As you may have seen, if you follow along with my Instagram, I’ve spent the last week in France with my mom and husband. It was a fantastic trip, I loved every minute of it, but it definitely took a lot of planning to be sure it all went smoothly! For any of you who are looking at travelling to France, here’s a look at where we went, where we stayed, and how we planned it all out in advance so that we kept to our budget! I’m going to outline some of the main parts of the trip so that you can see just how my tips for Planning a Trip on a Budget work for me!
As I mentioned before, if I’m not taking an overnight flight, I prefer to fly first thing in the morning or late at night, so off we went to the airport for our 6:00am flight to Paris from London. We booked all of our flights via Expedia, and this flight was on sale for only $81 CAD per person, which is only £47 GBP! When you are looking at when to fly, it’s always a great idea to have a slightly flexible travel date and time. This allows you to compare prices for the day before and after your preferred travel date, and can really help when you are looking for the best deal!
Upon our arrival in Paris, we decided to take a cab directly to our hotel since we had planned on having only one full day in Paris, so time was of the essence. This was one of our ‘splurge’ moments, but it was well worth it to ensure we had the most amount of time possible in Paris. Even so, when you are getting a cab, it is best to have your hotel address written out on paper to show the cab driver (at the risk of mispronouncing it and ending up in the wrong location) and to request a flat fee.
Once we checked into our hotel – Hôtel la Félicité – we freshened up a bit, and then set out to see the Louvre. We pre-purchased tickets online, which allowed us to jump the line and get right in! The tickets were only 17 euros per person, and have timed entry, which means you can only enter within a half hour of the time on your ticket. There was SO much to see inside the Louvre, and we spent a good 1-2 hours inside looking at the beautiful art. I would definitely put it on your list, but highly recommend you go in the morning when it is less busy, and to pre-purchase your tickets so that you are not wasting your time waiting in line!
After we finished at the Louvre, we were getting very hungry. We stopped at a tiny little bistro overlooking a quiet cobblestone street, and enjoyed a lovely lunch of French onion soup, goat cheese and green apple chutney flatbread and, of course, some much needed coffee.
After lunch, we walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which did not disappoint. We planned it so that each location was a nice walking distance from the last, and it worked out very well for us. We chose not to go inside due to the line, and set off to our next location, the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop. This is one of my very favourite things to see every time I go to Paris, and for any book lovers out there, it is well worth the visit! It is a quaint little shop, with a cafe attached, and the tiny little shop consists of two floors which are decked out with books sitting in every which way. There is a reading area upstairs with old books for you to peruse, and a cat which asks that you respect his privacy and not pet. The history of the shop is perhaps the best part of it and, in its early days, the owner Sylvia Beach opened the shop up for other writers to use as a library to research for their work, and for others it was used as a lodge to sleep in when they were unable to pay for lodging elsewhere due to their lack of income. Some of the authors who used her library/lodge were James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sylvia also published books that were banned in other countries, and lent these to writers to study from. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside the shop, but the outside is just as lovely!
From there, we had intended to stroll towards the Arc de Triomphe, however we were quite tired, and decided to keep with the tradition of the area and have our own siesta – aka, we went back to our hotel and took a nice long nap!
After we were well rested and had freshened up, we set off to see the Eiffel Tower. Personally, I do not think that going up inside the Eiffel tower is worth it as the tower IS the view, so we went to the lovely viewing platform and took a nice long look at the tower before heading off to find a place to go for dinner. After walking around for a while, we settled on a lovely restaurant with a street-side patio, and tucked in for a large meal with cheese and wine flowing throughout. Once we had finished, it had gotten quite dark, as we had hoped, and we walked back to the viewing platform to see the tower at night. If you have not experienced Paris and the Eiffel Tower at night, you absolutely MUST! It is entirely an experience you will not forget. Every hour the tower sparkles for five minutes, and it is one of the most beautiful sights.
Afterwards we went back to our hotel, went to sleep, and got up early again to check out and pick up our rental car. As there were three of us, and it would be difficult to travel via train with our luggage, we rented a car for the day and drove to Giverny. We used Expedia to rent our car, which was great! Giverny is the town in which Claude Monet lived, and his home and gardens are open to the public to view and explore! We pre-purchased our tickets online here and after a bit of confusion about where to line up (there is a group entrance, which is where ticket holders enter around the corner) we got to walk through the beautiful house and all of the gardens, which included the infamous water lily pond and green bridge! Definitely one of my favourite places we visited, and though we spent a brief time there, it was certainly a place of which I’d love to go back and spend more time in!
From Giverny, it was a short drive over to the Palace of Versailles where we, again, pre-purchased tickets, allowing us access to the fast entrance with no line, and spent the afternoon exploring the Palace! Upon first entrance of the Palace, I could immediately see the difference from Buckingham Palace. Versailles was decorated with so many ornate pieces, and the size itself was pure extravagance at its finest. Be sure to have something to eat before you visit, as we found that there are minimal places to eat there and due to the order in which the tourists flow, it is difficult to reach the eating area once you’ve passed it.
From Versailles we set off to the airport, and flew just over an hour to Marseille in the south of France, and checked into our new hotel, NH Collection Marseille, which we ADORED! The service was sublime, the room was impeccable, and it was an ideal location.
The next morning we were off to pick up our next rental car, and set off to explore Provence. We made a brief stop in Aix-en-Provence before heading to Sénanque Abbey. The Abbey is a Monastery which grows and harvests lavender, and though the lavender had already been harvested for the year, it was a beautiful place to visit. Walking through the outdoor area is free, and if you wish to view the inside there is a very small fee per person to enter. Definitely remember that this area is one which requires modest dressing, and shoulders, upper legs, and chest areas are to be covered while visiting. The drive there was terrifying to say the least, as it is winding up the sides of the hills and mountains, going steeply uphill and downhill frequently, with no guard rails on the sides of the road and one-direction-at-a-time traffic. I drove for this part, and I can definitely say that it was the most nervous I have been while driving. I would recommend that if you are headed to this location, you have an experienced driver who is able to handle the stress of this kind of road, as it can be incredibly stressful.
After the Abbey, we headed to Avignon. We explored through the town, ate some pastries and sorbet, and had some Provencal wine. The Palace of the Popes is another major destination that we visited while in Avignon, and it was so interesting! We did not go inside, as the tickets were not in our budget, but we walked through the town and just explored – which is great, because exploring is free! We picked up some food for the road, and then headed back to our hotel for the night. The following day, we slept in a bit, and checked out of our hotel.
We decided to drive over to our next destination – Cap d’Ail – early to check into our next hotel, and on the way to Cap d’Ail we stopped in Cannes. Cannes is beautiful to say the least, and we spent a couple hours roaming around the town and sitting on the beach before finishing our journey to Cap d’Ail where our hotel, Hotel Normandy, was located.
Hotel Normandy was definitely my favourite hotel of the entire trip. It was decorated with a lovely vanity table and mirror, a vintage wooden writing desk and mirror, and the cutest little terrace with two chairs. We booked via Expedia, which is great, because you do not need to give your credit card at the hotel, and unless you request further services, everything is completely paid for in advance.
Once we checked in, we drove about 20 minutes to Monaco to return our rental car, as it really wasn’t required for the last few days of our trip. We took a nice walk back from Monaco to Cap d’Ail (though there is a train directly from Monaco as well), freshened up, and then had a nice relaxing dinner.
The last few days of the trip were intended for relaxation. We went back and forth between Monaco and Cap d’Ail for food, beaches, exploration, and general relaxation. The train which ran between Monaco and Cap d’Ail was very useful, and cost only 5.20 euros TOTAL for 3 people to travel one way during peak times, and less when it was off-peak. This was definitely one of the best parts of the trip, as we simply relaxed and drank wine, ate cheese, and enjoyed the scenery around us. My mom left on the Thursday morning, giving my husband and I all of Thursday and Friday to ourselves before we flew back to London Friday evening.
There are a number of different ways to get to the airport from Monaco, one of which was the train for 20 minutes followed by a 15 minute walk, which we chose to do as it cost us roughly 5 euros each (Monaco Monte-Carlo station to St Augustin station, roughly 6 stops)! There is an express bus to the Nice airport for 22 euros, and you can also take a regular bus (which can take almost 2 hours apparently) or take a cab (my mom’s cost about 90 euros, so I wouldn’t recommend that option unless you have no other choice).
Overall, it was a great trip! Each of the flights for my husband and I were under $100 CAD each, and our hotels were all on sale when we booked them, not to mention a percentage off thanks to my Expedia points! The rental cars were more of a splurge, and if I were to go back with just my husband, we likely would not rent a car at all, however it was significantly easier since we had 3 people in total, and was less rushed for my mom’s first trip to Europe. The one thing to remember if you do rent a car, is that in France there are toll roads a-plenty, and there is no use trying to avoid them as it will take you far away from your route, and cost you in gas what you save on tolls. Not to worry if you don’t have cash though, there are card machines! My best advice if you are planning a trip to France, is to book in advance, take some bus tours (cheaper and you see more things), and drink as much wine and eat as much cheese as you can, because hey, you’re in France!