With 2 weeks to explore France, you'll have time to visit several regions -- not only Paris, but also the best of the Loire Valley châteaux, the most history-rich town of Provence (Avignon), and several resorts on the Riviera, taking in the beaches, modern-art galleries, and even the principality of Monaco.
Days 1 & 2: Arrive in Paris
Take a flight that arrives in Paris as early as possible on Day 1. Check into your hotel and hit the nearest cafe for a pick-me-up café au lait and a croissant before sightseeing. Take the Métro to the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre for a visit to the Musée du Louvre. Spend at least 2 hours here viewing world-class masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. After leaving the Louvre, walk south toward the Quays of the Seine, spending an hour taking in the tree-shaded banks and panoramic vistas of Paris. Head for that island in the Seine, Ile de la Cité, to explore its attractions including Ste-Chapelle and the monumental Notre-Dame and its gargoyles. As the evening fades, head for the Eiffel Tower for the greatest cityscape view in Europe.
On Day 2, arrive at the place de la Concorde and its Egyptian obelisk, and take a stroll up the 1.8km (1-mile) avenue of French grandeur, the Champs-Elysées, until you reach the Arc de Triomphe, which you can scale for another panoramic view of Paris. After, head for the Ile St-Louis, which, after Cité, is the second island in the Seine. Lacking monumental attractions, this little isle is a sight in itself, with quays to stroll and small side streets where you can discover hidden wonders such as antiques shops and little bistros.
After lunch in one of those bistros, visit Musée d'Orsay and the world's greatest collection of Impressionist paintings. After d'Orsay, take a Bateaux-Mouche cruise along the Seine. As the afternoon fades, head for Basilique du Sacré-Coeur for a crowning view of Paris as the sun sets. Have a final dinner in a Montmartre cafe.
Day 3: A Day Trip to Versailles
Having survived 2 days in the capital of France, bid an adieu and take the RER Line C to the Versailles/Rive Gauche station. You can spend a full day at Versailles -- and then some -- or else you can see the highlights in 3 hours, including the Grands and Petits appartements, the glittering Hall of Mirrors, Gabriel's Opera House, the Royal Chapel, and the Gardens of Versailles, which contain the Grand and Petit Trianons.
Day 4: Normandy's Capital of Rouen
On Day 4, drive early in the morning to Rouen and check into a hotel. Spend at least 2 hours exploring the city's ancient core, especially its Cathédrale Notre-Dame, immortalized in paintings by Monet. Stand at the place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was executed for heresy in 1431, and then visit the Eglise St-Maclou, a 1432 church in the Flamboyant Gothic style. After lunch, drive to Giverny -- it's only 60km (38 miles) southeast of Rouen. At Giverny, visit the Claude Monet Foundation, returning to your hotel in Rouen for the night.
Day 5: Bayeux & Caen
To expedite the rest of your trip, we recommend renting a car in Rouen. Strike out toward Bayeux, stopping en route to visit Abbaye de Jumièges, one of the most evocative ruins in France. Even with a stopover, you can easily be in the city of Caen in time for lunch before visiting Abbaye aux Hommes, founded by William the Conqueror. After Caen, continue west to the city of Bayeux, where you can arrive in time to view the celebrated Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. Stay overnight in Bayeux.
Day 6: The D-Day Beaches
Reserve Day 6 for exploring the D-day beaches, where Allied forces launched "the Longest Day," the mammoth invasion of Normandy in June 1944 that signaled the beginning of the end of Hitler's Third Reich.
From Bayeux, head east to explore the coastline. Your voyage of discovery can begin at the seaside resort of Arromanches-les-Bains, where you can visit the Musée du Débarquement, Omaha Beach, and the Normandy American Cemetery. You can have lunch in the town of Grandcamp-Maisy, later checking out Utah Beach.
That evening, drive to Mont-St-Michel (less than 2 hr. away) and overnight in the pedestrian village on "the Rock," giving you plenty of time for an early-morning visit to this popular attraction. If it's summer, you can also take an illuminated night tour.
Day 7: Mont-St-Michel
You can explore one of the great attractions of Europe, Mont-St-Michel, in a minimum of 3 hours. This great Benedictine monastery, founded in 966, is best enjoyed by taking an English-language tour that covers the highlights. After viewing the abbey, drop in at La Mère Poulard for a legendary omelet. After lunch, return your car to Rouen, where you'll find frequent train service back to Paris.
Day 8: Orléans -- Gateway to the Loire Valley
On Day 8, leave Paris on an early train to Orléans (trip time: 1 hr., 15 min.). Heavily bombed in World War II, Orléans is a fairly dull town. Rent a car here and drive west to the Château de Chambord, the largest château in the Loire Valley, representing the apogee of the French Renaissance architectural style. Allow 2 hours for a visit. Back on the road again, continue southwest to the Château de Blois, called "the Versailles of the Renaissance" and a virtual illustrated storybook of French architecture. Stay overnight in Blois.
Day 9: Amboise & Chenonceau
On the morning of Day 9, continue southeast from Blois to Amboise, where you can check into a hotel for the night. Visit the 15th-century Château d'Amboise, in the Italian Renaissance style, and also Clos-Lucé, last residence of Leonardo da Vinci. In the afternoon, drive southeast to the Château de Chenonceau, famous for the French dames who have occupied its precincts, including Diane de Poitiers (mistress of the king) and Catherine de Médicis. You can spend 2 hours at the château before driving back to Amboise for the night.
Day 10: Avignon, Gateway to Provence
From Amboise, get an early start on Day 10 and drive east to Orléans to return your rental car. You now face a choice: You can take a morning train from Orléans to Paris's Gare d'Austerlitz and then catch the Métro or a taxi to the Gare de Lyon, where you can hop aboard a TGV (fast train) that will put you in Avignon in about 2 1/2 hours. Or, you can take a train from Orléans to Lyon and change trains for Avignon.
Check into a hotel in Avignon, capital of Provence. Before the day fades, you should have time to wander through the old city to get your bearings, buy some colorful Provençal fabrics, and see one of the smaller sights such as the Pont St-Bénézet (also known as the Bridge of Avignon).
Day 11: Avignon to St-Tropez
In the morning, spend 2 hours touring the Palais des Papes, which was the capital of Christendom during the 14th century when the popes lived here during the so-called "Babylonian Captivity." After lunch in one of Europe's most beautiful medieval cities, rent a car and drive to St-Tropez. If it's summer, get in some beach time and spend a good part of the early evening in one of the cafes along the harbor, indulging in that favorite French pastime of people-watching.
Day 12: Cannes, Capital of the Riviera Chic
Before leaving St-Tropez in the morning, check out the Impressionist paintings at Musée de l'Annonciade. Drive 50km (31 miles) east along the coast until you reach Cannes.
Assuming it's summer, get in some time at the beach, notably at Plage de la Croisette, and feel free to wear your most revealing swimwear. In the afternoon, take the ferry to Ile Ste-Marguerite, where the "Man in the Iron Mask" was imprisoned. You can visit his cell. That evening, you may want to flirt with Lady Luck at one of the plush casinos.
Day 13: Nice, Capital of the Riviera
It's only a 32km (20-mile) drive east from Cannes to Nice, the Riviera's largest city. After checking into a hotel (the most affordable along the Riviera), stroll through Vieille Ville, the old town, beginning at the foot of "the Rock." Enjoy a snack of socca, a round crepe made with chickpea flour that's sold steaming hot by the street vendors. Then head for the promenade des Anglais, the wide boulevard along the waterfront. Stop in at one of the grand cafes along the water for a light lunch. In the afternoon, head for the best of the hill towns above Nice, notably St-Paul-de-Vence, only 31km (19 miles) to the north. Here you can wander its ramparts in about 30 minutes before descending on the greatest modern-art museum in the Riviera, the Foundation Maeght.
Continue over to Vence for a visit to Chapelle du Rosaire, where the great Henri Matisse created his artistic masterpiece for some Dominican nuns. From there, it's just 24km (15 miles) southeast to Nice.
Have dinner at a typical bistro, serving a traditional Niçoise cuisine with the inevitable Italian influences.
Day 14: Nice to Monaco
While still overnighting in Nice, head east for the most hair-raising but thrilling drive in all of France, a trip along the Grande Corniche highway that stretches 31km (19 miles) east from Nice to the little resort of Menton near the Italian border. Allow 3 hours for this trip. Highlights along this road include Roquebrune-Cap Martin and La Turbie. The greatest view along the Riviera is at the Eze Belvedere at 1,200m (3,937 ft.).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.