Sure, you’ll get your fill of charm, romance and pastries. But you should also expect France to pack a punch. Faster than you can say ‘croissant,’ you’ll find yourselves in an abandoned limestone quarry turned multimedia display. A tortoise and turtle sanctuary in Corsica. A prehistoric cave painting in Dordogne. A swim in an alpine lake at Chamonix.
From the Seine to the Rhone, the Normans to Napoleon, the beach to the countryside, meander through these top family-friendly regions in France to find your own flavour.
Jump on a Hop On Hop Off bus tour to get your lay of the land. Or orient yourself with a bird’s eye view atop the Eiffel Tower. Pop in to some of the world’s most famous galleries, then look for green spaces to get your energy out. The gardens of Versailles are perfect for hide-and-seek. The notorious palace, with its Hall of Mirrors, grand apartments and Grand Trianon, is accessible by train and open every day but Monday. The Luxembourg Gardens are another perfect picnic spot. Stop by the pond to sail a miniature yacht alongside local kids.
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‘Castle’ is probably the first word to pop into your head when you think of the Loire Valley. The Chateau de Royal Blois offers free English-speaking tours in July and August and interactive ‘HistoPad’ tablets to help kids explore. There is a children’s park and a sound-and-light show onsite in summer. You’ll also find HistoPads at Chenonceau, with its maze and flower garden, and at the Renaissance chateau of Chambord. At the ruins of Forteresse du Faucon Noir, try your hand at calligraphy, candle-making and maybe even have a swordfight. Once you’ve had your dose of castles, visit Papea Parc for rollercoasters, waterpark and pedalo rides on the lake.
Luberon is the best for lavender-spotting in the French spring and summer. Instagram-savvy teens should take the obligatory snap among the rows of purple, before trying fresh-baked bread from hole-in-the-wall bakeries in hilltop villages like Gordes and Roussillon.
Once the seat of the pope, Avignon is a comfortable blend of rural village with big city. It is also the perfect launching point for day trips to the Roman ruins of Orange and van Gogh trail of Arles. There are daily English tours of the Papal Palace, and you can keep the tradition of the famous French song by dancing along the Pont d’Avignon.
The French Alps are one of the best family-friendly regions in France for adventurous broods, in winter and summer both. Grab ski lessons with Ecole du Ski Francais, a network of more than 200 ski schools catering to the whole family. Smaller ski resorts like Avoriaz and Les Gets are ideal with primary schoolers, hosting great off-piste activities such as ice-skating and snowshoeing.
Chamonix has become a household name when it comes to winter sports. The ski resort is also great in the off-season, with a scenic cable car trip and a 2-hour hike to Lac Blanc for a swim. Morzine and Tignes host some of Europe’s best mountain-biking trails for expert speed demons and novices alike. In general, lakeside alpine towns like Annecy are have plenty of outdoors activities such as swimming, cycling and boating.
Northern Normandy features prominently in World War II history books. Many of its beaches were the sites of D-Day landings for Canadian, British and American forces. Head even further back in time to the Battle of Hastings by admiring the famous Bayeux Tapestry in its home region.
Budding artists will love the soft light of Giverny, where you’ll find the gardens and ponds depicted by Claude Monet in his waterlily series. And everyone will be enchanted by the fairytale of Mont Saint-Michel. The medieval abbey – which looks a lot like a Disney palace – stands on an island off the coast. If travelling by car, you’ll have to park at one of the designated sites and catch a shuttle to the island itself.
Change tack completely and embark on a beach holiday on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, with its unique French-Italian cultural fusion. Southeast of Monaco, much of the island is covered by a park full of hiking trails. Go snorkelling, sailing, kayaking and biking, or enjoy a lazy afternoon in a seaside town. Head on a boat tour to the Lavezzi Islands or Scandola Nature Reserve. To shake things up, meet a turtle or tortoise at the sanctuary of A Cupulatta.
There is plenty of history to be found under the Corsican sun, with ancient archaeological sites dotting the landscape. The port city and capital of Ajaccio was the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. His family home now hosts a dedicated museum.