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France for kids? Oui!

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Any parent taking a trip with their kids will tell you it can be an overwhelming experience. Like us, majority of families are wondering where to go this year. What’s a great place for the kids? Is it beach again? Disney? I know it sounds daunting but don’t rule out Europe even with the kids. At the recent New York Times Travel Show in NYC, we met with a representative from Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency and she assured that us that in fact, France is a wonderful destination for families. Please read our Q&A below with the representative, which include lots of great information.

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1.) At the seminar you mentioned that France has this preconceived notion of not being a family destination. How is France changing this opinion? We are working on dedicated contents targeting travelers going around the globe with children. These contents, will soon be available via our website us.rendezvousenfrance.com, which will cover the many places that families should consider when choosing France as their travel destination. Actually, France as a whole is family friendly. With six weeks vacation a year, the French take their kids everywhere to cities such as Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux or Antibes-Juan le Pins or the seaside resorts such as Biarritz, La Baule or Le Touquet or the mountains. The resorts are always great playgrounds for everyone.

2.) If a family has never been to France, where should they start? Start in the city where you land such as Paris, which has a wealth of activities for children. The Parc de la Villette is the perfect place for children to play and learn. It's the largest urban cultural park of Paris and it offers many indoor and outdoor activities such as movies, plays and concerts for all. The Opéra Garnier backstage (free entrance and visit for children under 10 - open from 10am to 5pm daily – special entertaining visits for families with fun activities during the exploration of the different rooms of the monument and alternate explanation by the guide and children's activities: adapted booklets given to each child before the visit), Tuileries Gardens (the biggest public park of Paris – from June to August is the Fête des Tuileries featuring cotton candy, rides and thrills for the whole family), Jardin des Plantes (families can visit the zoo located inside the Jardin des Plantes – open from 10am to 5pm daily, preferential rates for under 16) are great places for the most curious and/or active kids. The Eiffel Tower is a must see as well.

The Loire Valley, which is only one hour south of Paris, has many castles of all different sizes and architecture that are guaranteed to draw interest from the children such as the famous castle Chenonceau where families can enjoy an amazing view on the Cher River, as well as its park with a labyrinth and a play area equipped with games open from April to October that will please children. In Amboise Domaine you will find the Clos-Lucé Castle, former house of Leonardo da Vinci, which is very famous among families. The Parc Leonardo da Vinci is a top cultural attraction. Families can enter the universe of Leonardo’s creativity, enjoying a walk which is both fun and educational. On the walk you can try Leonardo’s inventions full-size (the helicopter, the tank, the fan-type machine gun, the paddle boat, the swing bridge – there are so many). You can even go round the lake in a boat designed by Leonardo, looking at the Master’s creations.

Those families looking for seaside resorts should check out Aquitaine, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. These are places not to miss. For these three regions, there are a lot of events during the year. We picked several ones that we think would be great for families.

Aquitaine:
October 5th: Basque Cake festival in Cambo-les-Bains
This is an unmissable event for gourmets. Basque cake is a traditional specialty from the Labourd province originated in the 17th century and is a round, golden cake that is both soft and crunchy topped with pastry cream or jam. At the festival there is a competition for the best Basque cake, songs, dances, workshops, sale of Basque cake by local artisans, tasting of local products, market farm products, crafts and antique shops.

Sept. 29th to Oct. 5th : Biarritz Festival of Cinema and Culture of Latin America
This festival is a focal point of cultural exchanges between Europe and Latin America. Originally devoted to the cinema, the festival now takes in literature, painting, sculpture, music, as well as economic and youth issues. The festival takes place at Gare du Midi - Festival Theatre located at 23, avenue du Maréchal-Foch
in Biarritz.

Dec 16 to January 7: "Magical Christmas in Périgueux"
Discover Périgueux right in the heart of Périgord. This festive market of the Dordogne is held in the heart of one of the most historic towns of the region. The market has been described as "A magical Christmas" experience and is romantically centered around a skating rink on the theatre esplanade, Place Franchville. and lit with Chinese lanterns. This setting creates the perfect a Christmas fair to shop, wander and amuse the youngest to oldest member of the family, day or nighttime.

More events on: http://www.tourisme-aquitaine.fr/fr/

Languedoc Roussillon:
April 30th to May 11th 2014: Feria de la Mer (Palavas-les-Flots)
Marks the beginning of the season. Bodegas, animations bullfighting, Sevillanas dances, Camargue races and fireworks, all the necessary ingredients to make visitors feel all Southern character.

May 17th to 18th 2014: Great Roman Games in Nimes (at the Arenes de Nimes)
A peplum with over 500 "tonics" from all over Europe, just for your eyes. Viewers will be pleased to attend the Triumph of Caesar, with a parade of troops of the emperor, the distribution of bread, and a gladiatorial entry wolves and bears on the sand of the arena. The eve of the spectacular scenery, the soldiers walk through the city center.

May 29th-June 1st:
This important cultural event of the Great South combines classical music and rock, street theater, comedy, dance, performance horse shows, circus, theater and opera in an eclectic and international programming in the heart of the medieval city of Carcassonne. Festival de Carcassonne features nearly 110 shows, nearly 75 free (festival off), two concert opening events and almost 14, 000 people in attendance. Much of the programming is free.

More events on : http://www.routard.com/guide_agenda/languedoc_roussillon.htm

Provence:
July 8th-July 26th: In Avignon there is a Theatre Festival for Children, which is program designed for a young audience as early as 18 months old and is great for children of all ages too. Throughout the Festival d’Avignon, the "Maison Pour Tous Monclar" is the place to be for Children's Theatre. This social centre welcomes 13 professional theatre companies, from the Avignon region and elsewhere, for 17 entire days of performances. The is Children's Festival for all ages invites you to come discover the worlds created by the troupes and storytellers who offer theatre, dance, marionnettes, aerial arts, music - a wide range of theatrical creations. There are also exhibits and workshops.

June 7th-August 17th: In Avignon, the big ferris wheel sets up on the banks of the Rhône river for its summer holiday. Visitors have the opportunity to take in an outstanding view over the historical city, the Rhone river, and the river islands. From the top of this big, magical ferris wheel you have an absolutely magnificent view of the city of Avignon, the rooftops, the Palace of the Popes, the ramparts, the Rhone river, the banks of the Rhone, the islands, the Pont d'Avignon. 36 cars turn 5 to 6 times during a ten-minute ride, with a stop at the top, 50 meters above the Allées de l'Oulle.

October to November 2014: For one fun month, villages throughout the Vaison la Romaine - Mont Ventoux area in Provence prepare good soups and compete in the Soup Festival organized by the Confraternity of the Voconces Ladles - or, as known in French, the Confréries des Louchiers Voconces! Throughout the area, traditional recipes are handed down from generation to generation, and lovingly prepared for this fun competition. Exquisite soups that transform the everyday into something very special.

More events and information on: http://www.provence-family.co.uk/

3.) Do you feel a trip to France is good for all ages even babies or should families plan a visit when their child is say 5 and above? France is definitely for all ages. With babies we would suggest to rent villas near small villages, going to markets by foot and just relaxing.

4.) Do you have an example itinerary you would suggest to families? What is a good amount of time for a family trip to France? A week? 5 days? More? I would suggest a week. Families should start off in Paris.

5.) Any particular museums, cities, etc. not appropriate for kids that parents should know about beforehand? All major museums in France are appropriate for kids. There might be special art exhibitions at some museums that could be a bit avant-garde but it is up to the family’s discretion. Like any destination, cities in France are absolutely appropriate for kids, especially the major tourist attractions.

6.) Which hotels are most kid-friendly? Do they offer any special services such as babysitting, kids club with activities, etc.?
Please see a few highlights below:

7.)What about families eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Which restaurants are most kid-friendly?

  • Restaurant Les 400 Coups in Paris offers a child friendly environment for both adults and children along with events and activities to keep kids happy. Les 400 Coups has a play area adjoining the main restaurant, workshops for kids, storytime as well as activities and games for children up to 8 years old: http://www.les400coups.eu/
  • Une mère une fille à Paris, a coffee and teahouse combined with a toyshop and children’s workshop: http://www.1mere1filleaparis.com/
  • La Poussette Café in Paris features a café, a retail shop carrying a wide range of toys, baby shower accessories and small gifts. The café also has workshops for children and adults. http://www.lepoussettecafe.com/c/
  • Restaurant Justine located in the Pullman Hotel Montparnasse, Paris offers a baby brunch on Sundays with a different theme to please both parents and children: http://www.luvaville.com/travel-with-kids/paris/restaurants-cafe/restaurant-justine
  • Le Café Colorié located in Lille, a city in the North of France is a great coffee shop and store that also features fun workshops such as drawing, painting, arts & crafts and more: http://www.lecafecolorie.com/
  • La Parenthèse is a kid friendly restaurant and tearoom located in Lyon (situated between Paris and Marseille) for adults and kids. The restaurant has special menus, a playground for kids and more: http://www.alaparenthese.fr/

8.) Are there services where families can rent baby/kids items such as strollers or car seats if they choose not to travel with them?
We would suggest these sites: http://babytems.com/, http://www.bambiloo.com/rental_travel_bed_for_baby_in_paris.asp

9.) What do you think kids will find most exciting about France in general or a particular city? France offers a plethora of family-friendly activities that are sure to excite kids, from the lights and sights of Paris (recognizable to most elementary school children) to the pastry shops and Nutella crepes, family-friendly parks and gardens. There are also the châteaux’s of the Loire Valley, miles of bike trails in the Midi-Pyrenees winding through rustic villages and the warmth and beauty of Provence and the iconic beaches of the Riviera.

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