A Family Yoga Retreat in Provence

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.

Bastide Avellanne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 familyretreatprovence@gmail.com

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.

Bastide team

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.

 

YOGA PROGRAM
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.

Bastide Avellane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MINDFULNESS
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.

Testimonials
“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).

 

YOUR TEACHERS
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.

Bastide pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE VILLA
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.

CUISINE
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.

Bastide beach

SURROUNDING AREA
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.
LANGUAGES
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  familyretreatprovence@gmail.com

Top 8 Gites in the Dordogne with great pools!

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.

SEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…

Top gites in the Dordogne with Pools

Gite de Carlux pool1. 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.

SEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…

 

Peyrecaty pool2) 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!

SEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…

 

Chaffour, Dordogne3) Chauffour, in Allemans, is a beautiful 17th century farmhouse in the Dordogne offering a three-bedroom Grange Cottage and a two-bedroom Porcherie, all set in pretty, mature gardens.

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.

 

SEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…

 

 

4) Child-Friendly Holidays poolChild-Friendly Holidays is a company offering two idyllic family holiday cottages in Sol de Mazel in the Dordogne, a perfect destination for a child friendly holiday.

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!

 

 

Castled pool, Dordogne5) 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.

SEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…

 

lefourpool, Dordogne6) 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.

 

Pavillionpool, Dordogne7) Le Pavillon de St. Agnan in Hautefort offers five stunning holiday gites in the heart of the Dordogne. This beautifully restored farm house is situated around a horse-shoe shaped courtyard.

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.

SEARCH FOR YOUR GITE IN THE DORDOGNE HERE…

 

Cielpool, Dordogne8) 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…

Fly and Drive This Summer?

Paradise for Kids, Heaven for Parents

 

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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.

For photos, prices and availability please click here.

Top 5 beaches in the Charente

After being lucky enough to live in the Charente for almost 5 years, this area ranks among my favourite in France.

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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

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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
Pointe-du-Fier-on-the-Ile-de-ReOften 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.

Accommodation Choices

La CabaneTry 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 0162_DAY3_SIBLU-JULY-2010we 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?

8 ways to celebrate Christmas like the French

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 thesaint-nicolas-alsace 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?

FrenchCountryCreche3) 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.

C Everard  5.tif6) 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!

Île de Ré: Bicycles, Wine and Oysters

 

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.

ile-de-reA gentle climate and the Île de Ré gastronomy – potatoes and wine from the land, fish and oysters from the sea – are two of the attractions of this pretty and much loved island.

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.

Find holiday homes in Charente Maritime

10 Things to know about eating out in France

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.

Gites de Carlux2.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.france-cafe

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).

Handpicked holiday homes in France all with private pools

 

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.

Vintage Travel in France(La Petite Maison, Lot-et-Garonne. Sleeps 5 from £850 per week)

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

11 things to know when travelling to France

emergency 112

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.

ehic card6) 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) Dueemergency phone in france 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).

 

I want to ride my Bicyclette…

 

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.

monpanzier-france2. 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, the village is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association and within a 20 minutes drive from Bergerac.  Heading north on the quiet D53 road towards Belvès and then on to Siorac-en-Perigord for your first sighting with La Dordogne river.  The route then follows the meandering river until you reach Beynac et Cazenac, a pretty village that takes you on your way to Sarlat-la-Canèda.  Entering Sarlat is like going back in time, to the 14th century in fact.  The town in the Perigord Noir area of the Dordogne department has 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!

Montpellier – Arty, Intellectual and Near the Beach

 

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.

Christmas at Disneyland: Save 35%

disney-xmas-mickey-minnieWelcome 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.

 

 

disney-christmas-paradeThere 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.

A guide to Where to Visit in Paris

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 TriompheArc 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.

Champs-Elysees
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
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.

Les Invalides
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.

 

Summer sport in the French Alps

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…

 

Overnight stop in Saint Quentin

 

Each summer on the way back from the south of France we tend to stop at different towns on route and explore somewhere new.

 

Hotel de Ville, St QuentinThis 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.

Theatre Jean-Vilar, St QuentinSaint 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.

Trescault CemeteryThe 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?

Tour Montparnasse 56

 

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.

View from Tour MontparnasseWe 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!

For more information, please visit their website.

Paris with ‘4 roues sous 1 parapluie’

IMG_1019Paris, 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, IMG_1027we 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. IMG_1017 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

Le quatorze juillet

 

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

Cycle your own Tour de France

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’.

cycling in France

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…

July 1st 2015: Headphones banned in France!

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)

 

Save on Self-Catering Holidays at Disneyland Paris

 

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!

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.”

A lodge at Disneyland Paris' Davy Crockett Ranch

A lodge at Davy Crockett’s Ranch

“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.”

Davy Crockett bungalow at Disneyland Paris

Inside a lodge

“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.”

Swimming pool at Disney's Davy Crockett Ranch

Fun swimming

“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. Or call the booking telephone number 0844 856 5488 (Calls cost 7 pence per minute, plus your telephone operators access charge)

Hiring a car abroad? Are you ‘au fait’ with the new licence rules?

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.

licence-BEANThe 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?

Top 6 Reasons to Visit Normandy

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.

Discover our Top 6 reasons here

Now that May is over, France can get back to work

 

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 launches door-to-door Travel Search Engine

 

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.

Click here to access our new Travel Search Engine

The Lovers of Verdun

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 at Le Puy du Fou, Vendee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Read more about Le Puy du Fou

New Futuroscope Attractions for 2015

 

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.

 

Do you need breakdown cover for driving in France?

 

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.

Breakdown cover in France


Why do I need European breakdown cover? What will it cost if I break down and don’t have cover?

“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/

Vendee beach, France

Discover the Vendee: an insider’s guide

Insider’s Guide to the Vendee, France

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?

Vendee beachFor 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 ?

Jard dur mer in the VendeeThe Vendee is renowned for it’s nautical events, so boat lovers will find many occasions to combine their interest with a family holiday :

  • 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 2021?

Martin Holmes, Vendee GitesThere 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.

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

Summer adventure in the Alps

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.

Summer holiday in the Alps

The Cooper family in the Alps

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.

Zipwire in the Alpe d'Huez

Livi tries the zipwire

“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.

Parapente flights in the Alps

Don’t look down! A parapente flight

“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/.

On yer bike with the Veloscenic bike route

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.

Veloscenic Bike Route in France


Picture credit: Joel Damase

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.

Veloscenic Bike Route in France


Picture credit: www.sagaphoto.com

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.

 

Travel details

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.

10 Small French Cities for Families to Explore



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

La Rochelle for families

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

2. Narbonne

Narbonne - 10 best small cities in France

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

3. Metz

St Etienne cathedral in Metz

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

4. Avignon

Avignon - the best small cities in France

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

5. Reims

Reims - the best small cities in France

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

6. Besançon

Besancon - 10 of the best small cities in France

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

7. Carcassonne

Carcassone - 10 of the best small cities in France

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

8. Annecy

Annecy - 10 of the best small cities in France

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

9. Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence - 10 of the best small cities in France

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

Mont St Michel - 10 of the best small cities in France

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

Observing the stars from the Pic du Midi



Catherine Cooper and her children are left seeing stars after a visit to the Pic du Midi to see the largest telescope in France.

Observatory on the Pic du Midi

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.

Pic du Midi observatory


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.

Largest telescope in France


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.

Staring at the stars from the Pic du Midi

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.

Best museums in France for children

 

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

Futurocope: best museums for kids in France


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

Le Bournat: best museums for kids in France


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

Musee en Herbe: best museums for kids in France


The combination of art and children often ends in tears, which is why Musée en Herbe’s boast ‘to entertain kids from 3 to 103’ is so impressive.

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

Musee des Dinosaurs: best museums for kids in France


The south of France’s largest dinosaur museum, Meze’s park is situated on the actual site where dinosaur fossils and dozens of dinosaur eggs were discovered in 1996.

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

Musee de l'Or: best museums for kids in France


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

Puy du Fou: best museums for kids in France


Regularly winning best entertainment awards at home and overseas, this theme park and living museum at the heart of the Vendée region will enthrall all the family.

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

The 12 Best Family Skiing Holidays in France

 

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.

1. Courchevel

Courchevel - one of France's best ski resorts for families


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

2. Morzine

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

La Giettaz - one of France's best ski resorts for families


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

5. Avoriaz

Avoriaz - one of France's best ski resorts for families


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

France's best ski resorts for families


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

Val d'Isere - one of France's best ski resorts for families


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.

10 of the Best …. Animal Attractions in France

 

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)

Best animal attractions in France, Parc des Oiseaux


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

The Camargue

Best animal attractions in France, Black bulls on the Camargue


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)

Best animal attractions in France, Bison Reserve


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)

Best animal attractions in France, Mongolian Wolves, Copyright Sylvain Macci


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

Self-Catering Holidays at Disneyland Paris



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.

A lodge at Disneyland Paris' Davy Crockett Ranch

A lodge at Davy Crockett’s Ranch

“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.

Davy Crockett bungalow at Disneyland Paris

Inside a lodge

“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.

Swimming pool at Disney's Davy Crockett Ranch

Fun swimming

“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.

Les Petits Mousses de Plymouth

 

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 lespetitsmoussesdeplymouth@gmail.com 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.

 

 

South west France welcomes the Autumn sun

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

Normandy: 70 years on…

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: The Skiing Destination for all the family

 

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

Children Skiing

Photo courtesy of espritski.com

Going underground in the Pyrenees

 

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…

Morbihan – wild shores, legendary forests and mysterious menhirs…

 

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.

Find holiday accommodation to rent in Morbihan here