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1 month Trip to France with kids (excluding Paris)

Hi everyone

We are excited planning our first trip to Europe (France) with our kids for June 2022. Our kids are currently 4 and 6, so itinerary would be with them in mind, but also intersecting activities the parents enjoy to keep things easy (beaches, easy hiking, easy biking, exploring villages/towns, and good food (local places, nothing fancy), along with some noted France highlights. Since this is our first trip abroad trying not to cram too much moving around. Maybe 3-4 hubs/longer drives since we are going for a month. Here is my planned itinerary

  1. Start in Annecy. Stay for 7-8 nights. 2-3 day trips from Annecy to surrounding areas.
  2. Annecy to Cassis. (Drive 4:30 hrs). Stay in Cassis for 7 nights. Day trips to Provence/St Tropez.
  3. Drive towards Ile de Re (Stop over 1-2 nights along the way, location undecided?, open to suggestions)
  4. Stay in Ile de Re for 7 nights.
  5. Stay in Loire Valley/Brittany area 4-5 nights (work in a visit to MSM)
  6. Depart (will need to get to LHR, as we have a direct flight back home to the US).

Alternatively could go in the following order Cassis – Annecy – Loire – Ile de Re

Open to any input, suggested itinerary changes, day trips, ways to make things easier etc.. We have no expectations other than just enjoying going to France.

Thank you!
Max

Posted by
1790 posts

Are you watching the Tour de France because you've pretty much covered the first half of the race.

Posted by
4660 posts

If you're spending time in the Loire valley and the kids are tired of chateaux, the zoo near St-Aignan is considered one of the best in Europe.

Rome2rio.com]2 might help you find a flight to LHR from a city in western France, avoiding Paris and London. I didn't have much luck with this, though, except from Bordeaux. Flying to LHR from CDG or Orly would be easier than taking the Eurostar through both big cities. Too bad you can't fly straight home from Paris.

Posted by
4684 posts

I prefer the adjacent Oleron to Re - it’s more down to earth and there is excellent cycling, good restaurants and beautiful sandy beaches. Oysters are the local speciality. Re is more froufrou and uppity but has some pretty villages. Accommodation is much better value on Oleron if budget is a factor plus you don’t have to pay a toll to get onto Oleron.

In the Loire, I liked Chinon and Saumur. These don’t seem to be highlighted by RS so everyone else will probably suggest Angers or Tours as a base. There are chateaux galore, so you can’t go too far wrong with any village/town.

Sorry - MSM was the low point of one of my trips to France - far too touristy, the worst food of the entire 6 weeks and busy during the day. We stayed nearby so also saw it at night. Building the road across the tidal causeway has ruined the atmosphere. It’s a 4 hour drive from the Loire. If it’s a must, I would stay in St Malo or Dinard on the coast.

How are you planning to get to Heathrow?

Posted by
18741 posts

Annecy is lovely but the historic center is unimaginably touristy/crowded, at least during day-tripping hours. It wouldn't be my choice for such a long stay during peak season, but others may well disagree. As I said, it is beautiful.

Cassis is also nice, but it is quite far from the places most often mentioned here by people going to Provence. If you haven't already done so, spend some time checking the driving times you'll be facing. I recommend ViaMichelin.com, but at the moment the website isn't working for me.

For travelers whose main focus isn't soaking up sun on a beach (I'm guessing here, since you're probably Americans), I also wonder about spending a week on an island, though the causeway to Re certainly mitigates some of my concern. Re is nice--and so is La Rochelle--but I found the terrain quite same-y. I'd be antsy long before the week was up.

There's a lot of variety in Brittany (I haven't done the Loire), and I think you'll be sorry not to have relatively more time up there versus time at some of your other stops. I believe your children would really like the Machines de l'Ile in Nantes.

Posted by
9 posts

You guys are wonderful,

Cassis/Provence Comments:
Acraven, you are 100% correct, we are not looking to sit around at the beach all day. Ideally we have an activity / day trip in the morning/afternoon, and to end the day in the later afternoon we enjoy the beach (kids can play, we can relax) for 2-3 hours. So almost all spots (even Annecy) has a beach component.

Yes, drive times to Avignon , Aix, etc.. will be 1.5 hrs (that is about the max for me for a day trip). Ideally would like day trips to be less than 1 hrs away. The train could be a good option here to avoid driving (take our car to the train station in Cassis). Cassis is also the beach location with the shortest drive to/from Annecy. If no kids, I’d stay someone more inland to be closer. My wife and I have also been to Nice, Cannes… (French Riviera is not my favorite… I do like very nice locations/places but not ones with overly priced hotels built on top of each other) however we have not been this far west. While certainly not undiscovered it seems like Cassis is what St Tropez was 30 years ago. I am certainly open to suggestions.

Re:
I have read that Re is more froufrou than Oleron. Prices still seem 1/3rd of what one gets in the French Riviera, for something equivalent if not nicer.

Does anyone know if the bike paths are only for bikes. I do envision lots of biking with the kids around the island, biking/walking to lunch/dinner, and some beach time of course. We would also go to La Rochelle for 1 day.
Maybe a night less here?

Annecy:
Acraven, Since we would be starting here, I was hoping it won’t be too touristy yet. Also, I was thinking we could take a day trip to Chamonix, Geneva…

I do like places that aren’t on the main line, and I know Annecy is. However, staying overnight we get the benefit of enjoying the evening once those daytrippers depart which I do like. That was one of the aspects I liked about Dubrovnik. It wasn’t great during the day with all the cruise ships, but it was great at night, and one certainly missed out if arriving on a cruise ship for just the daytime.
What about staying a 10 minute walk from town?

Loire Valley:
Jennifer, I agree with you and Chinon and Sumar have been on my list for a bit. I know they are smaller than some of the other Loire Valley villages (like Amboise that RS likes), but are very pretty and less touristed.
I might have too much time budgeted for the LV. What I do like about it is being able to do bike rides (on bike paths, important for kids) through the countryside to some of the Chateaux’s. Myself and the kids certainly don’t need to see every Chateaux In LV and most likely won’t even get to enjoy touring the inside so this will be more of a scenic ride, picnics, etc.. It will also be fun to stay in a Castle/ Chateaux

Maybe work out just a day trip to LV?, or shorten the time here..and spend more time exploring Brittany (or somewhere else..)

MSM/Brittany:

Jennifer, that is disappointing to here. It is one of those places that looks mythical, but maybe the image gets too built up.
Would you recommend staying overnight instead?

Acraven, Any particular location/base in Brittany you might suggests/and or day trips. I have researched some of the towns in Brittany.

Getting Back to Heathrow:
Great question. Ideally our last hub would be close to a larger regional airport that flies directly to LHR as our flight home is in the afternoon. However, I haven’t really found any in the northern France outside of CDG. Even Orly doesn’t fly direct to LHR. Would like to avoid having to spend a day to stay close to the airport (ie CDG). I have done a bunch of searching and I am open to suggestions here! Further south has lots of airport options (Toulouse, Lyon, Nice…)

I’m also open to other locations/itinerary

Thank you!

Posted by
25563 posts

FlyBe used to fly to all sorts of smaller French airports to smaller UK airports. Alas, like the Norwegian Blue, they are no more. Bereft of life they have gone to join the choir invisibule. They do not prefer kipping on their collective back. They are deceased.

Before covid and before Brexit Ryanair and Easyjet made some of those connections.

You'll have to keep hunting...

Posted by
18741 posts

I was in Annecy on the nights of June 20-21, 2017 (Tuesday and Wednesday nights). I was stunned, because I figured June wouldn't be too bad. Cross your fingers. An internet acquaintance who lives in that part of France recommended Yvoire as a possible day-trip destination. It's a French town on the southern side of Lake Geneva. Very picturesque from the pictures (I didn't get there), but I know picturesque may not cut it for kids. I remember being a beach person 55 or 60 years ago myself.

Coastal places in Brittany that I liked in 2019 were Quimper and Vannes; Quimper's not actually quite on the coast. Google will show how picturesque they are. I travel solely by public transportation, so I much prefer good-sized places for logistical reasons. With a car, I can see that smaller places will be better for you.

The word on Mont-St-Michele (I've never been) seems to be that you really, really want to be there outside of day-tripping hours. If you can find a place to stay not too far away, you could see the place in late afternoon as everyone else is leaving, and/or very early the next morning. On your way to MSM (if you can't bear to skip it) you may pass near two picturesque places that don't see a lot of foreign tourists: Fougeres and Vitre. Either would be worth a stop. Other non-coastal places in eastern Brittany that I liked are Rennes and Dinan. There's also the cross-river pair of coastal St-Malo and Dinard. St-Malo is in Annecy's category in terms of tourist load, but lots of people like it.

I would not under any circumstances consider flying from France to England on the same day as your transatlantic flight if you'd be using two separate tickets. So much could go wrong, ending up with your having to buy four last-minute one-way replacement tickets from the UK to the US.

There's a good, small artisan-chocolate shop in La Rochelle that also sells macarons. It's called, fittingly, Cacao et Macarons. I see that the website is still alive, so I think it has survived the pandemic. Brittany is the land of the crepe, so there will be treats available everywhere.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you again!

One option is that we could make our 4th hub St Malo (or another coastal town nearby). It has the beach for the kids, could day trip to other Brittany towns (other than the towns all the way to the west). I know my Wife wanted to go to Gurnsey, makes it technically doable although still a long ferry ride for a day trip. Could even take the ferry back to the UK.....

This would eliminate LV, unless I wanted to do a 1-2 night stopover in LV. and less time in Brittany.

MSM is not a must. Seems like a "bucketlist" item, but maybe it is overrated.

Yes Flybe, Jet2, are suspended, but maybe they will be back next summer.

Posted by
18741 posts

I've been to Guernsey once (not recently) and Jersey twice. I like both a lot. I wouldn't do a day-trip unless my plan was to see just one or two things right in the capital city. So many of the interesting things are elsewhere on the islands, and there wouldn't be time to get to them. For example, when I spent a few days on Jersey in 2017, I saw an orchid garden, a prehistoric site, a memorial to WWII POWs who were forced to build fortifications for the Nazis and the Durrell zoo that focuses on endangered species. None of those was in St. Helier.

Be careful about those Channel ferries. I've booked five trips on them and had two canceled out from under me. On both occasions I was traveling between May and September. In 2017 my trip from Jersey to Poole was canceled for three days running. I ended up on an EasyJet flight to Luton and then a bus to Poole--where I didn't want to go but had booked a room because that's where the ferry went.

St. Malo is a very touristy coastal town, but it's picturesque, and there are probably more things to do there than in a lot of other places.

Posted by
84 posts

Hi
You could drop off your car in StMalo, then take the ferry to Guerney for a few days, then continue on to Heathrow..
Lots of flights from Guernsey to Gatwick or Southampton airports. You could take an afternoon flight, about 1 hour, to either getting in around 6:00 pm and there is a direct coach service from Gatwick to Heathrow and I assume that there is something similar from Southampton airport. Book an airport hotel, then it’s a good night sleep with no worries about getting to the airport.
Jersey has a direct late afternoon BA flight to Heathrow, if you want to visit Jersey instead.
I have done lots of cycling around Brittany ( probably my favourite area of France ) and have the following advice -
1. I enjoyed St Malo but you may want to centre yourself in Dinard, It reminds me of English Victorian seaside resort with hotels across from the beach and just a five minute drive across the bridge to St Malo. About 10 miles north of St Malo on the coast is Cancale which is a small town where there seems to be lots of weekly rentals and a few hotels.
St. Malo is a mixture of historic city and industrial port so with kids I would stay outside the city.

2.Mont St. Michel is spectacular. I would arrive for the last tour of the monastery at the top. By the time the tour is over most of the tourists have left. No reason to have a meal there.
3. You really have to travel a bit further west to get the feel of Brittany but I figure that after you plan for Mont St Michel, St Malo and Guernsey, you just about out of time. Maybe spend a day wandering around on the winding country roads, stopping for crepes and seafood.
Your trip sounds great
Enjoy

Posted by
3748 posts

Annecy - we stayed at the Imperial Palace which has the gorgeous lake spot looking directly north, without being in the crowded tourist downtown. It’s a leisurely 5-minute walk along the lake promenade that has a park with benches along the way.

For the Loire Valley, if you happen to be near Angers, be sure to go to the fortress. It’s wonderful for both kids & adults to explore! (Check out photos or YouTube). I spent most of a day in it, having lunch in the shady area next to the small restaurant inside it.

Posted by
9 posts

Again, thank you so much and most helpful.

So it sounds like we should leave LV for another time, or maybe see one city/village on the drive up to Brittany. I would rather enjoy the trip, instead of trying to pack everything in.

Maybe we could stay in Dinan for 3 nights (and trips to St. Malo, MSM. Etc..), and then Jersey for 3 nights. Any concerns with flights being cancelled due to fog in June. Since BA is our connecting flight, at least we could book on BA out of Jersey if there was a delay/cancellation.

I’m also open to incorporating the TGV to minimize some of the driving. The longest drive will be when we leave from Cassis. However, TGV lines seem to be hub/spoke with Paris.

Posted by
25563 posts

It seems a shame to leave out some of the Chateaux in the Loire Valley if you will be so close. But that would be my trip, maybe not yours.

I hope covid has been well squashed down by the time of your trip - the Channel Islands have been very good at keeping it out but that also means that they have been very good at keeping people out. I hope that by this time next year that won't be a concern....

Posted by
9 posts

Yes, I do agree

One more question about Re. Initially I thought this would be a great place to go (beaches, biking, great seafood, nice towns on the island) and a location not really known too much outside of France which is very appealing. However, maybe it is more of a "vacation spot". For example, we could still be near the beach in St. Malo, or ride bikes to the Chateaus in LV, and these locations are a bit more interesting for the adults as well.

Posted by
2096 posts

Ile de Ré is exactly that, a great vacation spot. Somewhat reminiscent of Cape Cod or the Outer Banks, but obviously with different food, architecture, etc.
It's fun, but there are no "must-sees" from a tourist standpoint. In other words, I would not fly halfway across the world to go there... whereas I would do so for the Loire Valley or the region between Dinard and Mont-Saint-Michel (including St Malo). And with kids, I would go for the latter.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you Balso

So it sounds like Re should be out (another time), and Loire should be slotted back in.

I guess one could ask if Burgandy should be considered instead of Loire. Burgandy has lots of pretty villages which is important and nice on the eyes (Bueune , Dijon, Colmar...), but does it have enough of the other kid/parent activities as mentioned in the original post.

Also, any towns that would be a must for a stopover, or at least drive through and explore during the day if they are already on the itinerary path. For example, Carcassonne, although it feels inauthentic from my reading.

Would be fun to do a castle stay with the kids.

Thanks!

Posted by
2096 posts

Colmar is in Alsace, not Burgundy ;-)
As for Burgundy's kid-friendliness: it depends. If you're after the wineries, then no. But it does have more than its fair share of medieval towns and villages, great nature, and Guédelon castle is lots of fun for a family visit: it's a medieval castle being built over the past 25 years with medieval techniques.

However, sights can be far apart and the roads are slow. The Loire feels easier!
And if you do end up going to the Loire Valley after Provence, then Carcassonne is quite a bit of a detour. I would rather stop somewhere in the Auvergne region (in the - extinct - volcanic region west of Clermont-Ferrand), but I have yet to go there so can't be more specific.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you Balso!

Got it. Maybe we do the following to be logistically efficient.

Cassis (or somewhere adjacent in Provence) -> Annecy -> Loire Valley -> Brittany

Thank you for the correction, I had lumped Colmar in there.

Now for the detailed planning!

Posted by
2096 posts

Your latest plan is indeed very efficient, you don't need any intermediate stops between these regions. Annecy to the Loire Valley takes up a full day, the rest are roughly half-day drives. Pick up car near Marseille, drop off in, say, Rennes, and you're good to go.

Posted by
694 posts

Hello!

You will have such an amazing trip! My first trip to Europe with my kids was in 2009 for 6 weeks. My kids were 7 and 11. We did a couple of home exchanges mixed in with apartment rentals, B&B's and hotels. We spent 10 days in Andalusia, Spain and 4 weeks in France: 2 weeks in a home exchange just outside of Paris; 3 nights in Normandy; 2 weeks in Languedoc (southern France.) I agree it's best to move around less with kids in tow! If you never thought of trying a home exchange, it is phenomenal. My kids loved it, as did we! The family friendly homes we stayed in always had amenities like pools, bikes/scooters, sporting equipment, toys, and cars! All FREE. If you'd like to know more about home exchange, feel free to send me a message. We have since traveled with our kids every other summer religiously(2009, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 UNTIL this summer, which we decided to cancel due to Covid! We will resume next summer with this trip (France: Lyon 3 nights, Annecy 6 nights, Sarlat-le-Canada in Dordogne 6 nights, followed by Italy: Positano for a glorious 2 full weeks! Note: we have always travelled in the summer, due to the kids school and my husband being a teacher. We have travelled to some very crowded places. While perhaps not considered the idea travel times; crowds have never ruined our enjoyment of a place. This includes: Mont St. Michel and St. Malo. You just need to pay attention to the times you visit. If the kids get up early in the morning, there is nothing wrong and everything right about getting out of the house by 6 or 7am to do some sightseeing! I love sightseeing in the early morning!

If you go to Brittany, we all loved walking in the area of the pink granite rocks
https://www.novo-monde.com/en/ploumanach-pink-granit-brittany/

I'm really looking forward to Annecy next summer. Since we'll be there for 6 nights, there is no reason we won't be able to enjoy the old town early in the morning/and later in the evening. I assume that by day, we can enjoy the lake area even if that means heading away from Annecy a bit. At least that is my presumption! Obviously the shorter a time period you visit an area, the more forced you are to visit a place with the masses.

Posted by
1019 posts

Im coming to this late, but want to comment a little (also someone who has traveled a lot around Europe with young kids to teens). Cassis is beautiful and worth a trip but I would not use it as a base for Provence - no way. That 1.5 hours is a lot of driving, but particularly because Cassis is located down a winding road from the main highway and parking is difficult. So every time you leave you will be driving up and out of a gulch, if you will, onto the main road for an hour, and then returning the same way and having to find parking. Why not stay in Cassis for a few nights (3?) and do things there, and then move on to Provence. We stayed in Il sur la sorgue for 4 nights, and Cassis for 2. Il sur was a great base for surrounding trips (Abbey de Senaque, Rousillon, Gordes, Vaison la Romaine, Arles, St Baux, etc) but many other similar places would be a great base too. In Cassis you can rent an outboard motor boat to take out to the Calanques (you can also hike there if your kids are up for it). I see that you also want to travel to St Tropez, so I can see how Cassis is more central for these two, so I guess you are driving a lot in that case.
As for MSM, I had great luck arriving at 5p (it closes at 7p) in July. Crowds were streaming out as I was walking in and it was practically empty for the two hours I was there. Then I ate dinner at a restaurant on the rock. It is worth a visit, but I recommend going later in the day like that, if thats still enough of a secret.

Posted by
9 posts

Kerry, Jessica

So glad that you chimed in as you brought up some items I am still wrestling with.

@Jessica, Ideally we would have a home base in Provence where we could do a few day trips (Avignon, Arles, ..), but return everyday so the kids could relax at the beach late afternoon. I am not a Nice/Cote d'azur lover, but Cassis seems to evoke (while still touristy) maybe what St Tropez use to be. I was planning for us to use the train station in Cassis to day trip to ease the driving, but still won’t be short trips.

I’m very much open to another base logistically a bit closer for day trips, and even something west of Marseille. If it was just my wife and I, there are plenty of lovely inland towns (like Il sur la sorgue as you mentioned). I’d love for there to be a little port town with a lovely backdrop from the beach, but haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for. There is Collioure but that is pretty far west.

@Kerry, that sounds amazing, and exactly what I look forward to with my family. Where do you plan to stay in Annecy (old town or out further around the lake and walk/ride bikes into the old town). We also aren’t turned off by places being busy, and like you said, know the times best to see the sites away from the crowds.

Looking a bit more, I’d love to include Carcassonne and Dordogne for a few nights, and wanted to get your thoughts (even if you haven’t been there yet). If you have any other special experiences with kids and traveling to Europe, would love to hear them.

Thank you so much,.

Posted by
1019 posts

Hi Max, since you PM'd me aI thought Id check what you originally posted and now I see your q's about Carcassonne and Dordogne, which we also did. We spent 4-5 nights in the Dordogne in a little town between Sarlat and Beynac called Vézac in a B&B with a pool (swimming ;) We rented boats one day and paddled the river, which had a rope swing on a tree at one point that the kids played on for awhile and then we stopped in La Roque-Gageac for lunch. That was a fun day. We also toured on of the caves with cave paintings (the one with the train that goes into the cave), and we visited several castles (which are very kid friendly because they have trebuchet demos at one). The Dordogne was beautiful and bucolic like a hobbit land. Then we went to Carcassonne and spent one night, arriving in the afternoon, walking over to the walled castle and spending the rest of the evening into the night there, eating dinner, and gawking, and then the next morning we walked around Carcassonne proper a bit (we'd seen a bit en route from our rental to the walled castle), and then left midday. I did not wish we'd stayed longer.
This said, we tend to travel like backpackers, moving more, rather picking a base for a week and taking day trips. We tried that one year and it was not for us. So our night stays range from 1-5 (5 in cities usually), and then we move on. Ymmv