France is a family holiday favourite – make the most of it with our handy guide
Where to go
France’s Pas-de-Calais region, a short hop over the Channel, offers masses of low-key family holiday fun along its 25 miles of stunning beaches, plus a pretty inland landscape dotted with picturesque villages and fascinating battlefields. The best resort on the region’s Côte d’Opale or Opal Coast is Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, so-named because it became a playground for wealthy Parisians, and is still very popular. Parents love the architecture, including the 1920s and 1930s villas (some commissioned by Noel Coward), and the good eating and bar scenes, while kids go crazy for Le Touquet’s sand-yachting, aqua-boarding, sailing, water-parks, horse-riding and other activities. In fact, Le Touquet is so child-friendly that it’s been designated a Station Kid (others on this coast are Berck-sur-Mer, Hardelot, Le Portel-Plage and Wimereux).
Away from the coast one of the loveliest – and best value-for-money – ways of discovering the French countryside is by bike. In the Pas-de-Calais, tourist offices have trail maps for Les Sept Vallées, a riverside route starting north of Le Touquet and taking you through tranquil villages and past glorious chateaus, open farms and other low-cost attractions such as treetop adventure courses and Vélorails (multi-person bikes on train tracks).
Or else venture further west. Normandy is almost as low-key as the Pas-de-Calais, with lots more unpretentious seaside towns, some with Clubs Mickey (kids’ beach clubs), and great swathes of unspoilt countryside, as well the odd major sight such as the Bayeux Tapestry and Mont-St-Michel. Heading further west into Brittany, you’ll find beautiful beaches among a coastline of stunning rocks studded by soaring lighthouses, along with quirky Celtic festivals, mysterious prehistoric remains and some of the world’s best aquariums, among them Brest’s awesome Océanopolis. Again, there’s a fascinating interior that shouldn’t be missed, not least the valley of Huelgoat with its weird rocks and legends. For those looking for cheap family holidays in France, Breton Bikes is a well-established provider of family cycling holidays, some of them taking in historic sites such as Carnac.
If it’s more southerly climes that call to you, the resort of Biarritz and other world-class surfing beaches of the surrounding Côte d’Argent or Silver Coast are less than 150 kilometres (100 miles) from the ferry port of Bilbao over the border in northern Spain. Bilbao is also a good access point for the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, one of the rare places where you can both swim in the ocean and ski; other outdoor pursuits here include cycling, hiking, rafting, canyoning, horse-riding, and swimming in sparkling mountain lakes.
Places to Stay
options such as gîtes are the most flexible and budget-conscious option for families, meaning you can enjoy shopping for produce in the countless wonderful local markets but also eat out when you can’t be bothered to cook. Alternatively, stay in an apartment within a holiday village and make use of facilities such as on-site pools, tennis courts, play areas, bike hire, and perhaps even kids’ clubs but save money too by self catering. Among firms running such villages are PV Holidays and Center Parcs, the latter with Les Bois-Francs park in Normandy.
is another obvious budget choice, although campsites themselves can be hit-or-miss. A reliable source of pretty, often ecologically sound camping and caravan sites is Camping Qualité, which has a handy clickable map. Or there are larger campsites with pool complexes and children’s clubs run by big operators such as Siblu and Canvas Holidays. For more information read our handy guide to camping holidays in France.
Eating Well on a Budget
Despite the strength of the Euro, you can still eat well in France even on a relatively modest budget, especially if you self-cater and make picnics to take out sightseeing. Le terroir – regional cuisine featuring local produce – was a watchword here long before the phrase ‘air miles’ was invented, while wine still remains an absolute steal compared with the UK. When eating out on your family holiday in France, look for crêperies – local restaurants specialising in sweet and savoury pancakes - which are child-friendly and cheap and often open all day. Other all-day standbys are brasseries, which often have a low-price Menus Enfant featuring the likes of steak haché (a burger patty) or omelette with frites.
For other family holiday ideas read our guide to family holidays in Spain or our guide to family holidays in Holland.
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.