Ask Lonely Planet: Drench yourself in French sun and fun

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The Port of La Rochelle in France is steeped in maritime history and a great place to sample seafood. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
The Port of La Rochelle in France is steeped in maritime history and a great place to sample seafood. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

We are planning a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to France (our kids will be 12 and 13 years old). We have three weeks and want to limit ourselves to maybe three bases with day trips. Our plans include a few days in London and taking the Eurostar to Paris, where we aim to spend about a week. Can you suggest other bases in France and whether you recommend taking trains or hiring a car? We are interested in history, great food, beaches and would like to stay in a smaller town for part of the trip.
- Leanne Buer

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

It's a great idea to limit yourself to three bases. That way you won't spend too much time travelling, unpacking and repacking.

If you're starting your adventure in Paris, we recommend that you take advantage of France's excellent rail network to get to your next destination and hire a car once you're there. Driving in the capital is not for the faint-hearted or indecisive.

We still have nightmares about driving around the Arc de Triomphe's multi-laned roundabout.

State-owned SNCF trains travel to all but the most remote corners of France. Full-fare tickets can be expensive but bargains are available. The most heavily discounted fares - known as prem's - can be booked on the internet up to 90 days in advance (www.sncf.com).

France is packed with great food, history and beaches so we're giving you just a couple of tips, and the rest can be found in Lonely Planet's recently revised France guidebook.

On the Atlantic coast, the pretty town of La Rochelle is only three hours from Paris by train. It's steeped in maritime history and a great place to sample fruits de mer (seafood). Just offshore you'll find Ile de Re with its sun-drenched beaches, languid atmosphere and a crisscrossed network of paths ideal for cycling.

The French Riviera has more than its fair share of top beaches, Roman ruins, world-class art and fine museums. The stars may hang out at Nice, Cannes, St-Tropez and Monaco but you can enjoy the sights and sounds of this beautiful coastline without breaking the bank. The bijou seaside resort town of Bandol has long been a favourite of French holiday-home owners and is a good base for exploring the region. It's also surrounded by 1500ha of vineyards. Sante!

Explore best of Europe

There are a number of places in Europe I'd like to visit with my partner who has never been to Europe before, from the usual suspects (London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Barcelona) to the more interesting destinations (or at least ones which are new for me: parts of Greece, Morocco, Turkey).

Would you recommend buying a round-the-world fare rather than a simple return ticket? What would be the best way of travelling between the various locations?

We are thinking of a trip of one to two months and will probably want to be flexible enough with the itinerary to allow us to be spontaneous in our decision-making.

- Sarah Young

A round-the-world ticket is best for travellers who want to visit multiple destinations around the globe.

It sounds like what you need is a good-value return ticket to Europe, combined with land and air transport once you get there.

Most airlines servicing New Zealand will allow you to fly into London and out of a continental hub, thus avoiding backtracking and the hefty British departure tax. Lonely Planet's Western Europe and Europe on a Shoestring guidebooks feature all the places you want to go (although Western Europe excludes Turkey), including some you might not have thought of and everything in between. They also explain transport options in detail.

Getting around Europe by air is popular thanks to the proliferation of discount carriers, so it's possible to put together a practical itinerary that bounces between all the places you want to see. Book well in advance for the best deals and be aware that with cheap fares come many caveats, such as non-existent legroom, invisible customer service and obscure airports miles from anywhere.

The major airline alliances offer European air passes, which are flexible, user-friendly and more cost-effective the more flights you take. If this feels a bit too complicated, consider booking through a travel agent such as the Flight Centre or STA.

The European rail network is a wonderful way to explore a lot of the continent and, where the tracks run out, you'll probably find an intercity bus service.

When it comes to Greece and Turkey, some ferry travel might be in order - there's an armada of options throughout the Aegean Sea.

- NZ Herald

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