pinot noirs and chardonnays, and I intend to sample as many of these wines as humanely possible while I am there!  While in Beaune, we plan on taking a private wine tour of Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits.  Although we have not chosen a tour company yet, based on my research, the going rate seems to be about $250+ per person for these tours.  (Obviously, the French take their wines seriously… our private tours in South Africa were far less expensive).  To soak in the French countryside experience, we have chosen to stay at Chez Marie, a small B&B right outside the Beaune city center for $206.77 per night. From Beaune we also plan on taking a day trip to Dijon.

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2 nights in Annecy.  Just Google pictures of Annecy and you will see why this small canaled city has made my itinerary.  What a simply gorgeous small town!  The city center is located on a pristine lake at the foothills of the Alps.  Why does no one in America talk about Annecy?!  Apparently, it is a popular destination for Europeans, but not a single person I have talked to here in the States has heard of Annecy.  Aside from perhaps renting some bicycles to ride around the lake, I plan on sitting at a café on the canal to eat, drink, and relax in Annecy.  As far as accommodations go, we chose Hotel Alexandra for $100.80 per night.  As luck would have it, my guidebook described this hotel as “the most charming hotel in Annecy, which is also one of the most reasonably priced.”  How could I resist?  The hotel is also located in the middle of the city center and gets great reviews.  From Annecy, we plan on taking a day trip to Geneva, Switzerland since I am a sucker for good chocolate and Swiss fondue.

2166912864_4c46fe0373_z2 nights in Epernay.   If you are familiar with France, you know the reason people flock to Epernay – it’s in the heart of French Champagne country!  While researching this leg of the trip, it seems that tourists usually go to either Reims or Epernay to tour the champagne houses.  Inevitably, people have strong opinions as to which town is more interesting/charming/better.  I chose Epernay over Reims.  Reims is a larger city with other historic sites to see, however, the focus in Epernay seems to be champagne and food.  In fact, there is an Avenue de Champagne where you can stroll from one champagne house to the next and not worry about transportation or booking a day tour.  Additionally, one of my favorites, Moet and Chandon, is located in Epernay.  We are scheduled for a cellar tour at Moet which I am very excited for.

Now, our hotel situation in Epernay gets a bit dicey… apparently, weekends in May and June are an extremely popular time to visit the small town of Epernay.  So popular that my first through fourth hotel choices didn’t have a single available room.  I figured that if we were going to be unhappy with lackluster accommodations, I would rather save money on these lackluster accommodations, so we are booked at Premiere Classe at just under $48.00 per night.  Basically, Premiere is a no-frills efficiency hotel about 10 minute walk from the Avenue de Champagne.  I’m guessing that you get what you pay for, however, this hotel is given surprisingly high ratings on Trip Advisor.  Fingers crossed!

So, will I fall in love with Paris in the springtime?  Will Annecy live up to the high expectations I have set for it?  Am I going to regret our $48.00 hotel in Epernay?  These answers, and more to come after my trip next month!

 CC image credits as follows: (1) Eiffel Tower by James Whitesmith.  (2) Burgundy, France by Megan Cole.  (3) Annecy – France by MorBCN.  (4) Epernay Champagne Moet Chandon Cave by Giulio Nepi