France: things to do in the Loire Valley with kids

Chambord Castle Loire Valley with kids

The Loire Valley, in central France, has a good deal to offer families. Here are a few ideas for things to do and places to visit in the Loire Valley with children.

Where is the Loire Valley?

The Loire Valley is a picturesque, tranquil part of France, which was given UNESCO world heritage status in 2000. It’s easily accessible from Paris (a 2-3 hour drive), and is often called the ‘Garden of France’, because it’s packed to the gills with different crops. It seems that you can’t go further than a mile without passing a vineyard, orchard or asparagus field. And then, of course, there’s the delicious wine and cheese. Luckily for visitors, a lot of the best produce seems to only be available in France itself.

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Who is this feature for?

Our children were five and three when we spent our holiday in the Loire Valley, so this post is aimed at families travelling to the Loire with kids of that age. Although our two weren’t old enough to join in with some activites that older children might enjoy (like watersports – canoing and kayaking are available on the calmer tributaries of the Loire river), they managed to enjoy some experiences typical of the Loire.

Loire Valley

Banks of the river Loire

Loire Valley Chateaux (Loire Valley Castles)

There are more than 300 chateaux dotted along the Loire. Up until the 17th Century, the French royalty preferred to spend its time in the region. Even after the Palace of Versailles was built in Paris, wealthy noblemen carried on building and restoring castles along the Loire. To this day, many consider the Loire Chateaux to be the best castles in France.

Loire Valley

Chaumont Sur Loire

The choice of which of the many Loire castles to visit can be overwhelming, given how many are clustered into a relatively small area. Our campsite was near Chambord, which is surrounded by forest and a 5440 hectare park, so we decided to spend an afternoon there.

Chambord Castle in the Loire Valley, FranceChambordChambord is free to enter, and is known as ‘the greatest château in Loire valley’, with 426 rooms,  282 fireplaces and a stunning double helix staircase. Although the trip was more to mine and D’s taste than the children, who have a short attention span for history, they did enjoy exploring the battlements, and hearing about the lords and ladies who used to live in the castle.

Chambord

Chambord

The Room of Laurels

To make Chambord’s history more accessible for families, there is a HistoPad, a tablet which shows historical reconstructions of the castle as you walk around. An equestrian show over the summer months also tells the story of Chambord’s history and conquest. We didn’t take advantage of either of these – it was a rainy day, so it would have been tricky to watch the horses with the children – but in a year or two they’d be a good age to appreciate both the show and the HistoPad.

Chambord

Warming up for the equestrian show

To help plan your trip, there’s a Loire Chateaux map here.

Cycling in the Loire Valley France

The Loire Valley’s flat terrain and cycle paths make it perfect for cyclists. Cycling in France is a serious business: this region has its own 800 km long bike route, the Loire a Velo, a cycle tour which was beyond our children’s ability (and ours). Even so, the region is a good place for little legs to cycle. We hired a touring bike each from our campsite, and cycled past vineyards to have a picnic in one of the little villages near Mesland.

cyclingcyclingAt five years old, Austin was old enough to use a ‘tag’, on the back of D’s bike (although D said he turned into a sack of potatoes on the inclines). Gwen sat in a carriage behind my bike, which meant she didn’t have to pedal. It was a blazing hot day (30 degrees), though, and she did become uncomfortably hot inside the carriage’s canvas walls.

cycling

picnic

picnic spots are plentiful in rural France

Loire Valley wine tours

A trip to the Loire Valley just wouldn’t be the same without sampling a little of the local vin. As well as reds and whites, the Loire Valley produces the second largest amount of sparkling wine in France, second only to Champagne. On our trip my Mum, her partner and my aunt were all staying on our campsite, and they offered to look after the children while D and I drove out to visit four or five different vineyards.

Loire Valley

Domaine de la Besnerie

Domaine de la Besnerie, a Touraine vineyard

We would probably have been less ambitious about the number of vineyards to visit, if we’d had our five and three year old in tow. We did notice, though, that a couple of the larger vineyards catered for younger visitors: Domaine Cocteaux, for instance, had a small play area. If you’re near the Cangey area, I’d recommend a visit: their Cremant was exceedingly good quality, and there was no difference in price even if you only bought a handful of bottles.

Domaine Cocteaux

Domaine Cocteaux, Mesland

To find out more about Loire Valley wine tours, see Visit French Wine or the Loire Valley website for more details.

How to get to the Loire Valley

Major airlines fly direct to Tours in the Loire Valley, from London and Paris. An Interloire train line runs from Orléans to Nantes, stopping at Beaugency, Blois, Amboise, Tours, Saumur, Angers and Ancenis. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the Loire Valley is a rural area, and public transport is often infrequent or non-existent outside of the larger cities and towns. A self-organised wine-tasting tour, for instance, would be difficult without a car (you could always choose to wobble your way around the vineyards on a trusty velo, of course). We took a ferry and drove down from Calais, which took around five hours. Car hire is also available in the major towns of the Loire.

You can find a Loire Valley map here.

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Eating out in the Loire Valley France with kids

In general, the French have a different attitude towards children than British people and Americans. Eating out with very young children, for instance, can be a little trickier in rural areas than in urban centres like London, where there are child-friendly gastropubs round every corner, and chain restaurants provide colouring crayons with meals. We encountered a few disapproving glances when eating lunch in a traditional restaurant with our three and five year old, despite the fact that (miraculously, for them) they both behaved impeccably. They were the only children in the place, so maybe there’s an unwritten rule about which sorts of restaurants it’s ok to take children to in rural France. If anyone can enlighten me on this, please let me know!

Loire Valley weather

For holidays in the Loire Valley France, expect weather that is comfortable and warm, but not as hot as in the south of France. Average daily temperatures in spring and summer are around 24°C. July temperatures peak as high as 28°C or more, and they drop to 22°C as September approaches.

Camping Loire Valley: where to stay in the Loire Valley

Yelloh Village

Many French campsites have outdoor pools with water slides

We stayed at the Yelloh Village Parc du Val de Loire, in Mesland, which I’ve posted about here. There are several other campsites based in the region, some of which are well-equipped with pools, water slides and kids’ entertainment. Our children had a ball on the campsite; it would have been much harder to entertain our five and three year old on this break, without the campsite facilities.

Loire Valley accommodation

If sleeping in a tent or cabin isn’t your thing, there are also many gites (self-catering properties), Loire Valley hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area. The Loire Valley Tourism website is a good place to start for more information.

 

Don’t forget to check out this post:

Parc du Val de Loire, a family friendly Yelloh! Village luxury campsite near Mesland in the Loire Valley, France

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40 Comments

  1. January 4, 2016 / 12:49 pm

    Thanks Nell, that’s a really useful read for me. I’m starting to plan our trip to the Loire for later this year – we don’t have kids and will be cycling but even so I can’t tell you how incredibly useful this has been.

    • January 4, 2016 / 1:05 pm

      I’m glad it’s useful. And I’m rather envious of your trip. I love cycling, and although it was a good place to be on bikes with kids, a day when we could whizz along without them would have made for even better sightseeing. Have a wonderful time, and I’ll look forward to hearing all about it!

  2. January 4, 2016 / 3:50 pm

    Oh that sounds like the sort of holiday we would love as a family. We are thinking about a break in France at the moment

    • January 5, 2016 / 11:10 am

      Do it – I bet your family would have a great time.

  3. January 4, 2016 / 4:09 pm

    Love the Loire, you’ve reminded me of past holidays. The wine, castles and cheese are definitely highlights! Happy New Year ๐Ÿ™‚

    • January 5, 2016 / 11:10 am

      Happy New Year to you too!

  4. January 4, 2016 / 7:42 pm

    France looks wonderful , all the pictures look so lovely. I think I would love to visit there in the future.

    • January 5, 2016 / 11:10 am

      It really is very picturesque.

  5. January 4, 2016 / 8:28 pm

    Sounds like a great holiday. We had an aborted trip the Loire a few years back (we both managed to get very ill) but I’d love to go back some day and see all the things we missed!

    • January 5, 2016 / 11:09 am

      Oh no – what a shame! You should definitely go back some time.

  6. January 5, 2016 / 6:44 am

    What a beautiful place to visit. I have always wanted to visit the chateaux’s here, adding it to my bucket list.

    • January 5, 2016 / 11:12 am

      The chateaux really are magnificent.

  7. January 5, 2016 / 8:28 am

    What a lovely area. I want to go now!

    • January 5, 2016 / 11:12 am

      Go on – give it a whirl!

  8. January 5, 2016 / 1:20 pm

    This is such an interesting post to read – I loved the Loire when I visited with my parents, but was probably more like 8 years old (and my brother, who would have been 6, was definitely less fascinated by chateaux!). Lovely to see that there’s lots for a three-year-old as well, even child-friendly vineyards… #mondayescapes

  9. January 5, 2016 / 1:35 pm

    I have never been to the Loire Valley but it looks stunning. We are off to France next month although a more western part but am looking forward to re-aquainting myself with the country as not been since school

  10. January 6, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    This is an area I’d love to visit and your photos make me want to go even more now x

  11. January 8, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    I love the idea of a holiday rural France, and we’ve stayed at a different Yelloh! park in the South, that the kids loved, so it all sounds perfect!!

    I’m not sure about the headache inducing Laurels bedroom though!!

    • January 8, 2016 / 8:26 pm

      Ooh, that’s interesting. We’re considering going with them again this year – it’s good to hear you also had a good experience, in a different location.

  12. Girl Gone Gallic
    January 9, 2016 / 8:29 pm

    Beautiful pictures! I remember being there with my jetlag kids – not so much fun! Definitely need a redo ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. January 10, 2016 / 9:03 pm

    Oh this looks so beautiful – this isn’t an area of France I’ve explored too much but would really love to.

    • January 16, 2016 / 6:24 pm

      France is such a huge and wonderful place. We could go back there year after year.

  14. January 11, 2016 / 7:54 pm

    What a beautiful place – it looks absolutely idyllic. I think of going to France every year, and then chicken out! Kaz x

    • January 16, 2016 / 6:23 pm

      It really was idyllic. Gorgeous place.

  15. January 15, 2016 / 8:25 am

    Lovely post!! I love the Loire Valley.
    I went there in 2008 and loved it. Such an amazing French region.
    I hope I can come back to revisit the castles I did last time and others I didn’t have the chance to.
    Seems like a wonderful family holiday ๐Ÿ˜€

    Thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes ๐Ÿ™‚

    • January 16, 2016 / 6:09 pm

      Yes- so many castles, so little time!

  16. January 15, 2016 / 11:23 am

    Thanks for this! I really want to do this exact trip! Hopefully this year. I shall bookmark your post! #MondayEscapes

    • January 16, 2016 / 6:08 pm

      I can’t wait to hear how you get on!

  17. January 18, 2016 / 10:25 am

    This looks like such a nice area to visit in France. And I do like the sound of Wine Tasting. We really want to see more of this beautiful country. (#MondayEscapes)

    • January 19, 2016 / 11:45 am

      France has so much to offer, doesn’t it.

  18. February 6, 2016 / 6:39 am

    Very cool, thanks for sharing your experience. I live in the Loire Valley but further west and want to know something shameful? I’ve never been to the Chรขteau de Chambord! One day ๐Ÿ˜‰ #allaboutfrance PS: About the restaurants, not sure why anyone would have an issue with your children especially if they were well behaved. Just have been some bad apples in there!

  19. February 8, 2016 / 9:23 am

    Your cycle trip to a picnic sounded lovely! Such a different experience than London ๐Ÿ™‚ I shall check out the campsite you stayed at, I’m always on the hunt for recommendations all over France. #AllaboutFrance

  20. February 25, 2016 / 2:46 am

    This is just too beautiful! Pls do share at the practical mondays!

    (it’s great that you can hire bikes for kids too!)

    • Nell
      Author
      February 25, 2016 / 10:47 am

      Thanks, I’ll be over soon! Thank you for visiting. x

  21. March 2, 2016 / 9:47 am

    Sounds like you packed in a lot to your stay in the Loire Valley (and great to have other adults around to allow you wine tasting time! Very well planned!!) Like Diane said, I can’t think why you got disapproving stares in the restaurant. In general French eat out loads with kids in tow and no one bats an eyelid (as long as they’re well behaved). In rural places you’re not likely to get any special treatment for kids but it doesn’t mean they’re not welcomed. I think you probably just experienced the classic rural / small town attitude that happens absolutely all over the world that is “let’s stare at the foreigners”! Thanks for linking this and your other post to #AllAboutFrance. It’s on again tomorrow if you have any more to add.

    • Nell
      Author
      March 2, 2016 / 10:40 am

      Thanks Lou – I’ll be back as soon as I’ve posted about France. Won’t be too long, I’m sure! Thanks for the feedback about the restaurant. It was a rural place, so perhaps that was it (and perhaps they approved of our well-behaved kids, but not us adults! ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. January 3, 2017 / 7:59 pm

    I can confirm that kids are welcome in French restaurants. We live in Loire Valley and we have ever our two monsters with us in traditional restaurants, and even high rated restaurants are ok with them. Sometimes the waiters take them in the kitchen to show them how their meal is cooked ! So don’t hesitate to go in traditional restaurants with your children, that’s one of the best thing to do when you are in France ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Nell
      Author
      January 6, 2017 / 2:55 pm

      Thanks for the tip!

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