With its rolling hills, fields of lavender and array of tempting wines and cheeses, Provence is the ideal spot for a week of sightseeing and relaxation. Those with children would be forgiven for thinking this is a destination best reserved for honeymooners and childless couples. However, the delightful French region offers many kid-friendly attractions that will help make any family vacation a success. From the best accommodation choices to places to visit, here are seven family-friendly tips for your Provence vacation.
1. Stay in a Villa
Staying in a hotel is ideal for when you’re traveling alone or as a couple, but it doesn’t quite cut it for family vacations. While there are plenty of beautiful boutique hotels in Provence, not all of them are set up for kids. Depending on how old your children are, you’re likely to need indoor space in case of poor weather, as well as a place to relax in the evenings when the kids are in bed. Therefore, your best bet is to stay in a self-catered villa or apartment, which provides a “home away from home” setting where the whole family can spread out.
Le Collectionist’s Provence villas offer all the amenities and extras you could need for children (including kid’s toys, Wi-Fi, home entertainment systems, pools, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and even sports courts), as well as luxurious surroundings to keep the adults content. A pool is essential for cooling down after a day in the Provençal summer sun – thankfully these are included with most villa stays in the region.
2. Visit Château des Baux de Provence
Set in the Alpilles regional country park, Les Baux-de Provence is a world heritage site that’s often referred to as the most beautiful village in France. At the heart of the town is Château Des Baux de Provence, the remains of a 10th-century castle, which kids of any age are sure to love.
The fortified castle is a popular tourist attraction, so there are plenty of gift shops and ice cream parlors on the surrounding streets, as well as a schedule of events including the launch of the largest trebuchet in Europe. Other child-friendly activities include educational workshops and two treasure hunts for children aged 4-6 and 7-10. For more information about what’s on for kids, visit the Lux de Provence website.
3. Drop Into the Carrières de Lumières Art Exhibition
Set in an old quarry located close to Château des Baux de Provence, this seasonal art museum will provide entertainment for the whole family. Somewhat unusually, selected artworks are projected onto stone walls as 20-minute presentations with accompanying music. Bear in mind the show is presented in the dark, and the music is relatively loud, so some young children may find the show a little overwhelming. If you buy your tickets for Château des Baux de Provence at the gate instead of online, you can purchase a family discount ticket for both attractions.
4. Take the Train
The closest cities to Provence are Marseilles and Paris, so you will need to fly to one of these airports if you’re staying in Provence. While there are plenty of sites that offer affordable car hire, the easiest way to get to Provence from outside the region is by train. The TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse) is an intercity high-speed rail service, which connects France’s main cities, including Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Rennes.
In addition to being the most convenient method of transport, the train also serves as a major attraction to young kids, as will the glorious views from the carriage windows. If you’re looking to save money, book your TGV tickets as early as possible, as prices often change due to availability.
5. Shop at Family-Friendly Markets
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to picture-perfect villages in Provence, especially since each offers its own unique cafes, shops, and weekday market stalls. Kids of any age will enjoy browsing the various stalls for French cheeses, freshly-baked bread, souvenirs and trinkets. Nearby villages like Joucas, Roussillon, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Oppède-le-Vieux, Ménerbes, and Lacoste are all great for wandering in the afternoon sun, each of which is just a little different from the last.
6. Visit Abbey de Senanque
The famous fields of lavender at Abbey de Senanque are breathtaking to behold, especially during the height of summer. Bear in mind that the Romanesque site is still a working abbey, so visitor numbers are tightly controlled. Therefore, you should always double-check the varied opening times before you go. The monks make a living from growing lavender and producing honey, both of which can be bought from the abbey shop nearby –a lovely souvenir for older kids to take home.
For younger children, Apt, the regional capital of the nearby village of Gordes, is home to one of the best markets in Provence, as well as the occasional old-fashioned carousel. While you’re here, you can also visit the Village des Bories, a small rural settlement a couple of miles east of Gordes that offers some excellent site-seeing opportunities.
7. See the Animals at Camargue Natural Park
Bird watching, pony-riding, cycling, and hiking – what’s not to love? Camargue Natural Park is a large UNESCO reserve centered around Rhone Delta on the border between Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. The site is home to white horses, pink flamingos and many other animals and plant species.
Covering more than 900 square kilometers to the south of Arles, the park spans a large, flat area of marshes, fields, salt-flats and lakes, as well as the largest river delta in Europe. Expect to see wild boars, badgers, flamingos, tree frogs and water snakes. Just bear in mind that the region is also reputed to have more than 40 species of mosquitoes, which can cause difficulties for visitors during the summer months.
Families can take a nature safari in one of the jeeps that leave from Sainte Maries de la Mer (the principal town on the coast, just south of the Camargue) to explore the entire range of wildlife on display.