Our First Organized Tour
We considered organizing this trip ourselves, but realized it would be challenging to pull off a trip of this magnitude without some help. We have really enjoyed our experience and will definitely book with Trafalgar again. They made the whole trip easy and enjoyable. We saw and learned so many more things than if we would have planned the trip ourselves.
The Best of France tour is a 14 day whirlwind. You visit every region and are on the go from morning -to-night. In addition, we arrived a few days early for some extra days in Paris. In total, we covered 2,400 miles. If you prefer sitting in a lounge chair for vacation, don’t pick this itinerary.
The tour has given us a much better understanding of France. We saw highlights in each region. We met local specialists who provided in-depth knowledge. We ate regional foods and were exposed to many new things.
At least once each day, Diane and I turned to each other and said we could spend a day or a week in the place we were visiting – but the schedule called for us to move on so we did. This is the big trade off of the trip. You are always torn between what you are doing at the present moment and what is yet to come.
Our director was Giovanna Agrawal who goes by the name nickname Jo. She is a true professional who has been guiding tours for 12 years. She is very good at what she does and made everyone feel welcome and included. Jo took care of all the details so we didn’t have too. She even gave us treats on the bus every day that were representative of the region we were traveling through.
There were about 40 people on our tour. We filled most of a tour bus. There was a wide age spectrum, which made the trip even more fun. There were families with teenage children, young couples with no children, retired couples and a number of single people and friends traveling together. Everyone got along and respected the schedule. It was fun having dinner at the end of the day, enjoying conversation and some good French wine.
All the hotels we stayed in were affiliated with AccorHotels, a French company which operates over 4,000 hotels in 95 countries. We stayed in Novotel’s about 80% of the time, and a few Mercure Hotels. The rooms were clean and comfortable and staff at the various hotels were friendly. All the hotels had free Wi-Fi and a nice breakfast each morning. The locations were good, especially the hotels in Paris, Nice, Barritz and Bordeaux.
I was not sure if I would like traveling by bus, but I did. The coach was a very nice Mercedes Benz, with an excellent driver named Francis, who stayed with us the entire trip. The coach had wi-fi, but it did not always work well. We made pit stops every few hours. The travel plazas were very nice, with well stocked convenience stores that also sold regional gifts. The food at these plazas was better than the food one would find in the USA.
All of the breakfasts were included, with a wide range of hot and cold selections and as much espresso as you wanted to drink. I made the mistake of drinking two double expressos one morning and was vibrating until about noon.
Lunch was on our own every day, with about an hour or so to visit a cafe or a grab and go place. Service is much slower in France and this sometimes caused tension at lunch as we had a schedule to keep.
I didn’t keep count, but most of the dinners were included, especially if you signed up for the optional experiences, which often included a regional dinner and regional wine, that was generally very good.
Overall, I would consider the lunches and dinners we had as solid, but not memorable. This was fine with us, as our primary purpose was to see the country vs. eat lots of exceptional meals.
We participated in most of the optional experiences and I enjoyed all of them. They were fairly priced. We skipped a few, mainly because we were tired and wanted some times to ourselves.
What We Would do Next Time
I’m glad we arrived in Paris a few days early. We were able to start the trip relaxed and rested. We both had one suitcase and a very small day back as a carry on. Less is more on a trip like this. There is little to know opportunity to wash clothes and asking the hotel to do it for you is really expensive. So factor that in as you pack. I brough my running stuff, but it was really hard to exercise. Dress is very casual, so I didn’t need the few long pants and nice shirts I brought along.
I don’t know if all tour companies pamper you as much as Trafalgar does, but I did feel looked after. When we arrived at our hotel each day, the tour director gave us the key to our room and the suitcases were delivered to the room for us. Similarly, when we were getting ready to leave, we just put the suitcase outside our door and someone loaded it on the bus. I brought a very detailed guidebook of France and it was fun to read about stuff while I was on the bus. Our cell phone provider is Verizon and we used about twice as much data as expected on the trip – spending about $250 for international phone access over 16 days.