Historic castles, thrill-filled theme parks and yummy food – France has everything for a truly memorable family holiday.
Family Holiday Idea #1: Normandy – Battlezones and Beaches
Family highlights Historical drama oozes from every corner of Normandy – Richard the Lionheart’s ruined Château-Gaillard; the half-timbered town of Rouen where Joan of Arc burned at the stake; the D-Day landing beaches and the war and peace displays at the Mémorial de Caen; the proto comic-strip of the Bayeux Tapestry; and the ancient abbey of the Mont-St-Michel, inspiration for the city of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings
Letting off steam The vast beaches of the chic Norman Riviera (or Côte Fleurie, to the French) offer great gusts of fresh air, while the Festyland themepark lets you get to grips with local history the fun way, with its prehistoric, William the Conqueror and pirate themed rides and attractions.
Foodie fun Apples from Normandy’s abundant orchards make their way into delicious dishes both sweet and savoury, as well as providing the ingredients for the renowned local tipples of cider and Calvados. The region’s cream, cheese and seafood also provide the basis for great family-friendly fare, from fish stew to Norman rice pudding.
Somewhere to stay The Norman Riviera has some classic seaside hotels, including the chic Normandy Barrière with its children’s restaurant. But if you’re on a tighter budget, there’s no shortage of campsites and holiday villages, including Siblu’s Domaine de Litteau.
Family Holiday Idea #2: Paris – High Culture and High Jinks
Family highlights Paris has unending delights for families, whether you scale the Eiffel Tower, take a themed trail around the Louvre, explore the Cité des Enfants with its kids’ discovery spaces, or roam the Jardin des Plantes botanical garden with its mini-zoo, natural history museums, maze and quirky carousel. Disneyland Paris or the much more Gallic Parc Astérix might well lure you out of the city, as may the fabulous castles at Versailles and Fontainebleau.
Letting off steam Paris has green spaces galore, from the family-friendly Tuileries and Luxembourg gardens with their merry-go-rounds and and pony-rides to the sprawling Bois de Boulogne with its amusement park, puppet theatre and children’s museum.
Foodie fun Classic corner bistros, crêperies, ice-cream parlours, pizzerias, American diners, and Vietnamese noodle joints – it’s all there when you look beyond the tourist traps.
Somewhere to stay Hotels in Paris can be fearsomely expensive, although the Crillon is a classic address if you’re in the mood to splurge. Better suited to a family-size budget are apartment-hotels run by the likes of the Citadines chain and PV Holidays.
Family Holiday Idea #3: The Loire Valley - Castle Capers
Family highlights French history springs to life for all the family via the region’s La Cour des Grands program – the 30-plus participating chateaus, museums, boat trips, zoos and other attractions throughout this vast UNESCO World Heritage site offer children’s trails, iPod tours, events, games and quiz booklets. Venues include everything from Leonardo da Vinci’s old mansion and garden with its working models of his inventions to a troglodyte mushroom museum.
Letting off steam The Loire is a great place to take a family cycling tour, through former royal hunting forests full of deer and wild boar, or you might enjoy kayaking on the river.
Foodie fun The Loire offers up some famous vintages, and the area is touristy enough to ensure that kids can either join you sampling local gastronomic specialities, which include sander (pike-perch), smoked eel, pungent goats’ cheeses and white asparagus grown on the riverbanks, or opt for international favourites such as pizza and crêpes.
Somewhere to stay Pretty Amboise makes for a great central base, with a castle that housed the royal court, and good hotels and restaurants. Alternatively, Canvas Holidays offers four beautifully situated campsites in the Loire, with waterparks and other family amenities, PV Holidays has an apartment ‘resort’ with a pool in medieval Loches, and there’s a Centerparcs holiday village in the area too.
Family Holiday Idea #4: Poitou-Charentes - Water, Woods and Wild Rides
Family highlights Beaches, beaches and more beaches – whether you choose the classic family resorts of Chatelaillon-Plage and Royan, the flat, sunny isles of Ré and Oléron, or the seaside city of La Rochelle with its outstanding aquarium, you benefit from the region’s peculiarly mild climate (a result of the Gulf Stream).
Letting off steam The cool green canals of the Marais Poitevin, also dubbed La Venise Verte, are fun to explore by bike or horseback, stopping for picnics beside the water, while the Zooodysée forest zoo has up-close encounters with wolves, bisons, owls and other European creatures. For futuristic thrills with a cinematic edge, head for the quirky Futuroscope themepark with its 3D movie rides.
Foodie fun Local snails and oysters are famous, but if your kids recoil from squidgy, slimy critters, there’s plenty of super-fresh fish and the usual array of family-friendly brasseries and crêperies, especially in seaside resorts.
Somewhere to stay The area has a fantastic choice of self-catering gites (a good source is French Connections), while camping grounds range from large sites with waterparks and family entertainments offered by the likes of Siblu and Eurocamp, to smaller, more tranquil, often environmentally friendly sites listed by Camping Qualité.
For some great money saving tips read our guide to Family Holidays in France on a Budget
P&Os family holidays Expert
Rhonda has written and edited for most of the big-name travel publishers, including Time Out and Lonely Planet and is the author of three Frommer's family travel guides - London with Kids, Normandy with Your Family and Brittany with Your Family. She’s married to horror novelist Conrad Williams and along with her sons Ethan (7), Ripley (5) and Zac (2) she regularly travels to all manner of places as commissioning editor and main features writer for www.takethefamily.com.