During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we took our first international trip as a family of three!
Since then a lot of questions have come through regarding our itinerary, recommendations on which places we loved/didn’t love the most, and how the baby did on the flight and travels.
Today, I am FINALLY sharing everything about our trip, including our day-by-day itinerary, so grab a cup of coffee and get ready because it’s lengthy (sidenote: why can’t I ever be brief?) My hope is that it is helpful!
First off, we employed one of the tips I shared in my post about traveling when you don’t have the luxury of a flexible work schedule about extending three-day weekends. In this case, our employers gave us Christmas and New Years Day off work. So we took 5 days off but were able to span two weekends and be out of the office for over 10 days!
We spent two days in Kansas City with my in-laws, then two days in DC with some of my family, and from there left on our grand adventure overseas.
It was the most ambitious trip we have ever done – even just the two of us – so we were a little nervous to do it with a baby in tow. However, our excitement outweighed our anxieties and it went even better than we could have imagined!
I had quite a few requests to share our itinerary as well as questions about which places we recommended so below I’m sharing all those details!
Day One: Travel Day and the Loire Valley
After landing at Charles de Gaule airport in Paris early in the morning, we grabbed a quick pastry and coffee and picked up our rental car.
A few notes on renting a car in Europe: a lot of people I talk to are scared to rent a car in Europe. I presume they think the process will be complex and intimidating and that they need to be able to drive a stickshift so I’m here to let you in on a secret: the process is almost exactly the same as renting in the US.
We generally use Sixt when renting abroad because Hertz isn’t quite as common – so simply log onto their website and order a car!
While stick cars are often slightly less expensive, automatic cars are readily available so fear not.
Lastly, I would recommend buying the insurance when renting abroad. Usually we skip it when renting domestically but you just never know when you’re abroad so it’s great even if just for peace of mind.
Once we got our car, we immediately hit the road and drove towards the Loire Valley.
The Loire Valley is infamous for its many castles, all of which are exquisite. We had a short list of ones we were most interested in, namely Château de Chenonceau, Château de Chambord, Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, and Château de Villandry.
However, we know ourselves well enough to realize that we would be antsy after one, so picked our very favorite one and spent a bit more time there. The one we chose? Château de Chenonceau.
It was AMAZING! I’m truly at a loss for words because it was so incredible. I can’t imagine how much more so it would be in the warmer months once the garden is in full bloom and the sun is shining!
From there we drove to the town of Amboise. We had researched some towns in the Loire Valley, knowing we would only have time for one.
You’ll find this to be a theme throughout our itinerary where we don’t have much time so we do a ton of research and pick the one we think will give us the best feel without having to visit them all.
That night we stayed in a small chateau. Yes, you read that right! Matt found a hotel in the charming town of Amboise called Hotel le Choiseul which is an old chateau that has been converted into a hotel. The location was perfect, the decor was amazing, and the staff was so kind (they had a crib ready in our room and even gave Joe a little stuffed animal)! Best of all it was very reasonably priced – I highly recommend this one-of-a-kind experience!
We were a little jet lagged and restaurants in Europe don’t open for dinner until much later than the US, so we grabbed some wine, bread and cheese from various shops in town and had ourselves an early little picnic in our room that night.
Day Two: Burgundy region
We woke up and drove to spend the morning in the city of Tours, where we visited the Basilique Saint-Martin, grabbed breakfast, and walked around. Our college’s campus ministry center was named the St. Martin Center and one of the dorms on campus is named in honor of him as well, so we were curious to see Tours!
Admittedly it was a semi-random stop but it ended up being so wonderful because it was very authentic. There were zero tourists besides ourselves and people were bustling around heading to work. Unbeknownst to us, it was a true city – much bigger than we had expected. We always love visiting places that don’t cater to tourists in order to get a “real feel” for the place!
After a few hours of walking around we were freezing so we hopped in the car again and drove further on to Beaune. The town was adorable so we happily spent our time walking all around while popping into antique stores and markets along the way.
That night we stayed in a random small town that started with a J (I don’t even remember the name) simply because it put us closer to where we wanted to spend the next day: the Alsace region.
Similar to the last Euroadtrip we took two years ago, we didn’t book any of our hotels in advance because we wanted to be able to change up our plans spontaneously, staying longer in places we loved and moving on once we had our fill.
This method of booking on the road worked really well but not perfectly. Case in point with this story…
We arrived very late (around 10 pm) and when I say this town was small, I mean that in a only-had-one-restaurant kind of way… and of course by the time we got there it was already closed. We tried to go to a buy-by-the-slice pizza place and even that was shutting down. Based on Google Maps there were zero other options in town besides those two and we were in the middle of nowhere far from any other towns. I was freaking out (aka getting super hangry) but thankfully the workers there tipped us in on another pizza joint around the corner that was still open. It wasn’t necessarily fantastic pizza but I swear it was one of the best meals because we were starving – haha!
Day Three: Alsace region
The first stop of the morning ended up being our favorite: Eguisheim. What made this town so unique was the narrow, concentric streets. When looking at a map, the streets are circles going round and round as opposed to a square grid. It is the ideal place to get lost and wander!
To make it even better, the Christmas markets were in full swing and everyone in town goes all out decorating their windows and window boxes! We strolled for quite some time taking in this fairy-tale village full of pastel half-timbered buildings, hot wine in hand.
Next up was Riquewihr, one of the towns that inspired the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast! We found ourselves in the midst of more Christmas markets so did like the locals and grabbed more hot wine 😉
Our next stop was Colmar. Once again, Christmas markets and hot wine. Are you sensing a theme?
Colmar had the most elaborate of all the Christmas markets we had seen, with carnival rides in addition to the food and shop stalls! In contrast to Eguisheim and Riquewihr which were more village-like, Colmar felt more like a big town. If you ever find yourself studying abroad in Europe, Colmar would likely be the easiest place to get to and I would highly recommend! This region was so incredibly charming.
Once the sun had set and the temperature began dropping, we continued on our way to our last stop of the night: Obernai. Even though it was dark by the time we arrived, we walked through the Christmas market and grabbed some dinner at a local restaurant which was so wonderful. I always love going to local restaurants when traveling in other countries and seeing couples and families go about their normal life – it’s so endearing!
After dinner we headed to our hotel, where I immediately put on a robe and headed down to the sauna! After being out in the cold the previous few days, it felt AMAZING to sit in some dry heat for a bit!
Obernai was the underdog of the day. The other three we knew we would love and honestly we never had any intentions of visiting Obernai. It wasn’t on any lists we had seen or included in any articles we had read, we simply stopped there because we wanted to get closer to our destination for the following day to cut down on driving time.
It was a very fortuitous stop since we fell in love with it. I think what made it so great was it’s absence from any of the aforementioned “lists”. Because of that, it isn’t on traveler’s radars so it is retains its authenticity. It felt like we were getting a peek into the local’s lives which can be so hard these days in the age of social media and Pinterest.
One day I would love to make it back and I would certainly recommend visiting! It may be hard to get to by train, but if you are renting a car, it is definitely worth a stop.
Day Four: Strasbourg
After breakfast at our hotel in Obernai (which was insane – endless pastries, meats, cheeses, eggs, coffee – the best buffet I’ve ever been to!), we got on the road for Strasbourg.
Strasbourg is the capital city of the Alsace region and also infamous as the home of the biggest Christmas market in France (it draws over 2 million visitors a year!) We knew we had to visit it now that we were unofficially on a Christmas Market Crawl. We walked all around town, grabbed coffee, strolled through the markets, and toured the cathedral (note if you’re visiting: the line is absurdly long but moves quite quickly).
The Rhine River runs through the city and the views walking along the water lined with pastel buildings is beautiful. We didn’t do one but there were boat tours available that looked like a great way to see the city!
Strasbourg is a university town so it felt more lively than the others we had visited – more young people, more diverse food options, more bars, etc. It would be another great place to visit if you are studying abroad!
After spending all day in Strasbourg, we finished the day by driving to Paris. We caught the most breathtaking sunset on our drive!
Day Five: Paris
There are few feelings as wonderful as waking up in Paris, let me tell you that!
Let me start off by saying this was not our first time to Paris, and as such, we did not visit any of the city’s major attractions as we already did them last time (other than the Eiffel Tower and Rue du Bac). I’m drafting a post of “what to do on your first visit to Paris” that outlines what we would have done if that were the case. However, as you’ll see below, this time around we simply roamed around and let the day take us where it may. This is also the reason we were able to keep our trip so short at only one day.
We started the morning by grabbing pastries at the famed Poilâne before walking over to Jardins du Trocadéro. This park has a fantastic vantage point of the Eiffel Tower!
We took pictures on Rue de l’Université which is a great option if you want a viewpoint that also includes the architecture of Parisian apartment buildings – it is picture perfect!
From there, we quite literally strolled through the entire city – we covered 15 miles that day! Since we had already been to Paris before, we skipped the museums and tourist spots; it freed us up to simply walk around without any real plan, taking in the views and atmosphere of the city.
The one thing we did again that we had already done before was visit Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse on Rue du Bac. This chapel is where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré in 1830 and requested the creation of the Miraculous Medal. It is also home to the incorruptible body of St. Catherine – it is absolutely incredible.
That evening, we strolled along the Champs-Élysées. It was New Year’s Eve when we visited and the avenue had been blocked off to cars, allowing only pedestrian traffic. It was pretty surreal to be walking on one of the most famed avenues!
By this point it was pretty late so we grabbed dinner near my cousin’s apartment where we were staying and then got a little sleep before waking up just before midnight so we could go watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight! Normally we would have just gone to bed but it was NYE after all and we hadn’t seen the tower sparkle yet so we couldn’t miss it!
FYI, the tower lights up every hour on the hour for 5 minutes. If you visit, you definitely have to plan to see it.
Day Six: Travel Day
Our trip had finally come to an end. This morning we woke up super early and bid adieu to France as we ventured back home to Dallas!
If I were to do it again…
I would have skipped the Loire Valley. It is a fantastic and storied region that is absolutely worthwhile, just not the kind of place we love.
If you love castles, chateaux, and royalty, the area is teeming with options! You can’t go a thirty minute drive before seeing another one.
If you do visit, I would recommend late Spring, Summer, and early Fall. The gardens were all dead when we visited but I can only imagine how lush they would be in the warmer months. In addition, the scenery between the towns was all barren so it wasn’t much to look at, but again I think in the warmer months it would be quite beautiful.
I would have spent more time in the Alsace region. The French-German region was by far our favorite stop of the trip. (We are realizing we must really love Germany because it was our favorite stop on our roadtrip a few years ago, too!) I would happily do a vacation strictly dedicated to this region.
It was very fun to be there during the Christmas markets because it was cool to see people all milling about happily, but I would love to visit when it is warmer because this region is known for its over-the-top window boxes (obviously the flowers were all dead in December) and the area is hilly and covered in vineyard which was obviously also not in season. Check out these pictures for how divine it looks in the Summer.
That said, from the brief research I did, it seems that Summer is crazy expensive to visit and we probably could only afford to go in the off-season anyways. It might not be feasible, but if you can make it happen, you should absolutely try to go when it is warm!
Maybe the most asked question: How did the baby do?
Honestly, Joe did fantastic! I was a little nervous but he surprised me in the best way. He took naps in his carseat, slept on the car rides, and loved being pushed in his stroller on the bumpy cobblestone streets while taking in the sights.
I mean look at that face!!!
The two areas that he did not excel in were:
Jet lag(?) I hesitate even calling this out since it wasn’t even that bad, hence the question mark. However, for what it’s worth I’ll relay our experience.
While at home Joe was sleeping straight through the night, but he was waking up once or twice a night on this trip. However, he was still only 3 months old so TBD on if it was truly “jet lag”. It certainly left us a little more tired in the mornings, but he was such a champ during the days and we were so happy to be traveling around Europe together that we didn’t mind.
As for “jet lag” upon returning back to the US – I had heard that there is an unofficial “rule of two days” where it always takes babies two days to regulate their sleep cycle any time there is a major change. That proved to be true in this case. Those first two nights back home he woke up once or twice, but on the third night he was back to sleeping through the night.
The flight back. On the flight over, he was a literal angel. Only fussed two or three times and basically slept the whole way. In fact, Matt and I got separated on the flight over so it was just me and the baby and I was still able to get some shut eye and relax!
However, the flight home was a totally different story. I think part of it can be attributed to the fact that our flight was in the morning, so he had already been asleep all night, but he just would not go to sleep. He straight up screamed for roughly 60% of the flight, and the other 40% of the time he squirmed all around.
While it was frustrating, it was nothing I wouldn’t have expected of a child his age (3 months) so I didn’t let it get me worked up. Thankfully, since it was a morning flight landing in the US in the afternoon, no one else on the flight was trying to sleep either; I would have felt much worse if he was making a scene while all those people were trying to rest up for their vacation.
At the end of the day, you have to be prepared for your baby to go a bit off schedule and be okay with that. Sure, he wasn’t sleeping through the night and we didn’t rest as much as we might have liked, but we were in EUROPE with our BABY and we were just so grateful for that – it was 100% worth it!
If I had a dollar for every person that told me we were crazy for doing this trip with a baby or how much they admired it, I could have paid for this trip! But now that I’ve done it and subsequently traveled with him more as he’s gotten older (he’s 6 months now), I will say that this is one of the BEST times to travel with a baby!
When they are so young, they sleep so much, are super portable, are free on flights, still love bumpy rides and loud noises, the list goes on. He is still a wonderful traveler at 6 months old, but he wants to move around so much more now which can be more difficult.
Now that I’ve taken a year off your life with all that writing, I hope I answered all your questions! It was such a wonderful trip – most of all just traveling with my little family was a dream come true!