Many people, as they approach retirement, dream of an extended journey through Europe in one way or another. It is perhaps a dream that we at Auto France have hitched our wagon to and can appreciate more than most thanks to our well-traveled clients.
Some travelers will elect to spend their time in one particular area, visiting museums and historic sites that they have previously only read about. Others will seek to enjoy the villages, countryside, local culture, and cuisine on roads less traveled by following the Robert Frost GPS route. (Don’t Google that, it’s not a real thing.)
We have said it before and we will say it again: Driving is the best way to see Europe. The road system is outstanding and the flexibility allows you to see so much more than if you were to travel by plane or train. Your agenda is not dependent upon schedules, and spontaneous side trips add a level excitement you might have otherwise missed.
With a rental car, you may sleep late, avoid rushing, and take your time to see Europe at your own pace.
An exciting part of planning a once-in-a-lifetime journey through Europe is discovering the wide selection of available accommodations. Depending on your budget and personal preferences, you may enjoy a luxurious hotel room, a self-catering apartment in the city, a quaint chalet in the countryside, or a colorful and hospitable bed-and-breakfast.
Planning a European Vacation
It is always good to get a rough sketch of your trip expectations before you put anything in stone. How long do you plan to be gone? What would you most like to see? How much are you willing or able to spend? How long should you stay in each place? Where will you stay? Perhaps more importantly, where will you absolutely not stay?
In our experience, most clients choose one of three planning strategies.
Use one central point as their “hub” or home base, and plan day trips or even weekly jaunts around Europe from there.
Start at one major city hub at either end of France (Paris or Nice, most likely) and create a complete, one-way journey, making many stops in between (for days or even weeks) for some of the more interesting towns.
- Going full-circle. This would entail starting with a particular city and ending in that same city. This is similar to number 2; however, it is more appealing to those with more attachment to their initial launch point (or those who own a home or have extended family in that area).
That being said, there are a number of different options you have when it comes to where you will stay on your journey.
Option 1: Vacation Rentals
Budget considerations may dictate the accommodations you require. Staying 100 nights in 5-star hotels is expensive and can also limit your cultural experience. For a long trip, you do not want to miss the opportunity to assimilate with the local culture.
Consider staying in vacation rentals, such as apartments and small houses, for those longer portions of your trip. These allow you to saunter down to the local patisserie for a croissant and café crème, or stop at the local markets to buy fresh ingredients for the evening dinner. Just being in France will give you special cooking powers!
There are thousands of fully-furnished rental houses, condos, and apartments throughout Europe. Many of these are under €100 per night for stays of a week or more. Numerous websites list these properties, including:
Carefully scrutinize the location, amenities, and other preferences in order to land in the perfect spot to explore.
Option 2: Bed-and-Breakfast or 3-Star Inns
As you drive between destinations, stop along the way to enjoy the smaller villages. These stops can be truly rewarding as you enjoy the life and cuisine. Many smaller inns and bed-and breakfasts offer clean and quaint accommodations that are usually long on hospitality and friendliness without any unnecessary frills.
English is spoken even in the smaller establishments, so communication for English speakers is usually not a problem. Numerous bed and breakfast and travel websites can guide you, such as:
Option 3: Hostels
This is certainly not for everyone. For the more adventurous types and the young at heart, staying at a hostel is a great way to keep expenses low and meet a variety of fellow travelers from around the world. Though the accommodations tend to be on the small side and often involve sharing a room with several other guests, many hostels have a wide variety of amenities to ensure your convenience and comfort on your travels.
You can explore your options and learn more about hostels by visiting sites such as:
As with any other European accommodations, make sure you check out the reviews online and speak to other experienced travelers before booking your hostel stay. Online forums in places like RickSteves.com and Fodors.com offer a wealth of knowledge from people who have had the experience.
Option 4: “Agritourism” or “Working Farm” Stays
This type of stay is truly an experience that I think everyone should try out at least once. The notion of “agritourism” is a bit more popular in Italy; however, if traveling in France, you can find a nice hybrid of options that will really get you in touch with the local, salt-of-the-Earth traditions.
The term simply takes the idea of bed-and-breakfast and adds an extra layer of authenticity. Combining sleeping accommodations, a food source (working farm with plants/animals), and the preparation of such food sources all under one roof, there is no better way to get in touch with local tradition. Some locations may take it yet to another level and have a working vineyard/distillery, making it difficult to find a reason to leave at all.
In all likelihood, you will stumble upon these sort of accommodations if you travel enough, but if you are looking to do a little research before you set off, some sites I would recommend (in order of most useful):
- http://en.gites-de-france.com/ — More specifically, go to this dedicated page on Gites de France for “farm stays” and save yourself the trouble of navigating.
- http://www.bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com/ — This site has no English option; just be sure to use Google chrome browser and the translation tool.
End of the Journey
Regardless of where you decide to stay during your long-term trip through Europe, you’re guaranteed to meet wonderful people along the way, and experience sights and sounds you’ve only ever dreamed of! For your convenience, Auto France has a wide variety of pick-up and drop-off locations to make traveling between countries a breeze.
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