Family motoring holidays through Europe

I used to dread taking the family away on holiday. Bundling the kids onto a flight, during which they would invariably fidget incessantly, constantly complain about their ears popping and go to the toilet every 15 minutes, was hardly my idea of the ideal way to begin a relaxing getaway.

All that changed a couple of years ago when I discovered the joys of holidaying by car in Europe. In my experience, the very best family holidays are well balanced, which means they offer the kids plenty of fun, but also give my husband and I the chance to relax and feel like we've actually been on holiday by the time we return to the UK.

Avoid Airports

Many people underestimate quite how much fun family holidays in Europe can be. On a purely practical level, being able to avoid the airports and set off in your own car can greatly reduce the stresses associated with a holiday. Hopping on the ferry to France provides a relaxing way to sail to the continent or, if you've got seasick family members, the Eurotunnel is even more convenient, allowing you to be on your way in less than 40 minutes. It's worth remembering that some of the roads on the continent are toll routes, so a supply of euros is an important part of reaching your destination without unnecessary delays.

Easy French Roads

France has some of the best facilities for families anywhere in Europe. There are beautiful, varied, and interesting places to visit and the roads are a breeze to drive on. I would advise thinking about your routes in advance, however, as the major routes tend to involve toll roads and the charges can really add up. If you're a newcomer to travelling abroad by car, I'd recommend visiting the Normandy area.

French Map

Located in the north of France, the region is bathed in history, but also offers plenty of entertainment for the kids. One of the best ways to get the balance right is to stay at a holiday camp, such as the Keycamp/Eurocamp at La Côte de Nacre. With its great waterpark and family friendly accommodation, this destination provides a perfect base to explore from. An added benefit is that many holiday parks like this allow parents to spread their payments out over the year.

Northern France - Normandy

Normandy is perhaps best known for the prominent role the area played in the Second World War and kids are never too young to learn about the sacrifices that have been made for them. The story of the D-Day landings, in particular, will trigger the interests of children.

The city of Rouen is well worth a visit during your trip to Normandy. The cathedral of Notre Dame, which dominates the city centre, is often lit up at night with a spectacular sound and light show that the kids will love.

Western France - La Rochelle

Moving further south, one of my favourite areas is La Rochelle. This beautiful town, located on the west coast, is brilliant for adults and children alike. The town centre is a vibrant and interesting place for a stroll, with plenty of fish restaurants and street entertainers for the kids to enjoy. There are endless opportunities to enjoy the area's beaches and the children will adore a boat trip out to Fort Boyard, which was once used as an offshore prison and even had its own popular game show on television. La Rochelle is also home to a great zoo and aquarium, which can be especially useful if the weather is against you.

Mid to South France - Dordogne

Driving a little further, to the south of the country, the Dordogne is a spectacular region, which offers lots to do. One of the area's most interesting sites is Peyzac-le-Moustier, a mediaeval city carved into the side of the cliffs above the Veneer River. Don't worry though, because a special effort has been made to keep the site interesting for children.

Canoeing on the Dordogne

If you have older children, taking a canoe out on the Dordogne River is a great way to enjoy the scenery and spend some quality family time bonding. The picture above is taken by my husband. It is me and my two younger children. He is with the two older teens. It was a great day out canoeing from Le Bugue to Limeil (about 6k) in 2012.

Southern France - Perpignan

Continuing our journey south, Perpignan is another fantastic place to visit that is full of attractions to delight the children. Good weather is practically guaranteed here and relaxing beaches are well within reach. A 20-minute drive will take you to the lovely beach resort of Canet Plage, which sits on the Mediterranean and is great for caravan holidays.

Perpignan benefits from a great location and you can travel from the beach to the tree-covered landscape of the Pyrenees in less than an hour. The best way to explore the mountains with children is by taking ‘Le Petit Train Jaune’, the Little Yellow Train, which ventures deep into the mountains, providing an easy way to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. If you fancy an even bigger adventure, both Andorra and Spain are within easy reach, while Italy can also be reached with relative ease.

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