No matter how you look at it, it's just not very easy to get to Saint-Aignan from Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, north of Paris. "North" is the key word. Saint-Aignan is about 250 km (150 mi.) south of Paris. Your first task is to to transport yourself and your baggage through, or around, the 10-million-person Paris metropolitan area. It's a challenge.
If you rent a car at the airport, you have to drive in heavy traffic most days and especially during rush hours. The various ring roads around Paris — there are three of them — are often jammed with traffic and always tricky to navigate. If you miss an exit, you end up completely lost. You are jet-lagged, haven't slept in 24 hours, and you inevitably end up doing a lot of driving you didn't plan on. If you make it around Paris and then take the fast toll road to Saint-Aignan, you pay about 20 euros — that's $30 — at the Saint-Aignan toll gate for all that fun.
For us, a round-trip to Roissy is easily a 12-hour adventure, once you count time spent in traffic jams, waiting at the airport, and, of course, lunch. We don't often go to pick people up there. It's just too far and too expensive with that 40-euro or $60 round-trip toll, a $75 tank of diesel fuel for the car, and... lunch in a restaurant.
Last September my sister was arriving at CDG from America on a Saturday morning. I went to meet her and to spend 36 hours in Paris. I gave myself five hours to do the drive, allowing for traffic jams. I took the autoroute, which is the toll road, from Saint-Aignan all the way to the airport. And I arrived in less than 3½ hours. I had a lot of time to kill that morning.
When Walt came to get me on a Tuesday morning in November after my last trip to the U.S., it took him at least five hours to do the same drive. Of course, that was because there were public-transit strikes that day and the roads were jammed with commuters — one person in each vehicle, of course — trying to get into Paris or from one side of it to the other. Strikes, accidents, and weather often mess up Paris traffic. As it turned out, my plane was late that day, I was delayed in customs, and we both ended up at our meeting place at pretty much the same time.
Okay, assume you don't want to rent a car to make the trip to Saint-Aignan. There are trains from CDG airport to Tours, and at Tours you can get a train right to Saint-Aignan. The problem with that solution is that there aren't very many morning trains from Paris coming toward Tours. There's one train at about 9:00 a.m., but your flight has to get in very early for you to be able to catch that one.
In 2006, Walt and I flew back to France from Chicago. Our plane got in very early in the morning, but not quite early enough for us to catch that early train. So we ended up waiting at the airport, exhausted from the long overnight flight and jet-lagged, for the second train of the day, which is at 1:30 p.m. Luckily, we knew a restaurant in the airport where you can get a good lunch, and we were happy to have French food again after five weeks in America (we had good food there too, just different food).
If your flight arrival time doesn't work with the Roissy-to-Tours trains, then you need to go into Paris to get a train to Saint-Aignan. If you don't have much luggage, you can take the RER — that's the regional rail network around Paris — from the airport into the city and then change over to the Paris metro to get to either the Gare Montparnasse or the Gare d'Austerlitz. You still have have to wait for the next train departing for Tours. Luckily, there are restaurants in all the Paris train stations.
If you do have a lot of luggage, the best solution is to take a taxi or a shuttle bus to one of the Paris train stations. The taxi will cost you 50 euros ($75 dollars). The shuttle bus will cost a lot less but it might make several stops around the city before it arrives at the train station.
And besides, taxis and shuttle buses use the same highways as all those car-bound commuters. If traffic is bad, you sit and sit and sit in traffic jams. You are tired and just want to get there. You're stuck. And you still have a two- to three-hour train ride ahead of you before you get to Saint-Aignan.
Saint-Aignan is farther from Paris than it looks on the map. In so many ways.