Q: Peter, we are considering a trip to France the summer of 2010. Friends have a home in Lyon that we have the option of using. We also want to see the Tour De France in Paris the last day of the race. Where should we fly into and should we consider the Lyon option, since it is so close to so many other wonderful countries? We will only have two weeks. Thank you in advance with any help you can share.
–Cathie Stuyvenberg, Green Bay, Wis.
A: Lyon is a fabulous city that is steeped in history, architecture, and culture and is second only to Paris in terms of cuisine. I would highly recommend visiting, especially if you have a place to stay for free! There is so much going on in the center of France that Americans often don't see, because they only have time to see Paris. So I think you'd be wise to visit Lyon or even to stay there and use it as a base to explore France.
In addition, you're correct that Lyon's geographic location makes it conducive for travel to neighboring French cities, such as Avignon and Dijon, and to other European cities—for instance, Torino, Italy; Geneva, Switzerland; and Monte Carlo, Monaco. All are just a few hours away by train or car.
But don't shortchange yourself by trying to cram too much into a two-week trip. I suggest spending a few days enjoying Paris, a few more in Lyon, and then maybe pick a couple of other cities for one- or two-day side trips. You can't really get the flavor of a city if you breeze through it in a matter of hours.
The airport you choose as an arrival point is up to you. The major international airports within a couple of hours of Lyon are Paris and Geneva. If you time your arrival or departure in France to coincide with the July 25 end date of the Tour de France, it would make sense to fly into Paris. However, if the end date of the race falls somewhere in the middle of your trip, you could fly into Geneva and slowly make your way around France, with your visit to Paris timed for July 25.
You could even do a day trip from Lyon to Paris. The TGV (France's high-speed rail service) will get you there in about two hours and will cost you around €60 (about $90) round-trip for a second-class ticket. Whichever option you choose, I recommend buying your train tickets and booking your hotel rooms now, because Paris is mobbed on the day the Tour ends. The finish is one of the biggest events of the year for Parisians and tourists alike.