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A family holiday in France can mean anything from sailing on the Brittany coast to exploring the dazzling Côte d’Azur.
There are great stretches of wonderfully accessible wilderness, vast natural parks and entire mysterious regions to discover. And, even if you get no further than Paris, you’re in good company: it’s one of the world’s most-visited cities.
There are direct flights from the UK to 17 French airports.
France is the largest country in western Europe and one of the least densely populated.
France has five mountain ranges including the Rhône Alps and the Pyrenees. The Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts offer a host of seaside options, and the Côte d’Azur has year-round sunshine.
France has seven domestic national parks and you can visit more than 40 chateaux in the Loire Valley alone.
Les Trois Vallées in the French Alps is the world’s largest ski area.
You can cycle almost anywhere on the country’s 1,000,000km road network.
Paris offers a vast swathe of historic monuments, and France as a whole has a total of 42 World Heritage sites, including Mont Saint-Michel and the medieval walled city Carcassonne.
The French capital might be celebrated for romance, but it’s just as wonderful for family holidays. Vast parks and gardens stretch from the city centre to the mighty chateaux of Versailles and Fontainebleau. Disneyland Paris is regularly voted best in the world by families. And the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Palais Garnier opera, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame Cathedral are just a few of the legends that make Paris such a monument-rich city.
Brittany thinks of itself as more Celtic than French, and no other region is more steeped in mystery, myth and legend. But it’s also one of the most accessible parts of the country for UK ferries and a longstanding favourite for family holidays. Choose the south-west for most sunshine, sandy beaches, historic towns like Concarneau and Quimper, excellent campsites at Bénodet and brilliant watersports all along the coast.
Near-neighbour to Brittany as it is, Normandy couldn’t be more different. Beach holidays here are seaside classics, with large 19th-century hotels, elegant villas, wide sandy bays, chic promenades and pavement cafés aplenty. Choose the coast west of Calais for timeless beauties like Le Touquet and Boulogne-sur-Mer. And don’t ignore Normandy away from the sea – the countryside is lush and lovely, Monet’s house at Giverny is here and Lyons-la-Forêt is said to be the most haunted place in France.
Rich and fascinating, the Loire Valley is very easy to work for a family holiday. In and around the charming city of Tours is a good base for visiting chateaux, touring dozens of ancient towns and villages, playing on the beautiful lake beaches and getting to grips with the region’s more eccentric activities, like hot-air ballooning.
Whether you want Landes’ astounding Atlantic beaches, beautiful Bordeaux, climbing and skiing in the Pyrenees, surfing at Biarritz or a little touch of Basque in your French family holiday, the enormous south-west has it all.
Glamorous resorts are just a tiny bit of this wonderful part of France. Head into the mountains and go adventuring in the wild crags and gorges of Verdon. Find ancient cities like Arles, Aix, Avignon and Nimes, where they don’t need a shoreline to shine. Even a short drive from Marseille or Nice takes you into a world of hill towns and tiny hamlets, where it’s hard to believe promenades and private beaches even exist.
Some of Europe’s finest skiing is found in these towering mountains. But several of the winter-sport resorts are now spring, summer and autumn playgrounds, too – Lake Annecy is amazing in July and August. Lyon is the regional capital and from silk corridors to Renaissance architecture, it’s right up there with the most mesmerising European cities – a lot less busy than Paris and a delight at Christmas.
French own-brand hotel chains like Mercure, Accor, Ibis and Campanile are best value in cities like Lyon and Grenoble.
Public transport is excellent and well-explained in major cities. Several now have bike-hire schemes, too.
Driving is the best way to see the French countryside. Only use autoroutes if you’re in a hurry, although the toll prices vary and can be expensive.
There are fast rail services across the entire country, but don’t expect too many scenic journeys – France is big enough to keep trains away from pretty places.