France with kids was a magical three months driving to the most delightful petit villages of France.
EuropeFrance77 days / July - August - September 2019
Highs & Lows
The food, wine and pretty petite villages.
The roadtolls ($$$)
We began our French jaunt in Paris (of course!) and then headed North to Normandy to check out some of these historical world war sites. Then south-east to the Alsace region for some mountains, beautiful wine and picturesque villages. On to stunning Provence where we were almost too relaxed and settled amongst lavender fields and fresh air. Then to the Aveyron department in Southern France where we hooked up with a significant leg of the Compostela pilgrimage trail. Then, a week in the impossibly picturesque Dordogne area before finishing up our stay aboard an adorable boat in Bordeaux. France with kids was very doable with this itinerary.
Oh Paris. How we all love Paris, where we experienced exactly all of the magic and none of the cold aloofness the city is often renowned for. We spent our days picnicking under the Eiffel Tower in the Champs de Mars, our mornings eating pastries and wandering the markets for fresh produce for said picnic, and our evenings with a glass of champagne toasting our love for the city of love.
A rainy day in Paris in the summer is almost a welcomed reprieve and armed with sketch pads and pencils (and snacks) we braved the crowds so our girls could finally meet Mona Lisa at The Louvre. The rest of the day was spent drawing and being inspired by the tremendous amount of art work on display at this most famous museum. Our girls loved their day at the Louvre. In fact they did not want to leave and we had to drag them out at closing time. Traveling to France with kids was definitely doable!
The Jardins du Luxembourg is the perfect place to spend a hot summer's day and we did exactly that, a lot. There are carousels, ice creams and an incredible (but not free) 'aire de jeux' (play park) for the kids to play in whilst their adults relaxed with un cafe and a book ( purchased from Shakespeare and Company of course).
We also did a free walking tour around the Nation area with a local through Paris Greeters and really got to experience the city rather than just breeze through it.
We visited Normandy for the history but we ended up having the most wonderful time befriending fellow patrons at the farm house gite we stayed at right on the ocean in Villers-sur-Mer. The WW1 sites are incredibly solemn and vast, and it's only here that we fully realised the extent both Canadian and Australian forces played in France. The sprawling green hills drenched with white crosses really showed us the true cost of war.
Colmar is a straight-out of-the-pages-of-a-fairytale-town in the Alsace region of France, near the border of Germany. Its beautiful old town is unapologetically romantic, complete with cobblestone streets; colourful, medieval style homes; set along the banks of the most idyllic little canal complete with Venice style gondola rides and colourful flowers everywhere.
Our apartment's windows opened on to the canal and the girls spent happy hours sitting on the window sills, shouting, 'Salut!' to joyous punters sailing below.
The beautiful little old-town hosts 19 (NINETEEN!) Michelin starred restaurants AND it's on the Alsace wine route. We did some day trips to Strasbourg which is a very picturesque French city with lots to do for kids.
The day trip to tiny, medieval Eguisheim was a total highlight for us. Inhabited by humans since the paleolithic period (proof humans seek out good wine soil innately), the tiny walled commune is gasp-worthy gorgeous. A short drive away is the Three Castles of Eguisheim (Les Trois Chateau du Haut-Eguisheim) and offer the most picturesque reward for the short hike up to their ruins that are so much fun to explore.
Annecy is a totally gorgeous township at the foot of the Rhône-Alpes. It is absolutely swarming with tourists and we found it a little overwhelming and incredibly hot when we visited in August.
Lac d'Annecy is a beautiful reprieve from the heat with its freezing cold alpine waters of the most incredible icy blue. The dramatic mountain backdrop makes every photo look superimposed but it really is that stunning in real life. We stayed a little out of the main township in a tiny village called Manigod that was really sweet and had everything we needed.
Provence welcomed us and our kids with an idyllic village, a beautiful sunset and an Airbnb host who gifted us with a selection of amazing local provincial goodies. This was probably our favorite area in all of France. There's something really magical about Provence. Lavender fields for days and good food and excellent wine.
The little village we began our time there in was Tourtour and they were right in the middle of their yearly fete. It was an amazingly festive spirit that welcomed us there and we made friends with some of the locals. It confirmed that traveling to France with kids was the right plan.
Day trip opportunities from here were abundant but our favorite day trip was to the Gorges of Verdon. An impossibly emerald green canyon gorge cutting its way through spectacular cliffs. We rented a tiny electric boat to take us down the gorge and we swam in the icy, glacial waters. It is eye watering-ly beautiful and we had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure it was all real.
Avignon is from a story book. A walled city steeped in history, amazing architecture and incredible food.
France has an official list of cute villages (of course) called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Conques is deservedly high on that list but because of our budget we ended up in a tiny tiny little commune just east of there. Our tiny little commune, Senergues had a pub (which doubled as the pizza shop) and a tiny grocer (which doubled as the boulangerie). And that is about it. It was quiet and safe, and we rode our bikes around and played in the little park behind the abbey. The town is a major stop along the famous French pilgrimage route, the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle.
We had picked up a young, female pilgrim hitchhiker the day before and she had encouraged us to do the final leg to Conques ourselves. We took it in turns as one of us had to stay with the girls but we both enjoyed the walk through the most picturesque countryside that concluded after descending the Aubrac plateau into the impossibly beautiful Conques that lies in the valley below.
Besides Provence, we found this to be the most beautiful area of France. We stayed in a tiny little village near Sarlat-la-Caneda and arrived on the last night of their village Summer night market which was essentially this beautiful, quintessentially French communal dinner.
Day trip options were abundant and we made the most of our leased car. The market in Sarlat-le-Caneda was one of the most extensive we'd seen and the girls spent many happy mornings being completely indulged by stall holders who delighted in seeing their faces light up at the first taste of their offerings.
The Marqueyssac Gardens were divine and so much fun for both adults and kids. We spent almost an entire day there, enjoying the huge grounds. I did accidentally leave a little legacy when I fell into an ancient boxwood hedge and left a me shaped hole.... oops.
There are two castles nearby and we explored and enjoyed both Beynac and the Castelnaud where local store owners insisted that the girls borrow some princess costumes to wear whilst they explore the castle.
Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere was one of the most beautiful little villages we visited on our whole trip and we had a long, slow lunch at Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, a little gourmet grocer and food joint right on the banks of the Vezere.
Our Airbnb on the outskirts of Bordeaux cancelled on us last minute and one of the only options for accommodation within our budget was a brand new listing and a boat docked in the city docks. It was so serendipitous and special. We were around 3kms from the Centreville and the walk into town was easy and beautiful, right along the banks of the Garonne river.
On our first afternoon there we walked into town in search of the Miroir D'deau, the largest reflective pool in the world and the most wonderful splash fountain with the most stunning backdrop. It runs on a three part cycle: mist, mirror and splash, and all are beautiful. This first night we arrived right at the perfect moment, when the sun was just slipping behind the buildings and creating this magical effect with the mist stage fog of the fountain's cycle. The girls splashed and ran and squealed in that fountain until it was dark, and this still remains one of their most treasured memories.
You obviously can't visit Bordeaux and not sample some wine. The region is famous but a little tricky to navigate if you're not organised. We found out the hard way that rocking up to a vineyard expecting a tour and some tasting was no bueno, although at Saint Emillion, the ladies at Chateau Soutard were happy for us to sit and have a few glasses whilst the girls played amongst the vines.
Q & A
What would you have changed?We wouldn't change a thing about our time in France- we loved everything.
Anything go wrong during the trip?Nothing really went wrong. We did scratch the entire side of our car attempting to drive it down a laneway evidently skinnier than our car was wide but our leased car was all covered with a no-questions asked policy and it turned out fine (phew)!
Restaurant recommendations?Au Jardin des Carmes, Avignon: Michelin starred restaurant plus welcoming service Cafe Procope, Paris: One of the oldest restaurants in Paris, steeped in its history Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe bad Le Petit Leon, in the Dordogne
Tips you would give a friend?France with kids is very much achievable with the right planning!
Packing tips?If you're a guy- pack speedo swimmers. Trunks and boardshorts are not accepted anywhere. This doesn't make sense but it is what it is. Bring a hat- Summer in France is hot hot hot and the sun is fierce.
Transportation Tips?Lease a car. It would be impossible to reach the most beautiful of the tiny villages without one. And not to be intimidated at the markets, they can be intense but worth it for the delicious produce you'll come home with.
Any surprises?The people were so much nicer than we had anticipated. Market stall holders willingly filled our kids stomachs with delicious fresh goods and our Airbnb and Gites hosts invited us on picnics, hikes and to lunch.
Booking details?We booked all of our accomodation in France via Airbnb.