On our recent trip to Europe, my daughter and I decided to rent a car for a portion of the travel. The itinerary played a big part in our decision. We had specific places that we wanted to visit and traveling by car made the most sense.
The End and the Beginning
We planned to return the rental car in Paris – we knew that for sure. Our trip started in Spain – Madrid and Barcelona – and we spent five days at the end of the trip in Paris. We did not want to drive in Paris, so we tried to pick a return point near the outskirts of the city.
We struggled with the beginning point. Our itinerary included parts of Western France – Bordeaux and the Loire Valley – and a day and a half in Northern France. We wanted to visit Mont-Saint-Michel and some of the World War II sites in Normandy.
There were two other places in our desired itinerary that influenced our rental decision. We wanted to visit the micro country of Andorra; we also wanted to visit the Chateau de Gudanes, a restoration project that I have been following online.
There is a bus that leaves Barcelona in the morning for a three hour trip to Andorra la Vella (Andorra’s capital city). After a three hour visit, the bus leaves Andorra la Vella for Toulouse, France – another three hour bus ride. If we took the bus, we could have then rented a car in Toulouse and driven back to the Chateau de Gudanes. After our visit, we would drive to Bordeaux and continue with the trip. Another option would have been to skip the chateau altogether. Then we could have used public transportation until we were ready to leave Bordeaux – or even the Loire Valley.
The option we chose, however, was to rent the car in Barcelona, and drive ourselves through Andorra. We were able to visit the chateau in the afternoon and still make it to a hotel in Bordeaux for the night. This option covered the desired areas in one day, rather than two.
At first, we were concerned that we would not have enough time in each place, if we tried to cover too much in one day. We knew we would save a little time driving ourselves instead of taking the bus through Andorra, but we saved even more time because we did not stay long in the capital city. Andorra is known for its tax-free shopping opportunities, but we weren’t in the market for jewelry or perfume – Andorra’s specialties – on this trip. We had enough time to cover everything we wanted, although we didn’t arrive at the hotel until around 9 pm.
Another disadvantage with the itinerary we chose, was the high fees for renting a car in one country and returning it in a different one. We had to measure the time savings against the added cost in making our decision. We were able to find a rental offer with a lower than normal fee, so this became less of a concern.
Our Final Itinerary
- Day One – We rented the car in Barcelona, Spain. We arrived at the rental office around 9:30 am, but it took us longer than we hoped to get the paperwork finished and it was after 10:45 before we drove off. We had chosen to rent our car for an office near the airport, which made it easier to get away from the city.
The roads were a little busy, but soon we were traveling through the country toward Andorra. The drive took close to three hours so it was nearly 2 pm before we stopped for lunch in the city of Andorra LaVella. We were able to visit the Chateau de Gudanes in the late afternoon. Even though we arrived later than expected, we were able to get a full tour, afternoon tea, and wonderful conversation. I can’t wait to go back to see the chateau when the restoration is finished. When we left the chateau we drove straight to the hotel in Bordeaux. There was a restaurant within walking distance where we got a snack – we were too tired to eat a full dinner.
- Day Two – No driving for us. We left the car at the hotel, walked across the street to the bus stop, and rode the bus to the downtown area. We joined a full day wine chateau tour where we learned about wine production in the area – and tasted a little wine. It was relaxing to let someone else do the driving.
- Day Three – We left Bordeaux and drove north to the Loire Valley.
We stopped for lunch in the town of Villandry and then toured the Villandry Chateau and its beautiful gardens. We left this chateau near Tours, France, and continued to the chateau in Nazelles – just north of Amboise – where we had booked a two-night stay.
- Day Four – We visited two chateaux, Chenenceau and Chambord on the fourth day we had the car. We had looked into joining a chateau tour in the Loire Valley, but we had chosen the specific chateaux we wanted to visit and could not find a tour that fit our needs. With the car, it was easy to drive from one to the other, and we had the added benefit of taking as much or as little time as we wanted at each stop.
- Day Five – Leaving the Loire Valley, we continued north to Mont-Saint-Michel. We stopped for lunch at a rest area along the way. We got to our hotel in the early afternoon, but too early to check-in. No problem.
Grabbing what we needed out of the car, we hopped on the free Mont-Saint-Michel shuttle. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening on the island, leaving just as the sun was setting (after 9 pm). After we checked in and relaxed a little while, we walked over to the dam to get a couple pictures of the island at night.
- Day Six – We left the hotel on time and drove through Normandy, visiting several sites that were pivotal in World War II.
We also spent time at the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach. It was a long day, but well worth the drive. Visiting the World War II sites, is really only possible with a car or on a guided tour. My husband and I joined a guided tour in 2015, so I knew just which sites I wanted to show my daughter. It was a long day of driving, but we made it to the outskirts of Paris by around 8:30 pm.
As you can see, our itinerary played an important part in the decision of whether or not to rent the car. Many of the places are either inaccessible or they are much more difficult to get to with public transportation. We were happy with our decision. If we were to do the trip again, we would do it almost exactly the same.
In future posts, I will talk more about the process and problems with renting a car. I’ll also show you more about the places we visited. Stay tuned!