Brexit myths – heard about the one where Brittany Ferries has cancelled 10,000 crossings and planes will not be able to fly into EU country airports?
There’s a lot of articles in the news about how holidays to France will be affected following the impending Brexit date of March 29th, 2019. So here are the facts as we know them.
- What is the no-deal Brexit ferry initiative?
This is an initiative from the Department of Transport to help ensure critical goods are still able to be transported safely and swiftly in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Brittany Ferries (as well as other ferry companies) were approached by the Department for Transport to assist with this initiative.
The contract guarantees space on some of Brittany Ferries ships and Channel routes for the delivery of critical goods post-Brexit, like medicines. It has been described as a kind of insurance, or safety net, to help ensure the smooth transit of these critical goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit after the 29th March.
In order to create this extra capacity, Brittany Ferries will use their ships in their existing fleet more intensively. The routes and ships earmarked are:
Le Havre/Portsmouth – Étretat
Cherbourg/Poole – Barfleur
Roscoff/Plymouth – Armorique
Consequently Brittany Ferries have amended their 2019 schedules for these routes and are communicating the changes to anyone who has already booked a crossing. Brittany Ferries are at pains to stress that the changes are minor ones and that no one should lose their holiday booking
- Will I need a new passports?
Check the date your passport expires. When travelling to the EU after 29 March 2019, the UK government recommends that you have six months left on your passport on the date of your arrival to an EU country. You will not have to apply for a new passport for travel to France if you still have a current EU passport.
- Will I need travel insurance ?
In the event of a deal, EHIC cards will be valid during the 18 month transition period. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK registered EHICs are unlikely to be valid. Don’t forget that an EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance. It is always best to be covered when travelling abroad and ABTA recommends you take out a comprehensive travel policy before making any trip. It is also worth checking the detail of the policy around travel disruption including delays or cancellations as policies do vary.
- Will I need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Europe?
In addition to your UK driving licence, the government is advising that from 29 March 2019, in the event of no-deal, you may need an International Driving Permit to drive in certain EU countries.
There are different type of permits for different countries, and each costs around £5.50. So you need to make sure you have the right permit for France and/or for Spain for example. For more information please visit the government’s webpage on International driving permits for UK drivers from 28 March 2019.
- Will I still be able to take my pet abroad?
Yes. After 29 March 2019, you will still be able to travel with your pet to Europe whether a deal is reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the terms of exit, or not. However, in a no-deal scenario, you will need to take some additional steps.
Importantly, you may need to visit a vet some months in advance of travel, for certification and relevant vaccines. Read more about taking your dog to France here.
- Will there be data roaming charges?
The government advises a few scenarios on data roaming depending on whether or not a deal is secured. But, fundamentally, the UK government has committed to capping data roaming charges in a worse-case (no deal) scenario.
- Will flights still operate?
UK citizens can be reassured that regardless of the Brexit outcome planes will still fly between the UK and the EU: if a deal is agreed then we will be in a transition period, meaning everything will stay the same until the end of December 2020 and flights will continue as normal. Even if we are in a no-deal scenario, the European Commission has said that UK airlines will still be able to operate flights between the UK and the EU. The UK government has offered similar assurances for EU airlines.
- What happens if I book to travel after 29 March 2019 and my holiday cannot go ahead due to Brexit?
There is nothing to suggest that you will not be able to continue with your holiday plans after 29 March. Even in a no-deal scenario, the European Commission has said flights to and from the UK will still be able to operate.
If you book a package holiday, your holiday will be protected under the Package Travel Regulations, meaning you have a right to a full refund if your holiday can no longer be provided.
The UK Government has confirmed that the Package Travel Regulations will remain in the UK law when the UK leaves the EU.
Thinking of taking your dog to France on holiday with you? Read our essential guide here…
CHRISTMAS is a time for traditions – but expatriates in France will have noticed several differences between the French way of doing things and what they have been used to.
Here are just a few ways Christmas in France may be just a little different…
Although Christmas cards are available in shops, French people are generally not in the habit of sending greetings cards at Christmas, except perhaps to distant family members.
Instead, they send cards after New Year and often late into January, wishing family and friends “Meilleurs voeux”.
The Christmas tree, or sapin de Noël, first appeared in Sélestat, Alsace, in the early 16th century, when it became the first town in France to authorise the felling of evergreen trees for Christmas.
As well as bringing seasonal cheer to many homes, Christmas trees also decorate town centres and shop exteriors. Many houses, churches and schools will have a crib scene.
One “Advent” tradition peculiar to Provence dictates that moist wheat from the previous harvest is placed in three cups to germinate in celebration of Saint Barbara’s day on December 4. The green shoots are decorated for Christmas table. Many boulangeries in the south sell sachets of seeds in dishes for charity.
The main feast in France is le Réveillon, on Christmas Eve, when families sit down together for several hours. Unlike the UK, where turkey and Brussels sprouts are traditional, there is no fixed Christmas menu – but delicacies such as oysters and foie gras often make an appearance.
The bûche de Noël cake was first created in France in the 1800s by a pâtissier – from Lyon, Paris or Monaco depending on the story – and pays homage to the tradition of burning a yule log during the festive period.
The bûche was known as the suche in Bourgogne, Etéau-nedelecq in Brittany, tronche in Franche-Comté, tréfeu or tréfouet in Normandy, choque in Picardy and tison de Noël in Poitou-Charentes.
At the end of the meal, a candle may be left burning for the Virgin Mary. In Provence, the meal concluded with treize desserts – 13 little dishes, the number representing Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper.
The galette des rois – a regular sight in shops at this time of year – is eaten at Epiphany (January 6). This pastry cake is baked with a hidden “bean” or inside. Whoever finds it in their slice becomes king for the day.
Unlike the UK, where children traditionally hang stockings at the end of their bed for Santa on Christmas Eve, in France children have historically left their shoes by the fireplace for Père Noël to fill with gifts such as sweets, fruits, nuts and small toys.
Père Noël also visits schools and Christmas markets in towns and communes, telling stories and bringing gifts for the children. – See more at: http://www.connexionfrance.com/france-christmas-traditions-cards-pere-noel-food-tree-16469-news-article.html#sthash.KBpRTMax.dpuf
New – look out for our new special offer emails featuring deals across a range of family-friendly gites in France.
As well as our top posts on all things France (from driving licence rules to taking pets abroad) you’ll also benefit from our latest deals as we have them.
Escape to Charente, Saint-Front, Charente
3-bed luxury gite with pool, BBQ, free bikes and ponies.
Extra 5% discount, can be used with other offers we have, July / August £1200 per week without discount.
Emerald coast gites, Cotes d’Armor
7 high quality 1-4 bed gites & glaming lodges with pool, bar & play areas
25% discount on all June holidays when quoting France for Families.
Imagine Roussillon, Canet-en-Roussillon
High quality baby & child-friendly apartments with pool, Jacuzzi & gym
20% reduction for 4-18 June. when quoting France for Families.
La Bigorre Holiday Cottages, Saint Germain du Seudre
4 holiday cottages 30 minutes from Royan beaches, with pool, free bikes & games area.
June and September – 10% off all bookings when quoting France for Families.
Deux-Sevres , L’Absie, Deux-Sevres
3 child-friendly gites wit pool, games, private patios with BBQ.
15% off June breaks when quoting France for Families.
Tournesol Gite, Pampelonne, Tarn
3 gites with private patio & BBQ, pool overlooking valley, games, fine dining options.
Offer – Sat July 23rd to Sat July 30th – price £800 instead of £895 when quoting France for Families.
From luxury villas to practical apartments and authentic gites to camping and mobile home holidays, we feature a variety of family-friendly accommodation here at France for Families.
Which holiday in France would suit you? Take a look at our suggestions below and see which one would be your favourite.
A touch of luxury…
Check out the Luxury Vendee Villa for a high-end spacious child-friendly holiday.
This high quality accommodation in western France offers luxurious living in a private paradise within easy reach of a good selection of activities. There’s a welcoming village with shops and restaurant in walking distance plus family-friendly sandy beaches within a convenient drive through the French countryside.
The Villa sleeps 14 plus young children in 7 bedrooms with 6 bathrooms. There’s free Wi-fi and French / UK sky Television plus a games room with pool table & games.
Perhaps best of all is a private heated salt-water swimming pool and peaceful private gardens with south facing veranda.
And right now, Luxury Vendee Villa has a special offer on summer holidays:
Saturday 15th July – Saturday 22nd July was £4450 NOW £3750 (£38 per person per night based on 14 people)
Saturday 26th August – Saturday 2nd September was £5450 NOW £4750 (£48 per person per night based on 14 people)
Find out more about Luxury Vendee Villa here >>>
Budget mobile home and camping
Holidaying on a budget? We’ve just taken on a new partner, One France, who has three private mobile homes for rent on the campsite Les Amiaux, a 4 star site located in St Jean de Monts, in the Vendee region of France.
This campsite is one of the best in the area with many facilities and is safe for children. Les Amiaux facilities include individual private mobile home plots with parking, 3 swimming pools (1 indoor with child pool, 1 outdoor with kiddies splash pool & 1 water chute pool 4 slides). Plus there are tennis courts, table tennis, games room, shop (with U.K. newspapers), a laundry, bar, restaurant, take-away, cycle hire, crazy golf, play areas, sand pits, boules court, basketball and a five-a-side football pitch and more.
The mobiles homes for hire all offer patio tables, chairs, parasol, sun-loungers, reclining chairs and a gas or charcoal BBQ’s. Each plot receives plenty of sunshine and shade during the day. Internally all are fully equipped with full gas cookers, water heaters, microwave ovens, fridge/freezer, electric kettle, duvets, pillows, and bathrooms with W.C. wash basin and shower unit.
The 3 bedroom vans have a double bedroom, and 2 x twin rooms. The two bedroom vans has a double bedroom, and one twin bedroom and double/single make up bed in the living area to accommodate up to 6 persons.
Each has a DVD player and television set on which you can play and watch recorded DVD’s and play CD’s.
John from One France is offering these caravans at great prices, starting from just £125 per week per caravan in low season (September) and from just £495 in the main school summer holidays.
Find out more here or you can email John direct on email@example.com for more info and to book.
Stylish apartments and resorts
If you like the idea of a family-friendly resort in France with plenty of facilities on site, but prefer an apartment or house to stay in then check out Pierre & Vacances.
They tend to offer a large choice of fully equipped accommodation such as apartments with balcony or terrace, house with garden or Provencal-style cottage.
On their resorts they feature swimming pool complexes with wave pools, slides, diving pools etc – plenty to keep the kids entertained! Plus there are a variety of children’s clubs on offer to suit various age ranges. These tend to be quite French orientated, perfect if you want to immerse yourself into the French way of life and avoid many of the ‘Brits abroad’ campsites and holiday parks.
One family-friendly holiday resort we like the look of is Holiday Village Normandy Garden in Branville
Two hours from Paris, and less than 15 km from the beaches of Deauville, Cabourg and Villers-sur-Mer, the Normandy Garden holiday village is located in the heart of the Pays d’Auge, a stud farming region. Built in a beautiful, rolling 12-hectare resort, it features houses and apartments in a traditional Normandy style.
The 12-hectare resort is made up of 4 pedestrianised areas with houses and apartments:
– The Garden Club area has ground-level, Superior-range houses with terraces and spreads out from the center of the village where the reception, bar, restaurant, mini-market and water parks are located.
– The Pommeraie area is located near the entrance to the Holiday Village. It comprises the “Superior” range duplex houses with lovely façades and wooden terraces.
– The Hameau area has been recently renovated and offers apartments with a balcony or loggia and open views of the Normandy woodland.
– The Le Bocage area has semi-detached houses with large balconies.
On site you can relax in the swimming pool complex, including an indoor and outdoor pool, plus you’ll also find a mini-market and specialty restaurant on site.
Pierre & Vacances is currently offering savings of up to £400. Find out more about Holiday Village Normandy Garden here >>>
Family-friendly gite in the Charente
Prefer a more mid-price range private option?
Head to Le Petit Chêne, a fully modernised three bedroom cottage in the southern Charente.
Situated in a secluded valley close to Aubeterre, arguably one of the prettiest villages in France, this light and comfortable south facing gite has a heated swimming pool plus – height of all modern luxury – a hot tub!
The large solar heated swimming pool measures 11m x 6m with roman steps and a custom built hot tub. Sensor lights automatically illuminate the pool terrace in the evenings as dusk falls and two large roman style pots pour water into the pool.
The cottage is part of an old farm complex it is separate from the main farmhouse and converted barn and has it’s own private garden to the front and side. Fully renovated and all on one level the kitchen/sitting room opens on to the south facing terrace for the sun lovers while at the side of the property is a covered terrace where you can relax in the shade.
The market town of Chalais is a two minute drive away or a twenty minute walk, plus bike hire is available.
Fancy discovering your artistic side? Painting tuition can also be provided during your stay.
Prices start from just £600 per week, you can find out more about Le Petit Chêne here >>>
Auberge & Chalets sur la Montagne offers a hand-picked selection of both luxury and more affordable accommodation at family-friendly Sainte Foy Tarentaise in the heart of the French Alps.
Close to Val d’Isère, Tignes, Les Arcs and La Rosière all our accommodation is equally well-placed for winter skiing or snowboarding holidays and summer walking or cycling holidays.
Easter Ski Holidays – 25% off, free night & free kids lift passes
It’s not too late to book for the Easter holidays! Auberge & Chalets have reduced their prices by 25%, plus giving away free nights.
Pay for a 7-night stay from Saturday April 8th or Sunday April 9th and stay until Easter Monday, or even Tuesday 18th to make the most of the Easter weekend and the last days of the season, and the extra nights are on us!
What’s more for every 6-day adult lift pass bought for Sainte Foy for use between March 25th and April 17th, you can get a free pass for kids aged up to 13!
With these savings, you might want to treat yourselves to our catered service and let our professional staff take care of the cooking and cleaning, leaving you free to relax and enjoy your holiday.
For more information on all our properties or to book, contact our reservations team at
Auberge sur la Montagne
The Auberge sur la Montagne is our owner-run, boutique, catered chalet featuring contemporary design in a rustic setting. It is located in the peaceful alpine village of La Thuile, just 3kms from the resort. There are 5 comfortable bedrooms in the main chalet sleeping up to 15 guests, with additional accommodation for 6 in the adjoining Garden Wing apartment. There is a spacious lounge with well-stocked bar and roaring log fire and a separate Kid’s Den. In the stylish dining room, you’ll be treated to a fine-dining experience with delicious meals freshly-prepared by our highly talented professional chef, Will Manley.
Frontline sur la Montagne
Frontline sur la Montagne is our selection of luxury apartments in the prestigious Balcons de Sainte Foy development. They’re in an enviable ski in – ski out location at the foot of the nursery and sledging slope, right next to the ski school meeting point, and a stone’s throw from the shops. With 1- 4 bedrooms they’re the perfect base for your winter or summer mountain holiday.
Chalets sur la Montagne
Chalets sur la Montagne are a hand-picked selection of more affordable catered and self-catered chalets and apartments in the heart of Sainte Foy resort and Sainte Foy village.
Ranging from bijou Marquise sleeping 4, to the spacious Great Escape sleeping 14, you’re sure to find your perfect holiday accommodation.
Wherever you choose to stay you’ll benefit from our personal service, attention to detail, and the experience that comes with over 20 years of ensuring that our guests enjoy their holidays to the full.
The team at Auberge & Chalets sur la Montagne can help take the strain out of organising your holiday by pre-booking the following for you: transfers, instruction or guiding, equipment rental, lift passes, childcare. They can help you make the most of your holiday by making things easier during your stay too. They can advise on local restaurants and make bookings for you; book après-ski activities, a soothing massage or spa treatment; order a birthday cake or have fresh flowers delivered for that special occasion.
Whatever your request, the resort team will be happy to help. Find out more about Auberge & Chalets sur la Montagne >>>
France do theme parks differently. Way differently. Here we’ve described the biggest and most popular across France.
Description Mix the London Science Museum with Thorpe Park and you’ve got Futuroscope.
Who’s it for? All the family, possibly older children over 8 will enjoy it more.
Rides This futuristic theme park celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017. It has themed rides that appeal to the thrill seekers, such as the new Jules Verne inspired ride. The only flight motion platform in Europe, Futuroscope has created a ‘technology-leading attraction system that combines a 90° tilting platform and a 6K film showing a mix of real and computer-generated 3D images on a 6,450- ft2 surround screen to bring visitors the ultimate immersive experience of flying like a bird around the world.’
What’s so special? What the French do well is the evening show at most theme parks and every evening show is included in the price of admission.. For example the aquatic fairytale evening show from Cirque du Soleil is a big-bang blend of visual, aquatic and pyrotechnical effects. The constellation of fairytale scenes tells the story of a young real girl who meets a virtual giant with his feet on the ground and his head in the stars.
Does it cater for the UK guest? We can recommend this French attraction even if you don’t speak French. Some attractions are translated via headsets which you can borrow free of charge, just bring your own headphones or you can hire headphones, and other attractions don’t require translations.
Where is it? Futuroscope is located near the Atlantic coast, in the Poitou-Charentes region (newly renamed Nouvelle Aquitaine), between the Loire Valley and the Vendée. You’ll pass it when driving down the main roads in western France, heading down to the Vendee, Charente and Bordeaux etc.
Cost: Tickets start form 40 euros for adults and 36 euros for children. You can book in advance on line.
Name: Disneyland Paris
Description All singing, all dancing theme park featuring very well known Disney characters, rides, shows and shops. Lots of shops.
Who’s it for? Disney is probably aimed at the under 10’s, but I know couples who go, plus teenage children to mature couples. Disney is all encompassing! It has a great mix of everything – the rids are exciting for the teens, but toddlers and younger kids will love the gentle rides and meeting the characters in Fantasyland. But it’s not just the rides – it’s the whole experience, the sights and sounds, parades and light shows that create the place ‘where dreams come true’, as the publicity blurb says.
There are two theme parks – Disney Studios and Disney Park as well as the Disney Village that is accessible free of charge.
Rides: Disneyland Paris has 58 attractions (or rides), built to suit tots to teenagers. The top ride as voted for by their visitors are
1. It’s a Small World (Fantasyland)
2. Space Mountain (Discoveryland)
3. Big Thunder Mountain (Frontierland)
4. Pirates of the Caribbean (Adventureland)
5. Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast (Discoveryland)
If you have younger children they will be desperate to meet the characters. You’ll be able to come into close contact at Fantasyland where characters wander round and there is an extremely popular meet and greet a Disney princess. Head to Mickey’s Café in Disney Village and Buffalo Bill’s live Wild West show in Disney Village to see them perform and all the hotels in Disney Village have a daily slot for meeting the characters. Buffalo Bill’s show is highly recommended – a lively action show on horseback!
What’s so special? The couple of times I’ve visited I found the welcome and the customer service to be top-notch. Even from driving into the immaculate car park, to the hotel welcome to entering the park, the welcomes are warm and the organisation is outstanding.
Don’t get me wrong, the merchandise shops on every corner will drive you insane after a couple of days, but set the expectations of your children early and you’ll be ok! Plus the food on offer in the park is pretty dire – all expensive fast food. Eat a hearty breakfast and take snacks if you don’t want to be dependent on pizza and chips.
The whole Disney experience is sensory overload and towards the end of the day the park starts to resound with the whining of over-tired children, so pace yourself. On a day trip you can only see the highlights; in three or four days you could see pretty much everything and do your favourite rides more than once. Consider hiring a buggy even if your child is used to walking.
Does it cater for the UK guest? Very well, the best of all the theme parks. Being an American attraction in France, all customer service staff is bi-lingual to a very high standard.
Where is it? Located near Marne-la-Vallée to the east of Paris and reached from central Paris via the RER suburban train (line A).
Cost: Tickets start from £36 per adult and £30 for children in low season (2017 prices). . You can book in advance on line.
Name: Puy du Fou
Description A theme park like no other, Puy du Fou is made up of a series of spectacular live action shows which are steeped in the History of Man. Thousands of actors and animals recreate high drama, from Roman gladiators to King Arthur, with mind-blowing special effects.
Who’s it for? It will amaze and entertain all age groups.
Rides? Rides? Where you’re going you won’t need rides…
What’s so special? The title ‘theme park’ is misleading if you want rides and adrenaline rushes.
However, if you want to explore historic villages, towns, and cities with craftspeople working in recreated situations, be entertained by breathtaking shows and aerial bird shows then this is the place for you.
This fabuous park has been voted best theme park in the World! Most Brits have never heard of it, but it is France’s second most popular theme park after Disneyland Paris and it’s had phenominal success.
If you’re visiting then you must book the Cinéscenie, a spectacular performance by more than 1000 actors, which takes place on selected Friday and Sunday nights.
The key difference is the lack of commercialism compared to other parks. There aren’t shops on every corner trying to sell you tat. There are no stressful or boring ride queues. The woodland and gardens that make up the setting allow the luxury of a relaxing and fun day.
Mind you, the queues leaving at the end of the night may take a while to negotiate.
Does it cater for the UK guest? Because all the attractions are so visual, it becomes an easy attraction to enjoy and understand. The website is a bit limited in English and staff on park seem to speak enough to get by. Don’t let this put you off though – it’s a must-see attraction!
Where is it? In western France, the Vendee, address 85590 LES EPESSES
Cost: Grand Parc tickets start from 23 euros, Grand Parc and Cinescenie tickets start from 54 euros. . You can book in advance on line.
Name: Park Asterix
Description: Great French theme park with fun Asterix themed rides and a good alternative to Disneyland Paris.
Who’s it for? It feels more mature than Disney so suits teens and adults. INpsired by the Asterix comic books, the theme park has sparks of humour that appeal to adults, while managing to be thoroughly entertaining for young children too.
Rides: Expect water splashes everywhere! There’s plenty of Asterix themed rides from carousel where you get to sit in Obelix’s bottom, plus the dizzying Druidic cauldron and the Menhir Express, a flume ride in which you sit in a mock prehistoric standing stone (Obelix, of course, is a menhir delivery man). Other attractions have a Roman theme. Le Défi de César is wacky – and great fun.
What’s so special? Parc Asterix feels nicely quirky in a lovely French way. Meeting the roly-poly Obelix and the diminutive Asterix is a highlight – they hang out and pose for photos amid the thatched huts of their Gaulish village, alongside other splendidly costumed, life-size characters, such as Unhygienix the bellicose fishmonger and Vitalstatistix the obese chief. Decorative touches in the village include flowerpots made from Roman helmets.
Does it cater for the UK guest? In contrast with Disneyland Paris, it makes little or no linguistic concessions in its attractions and shows to non-French speakers. However the hosts are very friendly and they give good support.
Where is it? It is located an hour or so from Paris. 60128 Plailly, France
Cost Tickets start from 41 euros for an adult and 38 euros for a child (2017 pricing) . You can book in advance on line.
Discover our top gites in the Charente – a fabulous family-friendly area of France and personally recommended by France for Families
We’ve recently welcomed some new properties onto France for Families, so check out some highlights in the beautiful region of the Dordogne, in the Aquitaine region of France.
These gites in France all have a unique character, whilst sharing this gorgeous location. Suitable for families or couples or even a group of friends enjoying a holiday together in France, this range of gites and holiday homes also offers something for all budgets.
The Dordogne is one of the most popular inland destinations for the Brits, due to the stunning medieval castles, historical villages and towns, and the famous prehistoric caves of the UNESCO listed Vezere Valley. Highlights include Sarlat, popularly known as the ‘medieval capital of the Dordogne’, the ancient stone houses along the river at La Roque-Gageac and Chateau de Montfort, a fairytale castle on a hill a few kilometres from Sarlat.Why choose the Dordogne for your holiday to France? Check out more about the Dordogne region here.
Maine de la Garde
Saint Martin de Riberac
4 bedroom, sleeps 6
£500 – £900 per week
There’s great emphasis on the outdoors, with a 12m x 5m heated pool, and two and a half acres of garden and hilltop meadow, surrounded by fields and woods – so lots of space for children to run around.
It’s a remarkably peaceful location, yet close to Ribérac with its famous market and all the amenities you need. Great for painting, walking, cycling, canoeing, or just relaxing and enjoying the many and varied delights of the region.
Find out more about Maine de la Garde here >>>
Les Chardonnerets Luxury Gites
2 bedroom, sleeps 6
£325 – £875
This beautiful selection of gites in the Dordogne offer you everything you need for a relaxing holiday.
These 5 individually designed gites are each furnished and equipped to the same high standard but with their own unique charm.
Features that you will enjoy as standard in all of the accommodation include:
• Fully equipped kitchens including dishwasher, microwave, washing machine, coffee maker and toaster
• Comfortable living areas with lounge furniture and log fires.
• English TV and radio as well as a DVD and CD player.
• Private patio & garden area with garden furniture and BBQ provided.
• Toilet facilities upstairs and down.
• Central heating for year-round comfort.
Plus the all important internet access!
Find out more about Les Chardonnerets gites here >>>
La Roche Chabrelle – Papillon
Bedroom 4 Sleeps 6
From £345 ato £995 per week
Three of the gites are near to the heated 12 x 6 swimming pool, the other, Papillon, is more secluded with a private garden.
There are plenty of walks and cycle rides on the doorstep, canoeing on the nearby river Dronne and many cafes bars and restaurants just a short drive away. Brantome, the nearest town is known as the Venice of the Dordogne and has an excellent market.
Papillon is an exceptional Gîte with a very well equipped fitted kitchen including cooker, fridge, freezer , dishwasher and microwave. The beautiful large vaulted and beamed sitting room overlooks the garden. There are two twin bedrooms and one double bedroom. Bathroom with bath and shower. Washing machine. Separate WC. Private garden with terrace, garden furniture and BBQ. The kitchen/diner has a wood burning stove. Bed linen and a generous welcome pack are provided. Free Internet access is available as is UK & French TV, subject to availability.
This is a paradise for children who love having the freedom of five acres to play in. There are swings, a badminton net, a small football pitch and a cricket rebound net and a games cave with table tennis and table football. There is also have a troglodyte cave on site which was inhabited during medieval times.
Find out more about La Roche Chabrelle here >>>
3 bedrooms, sleeps 5
£350 to £695 per week
Les Charmettes is a beautifully restored French farmhouse within easy reach of Perigueux in the Dordogne.
Surrounded by meadows and trees, the house offers all creature comforts and privacy, where you can either chill or explore the nearby towns of Les Eyzies, Le Bugue, Sarlat, Lascaux, to name a few.
The gite itself caters for nature lovers with a wide range of animals and birds from hares to hawks and buzzards, and many varieties of wild flowers and butterflies.
The gite offers the following:
• Comfortably accommodating two couples or a family of four, the gite is light and airy.
• Well appointed kitchen with hob, oven, fridge, dishwasher.
• UK & French TV is available as is free WiFi connectivity.
• Off the kitchen is the master bedroom, which has its own ensuite bathroom.
• Off the main hallway is another double bedroom with its own loo/shower.
• The upstairs twin bedroom has a beautiful view over the meadow.
• The tiled floor has u/f heating for winter lets.
• Outside there is a rear patio for private sunbathing, and the terraced deck offers an excellent al fresco dining area for BBQ cooking or breakfast outside; overlooking the paddock.
• Pets are welcome.
Find out more about Les Charmettes gite here >>>
Le Magnolia Chambres d’Hotes (B&B)
3 bedrooms, sleeps 6
55 euro to 75 euro per night
This bed and breakfast gite is nestled in a quiet corner of the little village of Cubas, yet with very easy access to many towns, including Excideuil, Hautefort and Perigeux.
The beautiful Maison de Maitre has been fully renovated to provide a very high standard of accommodation whilst remaining cosy. The large garden offers somewhere to relax or run around, depending on your age! The gite is within easy walking distance of two fantastic restaurants, a bar, butcher, baker, doctor, pharmacy and post office and three minutes walk brings you to the river and canoeing facilities.
All three of the bedrooms are arranged around a guest landing which makes us particularly suitable to families. If you were to book all three rooms you would effectively be able to keep bedroom doors open which helps when you have little ones! A full continental breakfast is included in all prices which are per room, per night.
Find out more about Le Magnolia B&B here >>>
Dormouse, Pont de Fournil
Saint Laurent des Hommes
1 bedroom, sleeps 4
220 – 270 per week
In the heart of the Dordogne lies the picturesque Pont de Fournil, a beautifully tranquil campsite with holiday gites.
Nestling amongst the trees on an 8-acre site are six pitches with electric emplacements with hook-ups and choice of hard standing and tree shade, and three charming chalets. Both with a stunning views of the River Isle, which flows serenely past creating an enchanting setting for a perfectly relaxing holiday in the Dordogne.
You can be as laid back or energetic as you like, either lounging round the swimming pool or making full use of the tennis court. There is also a three acre fishing lake on site.
The Dormouse gite sleeps 2/3, this smaller gite is ideal for couples, or people who are looking for a longer stay (great savings to be made ….the longer you stay the less you pay) with lovely views over the River. The accommodation comprises of one double bedroom with ensuite toilet and shower, an open plan lounge and kitchenette with sofa bed plus an
outside terrace with patio set.
Find out more about Pont de Fournil here >>>
Razac de Saussignac
4 bedrooms, sleeps 10
£1000 – £3000 per week
La Grange Sud is a stunning farmhouse gite in the Western Dordogne, close to the pretty towns of Bergerac, Duras and Eymet.
The villa is easily accessible by car being six hours from Caen and St Malo ferry ports – (guests receive a 20% discount with Brittany Ferries).
This holiday property offers space for solitude as well as communal areas for socialising, and has many interests for the very young as well as older guests.
Facilities include a very affordable optional chef with a range of dining experiences, heated pool with retractable cover, complimentary WIFI, UK satellite TV with full sports package, air conditioning, safes, supersize trampoline, plasma TV, hundreds of DVD’s, large selection of new bikes and helmets in 3 sizes, golf trolleys, clubs and bags, book library, board games, flat screen TV’s in bedrooms.
A heated pool is at the centre of the private pool area. A retractable cover and night lighting ensures the pool can be enjoyed continuously from Easter to the end of October, with a guaranteed minimum temperature of 24 degrees.
Guests can choose whether to relax by the pool, enjoy a range of beauty treatments without leaving the farmhouse, cycle through the large network of quiet lanes, taste the famous local wines of St Emilion and Monbazillac, visit the colourful Issigeac market, enjoy canoeing and go karting, sample the delights of L’Imparfait in Bergerac, one of the many wonderful restaurants, or enjoy a peaceful round of golf at Chateau Vigiers, followed by a golfers massage at the house – La Grange Sud is a wonderful holiday venue with something for everyone at any time of the year!
Find out more about La Grange Sud here >>>
6 bedrooms, sleeps 16
£1200 to £4500 per week
Welcome to Acabanes – a large, luxury holiday home, in a beautiful area of the Western Dordogne, South West France; close to the pretty towns of Bergerac, Duras and Eymet. For golf enthusiasts, it is 4 miles from Chateau Vigiers.
With six bedrooms and four en suite bathrooms, the villa can accommodate ten adults and six small children. Ideal for family groups and extremely child friendly but also perfect for couples wanting a romantic break. Acabanes has been successfully dog friendly for 15 letting seasons, with an enclosed two acre garden and fantastic traffic free walks from the doorstep.
The villa offers room for solitude in addition to spacious communal areas for socialising, and accommodates the very young as well as older guests with limited mobility.
Extensive facilities are provided for all interests; fast speed WIFI, 50” plasma, full satellite TV, Air Con in all upstairs bedrooms, laptop safe, championship pool table, kids snooker table, table football, trampoline, table tennis, racket sports, vast selection of DVDs, gym, infra red sauna, large selection of bikes, Wendy House, sand pit, toddler plastic cutlery & crockery, high chairs, push chairs, cots, Four Poster bed, football goals, play area, hammocks, sun loungers, hairdryers, tea/coffee in bedrooms, book library, board games, gaming table, Viners cutlery, Denby crockery, Le Creuset, Weber BBQ’s.
The 11 x 5 m private, saltwater heated pool has a retractable cover and night lighting, and is enjoyed continuously from Easter to the end of October, with a minimum temperature of 24 degrees.
Find out more about Acabanes here >>>
If you’re a keen traveller to France, then it can hardly have escaped your notice that the pound’s value in relation to the euro is not at it’s best.
It’s not quite the car crash of the near-parity experience we had a few years back, but it’s not great.
Even if the money exchange is not your thing, the constant talk of ‘Brexit’ and the instability of everything concerning this will certainly have brought the question of ‘how many euros / dollars can I get for my pound’ into regular conversation.
The question is, what impact will the exchange rate have on holiday-makers making their decision on where to go for 2017? If you want to take the family to France, how much is it going to cost you?
Will 2017 again be the year of the ‘staycation’ where most of the country descends on the somewhat cramped conditions of Cornwall or are you determined that your family holiday abroad is to be saved at all cost?
There are certainly ways and means of making your money go further so that your family break doesn’t require a second mortgage (although at the current interest rates that’s not such a bad thing).
So here is France for Families guide to making the most of your money for family holidays to France.
1) Buy in £s
It may seem obvious but the biggest spend is going to be the holiday accommodation. We are lucky in the UK that there are many big holiday companies who sell holidays to France in pound sterling. By purchasing in pounds you don’t have to worry about the exchange rate and whether you would get a better deal one day or the next.
2) Buy smart – last minute deals
Here’s a top tip from someone who works in the travel industry (erm, me). The bigger holiday companies always price check against each other, on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. New discounts tend to come out at the beginning of the month when they have assessed how the previous month has done.
The bigger French holiday companies, such as Eurocamp, Siblu Holidays or Pierre & Vacances will have a lot of ‘availability’ (holiday homes) to sell and would much rather it sold that lying empty, so watch out for those last minute bigger discounts.
BENODET BREAKS, BRITTANY
There is still a lot to be said for hanging on to the last-minute if you want a great deal and you aren’t particularly fussy where you go. The only thing you need to be careful of is your ferry crossing. The short sea crossings from Dover to Calais generally have good availability right to the last minute. However the longer western channel crossings from Brittany Ferries tend to get more limited and more expensive the closer it gets to the departure date.
Unfortunately, Brittany Ferries is a French-run company (and I mean that in the nicest way) and the French don’t tend to like discounting. One, they don’t need to because they are the only ferry provider on some routes so it’s their way or the no-way, and secondly because their availability gets booked up quickly.
This is something to bear in mind if you want to book a last-minute holiday to western Brittany, you could have a long drive from the Calais or Dunkirk.
3) Buy smart – French Gites
So, there are the big companies that are highly competitive on holiday accommodation and there are small privately owned companies who run their own campsites or gites.
If you are after a gite holiday to France, the tricky thing here is that they are sold on an individual basis. So if you like the look of a particular holiday home, you need to consider booking fast and in advance otherwise you will be disappointed.
So, how do you buy smartly for a French gite holiday?
LUXURY VENDEE VILLA, VENDEE
Firstly, many French gites are owned and operated by Brits, you’ll find many of them listed on franceforfamilies.com. This goes back to point 1 – find out if you can pay for the accommodation in pounds as oppose to euros. You may find that they have UK bank accounts that you can transfer money into, thus saving you money on UK to France bank transfer fees as well as potentially losing on the exchange rate.
Secondly any French gite worth it’s ‘sel’ (salt!) will have a listing on that well-known review site. Yes, TripAdvisor, that’s the one. Check it out. Read the reviews. Balance the negatives against the positives. If they have a nice four-star rating based on a good number of reviews you’re going to get value for money.
If the gite you’re interested in has good reviews then you probably need to get in quick and here is where booking in advance can do you a favour. If you book a year in advance it the owners will probably sell at the current years price. They will be keen to secure an early booking and so be inclined to give you an early booking discount. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but do remember that most gite owners are independents and certainly with owners on our website, they are there for the love of France and to share that love with you. Don’t be too mean!
Top tip for your cross-channel ferry– many gite owners have a discount arrangement with Brittany Ferries and may pass on this discount to you – always check when booking.
4) Pools & stuff
So you’ve found the type of holiday that you want, whether a traditional French gite or an all singing and dancing holiday park and you have decided on the accommodation you like.
Next thing to think about is the family. And by family I mean the children. Yes, the old adage “if the kids are happy then I’m happy” certainly comes into play for a holiday.
What is it that the kids need on holiday that will stop them hounding you day and night with their declarations of boredom? And most importantly, is it included in the price?
Holiday parks operated by Siblu offer ‘fun passes’ with their holidays, which give you access to their pool complexes, bars and restaurants. Their holiday parks or campsites in France tend to be quite full on with daytime and evening entertainment. Great for kids of all ages, but in particular older children and teenagers who love to get involved in clubs and activities such as football. You can basically kick them out of the mobile home in the morning and just welcome them back at mealtimes.
SIBLU LES CHARMETTES
Great for you to sit on the sunlounger and finish War and Peace. Or Fifty Shades. Or whatever the latest blockbuster is.
If you prefer something a little less ‘sociable’ and more private, then look for gites with private pools, or at least shared with just a few other people. These can very much suit the family just looking to get away from it all and relax in peace.
Some gites also offer games rooms, outdoor play areas with equipment such as trampolines etc, so check that out when booking. Although bouncing on a trampoline in thirty-degree heat may not appeal to you, it’s amazing what a ten year old still enjoy
5) Book with friends and families
There are lots of holiday homes and gites in France that cater for large groups, with places having up to twelve bedrooms for example or sleeping up to twenty-five!
Holidays are a great time for families to come together in a ‘neutral zone’, i.e. you’re not invading anyone’s home space. The biggest advice I can ever offer (with plenty of experience) is that you always seem to get on better with your in-laws in a home that isn’t your own. Or their own. And on holiday.
CHATEAUX LE SEGUIN, CHARENTE
And of course the great thing is you can share costs.
You can search on franceforfamilies.com by number of bedrooms and number of ‘sleepers’. (Just saying).
6) The dreaded tolls
If you’re heading from Calais in a direction due south, there’s no avoiding the toll roads. Well there is, but we wouldn’t really recommend it, your journey will become twice as long. If you want to know more about toll costs, read our handy gude here.
A handy tip for tolls is to pay on a credit card that you can use abroad free of charge. I have used a Nationwide credit card and a pre-paid credit card from the Post Office. Believe me, there is nothing worse that using a credit card which charges you an extra £3 each time you swipe it at a toll booth.
So find a good no-charge card and use that. It’s quicker than fumbling around for French change and you’ll get through the toll booths quicker.
Alternatively, here’s something to think about. There are very few toll roads in the west of France. Virtually none in Brittany and very few down through the Vendee and Charente. If you catch a cross-channel ferry from Portsmouth to Le Harve, Cherbourg or St Malo for example, you can travel around Brittany toll free.
7) Holiday shopping
Sorry I don’t mean the interesting stuff like bikini’s and new beach shoes. These are the essentials that you buy when you are on holiday, like beer and wine. And food.
I don’t know about you, but I was always a bit snobby when it came to Lidl and Aldi. (Did you know that both these companies are owned by brothers who had an argument and went their separate ways in the food supermarket industry?). However, Lidl in France was a bit of a revelation. When you can tear yourself away from the wonder of a new DIY cement mixer or three blankets for three euros in this local supermarket, you will discover some very nice food at extremely good prices.
The meat section is especially good, with some good BBQ items, perfect for that French gite al fresco experience and a range of nice cheap beers and surprisingly drinkable wine.
For the kids, you can do no better than to buy twenty-four ice-creams that are very similar to Magnums for a princely sum of about three euros. (I may have exaggerated slightly for dramatic purposes, but they are still great value).
8) Eating out
Eating out in France hasn’t been a cheap option for some time. But a holiday to France isn’t a real holiday without trying to work out what on earth steak tartare is, so here’s some handy tips:
- Look for a ‘formule’ deal, which is a French set menu. You may see a 10 / 12 / 15 ‘formule’ that offers a starter, main and desert. This will a more limited choice, but often good food.
- The restaurant will probably make up for lost profits with expensive soft drinks so if you can avoid the Fanta and Coke and see if you can make do with either water (free) or a ‘syrup’ – a cordial juice with water.
- House wine in France is much more palatable than house wine in the UK, so don’t be afraid to order a ‘carafe’ of the local tipple. It’s cheaper and tastes fine.
- The very touristy places on the sea front or by a harbour have a tendency not to be very good in my experience. Overpriced and poor food quality. So head inland slightly and you’ll find restaurants that work that little bit harder for your custom.
So here are some handy euro-busting tips from France for Families. Hope they prove useful for your next family holiday to France!
La Caillère-Saint-Hilaire, Vendée, Pays de la Loire
This beautiful French gite offers a modern interior with tasteful furnishings throughout, being newly built and set in two acres of peaceful private grounds, providing garden space for all the family.
It benefits from a south facing sun terrace and a gorgeous heated salt-water pool.
It sleeps 14 plus babies in 7 bedrooms with 6 bathrooms, including 2 master suites with ensuite & private balcony/terrace.
A welcoming village with shops and restaurant are within easy walking distance. Breathtaking sand stretched beaches within a convenient drive through the French countryside. Offering all year round accommodation, modern technology, highly insulated with underfloor heating throughout
Prices start from £3450 to £4950 per week. Find out more about Luxury Vendee Villa.
Razac-de-Saussignac, Dordogne, Aquitaine
The location is a golfers heaven as the villa overlooks the fairways of Vigiers, one of the best golf resorts in the South West of France.
With four en suite luxury bedrooms, the villa can accommodate up to eight adults, two children and two infants.
Facilities include a very affordable optional chef with a range of dining experiences, heated pool with retractable cover, complimentary WIFI, UK satellite TV with full sports package, air conditioning, safes, supersize trampoline, plasma TV, hundreds of DVD’s, large selection of new bikes and helmets in 3 sizes, golf trolleys, clubs and bags, book library, board games, flat screen TV’s in bedrooms.
A heated pool is at the centre of the private pool area. A retractable cover and night lighting ensures the pool can be enjoyed continuously from Easter to the end of October, with a guaranteed minimum temperature of 24 degrees.
Guests can choose whether to relax by the pool, enjoy a range of beauty treatments without leaving the farmhouse, cycle through the large network of quiet lanes, taste the famous local wines of St Emilion and Monbazillac, visit the colourful Issigeac market, enjoy Canoeing and go karting, sample the delights of L’Imparfait in Bergerac, one of the many wonderful restaurants, or enjoy a peaceful round of golf at Chateau Vigiers, followed by a golfers massage at the house – La Grange Sud is a wonderful holiday venue with something for everyone at any time of the year!
Holidays at La Grange Gite, Dordogne start from £1000 per week.
Vilallonga dels Monts, Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon
The character French Farmhouse sleeps 10 + cots. 5 bedrooms & 4 bathrooms. You have exclusive use swimming pool and private garden.
There are also smaller gites available in the same grounds, sleeping 2 to 32 +
Cots, ideal for large families, Anniversaries, Special Occasions, Group / Activity Holidays / Zumba-BootCamp (Health & Fitness).
Lignan-de-Bordeaux, Gironde, Aquitaine
Take over this superb castle of the eighteenth century fully renovated as holiday cottage.
Just 15 kms from the center of Bordeaux, its location in the heart of a vineyard of 170 hectares is simply perfect!
With 6 bedrooms, all equipped with a bathroom, and many rooms with high volume (veranda, lounge, games room and reading room, billiard room, large kitchen, dining room), the castle can accommodate up to 13 people.
You can also relax in the swimming pool and take your tackle down to the private fishing lake.
Holidays at Château de Sequin start from £417 per night.
Catus, Lot, Midi-Pyrénées
Pagan offers a cluster of 9 gites and lodges in the Lot, Midi-Phyrénées.
Perfect for family holidays with young children, you’ll find an abundance of baby/toddler and children’s toys and facilities including pools, playbarn, pirate ship, teepee, fort and all in the most beautiful garden setting.
Gardens and pools are fully enclosed so the kids can run free whilst parents have a truly relaxing break meeting like-minded families who are all about creating magical family moments.
In each child and baby friendly gite/self catering apartment we provide all possible practical items that a Mum or Dad could want in a home from home, so you can relax knowing that the bed guard, baby monitor or steriliser or indeed anything you ask for, is provided. The toy box and English books allow us to move away from placing televisions in the gites and holiday friends encourage interactive play. Child friendly holidays in France are rarely this practical and magical for kids and adults alike.
For adults we offer a ‘Chef for the Night’ service, a weekly BBQ, massages, manicures and pedicures, mid stay cleans, welcome baskets, wine, adult seating areas, shaded areas with sofas near the pool, English baby sitters and COOK food.
You can holiday in France at Pagel from £960 per week.
Belvès, Dordogne, Aquitaine
Peyrecraty offers nine beautiful cottages in the Dordogne.
These fully equipped detached houses, farmhouses and French Villas each have a garden, barbecue & alfresco dining areas.
They are surrounded by fields, meadows, orchards and woodland with wonderful views across the valley and countryside.
Facilities include a heated pool (28°) and paddling pool, an indoor toy barn, adventure playground, sand play area, toys, bikes, climbing frames, slides. For the grown ups you can have a go at tennis, badminton, table tennis, football, pétanque.
There is a bar on the grounds plus a weekly barbecue. Croissants are delivered fresh each day for breakfast plus you can head to the bar for freshly brewed coffee served in the mornings
There’s also free Wi-Fi and extra services such as massage and babysitting.
Domaine de Peyrecaty is surrounded by award winning villages (Belves, Beynac, Domme, La Roque Gageac, Castelnaud, Limeuil, Monpazier & St Leon sur Vezere)
Domaine de Peyrecaty from £1125 to £2925 per week
Quistinic, Morbihan, Brittany
LE HELLEGUY is a peaceful hamlet of detached, thatched Breton cottages, nestling in the heart of the beautiful Blavet Valley, in Southern Brittany.
Surrounded by scenic countryside, meadow fields, woodland & quiet country lanes, the hamlet has a lot to offer, including its accommodation in two spacious luxury cottages, LA CHAUMIERE and LA GRANGE
Renting the cottages together under the hamlet name ‘LE HELLEGUY’ provides in total 7 bedrooms (3 king-sized, two of which have en-suite facilities & 4 twins, each with two twin divan beds). One of the master king-sized bedrooms with en-suite facilities is on the ground floor in La Chaumiere – ideal if managing stairs is a problem or if ground floor accommodation is required.
Everything you need is provided including modern facilities such as WIFI internet access, IPod Docking Station, large LCD flat screen TV, HiFi & DVD/Video players.
The undercover heated swimming pool has a security fence enclosing its patio area, sun lounges, cushions & parasols. Outdoor games, swings, slides, table tennis etc. are provided
SPA treatments are also available.
The coast is an easy 30 minute drive to the nearest recommended family beaches
Le Helleguy from £1225 to £3700 per week
Mouzeuil-Saint-Martin, Vendée, Pays de la Loire
With 12 bedrooms and sleeping up to 24, Les Chardonnerets was created from a farmhouse and adjacent barn, joined to form a single property, and provides an ideal holiday venue for large family parties and groups of friends.
Located in the village of Mouzeuil St Martin in the South Vendée, Les Chardonnerets is holiday rental property that is equally appealing to multi-generational and all-adult groups. T
he social heart of Les Chardonnerets is the large kitchen / dining area.
The kitchen is arranged to make catering for large groups easy, with two hobs, two large ovens, two dishwashers, ample fridge space and, of course, plenty of pans & crockery plus tables seating 24 in comfort. Outside, but next to the kitchen is a large covered dining area with a view of the pool.
This also has tables seating 24 (or more!) with a gas BBQ and outdoor “kitchen” including a fridge for al fresco dining. A further charcoal BBQ is available. Off from the kitchen is the smaller of the two sitting rooms. Seating 10, this has TV/DVD (including English language channels) and Hifi equipment plus bookcase and sideboard full of games & toys.
An attractive oak staircase leads from here to five of the 12 bedrooms.
In total the property has seven bath / shower rooms, three of which are en-suite. Les Chardonnerets is a very child-friendly property. Stair gates are fitted top & bottom of staircases. We provide several high chairs, sterilisers, a bottle warmer, change tables and plenty of children’s crockery for your use.
Outside, the large swimming pool (12 by 6m plus a paddling pool to the side for younger children) is heated for comfort and fenced for security. There is a play area with swings, slides, playhouse, trampoline, etc, and plenty of space for games. The rear of the property is enclosed. There is also an enclosed front garden. Car parking is available front and rear for up to ten cars.
Les Chardonnerets from 7200€ to 7200€ per week
An interesting question was posed to me earlier this year… is it possible to take a no-fly family holiday in the south of France?
Answering the question became this year’s summer family holiday.
The children and I discussed the question over supper late one evening in May; whether we jump in the car, or sit back and let the boat or train take the proverbial strain. And at this stage, I’ll be honest with you, I have taken many road trips through France and love exploring the country by road, but the thought of driving 9 hours to the south of France this summer – even with an overnight stop – didn’t thrill me.
So here was the challenge, could we catch the train? How long would it take? Where would we arrive? How much would it cost?
Some research later, our journey was laid out in front of us, London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, taxi transfer to Paris Gare de Lyon and 3 and a half hours later, we’d arrive in Aix-en-Provence.
With both rail journeys booked with Voyages-sncf.com, return via Lille instead of Paris, we set out to plan the rest of our holiday.
Passengers for the 09.30am Eurostar were being called to proceed to check-in when we arrived at St Pancras, spending 10 minutes through security and passport control, left us with enough time to grab a coffee and croissants before boarding. For those of you who have yet to experience the Eurostar, boarding is by a set of escalators that take you up and on to the platform, tickets are always sold with seat reservations so it’s just a case of finding your coach and seats.
My only suggestion to Eurostar would be to find a way to inform passengers on how and where to store their luggage when boarding. I found too many people trying to wedge their cases within the racks at the entrance to the coach, including us, only to find there is more luggage space within the carriage.
My two; my 12 year-old daughter and 10 year-old son, had come prepared with magazines, iPad, phones and headphones and were quite happily passing the time on the train. I had my own passé-temps and quite happy to read. So far so good.
Feeling hungry as we arrived at a busy Paris Nord station at lunchtime, we decided to get a taxi to Gare de Lyon and eat there. Tip: Always ensure you pick up an official taxi from the taxi rank outside the station (turn right as you hit the main concourse from the platform) and ignore the often heard ‘taxi?’. The trip across the city via taxi to the Gare de Lyon is around 20 minutes and costs around 13€. With time to spare we had lunch.
Our TGV from platform thirteen left at 14.19h, a majestic double-decker train with a final destination of Marseille. A smooth ride that left us in Aix-en-Provence at 17.45h – we had arrived in Provence – and just in time to pick up our rental car.
We stayed the night in Aix, a historically important city dating back to Roman times, famous for its natural hot springs and home town of Paul Cézanne and Émile Zola.
We dined that evening in the centre, amongst the Aixois dancing in the streets, sipping pastis or a local rosé before heading off to one of the many restaurants that adorn the Cours Mirabeau.
Our base for our 9-day holiday was the area around the picturesque hilltop village of Fayence, just north of Fréjus. We had booked ourselves a two-storey holiday home within the Domaine de Fayence holiday village run by Lagrange Holidays.
First impressions were of a clean, well-organised, pretty village with multi-coloured houses typical of the area. First stop… the pool, just before they closed for the evening at 8pm. A large pool, perfect for adults and children, swimmers and non-swimmers and lined with palm trees.
Our home slept 6, in 2 bedrooms and a sofa bed in the main lounge. A small kitchen and dining area enabled self-catering and a well-sized terrace allowed us to dine alfresco. With cars parked outside the main village centre, it was quiet and we had no problem sleeping after our day of exploring.
The French Riviera stretches from the border with Italy near Monaco to St Tropez/Hyeres in the west, and it was this area that I wanted my two children to explore and get to know.
During our stay we had lunch in St Tropez, a former 1960-70s ‘jet set’ destination, picked fruit and vegetables to bring home with us from the market in Fréjus; took an evening stroll amongst the lights of St Raphael and discovered Monte-Carlo – the luxurious district of Monaco.
We ventured further into the mountains on a few occasions, taking a dip in the warm aqua blue waters of the Gorges du Verdon and discovered the magnificent medieval village of Chateaudouble. On the one day it rained, we drove to Grasse, famed for its creation of perfumes and visited the workshop of its oldest creator, Fragonard. The workshop is free to enter and a guide explains the process they take to extract oils from plants from the region and around the world to create their famous scents. Did you know there are only 50 ‘noses’ in the world?
Our last full day was saved for Cannes, a personal favourite of mine and it didn’t disappoint. Boulevard de la Croisette looking as beautiful as I remember and the beaches and sea inviting us in – every wave that came in almost apologising for spoiling the tranquility. Driving in, parking and out again does take time, so prepare this time into your day, but it is well worth it.
We had an early start to our departure home, leaving our home in Domaine de Fayence at 7.30am, and catching the TGV from Aix at 9.30 bound for Brussels. This leg of our journey home, from Aix-en-Provence to Lille, was 5 hours in duration and gave me an opportunity to speak to some of our fellow passengers and particularly why they decided to take the train. Amongst many families, we met a Belgian family who live in Los Angeles and who had spent their holidays in the south of France. They were returning to Belgium before flying back to LA. They decided to take the train as a relaxing way for them all to see more of France. We also met a lady on her way home from a yoga retreat who had decided to make the trip by train to extend her relaxation break. A theme was beginning to take hold.
Accommodation: Domaine de Fayence from Lagrange Holidays or call their reservations team on 020 7371 6111. For guidance, prices started from £289/house/week, based on accommodation-only this summer (August 2016).
Book your train journey with Voyages-sncf.com The golden rule with booking rail travel is that the earlier you book, the lower priced the tickets will be. London to Aix en Provence starts from £121 return for adults and from £108 for children under 12 years of age. 12-24 year olds are classed as youths and their lead fare is from £118 return.
Fragonard Workshops: https://www.fragonard.com/en/factories
Taking your dog on holiday to France is really straightforward, provided you follow a few golden rules of the Pet Travel Scheme and prepare in advance.
We find that there are no restrictions and only brief microchip checks when leaving the UK to travel to France; however officials are super-switched on when it comes to checking animals back into the UK.
When you return to the UK staff from the travel company will scan your pet’s microchip and check your documents.
If you don’t have the correct documents or your pet hasn’t been properly prepared it will be put into quarantine or sent back to the country it travelled from and you will have to pay the costs for this.
On one return trip we were held up by officials in France because our dog’s date of birth hadn’t been completed by the vet in his passport. We explained that he was a rescue dog and we didn’t know his birth date, and were only let through because all our other documents were in order. For future trips, we decided it was easier to make up a date of birth rather than run the risk of being turned back.
So when returning to the UK from France your pet needs:
- a microchip (given by a UK vet)
- a rabies vaccination (make sure your pet is micro chipped first or the vaccination won’t count)
- a pet passport (completed by your UK vet and costing between £150 to £250, depending on the size of your dog)
- tapeworm treatment from a vet (for dogs only)
In 2011 the UK government changed the Pet Passport scheme to make it easier for pet owners by allowing dogs to travel just 21 days after having a rabies vaccination rather than wait for six months, and removing the need for a blood test which cost around £100.
After the first vaccination and waiting period, you can enter the UK whenever you like as long as booster rabies vaccinations are given on time.
Visit the French vet before you return home
Once the rabies injection is out the way, and you’ve purchased your pet passport, then you’re on your way. However, there is one vital function you must remember before you return to the UK. You must have your dog treated for tapeworm by a vet, and have this recorded in the pet passport.
The treatment must be given between 1 and 5 days (24 to 120 hours) before you’re scheduled to arrive in the UK. Your vet must record the following details in your dog’s pet passport or certificate:
- the name and manufacturer of the product used to treat your dog
- the date and time they treated your dog
- their stamp and signature
We’ve had this done twice now before coming back to the UK, and it’s all been very easy and straightforward – the vets that we have used know exactly what needs to be done, and how it needs to be recorded. The cost for this is around 35 – 40 Euros and we recommend that you get your appointment booked at the start of your holiday so you have no last minute panics trying to find an available vet!
Best operator experience
We’ve used Eurotunnel to travel with our dog, and have been impressed with their service. There are enclosed dog exercise areas on both the UK and French sides so your mutt can stretch his legs before travel, and during the journey he simply stays in the car with you, so no need to leave him on his own at any time.
P&O and Brittany Ferries also offer dog ferrying services, which we’ve also used on several occasions.
Depending on the crossing you can book your dog into an onboard kennel where you have some time at the start of the journey to walk your pet around the deck. The alternative is to leave your pooch in your car, which was fine for our dog but might not work so well if you have pets with a nervous disposition.
For more information:
Laure and Sylvain from Country Kids have just informed us of their latest offer for you along with their availability for the summer. They have the following weeks available…
- From 11th to 18th June: The Chestnut House (2 bedrooms) & Apt 4 (3 bedrooms)
- From 18th to 25th June: The Fram House (5 bedrooms), Apt 1 (3 bedrooms), Apt 3, (3 bedrooms) & Apt 5 (2 bedrooms)
- From 2nd to 9th July: The Apt 5 (2 bedrooms)
- From 9th to 16th July: The Apt 4 (3 bedrooms)
- From 23rd to 30th July: The Chestnut House (2 bedrooms)
- From 30th July to 6th August: The Apt 4 ( 3 bedrooms)
- From 27th August to 3rd September: The Farm House ( 5 bedrooms)
And you can take advantage of their ‘Absolutely Everything’s Included’ offer, which includes:
- Luxurious and spacious accommodation with full kitchen
- Fully-catered, including buffet breakfasts, two communal lunches, an à la carte menu, Kids’ Club dinners, evening meals prepared by our chef and delivered to your apartment, and on-site traitor meals-to-go
- All drinks, wines and alcohol. Our bar opens early for tea and coffee and stays open late for evening drinks
- All shop items, such as soft drinks, snacks, fruit, yoghurt and confectionery, plus a complimentary shopping pack upon arrival
- Unlimited use of the crèche or Kids’ Club professional childcare services and exciting Big Kids Programme for 6-12-year-olds
- Babysitting on two nights with your own dedicated babysitter in the apartment plus a kids dinner in the Kids’ Club on these nights.
- Early morning crèche and Kids Club on Fridays (after your Thursday night out) for the 7 a.m. PJ Party. Our childcare staff collect your kids from your apartment at prearranged times, giving you a chance to lie in
- All outdoor and recreational facilities at the resort, such as tennis, cycling, a petting farm for the little ones, our main and toddler pools plus the adults only pool, whirlpool and spa area.
- On-site activities for the whole family, including barbecues, wine tastings, tennis lessons, adult and family yoga classes and swimming lessons for kids
- Two off-site activities, such as canoeing, sailling, horse riding or rock climbing
- One massage and one Spa treatment per adult
- Twice daily cleaning services
- Weekly washing and ironing service
- Use of baby equipment, including cots, linens and strollers
- Wifi to keep you linked up to the outside world
For more information and to book, please visit https://www.country-kids.fr
If you’re looking for a truly relaxing gite holiday in France, one that will bring you presence, calm and kindness into your daily family life then head to the peaceful Villa La Bastide Avellanne in Provence Côte d’Azur this July.
Between 10th – 16th July, 2016 you can practice and share your passion for yoga with Rikke Lauritzen, M.A, cert. mindfulness MBSR teacher and family therapist and Ulrika Dezé, Master of Education and yoga teacher, founder of Yogamini, Paris.
Find out more by visiting the website click here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opportunity to meet like-minded families and be inspired by a holiday which is fun, relaxing and nourishing for the whole family. You’ll come away feeling fresh, calm, centered and with tools to bring home into your daily lives.
Themes you will look at include:
• How can we bring more presence, calm and kindness into our daily lives?
• How do we get more quality time with our children while they are young?
• How can we prevent ourselves and our children from being stressed with illness?
• How do we get more joy, playfulness and love into our family?
• How do we support and strengthen our relationship as parents, lovers and friends?
This French gite retreat is for all the family, parents and children. It is an international training course for families with children of age 4-12 and their parents, single parents, grandparents or friends. It is also an opportunity to have a holiday with your family in this beautiful and peaceful gite in Provence, southern France. A relaxing combination of training yoga and mindfulness from morning to evening, with many rests and siestas to enjoy with your family, swim in the pool, play tennis, etc.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT YOGA AND MINDFULNESS
Yoga is a mindful, non-competitive form of exercise, in which the emphasis is placed on movement and breathing. Traditional yoga techniques have been adapted in a fun, simple way to appeal to children.
Today’s children are under a tremendous amount of stress, coping with body changes, school, exams and peer pressure. Yoga is a wonderful outlet; it enhances awareness, self-acceptance, self-confidence, and provides them with the skills necessary to cope with stress and promote relaxation. The positive atmosphere and dynamism, music, breathing exercises, quiet reflection (mindfulness) encourages children to relax. Reading, story telling, music, creative arts and ecology blend seamlessly with yoga movement to educate the whole child.
We will practice warm ups, child friendly breathing techniques, mindful movements – all with emphasis on having fun.
Style and class levels will be determined and moulded to fit participating students’ needs, and with a small intimate retreat class size, students will be able to get personalised attention and comfort to deeply explore their practice. Classes will be held in a dedicated indoor yoga space and also outside.
Mindfulness is a new wave that also addresses to children and adolescents as a support in their daily lives with a lot of demands, full schedule, social contact and stimulation throughout the day in institutions, schools, after school activities and home. The modern child needs some daily pauses to relax and sense the presence and calmness in the body and mind in order to handle the stressfulness it meets in the environment. Mindfulness offers inner tools that are easy to practice even for young children as they are simple, experimental, sensational and can be quite playful and funny to do.
The program comprises mindfulness meditations, mindful body awareness, mindful walking, mindful eating, loving kindness and gratitude, all adapted to the age group and as activities for the child itself, together with the parents or with peer friends. The exercises will be brought home as tools adaptable for daily life for the whole family.
PERIODS OF SILENCE
Both adults and children will be offered each some periods of silence together with walks to appreciate the nature you. The children will experience short periods of silence during the yoga classes and also they will go out on ‘a safari’ to explore sounds, tastes, smells, sights, touching the nature, lying in the Sun, touching Wind, Water and Earth and bringing their experience and small findings back to their parents.
“Sometimes, at night, I do my yoga breathing to help me fall asleep. I do it before tests as well, to take away stress. Yoga has made me feel stronger inside. “ Nicolas, 8 years old, yoga student since 2012. (Astrapi Magazine).
Ulrika Dezé is the Franco-Swedish founder of YOGAMINI, a fun, educational program aimed at children and families. She has a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Geneva and is a qualified yoga instructor. She is introducing yoga techniques and mindfulness into Parisian primary schools, hospitals (Paris hospital Necker), museums and offering training courses in yoga and mindfulness for teachers and health care professionals.
Her classes provide a friendly, non-competitive and reassuring space for her students’ creativity and emotions to express themselves. She helps her students acquiring the skills that will help them to meet challenges and develop their physical, mental and emotional strength. Her classes explore different ways of incorporating music, arts, ecology and foreign languages with the discipline of yoga.
Ulrika is the author of Le yoga de Kika, an illustrated yoga book for children published by Milan (Bayard).
YOGAMINI has been featured on tv (National news – France 2), Le Monde, in various magazines including Vogue, Milk, Figaro Madame, l’Express style and websites such as family TV and Doctissimo.
Rikke Lauritzen is Danish but originates from South Korea and is the mother of two adolescents. She holds a Master of Arts in languages and intercultural studies, and is a certified psychotherapist, family therapist, and internationally certified Mindfulness/MBSR-teacher and Interpersonal Mindfulness/IMP teacher from the Centre for Mindfulness, UMASS, USA.
She is the founder of a new Danish mindful school program for adolescents and has success in bringing mindfulness into the school curriculum as a tool for better concentration, calm and kindness. She is the author of a few articles about mindfulness and mindfulness in schools. Her school project has been featured in the Danish TV2 News and local newspapers.
This yoga retreat will take place at the beautiful Bastide Avellanne French gite. The Bastide is a charming fortified Provencal demeure dating back to 17th century. Totally refurbished in 2011 it welcomes you with spacious light rooms in country style, all with modern en-suite bathrooms and independent apartments with every comfort. In the Bastide you will find a vast air conditioned lounge with old leather sofas, a stone chimney, exposed beams and a bar, a dining room in the veranda overlooking the garden and a workshop-come-meeting room close to the pool.
Surrounded by vineyards Bastide Avellanne is set in a private park of three hectares, where the colours of the olive trees and centuries old oaks blend with the perfumes of lavender and rosemary, creating a small Mediterranean paradise in where you will find a heated swimming pool and summer bar, giant chess, tennis and petanque courts. The Bastide Avellanne was awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence.
Healthful food is part of the retreat experience, including breakfasts, lunches and dinners daily. Enjoy our cuisine which combines creativity and flavours with a special attention to creating balanced meals. Wholesome ingredients, freshness of the foods, cooking times and methods are present in every meal you will enjoy at the Bastide. Meals will be enjoyed on the terrace in the shade of the oak trees, or served by candlelight under the pergola. We’ll feast on traditional flavours of Provence mixed with the French, Italian and Mediterranean styles.
Families will not only enjoy the villa and encompassing estate, but also the richness of the French cities and villages from the hills to the coast. The French gite Bastide Avellanne is the ideal location to visit Provence.
Situated only 30 minutes from the sea and from the Cote D’Azur between Cannes, St Tropez and Hyeres, with its hundreds of kilometres of white beaches, rocky capes and wild bays is considered the most beautiful coastline of France – 300 kilometres of coast accompanying the Mediterranean Sea, white sandy beaches, a preserved landscape, protected islands and famous locations renowned worldwide. It looks just as you see in postcards, fields of lavender, medieval villages, chateaux, markets full of colours where you can find local products and exotic spices, lively small towns with a slow way of life.
WHO CAN JOIN
All families are welcome including complete beginners, single parents , grand parents with children, friends and colleagues and professionals.
The training course is beneficial for educators and health care professionals to explore the yoga and mindfulness practice with their own families.
Group size: 20 people maximum
AGE OF THE CHILDREN
4-18 years old.
English is the main language with translation in French or Scandinavian languages according to the needs.
WHAT TO EXPECT
• 6 nights full board accommodation
• Daily meditation and yoga classes for the whole family
• Creative workshops for children and parents
• Use of the Villa facilities (pool, tennis courts, ping pong, bowl court etc)
Find out more by visiting the website click here, or email email@example.com
Gites with pools in the Dordogne
Looking for a Dordogne gite with a swimming pool that will suit all the family? Check out our favourite top holiday homes in this fantastic area of France.
The Dordogne is a ‘department’ in southwest France, in the region of Aquitaine. The most popular places to both the Brits and French alike centres around four areas. The capital Perigueux, a city with a beautiful historic centre, around its ancient Cathédrale Saint Front, one of the oldest in France; the caves in the Vezère valley between Montignac, Lascaux and Les Eyzies, the mediaeval city of Sarlat and the Dordogne valley itself, between Le Buillon and Aillac, an area including several of the finest of the Dordogne castles.
Top gites in the Dordogne with Pools
1. From as little as 210 euros per week you can enjoy a stay Les Gites de Carlux, a fabulous family-friendly gite in the Dordogne.
Les Gites de Carlux offers twelve spacious properties situated on a 2½ acre site overlooking the picturesque village of Carlux. There’s a choice of standard and deluxe Gites with one, two or three bedrooms for 2, 4 or 6 people, each with private terraceSEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…
There’s a lot to offer families here, with facilities on site including a paddling pool, badminton, boules, table tennis, an under 6 playground, adventure playground, table football and an impressively large outdoor heated swimming pool.
2) Domaine de Peyrecaty in Belvès is a collection of nine Dordogne Villas, each with a garden, barbecue & alfresco dining areas. This small hamlet of gites is surrounded by meadows, orchards and woodland with wonderful views across the valley and countryside.
Great for family holidays in the Dordogne, Domaine de Peyrecaty has an indoor toy bar, an adventure playground and a sand play area. Plus the grown-ups are well catered for with tennis, badminton table tennis, football and Petanque.
Throw in free Wi-fi, freshly brewed coffee served in the mornings and an outdoor heated pool and paddling pool you have a great holiday destination!
These gites are perfect for groups or families travelling together but each has it’s own terrace and garden area offering privacy when you want it.
The large, fully enclosed garden includes a fenced 12m x 6m heated swimming pool with safety ledge for children. There is a decking area for sun lovers or if you prefer, our abri offers much needed shade and is great for an afternoon nap in the hammock.
There are excellent facilities here for teens, children, babies and toddlers in our holiday cottages plus the area is great for exploring the fairytale castles of Castlenaud and local enchanting medieval market towns.
Plus of course a beautiful heated pool with relaxing shaded areas with deckchairs and a hammock!
5) Castelwood in Biron, is a collection of fifteen wooden chalets nestled at the foot of the Castle of Biron in the Dordogne. This is the ideal place to get back to nature and enjoy a truly peaceful and relaxing holiday.
You can enjoy Castlewood Art painting workshops and candle making workshops here, plus a special Castlewood Kids club every Thursday. There are also ‘Gourmet’ workshops where you can cook and eat with local chefs of the area.
Each chalet is comfortably equipped with an open style kitchen, a living room bathroom, and two bedrooms, sleeping up to five. The porch has a garden table and chairs to relax ‘al freso’ over mealtimes.
The shared heated swimming pool is large, with plenty of seating when you want to cool down and laze around.
6) Le Four a Sel in Montignac offers three family-friendly Dordogne gites plus a B&B option. With a riverside setting in a tranquil location but just five minutes to local shops and restaurants, this offers a relaxing holiday for all ages.
There’s lots of space here for kids to run around and for anyone to find their own private corner and with a playground, table tennis, badminton, a football field and boules there’s plenty to keep you entertained. If you’re a keen fisherman, then make the most of the private fishing on the river Vezere.
The picturesque outdoor pool is large enough to play and swim being 10m x 4m and has two levels.
Across the nine acres of grounds and gardens there’s plenty to offer the family, with a recreation room with table football, table tennis and a lot of toys for your children. Outside there are children’s bikes, tricycles and a go-kart as well as a trampoline and tree-house!
The outdoor heated pool oozes tranquility and together with the toddler/paddling pool and jacuzzi, it’s very easy to relax here.
8) Maison Arc-en-Ciel in Montcaret offers B&B plus a beautiful four-bedroom French gite located amongst vineyards near St. Emilion. There are nine acres of grounds and gardens here, plenty of space to relax in or for the children to enjoy the swings, table tennis, badminton, rounders, croquet and table football.
The gite is wheelchair accessible and an additional option is a four course evening meal delivered to your gite.
There’s free WiFi and perhaps best of all, this gite in the Dordogne offers the largest and perhaps most picturesque domestic pool in the region and also the bliss of a Jacuzzi hot tub!
Like what you see? Search for your Dordogne holiday gite here…
We are very proud to introduce La Ferme du Cayla in the South West of France.
To be seen 6 top-notch family holiday cottages with pool set in beautiful grounds. And they have thought of everything – spend quality time with your children or relax while they are entertained and discover new things in a safe and natural environment.
After being lucky enough to live in the Charente for almost 5 years, this area ranks among my favourite in France.
It lacks the pretention of the south of France and the haughtiness of the Cote d’Azur. Instead you discover a quietly charming region that is stacked full of great places to discover and offers a choice of great French holiday accommodation from gites to modern holiday cottages to holiday parks, perfect for the family.
The Poitou-Charente is located in western France, south of Nantes to the north of Bordeaux and the coastal area of this region is the sunniest part of France outside the Mediterranean coastal areas.
Inland you’ll come across the extensive vineyards that provide the grapes that are used in the production of Cognac and the famous local apéritif wine Pineau des Charentes. Head to the coast, the Charente Maritime, and you’ll discover the amazing sandy Atlantic beaches.
Top 5 beaches in the Charente
1. La Palmyre
With sheltered beaches and coves, the beach resort of La Palmyre is ideal for families. The water is shallow and calm and there is plenty of free car parking nearby. Perfect for all the beach paraphernalia you need for large families! Also it’s not far to walk back into the beach resort where you’ll find shops, restaurants etc.
2. Côte Sauvage
If you prefer catching the waves then head further round the coast near the lighthouse (Phare de Coubre) for excellent surfing. There’s also a good bay here for windsurfing and older children will love trying out body boarding. Parking again is generally free and stretches along a long stretch of the coast, but be prepared for a walk through the pine forests to get to the beach itself. The path opens up to colossal coastal dunes, then flat sand on beaches many consider the most beautiful in France.
3. St Palais sur Mer – Plage du Bureau
The town of St Palais has a long history of being a beach resort, often frequented by the Royals. A sheltered crescent in the heart of the resort, this beach is ideal for families with children. There are eye-catching villas at either end and the shops, cafés and restaurants behind. Here, there is entertainment in the evening including a merry-go-round and puppet theatre. The beach also has a children’s club. There’s also a lifeguard and first aid station in the main summer period.
4. Île de Ré
Often referred to as the ‘jewel on the Atlantic Coast’ this famous “White Island,” is an oasis of long winding bike trails, flawless beaches and charmingly rustic villages. It’s accessible via a road bridge but our advice is to dump the motor and get around by bike. This particular spot does get very busy during the peak holiday period, so we would recommend a May, June or September visit to avoid the crowds.
5. Plage du Galon D’or
This beach near Ronce Les Bans is framed by lovely palm trees and lovely golden sand. It’s an easy beach to walk to from the seaside town, parking nearby perhaps a bit trickier. You can travel further down the coast but be warned that there is a popular nude sunbathing beach running south for a few kilometres from Pointe Espagnole.
Try the Logos la Cabane – three wonderful family friendly gites between Cognac and the sea. Huge gardens and meadow, beautiful sparkling heated pool, bikes and lots of toys. Find out more about La Cabane here.
Fancy a holiday park? Try Siblu Villages, they have three fabulous parks in this area which we can highly recommend (after working there for a while!). Find out more about siblu.
Or take a look at our range of gites and holiday cottages in the Charente.
Anyone have a favourite beach in the Charente they can recommend?
If you’re not lucky enough to be celebrating Christmas with a family holiday to France (ahhh, how we love the snowy Alps…) then we’ve put together 8 tips on how you can celebrate like the French. Celebrations start on the 6 December – also known as Saint Nicholas’ Day.
How to celebrate Christmas like the French
1) On the night of 5 December (the eve of Saint Nicholas) your children should place their shoes in front of the fireplace and sing traditional songs to the saint before going to bed.
2) On the morning of 6 December, children awake to find their shoes filled with treats. Naughty children should receive a little bundle of twigs tied together with a ribbon! Most children will receive some twigs in addition to their presents, just to represent any times they have been naughty (a tip we think we’ll follow in our house this Christmas!).
3) An important French tradition is to display a ‘crèche’ somewhere in your home. In la crèche, the figurines of the village people traditionally represent lots of different professions, for example: le boulanger – the baker, le fermier – the farmer, le chasseur – the hunter, la lavandière – the washer woman. Who will you choose?
3) It is the tradition in France to display the Nativity scene until the 2 February – a date known as La Chandeleur. This date is forty days after Christmas Day. Enjoy!
4) Le Réveillon de Noël is Christmas Eve dinner, and this dinner is more important that the Christmas day dinner. At around midnight, in the style of many French families, you will need to eat a special meal to celebrate the very beginning of Christmas Day. Bon appétit!
5) Once again the children should leave their shoes out in front of the fireplace in the hope that le Père Noël (Father Christmas) will fill them with treats and will place gifts on and around the Christmas tree (le sapin de Noël) for when they awake on Christmas morning.
6) You need to get another stack of presents for New Year’s Eve, called La Saint-Sylvestre (Saint Sylvester’s Day). There is a special dinner in the evening called Le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre and you give out presents to everyone.
7) To say ‘Happy New Year’ you say ‘Bonne Année.’ This actually means ‘Good Year.’
8) At midnight at New Year it is the custom to kiss under the mistletoe (le gui). In France, mistletoe is a New Year tradition. There is an old French saying:- ‘Au gui l’an neuf.’ This means:- ‘Mistletoe for the new year.’ Be warned, everyone kisses everyone else. If you’re having a party with lots of people, it could take a while.
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!
Long and narrow, Île de Ré extends 19 miles into the Atlantic, linked to the mainland by an elegantly curved bridge. The south side is a succession of long beaches; the north, sheltered from direct ocean winds, provides safe berths for yachts in several small ports.
Even in summer, when the main roads can be busy, it is possible to find a quiet spot, though you may have to seek it on foot or by bicycle, there are more than 60 miles of official bicycle tracks to explore.
Villages of Île de Ré
Each of the villages has its unique character. Watch yachts riding quietly at anchor in front of whitewashed houses on the quayside at La Flotte, or visit its superb medieval market hall. Ars, one of the prettiest villages in France, hosts a wonderful market with a range of high-quality produce.
1.The French take their food seriously. In a land of three-course lunches, three hour dinners and mandated 35-hour work weeks, the French spend as much time and energy eating and drinking as they do working.
2.You’ll be offered an aperitif, wine and a digestif with just about every meal. Possibly excepting breakfast.
3.You can choose to eat in a (a) Restaurant where you can get a complete meal, and will often find price fixed menus. (b) a Brasserie which tends to have pub-style, hearty food—French style of course, which means anything from steak to salads and croque monsieurs. (c) a Bistro: small, family run restaurants. (d) a Café: basically an establishment that serves all kinds of drinks, from coffee to aperitifs. They will sometimes also offer sandwiches and desserts. (e) Bar: you’ll find coffee and pastries here in the mornings and boozy drinks the rest of the day.
4.If you want tap water, ask for eau nature or carafe d’eau. Bottled water is often bubbly and is referred to as gazeuse.
5.Soft drinks tend to be really expensive at cafes in France. In fact, you’ll often save money by opting for wine or beer. And if you have kids ask for a ‘syrup’ – ‘syrup fraise’ being my daughter’s favourite.
6.Don’t rush through a meal. Either at a restaurant or if you’re a guest in someone’s house. It’s just not the done thing. If you are hanging around when you’re finished and waiting for the bill, be patient. It’s the ‘laissez-faire’ attitude.
7.Contrary to popular belief, servers don’t expect a tip in France. This probably explains why the service typically isn’t great. If you are pleasantly surprised by the service, a 5-10% tip will not go unappreciated.
8.Coffee (café) in France will be served as an expresso unless requested otherwise. Otherwise ask for a café au lait or a ‘grand crème’ for a creamier coffee. If you order a cappuccino you’ll probably get whipped cream as the topping as oppose to frothy milk.
9.Don’t be a vegetarian in France. Your options are limited.
10.If you are a vegetarian, here’s a few useful phrases. Don’t be surprised if the waiter doesn’t understand what you are trying to say. And it’s probably not because of your accent. It’s because you don’t eat meat.
Je suis vegeatarien: I am a vegetarian.
Je ne mange pas la viande: I do not eat meat.
Je ne mange pas du poisson: I do not eat fish (or if you are a vegetarian that does eat fish, “je mange du poisson”).
Je ne mange pas du poulet: I do not eat poultry/chicken (if you simply say you don’t eat meat, they may think you do eat chicken).
From time to time, we like to bring you news of companies that offer you something worth considering when planning your next break in France. Vintage Travel based near Cambridge is the focus of today’s post.
Recognised as one of the UKs top 10 holiday villa rental companies by Condè Nast Traveller readers last year; Vintage Travel offers over 60 properties in France.
Handpicked for quality assurance and all with private pools, their villas range from historic homes surrounded by lush countryside to modern homes close to the coast. Stephen Ellison, Director at Vintage Travel said ‘Our villas are perfect for families, some are even large enough for a few families to holiday together.’
Vintage Travel’s French villas are located in 3 of the most beautiful regions of France – Aquitaine, Brittany and PACA (specifically Provence & Cote d’Azur). Choose from properties near Nice, Grasse and Toulon in the south, Pont Aven to Benodet in the north west and the Dordogne, Lot et Garonne or near Biarritz in the south west.
Ellison continued ‘We offer a simple pricing concept, we don’t charge per person, our price is for the whole villa per week.’ To find out more about Vintage Travel and check latest availability and prices for 2016, please visit Vintage Travel
1) The emergency phone number in France is 112.
2) New for 2015 – all drivers and motor bike riders are not allowed to use mobile phones with headsets or ear pieces whilst driving, be it for listening to music or for phone calls. However, this does exclude motorcycle helmets that have integrated systems.
3) Following our trip to France in the summer we found that the migrant crises at Calais was not as bad as we expected. You will be hard pressed to come across any migrants or see the migrant camp when travelling through Calais, the camp itself pretty tucked away. Saying this, we’d probably recommend to travel during the day to avoid any night time incidents.
4) As of January 2016, motorcyclists will be required to have reflective jackets to be worn in the event of a breakdown or an emergency.
5) Get yourself a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired.
6) Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel. When our son broke his arm, the hospital were very keen to have details of a full insurance cover. Your travel insurance company will probably also want to know your EHIC details when you make your claim.
7) Speeding can result on the spot fines. Speed cams are usually well signposted in advance, but keep your eye out for mobile police vans. The maximum speed on autoroutes is 130kph (80mph) in good weather and 110kph (68mph) in poor weather. Monsieur Hollande is reportedly bringing in legislation to make it easier to track down foreign drivers who speed on French roads, so we need to lose the complacency regarding speed cams.
8) Speaking of speeding, in-car radar detectors and satellite navigation systems warning of the presence of speed cameras or radars are illegal whether in use or not. (Seems a bit unfair!)
9) Due to French law, you can’t get assistance from your own breakdown company if you break down on a motorway or toll road. You’ll need to use one of the orange emergency telephones situated every 2 km along main roads and motorways. This call goes to the police or the official breakdown service operating in that area. You’ll be towed to a safe designated area where you can then be met by your breakdown provider. Charges for assistance on a motorway are fixed by the Government.
10) Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to travel on the front seats of vehicles without using a special child restraint, unless there is no rear seat in the vehicle, or the rear seat is already occupied with children under 10, or there are no seat belts.
11) And finally, here’s the list of items you are legally supposed to have in your car:
• Reflective jackets (must be kept inside the vehicle, within reach)
• Warning triangle (compulsory in every vehicle with 4 wheels or more)
• Headlamp beam deflectors (Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually)
• GB sticker if you don’t have GB on your number plate.
• Breathalysers/alcohol test (As of January 2013 the French government announced that the introduction of an €11 fine has been postponed indefinitely, so you won’t be fined if you don’t have one).
We love our cycling here at France for Families HQ, so it is no surprise that as winter approaches we are keen to think of sunnier climes, the gentle warm breeze blowing inbetween the spokes and une vue incroyable as we ride by.
We’ve picked out 3 cycle routes that will inspire your 2016 adventures.
Our cycle route ideas may lend themselves to staying overnight in a certain town or village, but don’t limit yourself to these, there are plenty of great accommodation options in our Gites in France section; many that will be on or close to the cycle route. And please note due to the distances involved, these cycle routes are aimed at families with teenage children.
1. Normandy is an ideal location for a holiday, not only is it close to the UK, but steeped rich in history with many outstanding places to visit as a family. The approx 130-mile route starts in Bayeux, home of the famous tapestry that depicts the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the eventual Norman conquest of England, and heads towards Omaha D-Day Beach. Meander through the Normandy countryside, then along the coast before heading back to Bayeux – this is between 30 and 40 miles for Day 1. The next day head out north of the town towards the pretty seaside resort of Arromanches-les-bains and then along the coastal roads again before heading into Caen for another excellent days cycling. If you have the legs we suggest you leave Caen heading towards the coast to Houlgate and then until you reach the port of Honfleur. This leg of the route is the longest at around 45 miles, if you wish to take it easier, we suggest an overnight stay in Houlgate. Along the way be sure to leave time to get to know Deauville.
2. The Dordogne, as popular as ever with tourists is a great choice for a family cycle holiday. We suggest a 150-mile route starting in Monpazier, t picturesque cobbled streets and many historic buildings, mainly due to a law passed in 1962 that gave the town the money to maintain and restore its treasures. (photo shows the historic centre of Monpanzier)
Heading south of the town on the D704 back on the trail of the Dordogne river heading towards the town of Souillac before heading south again and into the Regional Park of Quercy and towards our destination, Rocadamour. The village known perhaps more by sight than by name is perched outstandlingly on a clifftop 100m above a gorge.
3. The Canal du Midi in Languedoc lends itself as the perfect guide through this diverse region. The canal stretches for more than 240km and was created in the late 17th century to help link France’s Atlantic coast with the Mediterranean coasts. Our suggestion is to start your route at Carcassonne, a UNESCO fortified city that is worth allocating some time to before heading off and completing your route in Sète, a stylish town on the Mediterranean coast. Head to the Promenade du Canal towards the south of the city and pick up the Canal towpath (around here please be careful with pedestrians!) You will head north out of the city before heading south east towards the coastline.
The canal follows the L’Aude river through this outstanding stretch of French countryside and has plenty to keep you interested. From ancient villages, castles, churches and aqueducts and many more landmarks. After Carcassonne, your next major town is Beziers the gateway to many seaside resorts in Languedoc, itself one of the oldest cities in France. Then through the villages of Vias and Agde before reaching your destination of Sète.
We suggest overnight stays in La Redorte or Homp, then Beziers and then Sète. Airports that serve the route include Carcassonne, Beziers, Montpellier and Nimes.
Take a look at our Cycling Holidays in France section for more ideas and which cycling tour companies to contact to help you make your adventure a reality.
Enjoy the ride!
Overlooked by many British visitors to France, the city of Montpellier is an elegant, sensual and subversive city that offers those who venture here unexpected sensory pleasures. Talk to any local and they will tell you that if you want to capture what Montpellier is all about arrive at Place de la Comedie early in the morning and watch the city awaken.
Montpellier is where old meets new, in the most extreme of ways, not only does it have the oldest centre in France, but in the Antigone district you will find the modern city sweeping all the way to the River Lez. Here you will find Port Marianne, a boatless area peppered with bars and exclusive eateries.
The city centre is car-less, its rues snaking between beautiful historic buildings, bars, jewellers, coffee shops and little squares – the majority of which form a perfect shelter from the Mediterranean sun. The sea is just 5 miles away.
Hire a Velomagg bike (http://www.tam-voyages.com) and meander along the cycle path that hugs the River Lez, pass through Vineyards that are a feature of Languedoc (the region produces more wine that Australia) and skirt around lakes all the way to the beach. On the way spot flamingos and take in a glass of wine in Palavas-les-Flots.
There is so much see and feel in Montpellier, our recommendations not to miss include visiting the Arc de Triomphe, Musee Fabre, Promenade de Peyrou and the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. If you have the time the Jardin des Plantes, the oldest botanical gardens in France, is well worth a visit.
We would also recommend the Burger et Blanquette restaurant, perfect for both adults and children. The restaurant on the Rue Rosset, near the Musee Fabre, offers a lovely summer terrace and great food.
For holiday homes to rent in Languedoc, check out our Gites in Languedoc section.
Welcome to the Magic, Disneyland Paris specialists, have today launched their new offer enabling families to save 35% off a Disneyland break between November 7th 2015 and March 16th 2016. For more information please see their website or call 0844 856 5488 (Calls cost 7 pence per minute, plus your telephone company’s access charge) for more details.
There are some restrictions, so please see their website for more details, but looking through the offer it means you can save 35% and be there for Disney’s Christmas celebrations, which start on November 7th and finish on January 7th.
Prices depend on when you go and the duration of your stay. To give you an idea, a family of 4, with children aged 7 to 11, staying at Disney’s Davy Crockett’s Ranch bed and breakfast from Friday 4th to the Sunday 6th of December costs £562.10 for the whole family, and that includes:
- 2 Bedroom Cabin accommodation
- Tickets & unlimited access to both parks for each day of your stay
- FREE Parking
- Extra Magic Hours, all Shows & Attractions inside the Disney® Parks
and Fastpass® Tickets
- Meet’n’Greet Disney Characters
The offer ends on November 4th.
Our trip to Paris in August of this year gave us the great opportunity to re-visit some of the most famous attractions of Paris and at the same time introduce them to our children. Below is an extract from the where to visit guide we have produced to help you make the most of your next trip to Paris. See the full guide to Where to Visit in Paris here
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe crowns the western tip of the Champs-Elysees, standing on probably the most famous roundabout in the world, also known Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile (of the star) for the star-shape the roundabout casts.
The wide, leafy Champs-Elysees, Paris’s most famous avenue, is a focal point for the French nation, witness to momentous events such as De Gaulle’s triumphal Liberation march in 1944 and the soccer World Cup celebrations in 1998.
Jardin des tuileries
The Tuileries, at the eastern extent of the Champs-Elysees, is dominated at one end by the place de la Concorde and at the other by the mighty Louvre. There are also views of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Musee d’Orsay.
The Louvre is one of the largest and most famous art galleries in the world, with its legendary works and vast collection spanning thousands of years, from ancient civilizations to mid-19th century European paintings.
The main entrance is through I. M. Pei’s striking glass pyramid (1989) in the Cour Napoleon. Escalators take you down to a subterranean foyer, where you can pick up a museum plan and decide which of the three wings will be your first port of call.
Visit Les Invalides to see Napoleon’s tomb and an absorbing army museum. Although its architecture is pompous, severe and authoritarian, Les Invalides was actually built to house wounded and elderly soldiers. Louis XIV was thinking of others for once when he commissioned Liberal Bruant to design the imposing building, with its 195m facade.
Like a lot of middle-aged folk we know, cycling has become a bit of a passion.
This summer we even managed to drag, sorry encourage, our nine year old to enjoy the sites and sounds of mountain biking in the French Alps.
It’s a little different to road biking and the French Alps certainly poses some terrain challenges but the stunning views and easy transport up the mountain via cable car certainly makes for some great photo opportunities.
Enjoy the video…
Each summer on the way back from the south of France we tend to stop at different towns on route and explore somewhere new.
This year we wanted to locate the war grave of a great uncle so we travelled a little further north than usual and stopped off in the town of Saint Quentin, located in the Aisne department in Picardy.
First of all can we recommend the Hotel Memorial (www.hotel-memorial.com), perfect for an overnight stop. Very reasonably priced rooms, including family suites and it can also accommodate dogs. Parking in a quiet courtyard is also available with no height restrictions (fortunately as we had our bikes on the roof). The ladies that run the place are kind and courteous and the breakfast, although a tad expensive, is value for money if you the time to appreciate it all.
I’ll stop now or you’ll think you’re on Trip Advisor.
Start your visit by walking across to the ‘Place Hotel de Ville’, a beautiful central square where you’ll find the town hall with its stunning gothic facade decorated with 173 sculptures inspired by the daily life of Saint-Quentin.
Saint Quentin itself has a remarkably eclectic style of architecture – also in the square is the ‘Theatre Jean-Vilar’ which was built in the middle of the 19th century with a neo-classic façade and just behind here you’ll ‘La Basilique’, a stunning cathedral dating back to the thirteenth century.
There are plenty of eateries in and around the main square, mostly serving traditional French bistro food, and an array of your typical French town centre shops.
Places to visit include the Antoine Lecuyer museum where you can discover the works Maurice Quentin de la Tour (1704-1788), an internationally renowned pastel artist, and the ‘Musee de Papillons”, where you can find a priceless collection of exotic butterflies.
If you need to walk the dog, head over to the ‘Parc des Champ Elysees’ and wander amongst the Sunday morning petanque tournaments.
The cemetery we visited was in Trescault, just north of Saint Quentin, where we were pleased to discover Great Uncle Sam Bouston, sadly having died on the battlefields of WW1 at the age of 21. Rest in peace, Sam.
Where are your favourite places for a stopover?
I must admit this one took the family a bit of convincing. But I took a gamble and succeeded to put the 59th floor view from the Montparnasse Tower into our agenda for our latest trip to Paris. But did it pay off?
Our alternative was to go up the Eiffel Tower, and whilst I would always encourage everyone to go to the top at least once in the lifetime for the experience, during the summer months the queues at the Eiffel Tower can have you there waiting a few hours.
We opted for a night view and made our way to the Montparnasse tower late one evening – it closes at 11.30pm in the summer. The entrance is opposite the Montparnasse Railway Station that serves the West and South West of France. No queue, straight into the designated lift waiting for us – 30 seconds later we arrived on the 56th floor, where the lift’s journey ends – you then need to climb the stairs to the rooftop on the 59th floor.
Bypassing the ubiquitous photo opportunity run by the tower’s staff you get your first glimpse of Paris by night from 200m above the French capital – and what a view! The first thing you see is the illuminated Eiffel tower.
The rooftop is breathtaking, warm winds greeted us as we reached it, with the lights of Paris filling our gaze as we began to identify the areas of Paris we know. There are glass screens around the rooftop for safety, but the view is crystal clear and incredible. As a family the experience was great, no waiting around, no trinket hard sell and a magical view for all us to share and remember. But there is no doubt, that one day we would come back here as a couple and share in the romance that this view of Paris offers.
Now for the big test… what did the children think? Tom (9) ‘The lift and seeing the Eiffel Tower was awesome’; Isabella (11) ‘My favourite bit was reaching the roof and looking around at the city from above for the first time’ and Georgia (14) ‘It was amazing, we could see the whole city from here and find all the areas of Paris we had visited’.
We loved the view from the Montparnasse tower, all the better for having the Eiffel Tower in it. No waiting around meant it was perfect for a visit with children and prices between the two towers are around the same. Did the gamble pay off? Yes it did!
Paris, 10th of August 2015 at 10am. A beautiful hot, cloudless sunny day in the French capital. Location – the entrance to Les Jardins des Tuileries avec famille. We were here to meet our rides, two 30-year-old Citroen 2CVs whose drivers would be our tour guides around central Paris this morning.
This Parisien 2CV tour company named ‘4 roues sous 1 parapluie’ (four wheels under one umbrella) after how the chief of Citroen in the 1930s described the 2CV, criss-crosses the capital each day with tourists. The story of the 2CV goes that Pierre-Jules Boulanger, asked his lead engineers to design a city car that can carry four people, 50kg of potatoes at 60 km/h… and with enough head space that PJB (as he was known) did not have to remove his hat whilst driving. The bubble shape was implemented, giving the 2CV its iconic look resembling 4 wheels under 1 umbrella.
As we approached the entrance to the gardens we could see tourists flocking from around to something that had caught their eye, as we got closer we could see the objects of their desire… Sophia and Jules; our 2CVs had arrived.
Making our way through the crowd, feeling like celebrities, we met our drivers dressed in Breton shirts and berets, and a few introductions later we were off.
‘Driving around the famous parts of Paris in an open-top 2CV was the best thing we did in Paris’ said Georgia (14). We were 5 and needed two cars, the 2CVs will comfortably fit 4 people including the driver.
We had an 11 and 9-year old also with us who absolutely loved the special view of Paris you get from the car. The drivers were very informative and even having visited Paris on many occasions throughout our lives we learnt a lot more about the history of this great city. Isabella (11) commented ‘My favourite part of the tour was discovering the beautiful Alexandre III bridge with its 4 bronze statues’.
Stopping for photos along the way made the tour personal, and every where we did stop drew interest from all around. The 2CV, whose production stopped in 1990, is today’s perfect vehicle to enjoy Paris. More information and to book your tour in a 2CV visit their website
The 14th of July marks Bastille Day in France, or as it is formally known as La Fête nationale, and more often referred to by the French as Le quatorze juillet. Note that only English-speaking countries name it Bastille Day.
This important date in the French calendar commerates two key moments in French history, that happened on the same date one year apart. 226 years ago, on the 14th of July 1789, Paris’ Bastille Sainte-Antoine, a prison used to keep political prisoners, was stormed by a revolutionary crowd made up of working class folk from the nearby area, local traders and mutinous soldiers. Their prize was the gunpowder recently acquired by the Bastille.
The subsequent capture of the Bastille was seen as a symbol of the revolution’s legitimacy and was used as the theme for all that was to follow. In time, it was shown that much of the rhetoric that came from the revolutionary press was exagerated or falsified to spur on the crowds to continue the revolution.
The second date, the 14th of July 1790 commemorates the unity of the French people during the revolution and the peace found one year after storming Bastille. The day was celebrated with mass at Champs de Mars, after which followed a 4-day feast celebrated with fireworks, wine and running naked through the streets to show their freedom.
On the morning of the 14th July, the Champs-Élysées in Paris is home to the traditional military parade in front of the President along with other French officials and foreign guests.
Want to take part?
Bastille Day is celebrated around the world. In the UK, London’s French population celebrate the day at various locations, including Camden and Kentish Town, and Edinburgh plays host to a number of events in celebration of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Over 50 US cities have events commemorating Bastille Day.
Read more about the Bastille Day here
With the Tour de France hitting the headlines at the moment it’s the perfect time to consider your own cycling holiday to France.
Velo Vercors is a small specialist cycling holiday company that is currently enjoying a 5-star Trip Advisor rating, and quotes of the ‘Best family holiday ever’ and a ‘Fantastic base for our road biking holiday’.
Run by a semi-pro cyclist, Roger Dunne and his wife Theresa, Velo Vercors offers something very unique to the family market. With a base in the spectacular Vercors National Park, known as the gateway to the Alps, this region is perfect to enjoy some spectacular cycling scenery that can suit all levels of cyclist whether be it tourist, family, newly converted or elite racer.
Velo Vercors have last-minute availability with a 2 bed gite and 3 bed gite available Sat 25th July – 1st Aug £600 down from £700.
Find out more about Velo Vercors here…
In France, from today, listening to music, radio or talking on the phone using headphones or any type of audio headset whilst driving a vehicle or riding your bike is prohibited.
Measure No 22 of the Action Plan for Road Safety announced by Bernard Cazeneuve in January 2015 comes into force today – Wednesday, July 1, 2015. The road safety measure aims to prevent car accidents caused by distraction by sounds and noises.
Research suggest that drivers are 30% to 50% less aware of road information whilst driving and talking on the phone. Those driver caught will be fined €135 and will have three points taken off their licence. The new law is being publicised with a radio campaign launched by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.
For more information please see http://infolettre.securite-routiere.gouv.fr/cp-oreillettes/ (please note this site is only available in French)
If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Paris with children it’s important to choose the right accommodation, so we asked Katie Edwards from Disney specialists WelcomeToTheMagic.com (www.welcometothemagic.com) to give us the low down on the Disney’s self-catering option – Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch.
Book to arrive at Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch before the 31st Oct 2015 & Save 30% on your hotel/park ticket package price!
Now we know that hiring a car in France can be painful at the best of times (is there really no solution to how long it takes to go through the collection process??) but a recent change to UK law means that it may now become more complicated.
As from June 8th, 2015 the DVLA is no longer issuing the paper part of the licence that is normally provided with the photo card licence.
The paper licence used to show details of any endorsements, penalty points etc., what class of vehicle you can drive and expiry date of the document.
The DVLA have advised drivers to destroy the paper section, however the AA has warned motorists who are planning to travel abroad that the hire car companies may not be aware of the new changes and may still request to see it.
The DVLA advises that you print off an up to date version of your driving licence, plus get a passcode that allows the car hire company to view your licence online.
Does this seem like a bit of a faff? It does to us.
So here’s a step-by-step guide if hiring a car abroad:
1. DVLA recommends you get a new paper copy of your licence and a passcode.
2. To get a print version long on to gov.uk and ‘View Driving Record’ service by entering your driving licence number, national insurance number and postcode, and you will be able to print off a pdf version of your licence to give to the car hire company.
3. To get a passcode log on to gov.uk as above, and ‘View Driving Record’ by following the same process above. Once logged on click on ‘Share your licence information’. This produces a unique code which can be given to the car hire company to allow them to access your details online.
4. IMPORTANT NOTE: you should only generate this pass code 72 hours before travelling as the code only lasts 3 days. And if the car hire firm logs out of the system they will not be able to log back in.
What do you think about this new ‘cost-efficient’ system? Think it will be successful?
Family holidays to Normandy remain popular with the Brits, due to it’s easy-to-reach location and it’s authentic French charm. This is a region brimming with history and culture, combined with some beautiful coastlines, perfect for relaxing with the family.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied on your holiday to Normandy, from tasting the famous ‘Calvados’ and the local cheeses and breads, to exploring the ancient history. The famous Mont St Michel is to be found here, a great day out for the family – you’ll love the tiny winding cobbled streets filled with scents of fresh food and battlements just waiting to be explored.
We’ve always known French workers get more holidays than we do, and as reported in the New York Times at the weekend, not since 1972 have the French been able to enjoy so much time off in one month.
Thanks to the peculiarities of a lunar calendar that dictates the timing of important Christian days, there were four holidays and five weekends, leaving 17 working days.
But, as reported, even holidays — of which there are 11, six tied to the Christian calendar — are a contentious business, none more than Pentecost Monday, also known as Whit Monday, which this year fell on May 25. It comes the day after the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit, which comes 50 days after Easter, providing for a long weekend.
And yet, for the last 10 years this holiday has been less a day of rest than a day of confusion and, some say, injustice. Every year, there is a national guessing game about who is working, and who is not.
In 2014, three out of 10 French workers were on the job on Pentecost Monday. This year, they included bin men, construction workers, lorry drivers and supermarket clerks; and teachers and the wider public sector had the day off. For working parents, it can be a nightmare.
The confusion dates from 2005, when the French government eliminated the paid holiday and resurrected it as a “day of solidarity,” when salaried workers were required to work without pay, with their wages going to a special fund devoted to the care of the elderly and the disabled.
In return, employers were mandated to contribute 0.3 percent of their salary base to the earmarked fund, set up in the wake of national shock over the deaths of some 15,000 elderly people left stranded during a heat wave in 2003.
The idea backfired. Unions rose up in protest against what they called a day of “enforced labour,” and by 2008 Pentecost Monday was back on the holiday calendar — sort of. But the “day of solidarity” survived.
Read more here (opens in a new browser)
France for Families today launches a door-to-door travel search engine that returns a travel itinerary for flights, trains, coaches/buses, ferries and driving options to and from anywhere in the UK and France.
The new online tool, created in partnership with Rome2Rio, is easy to use, simply add a starting location and your destination and an itinerary will be returned along with a number of alternative journeys. You can also configure each leg of the itinerary to create your ideal route. You can then click on each travel option to find prices, availability and ways to book your travel.
The Grand Parc du Puy du Fou is a live action theme park dedicated to the history of France. Created in 1978 in the Vendee, Puy du Fou welcomes more than 1.7 million visitors annually. And as we found out, the Cinéscenie performance can feature more than 1000 actors!
New in 2015 : The Lovers of Verdun
Plan your visit this summer and take in this year’s spectacular – The Lovers of Verdun. On Christmas eve, fumes invade the trenches, the ground trembles with each new explosion, alarms ring out… Everything seems lost, but on the 24 December 1916 these soldiers do not yet know that they are going to experience a Christmas that they will never ever forget!
If you are unsure of where in France to holiday this year or you have already planned a family break on the west coast of France, then Futuroscope near Poitiers is the ideal attraction to head to. You won’t be disappointed. With more than 40 million visitors since it opened, Futuroscope is one of the best-known and best-loved leisure parks in France.
New for 2015 includes a whacky and futuristic Fun Xperiences Arena sports training centre where visitors will love playing the range of new entertaining sports games and Kube Mysteries, a new acrobatic, dance and digital arts show that opened last month.
And of course, there are still family favourites such as The Time Machine with the raving Rabbids, the new Aerobar, an unusual foodtainment experience, Arthur the 4D Adventure, voted the best attraction in the world, and Lady Ô, the Futuroscope fairytale evening show.
For more information visit the Futuroscope website
Also see what we thought about each ride when we visited Futuroscope last year.
Have you ever been tempted to save money on your holiday to France by driving over without breakdown cover? We asked Tim Jury, of Breakdown Direct, to tell us about the pitfalls of parking a European policy.
“Car breakdowns can be very stressful at the best of times, but if you’re outside the UK with a fully loaded vehicle, perhaps with young children on board and limited language skills, it can turn into a nightmare. Then there’s the cost! Bringing your vehicle back to the UK from the South of France has the potential to damage your Bank account by several thousand pounds. When you can buy European breakdown cover for a two week trip from around £30.00, why take the risk?”
What are the pitfalls I should look out for when buying cover?
“There are some very low cost policies available and some of them have greatly reduced benefits, for example, only providing a limited amount – sometimes as little as £150 – towards a replacement hire car, or not including cover to bring your vehicle back to the UK. Be warned!”
What should I look for in a good quality policy?
“The level and type of benefits are important, but so is the quality of practical assistance that’s available. We are talking here about the 24/7 helpline – the logistics of providing a good 24/7 assistance service are challenging, particularly in the busy summer months when it seems half of France is on the move. We use the UK branch of AXA Assistance, and they can call upon the help and support of their comprehensive European office network if required.”
Is it safe to choose the cheapest policy price?
“Only if you are sure that the policy benefits and practical help available meet your needs.”
Is it a good idea to use a price comparison site?
“Not all breakdown providers feature on price comparison sites. If you do use a comparison site bear in mind that the companies that feature on these sites know that price is the key driver, so the same ‘health warning’ as above applies. In addition, check your excess charges (the bit you are required to pay before the policy ‘kicks’ in).”
What should I do if I breakdown in Europe?
“Your breakdown policy should include instructions about what to do. If this happens on a French Motorway you must use the emergency phones. These are managed by the French Police and they will dispatch their own appointed agent to recover you off the motorway.”
Do you have any tips on making my journey as easy as possible?
“Don’t drive abroad unprepared. Familiarise yourself with the driving laws of the country you are visiting – including local speed limits and which side of the road they drive on. Also, make sure you have some local currency with you in case of tolls or unexpected incidences. Lastly, do speak to your motor insurer so you know what to do in the event of an accident.
Find out more about breakdown cover for your holiday in France at breakdowndirect.co.uk/
We think the Vendee is a great destination choice for families – there are great beaches, some lovely seaside towns and it’s far enough south for great weather without being an epic ride from the ferry ports.
So we asked expert Martin Holmes, of Vendee Gites, to tell us even more about the region.
Why is the Vendee such a great choice for families?
For many families, it’s the easy accessibility. At only three hours from the ferry port of St Malo, or four hours from Caen, it avoids a long fraught drive in France. The Vendee is the first point you come to in western France where you get a real change in climate and more reliable weather, so it’s a very good compromise.
The Vendee is renowned for its fabulous coastline, with a total of 140km of sandy beaches, great for family holidays. However, you don’t have to stay right on the coast and there are some lovely authentic villages just inland, offering great value holiday accommodation with the beaches still within easy reach.
In terms of visits and activities, there is a vast choice to suit all family members; surfing and most other water sports, tree-adventure parks, fun pools, historic chateaux to visit, botanical gardens, go-karts, golf and many themed attractions with interactive educational value. We often have guests coming back several years running and they say they still haven’t seen it all.
What events and attractions does the Vendee offer ?
- The Vendée Globe race
- Régates du Bois de la Chaise at Noirmoutier
- Stages of the Course du Figaro
- Reef Vendée Pro surfing event at Brétignolles-sur-Mer
- French kite-surfing championships
The development of tourism in the Vendee is firmly around a ‘green’ theme with extensive work done on providing a huge network of rambling and cycling trails. There are 1000km of cycling trails in the Vendee – the longest network of any French department.
With over 500 different festivals and events every year there is always something to see during your holiday and the local tourist office is always a good source of information for what’s-on nearby. One of our favourites, which is on a national level, is the Fête de la Musique on the 21st of June – an evening of music of all kinds in the streets of most towns.
For great ambiance it’s worth taking a drive down to nearby La Rochelle for this event, just out of the south end of the Vendee.
Where’s your favourite Vendee beach, and why?
For beaches in the Vendee, our personal favourite is the Pointe de l’Aiguillon, extending south from the main beach at La Faute-sur-mer. If you are prepared to walk along the beach for half an hour it becomes almost deserted and the sea birds make the most of the calm open space. This beach backs onto dunes and pine forest that are part of the nature reserve so you can’t get to it any other way than along the shore. Even in high season you can look both ways and only see two or three people in the distance!
For families with young children the popular beaches are usually La Terriere and Les Conches, near La Tranche-sur-mer, for great sand and lifeguards on hand. St Nicolas at Jard-sur-mer is also a good choice, combining an attractive sandy bay with rocky outcrops each end for rock-pool activities.
If there is one food or drink we should try in the Vendee, what should it be?
By far the best-known Vendee speciality that you will find everywhere is Jambon et Mogettes. Slices of grilled local ham served with white beans, slow cooked with garlic.
Otherwise, at the coast it has to be the traditional Moules-Frites – the local mussels are probably the best in France. There are some good local wines to try and we would recommend either those from Coirier at Pissotte or from Mourat at Mareuil-sur-Lay.
We have three nights in the Vendee – what must we see?
The choice is vast and it obviously depends on the ages of the children. For those with older children, our personal favourite is a day trip to the beautiful island of Yeu. You can take the ferry from St Gilles or near Noirmoutier and hire bicycles when you arrive. It’s easy to do the full tour of the island in the day, taking in the forests and sandy coves on the south side, the moorland and rocky cliffs to the north and stopping off for lunch at the picturesque Port de la Meule. A fabulous day out – your really have the feeling of being ‘away from it all’.
Of course we also have to mention the famous history theme park Le Puy du Fou, near Les Herbiers. Whilst not particularly well-known to the English-speaking traveller, this is one of the finest and biggest theme parks in Europe (voted “best theme park in Europe” in 2013). It takes you through many periods of history with absolutely stunning displays. For example, a full size roman amphitheatre with chariot races and gladiator battles! It’s a full day to see the major attractions, but many people take a two day ticket to make sure that they see it all. If you want to also do the night time Son-et-Lumière spectacle, then you need to book tickets for this around March/April for the summer dates.
Green Venice is good for a relaxing visit to wind down. There are many places where you can hire a punt or canoes to explore the tree-lined canals, (Maillezais, Coulon or Damvix for example). Either with a guide or on your own – it’s a must do.
Is there anything else we should look out for in the Vendee in 2015?
The Vendee has always been a great value family holiday destination but with the excellent exchange rate at the moment, now is the time to try it!
The weather is superb in May and June and over the past few years we have had excellent warm weather right through to September, making the Vendee a great destination for a week’s break outside the main summer holidays.
What’s new for Vendee-Gites in 2015?
There will be a couple of new properties coming on line later this year and we will be visiting a few other potential candidates that look promising. Being one of the best-known companies in holiday rentals in the Vendee, we are approached by owners all the time to add properties to our range, but we prefer to carefully select what we present and limit it to an exclusive quality range to be able to offer excellent value for money and trouble-free holidays.
Whilst our website is easily navigable on most devices we will have a new mobile and tablet friendly site later this year. Our clients praise us on the quality of the presentation, the detailed property information and the accurate availability calendars, so we won’t be making major changes to the format or content.
Martin Holmes (pictured) owns Vendee-Gites, holiday rentals specialists in the Vendee. Find out more at www.vendee-gites.com.
See our France For Families Vendee highlights here: www.franceforfamilies.com/france/vendee
Alpe d’Huez is best known as one of the Alps’ most popular ski resorts, but Catherine Cooper tells us how it also makes a brilliant family destination in summer too.
Says Catherine: “Alpe d’Huez is one of the most famous stages of the Tour de France, and as such it is a big centre for road cyclists setting themselves the challenge of cycling up the iconic road with 21 hairpin bends from the valley floor to the village.
“But as well as that, it’s also very popular mountain bikers who can take one of the selected lifts which are open all summer and roll (or slide, or fall) down various cycle pistes which are graded from green to black like ski pistes.
“As near-complete novices, we joined a 2-hour VTT initiation session in a group of about 15 with two patient instructors who taught us how to squeeze the brakes gently with our finger tips and push our bums back over the seat as the slope got steeper. After that they took us up the main DMC ski lift before guiding us down the mainly grassy but occasionally rocky slope.
“Looking at the rest of the group in near full body armour I began the lesson fairly convinced I was going to break something but thanks largely to the patience of the instructors, actually managed to enjoy the second run down and even gave it a go again another day.
“Another day we took two lifts all the way to the top – there was still snow on the ground up there and we were woefully underdressed – and another day took a lift up to walk alongside some stunning lakes joined by streams.
“Back down in the village we tried out summer luge and X-Fly – a collection of activities including two zip wires, climbing walls and an eight-metre jump into an air bag.
“On the one rainy day the children tried out the indoor adventure park In’Vertigo, played table tennis and indoor mini golf. The Palais des Sports offers a Premium Pass which gives you unlimited entry to the indoor and outdoor pools, ice rink, tennis courts, minigolf, table tennis and more, so it doesn’t even need to cost a fortune.
“On our last day in the resort Toby and Livi took their first parapente flight and then in the afternoon we went mountain biking. However I was feeling lazy so after one run down I swapped my ordinary bike for an electric one and spent the afternoon cycling up to the lake, down the hill a little so that I could power up past the proper cyclists aided by the little motor. As far as I’m concerned now, that’s the only way to cycle.
“We stayed in VIP Ski’s Chalet La Maison, a luxurious and comfortable chalet at 2,000 metres, above the main village of Alpe d’Huez in a quiet location but very close to the main DM1 telecabine and some chairlifts as well as shops, bars and a small supermarket.
The chalet has four en suite rooms with balconies, lovely big living room with a large sunny balcony with deckchairs and fabulous view, Freeview TV, Bose sound systems and fully-equipped kitchen. Best of all, downstairs there’s a sauna and jacuzzi. Summer prices start at £105 per room per night, self-catering. Breakfast can be added for an additional charge of £7.50 per person.
Find out more about VIP Ski’s Chalet La Maison here: www.vip-chalets.com/chalets/le-village,-chalet-la-maison.
Visit the official site of the Alpe d’Huez here: www.alpedhuez.com/.
Active families can enjoy France from the bike saddle by following bite size chunks of Veloscenic, a 270-mile cycleway linking Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel.
The route takes on special significance this year, with the final leg arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel, which will complete 10 years of development work to restore the tidal flow which cuts-off the iconic island from the mainland at high tide.
Veloscenic is a long-distance route that is easy to navigate, with 80 miles of traffic-free greenways and 125 miles of shared paths to suit families and amateur cyclists.
Opened in 2012, the cycleway follows an original pilgrimage route through the regions of Ile-de-France, Centre-Val de Loire, Pays de la Loire and Basse-Normandie, passing a staggering five UNESCO World Heritage Sites en route.
The full route takes around one week to complete, but families can limit themselves to short stretches – seven are described as family friendly – and discover spectacular scenery and sample the essence of traditional French life, history and culture.
To find out more head to www.veloscenic.com, a comprehensive English website with an easy-to-use trip planner and interactive search, plus advice on where to rent a bike, where to eat, places to visit (including local markets) and connecting train stations. There is technical information on each stage with a difficulty rating, elevation and GPS tracks to navigate.
Four Veloscenic routes for families
Head towards the light at Chartres – 22 miles
This short stretch leads to Chartres along the royal valley of Eure along tiny roads, stop-off at delightful gardens, passing Maintenon Castle and its impressive aqueduct. Arrive in Chartres by dusk and watch the city bathed in thousands of lights, with creative illuminations that run from 11 April until 10 September 2015.
Amble along in Percheron country – 47 miles
A family-friendly section following a network of green lanes virtually the entire way, through the Perche Regional Park with lush green countryside dotted with villages, mills and mansions. Swap two wheels for four on a carriage tour with Celine Maudet, or walk part of the way with a donkey!
Awaken your senses – 41 miles
Follow a delightful greenway, formerly a railway track, and be seduced by charming villages such as Mortain and Ducey. Stop-off the sample delicious local delicacies direct from the farm.
Cruise to Mont Saint-Michel – 19 miles
Keep the famous silhouette of Mont Saint-Michel in vision, pedalling through the surrounding grasslands with superb sea vistas before reaching the newly-restored, iconic landmark.
Trains booked through Voyages SNCF (www.voyages-sncf.com; 0844 848 5 848) from London-Paris and back from Pontorson (the nearest station to Mont Saint-Michel) to London (via Paris) start at £89.50 per person. Alternatively, Brittany Ferries (www.brittanyferries.com; 0871 244 1400) offers return channel crossings to Caen, Cherbourg and Saint Malo from £110pp for a car and two passengers.
Away from the treats of Paris, Lyon, Marseille and the country’s other huge metropolises, France has a large number of smaller cities with just as much to offer families. Journalist Ben Lerwill gives us 10 of the best, ranging from globally renowned tourist spots to enjoyable under-the-radar destinations.
Find accommodation with our choice of family friendly gites across France: www.franceforfamilies.com/gites
1. La Rochelle
A hugely important seaport in the Middle Ages, the handsome coastal city of La Rochelle still boasts two impressively bulky 14th-century stone towers, both of which can be climbed. Nearby you’ll find a world-class aquarium – complete with rays, sharks and piranhas – and there also two adjacent toy museums in town, one focusing on scale models, the other on automated figurines. And if you’re here in May, you might be lucky enough to catch the annual Red Bull high-diving competition in the harbour.
Picture credit: © Atout France | R-Cast
As if being just a short drive from the Med weren’t enough (the nearby resort of Narbonne Plage has a huge family-friendly beach), the unassuming city of Narbonne also has a rich history, an attractive centre and some appealing activities for kids. Wander the halls of its handsome covered market to gawp at everything from freshly netted seafood to gargantuan gateaux, then explore the old Roman remains at the city’s heart.
Picture credit: © Atout France | R-Cast
When Lorraine’s spire-dotted capital city was chosen to host France’s new Pompidou Centre – open only since 2010 – it marked a fresh beginning for somewhere that had long attracted in-the-know holidaymakers. Highlights include its riverside parks, its picture-postcard architecture and a 450-year-old Gothic cathedral, not to mention the Pompidou Centre itself, which continues to stage some great modern art exhibitions and cultural events.
Picture credit: Saint-Etienne cathedral in Metz © Atout France | Franck Charel
The graceful Provencal city of Avignon might be principally known for its historical remains – most notably the UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes, the largest Gothic palace on the planet – but it has a youthful pulse too. There’s a large student population, meaning plenty for visitors in their late teens to enjoy, and the city also hosts an excellent performing arts festival every summer. It’s been running since the 1940s.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Martine Prunevieille
Synonymous with champagne, and standing as arguably the most important city in the region of the same name, Reims is an easy place to fall for. It’s a great base for those who want to visit the area’s bubbly producers, of course, but has plenty to offer in its own right too, not least a hugely important cathedral (more than 20 French kings were crowned here) and some well-kept, child-friendly parks.
Picture credit: Château des Champagnes Pommery in Reims © Atout France | CRT Champagne-Ardenne | Oxley
The capital city of the eastern Franche-Comté region often gets overlooked by visitors, making it all the more of a pleasant surprise for those who do come calling. Spread over seven hills and celebrated in literary circles as the birthplace of Victor Hugo, it has a charming historic centre that plays home to a great museum (look out for the Egyptian mummies) and an 18th-century astronomical clock comprising no less than 30,000 moving parts.
Picture credit: © Atout France | CRT Franche-Comte | Citadelle AMB
The medieval city of Carcassonne needs little introduction. Its remarkable skyline, which from a distance is all fairytale turrets and invader-thwarting ramparts, continues to draw millions of tourists each year. Things can get crowded, but if you visit away from the peak summer months you’ll find it a rewarding place to explore. Adding to the appeal is the nearby Canal du Midi, where a gentle pedal along its banks can be enjoyed on hire-bike.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Catherine Bibollet
The alpine settlement of Annecy isn’t much of a secret, but popularity hasn’t made its lakeside, mountain-ringed setting any less dramatic. Its medieval old city is threaded with canals and makes for an atmospheric place to linger over a meal, while active families can make the most of the activities available in the surrounding region, from cycling and walking to paragliding and even bungee-jumping.
Picture credit: Annecy Lake © Atout France | Fabrice Milochau
Sitting just north of Marseille but with less than a fifth of its population, the little city of Aix-en-Provence is renowned for its plentiful gardens and bohemian heartbeat. It’s a cultured place with some great museums, the pick of which is probably the Musée Granet, which has a collection of works by artists such as Rembrandt, Giacometti and one-time Aix resident Paul Cézanne.
Picture credit: Cloisters of Saint-Sauveur cathedral in Aix-en-Provence © Atout France | Michel Angot
10. Mont Saint-Michel
The tiny walled city of Mont Saint-Michel – with a permanent population, at the last count, of less than 50 – is no urban jungle. But its abbey-topped rock remains one of the most iconic sights in French travel, and as well as the sights within the ramparts, it’s also possible to take a low-tide walking tour around the entire mount and across the bay.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Jérôme Berquez
Find a holiday home close to these wonderful French cities with our gites across France: www.franceforfamilies.com/gites
Catherine Cooper and her children are left seeing stars after a visit to the Pic du Midi to see the largest telescope in France.
It’s not often that I will willingly get up at 6am, and it’s even less often that my children Livi, aged 10 and Toby, 12 are happy to do so. But when you know you’re getting up early because you’re going to be seeing Jupiter so clearly it will almost makes you feel like an astronaut, somehow getting out of bed isn’t so hard.
We were spending a “Nuit au Sommet” at Pic du Midi – an observatory at 2,877 metres in the Pyrenees which is home to the largest telescope in France. An observatory has existed on or close to the current site since 1873, but wasn’t open to the public until 2000, when they upgraded the cable car and opened largely as a way of generating funds when the site was threatened with closure.
The site is accessed by a telepherique from La Mongie, a ski resort halfway along the Col de Tourmalet made famous as one of the most gruelling climbs of the Tour de France. The Pic du Midi, with its concrete walls and metal domes, looms above you on a craggy peaks like a James Bond villain’s lair as you drive towards it.
At the lift office we were given “Nuit au Sommet” lanyards which we were told we were to wear at all times and the children loved – “It’s like being a VIP!” LIvi enthused. Once at the top we were taken along a bunker-like corridor to our rooms. The rooms were converted from scientists’ quarters for paying guests in 2007 and, although small, wouldn’t be out of place in a minimalist boutique hotel. Each one has a large vanity sink and mirror, crisp white linen and windows with mountain-top views, while the immaculate, modern showers and toilets are just along the corridor.
Outside there are several viewing terraces and the view is, well, almost indescribable. “It’s like being on top of the world,” Toby remarked, and it was. During the day, all you can see around you are mountains and valleys – on a clear day (as the day we visited was) apparently you can see for 400 km. There’s also a telescope which allows you to look at the sun without damaging your eyes.
We had a quick look round the museum which has some interesting footage and pictures of the observatory being built and through the ages as well as more general information about space and planets. By the time we went back outside, the sun was almost going down and it had a “staying late after school” feeling as the day visitors left and only the 27 people spending the night plus a few staff were left.
After an apero and a short safety briefing from Philippe Novvak, our guide for the evening, we went out on to the terrace to watch the sunset and for the main event – our first telescope. He pointed it at the moon and we took it in turns to look. The clarity with which you could see the contours and craters was amazing. We also looked at clusters of stars and even Mars, which glowed red.
You are told to take warm clothes and we were all wearing ski jackets but despite it having been mild and sunny during the day and there being no wind, it was by now really, really cold and the dinner back inside the building in the warm was very welcome. The champagne apero in cute miniature bottles was followed by a three-course traditional meal made from local produce – charcuterie and foie gras, followed by mixed meats and a café gourmand-style dessert.
After dinner we went back out on to the terrace. By now it was properly dark and as traditional white light could interfere with the star, planets and more that the telescope operators are looking at, we were each given plastic Pic du Midi key rings which glowed with a small red light that pressed to light up our way a little until our eyes got used to the dark.
By now the view was very different – as you looked out you could see the street lights of dozens of towns and villages way below. And above, with clear skies and no light pollution the sky was littered with stars. Using a laser pointer, Philippe pointed out various constellations in the sky and we also looked at some star clusters through the telescope but by about 10:30pm we were all getting seriously cold and decided to call it a night.
In bed, I tried not to think too hard about the fact that we were on a mountain-top nearly 3,000 metres up with the only way down closed for the night. It felt very special, but also somehow (to me at least, the children fell straight to sleep) a little scary. However in reality there was nothing for me to worry about – the Pic du Midi has five firemen on-site 24/7 and can house 600 people for five days in summer if need be or 300 people in winter for 10 days, plus it has a pharmacy and nursing staff.
Philippe had told us he would be in the Charvin Dome – which is now used only by tourist groups – from 6am to 7am for those who wanted to see Jupiter. Despite the early hour, the entire group was there. And it was amazing. Not only could you see Jupiter but the gases which surround it and even four of its moons. By 7:20, it has moved out of sight as Philippe had warned it would and we went to have breakfast.
While the observatory used to host many scientists, these days apparently they do most of their observations remotely and rarely visit. The only people generally at the observatory overnight apart from tourists, the staff looking after them and security personnel are engineers operating the 3 telescopes plus other observational equipment. Their canteen is open for self-service breakfasts from 9pm to 9am, so this is where we ate.
After breakfast Philippe took us along a warren of corridors and up some winding stairs to see the Bernard Lyot telescope. With its 2-metre mirror, it is the biggest in France. Philippe told us that it is so powerful, if the world was flat, you could see the time on the clock face of Big Ben with it.
We are lucky enough to travel quite often as a family and even though for us this trip was fairly close to home, it was definitely one of the most memorable. The children were the only children in our group but were fascinated by the whole thing. However, the Nuit au Sommet isn’t recommended for children under eight – not only because there is quite a lot of listening and waiting (and it gets very cold) but also because of the effects of being at high altitude, which can be quite tiring in themselves. While there is some signage in English and other languages in the museum, all the commentary is in French. But even if your French is far from fluent, you don’t have to understand every word of the commentary to appreciate the views and the utter magic of seeing faraway planets so close up.
Pic du Midi overnight stays cost 299 euros for a single room and 399 euros for a double room. Visit www.picdumidi.com.
What else to do in the area
Visit Parc Animalier des Pyrenees: We’ve been to a lot of animal parks since arriving in France and I think this is one of the best we’ve ever been to. Surrounded by stunning scenery, it has happy-looking, well-kept animals with plenty of space and only species which look like they should be there, many of which are endangered and part of breeding programmes including bears. There‘s also an open section for vultures injured by wind farms and we particularly liked the playful giant otters. Entrance 16 euros for adults, 11 euros for children. www.parc-animalier-pyrenees.com
Go to a spa: There are several thermal water spas in the area which welcome children but don’t feel in anyway overrun by them. We liked www.lejardindesbains.com in Argeles-Gazost with an outdoor jacuzzi and relaxing experience pools with music and aromatheapy and www.aquensis.fr in Bagnères-de-Bigorre with an enormous hammam, Moroccan-style tea-room and rooftop jacuzzis. In both places the children loved the large main pools with massage jets. Spa entry from around 11 euros for adults and 4.5 to 6.5 euros for children.
Visit Cirque de Gavarnie: a UNESCO heritage site surrounded by sixteen summits which are all over 3000 metres high plus the highest waterfall in Europe. You can even rent horses or donkeys for children who don’t fancy the walk. If you have time (unfortunately we didn’t) there’s also neighbouring Cirque de Tremouse which is also UNESCO listed and reputed to be equally spectacular.
Eat at Les Petits Pois Sont Rouge in Argelès-Gazost: Fine-dining in a relaxed atmosphere with an imaginative and very reasonably priced menu du jour. http://www.hotelmiramont.com/fr/
Stay at Hôtel Les Rochers in Saint-Savin: a small, well-priced, friendly hotel with English owners and a great chambre d’hote evening meals in a village with stunning views of the valley. We had a family suite made up of two rooms. Rooms from 55 euros per night. www.lesrochershotel.com
Visit the waterfalls at Pont d’Espagne near Cauterets: a short, easy walk takes you to a bridge where you can watch the waterfall both above and beneath you.
Drive along the Col de Tourmalet: Enjoy the views of this iconic Tour de France col or, if you’re feeling really energetic, cycle.
Visit Lourdes: whether you are interested in its religious history and significance or not, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes where Mary is reputed to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858 and now the home to 22 places of worship is well worth a visit.
Holiday packages and Pic du Midi overnight stays are bookable through UK specialist tour operator Pyrenees Collection (pyreneescollection.co.uk; 0844 576 0176). 7 nights, 3* self-catering in Cauterets starts from £84pp ski-drive or £49pp accommodation only basis.
Boring museums? Think again! From gold panning, to interactive science games and old fashioned circus rides, travel writer Heidi Fuller-love gives us her guide to France’s top 11 kid-friendly museums.
For family friendly accommodation close to any of these museums, head to our gites pages. www.franceforfamilies.com/gites
1. Futuroscope, near Poitiers
With more than 40 million visitors Futuroscope is one of the best-known and leisure parks in France with 25 original experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Kids will be amazed by the films in giant format, thrill-filled attractions, 3D rides with 4D effects, live shows, and they can get stuck into many of the open-air activities. www.en.futuroscope.com
Picture credit: Futuroscope
2. Le Bournat, Dordogne
Kids these days might be hooked on video games, but even the most modern families love the old fashioned attractions at this open air museum where a typical 19th century Périgord village has been recreated, complete with fairground rides, local crafts and costumed inhabitants.
Set in a vast park alongside a pretty stream, Le Bournat has a working windmill, a basket maker who teaches kids to weave, old fashioned village cafes and a large area dedicated to turn-of-the-last-century fair rides, including wooden race horses that rock around a track on rails and a fleet of child-size vintage push cars. www.lebournat.fr
Picture credit: Le Bournat
3. Musée en Herbe, Paris
Split into two areas, one for older kids and one for younger families, a series of interactive games and activities based on the abstract work of artists ranging from Pablo Picasso to Marc Chagall really get their creative juices flowing, whilst a series of workshops will inspire them to create their own masterpieces. From February 2015 the museum has a new exhibition dedicated to the boy detective Tintin. www.musee-en-herbe.com
Picture credit: Musee en Herbe
4. La Cite des Enfants
One of the City of Light’s most exciting museums, La Cite des Enfants, at the heart of Paris’ award-winning Cite des Sciences, includes a huge interactive space where children and young adolescents can explore exhibits designed to test their flexibility and their senses, or learn more about techniques of non verbal communication, whilst having a lot of fun. www.cite-sciences.fr
5. Le Vaisseau, Strasbourg
Created specifically for kids and teens, this hands-on museum takes its motto, ‘it’s forbidden not to play’ very seriously.
With more than a 100 recreational activities – including Bob the Builder, where children can plan and construct their own house or other edifice, and a series of interactive exhibits that encourage younger children to explore their physical environment, this unique museum is guaranteed to please kids of all ages. www.levaisseau.com
6. The Meze Dinosaur Museum, Meze
After learning more about these exciting finds in the park’s carefully curated museum, kids can play ‘hunt the dinosaur egg’ in a giant sandpit, watch films about T.Rex and his pals in the Dino cinema, or explore the realm of the planet’s largest inhabitants, via a series of exciting interactive exhibits. www.dinosaure.eu
Picture credit: Musee des Dinosaures
7. Préau des Accoules children’s museum, Marseilles
This imaginative and inspirational museum, which was created specifically with kids in mind, hosts a constantly evolving range of hands-on exhibitions about French history.
A far cry from dry-as-dust school lessons, these magical presentations, ranging from Marseille during the revolution in 1848, to the history of the city’s famous soap, are told by costumed story tellers who encourage the kids to dress up and join in colouring games and other activities that will whet their appetite and – hopefully – make them want to learn more. www.marseille.fr
8. Musee de l’Or, Jumilhac le Grand
This atmospheric museum, located in the basement of a 17th century castle in the historic Périgord hamlet of Jumilhac, relates the glittering tale of gold since the time of the Gauls, when the precious mineral was mined here.
Inside the museum there’s a mining gallery, complete with model miners, and an exhibition of gold coins through the ages. After the visit, an expert takes you gold panning in the river next door where, if you’re lucky, you might even find a few tiny pieces of gold. www.pays-jumilhac.fr
Picture credit: Musee de l’Or | Yannick Chapman
9. Le Musée du Bonbon, Uzès
Sweet-toothed kids adore this museum mentored by historic creator of French sugar-coated goodies, Haribo.
Situated on the site of one of the company’s factories, the visit covers the history of this company, which first started fabricating liquorice and fruit gums in the 19th century, then leads kids through to the machine room, where they can work the machines that pack and deliver sweets.
The visit culminates in a large space stocked with Haribo goodies, where games are based on the company’s products and winners are rewarded with sweets. www.museeharibo.fr
10. Musee des Poupées Miniatures et Jouets du Monde, Gréoux les Bains
The private collection of Madame Portugal, a pensioner who has collected dolls since she was six years old, this amazing museum has more than 20,000 exhibits.
A treasure trove for doll lovers, exhibits are arranged according to themes from periods of French history and daily life, and there are regular workshops where children can learn to make dolls clothes, or build miniature houses. www.museedespoupees.com
11. Puy du Fou
Traveling back in time to mediaeval France, visitors are entranced by live shows ranging from gladiator and chariot combats, and falconry displays, to swordfights and magic acts, which take place in the shadow of the region’s mediaeval castle, on a stage that claims to be one of the largest in the world. www.puydufou.com
Picture credit: Puy du Fou
Find family friendly holiday homes on our gites pages: www.franceforfamilies.com/gites
Are you planning to take the family skiing in France, but you’re not sure which resort to choose? We asked travel expert Jane Egginton to pick 12 of our favourite skiing holidays for families.
To find family friendly accommodation at ski resorts in France visit our Alps pages: franceforfamilies.com/gites/alps-accommodation.
This resort may be well known for its glitz and glamour, but actually its pistes are perfect for families. With a wide variety of slopes to choose from and a number of beginner runs, it is a good option for those travelling with children or older family members. Moriond is particularly good, and a quieter option, with Alitport offering gentle slopes and easy to access lifts. Novices are catered for with both ski and snowboard schools.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
Morzine is a great resort for families and intermediate skiers – the slopes are gentle, sheltered by woods and there are lots of play areas. There also an excellent ESF ski school for children, taking tots from 3 and up. For superb family friendly accommodation, take a look at the catered chalets provided by Simply Morzine: www.simply-morzine.co.uk.
3. Les Gets
This resort regularly gets rated as one of the most family friendly resorts in the Alps, and with good reason. There are plenty of Kindergartens for kids and it offers a high standard of facilities for families of mixed skiing abilities. There is even a children’s area where adults can only enter if accompanied by children. The resort is formed around a traditional village, which gives it an authentic charm and makes it easy to get around, which is a real plus for families. An exciting kids programme includes everything from story telling to chocolate making so little ones can be guaranteed fun on and off the slopes.
4. La Giettaz
If you want to steer clear of the glitzy resorts and spend a little less on your ski holiday to France, you can opt for a lesser-known village in one of the large ski regions. One we like is La Giettaz, in the Portes Mont Blanc area, which has quiet pistes, beautiful surroundings and untracked off-piste, plus (and best of all), the cheapest lift pass for an area of this size in Europe. Ski passes are cheapest when you buy them from the local kiosks, and start from €31 per day for adults and €24 for children. For wonderful accommodation choices, see: www.chalet-la-giettaz.com.
Picture credit: © La Giettaz
There are no cars – just horse-drawn carriages – at this resort which has long won awards for its family friendly facilities. Parents welcome the ski in/ski out option throughout Avoriaz and its safe, easy to use, pedestrianised centre. Kids love the popular ‘Village des enfants’, while the Aquariaz centre offers fun for all the family. This aquatic and leisure complex is made up of a variety of swimming pools as well as a river, heated hot tubs, water slides and even a climbing wall.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
6. Les Karellis
Travelling with little ones too small to walk? This resort provides special sledges for children to facilitate them travelling between its many facilities. Smaller kids can be left at the highly regarded child minding centre, while the teenagers will be entertained at the regular resort discos. There’s a ski school for children from four years old and a ‘snow garden’ to entertain non-skiing little ones. Families are entertained together too, in dedicated play areas, and with special events and activities.
7. Serre Chevalier
This family focussed ski resort is actually made up of three villages: Chantemerle, Villeneuve la Salle and Monêtier les Bains. En masse they provide a playground for all ages with attractive forests, large snowfalls and the beautiful park of Parc des Ecrins. Kids love the snow garden while parents appreciate the high level of child caring facilities. Beginners in the family as well as younger children can take to the large number of green slopes surrounding the resort.
8. La Rosière
This resort has long been a family favourite with skiiers. In a lovely setting, which gets lots of sun, families come first, ‘The Resort Where Children Are Royalty’ really is the motto here. Enjoy a compact skiing area with easily accessible ski lessons for kids as well as for older family members who can take to the well-serviced beginners slopes.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
9. Les Trois Valleys
Les Menuires in The Three Valleys has proudly held the ‘Family Plus Mountain’ award for years. Those on a budget will appreciate the special offers on lift passes to those travelling ‘en famille’. A guide produced by the tourist office details activities and facilities for kids. Little ones can join the ski school and there are well-serviced children skiing zones, with special magic carpets and child safety bars to help get them on and off the slopes.
10. Les Arcs
Sledging, skiing schools for kids, and the four separate villages makes Les Arcs a great option for skiing families. Thanks to a direct link with Eurostar from Central London, it is also an accessible and budget option. Of the four villages, Les Arc 1950 is the newest and also the most family friendly option. The facilities here include apres-ski activities for all ages, family focussed restaurants and plenty of leisure options in the pretty village square.
11. Val d’Isere
This is another big name, but another winner for families. Val d’Isere is a compact resort, which has a car-free centre, which means getting around for young and old is relatively easy. There is a Children’s Holiday Village – for babies as young as 18 months, a nursery and a network of nannies. Ski schools are of a high standard, catering to all abilities and for non-skiiers there’s an ice-skating rink, sledging and even a full service spa.
Picture credit: © Atout France | Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
12. Belle Plagne
Belle Plagne boasts a pedestrianised centre, a purpose built children’s ski area, and a variety of blue runs for younger skiiers and beginners. The resort is built around an attractive village, which enjoys good snowfall and has been given the French Tourism ‘Family Plus’ accreditation for its family-friendly credentials.
Find ski accommodation in France: www.franceforfamilies.com/gites/alps-accommodation.
From tots to grannies, everyone enjoys an animal park and France offers some unforgettable close encounters; France expert Gillian Thornton picks 10 of her favourites.
Le Parc des Oiseaux (Rhône-Alpes)
Clustered round a central lake, the Bird Park at Villars les Dombes showcases birds from around the world in landscaped areas reminiscent of their natural habitats. The biggest collection of birds in France – and one of the most diverse in Europe – the park’s collection includes many endangered species. Watch the amazing Birds in Flight show, see baby birds in the nursery, and watch feeding times for penguins, pelicans and birds of prey. www.parcdesoiseaux.com
Nausicaa (Nord-Pas de Calais)
Opened in 1991, the French National Sea Centre in Boulogne is far more than just another aquarium. Through a fascinating display of marine creatures and habitats, Nausicaa graphically illustrates why we all need to take responsibility for the world’s oceans. And by the time you’ve watched ethereal jellyfish under ultra violet light; looked down on the teeming life of a coral reef, and walked beneath sharks, you’ll want to do your bit too. Promise! www.nausicaa.co.uk
Largest wetland area in France, the Camargue spans the vast Rhône-Delta and includes areas of marsh, paddy field, and grazing land. Permanent home to the famous white horses, black cattle and pink flamingos, it’s also a stopping off point for migrating birds. Ask at any local tourist office about family-friendly nature tours on foot and on horseback, by boat and 4×4 – an unforgettable experience in a unique natural environment. www.visitprovence.com
Zooparc de Beauval (Centre)
More than 5700 animals live in this glorious wooded park near Saint-Aignan in the Cher valley, a key player in the European conservation network. Expect a ‘Wow!moment’ around every corner as you come face to face with many rare species including koalas, giant pandas, and manatees, white lions and tigers. Watch the action at animal feeding time as well as bird flying displays and sea lion shows. www.zoobeauval.com
European Bison Reserve at Sainte-Eulalie (Languedoc-Roussillon)
Part of an Anglo-Polish project to conserve Europe’s last wild bison, the park was set up here on a forested hillside in 1991. More than 30 bison now live in near-wild conditions with minimum human intervention. Visitors tour the reserve safari-park style in carriages drawn by beautiful heavy horses – a real treat in itself. The bison aren’t bothered by horses and will often graze right beside the carriages. Awesome. www.bisoneurope.com
Parc Zoologique de Jurques (Normandy)
Deep in the Calvados countryside, this charming animal park is a delightful place to spend an afternoon as you move seamlessly through the different continents of the world. Resident species include antelope and white lions, lemurs, monkeys and red pandas. Walk through the parrot jungle, pet the residents in the children’s farm, and watch rescued Barbary macaques scampering up the steep cliff of an old quarry beside Barbary sheep and mandrills. www.zoodejurques.fr (Reopens Feb 2015)
Les Loups du Gévaudan wolf park (Languedoc-Roussillon)
High in the mountains of Lozère above the Lot Valley, this fun family attraction at Sainte-Lucie has a serious conservation purpose. Established in 1985, it is home to more than 120 wolves from around the world, all living in semi-freedom. Learn all about them in the visitor centre, then look down into their enclosures from viewing platforms. Visit in early summer and you’ll almost certainly spot some of the cute new cubs. www.loupsdugevaudan.com
La Ferme aux Crocodiles (Rhône-Alpes)
All children are fascinated by crocodiles and at Pierrelatte in the Rhône Valley, your family can meet more than 400 crocodiles at close quarters in perfect safety. Unique in Europe, the Crocodile Farm is home to many different species, and not just crocodiles. Giant tortoises, free-flying tropical birds and lush vegetation add to the atmosphere inside the giant greenhouse and, in summer, both crocodiles and tortoises can bask outdoors in the sun. www.lafermeauxcrocodiles.com
La Forêt des Singes (Midi-Pyrénées)
Take your little monkeys to interact with an enchanting collection of sociable Barbary macaques or Magots within sight of Rocamadour, one of France’s most spectacular perched villages and places of pilgrimage. The Monkey Forest is home to around 150 individuals who live freely within the reserve. There are plenty of human guides on hand to help you interpret the behaviour of the adults and babies within different social groups, and fabulous photo memories are almost guaranteed as the macaques, in turn, watch their human visitors. www.la-foret-des-singes.com
Magnificent horses at the National Studs
Launched under Louis XIV to provide a ready supply of war horses, the French network of 22 national studs or haras nationaux today assures the breeding of quality animals for competition as well as maintaining native breeds. One of the grandest is the Haras du Pin in Normandy – nicknamed the ‘Versailles of the Horse’ – which offers guided tours and Thursday afternoon shows in summer. And don’t miss the shaggy, chocolate-brown Poitou donkeys at the Haras in Saintes near La Rochelle.
Find accommodation close to France’s best animal attractions on our gite pages: www.franceforfamilies.com/gites
If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Paris with children it’s important to choose the right accommodation, so we asked Katie Edwards from Disney specialists WelcomeToTheMagic.com (www.welcometothemagic.com) to give us the low down on the Disney’s self-catering option – Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch.
Says Katie: “This collection of log cabins is part of the Disneyland Paris Resort, but set in its own Swiss Family Robinson-style location surrounded by woodland, yet with loads of its own facilities to keep families wowed.
“The ranch is made up of log cabins set in clusters of 50-100, yet despite the numbers everything feels peaceful and remote. This part of the park is not served by the free shuttle buses that operate around the resort so you do need a car. You can park your car next to your cabin and parking at the Disney Parks is free (just a 15-minute drive away)
“Each cabin has two bedrooms and sleeps up to six people. There’s a double bedroom, bunk beds and a convertible sofa. The bathroom has a bath and the kitchen comes fully equipped with a fridge, microwave, hob, kettle, dishwasher and washing-up kit.
“We thought that the cabins may simply be a place to sleep, but there is actually loads for families to do together and many activities which are free of charge.
“There’s a heated indoor tropical swimming pool, indoor tennis courts, adventure play areas and even an Indian camp with teepees.
“We loved the option of self catering, but with Disney still on our doorstep. We liked that when the kids went to bed we could relax in the lounge area or enjoy a drink outside!
“If you’re driving to Disneyland Paris or have younger children then you should definitely consider Davy Crockett Ranch – there is lots to do, good accommodation and the ranch offers excellent value for money. There’s generally a discount or free nights offer available so worth checking for deals before you book!”
To find out more, take a look at their website, www.welcometothemagic.com/disney-hotels/davy-crockett-ranch.htm.
A new Saturday school in Plymouth has been launched to help children learn about French culture and language. It was setup by a number of French mums to ensure their children don’t lose touch with their French heritage.
It is believed that at least 100 children with French associations reside in the city and being the hub of western cross-channel ferry services, it’s not surprising that there are so many.
The group, named Les Petits Mousses de Plymouth literally translated as The Little Ship’s Apprentices of Plymouth, was founded by Marriig Quentel-Watson. Ms Quentel-Watson said the mothers believed their children would benefit enormously from being taught in written French. The Saturday school builds on a Saturday creative workshop for those aged five and under, Les Choco’mousses.
Ms Quentel-Watson and her friends are now trying to identify all interested families in Plymouth and the surrounding areas. The group for children aged 6 to 16 will be launched in January 2015, and will run every Saturday morning from 10am to noon. So if you speak French at home and would like your children to get additional help, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Les Petits Mousses de Plymouth Facebook page.
Ms Quentel-Watson arrived in Plymouth in 2002 and married an Englishman. They have three sons, and she wanted them to grow with French and English equally. Her husband also became proficient in French, so that in their family the two languages co-exist.
Temperatures hit 30°C on the south west coast of France this week as many families took their annual La Toussaint week’s break. Toussaint (All Saints’ Day in English) is a Catholic celebration to honour all saints, known or unknown; and is
celebrated on the 1st of November each year. This year, French families were able to spend their break on the beach – swimming and as well as sunbathing sunbathing.
In the heart of surfer’s paradise, namely Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, people were out until late at night and shops opened especially to catch the unexpected crowds.
The average temperature in this area of France in October is around 19°C but in 2013 temperatures rose to near 30°C. The highest recorded temperature for this time of year was in 1985 when it reached 32°C.
Fancy joining them? Find accommodation in Aquitaine…
2014 marks 70 years since the Allied invasion of 6th June, 1944 and we explore some of the reason why you should visit Normandy next month.
There’s plenty to keep you interested in Normandy, from tasting the famous ‘Calvados’ and the local cheeses and breads, to exploring the ancient history. Travel east from Dieppe to follow in the footsteps of the Impressionist painters around Fécamp and Etretat, or chill out at family resorts such as Trouville and Cabourg on the Côte Fleurie. West of Caen, the wide open sands of the D-Day landing beaches are gloriously unspoilt, and the museums and heritage sites that commemorate 1944 are a great way to put you in touch with the heroic exploits of Allied soldiers, perhaps members of their own family.
Head round the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula to find quiet coves beneath the high cliffs of La Hague, west of Cherbourg, and explore the sand dunes and estuaries around Barneville-Carteret and Agon-Coutainville on the west coast. Read more about our top reasons to visit this November here
Tignes, set high in the Savoie Alps, is a superb, purpose built, ski in – ski out resort linked with Val d’Isère to create the l’Espace Killy domaine which offers over 300km of pistes. Although the resort is not particularly pretty, it is in a stunning setting.
Our likes/dislikes: Skiing is really convenient with most accommodation right on the pistes. As the resort is high the snow is reliable and the large skiing area provides plenty of challenge for intermediate skiers… Read more here
Photo courtesy of espritski.com
The department of Ariège in the Pyrénées shelters some of the world’s most important cave art. Walk by torchlight inside the mountain to marvel at original paintings of bison, horses and other beasts in fabulous the Grotte de Niaux, and get the full story of the people who roamed here 10,000 years ago at the Parc de la Préhistoire in Tarascon-sur-Ariège.
Further north in the Lot Valley, don’t miss the cave formations and prehistoric artwork at Peche-Merle or the chance to take a boat ride on an underground river at the Gouffre de Padirac.
This is just one of the 6 reasons we believe you should visit the Pyrenees in 2014 or 2015, read our other 5 reasons here…
One of the 4 departments that make up the popular region of Brittany, Morbihan takes it’s name from Breton ‘Ar Mor Bihan’ meaning ‘the little sea’. Discover this most beautiful area with a mild climate, rugged coastline, legendary forests and mysterious menhirs.
Morbihan is rich in scenery, from charming towns, myths and legends and traditional Breton cuisine to offshore islands surrounded by azure waters.
September through to December is the perfect time to head across the channel for a day trip or weekend, and sample some authentic French cuisine and meander amidst French life. If you are learning French in one of the many evening classes offered, this is an opportunity for you to practice.
Use our Day Trip to France page to help you get to know more about where you could visit and what to do within close proximity to the ports. Don’t miss our Shopping page too, with a list of the most useful words you should learn.
Do you plan to cart your family off to France for a week of fun and relaxation? If so, it may please you to know that doing so will now leave less of a dent on your wallet, because the pound recently shot up to its highest against the euro in 2 years. To be specific, sterling lately hit the giddy heights of 1.2699 versus the common currency, its strongest since August 21st 2012.
If a family holiday in France is what you’ve got in mind, what this means is that everything from your accommodation to the food in France will set you back less. For example, let’s say you plan to spend £1,250 on your French getaway. Right now, you’ll get +€170 more for that sum than if you’d exchanged currencies back in March 2013, when the pound was weak. So, with an extra +€170 you could book a more luxurious gite, treat the family to a great meal in a restaurant – all sorts of things!
Of course, the foreign exchange market is volatile, meaning there’s no telling how long this exchange rate will be available. With that in mind, if you want more euros in your pocket when you holiday in France at no extra cost, be sure to exchange currencies soon!
By Peter Lavelle at foreign exchange broker Pure FX. Visit us for free expert currency advice for when you holiday in France.
There are many reasons for keeping your big day an intimate occasion, amongst them the fact that you will be surrounded by the people who love you and the day will feel more like a celebration than a performance. And with the average price of a wedding now at over £20,000, a smaller wedding will save you some money.
As part of our job to bring you some of the very best properties in France to rent, we discovered 3 gems. Each offering an idyllic location with enough space and accommodation to host an intimate ceremony.
Les Chardonnerets, Vendee
Set in the village of Mouzeuil St Martin in the South Vendée, Les Chardonnerets is a former farmhouse and barn, re-developed to create one stunning property that can sleep up to 24 people in 12 bedrooms. The property’s swimming pool will ensure you and your guests get the opportunity to cool down and relax after your big day.
The Vendee has many attractions but it is the golden sandy beaches that line 140km of coastline that prove the most popular amongst visitors. The nearest beaches to Les Chardonnerets are at L’Aiguillon, La Faute, La Tranche and Longeville all of which regularly receive European Blue Flag accreditation. For more information on the property and the area, please visit Les Chardonnerets
Le Pavillon de St Agnan, Dordogne
The picturesque Dordogne, a favourite French destination amongst many British people, is where you will find the walled estate of château le Pavillon. This large property located at the heart of four hectares of parkland offers 5 holiday gites within a restored farmhouse surrounding a horse-shoe shaped courtyard.
The property can sleep up to sixteen people in six bedrooms offering plenty of space to host your small wedding party. Outside there are two swimming pools; a private terrace with sun beds; tables and chairs with parasols; a BBQ; a balcony and a veranda overlooking the estate. For more information on the property and the area, please visit Le Pavillon de St Agnan
La Demeure du Bost, Limousin
La Demeure du Bost located in the department of Creuse in the Limousin is a truly spectacular French chateau, offering romantic charm and the perfect setting for your wedding party.
The restored chateau has an excellent pool and the beautiful grounds will ensure you have the setting to make it an occasion to remember for many years to come. Near La Demeure du Bost are green forests and a wide range of watersports are possible courtesy of Lake Vassivière to entertain your guests. For more information on the property and the area, please visit La Demeure du Bost
There are a few legal points you need to understand about getting married in France. These are best explained on the UK Government website https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/the-british-consulate-in-paris-advises-on-marriage-in-france
A popular alternative is to hold a full marriage ceremony in the UK and arrange a blessing ceremony with your closest family and friends in the grounds of a French Chateau. Please do get in touch with the owners of the chateau who will be able to help you with blessing ceremony arrangements and may also be able to help with arrangements for a full marriage ceremony in France.
School’s Out! If you are holidaying in the Poitou-Charente, Pays de la Loire or Dordogne areas of France, why not pay a visit to Futuroscope, one of the best-known attractions in France. Read more about Futurescope
Here’s a taster of what you can expect to see…
New for 2014 – The Time Machine
An incredible journey back in time with the raving rabbits Futuroscope has cranked up this attraction with a unique blend of art and technology to bring visitors an all-out intensive immersive experience. Read more…
New for 2014 – Hubble Mission
This 3D adventure propels young audiences out to the Hubble Space Telescope to join the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis on a high-stakes repair mission. Their aim is to keep Hubble observing. Read more…
New for 2014 – Virus Attack
Visitors are shrunk to a microscopic size and sent hurtling on a simulator ride into the human body, where they have to pass through muscle tissue, meander down the digestive system, and fight off white blood cells in order to wipe out a dreaded virus – all with only a few minutes to do it in. Read more…
New for 2014 – AEROBAR
Designed by Aerophile in association with DVVD architects (who built the support frame) the Aerobar lifts twelve lucky guests 115 foot in the air with drink (and snack) in hand to have twelve minutes of spectacular views over the Park. Read more…
Are you still looking for summer holiday inspiration? These French destinations are not necessarily the best know for UK visitors, but each offers something special for families.
Cycling in Mayenne (picture)
Cycling for Softies, who specialise in gourmet cycling holidays in rural France, has launched a new itinerary to the little known Mayenne region.
Mayenne represents ‘old world’ France with imposing chateaux and easy, flat cycling beside canals and rivers, unspoilt countryside and pretty villages.
The Softies’ itinerary includes a chateaux hotel in Moulay with pool as well as chickens and goats to keep kids entertained and the gate of the hotel leads directly onto the tow path which doubles as your cycle path.
Other hotels include a beautiful mansion in Le Valle with pool and huge family suite and a traditional family run hotel in Vaiges with amazing food and wine.
Mayenne is conveniently close to the north coast ferry ports and airport at Rennes and is full of caves, pretty villages and market towns to explore.
Cycling for Softies have a rep in the region available 24hrs a day to great guests, provide and mend bikes and advise on cycle routes, stop offs, restaurants and things to do (although all guests also receive a detailed information pack on the region).
Face-to-face with nature in Limousin
Limousin, in the heartland of France, will grab the attention of animal lovers and nature enthusiasts.
First stop is Chabrieres Wolf Park, where the predator roams through the forest in giant enclosures, making it one of the few places where wolves can be observed in their natural habitat.
For those that like a bit more variety than the lonely wolf, there’s also the Reynou Animal Park, which is built around a 19th century castle and is home to over 130 species of animals from across the world.
Alternatively, for some one-on-one animal interaction, Mialaret Horse Farm in Corrèze offers three-hour courses for children aged 9-17 and treks through the surrounding villages and pastures for both adults and teenagers.
For more information see www.tourismelimousin.com/en
Short breaks in Champagne-Ardenne
While the Champagne-Ardenne region may be best known for its bubbly, there are some amazing family friendly short breaks to enjoy.
Let the kids’ imaginations run wild and stay in the Château-fort de Sedan, the largest fortified castle in Europe. Dating from the 15th century, the Château-houses the Hotellerie du Château-Fort, a 54 room hotel & restaurant built into the battlements and ramparts with spectacular views over the Meuse valley. Mums & Dads will appreciate the gourmet restaurant and kids will love exploring the castle on a fascinating audio tour with recreated scenes from history.
Tarzan and Jane wannabes can enjoy the thrill of sleeping in a forest under the stars at Le Chêne Perché amid spectacular scenery. Wild tree-top adventures for the whole family include zip wires, tree-climbing, rope bridges, cycle paths and walks through ancient oak forests at Vigny L’Abbaye. Themed guided walks and picnics are available to track boar, badger, foxes and even wild cats.
Another place to get back to nature and enjoy some forest thrills is The Arboxygene Park near Verzy. Perfect for family holidays with tree-top walks, treeclimbing adventures, nature trails and walking and cycling. A highlight is the stunning treetop bar, which is unique in France. Stay in swanky new Perching Pads accommodation, boasting boasting panoramic views of the forest and surrounding vineyards.
Roman history in Arles
If your children have been learning about Roman history, head to the Provence city of Arles, which is home to the largest number of Roman artifacts outside Rome.
Among Arles numerous National Trust and UNESCO World Heritage sites are a Roman Theatre, spa baths and the Roman Arena, which offers sublime panoramic views and is often home to traditional Camargue bull games and bull fights.
For more information, see www.visitprovence.com/en
Soft adventures in Ardèche
For families look for soft adventure, Ardèche in the Rhone Alpes has lots to offer. There is no better way to explore and appreciate the beauty of the Ardèche gorges than being swept along a river in a canoe or kayak, taking in the dramatic scenery as you go. Although the routes can be challenging at times, the lower water levels in the summer months make it very accessible to all generations of the family. Make it an afternoon activity with a short 6km run from Pont d’Arc to Chames or make it into a short break itself, camping overnight as you explore the 32km route from Gaud to Gournier.
Spotlight on our Gites in Brittany
Looking for a real ‘getawayfromitall’ break? La Motte Parent Gites, Plouguenast, Brittany offers two delightful gites in a peaceful, rural setting yet within walking distance of the essentials (a lazy bar, the baker and a delicious creperie). Surrounded by beautiful countryside this area is great for walking, cycling, horse riding and fishing etc. and there are numerous golf-courses.
The cultural centre of St. Brieuc, with its variety of surrounding beaches, is only 30 minutes away.
La Garenne has two bedrooms and sleeps 4 – 5 and La Pompe has one bedroom and sleeps 2 – 3.
Just a 20 minute drive from some of the most stunning white sand beaches Brittany has to offer, Apple Tree Gite, near Lannion on the Côtes-d’Armor is straight out of a fairytale picture book. Set in 5 acres of tree lined grounds with a large fenced play area, this beautifully modernised detached Breton cottage is a real scene stealer and the kids will love it.
La Cour Cottages in Massérac, Loire-Atlantique also have great character. These two cottages and two converted barns (sleeping, 4, 5, 6 & 10) are nestled on the border of Southern Brittany and Loire Atlantique, perfectly placed for reaching all the beaches and attractions of the region. Each property has it’s own large, private and enclosed garden with garden furniture and BBQ. There is a large selection of bicycles from childs to adults as well as child bicycle trailers and child seats to use free of charge.
A bit of a treat
La Chaumiere in Baud, Morbihan, Brittany is one of two luxury detached thatched cottages in the bucolic hamlet of Le Helleguy. Sleeping 8 in 4 bedrooms, it has its own private terrace with gas BBQ and patio furniture and shares 3 acres of beautiful grounds All the mod cons are here including WIFI internet access & IPod docking station and the ‘piece de resistance’ is the undercover heated swimming pool with retractable roof. For the kids there are outdoor games, swings, slides and for the grown-ups Spa treatments are also available – wow!
There’s an undeniable thrill at walking in the footsteps of great artists and seeing the scenes they painted. France expert Gillian Thornton tell us about her favourite art locations.
Need somewhere to stay. Find a gite close to these arty settings.
Barbizon – Ile-de-France
Forerunners of the Impressionists, the Barbizon School owes its existence to the invention of paints in tubes. In the 1830s, a group of young artists gathered at Barbizon on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, spending long days painting out of doors in natural light. Today, you can visit the studio of Jean-François Millet; the former home of Théodore Rousseau; and – my absolute favourite – tread the boards of the Auberge Ganne where the impoverished painters lodged in shared rooms and painted vibrant pictures on cupboard doors.
Greville-Hague – Normandy
Jean-François Millet grew up in the hamlet of Gruchy, west of Cherbourg, in the rugged area of La Hague. Tucked into the folds of the countryside near the high cliffs, Millet’s home village has changed little since he was born there in 1814. Watch the multi-media presentation in his childhood home then walk down the lane to the cliff path to compare reproductions of his paintings with the real deal – scenes refreshingly unspoilt in almost 200 years.
Giverny – Normandy
Claude Monet’s floral plot in Giverny inspired many of the painter’s best known works, including his famous studies of water lilies. The great man painted scenes all over Normandy, including the chalk cliffs at Etretat and the facade of Rouen cathedral, but Giverny is synonymous with his genius. Monet’s garden is a must-see for its extravagant planting and riot of colour – go early or late in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds, but do go.
Moret-sur-Loing – Ile-de-France
English Impressionist Alfred Sisley settled in the pretty riverside town of Moret-sur-Loing in the late 19th century and spent 20 years painting the medieval streets and ancient fortifications, quiet riverbanks and quaint houses. Amongst his best-loved works is the view of the bridge and church from across the river, but a self-guided route links the locations for some of Sisley’s other works.
Essoyes – Champagne-Ardennes
When Pierre-Auguste Renoir fell in love with Aline Charigot in 1880, he also fell for her home village, Essoyes on the borders of Champagne and Burgundy. Every summer, they came here with their three sons, and now lie in the village cemetery. Renoir’s house is family-owned and closed to the public, but a new visitor centre charts his life and work. Signs direct visitors from the Espace Renoir past picturesque stone houses, across the river Ource, and through a flower garden to his studio.
Aix-en-Provence – Provence
Paul Cézanne was born in Aix in 1839 and died there in 1906. Follow the studs in the pavement to see more than 30 places of interest from his school and family homes to the cafes where he socialised and the Musée Granet that houses some original paintings. The shady main street, colourful market, and bustling cafes simply ooze Cézanne and his art, but don’t miss his studio – the Atelier Cézanne – just outside the town, nor the views of Sainte-Victoire mountain which he painted nearly 500 times.
Nice – Côte d’Azur
Matisse came to Nice on holiday, fell in love with the light, and never left, living here from 1917 until his death in 1954. Housed in a glorious 17th century Genoese villa surrounded by olive trees, the Matisse Museum gives a fascinating insight into the way his style developed from his very first ‘conventional’ painting in 1890 through drawings and the paper cut-outs of his later career.
Arles – Provence
Gateway to the Camargue, Arles was an inspiration to Vincent Van Gogh who arrived here in February 1888 in search of external light and internal enlightenment. He found both in this attractive Roman town, embarking on 15 months of high productivity that resulted in more than 300 paintings and drawings. Stand on the spots that inspired him and see reproductions of paintings such as Evening Café, Starry Night, and Old Mill. The distinctive outline of the Langlois bridge is located just outside the town – an iconic backdrop to any souvenir photo,
Albi – Midi-Pyrenees
A former bishops’ palace may seem an unlikely place for pictures of brothels and prostitutes, but the world’s largest collection of work by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec somehow seems to sit perfectly inside its imposing red brick walls. The city’s favourite son suffered from a congenital condition that stunted his growth, so turned to painting, studying in Paris and immortalising the colourful characters of Montmartre. This impressive museum recently reopened after a major makeover and hits the spot perfectly, whether you’re a major Lautrec fan or just a general art lover.
Paris – Montmartre
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi includes his celebrated publicity posters, the first of which was commissioned by the directors of the Moulin Rouge in 1891. This world-famous cabaret – home of the can-can – is nestled at the foot of Montmartre, once a hilltop village with windmills and a vineyard, and a mecca for Bohemian artists. It’s undeniably touristy but you can still sense what this colourful quarter of actors and artists, cafes and clubs must have been like at the turn of the 20th century.
Classroom lessons come zinging vividly at France’s many historical sites. Travel writer Gillian Thornton gives us 10 to try these for starters…
Want somewhere to stay? See our list of gites close to history locations.
Wellington Quarry, Arras, Nord (Nord-Pas de Calais)
For families fired up by the World War I centenary, the Wellington Quarry in Arras is one of the most thought-provoking sites. Named Wellington after the tunnellers from New Zealand who enlarged the network, these subterranean passages were turned into a temporary holding station for Allied troops in 1917 before the Battle of Arras. Visitors tour underground ‘rooms’, see graffiti, and stand at the foot of the rough stairway that led to daylight and the German guns. Intensely moving.
Champollion Museum, Figeac (Lot)
Picturesque Figeac was the birthplace in 1790 of Jean-François Champollion who unlocked the secret of Egyptian hieroglyphics by deciphering the symbols on the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum. His former home is now a fascinating museum to the history of world writing from ancient times to the present day. Spread across four floors, this is an attraction that’s geared to all ages. Don’t miss the horizontal representation of the Rosetta Stone in black granite in the square behind.
Thiepval Memorial, Somme (Picardy)
Not far from Albert, the Thiepval Memorial is the largest British war memorial in the world, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and carrying the names of more than 72,000 British and South African soldiers with no known graves, who died on the Somme between July 1915 and March 1918. The visitor centre and adjacent cemetery complete the story, along with further cemeteries and the Ulster Tower just across the fields. A Great War site guaranteed to inspire a younger generation to world peace.
Azincourt Museum (Nord-Pas de Calais)
Medieval warfare is a hit with most kids, but especially when you can stand on the spot where it all took place. On October 25th 1415, Henry V’s archers decimated a French army more than twice their size outside the village of Azincourt – immortalised as Agincourt in English history. Feel the weight of medieval combat weapons, try on helmets, and enjoy all kinds of interactive fun at the Medieval Centre, before exploring the battlefield itself.
Roman remains at Vienne and St Romain-en-Gal (Rhône-Alpes)
Vienne and St Romain-en-Gal on opposite banks of the Rhône once made up the Roman town of Vienna. Vienne’s main theatre still accommodates 10,000 people for concerts ranging from Robert Plant to an annual jazz festival, whilst St Romain-en-Gal retains its original street plan, which gives real meaning to the artefacts and models in the spacious museum. Kids love walking on paving stones pitted by chariot wheels and posing beside the line of communal toilets!
Cave paintings in the Grottes de Niaux, Ariège (Midi-Pyrenees)
Tucked in the shadow of the Pyrenees, the Grotte de Niaux in Tarascon-sur-Ariège is one of France’s most important prehistoric sites. Follow an ancient river bed by flashlight, then turn off the torches … your guide will shine a beam on paintings of bison and ibex so real you expect them to leap from the wall. Created by Magdalanian artists 14,000 years ago, the animals’ bodies follow the contours of the rock to create an extraordinary 3-D effect. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Roman theatre at Orange (Provence)
Orange is one of just three Roman theatres to have retained its entire back wall intact, the others being in Turkey and Syria. The wall towers over the town rooftops, but that does nothing to lessen the ‘Wow-factor’ when you enter the auditorium beneath the steep tiers of seats. Watch the short film about the rituals of Roman theatre performances, and don’t miss the Art and History Museum opposite to see artefacts found in and around the town.
Bayeux Tapestry (Normandy)
Wrongly named but hugely impressive, the Bayeux tapestry is actually an embroidery on linen. This glorious strip cartoon in stitch is full of drama and detail, all laced with a generous dose of guts and gore, and audio-guides make sure you spot every key element, even down to the spy hiding behind a tree. Complete the William the Conqueror triangle by visiting his ducal castle at Caen and his birthplace at Falaise. A few euros will buy younger children an activity booklet packed with fun facts and puzzles across all three sites.
June 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings on D-Day – or Jour-J to the French. Every museum, memorial and beach has its own USP, but the town of Arromanches is particularly family-friendly for the remains of the floating Mulberry Harbours that remain off shore or – at low tide – on the beach. Young visitors can put the whole episode into context at the seafront museum, with regular talks given in English.
Lewarde Mining Museum, Nord (Nord-Pas de Calais)
The former coalfield area around Lille and Lens is still proud of its industrial heritage and the former pit at Lewarde is now France’s largest mining museum. Visitors get a real sense of miners’ daily lives with tours of the changing rooms, machinery buildings, and even a section of the coalface. Expect atmospheric exhibits, interactive experiences, and a few surprises along the way.
Cote d’Azur family holidays have just got cheaper following the launch of a new discounts card providing savings on more than 100 activities and attractions.
The money-saving pass costs from just €39 for adults and €21 for children, and gives free access to tours and excursions, natural attractions, museums and monuments, leisure facilities and natural attractions.
There are two durations of pass available, for three days (€39 per adult, 21€ per child) and six days (€54 and €29).
Each adult pass gives total savings of up to €1,000, and a child pass is worth up to €500, so they really do seem to be a great way of cutting costs for families.
There’s an additional bonus for larger families who only need to pay for two adult and two child passes – all additional children’s passes will be provided for free.
In total there are 115 activities featured, including guided town tours, boat trips. mountain biking and access to the Via Ferrata mountain routes, entry to cave systems, swimming pools and much more.
For full details, take a look at: cotedazur-card.com.
There’s a great selection of family holiday accommodation in our Cote d’Azur gites section.
France is dotted with stunning small villages, each one reflecting local history, architecture and tradition. Here, France fan Gillian Thornton picks out some favourites amongst the 156 members of the elite association, Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
Want somewhere to stay? Search our list of gites close to Les Plus Beaux Villages.
We know we’re in for a treat when we see the familiar Plus Beaux Village logo with the green church spire and red flowers at the entrance to a French village. Communities must have fewer than 2,000 inhabitants to be eligible for membership, as well as two protected historical sites or monuments.
If the majority of the population agree, the village can ask to be inspected and judged against a list of nearly 30 criteria. Only around 1 in 5 will past the test and membership isn’t for ever – those who fail to maintain standards can be declassified.
Every village has its own special atmosphere, but after visiting more than half of those listed in the current handbook, these are ten of mine:
Collonges-la-Rouge, Corrèze (Limousin)
It was here in 1981 that the then mayor, Charles Ceyrac, launched the idea of an association to safeguard and promote France’s most beautiful and historical villages. Today, Collonges-la-Rouge is still one of the best – and most unusual – with its red sandstone buildings, tempting craft shops and narrow alleyways.
Apremont-sur-Allier, Cher (Centre)
Dominated by a hilltop chateau, this cluster of honey-coloured stone cottages lines the banks of the tranquil river Allier, just before it flows into the Loire at Nevers. Visit the glorious Parc Floral beneath the chateau (not open) with its lush plantings, ornamental lake and picturesque cottages. Then soak up those lovely river views from the chateau terrace.
Auvillar, Tarn-et-Garonne (Midi-Pyrénées)
Perched on a cliff above the Garonne, Auvillar became rich by extracting tolls from river traffic, until the building of canals and railways turned it into a sleepy backwater. But today, craft shops and cafes have given the village a new lease of life. Browse the boutiques then relax at a table in the triangular main square with its unusual circular Grain Hall, location for the Sunday-morning produce market.
Belcastel, Aveyron (Midi-Pyrénées)
Aveyron boasts more Plus Beaux Villages than any other département, including Conques with its magnificent church and cloister, and the Knights’ Templar village of La Couvertoirade. But I’ve a soft spot for Belcastel which is less well known but boasts a tranquil riverside setting, an excellent hotel-restaurant (Le Vieux Pont), and a partially ruined hilltop castle which is now home to – of all things – an art gallery of comic strip characters.
Barfleur, Manche (Normandy)
Perched on the north-east corner of the Cotentin peninsula, Barfleur was the leading Anglo-Norman port in the Middle Ages. Look out for the plaque commemorating the departure of William the Conqueror on a rock beside the quay and enjoy tranquil views of the granite harbour and cute church from the path that skirts the harbour.
La Bastide-Clairance, Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Aquitaine)
The traditional whitewashed houses and red-painted timbers of French Basque Country give this unique area a permanently upbeat air, and the colour scheme doesn’t get any better than at La Bastide-Clairance, a traditional 14th century bastide town of the Middle Ages built on a grid system around a central square. Permanent craftsmen ensure that this is a village for all seasons, not just a summer outing.
Gordes, Vaucluse (Provence)
Visible from afar across the vineyards of the Luberon, Gordes is one of the showpiece perched villages of Provence, much photographed for layer-upon-layer of houses that spill down its steep slopes. For a real sense of both atmosphere and location, wind up the narrow streets from the valley floor on foot, but resist buying drinks in the popular hilltop square – surely the most expensive glasses of Orangina in France!
Oingt, Rhône (Rhône-Alpes)
Set in the heart of the Golden Stones area of the Beaujolais vineyards, the distinctive yellow stone of Oingt glows a different colour according to the weather and time of day. Founded on a hilltop above the Azergues valley in Gallo-Roman times, Oingt was a powerful player in the Middle Ages with a chateau and fortified gates. Today, it’s the showpiece village of an area dotted with pretty communities.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Lot (Midi-Pyrénées)
Narrow streets, half-timbered houses, Renaissance facades … and did I mention the ruined castle, the panoramic river views, and bustling restaurants? Saint-Cirq-Lapopie really does have it all, with visitor numbers to match. But don’t let that put you off. Visit outside peak times and you can still have this exquisite village virtually to yourself.
Lavaudieu, Haute-Loire (Auvergne)
An 11th century Benedictine abbey was the starting point for this gem of a village, the only one in Auvergne to have retained its Romanesque cloister. Religious treasures include wall paintings inside the church and refectory, but it’s the spiritual setting here that stands out for me. Just enjoy the views over the quiet valley of the Senouire river – ‘La Vallée de Dieu’ – which gradually morphed into Lavaudieu. Glorious!
For details of all member villages in the association, visit: www.lesplusbeauxvillagesdefrance.org.