With such a variety of landscapes, you could easily holiday in France every year without getting bored. Add to that great food, lots of child- (and parent-) friendly attractions, and – of course – loads of fantastic places to stay, and the hardest job you’ll have is narrowing down just where to go. Here’s our pick of some of the best locations for a family holiday in France.
(Image by Anthony Delanoix)
If you’re used to weekends away in Paris pre-children then the capital might seem like an odd choice for a family holiday, but there’s a surprising amount to keep kids entertained here, especially during the warmer months. Top of the list has to be the magical Parc des Buttes-Chaumont which has hills for rolling down and streams for paddling in as well as plentiful space for exploration. In the Jardin d’Acclimatation you’ll find everything from a carousel and pony rides to a farm and puppet shows. Older kids will love exploring the evocative Catacombs, subterranean tunnels that are home to the bones of some six million people. The graceful, low-rise city is relatively compact and easy to explore on foot – though children will of course love using the Metro to get around – and while it gets busy around the major tourist sights, it’s never hard to break away from the crowds and get a sense of the ‘real’ Paris.
One of the big appeals of this seaboard region is its proximity to the UK – it’s served by not one but four ferry routes. Head away from the major ports to find quieter, more laid-back beaches and seaside towns, such as Honfleur and the sister towns of Trouville and Deauville. If you’re visiting the coast here then it’s worth making some time for the D-Day beaches – if you’ve got older children in tow then definitely consider a guided tour to get to grips with the region’s role in World War II. Walking – or taking a horse-drawn carriage – across the bay to imposing Mont St Michel is an undoubtable highlight, though little legs may struggle with the climb up to the abbey. If the kids are up to more history, head inland to check out the extraordinary Bayeux Tapestry, and be sure to make time for Monet’s house at Giverny for its beautiful gardens.
For an easy-to-access foreign holiday of white-sand beaches and fabulous food, it’s hard to resist Brittany. This northern province still proudly retains its own identity, and is home to one of France’s most child-friendly foods: crêpes (and their savoury version, galettes) - not to mention some of the freshest and best seafood. Head for the Côte de Granit Rose for a wild coastline punctuated by pink granite boulders, or to the busier but equally splendid Finistère coast with its dramatic cliffs and headlands, and clear waters. The region is also home to Europe’s most important prehistoric site: the megaliths at Carnac, which predate even Stonhenge and the Pyramids of Giza – though bear in mind that in summer they can only be seen on a guided tour. From here it’s not far to Quiberon, where you can get a boat out to Bell-Île, an island of delightful, colourful fishing villages and an impressive number of beaches – sixty, to be precise.
The Atlantic beaches are, unsurprisingly, the big draw of this largely rural region, with the coastline here dotted with quiet fishing villages and appealing islands like the Île de Ré and Île d’Oléron. The charming small city of La Rochelle has plenty to interest families of all ages, with an ample supply of museums, historic sights and even an aquarium – not to mention plenty of lovely, safe beaches on its doorstep. Inland, the lively country town of Poitiers’s main appeal is its proximity to the Futuroscope theme park – with attractions covering everything from virtual reality to robotic displays, it’s undoubtedly one of the region’s (if not the country’s) highlights for kids.
The Dordogne is an undeniably appealing holiday destination: beautiful honey-coloured villages; a wide river that’s perfect for both paddling and activities; lush, rolling countryside; and a rich history that covers everything from pre-historic caves to imposing castles. The picturesque old towns of Sarlat, Monpazier and Brantôme are particular delights, and even younger kids will enjoy pounding their cobbled streets – make time for Sarlat’s bi-weekly market where you can try (and buy) some of the region’s glorious produce. In addition, the area’s numerous châteaus can usually be explored at your own pace, allowing young imaginations to run wild, while the aquarium at Le Bugue and the zoo at Calviac are also big draws for little people. Undoubtedly, however, it is the river that is the biggest pull here – you’ll find everything from canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding to longer cruises and fishing.
Often unfairly overlooked in favour of its better-known neighbour, the Dordogne, the Lot has just as much to tempt families – plus the benefit of (generally) smaller crowds. The exception to this is the medieval town of Rocamadour, thanks to its impressive cliff-top position, but kids big and small will love pretending to be knights as they descend the steep cobbled streets. Nearby, you’ll find two nature-based attractions: La Forêt des Singes (‘Monkey Forest’) and the bird park, Rocher des Aigles – both great options if the younger members of your family can only take so much trundling around beautiful villages (and there are plenty of those to choose from here, too). And of course the presence of the River Lot here means lots of water activities to choose from, plus the likes of hiking and horse riding through the varied countryside when back on solid land.
Provence and the Cote d’Azur
For many people, Provence is the France they imagine – fragrant fields of lavender, ancient towns and long, Mediterranean days. And, with its fabulous countryside, which encompasses everything from the marshlands of the Camargue to the stunning canyon of the Gorges du Verdon, it’s just perfect for exploration en famille. Kids will love the sensory overload of the local markets and the evocative Roman ruins at Arles, while the rich wildlife and long, relatively quiet beaches of the Camargue are a welcome contrast to the glitzier nearby Cote d’Azur. The Riviera itself is incredibly busy during the summer – if you can, stay away from the sea and head here at the beginning or end of the season – but of course this means that there’s plenty to do here, too, from skating along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice or heading out on the water to spot dolphins.
The French Alps
Think of holidaying in the Alps and you’ll most likely think of winter sports. Sure, this region is undeniably fantastic for skiing and snowboarding, but it’s a fabulous destination throughout the year, offering an abundance of activities to keep kids of all ages happy. In the Chamonix valley, splash out on the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi – one of the longest such journeys in the world – for staggering views over the mountains: the skywalk, which takes you out over the mountains on a glass floor, isn’t one to do if you’re scared of heights, but is definitely something the kids will love regaling their friends about. The abundance of lakes in the region mean plenty of watersports to choose from: boat trips on turquoise Lake Annecy, for example, or waterskiing and kayaking on the Lac du Bourget. The area around Annecy is also a great destination for cycling, and you’ll find excellent bike rental in the town itself.
Check out some of our lovely family-friendly places to stay in France here.