Ask Lonely Planet: Grand crusade on four wheels

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Hire a car in France and you'll have more freedom to explore Cathar castles, such as Peyrepertuse in the Pyrenees. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Jon Jackson
Hire a car in France and you'll have more freedom to explore Cathar castles, such as Peyrepertuse in the Pyrenees. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Jon Jackson

I am planning a trip for the family to Toulon. We were thinking of travelling west from there to visit Carcassonne and Cathar castles. We also want to go to Paris and on a Normandy D-Day tour. How would you advise us to design our travels over a three-week period?
- Phil Petry

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

France's extensive train network is good, but your own wheels will give you more freedom to explore. Sticking mainly to the rural Routes Communales (minor roads) you'll see much more and avoid traffic, although the busy Autoroutes are handy to cover large distances.

Three weeks is ample. Mark your destinations on a France road atlas then join the dots with other places along the way. Lonely Planet's France guidebook will help you decide what to see and do and where to eat and sleep.

The UK Automobile Association website also has sage advice on driving in Europe and an excellent online route planner.

From Toulon, it's a four-drive to the witch-hat turrets of Carcassonne and Catalan-influenced Perpignan - both good bases from which to embark on crusades of the nearby Cathar castles. Buying the €3 (NZ$4.75) Passport des Sites du Pays Cathare will give you reductions to 20 local sites.

Other highlights of the Languedoc-Roussillon region include spotting vultures swooping high above the Gorge de la Jonte in the Parc National de Cevennes, where you can also follow Robert Louis Stephenson's donkey trek hoofsteps.

En route to Paris, pit-stop at Lyon, the Rhone Valley's gastronomic heart, dining at timeless checked-tableclothed bouchons (small bistros). Squeeze back into your car and drive to Burgundy to soak up Dijon's medieval history and fine wines along the Cote d'Or's Route des Grands Crus.

Driving in Paris is nerve-racking. Expensive parking and militant traffic wardens will have you ditching the car and travelling in and around on the Metro.

Eliminate backtracking

My partner and I plan to take three days in Los Angeles, three days in Istanbul, including a day-trip to Gallipoli, 10 days in Israel, with a day-trip to Petra, three days in New Orleans, two days in Buffalo to see Niagara Falls, on to Las Vegas for two days, three days in LA, then back to Auckland. We are on a limited budget and don't plan to hire vehicles. Who would you use fly with and how would you book accommodation?
- Dennis Henderson

A round-the-world ticket would allow you visit all of these places without backtracking across the Atlantic. With a few modifications to your ambitious itinerary you'll have enough time at each destination to really enjoy them.

We'd suggest staying in LA longer at the beginning or end of your trip, rather than splitting your visit to it in half.

From Istanbul, the Gallipoli peninsula is a five-hour bus ride. To do these destinations justice in three days is unrealistic so we'd set aside at least four. Similarly, a tour to Petra from Eilat in Israel is best done over a minimum of two days. Shaving off some of your time in Israel will let you do this comfortably.

To reach Niagara Falls, fly to New York or Toronto and catch a train or bus. See the falls from the Canadian side as it is blessed with a superior view. It's also a more pleasant place to stay.

Enjoy the Cajun cuisine, hot jazz and Mardi Gras of New Orleans then go to Las Vegas for a blast along The Strip, before heading straight to LA to connect with your flight home.

The US cities you mention are well served by public transport, which is cheaper than using tour operators.

You can also save money by searching for accommodation deals online at hotels.com, hotwire.com, and bargain flights at metasites such as kayak.com, hipmunk.com and mobissimo.com.

- NZ Herald

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